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The Making of Party Pluralism in Montenegro

Maxmilián Strmiska

The evolution of the party arrangement in Montenegro in the 1990s is an interesting subject of research in post-communist party systems both for the formation and metamorphosis of political pluralism, the polarity and patterns of party interactions in an apparently changing ”post-communist” context, and within a broader perspective favouring analysis of links between nation-building processes and the transformation of political system including the (re)structuring of the respective party landscape. This article is a contribution to the interpretation of the genesis of present day party pluralism in Montenegro. It also pursues the objective of providing stimuli for further discussion about structural and conjunctural factors influencing the evolution of post-communist multipartisms. The transformation of the Montenegro party arrangement cannot be satisfactorily analysed or interpreted on the basis of presumably universal schematics overestimating the determining impact of ”communist legacies”; this case study therefore provides – at least indirectly – arguments in favour of an open research perspective which would take in due consideration dynamic aspects of the formation and transformation of post-communist multipartisms, including the formative role of political elites.

Two factors are of extreme importance for drawing the basic characteristics of the Montenegro party arrangement between 1990 and 1996. The first is related with semi-pluralistic and semi-competitive features of this arrangement. Jean Blondel classified the then party and political arrangement of the ”New Yugoslavia” (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; SRJ) as a system of ”dominant party in a semi-pluralistic context”, or – in other words – a system of dominant party in semi-competitive and partially semi-pluralistic regime (Blondel 1997: 13, 17-18). Of primary importance, however, is the semi-competitiveness that devalued elements of political pluralism. Even though there was party pluralism in Montenegro, it was impotent. This impotence applied, in the first place, to opposition forces that were too weak to personify viable alternative to the government or to at least force a relevant share in political power out of a consociational model. Party pluralism in the environment without rotation of the government parties and – in the broader sense – with a fossilised establishment was bound to be incomplete. This arrangement displayed features of delegative democracy in which political competition and electoral procedures serve first of all – even though not exclusively – the legitimising of the regime and exclusive status of the establishment. This was the case until 1997 when electoral and political competition gained a new meaning.

The second factor has to do with some features of the Montenegro party arrangement as a subsystem located on political periphery of a broader (federal) system (cf. Sekelj 2000). It cannot be ignored that the party arrangement in Montenegro was not – and has not been yet – a party system in an independent polity. Within the ”New Yugoslavia” Montenegro has been a periphery. Unlike Kosovo and Voivodina, it was a ”privileged” periphery in a way, but little did it change in its actual power and political inequality and subordination in relationship to the Serbian centre. What was the impact of such state of affairs on the character of Montenegro party arrangement? At first sight, it might seem logical to define this arrangement as a subsystem. Things are not as easy as that, though. Some features of this arrangement have characterised it as a subsystem, others not. It is useful to distinguish two levels of the functioning of the Montenegro party pluralism, i.e. the federal and the republic (sub federal) one. Subsystem features have naturally been more marked on the level of federal electoral and political competition where important role was played by the fact of the Montenegro population (and consequently also the constituencies) being so small, which necessarily degraded the importance of Montenegro sub-space of federal electoral competition – except for the chair in the Chamber of the Republic.[1] However, it is more important in the given context that the Montenegro party landscape has not represented – on the federal or subfederal level – a mere miniature copy of the Serbian party landscape (cf. Allcock 1994). The branches of ”all-Serbian” parties, if active at all in Montenegro, were not the protagonists of the local political scene, which was true in the period between 1990 and 1997 and basically also during subsequent years. The relevance of this factor became sufficiently clear, however, only during an open, irreversible rift within the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), a post-communist ”establishment party” (and therefore sister party of Milosevic’s Socialist Party of Serbia, SPS) whose majority ”Montenegro” wing ceased to be loyal with Belgrade. It was then that the endogenous features of Montenegro party arrangement that characterised it as a party system were valorised, while elements of subsystem nature associated with the continuing institutional setting have been gradually suppressed (even though never fully eliminated).

The Montenegro party arrangement between the years 1990 and 1996 can therefore be briefly characterised as a temporary, semi-structured and semi-competitive pluralism in a delegative democracy (cf. Blondel 1997). [2] With the necessary amount of simplification, five different party camps or groupings could be identified in Montenegro context, which could not and cannot be – in view of their relative low degree of programmatic crystallization – considered as equivalent to the genuine ”party families”. The first party camp was personified by the ultra-dominant Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) which represented a post-communist ”establishment party” with a remarkably vague programme. The opposition sector was represented especially by the clearly anti-communist, pro-Montenegro and independence oriented Liberal Alliance of Montenegro (LSCG), and similarly oriented – but considerably less influential – Social Democratic Party (SDP), and finally the Serbofil national populist People’s Party (NS). Even though LSCG and NS were cooperating an acted jointly in the electoral alliance National Accord in 1996, each of them represented a different party camp (national-liberal and national-populist, respectively). The fourth party groupings consisted of ethnic parties representing the Albanian and Muslim-Bosniak minorities: the Democratic Union of Albanians (DUA), the Democratic Alliance in Montenegro, (DSCG) and the Party of Democratic Action (SDA). The fifth Montenegro party camp represented initially a sort of residual category including branches of all-Serbian parties; however, this camp soon gained more definite contours and became a domain of ultra-nationalist Serbian parties, especially of the Serb Radical Party (SRS) (cf. Allcock 1991; Allcock 1994). [3]

Relevant parties represented not all the above party camps. The assessment of relevance of the individual parties was somehow difficult due to the fact that only the Democratic Party of Socialists disposed of governmental potential at that time, i.e. it was the only party with a well defined ”majority mission.” DPS won all elections between 1990 and 1996 (beginning with 1992 under the name Democratic Party of Socialists) [4] , so it could be considered ultra-dominant. In addition, DPS could also make use of electoral engineering and adopt the ”rules of the game” to its needs. The relevance of other parties consisted in the first place in demonstrating oppositional and/or blackmail potential, eventually – to a lesser extent – in their actuation as support or potential substitute force with regard to the existing establishment. As for relevant parties, they were Liberal Alliance of Montenegro (LSCG), People’s Party (NS) and perhaps also Serb Radical Party (SRS) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), while the ethnic parties occupied a special position. The other parties in the arena of institutional politics did not achieve a position of relief and in the better case only aspired at the role of relevant political actors. This assessment is also endorsed by a brief view of the electoral results of the Montenegro parliamentary elections between 1990 and 1996. [5] In 1990, the League of Communists of Montenegro (SKCG; later DPS) won 83 mandates (of the total 125), the Alliance of Reform Forces 17 mandates, the Democratic Coalition 13 and the NS 12 chairs. [6] After parliamentary elections in 1992, Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) controlled 44 mandates (of the total 85), while the representation of the other political actors was remarkably lower (NS had only 14, LSCG 13, SRS 8 and SDP 4 mandates). [7] The elections for the Montenegro parliament in November 1996 then concluded the fist phase of the development of Montenegro party pluralism. The Democratic Party of Socialists – at least apparently – defended its position of an ultra-dominant party; it achieved again a ”one-coloured” parliament majority winning 45 mandates (of the total 71) and 51.24% votes. LSCG and NS, in spite of setting an electoral alliance called the National Accord (Narodna Sloga, NS), did not manage to shatter the exclusive position of DPS. Their alliance policy was rather penalised by the electorate: the National Accord only gained 19 mandates and less votes (25.57%) than the two participating parties in the previous parliamentary elections. As for ethnic parties, SDA gained three and the Albanian parties DSCG and DUA two mandates each, respectively. [8]

The whole arrangement dramatically changed after a rift within the governmental Democratic Party of Socialists in 1997. Signs of ever more marked dividing line within DPS in the pragmatic ”Montenegrin” wing on the one hand and the pro-Serbian, pro-Milosevic wing on the other were apparent as early as during the 1990s, but it was only during the strive for nomination of the party candidate for presidential elections in 1997 that the internal division developed into an open split. [9] The internal conflict ended with the victory of the pragmatic wing supporting the candidature of Djukanovic. His adversary Bulatovic was forced to leave DPS to eventually found his own formation, the Socialist People's Party (SNP). Djukanovic’s wing managed to attract the forces of opposition and, with their support, help Djukanovic beat Bulatovic in the second round of the presidential elections. At the same time, the distribution of power in the parliament changed dramatically. The period of a specific realignment accompanied by fragmentation of parties and their deputy clubs was put an end to by premature parliamentary elections – this time based on the relatively easy-to-orient proportional system – in May 1998 – which brought victory to the For a Better Life (Da Zivimo Bolje) coalition (DPS, NS, SDP) with 42 mandates and 48.87%, while Socialist People's Party (SNP) gained 29 chairs and 35.6% votes, Liberal Alliance of Montenegro 5 chairs (6.21 % votes) and the Albanian parties DSCG and DUA one mandate each (with 1.56 % and 1.1 % of votes, respectively). [10]

The restructuring of the Montenegro party landscape between 1997 and 1998 naturally brought about changes in the positioning of major parties and a radical transformation of prevailing patterns of their interactions. If in the previous period the existence of one major pole (the Democratic Party of Socialists) was typical for this party landscape, now there were two major poles established, i.e. DPS and SNP (Socialist People’s Party), embodying basic political options in a strongly polarised environment. As suggested above, the profiling of DPS and SNP as the major poles was primarily determined by their different relation to the Belgrade regime of Milosevic, which predetermined their further counter-positions, including the key problem of defining or redefining the identity of Montenegro polity. In the late 1990s the Democratic Party of Socialists defined itself as a democratic pro-western and pro-Montenegro, multicultural party with a special ”political and educational” mission while the Socialist People's Party defined itself as an anti-western Serbofil post-communist or neo-socialist party of ”common people.” [11] Antagonistic elements in their mutual relation were underlined by the fact that both the parties drew upon identitary mobilisation in an effort to increase their political influence, raising non-bargainable or only hardly bargainable political issues.

The Democratic Party of Socialists, the new-old party of governmental circles and the pillar of the establishment, lost after the above crisis its ultra-dominant position and tried to compensate this loss reinforcing its relatively privileged centre positioning. This centrist strategy proved relatively efficient, at least temporarily. It tried to cast its principal adversary, the Socialist People's Party, into political isolation as an ”anti-systemic force” (achieving the broadest possible conventio ad excludendum) and disqualify it as much as possible as an ”anti-Montenegro” force. The profiling of DPS, as a moderate centre par excellence should also be supported by attacks on LSCG as an ”irresponsible” separatist-nationalist force, de facto helping to maintain the influence of Belgrade in Montenegro. [12] In the present day Montenegro context, SNP represents an anti-system oriented and semi-responsible or irresponsible opposition (cf. ICG 2000a). [13] However, one has not to do with a classical tripolar arrangement in the spirit of polarised pluralism (cf. Sartori 1976) in this case, even though, as a matter of fact, there are three poles present: DPS and SNP personify the two major poles and LSCG the minor pole. The nature of the streams of interactions between DPS and SNP on the one hand and DPS and LSCG on the other is different, though. Only the relation between DPS and SNP can be viewed as a real and relevant case of polarisation on the system level, while elements of polarisation in the relation between DPS and LSCG are limited and, in fact, reproduced on purpose. LSCG is not an anti-system irresponsible opposition in relation to the Democratic Party of Socialists in power. After all, the positions of DPS and LSCG are compatible, as was shown by their alliance between summer and autumn 1997. The conflict between them is not that of ”ideologically distant” parties but rather that of competitors who – within the given, polarized context - have much in common. The Democratic Party of Socialists (in the post-1997 period) had and still has a great interest in actual control of the cultural and political legacy and mobilizational resources of LSCG, while the liberals who believe that the ”corrupt” pragmatic DPS has stolen their original role of a democratic civic pro-Montenegro party – try to preserve their independence and avoid a compulsory cooperation with DPS, which would result in the adoption of a subaltern role of a junior partner of the Democratic Party of Socialists.

Other relevant parties do not have the status of independent poles. The Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party, possessing certain coalition potential, have accepted the role of junior partners to DPS. The Socialist People's Party has gradually developed its own ”Yugoslav” alliance counting on the participation of Serb People’s Party (SNS) as one of the major parties (with ”Bojovic’ faction of NS as its core) and Serb Radical Party (cf. ICG 2000b). The ethnic minority parties, i.e. SDA, DSCG and DUA continue to occupy a special position. The Muslim-Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), however, weakened after the split of its dissident wing, has lost its representation in the Montenegro parliament. These ethnic parties have represented potential allies of the Democratic Party of Socialists in the conflict between DPS and SNP, of which the former managed to deprive them of part of their electorate. Other formations active on the Montenegro party landscape are still striving for a better position. Restructuring the Montenegro party landscape has been reflected also in changes in party camps. No or relatively small changes were suffered by the party camps represented by ethnic parties and LSCG. Nevertheless, the internal division in DPS and NS resulted in a redefinition of post-communist and nationalistic and populist sector. The Democratic Party of Socialists, a vaguely ”social-democratised” and ”westernised” party was shifted closer to SDP and – with only minor reserve – it could be said that these parties are now creating something like a social-democratic camp. The Socialist People's Party has become the principal representative of socialist-nationalist (pro-Yugoslav) party groupings coinciding to a large extent with the ultra-nationalist Serbian party camp. As a matter of fact, the party camp represented in the past by the People’s Party (NS), which could be assigned a working denomination of national-populist and at the same time anti(-post-)communist, has disintegrated. It seems that capacity of the People's Party (after the split and after the demise of its traditional leader, Novak Kilibarda) to represent effectively a viable separate political option has diminished considerably. Nevertheless, it could continue - as relevant, but minor party - as a junior partner of DPS. The Serb People's Party (SNS) has got closer to the positions of SNP and SRS (in exchange of some weakening of its past anti-communist orientation). As a result, this party camp has lost its crucial distinctive feature based exactly on the interconnection the link between the anti(post)communist orientation and the Serbofil populism.

Insufficient distance in time as regards the evolution of Montenegro politics marked by some dramatic moments requires caution in assessing the outcomes and prevailing trends of this evolution. Nonetheless, it can be said that the dramatic evolution of the DPS and SNP dualism and the related radical growth of political competitiveness has generated new impulses for the process of differentiation and program crystallisation of political parties, opening the door to a dynamic evolution of party pluralism in Montenegro. However, it is still too soon to speak of consolidation and/or actual ”maturing” of the Montenegro party and political arrangement, mainly because it is difficult to assess all medium and long-term consequences of protracted polarisation of the late 1990s as well as of the mounting tensions between the establishments of Montenegro and Serbia. Apparently, this polarisation has to do with the character and orientation of the whole polity, not only the party system, which dramatically increases the vulnerability of the whole political arrangement. In my opinion, the evolution of the present day Montenegro party landscape cannot be satisfactorily interpreted applying the scheme stressing the determining action of legacies of patrimonial communism, irrespective of the fact that the environment in which the Montenegro party pluralism was formed contain the elements of these legacies and that their influence was considerable until 1997. Political options implemented by the Montenegro party elites between 1997 and 1998 were not entirely determined by the above communist legacies, representing the outcome of a set of heterogeneous factors of both structural and openly opportunist nature. This resulted in the creation of a remarkable and in a way unique post-communist party arrangement in which both major poles have been represented by post-communist-successor parties, which parties, however, were of different types and displayed divergent evolution trends, forming part of different party camps. As suggested in the introduction, the analysis of such arrangement renders stimuli for an open research perspective taking into due account dynamic aspects of formation and transformation of post-communist multipartisms.


DPS (Democratic Party of Socialists)
DSCG (Democratic Alliance in Montenegro)
DUA (Democratic Union of Albanians)
JUL (Yugoslav United Left)
LSCG (Liberal Alliance of Montenegro)
NS (People's Party)
SDA (Party of Democratic Action)
SDP (Social Democratic Party)
SNP (Socialist People's Party)
SNS (Serb People's Party)
SRS (Serb Radical Party)

Poznámky / Notes

1) Of course, the recent constitutional reform has changed the situation in this respect considerably.
2) It should be noted, that Blondel concentrated his attention primarily upon the Yugoslav (and Serbian) party system. However, the fact of semi-competivity were even more evident in Montenegro (before the 1997 crisis) than in the Serbian and/or Yugoslav (federal) contexts.
3) Of course, this review of party camps in Montenegro does not include all parties and alliances. For obvious reasons, minor non-relevant parties, ephemeral alliances and various experiments with mergers are not included.
4) In the early 1990s, the ”traditional” label League of Communists of Montenegro (SKCG) was used.
5) Only the elections into the Montenegro (republican) parliament are considered here. For a review of gains and positioning of ”Montenegrin” parties in the federal (Yugoslav) elections see the paper of L. Sekelj (Sekelj 2000).
6) The Alliance of Reform Forces (SRSCG) was made by a coalition of LSCG, the Socialist Party, and the Party of Socialists of Montenegro. The Democratic Coalition constituents were the ethnic (Muslim-Bosniak and Albanian) parties: the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Democratic Alliance and the Party of Equality (cf. Allcock 1994).
7) O Opoziciji, AIM, 14-11-1993.
8) Cf. various on-line (retrospective) election results and materials (Parlamentarni izbori Crna Gora).
9) The rift within DPS then reflected, to a certain extent, a traditional cleavage in the politics of Montenegro between the Greens (zelenaši) and the Whites (bijelaši), i.e. between the factions favouring or opposing the independence of Montenegro (or its close attachment to Serbia, respectively).
10) Cf. Parlamentarni izbori Crna Gora; Skupština Republike Crne Gore.
11) Cf. Program partije (, especially Novi lik partije ( Cf. ICG 2000a, ICG 2000b.
12) In the framework of gradating polemics and mutual accusation after the local elections in July 2000, some representatives of DPS went as far as calling the LSCG a ”Montenegro section” of the Belgrade JUL, corrupted by Markovic, or Milosevic.
13) However, the issue of conceiving SNP as an irresponsible opposition force is complicated by the fact that the primary loyalty of the party (either to Belgrade or to Montenegro) has been - since the beginning - an important subject of the covert but intense struggle of factions within SNP (cf. ICG 2000a).

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