Podgorica, 9 November 2022


Address by Irena Radović, for the Legion of Honour award ceremony


Your Excellency Ambassador Thimonier,

Your Excellency Madam Speaker,

Honourable Members of the Parliament,

Honourable Ministers,

Your Excellencies,

Dear friends and colleagues,

It is a great honour for me to be presented today with the highest decoration awarded by the French Republic - the National Order of the Legion of Honour.

I am grateful and proud that the Legion of Honour as the most prestigious French order of merit is awarded to a Montenegrin citizen, on the territory of Montenegro, for the first time since the restoration of its independence. The honour is even greater because, throughout history, the members of our royal family had received this honour before me: King Nikola (the first holder of the Order of the Legion of Honour in 1884), Prince Danilo, Prince Mirko and a descendant of the Petrović dynasty - the honourable and dear Prince Nikola.

I perceive this gesture of France towards me as a tribute both to my country and to me, as well as a strong reaffirmation of the values of freedom, justice, courage, diligence and persistence that have united us all here today.

The motto of the National Order of the Legion of Honour (established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802) is “Honour and Fatherland”... It is about the values ​​that were passed on to us by the previous generations, that my mother and those close to me have woven into my being ever since my childhood – beholding the belief that honour, justice and love for Montenegro and its progress are the greatest values and foundations of our lives.

My love for France developed during my childhood. Those were the years when, under the burden of war across former Yugoslavia, we, in Montenegro, in such adverse conditions, were fighting for education and dreaming of prosperity. That was when, through my academic achievements, I met Paris for the first time and began an unbreakable romance with this city and the country from where the light of progress and freedom illuminated Europe in the 18th century, and is still continuing to proudly guide us today - as a beacon of democratic, libertarian values ​​and progress, with the nation whose symbol is the human, female figure of Marianne, as the personification of freedom and the breaking of traditional shackles and restraints.

The period of university studies gave birth to two passions that will forever be a part of me - economics and diplomacy. Along with the need to always be my authentic self, these two passions have shaped my career.

For this reason, in parallel with my diplomatic engagement, for many years I have continued to maintain professional ties with the Faculty of Economics of the University of Montenegro.

My first steps in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro in 2000 brought a wealth of experience in the area of multilateral and regional economic initiatives, which recommended me to later take on a challenging role in strengthening Montenegro’s bilateral relations with the United Kingdom and the USA. This was followed by my contacts with the Foreign Office in London, then the first visit ever by a British Minister of Foreign Affairs in the history of Montenegro, and my postgraduate studies in international relations at King’s College, University of Cambridge with support of the British government. A year later, with support of the Government of the Republic of Italy, I completed another master’s degree in the field of applied economics.

Continuing with parallel academic and diplomatic engagement, over time I learned the precepts of diplomacy in an international context and gained atypical and, dare I say, unique experiences. After returning to Montenegro, during the period of preparations for the restoration of Montenegrin independence, from 2003, I represented the Government of the United Kingdom in Montenegro, first as the head of the United Kingdom Office in Podgorica, and then after the restoration of independence as the deputy British ambassador to Montenegro until my departure for All Souls College, University of Oxford in 2007, where I worked on my doctoral dissertation on the topic of European monetary union.

In 2007, I was asked to take part in the rebuilding and strengthening of our country after the restoration of its independence, as the first Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. I came back and made my contribution together with a team of exceptional young people, of whom I remain particularly proud. Our work was then, and still is, guided by our dream of a prosperous, democratic and internationally respected Montenegro.

Over that period Montenegro was acknowledged as a symbol of good neighbourly cooperation and a factor of stability in the region - visa liberalisation was achieved, and the diplomatic network was strengthened. In 2008, the EU membership application was officially submitted in Paris to the then French president and chairman of the EU Council, Nicolas Sarkozy, thus putting Montenegro firmly on its European and Euro-Atlantic path.

At the initiative of the first resident ambassador of the French Republic in the independent Montenegro, Mr. Bernard Garancher, in 2009, I was given the opportunity to acquire additional skills at the prestigious French National School of Administration - ENA, which, since the end of the Second World War, when it was founded by General de Gaulle, for decades produced top civil servants in the French government hierarchy, including the current French president Emmanuel Macron.

Not long after that, France became my second home - a country where I had the honour of being the ambassador of Montenegro for nearly 5 years. Upon my arrival at Boulevard Saint-Germain 216, I had the opportunity to be an actor in the rise of Franco-Montenegro relations, marked in 2012 by the opening of negotiations between Montenegro and the EU during the French presidency, and in 2014 the first and only official visit Montenegrin Prime Minister to Paris in the history of relations between Montenegro and France, at the invitation of the then President of the Republic, François Hollande.

Montenegro’s long-standing and strong historical, political and cultural ties with France date back to the friendship between Raymond de Toulouse and King Bodin at the beginning of the previous millennium, through Prince and King Nikola I Petrović Njegoš, who was educated in France and who introduced French as the first foreign language in the Upper Secondary State School in Cetinje... up to numerous contemporary cultural and artistic ties, among which the work of the painter Dado Đurić is of particular value… all this has contributed to creating our bonds.

During my term, I contributed to the accession of Montenegro to the International Organisation of La Francophonie. I was proud to perform the duties of the first special representative of the President of Montenegro

in the Francophonie, glad that Montenegro joined the community that, for over half a century, has been connecting and bringing together francophone countries that cherish the values ​​of intercultural dialogue and democracy, sharing the space that France has enriched with its tradition, literature, culture and language.

My stay in the powerful cradle of the largest Romanic language, whose diplomacy, history, culture and economy strongly influence global trends, will forever remain in my fondest memory. That experience shifted my perspectives and boundaries. It gave me the opportunity to make contact with numerous prominent French and world public and cultural leaders. It enriched me, both professionally and personally.

Engraved in my memory are the meetings with the then Minister of Finance, Christine Lagarde, who is the current president of the European Central Bank, an ardent supporter of the economic empowerment of women, which further strengthened my convictions. In addition to my lifelong and professional commitment to the fight for the national and economic interests of Montenegro, my mission has become to fight for a fairer Montenegrin society of free individuals and functional institutions, in which women and men have equal opportunities.

I made my return to Montenegro with these convictions and ambitions.

In 2017, I became the first female vice-governor in the decades-long history of the Central Bank of Montenegro. I was also the only woman among the 8 members of the Central Bank Council.

As of 2020, I am the first woman at the head of IDF - Investment and Development Fund of Montenegro since its establishment three decades ago. I am the first and only woman on the Board of Directors of IDF – a systemically important state development finance institution, the fourth largest in the Montenegrin banking system.

In the IDF management team, of which I am a part, gender equality, knowledge, commitment and responsibility are a formula for success. Last year, that formula led to the best business result in the last decade, to strengthening the institution, and allowed us to form new strategic partnerships. Last year, under President Macron’s Strategy for the Western Balkans, we established a partnership with the French development bank AFD, for the purpose of development support for Montenegro and financing of green investment projects of micro, small and medium enterprises, as well as Montenegrin municipalities.

I am particularly proud of the IDF’s performance in partnership with the Parliament of Montenegro, with the support of the Embassies of France, EU, the United Kingdom and the USA in the area of economic empowerment of women, as a generator of economic development. We jointly launched a campaign to remove barriers that disrupt the achievement of the full economic potential of Montenegrin women. This has resulted in the adoption of the National Agenda for the Women’s Economic Empowerment in March of this year. One of the specific goals is to increase the representation and leadership of women in management positions in large companies, in the private and public sectors; overcoming wage differences between the sexes and prevention of violence and gender-based discrimination in the workplace, through legal solutions, in line with European directives and international conventions.

All of you who have known me, and among you there are people from different periods of my life, you know that my career path and my personal circumstances have not always been easy.

A woman always has the right to choose: to conform to what is intended for her in a traditional society or to strive to achieve something more, for herself and for others. I chose the hard way. The one that I deeply believe is the only right one.

Sometimes it is not comfortable nor easy, when, performing a duty in the interest of your country in a professional and honourable way, you have to break glass ceilings and stand up to powerful individuals who think they are above the law. I have already said everything about that personal and very difficult public struggle, and now I will mention it only in the context of receiving this honour, which gives me immense satisfaction for everything that I have been through.

My personal struggle and lived experiences have compelled me to share them with others. Everything that I have learned about law, inequality, abuse and gender-based discrimination in the workplace, political influences, analysing my own and other women’s experiences in Montenegro, was poured into an author’s book last July. I shared my experiences with the desire that they would be useful to other people, if they ever find themselves in the role of a victim, wishing to encourage them to know that others have gone through that path before them. Not fighting only for myself, but for truth and justice.

Dear Ambassador Thimonier, Dear friends,

On occasions such as this one, words are not sufficient to express all our emotions.

All of you who are here, at some point in your life, you were my support, my bastion, my encouragement, and you opened some new doors for me. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who were with me in those most difficult moments and who are here with me today.

Thank you to my team at the IDF. I am proud of you.

I owe special gratitude to you and your team, Ambassador Thimonier, for your support in numerous IDF initiatives over the past two years. My heartfelt gratitude to you for organizing this solemn event today. I am honoured by the opportunity to be presented with the Legion of Honour insignia by you - an erudite and one of the best French connoisseurs of the situation in the Balkans.

I value your friendship and your relationship towards Montenegro, your support and the quality of our cooperation in the past period. I am grateful to you for strongly supporting the candidacy of the Government of Montenegro in 2021, in which I was nominated on behalf of Montenegro for the position of Secretary General of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) and Vice-Governor of the Council of Europe Development Bank.

Dear Ambassador Thimonier, Dear friends,

Available sources of the Historical Institute of Montenegro state that today, for the first time in the entire history of the independent Montenegrin state, France is awarding the highest French decoration to a woman. As a Montenegrin woman from the heart of Old Montenegro, I am touched, more than words can express, by this recognition, which has a strong meaning and inspires deep emotions.

Thank you to the French Republic and the President Emmanuel Macron for this recognition. I will wear it with the greatest sense of honour and pride and, through my mission, I will promote and celebrate the friendly relations between France and Montenegro.

Vive le Montenegro, vive la France et vive l’amitié entre nos deux peuples!