Montenegro poll shows anti-Western tilt, highlighting autocrats’ illiberal ‘spoiler’ role in Western Balkans?


A new survey of public opinion in Montenegro reveals widespread opposition to NATO and U.S. involvement in Europe’s security as well as dissatisfaction with the direction of the country. According to a poll conducted on behalf of the International Republican Institute’s* Center for Insights in Survey Research by Ipsos Strategic Marketing. Data:

More than half of respondents (54 percent) think that Montenegro is headed in the wrong direction, while 61 percent do not feel that young people have a “good future” in Montenegro…. More than half either strongly oppose (41 percent) or somewhat oppose (10 percent) NATO membership, and a combined 54 percent have either a mostly negative (40 percent) or somewhat negative (14 percent) view of NATO.

A plurality (44 percent) do not think that the U.S. should play a role in European security, and believe that U.S. involvement in Europe “increases tensions and insecurity.” In contrast, 55 percent think that Russia “should be considered a partner in European security,” and say that excluding Russia from European security structures “makes us less secure.” 

“This survey raises significant concerns about the prevalence of anti-Western sentiment in Montenegro and the country’s apparent tilt towards the Kremlin,” said IRI Deputy Director for Europe Paul McCarthy. “Transatlantic leaders should take note of this troubling trend and work closely together to strengthen Montenegro’s democratic resilience to negative foreign influences within a strong Euro-Atlantic security framework.”

The survey is likely to renew concern about illiberalism in the Balkans and the growing influence of authoritarian states like Russia and China.

Russian intelligence operatives have supported violent and far-right wing groups in Europe, even attempting a coup and assassination attempt in Montenegro, the Atlantic reports. The alleged coup attempt , however murky the story is, proves Russia is playing a “spoiler” role in the Western Balkans, says Dimitar Bechev (right), research fellow at the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“Moscow relies on a number of proxies, too: political parties, civic groups, opinion makers, clerics,” adds Bechev, author of Rival Power: Russia in Southeast Europe.

“On the other hand, Russia is making use of the vulnerabilities in the region – the anti-Western attitude in large swathes of society, the poisoned media environment, corruption and state capture,” he adds. “And, as I argue in my book, it wields influence because Balkan elites make a common cause with it to promote their very own interests, rather than serve the Kremlin.”

With the launch of the “One Belt, One Road” InitiativeChina has also become a player in the Balkans to an unprecedented degree and in a way that differs significantly from the other powers in the region, notes Vuk Vuksanovic, a PhD researcher in International Relations at the London School of Economics. One only needs to follow the money to see China’s more active Balkan presence, he writes for War On The Rocks:

In 2014 China pledged to all the countries of Eastern and Central Europe, including the Balkans, an investment fund of $3 billion alongside the $10 billion credit lines that were promised a year earlier and intended to support Chinese investments. In the past, this level of investment would have been inconceivable, but with the European Union reluctant to expand to the Balkans, China is more active in the region than ever before.

new report published by the Atlantic Council (right) ahead of a conference on Southeastern Europe described the Western Balkans as “the unfinished business of a Europe whole and free,” VOA reports.

“[U.S. National Security Adviser H.R.] McMaster spoke very seriously about what U.S. considers the greatest security challenges in Western Balkans, and he emphasized that the United States is not losing interest, nor has it the intention to be inactive in the Western Balkans,” said Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic. “On the contrary,” he told VOA, McMaster said the U.S. is “very interested in obtaining stability and democracy and willing to support Euro-Atlantic integration for those Balkan countries that want to join.”

Montenegro’s social movements have played a significant role in the country’s democratisation process, analyst Bojan Baća writes in “The Democratic Potential of Emerging Social Movements in Southeastern Europe”, a publication of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES):

Baća differentiates between externally funded NGOs, which played one of the key roles in both anti-Milošević and pro-independence movements, thus narrowing the activity of the civil society to that of a professionalized civil sector, and those groups that led a series of street rallies in 2012 and criticized both the neoliberal reforms and the semi-authoritarian polity.

*A core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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