Interview with His Excellency Milan BEGOVIC, Ambassador of Montenegro in Romania
The Balkan region and the relations between Romania and the new states that appeared after the conflicts from ’90 (a part of them, members of UE and NATO) changed the geopolitical map in the last two decades. Taking into account these considerations, His Excellency, the Ambassador Milan BEGOVIC, presented the most important steps that Montenegro made before and after got the independence in 2006.
Excellency, please tell us few important facts about the recent history of Montenegro.
Milan BEGOVIC: This year we celebrated ten years of the reestablishment of independence of Montenegro. Our statehood tradition has a long history. Modern Montenegro was recognized as an independent state, by all the major powers in the world, on the second half of nineteenth century, at Berlin Congress, in 1878. Montenegro, as a Kingdom, existed until the end of the First World War. After the First World War, Montenegro became part of the newly established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, called Yugoslavia from 1929. Montenegro became part of ”Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”, after the Second World War, with six republics and two autonomous provinces.
Unfortunately, we had those awful events during ’90, followed by conflicts and desolation of common state. All ex-republics of Yugoslavia became independent states. Serbia and Montenegro created new federation called Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This federation was functional, but didn’t last long due to the fact that Serbia is many times bigger then Montenegro, both by population and by territory.
Montenegro decided to reestablish its independence in 2006. This decision was taken by population, following a referendum organized in the same year. Our main goal, during the time, wasn’t just to be independent, but to achieve a better life and to establish democracy within the country. The referendum from 2006 was recognized by all the international community, and, since then, Montenegro is in the process of its own development, taking fully responsibility in all its own hands, both in internal and international field.
Furthermore, we achieved significant positive results, in the last ten years. Being one of the poorest country in Ex-Yugoslavia, Montenegro developed as one of the most advanced country, in the last ten years. Montenegro had the lowest salary, among the countries of Ex-Yugoslavia, in 2006. Our country has the biggest salary in 2016, not taking into account Croatia and Slovenia, members of the European Union.
The independence of Montenegro was recognized and supported by international community, which means that there were made important foreign investments in the Montenegro’s economy. Mainly in the tourism sector, where, in this moment, we have over 3 billion Euros projects financed by important institutions and private companies. There are important investments in other sectors, too.
It is one more prove that independence of Montenegro was a right decision of the Montenegrin people because allows a strong development in all the fields.
Excellency, what can you tell us about Montenegro’s foreign policy?
Milan BEGOVIC: Concerning the foreign policy of Montenegro, this is a very clear and simple one. There are few important objectives:
First priority of Montenegro is strong and good neighboring relations. We have good and excellent relations with all our neighbors. We could mention here: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Albania. The cooperation is fully developed. We don’t have any dispute with any of these countries. We have signed a border agreement, between Montenegro and Bosnia and Montenegro and Kosovo, recently.
The second priority of foreign policy of Montenegro is the regional cooperation. We pay a huge attention on it. There are some initiatives developed in South-Eastern Europe. There are more then 40 initiatives, but the major ones are South-Eastern European Cooperation, Central European Cooperation, Adriatic Initiative and Danube and Black Sea Cooperation. Montenegro is very active in all these fields and has full responsibility for its activities. We contributed for a better understanding of our partners from the region, for the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation and for the preservation of the peace in the area.
We are interested to present us more details about Montenegro’s policy regarding your relations with EU and NATO.
Milan BEGOVIC: Membership in NATO and EU represent major priorities of Montenegro Foreign Policy.
In the case of European Union, I would say that this support goes up to 90%. In the case of NATO, support is permanently arising. People are becoming aware that with NATO membership we will assure not only our security, but we will achieve all other goals that we are looking for: democracy, sharing the values with our partners, a better life for our people and a future for the next generation that will come. We are deeply into negotiation process with European Union. Montenegro is a candidate country since 2010 and in 2012 we started the negotiation process. We opened 22 chapters, in the last four years, closing temporary two of them. We started with chapters concerning the rule of law and corruption (chapters 23, 24). We are fully devoted to this process which goes smoothly, but we hope that, in the due time, we will be able to fulfill all the standards requested by member states to become a full member of the EU. It’s in our interest to complete the negotiation process as soon as possible. We prepare ourselves for the membership. That means to establish all the necessary institutions and the regulatory framework in order to take full responsibilities as a member of EU. Membership of EU doesn’t mean just privileges, but obligations, too. Montenegro won’t give up to its European faith. It’s obviously that we expect certain changes of the new reality within EU. Montenegro will keep looking to become a full member of this Association of countries which guarantees prosperity and security to the people.
Regarding the admission in NATO, Montenegro is fully devoted to it. Our country became partner in 2006, immediately after the referendum. We started the negotiations with NATO in 2008. We had to adopt immediately democracy and security standards, imposed by NATO. We did it successfully, and, at the end of 2015, NATO invited Montenegro to become a full member. The Accession Protocol was signed in May 2016 and the ratification process is on going right now. We hope that the NATO Protocol will be ratified, as soon as possible, and Montenegro will become part of it. Membership of NATO is not against of our neighbors or friendly countries. We have to share the responsibilities with the other countries within NATO and to contribute to the peace and security in the region. We have the full support of Romania in both two processes (EU and NATO).
What can you tell us about the relation between Montenegro and Romania? How could this bilateral relation on political, economical, military, cultural and social level be developed and improved?
Milan BEGOVIC: Regarding the political and diplomatical level, we have excellent relations with Romania. We consider Romania a very important partner. It is the largest state in the region, the most advanced democracy and supports Montenegro to its way to EU and NATO. There is a huge space of investments between the two countries. Romanian experts are constantly in Montenegro to support us in the process of accession to the EU, in areas such as justice and environmental protection. Romania’s support is not only on bilateral level, but concerning international organizations, too. For instance, NATO is the greatest opportunity in this moment for Montenegro. We have excellent bilateral cooperation and a strong cooperation regarding regional initiatives in OSCE, UN.
Regarding economic cooperation between Romania and Montenegro, unfortunately, this is still weak, but could be improved, in different fields like: agriculture, infrastructure, services (trade and the banking system).
In the tourism field, there are a lot of Romanian tourists in Montenegro. Cooperation in this field will be more extensive. The contacts between Romania and Montenegro will grow up both on incoming and outgoing sector. Montenegro makes huge legislative efforts in order to develop and to improve the tourism sector.
We have recently created so called: ”Regional Cluster of Health Tourism”, by the initiative of the two countries. This part of tourism is growing all over the world and will go to the development of Romania and Montenegro. Besides this, it includes all the countries from the region. The Headquarter of this will be in Montenegro and has already been registered in Brussels. Clusters will be a method for a better cooperation, which will enable the development not only between Romania and Montenegro, as initiators, but also among all the countries from the region. The tourism in Montenegro has ongoing foreign investments projects of 3 milliard dollars. Tourism incomes are estimated of 700-800 million dollars.
Among the most important investors in Montenegro we can mention: ORASCOM Development Holding from Switzerland, the company from Azerbaijan – SOCAR, the Canadian business man Peter Munk, the most important investor of Porto Montenegro project, for luxury yachts. We have more that 200 km of wonderful coast, beautiful landscapes, a lot of sunny days and mountains with sky slopes for winter season. In these areas could be made important investments and there are a lot of hotels and tourist complexes which will be constructed.
Montenegro is an important opportunity in the agriculture field, too. The development of our agriculture could be made together with the development of agricultural production for tourists. For example, there is a large vineyard producing red and white wines, developed few years ago through a World Bank funded project.
Concerning the energy sector, there are few projects in order to construct few hydro-electric power plants. There is an important potential of production in this area. There is a strategic underwater electric cable, which is under construction, between Montenegro and Italy. A project of 800 millions euros will be operational next year.
This project will transform Montenegro into an important exporter of energy to Italy and to other European countries. Following this project, our country will become a regional hub for the export of electricity in the region. Romania is also a big energy producer and will use this opportunity to export electricity and energy to Italy and the countries from neighborhood.
Regarding the infrastructure, Montenegro makes special efforts in order to reduce the difference between the south, including the coast and the capital Podgorica, and the north, which is an underdeveloped area. We have built a highway with a Chinese company. This is absolutely necessary in order to balance the development at the country level. We hope that the entire region will become attractive for tourism and economic investments.
Romania and Montenegro intend to launch a direct fly charter line between Bucharest and Podgorica. It will be a great opportunity not only for tourism (between 20,000 and 40,000 Romanian tourists visit every year Montenegro), but also for business field.
Regarding the services, the scale is low, but could be extended. The economic cooperation between Romania and Montenegro is small (between 15-20 millions euros/year). Romanian exports in Montenegro are mainly chemicals products and cars.
There is a strong cooperation between Romania and Montenegro, on the military level. Montenegro is using the experience of Romania, in the field of defense and security. We appreciate the support given by Romanian authorities like: Ministry of Defense, Romanian army, etc..
Concerning the educational, cultural and social level, everything it’s at the beginning. Romania had a long tradition with ex-Yugoslav Federation, regarding educational, cultural, social relations, and even other types of connections. When Yugoslavia stopped to exist, these ties were kept by Serbia, as a neighbour and as a main partner. Montenegro was the last country that got the independence and all the relations were kept through Belgrade during the time Montenegro was within so called ”Federal Republic of Yugoslavia”. We are trying to discover new possibilities, to find our ground over here.
Regarding educational level, I expect to have more young Montenegrins studying in Romania, in the near future. Especially in IT level, for which you became famous, all over the world. Concerning the cultural level, there are movies, theatre festivals, art and painting exhibitions, cultural events organized by the two countries. There is also the institutional framework to develop and to improve these ties, too. It is my duty, as Ambassador in Romania, of my successors and of my colleagues from Romania and from Podgorica to strengthen these ties. There is a will by both sides and huge possibilities and we will do it the near future.
What can you tell us about the role that Montenegro will play at the international level?
Milan BEGOVIC: Our foreign policy is concentrated on: a special accent on relations with our neighbors, regional cooperation and EU and NATO admission processes. We don’t have illusions that we can be a substantial part of any global development in the world. But, in the same, we are ready to share our responsibilities on international level. In this sense, we are very active in all fields that are on international agenda. We fully participated in all international organizations processes, such as: UN, OSCE, World Trade Organization, etc..
Montenegro acts for peace, progress and future development. We are not troublemakers. We follow the mainstream of the international relations. When I said ”mainstream”, I refer to something that it has been already verified as a value in the international relations. We fight for democracy, tolerance, peace, human dignity, coexistence among the people, etc..
As a responsible member of international community, we took part in the international military missions. Montenegrin soldiers were present in international military missions, such as: NATO mission in Afghanistan, in the West part of Africa, etc.. We don’t have a big army, but, according to our possibilities, we are ready to take the responsibilities that are imposed by the international community and to participate in all these missions.
I would include here the migration crisis that affected Europe, couple of months ago, too. We don’t have refugees in Montenegro right now. But we are ready to take into account that a part of them will come. We will help them, as we did with other refugees that arrived in Montenegro in ’90. We will accord them all our support, according to the conditions that we have. We are ready to share the responsibilities and obligations with others. We have experience with refugees. We had tens of thousands of refugees from Bosnia and a huge number (up to hundred thousands) from Kosovo, in ’90.
What are the most important points from your activity since you are in Romania?
Milan BEGOVIC: As I mention before, we opened the Embassy in Romania two and a half years ago. We consider Romania as a friendly country, one of the biggest in the region, a respectable one, member of the EU and of NATO. Regarding our way to European integration, we got all the support of Romania. My task is to extend the relations between Romania and Montenegro. As I mentioned, from the political point of view, we understand each other, we are friends. It is our goal to strength bilateral relations, in the near future, in all the fields. On the political, economical, military, cultural, educational, social level, etc. In my opinion, we go into the right direction. Montenegro is fully devoted to this process and we feel that Romania is on this side, too. Both countries put all their efforts in order to accomplish these goals.
Regarding the admission in NATO, you have rights and obligations. How you see these rights according to the situation from the Middle East?
Milan BEGOVIC: Middle East is a serious political and economic problem in this moment, which creates troubles to all the people who are living there. The situation from that area could affect and could have implications at the international level. I hope that people from Syria, Irak will find a solution to solve the problem, but, in meantime, we have to pay attention to migration crisis that affects Europe. A common answer to the European level is necessary to the current situation. Regarding the migration crisis, I am sure that the European political leaders will find a solution on the political, economic, social, security levels. Concerning the migration crisis, Montenegro follows European Union and we are ready to accept the responsibilities imposed by the European leaders, according to our possibilities.
Which are the main strategies of your state in order to stop the illegal migration? Do you think that your country could play an important role in this sense?
Milan BEGOVIC: We do have a program to coach the migrants. But we don’t have a program to stop the migration. This is a human dimension. We have to find the cause of this illegal migration. We help them. We are not going to prevent anybody. We are ready to take part of action to do whatever is possible in order to find the cause of this process. That means: peace followed by economic development. Montenegro is not a member of EU yet, but we follow the EU values and policies and we act according to them.
There are any programs developed by Montenegro in order to combat the terrorism in the Western part of Balkans?
Milan BEGOVIC: We are ready to accept all the obligations of NATO process. We consider ourselves part of it. As a country in the accession process to the NATO, we share the responsibilities with this Alliance. As I mentioned, we already participated to different military missions (in Afghanistan and in the West Part of Africa). We are ready to contribute to this Alliance, by becoming a full member of NATO, in the next months. We are not the major power in this Alliance. We will be just a part of it.
What do you think about the actual situation in Europe regarding Great Britain? From your point of view will be better for Great Britain to remain in EU or to leave it?
Milan BEGOVIC: This is the decision of British people. They decided to get out of European Union. We don’t know what will happen. There are lots of people that contest this move. Democracy has to be respected and the referendum, too. British people and political parties will decide what is going to happen in the near future there. The process is not so easy. Great Britain was member of the European Union for 43 years. Regarding the political and economic points of view, Great Britain is part of the European system, in this moment. The interest, the connections and the ties between European Union and Great Britain are very strong, in the same time. I am sure that European Union will find an answer to this situation. It’s not just a political question. It’s an economic, social and a legislative question, too. What kind of law will be put in practice if Great Britain will leave the European Union? What will do with language and with many, many other things? Nobody is able to offer an answer now to what and how is going to happen.
In my opinion, everything is possible. Concerning Montenegro, this situation won’t affect us. We are strongly on European way. We are devoted to this process. It has full support of the people. We are working hard and we want to become part of the EU and to share the European values. That means taking privileges and responsibilities, as a member of the EU. The process to extend the European Union is going on. There is not just the interest of the countries from Balkans, but is the interest for peace, security and stability. We consider NATO and EU as a framework to achieve such goals.
We face other challenges, in the twenty-first century, to the international level. The terrorism (the biggest evil today. It is an ”invisible war” that can happen anywhere and it can attack anyone, etc.), the migration process, the environmental issues are among the most important challenges. I consider that all these problems should have an answer from the part of the international community.
Montenegro is more than aware of these problems. We have to be part of political processes that are going on in the region and wider. It is in our interest to have peace and security. We are ready to share responsibilities with others. With our partners, with our neighbors, with all the international community.
Thank you Excellency for your amiability!
Interview by Vasile SIMILEANU