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Heads up – Embassy 34

Diplomatic signals

Scanning Professor Ljubisa Stankovic’s resumé, one word springs to mind: boffin.

Not only did Montenegro’s Ambassador to London graduate top his class in maths, he went on to become a pre-eminent scientist in the field of communications and developed his own scientific method to unscramble signals – for which he received many accolades, including the highest state award in Montenegro in 1997.

A two-time rector of Montenegro University, he has taken his research to top universities in Germany, the Netherlands, France and the US and has been on the steering committee for higher education at the Council of Europe; he edits scientific journals; and his work in R&D is sought-after by both business and government, including VW and the Canadian Ministry of Defence.

So was he a mad scientist to leave the academic world and become a diplomat?

“If you think about it, there are some similarities between my research and diplomacy,” he smiles. “My work in signal processing involves receiving signals and removing all the background noise in order to make sense of the information contained within it – which is not so different from diplomacy!”

Stankovic comes to London with a clear message: Montenegro’s foreign policy goal is to become a member of the EU and Nato.

Recently the EU enlargement commissioner sent a clear signal back: Montenegro had worked hard to meet the EU’s seven conditions (including a new electoral law and anti-crime and corruption measures) meaning accession negotiations could begin.

“As a small nation of 650,000, Montenegro is not going to rock the EU boat,” says the Ambassador. Yet he is aware that full membership may take time. “The process of joining the EU will not only be based on our achievements but the EU has its own problems now which may have an impact on how quickly they enlarge. But for Montenegro, along with the formal membership process, adopting European standards is an aim in itself.”

And Montenegrins are used to playing the waiting game. On the Embassy wall is a crest of the Kingdom of Montenegro, internationally recognised in 1878 as the world’s 27th nation state. Yet Montenegro only regained its independence from Yugoslavia in 2006, putting its own aspirations for independence on hold while its bigger neighbours descended into war.

“We’ve always been a small pawn in a big Balkan chess game,” he says. “The international community put our needs aside because we were small and had small influence. But eventually we succeeded.”

The Ambassador played a key role in that success. As one of the six-member Montenegrin Presidency (1989-91), Stankovic was a voice calling for Montenegro to move towards a multiparty democracy.

At the same time, he saw the signs that Croatia and Slovenia were going to secede and suggested that Montenegro break away or risk being overshadowed by Serbia in rump Yugoslavia. It was not a popular view and Stankovic resigned from the Communist Party, forming the Socialist Party of Montenegro, later the Social Democratic Party, and was president of the Democratic Forum which established the conditions for a multiparty system.

Under the banner of the Alliance of Reformists he competed in Montenegro’s first multiparty presidential elections in 1990, and was later elected a member of the Montenegrin parliament (1991-92) and the Yugoslav federal parliament (1992-96).

“We felt it was important to be represented in the parliament and make our voices heard even if we didn’t agree with the system. But at that time, the war had started and we didn’t want to push it further.”

The Ambassador withdrew from frontline politics to concentrate on research until the next game changer – the Kosovo war. Watching Nato’s bombs dropping on Podgorica airport from his window was frightening, recalls the Ambassador. But far more worrying was the deepening rift between the pro-independence camp and the pro-Milosevic, pro-federalist camp.

“If conflict had broken out between supporters of Milosevic and those in favour of independence there would have been civil war. It was very tense,” he recalls.

The independence movement held its nerve, thinking the elections after the war would prove decisive. The Ambassador remembers feeling shocked and betrayed to see Western diplomats throwing their weight behind the party which two years previously had been in coalition with Milosevic at a federal level.

“They wanted to keep Serbia-Montenegro together and they did not want any more changes,” explains the Ambassador. But even after the referendum was postponed and tough conditions were set, the pro-independence movement won.

“Regaining our independence was peaceful which is not usual for the Balkans,” says the Ambassador.

Finally on the map of Europe again, Stankovic wants the British public to discover the country for themselves. Attracting investment in Montenegro’s energy, agriculture and infrastructure is another priority and, of course, the Ambassador is perfectly placed to strengthen academic ties.

But the Ambassador also hopes to find time to pursue his passion for photography and to continue his scientific work – who knows, perhaps he will come up with a theory on processing diplomatic signals!


HE Professor Ljubisa Stankovic

“We’ve always been a small pawn in a big Balkan chess game. The international community put our needs aside because we were small. But we succeeded”

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