Recently Marko Vesovic, a journalist in Montenegro, interviewed me for the Podgorica newspaper DAN.  Journalists like Mr. Vesovic--who by the way has won awards for his work--throughout the Balkans are passionately burning the midnight oil to keep their governments accountable and transparent.  He caught wind of my recent trip to Montenegro and interviewed me for DAN.  Below are my original responses in English that I had sent to him.  The upshot is that Montenegro has huge potential that outsizes its tiny land and population--visit and you will not want to leave.  The country’s institutions, however, need serious reform.  For those of you who can read Montenegrin, the article on DAN Online is here.

What was your first impression on Montenegro, what did you feel about the country?

    I fell in love with the amazing scenery right away.  Montenegro is probably one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. I wish I had more time to explore the country. I felt the standard of living should match what I saw along the coast and mountains.  I just felt relaxed as I entered the country from Dubrovnik. What an easy and lovely place to live, I kept on saying to myself.

    How do You see the situation in The Balkans, nowadays, with regard to Montenegro?

    I spent a lot of time talking to Montenegrins because my late 2010 trip to the Balkans was to explore business opportunities.  What I found was that my immediate impression of Montenegro was not matched by the reality.  Many professionals in business, academia, and the civil society explained the difficulty of living in Montenegro.  Jobs appear to be scarce, people worry about the future, and are divided over the next steps in building their country.

    What was once a prosperous country (the former Yugoslavia) is now six (seven if you include Kosovo, that may get me in trouble with some people!) nations that all have their struggles.  The trick is to maintain independence with the reality that these countries have to rely on each other.

    My concern, and this is based on what was told to me, was that Montenegro needs to figure out how to develop its economy.  Many are worried--and I would be--that a country that is selling its assets to the highest bidder (as in wealthy people from Russia and other countries), which only benefits a few people, is not the most sustainable way to develop the economy.  And a country of 600,000 people (only 2 or 3 US states have a smaller population), should not just rely on tourism, no matter how beautiful the country may be.  Tourism is subject to economic and political volatility--just ask people in places as diverse as Hawaii and Egypt.

    So Montenegrins need to figure out how to develop their economy.  Perhaps high value agricultural products?  Can the company develop a small technology center?  Specialized manufacturing?  Finance?  It is up to the country to find out what its strengths are and push forward.  You need a plan, because you never know when the tourists may stop coming for one, three, or even more months.

    Marko Vesovic, DAN Online

    Marko Vesovic, DAN Online

    Mr Milo Djukanovic, the longtime Montenegro leader since 1989, in power here, stepped down from prime minister`s office on December 21st, but he remains in the leading position in his ruling party - DPS. There are claims that Djukanovic was under pressure to step down from EU and USA, because of his criminal work, and lack of fight against crime in Montenegro. Do You feel that this is the case? How do you see his political position?

    I am not a diplomat and do not have the information that someone at the state department or the UK foreign ministry would have.  My impression is that for a small country like Montenegro, you are more important to the strategic interests of the European Union than the USA--just how the American government would be more concerned than the EU about a small Latin American country like Costa Rica or Barbados.  I would not be surprised if the EU (or even the USA) pressured Djukanovic to step down--if your allies are making friends with someone who could be your enemy . . . then that leader is not much of a friend.  He could be someone like Putin or Kirchner in Argentina (before he died), who has a low profile, but really controls everything behind the scenes.  But Montenegrins need to worry about transparency within their country, and holding politicians accountable, rather than worry about what the big boys & girls (EU, Russia, USA) are maybe telling you to do.

    How much is know about Montenegro in countries like the USA or Britain, and what is image that people have about this country?

    I’m confident Brits are more knowledgable about Montenegro than my countrymen.  It’s just logistics--Montenegro is a great place to visit and is pretty easy to visit from most European capitals.  Not so with the USA.  While we are a large country, we tend to think local.  Most Americans only have about 2 weeks of vacation a year, and most do not use it.  So when you only have 10 business days a year to travel, you are probably going to visit your relatives or travel within the country.  So that is something the Montenegro government and people need to think about: how to brand your country.  Are you a business magnet?  Are you the best tourism destination?  Many countries around the world advertise in leading American publications or on cable TV: Korea, Angola, Turkey, Singapore, Mexico, and Slovakia are just a few countries that I see promote their country in publications like Foreign Policy or on CNN.  That is expensive, however, but the point is that Montenegro and its people need to think about how to position themselves in a global economy.  Just something to ponder--what is your country all about?

    About The Author

    Leon Kaye

    Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he is a business writer and consultant. His work is has also appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He's pictured here in Qatar, one of the Middle East countries in which he takes a keen interest because of its transformation into a post-oil economy. Other areas of interest include sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). As of October 2013, he now lives and works in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.