MONTENEGRO: World’s Newest Country Seeks Early NATO Entry
April 3, 2007
The newest independent country and the 192nd member of the United Nations, Montenegro is moving rapidly to become known as a country separate from Serbia.
The country’s first embassy is in Washington, DC, where last December the first ambassador, Miodrag Vlahovic, presented his credentials to President George Bush. Fortunately, Montenegro owned a suitable building in the city, at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and 18th Street, that is being rezoned from trade mission to embassy. The ambassador has three young diplomats assisting him.
A country of just 670,000 people (similar to the population of Cyprus) on a piece of the Balkans the size of Connecticut, Montenegro has a typical Balkan mix of peoples: 43 percent Montenegrins, 43 percent Serbs, 14 percent Muslim Slavs and 7 percent Albanians. Long dominated by Serbia, it won independence from the Republic of Serbia and Montenegro through a referendum last year.
Ambassador Vlahovic pointed out that independence was achieved by patiently taking steps that would assure international acceptance of the outcome. With the large Serbian population, independence was not universally desired, but when it came to a vote the groundwork had been laid for a peaceful transition.
“In a manner untypical for the Balkans, we had a peaceful and democratic transition,” the ambassador said. “We are very proud that the referendum was organized and executed in a very credible way.” There was no violence or destruction.
He continued: “This represented Montenegro in the best possible light, especially in the context of the last decade and a half when we were all witnesses to, and to a certain extent victims of, the horrible crisis of the dissolution of Yugoslavia.”
The understanding of the United States “was of the greatest possible importance to us,” he said of American policy at that critical time of transition for his country.
Montenegro has a unicameral assembly with 81 seats, a prime minister who is the head of government and a president who is head of state.
The ambassador was foreign minister when he requested a posting to the new embassy in Washington, reflecting the importance his country places on close relations with the United States.
In fact he has nothing but praise for US policy towards his country, which has been pivotal in its successful founding. At one point American assistance on a per capita basis was second only to what Washington gives to Israel every year.
“Montenegro will never forget” this support, he said. “The attitude of the US was of greatest importance to us.”
“This [Embassy] is the most important address for us in the world,” the ambassador said, by way of stressing the ongoing importance Montenegro attaches to its relations with Washington, which he describes as “a strategic partner, despite the huge discrepancy in all criteria.” He continued: “The United States and Montenegro [enjoy] very fruitful communication and cooperation.”
Putting this relationship into perspective, he says that especially from 1996 on, “Montenegro was a reliable friend of the United States… and on the other side the United States was the most reliable and helpful friend of Montenegro in the most critical and important period of our recent history.”
Montenegro’s first foreign policy objective is to join NATO. It hopes to be added as the fourth member of the group of Balkan countries already in line for membership: Macedonia, Croatia and Albania. “I hope by the end of my term as ambassador to Washington, that Montenegro will be in NATO,” he said.
He recognizes that this is an optimistic timetable, but said: “Although this is highly ambitious, we have a very good understanding of these terms in Washington.” He noted that “Montenegro has the advantage of being small.” Small systems can be changed easily.
Remodeling of the military as well as coming to agreement over financial matters with NATO are relatively easy to achieve, he said. The conscription army will become all volunteer, and the current force of 6,000 will be reduced to a modern, multipurpose force of 2,500 that can be fully integrated into NATO.
“One very positive result of our independence is that we have become members of the Partnership for Peace and the Extended Adriatic Charter without any conditions,” he noted.
President Filip Vujanovic is due to visit Washington in the near future to sign the State Of Forces Agreement (SOFA). This will be the first official visit by Montenegro’s head of state.
Economic cooperation is another key area of importance to Montenegro. “We are very keen for American investments in Montenegro,” Ambassador Vlahovic said. Now that the risks associated with an uncertain political future have been removed, “there are numerous opportunities for investment,” he said.
The ambassador said there are a number of major companies investing in Montenegro, “but one major ingredient missing is US companies.” There are no major US investors so far. “But we hope in the very near future that we will be able to get them.”
“We are very interested in technical and financial support to continue, although now that we are no longer a possible or potential problem, there is a new dimension in this cooperation,” the ambassador said.
Asked why American companies should choose to invest in Montenegro, the ambassador said: “First of all, there are very favorable legal and infrastructure conditions for investment. Second, Montenegro offers many opportunities for investment in tourism and tourism-related industries. We also offer some possibilities for investment in infrastructure (such as railways and highways), and finally we believe American companies could be interested in our offshore reserves of gas.”
Montenegro has 293 kilometers of Adriatic coastline, including the exclusive Sveti Stefan island resort, which a Singaporean company recently leased for 30 years.
Interestingly, Montenegro already uses the Euro. This came about through adopting the Deutchmark in 1999, as protection against the devaluation of the Dinar used by Serbia, and then changing to the Euro when Germany changed.
Another “long-term goal” is entry into the European Union, again joining all the countries in the region. “Rightly enough, the EU has conditions that we need to meet.”
“Serbia was not delighted by Montenegro’s independence,” the ambassador said. But relations are good, and on a temporary basis Serbian embassies are offering consular services for Montenegro.
The ambassador concluded by noting that Montenegro “wanted its full responsibility back.” This is what comes with independence, and includes “being fully accountable for our errors,” he said emphatically. “No excuses. We want to be responsible. Montenegro is a country that can organize itself, that has all the prerequisites for us to develop our country.”
Biography of Ambassador Miodrag Vlahovic
Born in 1961, Djakovica.
Lawyer. Podgorica Law Faculty, graduated 1986.
1988-89, Belgrade, Law Faculty, post-graduate study “International Trade Contracts”;
1989, Paris, International Chamber of Commerce, Arbitration;
1989, Luxembourg, International University Center “International Aspects of Industrial Policies”;
1991, Leiden, Holland, post-graduate studies; thesis “Intellectual & industrial property rights and EEC competition rules”;
Owner of MConsult ltd (one of the first private consulting agencies in Montenegro), from 1990.
Main social/political activities:
• Founder and conceptualist of STUDEKS (“Students' Experiment”) Cultural Center, in Podgorica, 1985;
• Socialist Youth Union of Yugoslavia (SSOJ) member of the federal presidency & international secretary, 1986-88;
• Founder and one of the leaders of Citizens Committee for Peace (Montenegrin Peace Movement), 1991-92. Organizer of the first peace rally in Montenegro, July 17, 1991, and speaker "Heroism Today is Not To Go to War";
• Member of Parliament, (Parliament of Republic of Montenegro), 1992-94. Member of Parliamentary Committee for international relations; Committee for political system; Committee for legal and administrative matters.
• Resigned from Parliament in 1994, due to the unconstitutional change of Law of Elections;
• Liberal Party of Montenegro, international secretary, 1992-93;
• Columnist, “Monitor”, 1991-1993 and 1999-2000;
• Founder-member of CEDEM – Montenegrin Center for Democracy & Human Rights, 1998;
• Director, CeRS – Center for Regional & Security Studies, from 1999;
• Board Member, Open Society Institute Montenegro, 2002.-2004;
• Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro, August 2004-November 2006;
• Ambassador of Montenegro to USA, from December 2006.
Languages: English & Italian.
Married, three daughters.