Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Feeling pressure from below, Dukanovic bows to Albanian demands in Gucia

PODGORICA, ME - Last week's parliamentary decision to adopt a proposal that would grant Gucia municipal status has drawn national attention from the Albanian minority throughout Montenegro.  The adoption would make Gucia the 23rd municipality in Montenegro, with a population of approximately 2,000 Albanians and Bosniaks.  
Gucia (formerly part of the municipality of Plav) voted in a referendum that backed a bid to obtain municipal status.  Albanians welcomed the news, especially given that the road for municipal recognition (as with other minority attempts in Montenegro for equal rights) was long and arduous.  Albanian political parties and NGOs worked in tandem to persuade the government to allow a referendum where local citizens would decide their own fate on various local government issues. 
The ruling DPS and its autocrat, Milo Dukanovic repeatedly vetoed any proposal that would establish an Albanian-majority municipality, similar to those preventing another Albanian region -- Malesia -- from establishing its own local self-government.  
With their unwavering position on establishing additional municipalities, Albanians threatened to boycott the 2012 elections.  This translated into thousands of "no-votes" for the DPS, and given that Dukanovic depends heavily on minority votes to remain in power, he reluctantly bowed to the demands and approved the establishment of an autonomous Gucia Commune.  
Earlier, Petnjica, also in the north of Montenegro, where the majority of citizens are Bosniak, regained the municipal status it previously had from 1945 to 1957, when it was merged with Berane.
Djukanovic has also announced the possibility of forming a new, 24th municipality in mainly Albanian Malesia, near the capital, Podgorica.  Conversely, the politics surrounding Malesia are a slightly different than those affecting Gucia.  Podgorica, the country's largest municipal zone, inhabits Malesia (with Tuzi as its center and approximately 13,000 Albanians), and the DPS relies on the Albanian vote to sustain government power and influence over the entire country.  If Malesia were to divorce from Podgorica and form its own municipality, Dukanovic fears the votes for his party will also disappear.
Recent territorial laws surrounding the fate of Malesia have been subject to much criticism by Albanian political parties, especially a law that would not fully grant Malesia budgetary independence from the capital city's sphere of influence, something Podgorica's mayor, Miomir ("Mugy") Mugosha maintains is necessary and sufficient for the vitality of the region (Similar sentiments were expressed in 1957 when League of Communist Mayors' Iko Mirkovic and Branko Nilevic stripped Malesia of her municipal status).  Milo Dukanovic is a descendant and former party leader of the same League of Communists along with Slobodan Milosevic.
Any conclusions we can draw from Dukanovic's decision to grant Gucia, and potentially Malesia, municipal status leads to the party's ambitions itself; the Albanian population, in the eyes of the DPS, is merely a number.  That number translates into votes.  For as long as Dukanovic maintains a grip on Albanian regions, his life-line in Montenegro is extended.  Absurd as this may sound, one only needs to look at what's happening in Montenegro to connect the clues.  Montenegrins and Serbs, who make up 73% of the population, are showing signs of discomfort with the DPS.  In recent weeks, protesters took to the streets and challenged the authorities to address the country’s endemic social problems.  Scenes like this are being echoed in neighboring Bosnia where talks of a "Balkan Spring" are spreading into cafes and villages. 
Balkan Insight contributed to this story