MINELRES: Fwd: Montenegro: Minorities accuse Djukanovic of betrayal

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Mon Jul 24 18:02:26 2006

Original sender: Balkan Human Rights <office@greekhelsinki.gr>

Montenegro: Minorities accuse Djukanovic of betrayal 
Annulment of act guaranteeing Montenegro's minorities seats in
parliament sparks furious recriminations


By Nedjeljko Rudovic in Podgorica (Balkan Insight, 20 July 06)

Ethnic minority leaders are furiously accusing Montenegro 's government
betrayal, after the courts struck down a law guaranteeing their parties
fixed numbers of seats in parliament.

The Constitutional Court decision, affecting two articles in the
recently passed Minority Rights Act, will have an immediate affect on
the next elections set for September 10, reducing the number of seats
that ethnic minority parties can expect to win.

Minority leaders rounded on the prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, leader
of the governing Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, charging him with
bad faith on the grounds that his party undoubtedly had influence on the

They said they would not have supported Djukanovic's referendum on
independence on May 21 without the guarantees they thought they had
received in the act.

The government passed the Minority Rights Act only ten days before the
independence poll. Bosniak representatives in particular had made its
passage a condition of support for the independence cause.

The Constitutional Court struck down the act on the grounds that it
contravened the principle of the equality of all citizens as laid down
in the constitution.

Under the act, minority parties would have needed fewer voters to elect
representatives to parliament than the rest.

The act granted minority groups comprising between one and five per cent
of the population one seat in parliament and allocated three to ethnic
groups constituting over five per cent.

The law was politically significant in Montenegro , which is a highly
multi-ethnic society in which no one group holds an absolute majority.

According to the 2003 census, ethnic Montenegrins make up 43 per cent of
the population, Serbs 32 per cent, Bosniaks around eight per cent,
Albanians five per cent, Muslims four per cent and Croats one per cent.

Ethnic minority votes were crucial in enabling Djukanovic to carry the
independence vote against strong opposition from most Serbs and some

Charging the government with reneging on earlier promises, the Bosniak
Party attacked the court's decision as an "an assault on minority
rights, a regression and an ugly flaw in the democratic image of
Montenegro ".

"Those responsible have betrayed and deceived themselves and inflicted
serious, long-lasting damage onto Montenegro ," said the party's
spokesperson, Hazbija Kalac.

An equally furious counterblast came from the head of the Democratic
Albanian Union, DUA, Ferhat Dinosha.

"Montenegro has harmed its own interests," he said. "This government is
not ready for European integration because the Constitutional Court 's
decision is intended to .. attack European democratic standards."

The government insists it had nothing to do with the court decision and
regretted the development. It also promised to amend the constitution
after the next general election so as to ensure that any future act on
guaranteed representation for minorities could not be found

The ruling party attempted to defuse some of the parties' anger and
disappointment by offering the main Bosniak and Croat parties some seats
in parliament as part of a joint slate of candidates with the DPS.

Sources told Balkan Insight that the DPS had offered the Bosniak Party
two seats on its slate for the September 10 poll and the Croat Civic
Initiative one.

Croats and Bosniaks are at the moment negotiating with DPS regarding
their proposal.

Marija Vucinovic, the Croat Civic Initiative leader, told the Podgorica
daily Vijesti they had received the offer of a seat, but added that it
was no compensation for the seat they had lost through the
Constitutional Court 's decision.

"To get a seat in parliament through the Minority Rights Act is quite
different from obtaining a seat by way of a coalition agreement," she

The Bosniak Party flatly refused the offer of two seats on a joint slate
as an inadequate compensation for the lost "three guaranteed seats" that
they would have obtained under the act, said the party's spokesperson,
Hazbija Kalac.

The Bosniak Party insisted on the right of the Bosniaks to enjoy direct
representation and said it "dismisses the charity of the big political

Some experts say the court's decision is bound to be seen as a
reflection of the government's desire to escape from its pre-referendum

"This affair will certainly adversely affect inter-ethnic relations in
Montenegro ," said Aleksandar Zekovic, a human rights expert who had
worked on drafting the Minority Rights Act.

"The previously strong relationship of trust between ethnic groups and
the government has suffered a serious setback.

"In addition, the international reputation of Montenegro has suffered
and this will cause new political problems."

Marko Canovic, of the Centre for Democratic Transition, an NGO that
monitors elections, agreed that trust between the minorities and the
government had deteriorated.

"The adoption of the Minority Rights Act before the referendum gave a
boost to the pro-independence camp," he said.

"After what has happened, mutual trust has deteriorated, particularly
with the Albanian minority."

Canovic went on to say that as the act was deemed at variance with the
constitution, the constitution now needed to be amended after the

DPS officials concur with this, insisting that long-term "backtracking" 

on their pre-referendum pledges could not be further from their party's

"We regret that a good idea will not be translated into reality due to
the Constitutional Court 's decision," Miodrag Radunovic, chair of the
DPS executive board, told Balkan Insight.

"We will endeavour to find a solution based on the best European
experiences in this field and implement it in our new constitutional

Mevludin Nuhodzic, of the DPS presidency, insisted the party had no
hidden agendas when it came to minorities, and that the DPS had voted
for the act in good faith, believing it would be implemented.

Montenegro 's president, Filip Vujanovic, said he was certain ethnic
minority parties would be satisfactorily represented in parliament in
the long term. 

"It is in the interest of Montenegro to have ethnic minority parties
represented in the parliament that should protect minority ethnic
interests," he said. 

Nedjeljko Rudovic is a journalist with Podgorica daily Vijesti. Balkan
Inisight is BIRN's online publication.

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