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Joint Statement from Diaspora of Albanians from Montenegro in the United States

Coalition of Albanian American Organizations from Montenegro

1740 Hone Avenue, New York

+1 (917) 679-9300

May 20, 2021

Dear President Milo Đukanović,

President of Parliament Aleksa Bečić,

Prime Minister of Montenegro Zdravko Krivokapić,

Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic,

Minister of Justice, Human and Minority Rights Vladimir Leposavić,

Minister of the Interior Sergej Sekulović,

CC: United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Albanian American Issues Caucus

Council of Europe – Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights

European Commission – High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Joint Statement from Diaspora of Albanians from Montenegro in the United States

The unceasing discrimination against the indigenous Albanian minority in Montenegro is becoming more apparent and institutionally widespread. Albanians are an ethnic minority in Montenegro that, according to the 2011 National Census, comprises 4.9% of the population – down from 6.6% in 1981.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Montenegrin government has proposed certain amendments to the law on Montenegrin citizenship and residency which, if passed, undoubtedly will further suppress Albanian and other minority groups’ voices and representation in Montenegro.

Under the current law, citizens of many countries can enter Montenegro without a visa and stay for up to 90 days if they have a valid passport. To stay longer than 90 days, you must comply with one of the following:

• Temporary Residence Permit – These are valid for one year and can be renewed for subsequent one-year terms.

• Permanent Residence Permit – These are valid for five years and can be renewed. They grant all the privileges of Montenegrin citizenship, except voting and carrying a Montenegrin passport.

• Citizenship – After 10 years living in Montenegro, one can apply for full citizenship.

The proposed law would give people with permanent residence permits the right to vote and apply for citizenship. According to Minister of Interior Sekulovic, amending the law on permanent

residency would “ease” and expedite the procedure of naturalizing tens of thousands of people as Montenegrin citizens. Although that might sound like a positive change, the law would have detrimental consequences for registered voters: first, the new law would change the demographics of the country; second, it would exacerbate inter-ethnic grievances that could lead to a conflict prior to the next election cycle.

According to Interior Ministry data, more than 64,000 foreign citizens are living in Montenegro. Of that population, 30,930 people hold permanent residence permits, having lived in Montenegro for years, while 32,816 people have temporary permits. Most of these people are Serbs and Russians who bought properties in Montenegro.

The opposition sees a political aspect to the proposal. It says most of the new potential citizens would be Serbs who support the ruling parties, accusing the government of planning to change the demographic and political structure of the country. “The state economy is facing collapse and there is unrest in homes all over the country, while the government is changing citizenship rules at the expense of the state and national interests. We will defend our state and national dignity,” says Markovic, former PM from the former ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, in a post on Twitter.

Every action provokes a reaction—and thus, by changing the laws, Montenegro risks destabilization and unrest. Furthermore, this would also be detrimental for Montenegro’s path towards the EU.

Moreover, the law on registered permanent and temporary residency intends to first unregister and then re-register permanent residents. This law would serve not simply to clear the voters list, but would purposefully target the Albanian diaspora and other minorities who temporarily work abroad and would have difficulty re-registering within one year, hence losing their Montenegrin citizenship and the right to vote.

At home, the proposed changes in the citizenship law will systematically dilute minority numbers; will force Albanians and other minority groups to assimilate, losing their ethnic identities; and will force them to flee their homeland due to lack of opportunity and prosperity. Based on the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights’ survey from 2015, Albanians make up only 1.8% of the workforce of the state administration in the country, far below their percentage of population. The situation of the indigenous ethnic Albanians in Montenegro continues to worsen due to the lack of opportunities, continuous discrimination, and economic disparity. The city of Ulqin and other Albanian-inhabited territories, once the most prosperous parts of Montenegro, have now become the poorest regions. This sophisticated form of ethnic cleansing is obvious in the demographic data, which show that the numbers of Albanians in Montenegro has been declining for last 50 years.

The diaspora of Albanians of Montenegro in the United States, larger in numbers than its kin folks in our homeland, has remained visible and played a proactive role in support of Montenegrin independence and democratization. They have also been a source of financial support and foreign direct investments. According to FREED Data, remittances in 2017 comprised up to 11% of Montenegro’s total GDP. Moreover, reconstruction projects, diaspora tourism, and direct

investments totaling more than $500 million a year are proof of the diaspora’s contribution to Montenegro’s economy. Passing these amendments to the citizenship laws would also be a huge disincentive for investments from the diaspora—at a time when Montenegro is facing a harsh economic situation.

We want the United States and the international community to become aware of these anti-democratic actions proposed by the current government of Montenegro, and to petition the Montenegrin government to immediately cease and desist. The international community has enough Balkan issues on its plate; it does not need another one.

We call on the Montenegrin government to withdraw its proposed changes to the law, which are disguised as progressive but in fact are ill conceived and intended to support the present government at the expense of Albanian and other minorities. It is nothing but an act of discrimination in disguise that could destabilize the country and cause considerable harm in its already weak economy and fragile political climate in Montenegro and the region.

Respectfully submitted by,

Mark Gjonaj New York City Councilmember

Vedat Gashi Westchester County Legislator

Albanian American Community Association

Albanian American Association Ulqini

Albanian American Cultural Foundation

Don Gjon Buzuku Association – Chicago

Don Gjon Buzuku Association- New York

Federata PAN-SHQIPTARE VATRA

Fondacioni Don Simon Filipaj

Fondacioni Hoti i Kujit

Fondacioni Plave Guci

TRIESHI Humanitarian Fund

Shoqata ANA E MALIT

Shoqata Atdhetare KRAJA

Shoqata Atdhetare MALESIA E MADHE- Michigan

Shoqata MALESIA E MADHE – NY

Shoqata KOJA

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