Science Academies at Odds Over New Law in Montenegro

A new law in Montenegro aimed at strengthening science and innovation for development has sparked a war of words between the country's two science academies, including a call for the country's science minister to be replaced.

The law, adopted by the government on 1 December, aims to bring the country's two science academies under one roof. The older one, the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts (CANU), was established in 1971 when Montenegro was still in a federation with its bigger neighbor, Serbia, and was trying to reestablish its own identity. But in 1998, some scientists who felt CANU was acting as a pro-Serbian political organization started their own academy. It was called the Doclean Academy of Sciences and Arts (DANU)—Duklja (Doclea) being a 10th century state considered to be the first independent Montenegrin state.

Once Montenegro gained independence from Serbia in 2006, however, DANU began a campaign to join the official academy, which receives government funding, and is about to be housed in a new, custom-designed building. CANU has opposed such a merger on the grounds that it would be unprecedented for a national science academy to merge with a civil society organization, which is how DANU was set up. The new law, still awaiting approval by the parliament, says there can only be a single science academy.

The controversy involves a clause that gives members of DANU a chance to join CANU. There will not be an automatic merging of memberships: DANU members will have to submit a written consent, CV, bibliography, and proof of membership in DANU. Then CANU must hold a special meeting within 2 months of the date the law goes into effect.

Academics in DANU welcome the opportunity, but CANU's president, Momir Đurović, feels the law is undemocratic and interferes with the academy's independence. "I feel like I live in communism, where the political will is above everything else," he told the local TV station, Televizija Vijesti, the day the law was approved.

The next day he wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Igor Lukšić, asking him to reject the law and replace Sanja Vlahović, the science minister who has been working on it. But Lukšić immediately rejected the request, according to Vijesti newspaper, reaffirming the government's full support for the new law and for Vlahović.

Vlahović told reporters last week she expected academics to help with its implementation, aimed at allowing CANU to make a "much bigger and fuller contribution" to the country's development. She called the law "a compromise between what the government wanted as a strategic goal and what the intentions of the esteemed Montenegrin academy of sciences were" and said that CANU provided considerable input in drafting the new law.

The law has drawn criticism from two of the opposition parties. The leader of the Socialist People's Party, Milan Knežević, called the law "absurd," according to a press agency Tanjug. And Branka Bošnjak, president of science and education project at the Movement for Change party, said in a press release that although CANU admitted some academics with questionable references, it always had some criteria on who it admitted. Meanwhile, she said, "I know that when DANU was being formed it was very easy to become a member, so it is questionable how correct it is to merge these two institutions."