INTERVIEW: Milan Antonijevic, Director of the Open Society Foundation and Co-President of the Igman Initiative for Serbia
We need the governments that will lead the societiesforward. It is easy to enjoy the populism, but once you have the power in your hands, the only important thing is to demonstrate seriousness, maturity and readiness to change the society. New parliamentary majority has committedto that in an agreement – Milan Antonijevic, Director of the Open Society Foundation and Co-President of the Igman Initiative for Serbia stated in his interview given to Pobjeda.
We met with him in Podgorica, at the occasion of the 20thanniversaryof this peace keeping organization, and he believes that the recommendations of the Igman Initiative are theroadmap for the Balkans’ societies to demonstrate maturity in facing what has been done in this region.
He claims that there is still willingness for a dialogue in more moderate parts of theSerbianOrthodox Church, and that finding of the “common grounds” should be attempted with them.
“All societies need such consensus, especially in critical situations. This is one of the messages we head from the President of the Assembly of Montenegro Aleksa Becic at the meeting he had with the IgmanInitiative. Our expectations are also elevated now”, Antonijevic stated.
The Igman Initiative is a regional network of non-governmental organizations consisting of the representatives of the civil sector, media, local self-governments, as well as economic and political analystswhodevelop the projects for normalization and improvement of relations betweenfour countries of Dayton Peace Accord – Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. How do you see the role of the Igman Initiative in the relations of the countries in the region in last 20 years?
The first move made in 1995, the march to Sarajevo under siege, which later resulted in creation of the Igman Initiative, was an act of courage. In 2000, the Igman Initiative was an act of necessity, and in 2010, you could estimate that a lot had been done. However, in 2020, the Igman Initiative again becomes an act of necessity. We have made one cycle in the region. It often happens in every society that some initiatives that have achieved the results, due to later changes or events, have to revisit the same paths again. The same applies to human rights and freedoms, where we have to constantly conquer them and when we think that we have completely conquered them and that we do not have to progress further, that is where they necessarily fall. The global trends are the same. There isa lot of fake news, there is a lot of misinformation that distracts citizens from serious topics ... The Igman Initiative is a weft to show the maturity of a society to face what worked and where the individuals participated ... Here, I also refer to security services. This topic was widespread during the elections in Montenegro. These are some of the processes we have been waiting for, and which will give us answers and make life easier in the field of economic and social rights as well. Society cannot be built on divisions, and this has now been seen in the example of Montenegro. The Igman Initiative has provided support for all the processes that have led to calming of the tensions, and it seems to me that the referendum in 2006 also contributed to that.
The entire region is divided. Why?
We can view this as two pendulums, and there could be peace only when they are aligned. We live in a region where you have to align six or seven pendulums to the greatest extent. The politicians in all the countries in the region need to demonstrate high level of maturity in order for those pendulums to move in the same rhythm. Prosperity, peace and security, it seems to me, are much more important to the citizens at this moment than any quarrel. It is easy to produce conflicts in a very short time by irresponsible moves of one of these countries.
In Montenegro, for the first time since the 1990s, it is certain that the government will change. The parliamentary majority consists of forces gathered in three coalitions – the strongest is led by the pro-Serbian, pro-Russian and pro-Christian Democratic Front, the second is moderate, and the third is civil. Do you expect that they will succeed in maintaining the pro-European path of Montenegro, and in light of the fact that the candidate for the Prime Minister is the man close to the Serbian Orthodox Church and the DF?
You have to show maturity at some point. When in opposition, your actions go towards winning of the power, when you have won the power, when you have the opportunity to form the government, then we return to the greater responsibility of those who want to form it. The principles they have agreed provide assurances that Montenegro is moving towards a calmer period and it is positive to assess that both parts of society, no matter how much the DPS has insisted on the divisions, have actually showed readiness to take rather big steps towards the European Union, to persevere on the path towards the membership in the NATO integrations. We need governments that lead societies forward. It is easy to enjoy the populism, but once you have the power in your hands, the only important thing is to demonstrate seriousness, maturity and readiness to change the society. When fight against corruption is one of the key reasons for the win at the elections, that requires strong European integrations, strong judiciary, and the rule of law.
Do you expect that this is possible with a candidate who is a direct envoy of the Serbian Orthodox Church and who says that Montenegro should not celebrate the Victory Over Fascism Day and the DF that does not share the values you are talking about?
These statements should be interpretedonce we have seen the directions of the new government. If there is maturity, the citizens of Montenegro will feel the progress. Now, we are facing the economic crisis like the rest of the world. It is very difficult for the governments, since there are high expectations from all of them. Over time, the new government could show that Montenegro can pursue pro-European course. They could do what has seemed impossible to every country in the region, and make it possible for Montenegro.
In Serbia, the survival of a coalition that shared different value systems was not possible. Can the new Montenegrin government, if established, be stable?
There are not many positive examples in the region that can guarantee that, but I expect that the coalition that is now in power is not only a coalition against the DPS and Milo Djukanovic. It has good program goals, that can move Montenegro, and they could bring it to the EU, which evaluates what type of countries and societies it wants to accept within its frame, including the potential of a society for a long-term stability, and whether all political actors could lead such a country forward. They certainly do not want a new Hungary, nor any turbulence. On the other hand, it seems to me that all the societies in the Western Balkans have many experiences toteach the European Unionabout – for example, how to break up a country that seemed very stable. Those are the lessons the EU could learn from us in order to avoid something similar.
How can the fact that the Serbian Orthodox Church is a political factor in the country affect our society?
That depends on the type of messages the church sends.
Do you know which messages have been sent by the Serbian Orthodox Church?
I most definitely know them. We have condemned a number of such messages, especially those concerning violations of human and minority rights. These were messages that spoke of a lack of understanding of the pluralism of Montenegrin society, but the previous government also demonstrated lack of understating of the pluralism. We will see if these trenches will be closed and if we will understand that we do not need such “Pyrrhic victories”, in respect of perceiving of the relations in Montenegrin society.
There is still willingness for a dialogue in more moderate parts of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and they have always sent such messages. Finding of the “common grounds” should be attempted with them. All societies need such consensus, especially in critical situations. This is one of the messages we head from the President of the Assembly of Montenegro Aleksa Becic at the meeting he had with the Igman Initiative. Our expectations are also elevated now. I believe that the coming months and years will justify these expectations and that even those who have lost and are entering the opposition will realize that life should not be wasted on something we have done in the past 30 years.
How do you see the role of Serbia in Montenegrin divisions?
All the countries of the region are communicating vessels, and that is the fate we have inherited from the former Yugoslavia. Albania is now adding to that. We need to understand that the messages sent from one country can have both positive and negative effects on other countries. It is necessary to analyze what Serbia has done constructively during everything that has occurred in Montenegro in previous years, and perhaps condemn it if those messages were directed not to calm things down, but to polarize. Serbia has not had a constructive role. It has interfered much more in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. You could read the tabloids in Serbia, which are the mirror of the dark side, and you could see destructive and provocative messages there, and Serbia is still swimming in that, thus sending messages to the voters in the North of Montenegro.
Why in the North?
Maybe it is my wrong perception that maybe geographically this is as far as those tabloid messages and that hate speech that is spread through them reach ...
“Mini Schengen” future
How do you see future relations in the region?
There are interesting models that are being discussed –such as the Nordic countries, their way, since that is one of the models that we have offered to the region and we are offering it now through the Declaration that we have adopted. I believe that it is possible, but it requires awareness that, for example, Serbia must understand that the Berlin Wall has fallen, and that only now could be venture in some processes that are much more mature.
When we understand the size of the countries we live in, how small their significance is if they are separated and if we continue with the divisions, these will be the countries young people will leave from and that will be a one-way street. We want to create economically prosperous societies through this regional initiative, through the “mini Schengen”, the opening of states, where, for example, young people will be able to come from Belgrade to Podgorica to work. For the young people to see hope for solidarity, for trust, for free will ...
The DPS made a mistake with the Law on Freedom of Religion
The impression is that Montenegro has lost the battle with the Serbian Orthodox Church. Why?
That confrontation was insisted on, as well as on the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion. Our reactions in Serbia were also clear that the adoption of the Law was hasty. When you have the Serbian Orthodox Church and all the religious communities that have a big role in the life of each of our countries, certain moves require serious discussion, and they cannot be done overnight. This swiftness in passing of the Law without many consultations, especially with the largest religious community in Montenegro, has shown the haste and attempt to politicize something that a secular state should not do. Now, there is readiness to resolve this issue, but in a different way, by entering into an open discussion on changes to the existing law, as should have been done earlier in order to avoid polarization of the Montenegrin society.