When it comes to freedom of association, it is guaranteed under Article 53 of the Constitution of Montenegro. The Article stipulates freedom of association, without the need for approval, with registration with competent authority. Limitations of this rule are stated in articles 54 and 55 of the Constitution. Article 54 prohibits political association in state organs. It is not allowed for judges, state attorneys, Ombudsman, members of Central Bank Council, Council of State Audit Institution, Military, Police to be members of political associations. Article 55 clearly states that it is not allowed to form any kind of organization that is directed to the “violent demolishing of the constitutional order, violation of territorial integrity, human rights violation or promotion of national, racial, religious or any other type of hate”. It is also prohibited to form any kind of subversive organizations.
Association of citizens is regulated through the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations along with three bylaws that further regulate this area. This Law defines that non-governmental association can be formed by at least three people, of which at least one has to be citizen or resident of Montenegro, or by a legal entity. However, NGOs cannot be established by political parties or state bodies. Foundations can be established by one person regardless of their citizenship or place of residence. This law also allows organizations to form or join networks and alliances. Specific types of association such as unions, religious associations, business associations, political parties, organizations formed by the state, etc. are regulated by special laws. Therefore, we can say that constitutional and legislative framework is favorable for exercising freedom of association. In addition, CSOs define their key field of work in their statute, while Article 32 of the Law on NGOs defines the list of priority areas of public interest (total of 21 priority areas).
CSOs are required to register at the Ministry of Public Administration. In order to register, organizations must have at least 3 founders, whereas registration is free of charge. Organizations should be registered within 30 days from the day of submitting an application. If a decision is not made in that period, the organization will be considered registered on the next working day after the deadline. There are no data on number of CSOs that were not registered within the legally prescribed time, as Ministry of Public Administration does not own such information. However, total of 12 requests for registering NGO were denied in 2019, mainly due to the fact that names of those organisations were not in accordance with the Law (they included “Center”, “Institute”, private name of a deceased person whereas the family didn’t provide consent, or foreign word) or they did not submit all the necessary documents. In addition, based on answers to the online questionnaire by organizations that were registered during the past 12 months, all registrations were done within the legally prescribed time, the registration procedure was conducted impartially, and they were not asked for additional documents. During 2019, 417 new NGOs registered within the state, while in 2018 that number was 422. However, during public events organized by CRNVO, the issue of long registration process has been brought up. Even though the Law stipulates that the registration should be completed within 30 days, some organizations stated that it lasted for several months. According to representatives of the Ministry of Public Administration, whenever certain change in the Statute or in the name of the organization is requested, a new deadline of 30 days begins on the day the information is submitted.
Informal groups have not been given official requests for registration, nor they were sanctioned for not being registered. There were several informal groups which were very present in the public life, or they had successful initiatives. For instance, the civic initiative “To hold upright” which aimed to save cypresses that were planned to be cut from High School’s yard in order to build kindergarten, was partially successful, as the building of the kindergarten was stopped. However, cypresses were cut, despite months of protests of citizens of Bar. Another successful initiative was the civic initiative that aimed to stop the building of the mini hydropower plant on the river Bukovica in the North of Montenegro. Both informal groups had good cooperation and support of CSOs, especially those acting in the field of environment protection. In addition, one of the largest informal groups was the Movement “97000 – Resist” which gathered several thousands of people on the streets and which protested against many political and corruption scandals that emerged in Montenegro. Interest for cooperation with other CSOs existed on both sides, however more serious cooperation was not achieved.
It is allowed for organizations to form networks, coalitions and other types of unions. This is regulated by the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, which stipulates that for those entities same rules apply as for associations. No prior permission or registration is required, but is possible. Networking is one of the successful ways of joining resources, knowledge and capacities in order to achieve the same goal in Montenegro. So far, there are 256 networks, unions, clusters and coalitions that have been officially registered in Montenegro. Coalitions and networks are usually created within a project which can be an obstacle for sustainability after the project is completed. 68.8% of organizations that participated in online questionnaire reported they are a member of domestic or international network. On average, they are members of four networks. None of the organizations surveyed reported that they had to inform a state body on their intentions to join or form a network, nor the process for registering a network were complicated.
There are organizations established by persons employed in government institutions or local self-governments and legally there are no restrictions or limitations in this regard.