IDM Short Insights 23: Presidential elections in Montenegro

The current President of Montenegro, Milo Đukanović, and the candidate of the Europe Now Movement, Jakov Milatović, will meet in the second round of the presidential elections on April 2. Although in the Montenegrin system the function of the president is significantly weaker than that of the prime minister, these elections are seen as significant, as they could be a prelude to extraordinary parliamentary elections and a new division of power on the rather complicated Montenegrin political scene.

Our former trainee Darija Benić talks about the current situation regarding the presidential elections in Montenegro in the newest Short Insight.

This might be of inerest to you:  

Montenegro at the crossroads to the EU

Transcript of the Short Insight:

On March 19 in the first round of presidential elections in Montenegro, the president of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) Milo Đukanović, won 35.3 percent of the votes and Jakov Milatović, whose movement Europe Now has no parliamentary status, won 29.2 percent of the vote.

The candidates were diverse – an influencer without a day of political experience Jovan Radulović, the current president with 30 years in power in his biography, several of  his opponents (besides Milatovic- Andrija Mandić from For the Future of Montenegro,  Goran Danilović from United Montenegro, Aleksa Bečić from Democratic Montenegro) and one female candidate Draginja Vuksanović Stanković (Social Democratic Party of Montenegro). This indeed briefly describes the starting position for the President of Montenegro.

The second round is scheduled on April 2. Both rounds of presidential elections are held in a time of institutional and political crisis. The current government lost confidence in the parliament seven months ago. Several attempts to form a new one failed, which is why Đukanović announced early parliamentary elections for June 11. The results of the second round of presidential elections, in which Milo Đukanović and Jakov Milatović will be present, will have an impact on the upcoming parliamentary elections, which could lead to overcomposition on the political scene of Montenegro.

A City Powered by Generators. Winter in Odesa

In her contribution for the IDM blog our former Ukraine-Fellow Olga Kyrychenko writes about the hardships of winter in her hometown Odesa at the Black Sea. 

Winter in Odesa is special – we rarely see snow, but both children and adults are always sincerely happy about it. Thanks to our maritime climate, we often have cold and piercing winds, and the cold is felt even more deeply than it actually is. But how nice it is to come back to a warm house from the cold, and warm yourself with hot tea!  It has always been this way for me, for as long as I can remember… but on February 24, 2022 everything changed.  

That morning all Ukraine woke up to the sounds of explosions… “the war has begun”… such terrible scary words… but you truly feel all the horror of this word and what is actually happening only when you personally feel it by yourself.  I would never wish for anyone to know what war is… it changes absolutely everything. Our perception of summer, spring, autumn, winter has also changed. Many Ukrainians still say “we didn’t have spring, summer, autumn… the whole year we have February 24th”. Our lives seem to be frozen in this day. Rockets take the lives of Ukrainians, destroy houses, and also our infrastructure, including energy facilities.  

In Odesa, like in many other Ukrainian cities, many residents depend on electricity for heating. No light – no heating. And winters in Odesa are very cold; when the thermometer shows sub-zero temperatures, the cold is immediately felt more strongly, especially at night, when the frost becomes thicker. Our family is lucky – in our apartment there is heating from a gas stove, and we do not depend on electricity. Many Odesans have city heating, which depends on the operation of urban boiler houses that supply hot water to batteries. But there are many people whose heating comes from electricity, in other words, many have electric stoves. And even if you have heating, you cannot cook without the light. Now imagine, you are a mother of a small child. A rocket has destroyed an energy facility, and you, your family, your child are left without electricity. There is no way to heat water, there is no way to cook food. Often immediately after the rockets hit, many citizens of Odesa do not even have water (no water – no city heating). Fortunately, the power engineers quickly repair and supply water to the houses of Odesa residents. Under such circumstances, many Odesa citizens lived almost the entire winter without light, without heating, sometimes even without water. Have we ever wanted such a life for ourselves or our children?  But Russian rockets decided that for us. Someone decided that our children do not need heating, do not need to eat warm, freshly cooked food, do not need to warm up after frosty air in a warm heated room.  But Odesans did not break! We began to think about how to survive in the conditions in which we found ourselves. Some managed to make fires indoors to warm themselves. Food was also cooked on fires, some people managed to make a fire on the balcony and fry fish or meat on the grill… (never repeat these dangerous actions at your balconies and apartments!). But, nevertheless, the majority of citizens approached the issue of survival rationally: they stocked up on water and food, which is storable for a long time and does not need to be cooked (cookies, biscuits, canned food, etc.). Those who had the opportunity bought portable gas stoves on gas cylinders to be able to cook. With heating, everything is much more serious. Those who depend on electricity have no choice but to wait until the power lines are repaired and the power is turned on. Our electricians try very hard to do all the repair work as soon as possible, but not always does everything only depend on them. Repair work is not so fast, especially when it is cold outside, and there are also accidents after rocket attacks and repair attempts. Many Odesa citizens were left without electricity for several days (up to five or even more). Did you know that Odesa is one of the regions of Ukraine with the most frequent power outages? More often than not, we had no light. Almost all winter, if we did have power, then it was for no more than 4-6 hours a day. How do people warm up? A few layers of clothes, a few blankets. Does it help? Not much. 

I also want to note the educational process, which also suffered in Odesa. In connection with the hostilities, schools and universities have transferred to online education. But due to the catastrophic situation with the power, the process was disrupted and very often lessons were cancelled, as there was no opportunity to conduct them. As a PhD student I felt it on myself, for several weeks in a row our lessons were cancelled. Sometimes there was not only no internet, but also no mobile connection to contact the lecturer. But, for those who are drawn to knowledge, blackouts are no hindrance. 

All Ukrainians and our souls are warmed by something more than heating – it is a hope and faith in a speedy peace and our victory. And once again all Ukrainians will have spring, summer, autumn and winter! In a peaceful, rebuilt Ukraine! 

In conclusion, I would like to say the following. Do you know what our Odesa looked like almost all of this winter? Especially its historical centre, which is now under UNESCO protection? It looks like a huge hive, only instead of bees, generators buzzed and instead of fresh frosty air we breathe in a smog from the generators. But there is nothing we cannot handle! Our city has been equipped many points where, in the absence of light, you can warm up, drink hot tea, and charge your gadgets. Now power engineers are doing everything possible and impossible to return light to the houses of Odesa citizens! And most important of all – Odessans are always ready to help each other. This is our strength! And, of course, our unity and fortitude! We will definitely have both our light and heating back! There will be spring, summer, autumn and beautiful winter for us and our children! But the most important thing is that it will be our victory and there will be peace in our land! And we believe it will happen very soon.  

Balkan, Ukraine und Moldau nach Europa – sofort!

“„Gschichtn“ von Fußball, Freiheit und Zukunft” 

In seinem Kommentar fordert IDM-Geschäftsführer Sebastian Schäffer eine dringende Reform des EU-Beitrittsprozesses und erklärt seine Beweggründe für die Entstehung der “Gschichtn” über die Länder des (West-)Balkans, Ukraine und Republik Moldau. 

Eine dringende Reform des EU-Beitrittsprozesses  

Die EU-Erweiterung ist und bleibt das wichtigste Instrument zur Transformation auf dem europäischen Kontinent. In Artikel 49 des Vertrags über die Europäische Union heißt es wie folgt: 

 „Jeder europäische Staat, der die in Artikel 2 genannten Werte achtet und sich für ihre Förderung einsetzt, kann beantragen, Mitglied der Union zu werden.“ Konkret heißt das: „Die Werte, auf die sich die Union gründet, sind die Achtung der Menschenwürde, Freiheit, Demokratie, Gleichheit, Rechtsstaatlichkeit und die Wahrung der Menschenrechte einschließlich der Rechte der Personen, die Minderheiten angehören. Diese Werte sind allen Mitgliedstaaten in einer Gesellschaft gemeinsam, die sich durch Pluralismus, Nichtdiskriminierung, Toleranz, Gerechtigkeit, Solidarität und die Gleichheit von Frauen und Männern auszeichnet.“  

Leider ist der Beitrittsprozess in den vergangenen Jahren immer technischer und langwieriger geworden. Einzelne Mitgliedstaaten nutzten ihre Möglichkeit, Fortschritte  auch ohne gerechtfertigte Gründe zu blockieren. Das geschah zu verschiedenen Zeitpunkten des Prozesses, etwabevor ein Land den Kandidatenstatus erhielt, bevor die Verhandlungen eröffnet wurden, bevor diese abgeschlossen wurden und dann auch noch vor der endgültigen Aufnahme. Das hat natürlich Auswirkungen auf die Transformationskraft der EU. Der Austritt des Vereinigten Königreichs hatte ebenfallsEinfluss darauf. Ich bin nach wie vor davon überzeugt, dass eine EU-Mitgliedschaft weiterhin für die betroffenen Länder attraktiv ist und die europäische Integration eines der wichtigsten politischen Projekte darstellt. Doch der Prozess muss dringend reformiert werden. Vorschläge dazu gibt es genug, doch es braucht mehr Mut, um die Aufgabe anzugehen. Der Sorge vor einer langen und schwierigen Vertragsrevision möchte ich entgegenhalten: Vom Vertrag von Nizza zum Vertrag von Lissabon – inklusive gescheitertem Verfassungsvertrag und zunächst negativen Volksentscheid in Irland – vergingen etwas mehr als sechs Jahre. Hätten wir direkt nach dem Brexit-Referendum den Mut gehabt, die Verträge und damit auch den Erweiterungsprozess zu reformieren, könnten wir dies bereits jetzt anwenden! 

“Balkan nach Europa – sofort!” 

Im Sommer 2020 fragte mich Erhard Busek, ob wir gemeinsam ein Buch zum Westbalkan schreiben wollen. Ich war sofort begeistert und habe recherchiert, was darüber von wem in den letzten Jahren publiziert wurde Gemeinsam mit einer Kollegin am IDM erstellten wir eine umfangreiche Liste von Titeln in mehreren Sprachen und kamen zu der Erkenntnis, dass es nicht unbedingt Bedarf für weitere umfassende Publikationen gibt. Zudem wurde das Projekt immer größer und es drohte langwierig zu werden. Erhard und mir verband eine gewisse Ungeduld im Hinblick auf die Umsetzung von Aktivitäten für unsere Region, was sicherlich für die Beteiligten nicht immer einfach ist. Die Plattform bietet dieser  Möglichkeit relativ rasch ein Buch zu veröffentlichen und sich aufgrund der maximalen Zeichenanzahl einer Geschichte von 2500 Zeichen(es können höchstens 17 Geschichten in ein Buch) auf das Wesentliche zu beschränken. Somit hatten wir den geeigneten Rahmen für unser Projekt gefunden. Die „Gschichtn“ über Grenzen, Glauben und Grausamkeiten, über Fabeln, Frieden und Fußball verknüpften wir mit unserem Plädoyer  über die sofortige Aufnahme aller Westbalkanstaaten in die EU. 

Ein Frühjahr, das alles veränderte… 

Der 24. Februar 2022 war für uns alle ein Schock. Als dann die Ukraine und später auch die Republik Moldau sowie Georgien einen Beitrittsantrag zur EU stellten, haben wir begonnen zu überlegen, ob wir nicht eine Art Nachfolgepublikation schreiben sollten. Leider ist Erhard dann plötzlich am 13. März 2022 verstorben. Dieser neue Schock hat erneut unsere Prioritäten verschoben und das Projekt geriet in den Hintergrund. Als dann nach den Weihnachtsfeiertagen etwas Ruhe eingekehrt ist, holte ich die Idee wieder hervor und begann auszuprobieren, wie es sich anfühlt, das Buch alleine zu schreiben. Mir wurde rasch klar, dass es funktioniert. 

„Ukraine & Moldau nach Europa – sofort!“ 

„Ukraine & Moldau nach Europa – sofort!“ ist zunächst eine Verneigung vor Erhard Busek. Es ist auch eine Verbeugung vor den Menschen, die in der Ukraine für unsere Werte kämpfen. Ich versuche – ähnlich wie bei „Balkan nach Europa – sofort!“ – durch „Gschichtn“ von Fußball, Freiheit und Zukunft Zusammenhänge aufzuzeigen, Zugehörigkeit herzustellen, Zusammengehörigkeit zu veranschaulichen, Zusammenhalt zu vermitteln und damit hoffentlich dazu beitragen, dass die Zeitenwende, wie der 24. Februar 2022 weithin inzwischen bezeichnet wird, am Ende positive Assoziationen hervorruft. Anders als in der ersten Publikation ist aber hier kein konkretes Plädoyer für eine sofortige EU-Mitgliedschaft der Ukraine und/oder Moldau enthalten, weil es nicht mit den gleichen Vorschlägen, die wir im Hinblick auf die Westbalkanstaaten gemacht haben, umsetzbar ist. Ich wollte dennoch durch den Titel bewusst eine Kontinuität in der Arbeit des IDM darstellen.    

Ukrainian-Hungarian relations are complicated, and not only because of the war 

In her article for the IDM Blog Daniela Apaydin explains the context and the reasons behind the rhetoric skirmishes between Kyiv and Budapest.


In January the mayor of the Ukrainian city of Dnipro Boris Filatov, called Viktor Orbán a bitch-face. Before that statement hit the headlines of Hungarian media, the prime minister was quoted by reporters saying that Ukraine was a no man’s land comparable to Afghanistan. As a result, the Hungarian ambassador was summoned to Kyiv and diplomatic relations between the two neighbouring countries have sunk to a new low.  


What is going on between Kyiv and Budapest? Do we even need to bother about Hungary’s position in the war at all? 

First, let us not get focused on the clash of words between two alpha males and interpret it with the effects of toxic masculinity on politics. I suggest looking at the stories behind this dispute to learn about what is going on in Budapest. 


One of these stories starts with the question: Why does Orbán provoke Ukraine and its political leadership while he pretends to be neutral? The simple answer is that Orbán’s position in this war is not neutral at all (Read the author’s analysis of Russia’s role in the Hungarian elections in 2022). 


The context of Orbán’s statements always matter. In this case, he met mainly conservative reporters in a closed-door meeting. One of them was Rod Dreher from the US, an Orthodox Christian and author of books such as “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation”. Dreher spent last summer in Budapest as a visiting fellow at the Danube Institute, a right-wing think tank with close ties to Fidesz. After the meeting, Dreher wrote a comprehensive report for “The American Conservative” in which he praised the intellectual skills of Orbán, saying “the man is deep. He thinks hard about this stuff, at the level of grand strategies and principles”.  


In his article, Dreher repeats the statements by Orbán about the war in Ukraine. Content-wise this was nothing new to observers, yet the clarity of the message is intriguing. According to them, Ukraine has lost the war anyway. Russia is too strong and influential. Let us not waste any further energy on this war and let us exploit current tensions for capitalizing nationalist politics. Calling Ukraine a no-man’s land echoes well among right-wing conservative circles with little knowledge of the region and its history. It also fits to Orbán’s image in these circles as a courageous statesman and pragmatic politician who knows what is best for his nation and acts accordingly. Similar reactions came from Austria, where the controversial platform “exxpress” covered the meeting with Orbán in Budapest. In times when old alliances (such as Poland) have been frozen due to opposing positions on the war, Orbán regularly reaches out to his transatlantic allies.  


If you followed Orbán’s annual State of the Nation speech on February 18, you heard a slightly different tone from the prime minister. Russia’s military power would not be ready to attack a NATO member in the near future, Orbán stated. His assessment of Russia’s power in a closed-door meeting with US reporters differs from his State of the Nation speech. However, the consequence of holding on to the “Hungary first” approach, remains the same: “This is not our war”, said the prime minister once again. “It would not be morally right to put the interests of Ukraine before those of Hungary.” 


Central European entanglements 

The second story behind this dispute between Ukraine and Hungary traces its roots back into Central European history. Dnipro’s mayor argued that “it takes a special talent to be hated everywhere from Romania and Slovakia to Serbia and Ukraine. The Treaty of Trianon is, after all, a punishment for your historical meanness.” Filatov’s choice of words is apparently due to an emotional, exceptional situation during war. The reference to Trianon, however, sheds light on an unresolved Central European issue between Hungary and Ukraine that stems from a long time before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The role of minorities in the region is often neglected by western observers when analyzing current conflicts. Yet the threats of the war experienced by the Hungarian minority in the Transcarpathian region poses a real challenge to Orbán’s narrative of staying out for the sake of Hungarians. In his State of the Nation speech the prime minister only shortly addressed the Hungarians in Ukraine by emphasizing their heroic sacrifices on the frontline.  


Hungary first, yes, but in corruption 

Finally, the recent rhetorical clashes should be seen in the media’s tendency to focus on outrage while missing the actual scandals: in February, Hungary was ranked further down by Transparency International and is seen as the most corrupt country in the EU. Inflation in Hungary is at an historic peak and severely threatens economic stability. Furthermore, the fight between the Commission and EU treaties and the government in Budapest has once more picked up speed as millions in Erasmus funds have been frozen – with tremendous risks not only for students and academia, but also for the stability of the government’s tribalist system of distributing (EU) money among its allies in business. 


Summing up, for some the recent clash of alpha males might be an entertaining headline. Others prefer focusing on the stories behind rhetorical escalations. Orbán’s ongoing balancing act of Hungary’s foreign policy – between the fact that the country is a member of the EU and NATO and its reluctance to stop spreading Kremlin propaganda and keeping strong economic ties with Russia – will drive the country even further away from those who demand a clear stand on the war. Orbán is convinced that he is representing the interest of the nation, yet it is questionable if he honestly considers Hungarians in Ukraine as actually part of this nation. It is certainly not in their interest if their home country becomes a no-man’s land.  


The prime minister’s arrangement with Putin puts the country into the position of the Kremlin’s puppet within the EU. Connoisseurs of history know that such loyalties are fragile and that the stronger partner can easily cut ties once they are no longer useful to him. In the case of Hungary, sooner or later the country might have to come back for support from Brussels, Warsaw, or Bratislava. Perhaps then, Orbán’s EU bashing and lack of solidarity towards his neighbors could easily backfire. Ultimately, future crises demand strong alliances in the region, by which time nationalists in the US might have long since forgotten their praised statesman in Budapest. 


Changes in Ukrainian foreign policy since February 2022 and perspectives from Central and Eastern Europe

One year on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the war still rages. The recent decision taken by Germany, the United States and other NATO member states to send tanks to Ukraine indicates that we are entering a new phase in the conflict. 

With this in mind, the Institute for the Danube Region and Central Europe (IDM) hosted a roundtable of experts on Ukraine to discuss the role of Ukraine in the region and changes in the foreign policy of Ukraine since the invasion. 

The roundtable was also a chance to reflect on February’s Ukraine-EU summit as well as to mark the publication of the book “Ukraine in Central and Eastern Europe: Kyiv’s Foreign Affairs and the International Relations of the Post-Communist Region”. In attendance were some of the book’s contributors, who offered their insights into Ukraine’s role in Central and Eastern Europe.  


Welcome address 

Alisa Muzergues, Program Coordinator, Eastern Europe and Central Asia – International Development Law Organization 

Harald Stranzl, Ambassador/National Coordinator EUSDR, Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs, Austria and member of the IDM board 


Federica Mangiameli, Stream Manager for Defense and Security, GLOBSEC  

Sebastian Schäffer, Managing Director, IDM  

Andreas Umland, Analyst, Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS)  

Moderation: Melanie Jaindl, Research Associate, IDM

You can watch the discussion here:


IDM Short Insights 22: Controversies over the sanctioned Russian delegates visiting Vienna

It has been nearly a year since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine inflicting immense suffering to the civilian population, violating international law and challenging international security architecture. Despite sanctions and a visa ban, the Russian delegation will attend the  Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on 23 and 24 February in Vienna. Sebastian Schäffer, IDM’s Managing Director, sums up the controversy around it in the newest Short Insight. 


This might be of inerest to you:  

Four Challenges Facing a Ukrainian-Russian Truce. Part I: The Constitutional Impasse, by Andreas Umland

Opinion: Burning bridges? by Sebastian Schäffer

Transcript of the Short Insight:

One year ago, the world watched in horror as the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, causing a trail of destruction and countless lives lost. The invasion was a clear violation of international law and an affront to the principles of peace and sovereignty. The war has also taken a toll on the wider global community, heightening tensions and threatening international security.  

Peace in Europe is something that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) should provide, yet has failed to do so. It is a very unfortunate coincidence that the winter conference of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is taking place on 23rd and 24th February and that the delegation from Moscow will be able to travel to Vienna despite the visa ban issued against the Russian parliamentarians. However, also in past years this conference was organized around these dates and there is an obligation to allow participation, as Vienna is the official seat of the OSCE. Otherwise, Austria would be violating international law, and this might have further ramifications, since the capital is home to other international organisations.   

Also, dialogue is a good thing, right? Well certainly, but already before the unjustified attack on Ukraine and all the heinous atrocities committed by the Russian regime, at the OSCE there was merely the statement of the different points of views rather than trying to work on common ground. It is also unclear how a negotiation between Kyiv and the Kremlin would look like given that the Russian annexation of parts of Ukraine not only violates international law, but also creates a constitutional deadlock, as neither party could cease claims on these territories.

Therefore, the decision of the Ukrainian delegation to not participate in the meeting is understandable. What is incomprehensible, though, is the alleged invitation of the Russian delegation to attend a ball, something forbidden by their very limited visas, as Austrian authorities have stated. Clearly, some people are still willing to bow before a president who has not only destroyed the security architecture in Europe, but numerous lives on delusional claims.  


The Implications of President Joe Biden’s Visit to Warsaw: national and regional perspectives  

President Joe Biden is coming to Poland this week, almost exactly one year after the Russian invasion in Ukraine started. On 21 February Biden was also in Kyiv on a surprise visit, for which he used Rzeszów in Poland to transfer to Ukraine. But the visit, despite being symbolic, has some domestic and regional implications. 


According to the information available today, in Poland President Biden (POTUS) will hold bilateral talks with the leaders of the ruling camp (including the Polish President, Andrzej Duda), make a public address to the Poles (at the symbolic place near the Royal Castle in Warsaw), and take part in the meeting of the so-called Bucharest Nine, a group of nine NATO countries in Eastern Europe. Just as it happened on 26 March 2022, the upcoming visit will focus on security issues, and its underlying theme will be the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 


Biden will be the first US president to visit Poland again in less than a year after the previous one, although Barack Obama visited Poland three times: in 2011, 2014, and 2016. Poland was chosen as a destination for the POTUS visit because it has become a hub for international support for Ukraine. Nowadays Poland is a territory through which Western supplies are entering Ukraine, be they humanitarian or military. Moreover, the country is important as it received one of the biggest numbers of refugees (around 950 thousands so far) among EU countries and in the region. Apart from Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria are hosting significant numbers of refugees, but they are significantly lower: 432 thousands and 147 thousands respectively. 


Poland is also one of the most hawkish countries in Europe as regards Russia on the international stage. It has proposed far reaching sanctions and other measures that NATO/EU allies could implement (such as the transfer of MIG-29s). Along with the Baltic republics, Poland was also one of the biggest and most active proponents of the EU membership candidate status for Ukraine.  


The visit is not free from certain controversies, however. Many Poles as well as commentators in the West do not like the fact that Biden will probably strategically turn a blind eye to the policies of Poland’s ruling government that deteriorate the rule of law and democracy at home. The visit will strengthen the image of PiS as a party that has a special relationship with the US, while the country positions itself on the margins of the EU. In fact, Mr Biden once criticised Poland, listing it alongside Belarus and Hungary as examples of “the rise of totalitarian regimes in the world.” By contrast, ahead of Mr Biden’s visit, White House spokesman John Kirby rightly applauded Warsaw for being “a strident ally and a tremendous supporter of Ukraine.”  


In short, the PiS government will be able to present themselves as those who improved Poland’s position in the alliance, and this in turn would play in the government’s favour during the election year. It is important for the PiS government to present the relations with the US as better than ever before because the politicians of the Polish right want to be seen by the domestic audience as world leaders. President Biden’s second visit to Poland in less than a year will only strengthen this view. 


In the region, Poland is already perceived as a country that has a leading role in supporting Ukraine. Moreover, while Poland perceives itself as a natural leader in Central Europe, this is not the view of countries like the Czech Republic or the Baltic States. The backsliding of democracy at home does not strengthen Warsaw’s role in the region.  


One of the important platforms for regional cooperation – the Visegrad Group – is already struggling to speak with a coherent voice on a Ukraine policy as Hungarian policy has drifted away from Polish, Czech and Slovak approaches. The Czech Republic and Slovakia are also distancing themselves from Hungary and Poland at the EU level, and are more and more interested in engaging with Austria in the Slavkov/Austerliz format. Warsaw is also a supporter of the Three Seas Initiative, a platform of cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe, supported by the US, but which is not so popular, for example in Slovakia. The only platform through which Poland can showcase its leadership is the Bucharest Nine, which became the vehicle of regional governments to demonstrate their interest in helping Ukraine. We should not expect many changes in internal dynamics in this grouping given President Biden’s presence in Warsaw. But without Warsaw reversing the backsliding of the rule of law and democracy at home, Poland will not be seen by other countries in the region as a “leader” in Central Europe. 


In a public speech, Biden intends to express his thanks to Polish society for the universal, direct support for refugees and humanitarian aid sent to Ukraine. This is, of course, a praiseworthy attitude, but it is rather the society itself that should be credited for extending a helping hand to Ukrainians. The Polish government’s record is more mixed in this respect. Recognition from the US president will allow the authorities to dismiss accusations of inhumane treatment of migrants on the border with Belarus.  


When it comes to the region, President Biden’s visit to Warsaw underlines that fact that NATO’s eastern flank has finally found its voice as it proved to be right about Russia’s intention towards Ukraine in the past. However, as Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told Politico, Western countries are still “much stronger” on the economic and military front” and they have the financial capacity to help Ukraine.  


In short, this visit is important and symbolic but fraught with national and regional sensitivities. 

“Nuremberg II” – an International Tribunal for the Trial of Russian “Major War Criminals”

In his guest contribution, Winfried Schneiders-Deters, an author living in Germany and Ukraine and former head of national and regional projects of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, explains what instruments would be available to prosecute the Russian war crimes, what steps for a “Nuremberg II” had to be made and whether Vladimir Putin could be brought to justice at all.

You can fins the complete contribution English (49 pages) here. A short version in German in available here.



A Trip Down Woodstock Road

It’s very early and freezing cold when I start my trip to the Vienna Airport. I’m taking the first flight to London, so I can make it in time for the Russian and East European Studies Discussion Group at the University of Oxford. Anna J. Davis has invited me to talk about my latest book Ukraine in Central and Eastern Europe, and also the IDM. From Gatwick I take a direct bus to Gloucester Green and have now three hours almost for myself. Spoilt by Austrian mobile internet, cross-country trips in other European states give you involuntary digital detox. Or is it maybe Brexit slowing down roaming for EU member networks? Anyway, I use the opportunity to also work on my pile of fiction books that I haven’t read yet. I’ve forgotten why I picked William Boyd’s Waiting for Sunrise”, or how I came across it. Maybe because it is set in Vienna. But while I am on my way to Woodstock Road, where St. Antony’s College is located, I read this: 

While I walk past the mentioned place, my phone alerts me that the Moldovan government has just stepped down. I can’t really grasp it, too many things happening at the same time. A cabinet reshuffle had been rumoured, but why would the whole cabinet resign? A question we’re also debating during my input for the discussion. The room is located in the old part of St. Antonys’s the church now functions as the library. A stark contrast to the owl standing on the table. The 360-degree camera offers the possibility to participate virtually and still see whoever speaks around the table. We discuss how the idea for the book was developed, the challenges during the compilation as well as how the full-scale invasion has changed the relevance of the content. Austrian neutrality, German hesitancy, and Hungarian reluctance towards supporting Ukraine are debated. We also talk about the IDM, the transition of its mission during the past 70 years, and the importance of a regional think tank. It is over far too quickly, and the diverse and knowledgeable group is a delight to exchange opinions with. I am still processing all the impressions while I am already back in the train towards Paddington Station.  

I meet with a friend in the evening for dinner in London. As a journalist, she writes a lot and we talk about the process. We both perceive it as painful, she gestures slitting her wrists open. Hemingway comes to mind. “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”. I would add that sweet release, when something is finished, when it is out there in the world. But it also never ends. Sitting in the Stansted Express, I type these words, thinking about all the things I still haven’t written. But also about how incredibly privileged it is to have the possibility to publish my own thoughts and opinions, as well getting to talk about them with all these interesting people in different settings and countries. For the rest of the journey, I try to finish Boyd. So the list of things I haven’t read gets a little shorter. 


Author: Sebastian Schäffer 


This event might also be of interest for you:

Ukraine in Central and Eastern Europe, roundtable: Changes in Ukrainian foreign policy since February 2022 and perspectives from Central and Eastern Europe


Montenegro at the crossroads to the EU

In her blog article Darija Benić, IDM’s former trainee, explains the reasons for political instability in the context of approaching presidential elections in Montenegro.

The previous year has seen many unresolved issues in Montenegro, which have deepened its ongoing political crisis, attracting a lot of attention far beyond its borders and challenging its accession to the EU. Despite being one of the youngest countries in the world, Montenegro should not face major obstacles to becoming the next EU Member State. But is that really the case?  

Montenegro declared independence from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. After applying for EU membership in 2008, the country started the accession process officially in June 2012. So far, Montenegro has started all 33 of her negotiation chapters and has tentatively finished 3 of the total number. With Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine, Montenegro has also shown that it is 100% aligned with the EU’s common foreign and security policy, including all sanctions against Russia. At the same time, however, various EU officials have realized that Montenegro’s accession appears to be stalling. What happened? 

One of the decisive moments that affected the political atmosphere and increased internal tensions was the signing of the Fundamental Agreement with the Serbian Orthodox Church in August 2022. It guarantees the Serbian Orthodox Church ownership of churches and monasteries on the territory of Montenegro, which, as the Democratic Party of Socialists stated, is violating the Constitution of Montenegro and will move the country further away from the EU. Relations with Serbia remain challenging but both sides are willing to work toward discussing open issues. Besides addressing the question of Serbian Orthodox Churches in Montenegro, some of the issues also include Montenegro’s accession to the Open Balkan regional initiative (a so-called mini Schengen zone in the Western Balkans), as well as the extradition of Svetozar Marović (the former president of Serbia and Montenegro charged on suspicion of being involved in corruption and smuggling), the ongoing economic crisis, and the attitude towards Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where Serbia still hasn’t imposed sanctions, although it has condemned the invasion. Another issue, which is closely related to the previous, is membership in the NATO alliance. Montenegro has been a member of the alliance since 2017, but not Serbia, which claims military neutrality. One of the main reasons for this is that the expansion of NATO is fiercely opposed by Russia, from which Serbia has support in the matter of Kosovo, as well as dependence on Russian gas supplies. Kosovo is another point of differing attitudes between Montenegro and Serbia; in 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia, which Montenegro was among the first countries to recognize. 

Apart from its relations with Serbia, which had a major impact in the previous period, there are additional issues at the national level in Montenegro that are affecting its path to the EU. Polarization, a lack of productive dialogue between political parties, and a failure to forge consensus on crucial issues of national interest led to the resignation of two turbulent governments. This political unpredictability and instability has affected the proper functioning of Montenegrin institutions. Due to the Parliament’s failure to elect new members and the incomplete composition of the key judicial bodies, the Constitutional Court was unable to fulfill its role as of mid-September because there was no quorum. It has only three judges out of a total of seven, therefore it cannot make decisions on constitutional appeals, which also refer to election processes. Without the final decision of the Constitutional Court, it is not possible to constitute a new government after the election. 

Furthermore, the governments and the parliament have failed to demonstrate in practice their engagement as regards the EU-related reform agenda. In order to secure institutional and political stability, Western allies and the EU have been urging Montenegrin political leaders for months to come to an agreement on unblocking the constitutional court. If the judges are not chosen, the European Union has threatened the possibility of terminating accession negotiations with Montenegro. Given the current situation, this warning could have been anticipated and it is clear that, after 10 years of negotiations, the country has never been faced with such a blockade as it is now at the beginning of 2023. 

Hopes were high after the last election in 2020, where Đukanović and the ruling elite did not openly interfere. The collapse of Europe’s longest consecutive ruling government (the DPS had been in power since 1989) and the democratic change has raised hopes that prosperity is possible after all, but there’s a long way to go. Many believed that Montenegro had finally left behind the regime that did not reflect the reality in this multiethnic country and was only a manipulation particularly designed for the international public. 


The presidential elections in Montenegro 


The fourth presidential election, since the restoration of independence and the seventh since the introduction of the multiparty system will be held on 19 March. From either side, it is uncertain who exactly will be running for president. There isn’t even a distinct coalition in sight. The fact that there are only two months until the presidential elections and the public is unaware of a single trustworthy candidate on either side is striking. Moreover, it appears that everyone is in some way shocked that the elections are taking place right now. 

In a number of media appearances, the current Montenegrin president, Milo Đukanović, refused to say whether he would run for office again. It is also unknown whether, by the day of the election, Montenegro will have a functional constitutional court, which is necessary for the announcement of the election’s final results. The sixth round of judges’ elections is underway, as the previous five attempts failed due to the impossibility of reaching an agreement between the ruling majority and the opposition. 

Prime Minister Dritan Abazović assessed that the selection of constitutional court judges could be completed at the beginning of February. And the president of the parliament, Danijela Đurović, said that all political actors must show maximum responsibility and contribute in order for the country to emerge from the political and institutional crisis. 

Montenegro has been given the opportunity to once again attempt to stabilize the situation, but with very short deadlines and with everything moving dynamically, we have yet to see how the political elites respond in the upcoming months. What is the way out of this current situation? The priority should be to unblock the constitutional court in order to correct the country’s constant political instability, focus on its long-standing European ambitions, and form a government that can prioritize EU reforms. 


Darija Benić– a student in the Master’s program in Planning and Management of Tourist and Cultural Systems at the University of Bari Aldo Boro (Italy) and a former trainee at the IDM ( July to December 2022). She holds a BA degree in Languages and Cultures for Tourism and International Mediation from the same university.