Montenegro Prime Minister: priority Europe

2012-05-12 Vatican Radio

The Prime Minister of Montenegro, Mr. Igor Luksic, visited Vatican Radio on Saturday morning, during which he spoke with Chris Altieri about his trip to Italy, and his meeting with Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Monti, other ministers, and leaders of industry, commerce and culture. PM Luksic also spoke about his country's relations with the Catholic Church, religious liberty and European integration. Below is a transcript of the interview. For audio, follow the link:

PM Luksic: “It has been, I think, a very useful visit – I can say, ‘a success’, because we managed to keep excellent political relations between Montenegro and Italy, and we are opening the way, or paving the way for further investments and expansion of economic cooperation, which, in these difficult times, is of essential importance.”

CRA: But you are not building from the ground, up – there are some existing commercial ties between Italy and Montenegro. So, where are you looking – and how are you looking – to strengthen these?

PM Luksic: Well, Italy ahs become the top investor – or, companies, whose origin is Italian, have become top investors in Montenegro because of an acquisition of an important part of the power company. Also, we are now preparing everything for the construction of the sea-bed cable – the interconnecting cable between Italy and Montenegro – that should make Montenegro a regional hub of energy transmission. That investment, which is a big one, will also help viability of energy projects in the region, so Montenegro could be used as a point to transmit energy from the Western Balkans toward Italy and then Western Europe. So, we are using that ground of economic cooperation to spread out to other segments such as infrastructure: the port of Bar, railways – but also many other businesses, and I am very glad that, based on historical relations, cultural relations, friendly political relations, there are now possibilities to expand economic cooperation in different segments of our economy.

CRA: I’m wondering how the Montenegrin economy is evolving, and how you are keeping pace with the need to have a work force educated for it, and whether there are any cultural connections in this sense with Italy and with, perhaps, other places in the West, as well, to help in that direction?

PM Luksic: Well, there are two chief policies we pursue: one is the European integration process and the Euro-Atlantic integration process. We hope next month [June, 2012 - CRA] to start accession talks with the European Union. Also, we have advanced, we have progressed – and that progress will be acknowledged next week (May 20-21, 2012) at the NATO summit in Chicago. These make our foreign priorities, and those foreign priorities go hand-in-hand with our internal policies of further reforming the [country’s] whole system – not only the political system, but also the economic system. Also, we’re talking here about conducting structural reforms in the field of education, in the field of social security, health, and so on. That’s what makes the process of transforming a country that used to be part of socialist Yugoslavia, and one of the poorest Yugoslav republics, into a modern, democratic, dynamic, entrepreneurial country. It is a complex process, and it requires new knowledge, new know-how. It requires educated young people – and therefore, we have to rely upon intensive exchange of knowledge between us and the Western world.

CRA: There is an infinity of technical minutia in which people who are interested in the subject can get lost – but there is the broader question: why Europe, and why now? Why seek integration? Is it simply an economic matter?

PM Luksic: No, it is not simply an economic matter, because many people now wonder why a country should like to integrate with the European Union when the EU is [facing] such big difficulties, given the public finances crisis, and so on – but it is more than that. When you look at sixty years ago, it was economic integration that was used as an instrument for preserving the peace in Europe – and the European Union has evolved in the supra-national integration process, which actually means living together in diversities. So, Montenegro is a specific country. We are a small, complex society. We are at the crossroads of cultures. We are a majority Orthodox country, but there is a significant population of Montenegrin Catholics – of Catholics living in Montenegro – there is also one fifth of the population that is Muslim. So, we are quite a heterogeneous community, and we believe that the model we have built, the positive model of cooperation inside the country, could be a contribution to the European “DNA” – let us put it that way.

CRA: I am glad that you brought this up, because the idea of Europe as a cultural and intellectual – a conceptual space – before it is a political reality is something that is very interesting. The interplay that you have between, let us say, the culture of cooperation and the institutional reality – I am thinking of the interplay between institution and culture: what is your visison for that, and how do you see Europe improving, strengthening this same interplay?

PM Luksic: We are talking here about a region, which went through a lot of difficulties in the past two decades, especially in the 1990’s. Fortunately, Montenegro was the only country that did not directly suffer the war, and demolition inside the country. However, we were kept victims of the wars in the region, of the United Nations sanctions, and there were a lot of other troubles – and all along, we have had to deal with the transition from a centrally-planned system into a functioning market system – a market economy. All of that together at the same time is very, very difficult, it is very, very challenging.

CRA: It is a lot to chew! Let’s stay on the question, though, of – because you have a couple of very sizeable religious minorities within the context of a majority Orthodox culture and society. The Holy Father has been concerned with religious liberty, and the right understanding of what that is. How do you culturally and institutionally understand religious liberty?

PM Luksic: First of all, based on our Constitution: religious liberty is guaranteed. But, we have felt the need further to improve, further institutionalize that liberty. So, when I was here last year, a year ago, actually, when I met the Holy Father and I met the officials of the Holy See. We took the opportunity of signing the concordat between the Holy See and Montenegro – and we are the first modern Orthodox that did it, and we are very proud of it. It has also opened the door for settling the institutional relationship between the state of Montenegro and other religious communities. Earlier this year, I also signed contracts with Islamic communities in Montenegro and the Jewish community of Montenegro. They are a very small Jewish community, but it has certain symbolic relevance, and I think, by doing that, we are paving the way for a Montenegro that could really show positive experience and a positive model to other countries. One of the chief accomplishments of Montenegro in past years has been investment in “good neighbour” relations. If we want really and truly and frankly to invest in good neighbour relations, we need first of all further to improve and enrich internal relations within Montenegro. So, I think that we can tell a lot to the outside world, and we take any opportunity that we may have to emphasise the need to do more in that field, because, unless we take advantage of the cultural richness we have – in Montenegro, for example, but also other countries in the region – one cannot really exploit all the possibilities for further development: economic development, sociological development, of our regional countries.

CRA: I was fascinated by the way that you were just talking about the need to strengthen internal coherence in society and the way that this plays into and affects the regional prospects and projects that you have, especially in the context of the presence of the Catholic community. I wonder whether I might ask you more specifically about the Catholic presence in Montenegrin society. Very often Catholic minorities are disproportionately present in society through education, health care, things like this – and I was wondering whether that is the case in Montenegro, and whether you are also looking to strengthen those ties?

PM Luksic: Definitely. Definitely. You know, my family background, my family roots go to my home town, Bar, which is truly a crossroads. I grew up knowing about diversities, and it is important to help any segment of the society really show all the richness it has – and the Catholic community in Montenegro has been quite active in past years, in different fields. By institutionalising the relationship between the government and the Catholic community, we actually provide a new opportunity to intensify the presence and activities of different kinds, such as education, as you say, also institutions that provide care, and many other similar sorts of activities. We are working hard to help certain projects also materialise. I think we are on the good way of providing intensive implementation of the different sorts of Catholic presence.

CRA: I wanted to give you the chance to have the last word. So, I will leave it with you, if there is anything that bears mention about your trip here this time around, that we have not touched, or anything that you were very concerned to say.

PM Luksic: Thank you very much. It is my pleasure to be here, to talk to everyone who listens to Vatican Radio. I hope that next week [week of May 13 - CRA], actually, our Parliament, after debate has been finished, will vote on the concordat – on the Basic Agreement – and I hope that our officials will be able very soon to present instruments of ratification. I will take any opportunity I can further to promote the relationship between the Holy See and Montenegro, but also between Italy and Montenegro, as historically, traditionally, culturally, economically, we should get together, work together, to help ordinary people live better.