Milo Đukanović, Montenegro's indispensable leader, has added another election victory to a political career of 27 years that began with the breakup of Yugoslavia. In almost three decades of interrupted power, during which he alternated between President and Prime Minister, Đukanović constructed an idyllic image as the man responsible for separating Montenegro from the toxic policies of Serbia’s strongman Slobodan Milošević, to develop a cosy relationship with the EU and NATO.

Early in his rule, Đukanović – and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) – worked systematically and thoroughly to destroy political opposition, muzzle the media, and cultivate a distinctive type of crony state based on family ties in the judiciary, public administration and business. Manipulating the existing informal societal fault lines that divide one of the Balkan’s smallest communities along a family-ideology-geography axis, he created a system in which a legitimate political opposition has very little chance to mount any serious challenge to the ruling political elite.

The playbook of shadow governance and crony capitalism that has been developed in Montenegro has been carefully studied and copied by other Balkan autocrats. For many, Montenegro has become a role-model: on the surface, it cultivates an image of an emerging democracy that seeks EU membership; on the inside, it is ruled by a singular political-business elite which has persuaded the EU to buy its main propaganda line - in the Balkans, stability is more important than democracy.