The census was actually supposed to be held in the Balkan country of Montenegro from the beginning of November. Its purpose is to provide authorities with information about demographics. However, questions about identity should also be asked: what nationality you feel you belong to, what religion you practice. Sensitive questions in a country made up of different ethnic groups. Therefore, the opposition called on its supporters to boycott. Now the future Prime Minister has announced a one-month postponement. But the dispute is unlikely to be resolved. Answers to the most important questions.
Foreign editor of SRF Radio
Janice Fahlander is SRF’s foreign reaction editor. There he is responsible for preparing reports on the Balkan countries.
Why is the census controversial?
The opposition accuses the pro-Serb forces within the current government of wanting to falsify the population census and thus change the statistical majority. In fact, the opposition in Montenegro has so far refused to control the vote counting process. In addition, these forces also openly declare that they want to increase the proportion of Serbs in the total population. The pro-Serb parties will no longer participate in the next government, which is scheduled to take office within the next few days. However, they support the minority coalition and will therefore continue to exercise their influence. Therefore, distrust remains high.
How are Serbian forces trying to influence people?
It is not only the pro-Serb parties in Montenegro that want to influence the results. There are also attempts by Serbia to change the result in its favor. There has been an aggressive advertising campaign funded by Serbia that has been going on for some time. Massive posters or posts on social media aim to convince people to call themselves Serbs. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church, which also has influence in Montenegro, also intervened in the discussion. For these forces, Montenegro is part of the Serbian world. In the long term, they want to transform the Montenegrin identity, which is currently majority-represented, into a majority Serbian identity.
What does Serbia hope for?
It is hoped that it will have a greater impact on Montenegro. By increasing the proportion of the Serb population, Montenegrin authorities can be pressured to grant more rights to the Serb population. This would allow Belgrade to exert its influence over the internal affairs of the small neighboring state. Something similar can be observed in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Kosovo. Both are neighboring countries to Serbia, where there is also a large Serbian population. Through minority rights, Serbia has the influence to interfere in the internal affairs of these countries.
A divided society
According to the last referendum in 2011, approximately 45 percent of Montenegrins feel they are Montenegrins, and about 30 percent feel they are Serbs. The rest are distributed among other minorities. According to current opinion polls, since then there have been slight shifts in favor of the Serbian side and at the expense of the Montenegrin side.
This may also have something to do with the political divide. In 2020, there was a change in power for the first time in decades when the then opposition came to power in the elections. Since then, politics in Montenegro have been characterized by instability. Several changes of government followed in a short time, and politicians increasingly emphasized the differences. This has polarized the population. The next government was also unable to find a majority and will therefore form a minority coalition.
What do Montenegrin forces want?
Serbia opposes those forces that call themselves Montenegro. They want a stronger demarcation of the border with Serbia and see Montenegro closer to the west. Many fear that their large neighbor is exercising too much influence, and fear that Serbia will be able to obstruct Montenegro. After all, Montenegro as a country has only gained its independence from Serbia since 2006. Many people currently see this independence as being in danger.
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