Serbia and Montenegro in brief diplomatic kerfuffle

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Montenegro accused Serbian Ambassador Vladimir Bozovic of “interfering in Montenegro’s internal affairs” and ordered his expulsion on November 28 after he described a decision by Montenegrin authorities in 1918 to unify with Serbia as a form of “liberation.”

Bozovic delivered his commentary at a meeting of an association representing Montenegrin Serbs, considered a friendly space for such discussions.  Bozovic, who has a history of provocative statements and actions on this subject, assessed the decision in 1918 as a “free expression of people’s will to unite with fraternal Serbia”, according to a BBC report.

In a reciprocal diplomatic move, Serbia almost immediately expelled Montenegrin Ambassador, Tarzan Milosevic, after Montenegro gave Serbia’s envoy Bozovic 72 hours to leave.  On November 29, Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, however, announced the expulsion had been rescinded and made conciliatory diplomatic overtures.

Montenegro has been independent since a referendum in 2006 and has already joined NATO.  Montenegro and Serbia have been separately negotiating the provisions for their eventual EU accession since 2012 and 2014, respectively, with notional targets for completion by 2024-25.

Some analysts consider the intense focus on this issue, at least in Belgrade, was intended to temporarily distract attention from the surging COVID-19 crisis in Serbia and to deflect growing criticism of the government’s crisis management.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic delivers a speech to parliament in Belgrade. EPA-EFE//ANDREJ CUKIC

The Prime Minister-designate of the incoming government in Montenegro, Zdravko Krivokapic, whose coalition is dominated by pro-Serbian parties, criticized the outgoing government’s decision, accusing it of deepening divisions between Serbs and Montenegrins days before it was set to take office on December 4.  That coalition narrowly won the election in August but did not campaign on anti-Western themes.  His priorities include the economy, fighting the coronavirus, and the “real rule of law.”

It is still unclear when and if incoming Prime Minister Krivokapic will opt to welcome Serbia’s envoy back to Podgorica, although it is unlikely that he will face strong opposition.

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