PODGORICA, Montenegro (AP) — A senior European Union official warned Montenegro on Friday that its bid to join the bloc will be hampered unless the Balkan country curbs attacks on journalists.
Johannes Hahn, the commissioner responsible for matters relating to the bloc’s enlargement, spoke after meeting with Olivera Lakic, a crime and corruption reporter for the Vijesti daily who was shot and wounded Tuesday outside her home in the capital, Podgorica.
Hahn described the attack on Lakic as “clearly an attack on media freedom, on freedom of expression, one of the core values of the European Union.”
“This is something that is not acceptable to us,” Hahn said. “This is a negative track record. I am looking for a positive track record.”
After meeting with Hahn later Friday, Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said his government won’t tolerate attacks on the press.
Markovic said officials dealing with the case “will be replaced until we find those who are capable of solving such cases.”
Montenegro, a former Yugoslav republic and an Adriatic Sea country, joined NATO last year and is considered to be one of the most likely aspirant EU members from the Balkans. The country’s pro-Western leadership has won praise for defying traditional ally Russia in joining NATO, and for fostering cooperation in the postwar Balkans.
But critics have accused the long-ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of failing to curb organized crime or corruption and hobbling democratic reforms.
Hahn said the EU will insist that the attackers on Lakic, along with their backers, be brought to justice in a fair and transparent trial “no matter if it is so-called big fish or small fish.”
Montenegro must ensure full freedom of expression for all its citizens and a failure to do so will hamper its EU future, Hahn warned.
“It’s really about something that is not negotiable,” he added.
Lakic was also attacked six years ago after she wrote about alleged murky dealings in a local tobacco factory. That attacker served several months in jail and Lakic had police protection for a while.
In another recent incident, a bomb exploded outside another crime journalist’s home in northern Montenegro, while many similar attacks and threats remain unresolved.
“If there is no sustainable progress … this will definitely hamper the European perspective of Montenegro,” Hahn said.