AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage is in Montenegro this week to commemorate a partnership between the Maine National Guard and the young Balkan nation.
LePage arrived in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica, on Sunday night and met Monday with President Milo Djukanovic as well as the country’s prime minister, the minister of defense, the secretary of state and the speaker of Montenegro’s Parliament, according to the governor’s Twitter account. Although LePage’s office has not released any additional details of the trip, the U.S. Embassy in Montenegro indicated that the governor’s multiday trip to the European country will also focus on trade in addition to the joint program with the Maine National Guard.
“During his stay in Montenegro, Governor LePage will also speak with business leaders and explore opportunities to expand economic ties between Montenegro and the State of Maine,” reads a media advisory from the embassy. “Governor LePage will later visit Tivat and tour the Bay of Kotor.”
Located along the Adriatic Sea, Montenegro was unified with Serbia following the disintegration of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. But Montenegrin citizens voted for independence from Serbia in 2006, and the young country was invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, in 2015.
Maine and Montenegro first signed an agreement in 2006 – just months after the country’s independence – as part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Guard State Partnership Program. Under the partnership, the Maine National Guard has assisted the Montenegrin military with training and operations as the newly independent country came into its own. Additionally, representatives from Maine have assisted with emergency response, marine patrol operations and other initiatives in Montenegro.
LePage’s communications office did not respond to requests for details on the trip to Montenegro. The office rarely advises the media – or Maine citizens – about the governor’s travels inside or outside of the state and often only releases details after LePage has participated in events. In some cases, media organizations must file public records requests under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act to obtain copies of LePage’s calendar and expense reports – and even then, many details are redacted or simply never handed over, despite disclosure requirements in the state law.
In a television interview posted on the U.S. Embassy’s website, LePage said he believes the relationship between Maine and Montenegro is “headed into a new era.”
“I think there’s cooperation in education between the two countries, cultural and education and economic,” LePage said. “I really hope that our countries, Maine and Montenegro, develop a good economic trade. We are gonna be bringing back Montenegro’s wine and we are going to be selling it in Maine, so we are starting.”
LePage added that, in return, “we are going to send you some lobster.”
In a series of tweets, LePage said he spoke with Djukanovic about the importance of the partnership and opportunities for additional cultural and education exchanges. He also said he spoke about international relations, trade and the “importance of transportation & infrastructure” with State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Zoran Jankovic.
It was unclear when LePage would return to Maine or if the trip includes stops in any other countries.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at: