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Yugoslavia: U.S. Analysts Assess Montenegro's Independence Movement

  • Ron Synovitz

Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic is due in Washington today for talks with the new administration of U.S. President George Bush that are expected to cover the possibility of the republic's eventual independence from federal Yugoslavia. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service spoke with two leading U.S. analysts about Montenegro's independence movement. Correspondent Ron Synovitz reports.

Prague, 30 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Montenegro's future status within federal Yugoslavia is a key issue facing the new leadership in Belgrade. It is also of some concerns to Balkan policymakers in the United States and the European Union.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic wants his republic to withdraw from federal Yugoslavia through a public referendum later this year. He then wants to immediately start negotiations with Serbia on a new Yugoslav federation

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica opposes such a move. He says there will be no possibility of reconciliation between Podgorica and Belgrade once Montenegro formally splits from Yugoslavia. But Kostunica also says he has no intention of blocking Montenegro's gaining independence if the process is conducted under the Yugoslav Constitution.

RFE/RL's South Slavic Service spoke by telephone with two U.S. analysts of Balkan affairs to get their views on the issue and its impact on the wider Balkan region.

Daniel Serwer, director of the Balkans Initiative for the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, notes that Montenegro's independence movement grew significantly under a decade of rule by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But Server says it is Montenegro's subservient relationship with Belgrade -- rather than Milosevic himself -- that is behind the calls for independence.

"It is true that Djukanovic has been much clearer about the goals of independence since the downfall of Milosevic. There are reasons other than Milosevic's dictatorship in Belgrade for Montenegrins to want independence. Those reasons have gained credibility within Montenegro over the past few years, and that is not easily reversible."

Steve Hanke, an economist at Johns Hopkins University near Baltimore, told RFE/RL that Montenegro attained what he describes as a kind of "de facto" independence from Belgrade during Milosevic's rule. That was especially true, he says, in the areas of government functions and economic policies.

Hanke, who has served as an advisor to Djukanovic, says that what Montenegro lacks within the current Yugoslav federation is direct relations with international financial institutions. As a result, Hanke says Belgrade continues to dictate the allocation of international aid and loan funds for Montenegro and Serbia.

"Formal independence would be required, for example, to have memberships in international organizations like the United Nations, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank. So even though they have de facto independence [in Montenegro], they don't really have a voice in these international bodies."

EU foreign ministers have urged Podgorica to drop its independence demands and strike a deal that keeps Montenegro within the Yugoslav federation. Similar pressure has come from the U.S. State Department. That has prompted President Djukanovic to visit the U.S. capital this week for talks with the new administration of President George Bush.

Hanke and Serwer both expect the Bush administration and EU officials to continue opposing Montenegrin independence in the near future. But they also think the opposition from Brussels and Washington will end immediately if a majority of Montenegrin voters say "yes" in an independence referendum. Serwer says:

"You can expect both the Europeans and the Americans to oppose independence before it happens and to recognize an independent Montenegro if it does happen. The problem for the Americans and the Europeans is a real one, and this is something that isn't well understood in Montenegro. It is a fear of the repercussions of Montenegrin independence -- especially if it is achieved unilaterally -- for Kosovo and for Republika Srpska [the Bosnian Serb entity]."

The concern, Serwer says, is that Montenegro's independence would fuel separatist movements in Serbia's UN-administered Kosovo province and in the Serb entity of Bosnia. Server says such developments would have a destabilizing effect on the Balkans.

Hanke says another destabilizing factor in the Balkans is Milosevic's continued political role in Serbia as leader of the opposition Socialists. Hanke said he does not expect the new leadership in Belgrade to extradite Milosevic to the UN tribunal at The Hague for trial on war crimes charges.

"I don't think the Serbs will send Milosevic to The Hague -- because Milosevic simply knows too much about too many Serbs. They don't want him talking in The Hague. There have been too many Serbs, many of them in the so-called Democratic Opposition, who've been involved in dirty business and Milosevic knows about all this."

Serwer told RFE/RL that problems with both Montenegro and Kosovo are delaying Serbia's overall democratic transition. He says that -- instead of concerning themselves with reforming the judiciary, cleaning up the police and reforming the Yugoslav army -- officials in Belgrade are now distracted by the growing calls for independence from Podgorica and Pristina.

(Branka Trivic of the South Slav Service conducted the two interviews).