Professor Krivokapic, Montenegro's new 'common man' PM

Olivera NIKOLIC
·3-min read
In a matter of months, 62-year-old grandfather and devout Orthodox Christian professor Zdravko Krivokapic rose from political unknown to the surprise face of Montenegro's new government

After an academic career far from the political spotlight, university professor Zdravko Krivokapic on Friday became Montenegro's new Prime Minister, in a remarkable ouster of the party that has ruled the Adriatic country for three decades.

In a matter of months, the 62-year-old grandfather and devout Orthodox Christian rose from political unknown to the surprise face of a new government supported by right-wing elements, that will take the Balkan state into unchartered territory.

Analysts say Krivokapic's common man brand, plus the impression that he was unsullied by the country's messy political scene, helped him unite a broad opposition coalition that runs the gamut from communists to ultra-nationalists.

Together they have outnumbered the veteran Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), led by powerful President Milo Djukanovic, for the first time in 30 years.

"I am one of you, an ordinary and, as they claim, a modest man", Krivokapic, who has a calm-speaking style, said as he presented himself to voters in August ahead of the election.

"I am a family man and professionally oriented, some claim a workaholic."

The mechanical engineer from the central city of Niksic was respected in academic circles but completely unknown to most of the electorate when he entered the political arena in early 2020.

Proud of his faith, he quickly became the face of a band of right-wing, pro-Serb politicians with close ties to the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC).

While Montenegro broke away from Serbia in 2006, the SPC is still the dominant religion. Around a third of country still identify as Serb, a topic of sensitive debate.

Approving of his traditional values and religious devotion, Chuch clergy openly backed Krivokapic and campaigned for him for the first time in history.

This divine approval, coupled with a "clean biography", were major factors in his favour, said director of Centre for Civic Education Daliborka Uljarevic.

"Citizens of Montenegro wanted a leader ready for dialogue and compromise that will empower the institutions, and they were tired of a iron-fisted leader", Uljarevic told AFP, referring to the domineering rule of Djukanovic.

During the campaign, Krivokapic cast himself as a non-partisan actor, saying he was motivated by his faith.

After the election, he pledged to install a government of experts.

- Moderate conservative -

As a staunch conservative, Krivokapic was well-received within the country's nationalistic pro-Serb camp, drawing criticism when he said that Montenegro was a "Serbian country".

He controversially claimed the faithful "cannot get infected with coronavirus" during an Orthodox communion, a rite which involves many sharing the same spoon.

But analysts say that he was also moderate enough to swing more centrist voters who were simply fed up with Djukanovic and the status quo.

Krivokapic's non-confrontational political manner was a change from other former opposition leaders, who have gone as far as to physically attack other MPs to try and halt the passage of a religion law.

During the celebrations on election night, the professor refused to join angry chanting against Djukanovic in the coalition headquarters.

Instead, he rushed to receive a blessing from the archbishop -- a move that also alarmed some afraid of the church's growing influence in politics.

Despite his ties with pro-Serb nationalists and clerical groups, the grey-haired political rookie has pledged to keep Montenegro on its pro-West path.

Montenegro, a recent NATO member, is also one of the frontrunners in the region for EU membership.

Internally, Krivokapic has vowed to depoliticise key institutions and lead an uncompromising fight against corruption, but without a full scale purge of politicians and bureaucrats associated with the former government.

"There will be no political retaliation on any grounds," he said.

str/mbs/ssm/har