By Thomas Brey
Podgorica (Montenegro) : Even as it celebrates its first birthday with good grades from the big powers, Europe's youngest state, tiny Montenegro, is struggling to find its path politically, economically and diplomatically.
The gap between the proponents and opponents of independence remains. On May 21, 2006, 55 percent of the electorate voted for separation from Serbia in a tense referendum. Many celebrated the solemn proclamation of independence June 3 that year.
Economically, the country has opened its arms to some dubious Russian billionaires, while diplomatically it still sits on two chairs, in Washington and Brussels.
In order to secure US support to build its own military, Montenegro has sided with Washington in the contentious issue of the International Criminal Court, aggravating Brussels.
The European Union (EU) has meanwhile asked Prime Minister Zeljko Sturanovic to revoke the deal with the US, but it has not threatened to delay the planned stabilization and association agreement with Montenegro.
Montenegro and the EU are to sign the stabilization and association contract – a major step forward for a prospective EU member – in October.
Internally, the deeply divided land has for weeks been wrangling over many bones of contention within the new constitution. The issues include the name of the national language, until recently just a dialect of Serbian and earlier a Serbo-Croatian, the speech utilized by two-thirds of the population in former Yugoslavia.
Politicians and neighbours also argue whether Montenegro should have its own independent church, instead of being under the Serbian Orthodox Church.
While police foiled an attempt to remove the church from monasteries and churches in Montenegro, the unrecognised Montenegrin Orthodox Church received a boost when President Filip Vujanovic met its Bishop Mihajlo Dedeic.
In down-to-earth economics, the opposition recently again warned that a few families under the leadership of Milo Djukanovic, who was prime minister and president for 15 years, were turning Montenegro into a private state.
After cementing the success of the independence referendum with a win in parliamentary polls, Djukanovic withdrew from all public offices but remained very much in control as the head of the powerful, ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.
In mid-May he renewed his chairmanship in party elections without a challenger. After the vote, Djukanovic dismissed claims of the opposition as groundless and denigrating.
But critics insist that the country's best companies are being sold under the counter to Russian tycoons, naturally for a hefty commission.
Montenegro could become a "Russian colony," opposition leader Nebojsa Medojevic said.
In any case, the huge interest by wealthy Russians in a piece of Montenegro's Adriatic coast is obvious, as they have been snapping up land frantically and blowing up prices to incredible levels.
"The Russians buy anything at any price" and "Montenegro: A country for sale" are some of the typical headlines in pro-opposition newspapers.