#OdupriSe builds unity against government corruption

Peaceful Assembly

There has been a wave of mass protests sweeping across the Western Balkans including in Montenegro. The regional movement, dubbed the "Balkan Spring" has witnessed weekly protests in Albania, Montenegro and Serbia calling for government reform. In Podgorica, a series of protests under the slogan “Odupri se (Resist!) – 97.000” saw thousands of citizens gather in weekly anti-government protests since early February 2019. Chanting “Resign!” and “We are the country”, citizens, NGOs, trade unions, students, academics and doctors protested against the systematic corruption in the country and loss of human rights and media freedoms

The protests began after the legal, political and social scandal known as the "Koverta" (Envelope) affair. The protests speak to the numerous instances of corruption, smuggling, organised criminal activities and war crimes which have gone unpunished due to weak public institutions and high-level corruption.

As a result, protesters demanded the resignation of the Prime Minister Duško Marković and President Milo Đukanović, as well as the Assembly and other government bodies. The protesters held banners stating: 

"Wake Up, Montenegro", "We’ve had enough of robbery, corruption, criminal", "Milo, prison is waiting for you", "Cowardliness, selfishness" and shouted "Milo, you thief!" 

Protests were organised in other cities across Montenegro in support of the Podgorica mobilisation. Rallies were also held in Herceg Novi, Budva, Nikšić, Danilovgrad, Cetinje i Pljevlja. For the most part, the protests were generally peaceful, with only minor violent incidents reported. During the fifth protest in March 2019, the police in Podgorica said that several people insulted police officers and threw stones at them. While no one was injured, the police said that they would "not tolerate violence".

At the 7th #OdupriSe protest, on 30th March 2019, opposition MPs and organisers of the "Resist – 97.000" protests signed the Agreement on the Future, a document that sets out a blueprint for them to work together in order to organise "the first free and fair elections in the history of Montenegro". The agreement pledged unity in the fight against the 30-year rule of Đukanović and his ruling DPS. The “Agreement on the Future” proposes that the new unity government would comprise three parts: the opposition parties, some of the former ruling parties and independent non-party intellectuals. The CIVICUS Monitor will continue to monitor the situation of the peaceful protests in Montenegro.

Since 17th January 2019, mass protests in the city of Bar took place after the commencement of building works. Eighty cypress trees were cut down and an amphitheater was demolished in the yard of the city High School to build a kindergarten. Under the slogan “Bar Pamti (Bar Remembers)”, citizens asked for the construction to be stopped and those responsible for ordering the demolition be held responsible. At one of the protests, activists blocked the entrance of the construction site, after which police briefly detained protesters inside a police van. A month later, Prime Minister Marković announced a decision to stop the construction, but protesters continued demanding a new location for the kindergarten, re-planting of the trees and prosecution of the people responsible for the destruction.

Expression

On 12th March 2019, a group of 26 NGOs called on the Government of Montenegro to withdraw amendments to the Law on Classified Information. The local NGO MANS’ stated that the Constitution prescribes the conditions wherein information in the possession of state bodies can be declared secret. The group criticised provisions in the new draft that allow data to be hidden from the public for vague reasons. According to a statement by Transparency International, the proposed law is an unconstitutional attack on freedom of information. In a statement, a spokesperson for Transparency International said:

“If the Government adopts this draft law, it would make it almost impossible for media and civil society to detect corruption and other violations of the law” 

Many in civil society fear the draft could be used to hide corruption in Montenegro. Civil society groups reiterated their calls to withdraw the draft and properly consult with civil society in any subsequent legislation. 

As covered previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, the attack of a Vijesti newspaper journalist sent shockwaves through civil society. Olivera Lakic was shot in the leg in front of her apartment in May 2018, prompting hundreds of journalists and NGO activists to protest outside the Montenegrin government building for the perpetrator to be found and brought to justice. Nine months later, Montenegrin police said they have arrested nine people in connection with the attack on journalist Lakic. Despite the arrests, the incident has opened a broader conversation in Montenegro about the physical safety of journalists. This is especially true for media workers like Lakic who work on sensitive political issues such as corruption. 

Association

In late December 2018, civil society condemned attempts to smear and discredit civil society. The uproar started over media smears against Daliborka Uljarević and the Center for Civic Education (CGO). The news reports which discredited her professional reputation were published on the Serbian "Antidot" portal. The article questioned the integrity of Uljarević's and CGO's work. In particular, it accused the activist of plagiarism and the organisation of stealing ideas to win project funding. In a statement, Uljarević responded to the allegations by saying: 

"Yesterday the website Antidot published an anonymous piece full of malicious misrepresentations of my professional and private life with the clear aim of devaluing my work and, presumably, forcing me to withdraw from public life."

Montenegrin civil society also rallied to her defence. In a statement signed by several prominent CSO leaders, viewed the smears as part of a broader campaign to intimidate activists who question power holders in Montenegro. As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, Uljarević gained prominence for her outspoken stance on the state's attempts to coerce and control independent media and civil society in Montenegro.