PRIVATE PROPERTY OWNERS OBJECT TO MONTENEGRO’S EFFORTS FOR EU ACCESSION
Belgrade, Brussels, 7 December 2011—Today, property owners rallied to object to Montenegro’s efforts at accession to the European Union, pointing out that Montenegro has not followed the rule of law with regard to the restitution of private property seized by Josip Broz Tito’s Communist regime in 1947. This call for action anticipates the upcoming December 9, 2011 European Union, General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels that will discuss next steps for countries eligible for accession. It is expected that the European Council will agree to begin negotiations with Montenegro. Deprived property owners however believe that any accession discussions with Montenegro are premature.
“When Montenegro passed its property restitution law in 2004, we looked forward to having our property restored,” said Crown Prince Alexander, the head of the Karadjordjevic Family – the former royal family of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. “My family has been trying for seven years to regain our rightful ownership of our properties—and there has been no meaningful progress whatsoever. We have followed and fulfilled all the Montenegrin government requirements.” The Karadjordjevic Family is one of the principal property claimants affected by what Prince Alexander describes as Montenegro’s “evident disregard for private property rights.”
Jeroen Jansen, of DLA Piper in Brussels, has been advising the Karadjordjevic Family in its property-restitution efforts. Mr. Jansen explained, “The Karadjordjevic Family is the rightful owner of the Villa Milocer estate now leased by the Municipality of Budva to the local managers of an international hotel chain. That property, when confiscated in 1947, was privately owned by Queen Maria, the grandmother of Crown Prince Alexander and the widow of the assassinated King Alexander I of Yugoslavia. Queen Maria built Villa Milocer in the 1930s using private funds and bequeathed it to the Family when she died in 1961. The Family’s unresolved restitution claim in respect of the Villa Milocer estate and other property reflects the apparent unwillingness of the Montenegrin government to recognize and enforce the Family’s rights, despite our repeated requests that the Montenegrin government do so.”
Crown Prince Alexander added that “my family and I are also concerned about other families and institutions that are similarly being disregarded and deprived by the Montenegrin authorities, including the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Jewish Community.”
As Mr. Jansen also explained, “Although Montenegro has made progress in preparing for the EU accession process, the country continues to fall seriously short in restoring the properties illegally confiscated by Tito’s Communist regime after World War II. Little if anything has been done to resolve outstanding restitution claims. The European Commission recognized these serious shortcomings in its latest progress report on Montenegro, which states in part: ‘Limited progress has been made on property rights. The government set up specific commissions to deal with denationalisation issues, but the process of restitution remains very slow and needs to be accelerated. Furthermore, the transparency of the procedure is not fully ensured. No efforts were made to solve cases of property subject to restitution which has been privatised in the meantime.’”
Crown Prince Alexander said, “I call upon the European Council to take into account the very clear wording in the most recent European Commission Progress Report on Montenegro. The international community expects Montenegro to accelerate the process of restitution to honor rightful claims and allow everyone to close a chapter that is part of a dark period in European history. Dealing with this historical injustice appropriately will signal to the international community Montenegro’s commitment to the rule of law and will encourage foreign investment in Montenegro.”
Montenegro Progress Report, Doc. SEC(2011) 1204, dated 12 October 2011.