Monday, April 28, 2008

Montenegro for Sale (Part II)

As Ulqin and other heavily populated Albanian towns throughout Montenegro are being snapped up by Russians and other preying tycoons, fear is echoing off the walls of Parliament in Podgorica to the point where the DPS and SDP are worried that real estate is slipping away.

Many Albanians are not ignorant to what is happening here: with cash on hand, Albanian lands are being bought off by Russians and others in a real attempt to tip the ethnic balance to the point of forced emigration. Just read between the lines in the following article and make up your own minds:

Montenegro balks at opening up real estate market

Worried that too much property will be snapped up by foreigners, Montenegrin leaders have not been able to agree on removing restrictions on the country's real estate market.

By Nedjeljko Rudovic for Southeast European Times in Podgorica -- 28/04/08
Two years after Montenegro gained independence, fears that Russians and other foreigners could buy up large amounts of land are fueling a heated debate over liberalizing real estate laws in the small Adriatic country.

The larger ruling coalition party -- Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists -- favours complete liberalisation of the real estate market. But its coalition ally, the Social Democratic Party, has joined the opposition in urging continued restrictions in order to keep the country's attractive coastline in Montenegrin hands.

Because of the quarrel over the issue, the government withdrew a bill on property rights for foreigners that had been up for discussion during parliament's spring session. Under the constitution, a two-thirds majority would be needed in order to push such legislation through.

Under current law, foreign commercial entities can purchase property in Montenegro, but individuals from abroad cannot. In actual practice, many foreigners -- usually with assistance from Montenegrin contacts -- are able to get around the limitation by registering a business, then liquidating it after they have bought the property.
A Montenegrin administrative court has ruled that "a foreign private person not pursuing an economic activity in Montenegro cannot claim ownership over land". It remains unclear, however, whether this ruling has been implemented.

Statistical data drives home the significance of the issue. During an 11-month period, 53% out of a total 900m euros in Foreign Direct Investment went towards acquisition of real estate. At the same time, capital outflows amounted to 450m euros – three thirds of that being invested in real estate.

Montenegrins who sell their inherited property appear to be buying real estate outside the country -- often in Belgrade or Novi Sad -- or simply using the proceeds for consumption, instead of for new investments that could minimize the foreign trade deficit and increase employment.

Deputy Prime Minister Gordana Djurovic, who handles international economic relations, declined to sign onto the government's proposed property law, saying it "does not envisage the conditions of reciprocity".

She put forth a similar opinion regarding a draft law on state property, arguing that coastal areas and forests ought to remain state property. "The law should instead stipulate certain special rights to utilization of these public goods through concessions, leasing, rent and similar contractual arrangements," Djurovic said.

However, Association of Lawyers Secretary-General Branislav Radulovic believes that the insistence on reciprocity is not a "particularly strong argument".
"With 13.812 sq km of territory, one would wonder whether reciprocity is sufficient to defend Montenegrin interests. With regard to Russia, for instance, this principle is perfectly senseless," Radulovic says.

"Montenegro can promote concessions as a way of attracting foreign investments, like Bulgaria did," he suggests. "Bulgaria did not sell off its property -- instead, it concluded agreements on concessions with the foreign investors allowing them to use and manage the property for 99 years. Thus it avoided losing its ownership over land, but also prevented manipulations and fictitious agreements."

The president of the Employers' Union, Predrag Mitrovic, warns that the state should be attentive to the comparative experiences of European countries and other states in the region.

"In practice, it happened that countries with so-called liberal legislation find themselves besieged by 'economic terrorism', by giving up their land for money coming from the gray and black economies abroad," he says. "Such liberal laws are particularly dangerous for small states like Montenegro and I believe the state should proceed more cautiously."

By contrast, finance ministry councilor Predrag Stamatovic argues that the state has no business limiting individuals' rights to private property, including the transference of rights to another individual.

"Who has the right to prevent further development and inflow of foreign capital?" he asks, pointing out that taxes on property transfer contributed 40m euros to the state budget last year.

During the negotiations that led to the signing of a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU last year, Montenegro pledged to open its real-estate market for citizens of EU member states.

Implementation of the SAA is expected to start in 2010, after all the parliaments of all 27 EU members ratify the agreement.

Once Montenegro becomes an EU candidate, negotiations will begin on all chapters of the acquis communitaire. As it conducts an initial screening of Montenegrin laws, the European Commission will evaluate the extent of harmonization with EU criteria. Property rights for EU citizens will come under the chapters on free movement of goods and capital. These chapters have, in the past, proven among the most difficult for candidate countries that do not want to relinquish the right to manage their real estate.

For example, Croatia has not been able to conclude negotiations on the free movement of capital chapter. During the screening two years ago European Commission experts concluded Croatian legislation is not in line with European standards.
In spite of EU warnings, Croatia has been slow to adopt the substantial changes that would allow EU citizens "the necessary rights that would enable them to acquire real estate in Croatia", as the EC put it. But according to SAA and other documents, Croatia should complete the liberalisation of its real estate markets by 2009.

Citizens of Germany, Belgium, Great Britain, France, Netherlands and Spain can acquire real estate in Croatia based on reciprocity agreements. The procedure, however, can take up to two years due to administrative red tape. As a result, many would-be property owners resort to a practice similar to that found in Montenegro, establishing businesses and then acquiring real estate without restrictions.

All the new EU members tried to limit the sales of real estate to the foreigners in their negotiations with EC, whether the issues at question were the secondary residences or economically significant areas. Malta's attempt was the most successful. No person who has not lived in Malta for at least five years has the right to buy a secondary residence, and this also applies to Maltese citizens who live abroad.

Montenegro Jails More Albanians

The following article published by BIRN fails to identify the nationality of those arrested, but by strong accounts abroad, the majority of these drivers are believed to be Albanian nationals. One thing to keep in mind here is the obstacle placed on these employees, such that are designed to unfairly limit the opportunity of fair and equal employment.

Montenegro Jails 'Fake Diploma' Drivers
28 April 2008 Podgorica _ Thirty Montenegrin taxi drivers are to be jailed for forging high school diplomas in order to keep their jobs.

The verdict passed by Montenegro’s High Court is final and the accused have no right to appeal, local media reported.

They will spend one month behind bars.

The taxi drivers from the Montenegro’s coastal resort of Ulcinj said they had little option but to forge their school certificates six years ago since “the government decision" that they had to have a high school diploma for driving taxis "was absurd.”

“We were given six months to obtain documents which legally would not have been gained without at least a year of studying,” a driver told Podgorica daily Vijesti when news of the case first emerged.

Therefore, in order to continue work and to support their families, the 30 men decided to falsify their diplomas, the daily said.

It was not immediately clear what will they do after serving the sentence.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

WARNING for Albanians Traveling to Montenegro

As the tourist seasons draws closer this summer, Albanians from abroad traveling to Montenegro are becoming victims of ethnic profiling that is consequently costing them hundreds of dollars.

Recent travelers to Montenegro have reported that police and airport officials have scammed them from hundreds of dollars

The most common scam takes place in the open roads while driving and being randomly stopped by police officers for no apparent reason. You are directed to pull over by a baton-wielding officer standing in the middle of the road and waving towards you to pull over (NOTE: this usually always happens to drivers owning vehicles with foreign plates). Even if you had not violated any traffic laws, you are destined to drive away a fewer dollars/euros in your pocket. Police officers usually supplement their meager income by pulling drivers over and citing them for scanty violations, i.e., headlights are not turned on during the day time, seat-belts not worn, speeding literally 2-4 miles over the limit, changing lanes without a signal (although many streets are one lane), and so on. Don’t expect a ticket however you will find yourself “urged” to pay up on the spot. Don’t even expect a receipt for payment, the point here is to not record any of this in case you want to try something stupid and fight it in court. A typical pull-ver will cost you anywhere from 15-30 Euros. Keep in mind that this is totally illegal, but its either the money or they will tow your vehicle, confiscate your passport, and/or hold you there until you give in.

The airport is another adventure. Just last month, an Albanian traveling to Montenegro with his family of four was held at the Podgorica airport and demanded to pay over 200 Euros for (1) not having a Visa and (2) coming in with too much luggage. First, there is no requirement to have a Visa to enter Montenegro, and there is no penalty for arriving with excess luggage, that is usually the case when departing a country, not arriving into one. In any event, the traveler recalled the exact words repeated by the airport officer: “Look mister, you’re infant is crying, perhaps you want to take care of this matter now so I can let you go visit your mother.” When asked what he meant by taking care,” he was escorted to a private room and requested to pay 200 Euros. When he produced 200 in US dollars, the officer refused and asked him to exchange the money and immediately return with the correct sum. In addition, he was required to purchase a Visa along with the money owed.

Again, this is all illegal and clear signs of corruption.

This summer will pose another twist. The climate has changed a bit now that Albanians have been tainted as “terrorists” in Montenegro’s most storied judicial proceeding. There have been many references to the Diaspora and their possible involvement with the indictments. Although unproven, Montenegrin officials are keeping a close eye on who enters the country this summer and have not ruled out questioning visitors. And why should Albanians not be concerned, the three American citizens currently being held in Spuz traveled to Montenegro to visit family and friends.

US Congressmen Appeal to Podgorica for Prisoner's Rights

Members of the United States Congress recently replied to a letter from a student organization requesting that they pressure the Montenegrin government to adhere to international human rights during judicial proceedings involving 15 Albanian detainees currently being held in Spuz, Montenegro.

Eliot Engel (D-NY), Joe Knollenberg (R-MI), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA)jointly signed on to an appeal directed at Montenegro's Premier, Milo Dukanovic, urging him to succumb to legal rights regarding the judicial proceedings of the 15 prisoners, now entering its 20th month without any judgement.

The letters appear below:

Letter to Eliot Engel:[2].pdf

Letter to Milo Dukanovic:

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Montenegro Votes for President

06 April 2008 Podgorica -- Montenegro is holding its first Presidential election since becoming independent in May 2006.

Incumbent President Filip Vujanovic, of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists is widely tipped to win a new five-year term in office for the largely ceremonial position.

However he faces criticism from his rivals who accuse the party of suppressing the opposition and ruling virtually unchallenged for the past 20 years.

Montenegro's ties with Serbia, from which the country separated in 2006, are a key issue in the vote, especially in light of neighbouring Kosovo's February 17 declaration of independence from Belgrade. Read more at:

The question has seen the growing popularity of Andrija Mandic, the Presidential candidate for the Serb List, who has taken a hardline stand against recognising Kosovo' independence and also wants Podgorica to rebuild closer ties with Belgrade.

"Whatever anyone says, Montenegro remains a Serbian state," argues Mandic who claims to represent all the ethnic Serbs who make up 30% of Montenegro's 650,000 people.

"Those presidential candidates who were against Montenegro's independence two years ago have no moral right to lead the country in the future," claims Vujanovic. "We won independence, now we have to start our fight for Montenegro in the European Union."

Since separating from Serbia, Montenegro has integrated further into the EU and at NATO's Bucharest Summit on Thursday, the country moved a step closer to membership of the alliance. Annual economic growth stands at about eight percent and foreign investment since 2006 is around €644 million, which has propelled tiny Montenegro to the top of Europe's per capita foreign investment ranking.

Vujanovic is hoping to use this to secure a fresh mandate.

However he, together with long time political ally, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, face allegations of presiding over a regime ridden with corruption.

"Montenegro is an independent country, but it still needs to become a free and democratic state without its corrupt and smuggling-prone regime," claims Nebojsa Medojevic, the candidate for the technocrat Movement for Change, who is trailing third in the opinion polls.

Last month, Djukanovic was questioned by Italian Prosecutors over his role in cigarette smuggling in the 1990s. Read more at:

Srdjan Milic, of the Socialist People's Party is the fourth candidate standing in Montenegro's Presidential election. Read Balkan Insight's profile of the four candidates here:

Polls open at 0800 CEST (0600 GMT) and close at 2100 CEST (1900 GMT) with preliminary projections released an hour later. Some 800 local and international officials are monitoring the ballot.
Who’s Who in the Montenegro Election
Since then the country has managed to build closer ties with the European Union and at the NATO Summit on Thursday, moved a step closer to membership of the alliance.

The country is seeing unprecedented economic growth, especially in tourism and real estate but many Montenegrins claim they have yet to see the benefits.

Around a third of Montenegro’s 650,000 people are ethnic Serbs who want to maintain close ties with Serbia.

Here’s a look at the four candidates standing in Montenegro’s election and their position on the key issues.

Filip Vujanovic

The incumbent, Filip Vujanovic, the ruling Democratic Party of Socialist, DPS, candidate, says he is convinced he will win as his opponents were those “who were against Montenegro’s independence” two years ago.

Vujanovic, who has been President since 2003, is still riding high on the wave of post-independence euphoria and the popularity of its architect, Prime Minister, Milo Djukanovic.

Vujanovic is hoping to use his record in overseeing Montengro’s rapidly-expanding economy and Euro-Atlantic integration to secure his reelection on Sunday.
Other presidential candidates accuse him of being nothing more than Djukanovic’s mouthpiece.

Andrija Mandic

Andrija Mandic, is the candidate for the Serb List, the single strongest opposition force in Montenegro, and aims to represent all Serbs living in the country.

In favour of maintaining strong ties with Belgrade, Mandic has courted controversy by taking up dual Serbian citizenship – a move opposed by the ruling coalition, and calling on citizens not to recognise Montenegro’s new constitution because it renamed the national language from Serbian to Montenegrin.

Mandic has been most vocal in urging Podgorica not to recognise Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia. His hardline stand has seen him push Nebojsa Medojevic into third place in opinion polls.

He also opposes Montenegro’s membership of NATO, insisting there must be a referendum on the issue.

Nebojsa Medojevic

Nebojsa Medojevic, is the candidate for the Movement for Change, a party with a market-orientated focus, aiming to reform the country and bringing it in line with ‘European standards’ and build closer ties with the European Union.

Medojevic has been highly critical of the ruling DPS, accusing Djukanovic and Vujanovic of stifling democracy in the young nation.

He is promising to clean up politics by tackling corruption and organised crime.

Srdjan Milic

Srdjan Milic, the Socialist People’s Party candidate backs the country’s swift accession to the European Union and NATO.

Since Predrag Bulatovic resigned from the leadership of the party following its dismal performance in the September 2006 parliamentary election, Milic has overseen the party’s transformation into a European-style Social Democratic Party, concentrating on on social reform and welfare.