Serbia denies meddling in tense Montenegro election

Opposition supporters celebrate after the parliamentary elections in front of the Serbian Orthodox Church of Christ's Resurrection in Podgorica, Montenegro, Monday, Aug. 31, 2020. A preliminary official tally on Monday of the country's weekend parliamentary election indicates that the pro-Western party that has ruled the country for 30 years has won the most votes, but a coalition of three opposition groupings might still take power.

Serbian officials have denied that Serbia and its president have interfered in Montenegro’s parliamentary election that was narrowly won by pro-Belgrade and pro-Russian political groupings.

Though Montenegro’s long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists garnered the most votes in Sunday’s election, a coalition of three opposition parties together won 41 seats in the 81-seat national parliament, enough for them to try form the next government.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, who heads the ruling DPS party, has accused Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his powerful state propaganda mechanism of interfering in the election that was held after months of protests by supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church over its property rights in Montenegro.

Djukanovic said that since the protests led by the influential church started in December, Belgrade had launched “a strong media and political aggression” against Montenegro.

“President Vucic and the current state politics in Serbia have shown two very problematic intentions,” Djukanovic told television late Tuesday. “The first is the desire to interfere in the internal political life of other countries, and the second is an attempt to revive the policies of the greater Serbian nationalism.”

Some 150,000 people died and millions were left homeless during the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia in clashes that started in Slovenia and then spread to Croatia and Bosnia and later to Kosovo. Former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic is generally blamed for stoking the bloodshed through a desire to create a Greater Serbia via the capture of nearby lands where Serbs lived.

Vucic, who once served as information minister in Milosevic’s government, has repeatedly denied meddling in Montenegro’s affairs and the election. His political allies on Wednesday joined him in the denials.

“There is no way that Montenegro is in any form threatened by Serbia,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said.

She added that such claims could be seen as threats on Vucic’s life as they were “drawing a target on his forehead.”

Tensions have soared in Montenegro since Monday, when thousands of Serb opposition party supporters staged boisterous victory celebrations throughout the small country. Participants waved Serbian flags and chanting derogatory slogans against Djukanovic during the events, despite appeals by party leaders to refrain from provocations.

Several incidents were reported since then. Windows of Muslim community offices in the town of Pljevlja, were broken and leaflets thrown in with messages that Muslims should leave Montenegro or they could end up like the 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were massacred in 1995 by Serb troops in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica.

Djukanovic, who has ruled Montenegro for 30 years either as president or prime minister, has been a key Western ally in pushing the volatile Balkans toward a more pro-Western orientation. Djukanovic defied Russia in 2017 to lead his country into NATO after gaining independence from much larger Serbia in 2006.

There have been fears that an opposition-led government would mean a change in Montenegro’s stance and turn it away from NATO toward traditional allies Serbia and Russia.

The opposition leaders have sought to alleviate those fears. They have said they want to unify the divided nation by forming a government that would respect all international agreements and continue the reforms necessary for joining the European Union.

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