Montenegro and Serbia: squinting at dual citizenship

squinting at dual citizenship

When Serbia and Montenegro met in October 2008 to discuss the issue of dual citizenship, both parties were confident that an agreement would be reached by the end of the month. Two and half years later, the issue is still unresolved. Relations between the two countries deteriorated when Montenegro (along with Macedonia) recognised Kosovo’s independence in mid-October 2008. Serbia reacted by expelling the Montenegrin and Macedonian ambassadors, and accused the two countries of jeopardising regional stability. Though diplomatic relations have since improved, following Montenegrin President Filip Vujanović’s visit to Serbia in May 2009, talks on the dual citizenship question have still not resumed. In an interview with Tanjug news agency last week, the Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dačić explained the deadlock in terms of the restrictiveness of Montenegrin citizenship, which he claimed prevented Montenegrin citizens from claiming other citizenships.

Whilst this might sound like passing the buck, it is arguable that the 2008 Montenegrin Citizenship Act is at best ambiguous about the possibilities for dual citizenship (possible upon conclusion of bilateral agreements, but the road to reaching such agreements has proven to be as rocky as Montenegro). Article 2 of the Act seems to imply that it’s possible for a Montenegrin citizen to simultaneously hold the citizenship of another country, but what render this impossible is that under the provisions of the act, in order for a foreign citizen to be naturalised, they must give up their other citizenship (for a detailed study click here). This requirement presents a dilemma for people seeking to be admitted into the citizenship of Montenegro, as they must forfeit the identity and rights of the other country in order to acquire Montenegrin citizenship.

The converse is currently true for any Montenegrin citizen who seeks to gain citizenship of another country. Should Montenegrin citizens voluntarily acquire a foreign passport, they can be deprived of their original citizenship by force of law, a provision which Predrag Popović, the alliterative President of the People’s Party (an opposition, pro-Serb Party) found to his cost. In 2007, Popović acquired Serbian citizenship, perhaps seeking to gain political capital out of the act. At the time he showed an awareness of the possible consequences by claiming, “I am waiting to see whether Montenegro will act in line with the Law and withdraw my citizenship. I do not believe that it will happen, which proves that there is no rule of Law in Montenegro". In light of this statement, the Interior Ministry’s decision to strip him of his Montenegrin Citizenship (according to the provisions of article 24 of the Citizenship Law) on 24th March 2011 is somewhat ironic.

The whole issue of dual citizenship between Serbia and Montenegro has spiced up the political environment surrounding the ongoing population census in Montenegro.  Population censuses have been proven to yield radically different results in this tiny Balkan state due to the volatility of Montenegrin and Serb identities in Montenegro. In the past two censuses (in 1991 and 2003) the balance between two groups significantly shifted in favour of Serbs (from 9.4% in 1991 to 32% in 2003). Yet, after Montenegro’s independence in 2006 the debate over Serb and Montenegrin identity simmered down, creating the expectation that in this census the percentage of ethnic Montenegrins will grow after seeing a fall from 61.9% in 1991 to 44.5% in 2003. This competition over people motivated concurrent political campaigns with an aim to instruct the people how to declare various aspects of their identity (language, religion, ethnicity) at the census. The results of the census are important for both groups. Serbs seek to legitimise their claim to be recognised as a constituent people in Montenegro, and Montenegrins strive to consolidate the new multinational state. No wonder then, that the April Fool’s Day hoax of a Montenegrin daily newspaper involving the issue of dual citizenship of a controversial Serbian folk music star  caused actual responses by people and politicians in both Montenegro and Serbia. Citizenship struggles in Montenegro and between Montenegro and Serbia continue...