April 26, 2023

Concerns have been raised about rising intolerance, the spread of hatred, and poor media standards following recent elections in Montenegro.

The first round of presidential elections, which involved seven candidates, was held in Montenegro on 19 March. A second round of voting, with two candidates, took place on 2 April, with Jakov Milatović, the candidate of the Europe Now Movement (PES) winning with almost 60 percent of the vote.

Although several international and domestic observers classified the campaign as peaceful and without serious incident, the Center for Investigative Journalism of Montenegro (CIN-CG), as part of the monitoring for the Reporting Diversity Network 2.0 noted several problems and worrying trends, especially when it came to the language of intolerance, and the spread of hatred by individual candidates, political parties and some media. Insensitive speech and the lack of inclusive language by certain candidates was also noticeable. Gender and patriarchal stereotypes were encouraged, as well as intolerance towards certain religious and ethnic groups, despite the candidates being promoted as civic-minded.

Sensationalist headlines in the media that contribute to division in society

Many media outlets in Montenegro accepted the rhetoric of the presidential candidates and their reporting suggested that the votes of the Montenegrin diaspora would play a decisive role in the election process. Thus, the campaign in the second round of elections was marked by sensationalist media headlines and reports on the number of people from the diaspora travelling to Montenegro to exercise their right to vote. The news stating that endless convoys of cars were moving from Germany, Luxembourg and Austria towards Montenegro was shared on social networks, where numerous comments containing hate speech against the Montenegrin diaspora were then spread. Such reports did not contribute to the democratic process of electing the president, but rather further fuelled tension in society.

Complete lack of sensitivity for vulnerable groups

Andrija Mandić, the candidate of the Democratic Front (DF)  showed a special insensitivity and lack of information when it came to the issue of addiction to psychoactive substances. During a presentation on TV Adria, he expressed views that encouraged discrimination towards people with addiction, stating that they should be ghettoized and ostracized from the community, because they are ‘clearly dangerous to society,’ and ‘murderers and thieves’. Mandić even referred to cases from abroad, wrongly citing examples of countries in the West that offer free housing and help to people with addiction as a practice of ghettoization. By spreading this disinformation, Mandić could significantly have contributed to the deepening of discrimination against people living with addiction.

The presidential candidate of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), Milo Đukanović, used inappropriate terms and language in relation to people with disabilities.

Promoted stereotyping of women and patriarchal values

The promotional videos of presidential candidates Đukanović and Mandić featured their wives Lidija Đukanović and Sanja Mandić, each in their own way promoting patriarchal stereotypes when it comes to the role of women.

Sanja Mandić pointed out that children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren should be the priority of women, ignoring those women who are not parents because they either do not want to be or cannot have children. With this rhetoric, she showed she does not have enough knowledge surrounding the reproductive rights and freedoms of women, or she is unaware of the importance of these topics.

Lidija Đukanović tried to explain why she did not come forward in public during her husband’s long political career as a president and former prime minister. She stated it was a tradition in Montenegrin society, and society does not respond well to women in politics. Such public statements do not send a positive message to women who want to try to get into politics or who are already politicians.

Moreover, the 8th of March messages from the leading presidential candidates were also not gender sensitive. Both candidates published videos on their official websites in which women had a purely decorative purpose. Neither addressed the poor position of women in Montenegrin society, the high rate of femicide or violence against women.

The winning candidate, Jakov Milatović, pointed out that he “proved himself to be a family man” at the presidential convention in Bar, even though he presented himself as a citizen candidate. Orientation towards civic values implies the inclusion of everyone, regardless of their preferences when it comes to partnerships, with whom and in what way they will live, and whether they will decide to start a family. We believe that the candidate’s argument that he is a “family man” should not be the card he plays, especially if the candidate presents himself as having modern civic beliefs.

Dangerous messages from officials who advocate Montenegrin nationalism

Other political actors have also been promoting intolerance.

Ivan Vuković, until recently the mayor of Podgorica and a high-ranking DPS official, made a number of problematic statements and intolerant messages during an event for DPS candidate Milo Đukanović’s presidential campaign. Vuković insisted on the ethnic purity of Montenegrins and he insulted the believers of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and Serbs in Montenegro. “We whose vision extends beyond Belgrade and Banja Luka, we who want our children to learn foreign languages and prepare for the digital age and not to kneel in churches and monasteries as if in the Middle Ages,” said Vuković in one of the speeches.

Draginja Vuksanović Stanković, presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Party, (SDP) claimed during a presidential debate on the public service broadcaster RTCG that the Europe Now Movement (PES) candidate Jakov Milatović had said “what if ten people from Cetinje die” during the protest against the enthronement of the Metropolitan of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) in Montenegro, Joanikije, in Cetinje, in September 2021. Milatović has repeatedly denied these claims and again denied them during the debate. A day after the debate at RTCG, Milatović was verbally and physically attacked in Cetinje by several individuals, including supporters of the DPS and SDP.

The attack on Milatović was the most dramatic event during the campaign. Milatović was attacked in Cetinje during his arrival at a convention by demonstrators who tried to prevent him from entering the hall where a pre-election meeting was being held. Milatović was pushed by the gathered citizens and was verbally accused of betrayal, closeness to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and its leadership, and his patriotism was questioned.

The incident was the subject of numerous comments on social networks, which included nationalist rhetoric and the spread of hatred towards members of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and Serbs. The media reported on this event in different ways. The daily newspaper Pobjeda published an article that the attack did not even happen, despite numerous recordings and evidence, and even the intervention of the police. False information was published in certain media that one of the PES officials came to Cetinje armed and was pulling out a gun, which was denied by videos showing that the PES official was not taking out a gun, but a phone.

Candidate Vuksanović Stanković also stated during an appearance on TV Vijesti that the leader of the Komitas movement between the two world wars, Krsto Popović, was a hero, although according to all historical data, Popović was an associate of the occupiers during World War II. According to Vuksanović Stanković, Popović’s heroism is linked to his national commitment and alleged defence of the Montenegrin state and nation.

Bigotry and lack of objectivity in the media

The media scene in Montenegro is pluralistic. In a country of about 620,000 inhabitants, several hundred media outlets are registered, some of which are extremely ideological, political, and even nationally profiled, with a lack of professional standards. This polarizes the media scene, especially during election campaigns. The reporting of the so-called pro-Serbian and pro-Montenegrin media is often biased and can have a negative impact not only on the electoral process, but also on society.

Most of the private media in Montenegro had a favourite among the candidates. The second presidential debate, in which all candidates were supposed to participate, was cancelled on RTCG, because two private media organized a programme with their favourite individuals, Milo Đukanović and Andrija Mandić. This debate was shown on TV-E and Prva TV, in the time slot when the debate with all the candidates on RTCG was supposed to be broadcast. Since Mandić and Đukanović decided to confront each other on private television, the other candidates cancelled their participation on the public service broadcaster. This procedure was not only problematic when considering the ethics of these two candidates, but also when talking about the media.TV-E and TV Prva, which by favouring Đukanović and Mandić, called into question standard professionalism and journalistic balance. With this confrontation, an attempt was made to create the image that Mandić and Đukanović were the key candidates, and that no one else had a chance to enter the second round.

Changes needed

Montenegro has been a candidate country for joining the European Union for more than a decade, but it still faces many challenges when it comes to building democratic institutions, public discourse, and narrative. The examples we have given show that it is necessary to improve the attitude of almost all political actors, political parties and the media towards others and those who are different. And there is a need for higher journalistic standards.

Author: CIN Montenegro newsroom

Photo: Predrag Jankovic / Shutterstock

Correction was made on to the original article that was published on 26. April. The name of the journalist was removed after CIN Montenegro received an assurance that there was no intention to spread misinformation in the case mentioned in the article.