Post-independence Blues

Samir Kajosevic

On the night that Montenegro voted for independence, Anton Camaj held up a flag and joined the crowds celebrating in the streets. 

Along with his fellow ethnic Albanians, he had supported the dissolution of the union with Serbia. As a member of a tiny minority within Montenegro, he hoped that his new nation would reject narrow-minded nationalism. He hoped his community would play a bigger part in a smaller country.

Ethnic Albanians make up 5% of Montenegro’s population, and their support for independence helped secure the razor-thin referendum victory in 2006. Many are disappointed by what has followed.

“When I voted for independence, I wanted a country that would finally give the Albanians a chance,” says Anton. “Today, it seems as if the Montenegrins only needed our votes for the state. They offer us only crumbs.”

Anton says Montenegro behaves like a stepmother towards its minorities. His community accuses the authorities of ignoring the promises it had made to secure their support for independence.

The list of grievances is long. The ethnic Albanians say they do not have fair representation in parliament or in the local administration. They say the government does not consult them before making decisions, and increasingly discriminates against them.

As proof, they cite the lack of investment in areas inhabited by ethnic Albanians in the south of the country. Frustration is building over the government’s refusal to recognise the area around the southern town of Tuzi as a separate municipality – a move that would give its inhabitants more control over spending.

By far the biggest complaint is over public sector jobs, which are regarded as the only reliable source of employment. While the constitution guarantees fair representation for minorities in the workplace, only 1.5% of the workers on the state’s payroll are ethnic Albanians.

Anton is in his early thirties and unemployed, despite having graduated in law. His family survives on remittances from relatives abroad. He sips coffee to pass the time of day, lingering over each cup.

Although he blames official policy for denying him employment, he does not believe in struggling against the government.

Nevertheless, he warns, some in his community admire the ethnic Albanians of neighbouring Macedonia, who took up arms against their state a decade ago.

“When you hear the same promises for years but don’t see any changes, you find yourself thinking – maybe we can change things the hard way,” he says.

Fellow Bio

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Samir Kajosevic

Samir Kajosevic reports for the Montenegrin daily newspaper, Vijesti.