The promotion and protection of human, and in particular minority rights is a prerequisite for democracy and development of entire society. In this regard, we must observe actual situation of ethnic and cultural diversity and at the same time work on full integration of minority nations in the Montenegrin society. One neither can speak about democracy, nor about freedom and justice, if there is no respect for differences. The promotion and protection of both individual and collective rights of minority nations have manifold significance and is directly related to the long-term concept of building an intercultural society.
The Constitution of Montenegro offers legal basis for promotion, strengthening and improving the protection of basic human rights and freedoms and confirms commitment of Montenegro to respect international standards in this context. It also guarantees the prohibition of any ”direct or indirect discrimination on any grounds”, and stipulates that ”regulations and introduction of special measures aimed at creating conditions for achieving national, gender and overall equality and protection of persons who are in an unequal position on any grounds, shall not be consider to be discrimination. Special measures may be applied only until the achievement of the aims for which they were undertaken”, which leaves room for establishing additional mechanisms for the protection and promotion of the rights of minorities, i.e. integration of minorities with preservation of their uniqueness. Human rights and freedoms in Montenegro are, therefore, guaranteed by the Constitution, but also by a number of ratified international treaties and national legislation in force in the country. The Constitution of Montenegro guarantees multi-ethnic harmony, protects basic principles of human rights and freedoms, and as well guarantees the protection of political, economic, social and cultural rights. In addition to basic human rights and freedoms and in order to protect the overall national identity, the Constitution guarantees the protection of a set of special minority rights. It guarantees to the members of minority nations and other minority national communities the rights and freedoms which can be used individually and in community with others. Further, the State is obliged to protect members of minority nations and other minority national communities from all forms of forced assimilation. Minority nations and other minority national communities and their members have the right to express, preserve, develop, transmit and publicly manifest their national, ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity, as part of their tradition. One of the main objectives of the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights is full integration of minority nations in social life, along with further preservation and development of their national and cultural characteristics, and the promotion of their legal rights and freedoms.
By strengthening existing institutions and establishing new ones, such as minority councils, the Centre for the Conservation and Development of Minority Culture, the Fund for the Protection and Realization of Minority Rights, was given a new quality to the institutional protection and promotion of minority rights by the areas of importance for the conservation and development of national or ethnic particularities of minority nations and other minority national communities.
The Centre for the Conservation and Development of Minority Culture is an institution established by the Government of Montenegro with the aim of improving minority rights in the field of culture and affirmation of multiculturalism as one of the values of modern Montenegro.
In accordance with the Law on Minority Rights and Freedoms, Article 36, and the Decision on establishing the Fund for Minorities and in order to support the activities for preservation and development of national or ethnic characteristics of minority nations and other minority national communities and their members in the field of national, cultural, linguistic and religious identity, the Parliament of Montenegro established the Fund for the Protection and Realization of Minority Rights.
In order to preserve their own national identity and improve their own rights and freedoms, minority nations or other minority national communities and their members can establish a council of minority nation or other minority national community, therefore, in 2013, were held electoral assemblies and were constituted the Albanian, Bosnian, Croatian, Muslim, Roma and Serbian national minority councils.
As well, the Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms of the Parliament of Montenegro, the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms, the Council for the Protection from Discrimination, the media, as well as a large number of non-governmental organizations deal with the protection of human and minority rights.
In 2014, in accordance with Article 79, item 10 of the Constitution of Montenegro, guaranteeing to the members of minorities the right to proportional representation in public services, state authorities and local self-government, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, in cooperation with the Human Resources Management Authority, developed a research on the representation of minority nations and other minority national communities in state authorities and authorities of state administration, while currently finalizing research on minority representation in the state authorities and authorities of local self-governments. With the results of these researches we can be only partially satisfied, because except Bosniaks, members of other minority nations and other minority national communities are not recording statistically significant increase in representation compared to the previous research. On the other hand, building adequate human resources among members of minorities is necessary in order for minorities to be fully incorporated. Because of that it is very important that as many members of minority nations enroll to a faculty and post-graduate studies, so to be able to professionally and responsibly perform their work. However, in order to further their motivation, for them should be provided scholarships.
Given the legal competencies of councils of minority nations in the previous period, with the aim to have as highest quality achievement of rights pertaining to minority nations and other minority national communities, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the University of Montenegro, Human Resources Management Authority, the Union of Employers of Montenegro and councils of minority nations in Montenegro. Also, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights recently signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Police Academy in order to enroll as many members of minority nations in this educational institution using the principle of affirmative action. Minority nations and other minority national communities and their members have the right to use their language and script. In the local self-government units in which members of minority nations and other minority national communities make majority or significant part of the population, according to the results from the last census, in the official use is also the language of these minority nations and other minority national communities. Competent managing and programmatic bodies of the media founded by Montenegro, provide an appropriate number of hours for broadcasting informative, cultural, educational, sports and entertainment programs in the languages of minority nations and other minority national communities and their members, as well as program contents related to life, tradition and culture of minority nations and other minority national communities and provide financial resources for funding those program contents. It is also necessary to increase the number of programs that will be subtitled from the languages of minority nations and other minority national communities in the official language and vice versa.
Minority nations and other minority national communities and their members have the right to education in their language and to adequate representation of their language in general and vocational education. Instruction in Albanian language is organized at primary and secondary level of education in the municipalities where persons belonging to the Albanian minority live, and, for many years now, also at the University of Montenegro in Podgorica where is functioning the Study program for education of teachers in the Albanian language. In the framework of the so-called open curriculum, schools can insert into an existing program up to 20 percent of the objectives on the basis of the interests of the local community and it is a great opportunity for all schools, all teachers, and therefore all minority nations, to insert what is in their interest respecting teaching principles and the principles of a democratic and civil society. Essentially, system laws in the field of education focus on the integration of minorities, while preserving their identity. The emphasis is on the curriculum that includes topics in the field of mother tongue and literature, history, art and culture of minorities and other contents that promote mutual tolerance and coexistence. In continuing good practice from the previous period, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights in cooperation with the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Albania conducted a procedure of enrolling students from Montenegro to universities in Albania.
The Election Law was amended in 2011 and 2012 in order to create more favourable conditions for the election of Members of Parliament from minority nations, while the new Law on Election of Councillors and Members of Parliament which was adopted on 22 March 2014 introduced the affirmative action at the local level, what applies to minorities which at this level have 1.5 to 15 percent.
The new Strategy to Improve the Situation of Roma and Egyptians in Montenegro defines the most important areas of its application, as follows: resolving the legal status, education, employment and employment rights, health and health care, social and child care, violence against women and domestic violence, cultural and linguistic identity, information, housing and participation in public and political life. In all these areas we now have visible and measurable results. In cooperation with the Roma Education Fund and the Institute for Education, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights continued with the activities of providing funds for scholarships for Roma secondary school and university students.
Every school year the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights also provides free textbooks and school supplies for Roma pupils in the lower grades of elementary school, and in order to motivate the continuation of education it organizes winter vacations, summer vacations, as well as camps for Romani language and culture for the best students of final grades of primary school. As a result of these and other activities the number of pupils in primary and secondary schools increased, and we have 17 university students from Roma and Egyptian population. In order to preserve and foster the cultural and linguistic identity of the Roma population, the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights presented the first Roma primer in Montenegro, and a first dictionary of Romani – Montenegrin – Romani language.
The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights is involved in a regional project of the Council of Europe and the European Union ”Promoting Human Rights and Minority Protection in South East Europe”, which aims to improve access to the minority rights of minorities at various levels of government, in line with the Council of Europe standards in this area, primarily in accordance with the Framework Convention for Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The project includes a system of grants, which are provided to support selected municipalities and cities in order to remove obstacles that stand in the way of exercising the minority rights in respective local communities. The statement on the implementation of the grant was signed by representatives of four municipalities from Montenegro, as follows: Plav, Bijelo Polje, Tivat and Kotor.
- The Municipality of Bijelo Polje for the project: ”Bosniaks – constitutional position of minorities and development of adaptive models in the countries of Southeast Europe”, which aims to preserve identity, through the promotion and affirmation of tradition, cultureand customs of Bosniaks, as well as to achieve recognition of shared values and traditions they share with local majority population, as well as to active participation of the local administration bodies in the project.
- The Municipalityof Plav for the project: ”Establishing the office for translation”, which aims to enhance municipal services with opening of an office for translating the main municipal documents into the languages of national minorities.
- The Municipalityof Kotor for the project: ”The preservation of the language of the Croatian national minority” – magazine ”Croatian Herald”, which aims to preserve the Croatian language and memories on the famous Croatian personalities in Montenegro.
- The Municipalityof Tivat for the project: ”RE teaching assistant”, aimed at improving the conditions for education of Roma and Egyptians children, with the involvement of RE teaching assistants and improving the access to education for Roma and Egyptian children in the municipality of Tivat.
What certainly remains to be done in order to improve the situation of minority nations and other minority national communities in the coming period, is to, through the multidisciplinary approach, continue the work on reduction of ethnic distance and improvement of proportional representation of minorities in state authorities and authorities of local self-governments, with the goal to achieve full integration of minorities in the Montenegrin society.
Also, economic development of the communities where minorities live plays a very important role in integration of minorities into Montenegrin society. Improving the economic situation is a key requirement for citizens to get a job, to establish a family, and not to seek life outside the borders of Montenegro, but on the contrary the preconditions should be created for those who have gone and left their homes to return to their homeland. Regional development policy of Montenegro, as defined by the Regional Development Strategy for 2014-2020, should contribute to the definition of clear processes, mechanisms and measures that will enable increased productivity, especially in the northern region and other regions of the country, with a special focus on local self-government units and regions where members of minority nations and other minority national communities make up the majority or a significant part of the population. More balanced socio-economic development in all municipalities and regions will be achieved through, at the first place, improving infrastructure, entrepreneurial competitiveness and investment for inventive and realistic employment.
The measures undertaken in certain areas of social life, significant for the preservation of identity of minority nations and other minority national communities, resulted in full respect of international standards and achievements of modern democracy. The tendency is to, even in those areas in which are not achieved desired objectives, reach levels that would legitimize Montenegro and its commitment to further improve traditionally good inter-ethnic, inter-confessional and intercultural relations.
Everyone must work together to build awareness on the importance of the fact that different cultures, ethnic and religious communities are living in one territory, the benefits of interaction, exchange and mutual knowledge through valuable peculiarities and traditions. It is essential that there is a permanent process of active tolerance and the maintenance of equality in relations, where everyone has the same importance, where there are no superiors and inferiors, where such feeling should be built starting from the family, school, media, as well as through education and campaigns of state institutions and non-governmental organizations.
* Director General of the Directorate for the Promotion and Protection of Minority Nations and other Minority National Communities in the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights