Cuts to welfare provisions prompt protest in Montenegro

Peaceful Assembly

Protests on a variety of issues have recently taken place in Montenegro. While the majority of these took place without incident, one protest led to clashes between police and protesters. On 16th February, at least 2,000 mothers from across Montenegro gathered in Podgorica to demonstrate against state-imposed cuts to social benefits. The mothers camped outside  government headquarters, calling upon policymakers to reverse the decision. The women held signs saying: 

'Gentlemen of the Government, beware of women - mothers'

Under the new austerity measures, financial assistance to women who have three or more children will be cut by 25 percent. In an attempt to slash public spending, the policy is expected to impact 21,500 women, many of whom are unemployed. Clashes broke out between protesters and Montenegrin security forces when activists attempted to force their way into the government building. There were no reports of any arrests or excessive use of force. 

A number of other protests were reported in Montenegro over the past few months:

  • Citizens protested in front of the UN office demanding an end to civilian killings in Syria; 
  • Supporters of the Democratic Front political party protested against a parliamentary vote to revoke immunity for two Democratic Front officials; 
  • Former workers at an aluminum plant in Podgorica protested against the government's assessment of the Law on Payment of Severance; and
  • Nikshic mine workers protested against the long working hours and lower wages that violate provisions in their contracts.

Photo credit: LGBT Forum Progres

In a display of solidarity with other civic movements, members of the LGBTI community have offered support to any group that peacefully organises and mobilises to express their discontent with government policies and actions.

Expression

As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, self-censorship by journalists has become a serious concern for freedom of expression in Montenegro. Civic groups have noted an increasingly smaller circle of dissidents who are able and willing to speak out about politically-sensitive issues without fear of reprisal. Now, a proposed amendment to the criminal code could make the situation even worse by granting the authorities power to prosecute anyone who criticises the courts or prosecutor's office. Montenegrin civil society was quick to condemn the proposed amendment, concerned that it would be used to silence criticism of the judiciary.  The NGO - Institute for the Rule of Law - voiced its concern in a statement, declaring: 

'...where is the line between criticism and ridicule? Such criminalisation may seriously restrict the media and civil society, as well as any means of expression...'

Should the amendment be approved, the authorities could impose fines or sentences of up to six months imprisonment. Civil society is closely monitoring the situation as hearings and consultations over the draft continue.