PODGORICA, Montenegro—Vice President Joe Biden in April shook hands with the strongman prime minister of this Balkan country of 600,000, but NATO leaders yesterday did not. NATO said no (for now) to Milo Djukanovic’s request that Montenegro become a member of NATO: Its secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said of Montenegro (along with Macedonia, Georgia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina), “Each one has work to do in different areas, and we will give aspirants the support they need to get them through the door.”
Djukanovic expressed optimism that NATO will admit Montenegro next year: “I am convinced that Montenegro fulfilled the expectations of its NATO partners.” He said Montenegro will “continue to work on our priorities—rule of law, security system reform and the army. It remains our task regardless of the invitation or after it.” Balkan Insight reported that opposition leader Nebojsa Medojevic pushed for Djukanovic to resign: “Due to the collapse of one of the national strategic objective of foreign and security policy, it would be a minimum that responsible government officials immediately resign.”
The government of Montenegro has shown little regard for the rule of law. The country has moved from Communism to crony capitalism, with relatives, friends, and supporters of long-in-power Djukanovic getting sweetheart deals on formerly state-owned property. Some anti-corruption journalists have been murdered or severely beaten. Critics of the regime say NATO (and the European Union, since NATO admission is usually a leading indicator of EU acceptance) should not approve Montenegro’s request unless the government drops the remnants of a Communist approach to governance.
Critics have called Montenegro “a Mafia state,” with the country over the past two decades becoming a stop on the road for heroin and cigarette smuggling. Nevertheless, photos of Biden and Djukanovic shaking hands in Washington this spring gained wide distribution and propped up the regime.