Montenegro's official science academy may see its budget subject to month-by-month approvals, or even face deep budget cuts, if it does not comply with a law forcing it to merge with the country's unofficial science academy. The move, approved at a cabinet meeting on 26 July, is the latest in an escalating conflict between the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts (CANU), which says its academic autonomy is under attack, and the Montenegrin science ministry, which seeks to merge the two academies.
"If they cut our finances, we'll be in big trouble," CANU President Momir Đurović, told ScienceInsider in an e-mail. "That seems to be the attempt, to blackmail us financially."
CANU, which is 40 years old, has 42 members, most of them affiliated with academic institutions or retired, who receive monthly payments from the state budget to carry out projects in science and the arts. The academy is a member of ALL European Academies (ALLEA), a federation of 53 academies in 40 European countries, and the International Council for Science.
CANU has come under fire from the 14-year-old Doclean Academy of Sciences and Arts (DANU), whose main objective is to promote Montenegrin culture, and which accuses CANU of being pro-Serbian. (Montenegro split off from Serbia in 2006 but almost 30% of its population is Serbian, and many of its institutions are still divided along ethnic lines.) The conflict is one of many involving science academies in the former Yugoslavia.
The law, spearheaded by the science ministry, came into effect on 15 March, despite heavy opposition from CANU, which says it infringes on its freedom to choose its members based on merit alone. CANU has appealed the law's legitimacy at the constitutional court, which has not yet ruled on the case.
In somewhat ambiguous language, the law demanded that CANU allow as members all those who joined DANU before September 2011 and "whose results in scientific or artistic endeavors have an extraordinary importance for the science, culture, or art of Montenegro and its general societal development." In a report issued on 26 July, the science ministry says CANU has not complied; it has vetted DANU members as if it were electing new members, the government claims. As a result, only five of 27 DANU members who applied were approved by CANU on 14 May, all of them as associate or foreign members. (All five refused their membership.) CANU has since drawn up a new statute and held elections, as the law required, but the ministry claims those actions lacked legitimacy given the absence of DANU members.
The government has approved a set of measures to discipline CANU, including a procedure to approve its outlays month-by-month and the threat of funding cuts. The state's contribution to CANU, which also partly covers the cost of the academy's international collaborations, was raised by €300,000 to €1.4 million last year, according to the ministry.
CANU's Đurović says the academy is "now under political and financial pressure, totally outside the legislature." He says the forced merger stems from DANU's political activities leading up to and following Montenegro's independence referendum in 2006. Nationalist politicians promised to reward DANU members with membership in the national academy, he says. He denies that CANU is pro-Serbian and says it is one of the few truly independent institutions in the country. Đurović says that 29 academies, including those in France and Russia, have written the country's parliament, president, and government in support of CANU.
A spokesperson for science minister Sanja Vlahović says Vlahović would not comment since the case is overshadowing recent positive achievements, such as an increase in science funding from 0.13% of the gross domestic product in 2009 to 0.43% in 2012 and securing €12 million from the World Bank to set up new research excellence centers.