Saturday, December 05, 2015

Montenegro joins NATO

Enormous cruise ship arrives off the Montenegrin town of Kotor
Media response to the announcement that the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro would be taken into NATO has run to snark. Here's the FiveThirtyEight newsletter write up:
NATO announced Wednesday it will invite Montenegro, a nation of roughly 600,000, to join its ranks, a move that’s delighting Montenegrins, infuriating Russians, and confusing Americans who are just learning that there is a country called Montenegro. Welcome to NATO, Montenegro, we hope you enjoy the North Atlantic trade.
Kevin Drum at Mother Jones is equally dismissive.
... it used to be part of Yugoslavia, which was a Soviet ally back in the day. So this requires Vladimir Putin to stamp his feet and claim that Russia's heritage is being attacked by the West, blah blah blah. You may safely ignore it.
As a rare U.S. citizens who has recently traveled within the new NATO member state, all this strikes me as off base. My trip was completely apolitical, mostly hiking in remote mountain areas, but that doesn't mean that I didn't look around.

My sample (tourism workers and cabdrivers) is certainly small and biased, but I think I can say that Montenegrins want to be included in Europe. They want the life they see Europeans living, comfortable and modern compared to their past as hardscrabble peasants trapped in a backwater. Whether that means they want a military alliance may be another matter. I did not inquire, naturally.

Icon over the ancient town gate at Budva
But ties of affection to Russia are real. Most are Russian Orthodox Christians. They look east to the Moscow patriarchate for religious leadership, unlike the neighboring Croats and Slovenes who are mainly Roman Catholics, looking to the pope in Rome.

Budva yacht harbor
Because Montenegro has been outside of NATO and of the European Union (and still not part of the latter) its gorgeous Adriatic Coast has served as a playground for elite Russians barred by economic sanctions from vacationing in other Mediterranean resorts. The medieval towns of Kotor and Budva are aping Monte Carlo, mostly for Russian oligarchs. Their outskirts are covered with high-rise condos and casinos while cruise ships and yachts fill their tiny harbors. The language of the tourist trade included English, but Russian was much more prominent.

Will accession to the Western military alliance change this? Most likely economic sanctions will bite. Will Montenegrins be happy with this? I talked to at least one articulate English speaker who hated how his government was selling off the national coast to Central Asian oil barons. On the other hand, there are a lot of Montenegrins whose well being has depended on the country's offering to well-heeled Russians a bit of almost-Europe. There were protests arising from these tensions in October.

Old Budva town is a maze of tourist shops.
Snark seems complacently patronizing. Montenegrins are struggling to find a future they can live with; this is seldom easy.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Your perspective is important. Too bad the mainstream press is so limited. Snark so easily substitutes for knowledge.

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