Vaccine Inequity
At the height of the pandemic, the critical global message was “no one is safe until everyone is safe.” It referred to the common-sense view that vaccinating everyone was the only way to control COVID-19. However, vaccine inequity among the stateless presented a barrier to raising global vaccination rates.

In countries such as Montenegro, Lebanon and the Dominican Republic, vaccine inequity among the stateless was characteristic of the exclusion and marginalization that stateless people typically experience for reasons ranging from politics to discrimination. Other major reasons include administrative issues stemming from affected individuals lacking specific documentation.

Stateless people have historically suffered unequal access to health care due to systems that provide services based on nationality and faced disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccine inequity among the stateless presented a further devastating blow for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Vaccine Inequity in the Dominican Republic

Vaccine inequity among the stateless in the Dominican Republic existed due to a policy decision to exclude the affected individuals. In 2021, the president announced that only Dominicans would be included in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, thus excluding illegal migrants or stateless people. The problem of discrimination and anti-Haitianism directed toward those born Dominican has been historically rife in the country. In fact, an overnight and discriminatory court decision in 2013 revoked the citizenship of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The court ruling stood as another example of furthering discrimination, even if it ran counter to the public health imperative.

However, several community responses echoed in unison to drive positive change. A community-based organization in the south of the country held persuasive talks with local government officials to convince the officials to consider residency status, name and age as sufficient for vaccination. Eventually, the localized vaccination distribution meant that some Dominicans without documentation could receive their shots.

Moreover, the Caribbean Migrants Observatory, a body set up in 2009 to facilitate migration and social development, also stepped in. Apart from developing the first migratory profile of the Dominican Republic, its advocacy talks with government officials led to a reversal in discriminatory vaccine policy and a subsequent commitment to universal vaccine access in the country.

Vaccine Inequity in Montenegro

Vaccine inequity has also affected the Roma community in Montenegro. A population at risk of statelessness, members of the Roma community face high fees for health care access during non-pandemic times. This is because Roma people are not on the official records for government health programs as they lack the required documentation.

The directive in the first stages of the vaccination rollout held that stateless people would be last in line to receive vaccines despite living in densely populated areas with significantly high risks of contracting the virus. Fortunately, following advocacy by the community-based organization Phiren Amenca, which emerged in 2012 to advocate for the rights of the Roma community, the new government changed the policy.

The government placed community members in a priority group, adding that all residents, regardless of citizenship status and health insurance, could receive the vaccine. Further clarifications revealed that this new development also included those in the process of resolving their legal status and those without legal documents. Phiren Amenca has also succeeded in extending the deadline for the registration of Roma people. A Roma doctor also visited a settlement to educate the community on the importance of vaccination and to deliver vaccine shots.

Vaccine Inequity in Lebanon

Vaccine inequity among stateless people in Lebanon existed primarily due to administrative issues. Oummal, a community-based organization set up in 2010 to provide universal health coverage that includes stateless people, had an eye-opening discovery. It found out, through community interviews, that stateless people could not register to receive the vaccination as no category existed for ‘no nationality’ on the registration portal. Furthermore, a lack of awareness about the importance of vaccination alongside fears of hospitalization and its associated costs stood as issues.

Oummal advocated for the inclusion of a ‘no nationality’ category on the registration platform. The organization set up a vaccination hotline for inquiries on documentation and vaccination. It also accompanied people to get their documents and receive vaccinations. Lastly, another resolution came about by waiving hospitalization costs for stateless people after meetings with the Ministry of Health. Oummal supported about 1,500 people, 1,068 of whom registered for vaccinations. The dedicated hotline for stateless people received 134 calls and the organization recorded 63 cases to follow up on regarding documentation and vaccination.

Advocacy and Community Work

Stateless people suffer from exclusion and discrimination, but the costs of exclusion during a global pandemic are far higher. Several countries excluded stateless people from accessing vaccines due to discrimination, lack of documentation and administrative issues. However, the influence of community work and advocacy resulted in the vaccination of many stateless people.

– Ottoline Spearman
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Montenegro
Montenegro is a country located in the Balkan peninsula. Montenegro has close ties and relations with Serbia. Along with corruption and organized crime, human trafficking is a very common enterprise throughout the country. Due to the frequency of human trafficking in Montenegro, The U.S. Department of State classifies the nation as a Tier 2 country.

Human Trafficking in Montenegro

Because of the prevalence of human trafficking in Montenegro, everyone living there and in surrounding Balkan countries is extremely vulnerable to becoming a victim. Traffickers smuggle people of all genders and ages into Montenegro from nearby Balkan countries. Trafficking victims often become street beggars and forced laborers.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of State identified 48 victims of human trafficking in Montenegro. This is an uptick from the 39 official victims in 2019. Of those 48 victims, at least 46 individuals ended up in forced labor. Of those 46, seven became beggars. Meanwhile, 17 of the 48 victims were female, 31 were male and at least seven were children.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro, women and girls from Montenegro are more likely to be victims of sex trafficking. In Montenegro, Roma teenagers have often worked as prostitutes and at least a few of them were sex trafficking victims. Boys and men, on the other hand, are more likely to become forced laborers. Since the construction industry is rapidly growing in Montenegro, traffickers are moving more boys and men from foreign countries to work in Montenegro’s booming industry.

Aida Petrovic, the founder and executive director of Montenegro Women’s Lobby – a non-governmental agency that helps to support victims of trafficking in Montenegro – found that traffickers were forcing girls as young as 13 into forced prostitution. These were not isolated findings, however, as Petrovic also found that the majority of the victims of forced prostitution were underaged.

Addressing the Problem

Since the U.S. Department of State ranked Montenegro as a Tier 2 country, many preventive measures have been put into place to address human trafficking in Montenegro. In 2011, the government established a hotline to support victims of human trafficking. In 2020, the support hotline received at least 1,657 phone calls. About five possible victims of human trafficking also made calls to the hotline. Moreover, the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare opened a new shelter for trafficking victims in 2020. For this new shelter, the Ministry of Finance and Social Welfare allocated $82,860, including $49,080 in operating expenses and up to $310 per month for every victim living at the shelter.

In 2019, Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, U.N. Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, introduced new operational strategies in collaboration with the International Organization for Migration to help identify trafficking victims. She also helped develop “guidance on the implementation of the non-punishment of victims” in collaboration with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Lastly, a fund dedicated to compensating victims also underwent establishment.

The Road Ahead

It is imperative that victims of human trafficking receive psychological, financial and medical support for the trauma they have endured. The government of Montenegro is making strides in helping victims and preventing future trafficking, but it still has a long way to go in its fight against human trafficking.

– Yonina Anglin
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Montenegro
Montenegro is a country located in the western Balkans. Neighbouring Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, the country spans approximately 13,800 square kilometers of land. With an approximate population of 622,300 people, the country has very few homeless people at an estimate of 300 people. This is partly due to the country’s high socioeconomic development. With a low number of homeless people when compared to the majority of the globe, the Montenegrin government has recently taken interest in minimizing the number of people in need. Here is some information about homelessness in Montenegro.

How Montenegro Defines Homelessness

The Montenegrin government officially defined the term “homeless person” in 2013. The legislation passed to officially recognize a homeless person as an individual that does not possess any property or means of living. They are expected to reside within a public space or center that is not habitable.

Four years later, there was a revision of the definition. In 2017, a homeless person was now defined as an individual that does not possess a residential address and is located within a public space or center that is not habitable.

The previous definition categorized people living in temporary conditions and conventional properties as homeless. However, the revised definition excluded them from being classified as homeless.

The Current Statistics

Montenegro’s government currently has insufficient information for a good estimate of the number of homeless people in the country. The 2013 national legislation is the only place where classification was introduced. As a result, homelessness in the country did not have accumulated data.

Alongside introducing the classification of a “homeless person” in 2013, the Strategy for Social and Child Protection System planned an initiative. This initiative determined the number of such individuals within the country. Due to the lack of existing records and failed attempts to implement the project, the statistics are only derived through social service facilities and unofficial sources. In 2015, several social service facilities reported that 36 individuals were homeless in Montenegro while other unofficial sources reported a different number ranging up to 300.

Government Initiatives to Fight Homelessness

The low amount of homelessness in Montenegro is in part due to several government initiatives that have helped Montenegrins for decades. The global housing market remains highly unstable and worrisome to many. However, Montenegro’s government initiated its year-long Housing Mortgage for Low-income Persons project in 2010. This project yielded an overwhelmingly positive effect. Approximately 433 families and 1,239 Montenegrins did not have any more housing issues.

The country’s government launched phase two of the project nearly six years later in December 2016 to further deal with the housing issues. With a heavily funded €20 million project, the government was able to solve housing issues of more than 500 families. It also facilitated in subsidized mortgage and permanent housing processes.

As a neighbor to struggling nations such as Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the government of Montenegro has facilitated approximately 150,000 displaced refugees over the years. Working alongside the UNHCR, the country has assisted and provided asylum for many. With displaced individuals looking for housing facilities within Montenegro, the country’s government has constructed more than 1,300 housing units for refugees to settle into.

With strong project management and several positive initiatives, the Montenegrin government has been very keen on minimizing homelessness in Montenegro. Alongside the continued efforts on the government-level and support from international agencies such as the UNHCR and Regional Housing Programme, Montenegro has been continually providing its citizens and refugees with permanent and guaranteed housing for years.

Omer Syed
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Montenegro
Montenegro rests on the Balkan coast, bordering four Southeastern European countries: Bosnia, Albania, Serbia and Croatia. Though small, with a population of 622,359, Montenegro caught the attention of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The UNDP critiqued the country’s high employment rate and its “lack of citizen participation in social processes.” To “combat poverty and social exclusion,” the UNDP suggested Montenegro’s government “effective[ly] and adequate[ly] target health, employment and social services.” In 2019, the conversation shifted toward healthcare in Montenegro and potential reform.

3 Factors Affecting Healthcare in Montenegro

  1. Deficient Government Budgeting and Spending: According to Pacific Prime Insurance, Montenegro has “the most backward health system in Europe.” While this statement might seem hyperbolic, the UNDP highlighted issues within Montenegro’s central government. A closer look at its Ministry of Health’s policies reveals deficient government budgeting and spending. In 2019, China-CEE Institute found that Montenegrins readily critique their government for inadequately spending 9% of the state’s budget on healthcare. That is more than 4% of the country’s total GDP, making the cost of its healthcare system relatively high. Yet, medical and insurance programs continue to suffer. China-CEE Institute argued that the country needs a new model for financing healthcare, one that can provide fair insurance policies, quality hospitals and ample medical equipment.
  2. Poor Quality of Care: Inadequate budgeting affects the implementation of quality healthcare in Montenegro. China-CEE Institute registered hospitals’ critiques and discovered that their personnel lacks the means to systematically control the spread of diseases. Montenegrin hospitals do not monitor proper hand-washing procedures or maintain hygienic policies. As a result, they also claimed that “[in] Montenegrin health institutions, 265 hospital infections were registered for the first six months of 2019, while only 28 were recorded in 2014.” Without proper sanitation practices, people cannot prevent or suppress diseases, so healthcare in Montenegro continues to suffer.
  3. Lack of Medical Professionals: Improper sanitation might stem from a shortage of medical personnel in Montenegrin hospitals and pharmacies. One study discovered a significant “outflow of human resources” from Montenegro as doctors often leave to work in other countries. This suggests that doctors might have some frustrations with Montenegro’s healthcare system. In 2018, Pacific Prime Insurance found 2,061 doctors working in the Montenegrin healthcare system. That is about 3.3 doctors per 1,000 people, which is slightly lower than the European average at 3.4. Pacific Prime Insurance also found Montenegro has the “lowest proportion of pharmacists per head in Europe – 17 per 100,000.” Due to insufficient budgeting, Montenegrin hospitals and pharmacies require effective healthcare teams.

While these statistics appear pessimistic at first glance, Montenegro’s government strives to amend its healthcare system. The Ministry of Health took its citizens’ considerations to heart by holding a discussion panel in 2019. Alongside the Association of Professional Journalists in Montenegro, the Challenges of Public Consumption: How Much Does Health Cost discussion panel sought to reform the country’s health financing.

To maintain their human resources, the Ministry of Health will provide better training for doctors and specialists. This will increase the number of medical professionals in hospitals and hopefully improve sanitation practices. While the UNDP awaits the results of these decisions, it is clear that healthcare in Montenegro is taking a step in the right direction.

Kyler Juarez
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in Newly Independent Nations
Poverty in newly independent nations is an extremely common phenomenon. Within the past two decades, millions of people have sought independence through referendums and massive social movements, and have succeeded in severing ties with parent nations. However, these grand pursuits of freedom can often lead to instances of large-scale poverty. When analyzing the economic statuses and poverty in newly independent nations likeMontenegro, Kosovo and South Sudan, it is evident that they are no exception.


After the end of World War II, Montenegro became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia dissolved in 1992, Montenegro unified with Serbia, originally the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Later in 2003, it joined Serbia and Montenegro in the much looser association. In the spring of 2006, Montenegro held a referendum on independence from the state union, citing its right under the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro. The vote for severing ties with Serbia exceeded 55%, officially allowing Montenegro to formally declare its independence on June 3, 2006.

Since this success, the country has experienced many changes and the growing issue of poverty. The majority of the poor in Montenegro, however, is its own citizens, despite housing an impressive number of refugees. When considering economic development by region, one can observe large disparities. In fact, in the northern region of Montenegro, the poverty rate has risen to 10.3%, much higher than the national average. Much work remains to combat poverty in Montenegro that its struggle for independence may have been temporarily overshadowed.


After declaring independence from Serbia in 2008, Kosovo established a parliamentary republic. It officially declared independence on February 17, 2008, and more than 100 United Nations members and 23 out of 28 members of the European Union currently recognize it as a fully independent nation.

Kosovo’s economy has experienced tremendous growth in the past decade. However, despite its economic inclusivity characterizing it, it has not been able to provide a sufficient amount of formal jobs for citizens, particularly for women and the youth. Additionally, Kosovo has failed to significantly reduce the high rates of unemployment across the nation. As a result, unemployment and poverty have been on the rise since 2008. There have been solid efforts on the part of the government, foreign aid and service projects–such as the Kosovo Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Project, a $31 million project to reduce energy consumption– to help alleviate poverty in the new nation, but it remains an issue requiring further attention.

South Sudan

The Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest nation, as well as Africa’s 55th country, on July 9, 2011. However, resumed conflicts in late 2013 and mid-2016, undermined the development it achieved since independence, negating much of the progress that it had made.

With over half the population currently requiring humanitarian assistance, South Sudan faces massive challenges in economic development despite receiving considerable foreign aid and owning significant oil reserves. Not long after South Sudan’s independence, the country encountered successive crises, resulting in a large-scale conflict and an economic recession. By late 2017, nearly 4.5 million people experienced displacement from their homes, accounting for more than a third of the country’s population. Prolonged financial insecurity and large-scale displacement have taken a huge toll on the lives of the South Sudanese people.

Furthermore, private consumption has consistently fallen since the beginning of the civil war that prompted the nation to seek independence in the first place. Amid continuing violence, the economy is experiencing a significant reduction due to sinking oil revenue and disruptions of economic production.


These nations are a testament to the complications that may arise post-independence, including rising poverty levels and the difficulty of developing a robust economic sector capable of supporting citizens. However, the progress that some have made to reduce poverty in newly independent countries demonstrates that there is hope for these countries’ future success.

Daniela Canales
Photo: Pixabay

Facts About Poverty in Montenegro
Montenegro has been an independent state since 2006. It is located is in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula, known favorably for its magnificent coastline, limestone peaks and glacial lakes. Unfortunately, the people of Montenegro face many challenges, including a national poverty rate of 8.6%. Listed below are 10 facts about poverty in Montenegro.

10 Facts About Poverty in Montenegro

  1. Education: Most children in Montenegro attend primary school. In 2018, the enrollment rate of primary school-aged children was almost 90%. However, according to a World Bank press release, the quality of this education is not up to par. On average, students only get 8.6 years of quality education. Fortunately, recent action has occurred resulting in reforms to the education policy that are in accord with EU legislation. The country is also working on programs to keep students from leaving school early. Educating the youth of Montenegro will better their chances of having healthy and productive lives. It also boosts the economy and decreases poverty rates.
  2. Poverty in Urban and Rural Areas: Poverty has historically concentrated in the Northern, rural areas of Montenegro. The rural poverty rate was 11.3% in 2010. This was almost three times the urban rate of 4% that year. This is consistent with the global trend of development as many aspects of economic modernization only affect urban areas. In Montenegro, the rural population relies primarily on agricultural subsistence in the form of family farms. However, as urban development has spiked, young people have begun moving to the cities and suburbs. This has left the rural population to a generally older demographic, rendering the family farm model unsustainable.
  3. Gender Equality: While levels of education are relatively consistent across genders, the number of men in political positions largely outweighs the number of women. Men also tend to have higher incomes. Fortunately, the Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM) held a conference with all of the women in Parliament and the Vice President. The Vice President pledged to do more to support the Gender Equality Committee in its goals to decrease domestic violence against women and encourage female entrepreneurship. These initiatives will help women feel safe and empowered.
  4. Tourism: The tourism industry accounts for 20% of the GDP. It currently brings in more than three times the population of Montenegro in tourists annually. Projections have determined that these numbers will increase as many new luxury tourism complexes are emerging along the coast. They will operate in conjunction with nearby boating and yachting facilities. This means that tourism, which currently generates 7.7% of total employment, may provide 21.5% of jobs in Montenegro by 2028.
  5. Green Home: The future of the tourist industry in Montenegro relies on the natural health and beauty of the country. An organization called Green Home has a commitment to addressing Montenegro’s existing ecological problems. It will use public advocacy to deal with issues like air and water pollution. Green Home has carried out many successful projects in Montenegro, including school recycling, strengthening hydropower regulation and the South East Europe Sustainable Energy Policy. Green Home has also contributed directly to the tourism industry with its support of local communities around Sasko Lake to implement tourist practices. Green Home’s projects allow tourism to flourish and, therefore, keep thousands of Montenegrins employed.
  6. Market Economy: Montenegro is in the process of transitioning to a market economy. So far, 90% of all companies and 100% of banking, telecommunications and oil companies have undergone privatization. Montenegro’s low corporate tax rate facilitated this process, which also encourages foreign investors. Montenegro’s foreign investments per capita are now one of the highest in Europe, making it competitive on the international stage.
  7. The EU: Montenegro is a lead candidate for integration into the European Union. Projections have determined that it will be a member by 2025. This would solidify their trade relationships with other European countries and stimulate natural resource trade and production. This could lead to an increase in industry and create more jobs. Additionally, the EU’s rural development policy would help Montenegro lift its rural population out of poverty.
  8. Unemployment: Montenegro’s unemployment rate was 14.5% as of September 2019. One of the main reasons that the rate is so high is that more than 29% of Montenegro’s youth (ages 15-24) are unemployed. The country ranks at 15 of the 25 highest youth unemployment rates in the world. Some say it is a result of the high levels of education since most jobs in Montenegro are more blue-collar and often offered to foreign migrants. Regardless, unless unemployment decreases dramatically for this age group in the next few years, this could be a major challenge to the economic future of Montenegro.
  9. Welfare: State-sanctioned social welfare provides money and social work to those who struggle. However, there is not enough to go around. Only 44% of people under the poverty line receive welfare money. Additional help, such as child psychological services, is reportedly hard to come by. The United Nations has been working with the government in Montenegro to change this by providing funding through the #ENDViolence campaign. The campaign includes initiatives such as strengthening social work services and helping parents support their children through a variety of methods.
  10. NGO 4 Life: NGO 4 Life is a nonprofit organization working to help former drug addicts reintegrate into society in Montenegro. In 2012, the organization worked with Parliament to reverse a law that said people convicted of drug crimes had to go to prison. Through reforms, drug addicts were able to obtain rehabilitation in certain circumstances. The organization continues to launch projects to help recovering addicts with the overarching goal of decreasing the unemployment rate in Montenegro.

These 10 facts about poverty in Montenegro show that the country’s future promises hope. The World Bank Country Manager in Montenegro, Emanuel Salinas, stated, “We believe that the Government of Montenegro has understood that the prosperity of the country relies on equipping people with the skills and knowledge that are needed in a rapidly changing world.” He admits that this is no easy task, but remains confident. Hopefully, the efforts of the government, along with those of various organizations mentioned in the 10 facts about poverty in Montenegro amount to a significant change in the lives of Montenegrins.

– Madeline Esther Lyons
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in Montenegro
Montenegro has recently seen calls from multiple organizations—UNICEF, UNESCO, and The World Bank—to better its education system and improve education for girls. Although universal enrollment in Montenegro is 97 percent, the dropout rate from primary schools is high. About 13 percent of women in Montenegro have not completed primary school, and about 6.4 percent of women do not have any education. In addition, the illiteracy rate in Montenegro is higher for women (3.4 percent in comparison to 2.35 percent for men). Overall, only 50 percent of students are proficient in less than 30 percent of essential knowledge.

Gender Inequality in Montenegro

In a recent report, UNICEF deemed schools in Montenegro as “non-girl-friendly” and claimed this was a major factor in the impediment of girls’ education in Montenegro. Moreover, UNESCO’s 2011 report on education in Montenegro saw that teaching methods were severely outdated and teachers often used intimidation tactics. Finally, discrimination against girls, particularly in schools across Montenegro, was 80 percent higher than against boys.

These discrepancies have caused an imbalance in the work force, though it is not completely one-sided. Only 52 percent of females, compared to 66 percent of men, participate in the labor force. The major disparities of gender is in parliament and other positions of power. In parliament, as of 2015, only 17 percent of seats are held by women.  In 2013, only 24 percent of firms saw female ownership. And in 2012, only 12 percent of females, compared to the 22 percent of males, were self-employed. There has been much backlash to these statistics, and many organizations have taken direct action to improve girls’ education in Montenegro.

The Ministry of Education

The Ministry of Education and Science of Montenegro, the main policy making body for education and sports in Montenegro, has received support from said organizations—UNICEF and UNESCO mainly.  This support is to ensure that basic learning needs are met and sustained of all children regardless of their ethnic background, social class, and especially gender.

Though the country has a National Plan of Action towards girls’ education in Montenegro, UNICEF’s annual report of 2016 found that the country is now more focused on the second decade of life and ending violence against women. In 2015, Montenegro’s prime minister stated that the country was committed to increasing attendance and expanding preschool coverage. The Minister of Education, in 2017, reiterated this same focus to UNICEF. The now disbanded Ministry of Education and Science’s publication of a “Comprehensive Evaluation of Primary Education in Yugoslavia” is, nevertheless, still being used as an outline for education reform, as is the World Bank’s emphasis on active learning in young children and a life-skills education in later years.

Though the country has moved away from focusing on girls’ education, the calls for reform have nonetheless been consistent. Montenegro has changed its focus in the past decade from gender-based education reform, to improvement of school systems, to now expanding their preschools and their enrollment. Girls’ education in Montenegro, while in need of alteration, has found itself stuck under the larger issues of migration, poverty and an overall lacking education system. Thus, change has yet to be seen.

– Isabella Agostini
Photo: Flickr


In comparison to other partners of the United States, such as Saudi Arabia and China, Montenegro appears to be quite small and insignificant. It is true that Montenegro’s total population is less than a million people. Furthermore, the country itself is slightly smaller than the state of Connecticut. However, Montenegro has proven to be a sturdy economic and military partner to both the United States and European Union. The overall goal of this piece will be to explore how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Montenegro. 

History and Renewed Relations

U.S.-Montenegrin relations officially began in 1905 and lasted until 1920. Montenegro eventually became a part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia until its dissolution in 1992. Montenegro wouldn’t achieve independence again until May 2012. In a referendum, rough 55 percent of the population voted for independence from the state union of Serbia-Montenegro. As a result, the United States re-established relations with Montenegro in 2006.

Quoting the U.S. Department of State on current relations with Montenegro, “The relationship between the U.S. and Montenegro has promoted peace and prosperity in the region and around the world.” For the FY 2019 budget, Montenegro is earmarked to receive $2.5 million in U.S. foreign assistance. Of that, 35 percent is geared towards bolstering democracy, human rights, and governance. The remaining 65 percent will be invested in peace and security.

Benefit: Influence in the Balkans

As aid continues to Montenegro, the U.S. gains a foothold in the Balkan region and can further promote its agenda. In recent years the U.S. has aimed for Montenegro to achieve Atlantic-Euro integration. On June 5, 2017, Montenegro became the 30th member to join NATO. In addition, Montenegro entered into accession negotiations with the E.U. to become a full member.

As a potential member of the E.U. and a part of NATO, Montenegro is of strategic significance to the U.S., particularly in reducing Russian influence and aggression in the Balkans. To reduce crime, the U.S. has sought to increase Montenegro’s ability to fight organized crime and corruption. If U.S. assistance continues as such, Montenegro has the potential to become a stronger economic and military partner which, in turn, affects greater U.S. influence and support in the region. This is a major example of how the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Montenegro. 

Benefit: Foreign Investment

Montenegro’s low corporate tax rates and business-friendly policies have enticed foreign investment from the U.S. and E.U. The U.S. Department of State explains that Montenegro has enacted the following incentives to potential investors:

  • a business-oriented economic system
  • a high level of economic freedom
  • a stable currency (euro)
  • macroeconomic predictability
  • and openness to incentivized tax structures.

If Montenegro enters the E.U. it has the potential to gain increased investment from U.S. companies.

U.S. foreign assistance and economic investment in Montenegro has proven to be both beneficial and successful. Montenegro’s unemployment rate has decreased noticeably as U.S. and E.U. investment has increased. The country has also become a full member of NATO and is projected to enter the E.U. in 2022. As Montenegro strengthens, U.S. interests are further protected in the Balkans which is essential in limiting Russian influence. Overall, Montenegro has helped protect U.S. economic and strategic interests in the region. These two serious factors prove how much the U.S. benefits from foreign aid to Montenegro.

– Colby McCoy

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in Montenegro

As with many countries in the region, the real estate bubble that burst in 2008 exposed longstanding weaknesses in the Montenegrin financial sector and left a laundry list of obstacles for the country to overcome in its wake. These obstacles have become major inhibitors of credit access in Montenegro.

As is often the case, small and medium-sized enterprises have been hit particularly hard by this credit squeeze. Fortunately, the international community has stepped in to improve short-term credit access in Montenegro in the short term while the Montenegrin financial sector modernizes for the long term.

Prior to 2008, the Montenegrin financial sector was plagued by poor governance, little oversight and inadequate and outdated financial infrastructure. In the wake of the crisis, key stakeholders have been working to rectify these problems against a backdrop of ongoing deleveraging. While these changes were needed, this restructuring has left Montenegrin banks incapable of meeting the demand for credit.

Business owners who can secure loans from Montenegrin banks complain of high interest rates, extensive collateral requirements and overall a very risk-averse lending policy. For many business owners, securing a loan from a Montenegrin bank is simply not an option. This gap between supply and demand is being filled in two different ways: by the informal economy and by international actors.

Many would-be business owners (and individuals) have turned to the informal economy to meet their financing needs. This often entails borrowing under the table from loan sharks. Not only does this open borrowers up to unnecessary risk, but it also presents an obstacle to modernizing the financial sector.

The other option is to secure financing from international actors. Many organizations are working to provide improved credit access in Montenegro while the country’s financial sector gets back on its feet. These include the EBRD, the Investment-Development Fund of Montenegro, internationally-backed microfinancing institutions and other international organizations that have stepped in in a microfinance capacity.

There are signs that positive change is coming. In late 2017, the government passed a law aimed at comprehensively reforming the financial sector and improving credit access in Montenegro. The law creates new financial instruments available to business owners and opens up new opportunities for those struggling to secure a loan to avail themselves of financing and guarantees from the government.

The law also updates the regulations that govern the Montenegrin financial industry and help to bring Montenegro into line with international best practices. It is hoped that these laws will help to prevent another disaster like 2008 and ensure that credit access in Montenegro will not be affected by the next economic downturn. This legislation serves to prove that developing economies often need just a little bit of international support while they work to modernize their financial infrastructure, and that this support enables them to create improved frameworks that provide greater confidence moving forward.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in Montenegro

Montenegro, like many of the Western Balkan countries, relies heavily on agriculture as a source of economic productivity and is eagerly searching for ways to make its agricultural sector more competitive while preparing to contend with the realities of climate change. The U.N. and the World Bank have worked extensively to promote sustainable agriculture in Montenegro. One important component of this work has been a realization of the need to make these efforts explicitly inclusive of female farmers, who are often overlooked.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, in particular, has a long history of working to promote competitive, sustainable agriculture in Montenegro that actually improves the circumstances of Montenegrin farmers. In addition to the focus on agriculture, the FAO has also put in place rural development initiatives and helped the Montenegrin government to ensure the sustainable management of the country’s natural resources.

There are some areas where the FAO has been particularly successful. Together with the Montenegrin government, it was able to improve the sustainability and management of the country’s forests, which is important as wood is still a key source of fuel, especially in rural areas. Montenegro has also made strides in recent years in managing its fisheries on the Adriatic coast. The focus now is on bringing Montenegrin agriculture in line with E.U. regulatory standards and ensuring that small farmers can compete on the international market in anticipation of Montenegro eventually entering the European Union.

Rarely, however, do these kinds of initiatives make a point of being inclusive of female farmers. In the Western Balkans, strict gender roles persist and farming is not seen as something that concerns women. But female farmers in Montenegro account for 13 percent of landholders and 65 percent of the agricultural workforce, indicating that perhaps these gender roles are becoming out of date. Female farmers have recently had success securing grants from the World Bank’s MIDAS program, but too often farmers, especially women, are not made aware that these programs exist to help them.

Now, finally, these women are being addressed and reached out to as a real constituency. The Ministry for Agriculture and Rural Development hosted a workshop exclusively for female farmers that allowed them to network and learn about options for assistance that many of the women did not know they had.

Sustainable agriculture in Montenegro, and in the Balkans more broadly, is ultimately going to be about more than eliminating ecologically harmful practices and increasing crop yields in an ecofriendly way. It will also consist of leveling the playing field and improving equity in the industry across all demographics and of producing more and wasting less.

– Michaela Downey

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