Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic said his two-day visit to Athens confirmed the strong and historic ties of the Greek and Montenegrin peoples and he underlined his appreciation for Greece's support in the accession of his country and the Western Balkans in general to the European Union, in an interview published on Wednesday.
Speaking to Dimitris Manolis for the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA), Djukanovic - the first Montenegrin president to visit Greece officially since the country's independence in 2006 - also noted the extensive opportunities for collaboration between the two countries, particularly in the sectors of economy and culture.
At the same time, the visiting president also said "we are proud for the perfect collaboration in the sectors of foreign affairs, defense, and security" and noted that the economy is Montenegro's priority. He also mentioned collaboration in tourism, energy and food production, as well as a bilateral interest in infrastructure, and in roads in particular, which "will bring our peoples together." During his visit in Greece, one of the topics he also discussed was the Adriatic-Ionian road, which he said Europeans have shown interest in supporting.
In the defense sector, President Djukanovic spoke of the Montenegrin students studying in Greek military schools. "When these young people return to our country, they will contribute significantly to the reforms in the defense sector that Europeans expect from Montenegro," he noted. Currently, 26 Montenegrin cadets attend such training in Greece, something Djukanovic expressed pride for.
He also expressed gratitude that Greece and Italy have assumed the patrolling of Montenegro's airspace as part of NATO missions, "an important assistance by our NATO allies," as Montenegro became a member in 2017.
Love of freedom
Djukanovic referred to Greek War of Independence hero Vassos Mavrovouniotis (whose surname refers to his origin from Montenegro), on whose tomb at the First Cemetery of Athens he laid a wreath. "We are proud that a Montenegrin left the country, went to Greece, fought on Greece's side - this act honors our country too," he said, and as "Montenegro's history is full of wars, Montenegrins were known as good warriors." This love of freedom is common to both peoples, he said. In addition, Greece has established a prize in Mavrovouniotis' name for cadets of Montenegro attending Greek military schools.
Greece's role in the Balkans
Speaking of the Western Balkans, the visiting president said that the political and security situation "have worsened lately", and he attributed this to two factors mainly: "a delay in the further enlargement of the Western Balkans, and a radical worsening of relations between the West and East," which he said is clearly reflected in the region. "Some third countries with very powerful influence are trying to enter the Western Balkans, which worsens even more the political situation," he noted.
The last few years, he added, "these globally aggressive policies by third countries have a very visible and large influence in the region of the Western Balkans. The problem is that their values are not compatible with the EU's values." Their purpose is to obstruct the Euro-Atlantic progress of the region, and the EU and NATO carry the greatest responsibility in terms of future security of the region's countries, he said. As a member of both, Greece can play a key role in mediating with other EU members and convince them of the necessity for the EU's further enlargement.
The Montenegrin president said he was following developments in Ukraine "with great concern" and expressed the belief that the two main players in the area will allow common sense to prevail and continue dialogue to avoid the worst, especially as the Western Balkans might be affected by a potential crisis there.
Montenegro and EU accession
Djukanovic told ANA-MPA that Montenegro is the only candidate country that has opened all negotiation chapters, and made the decision to begin on the accession path in 2006, the year of its independence "without any doubts and second thoughts, choosing Europe and EU membership as our path." His country's efforts for reforms are focusing, under EU priorities, on human rights and the state of law, he said, asserting that Montenegro will become the first country to join the EU from the region.
Explaining the political situation at his country, President Djukanovic said that Montenegro "changed government on August 30, 2020 for the first time after 30 years," following concerns about how the country would guarantee a smooth transition of power. The new government's collapse did not alter the country's commitment to EU accession, he said, while "we are very near resolutions with a minority government". Such a government he expects will assume rule quickly, to reaffirm the commitment to EU accession and particularly to deal with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and the country's further development.