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Yugoslavia: Will New Serbia And Montenegro Prevent Balkan Independence Ambitions?

  • Alexandra Poolos

Leaders in Belgrade and Podgorica recently agreed to sign a European Union-brokered agreement that relegates Yugoslavia to history and establishes the new entity of "Serbia and Montenegro." The agreement has yet to be ratified by the federal and republican parliaments, but questions are already surfacing as to whether the accord will be able to stave off independence movements in Montenegro and Kosovo.

Prague, 19 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The new entity of Serbia and Montenegro will not be official until both the federal and republican parliaments ratify the agreement that created it, which was brokered by the European Union.

But Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has already staked his political future on the deal, threatening yesterday to resign if the federal and two republican parliaments fail to ratify the new state. They have until the end of June to do so.

"The people -- that is, their representatives in parliament -- will decide on this accord," Kostunica said. "That decision is more powerful than the paper we signed."

The deal that was signed on 14 March represents the coup de grace for Yugoslavia and creates a loose federation between Serbia and Montenegro based on shared foreign and defense policies. The deal puts off a possible bid for independence by Montenegro for at least three years.

Kostunica says the accord "stopped the process of disintegration" in the Balkans. His sentiments were echoed by the accord's main broker, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said the agreement is a sign the Balkans are no longer "a place for fragmentation."

Despite all the rousing talk, it's not clear whether the new accord will actually see the light of day, much less prevent future calls for independence.

Already, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic has faced an avalanche of criticism over the deal, much of it from members of his coalition government. They say he betrayed the republic's drive for independence from Serbia.

Djukanovic had promised a referendum on independence in the first half of 2002. Polls show the republic's 680,000 residents are split on the issue.

After signing the deal, Djukanovic said voters should not be disappointed by the postponement of the referendum and pledged to continue working for independence: "Finally, this agreement in no way threatens the basic right of every state and every nation, and that includes Serbia and Montenegro, to review its position after a certain period and to ask its citizens about the future of the state."

But Djukanovic's coalition partners in the Montenegrin government -- in particular, the pro-independence Liberal Party -- have not been assuaged by his words. Parliamentary speaker and Liberal Party leader Vesna Perovic says Djukanovic committed "treason" by signing the accord and turning his back on the idea of an independent Montenegro.

Perovic is calling for a parliamentary session on 22 March to discuss the accord. The Liberal Alliance will make a public statement on the new agreement tomorrow. If the party rejects the accord, it could mean the collapse of Djukanovic's coalition government.

Novak Hadzic, the spokesman for the Social Democratic Party, another coalition member, accuses Djukanovic of breaching a coalition agreement to call a referendum on independence: "The [new] accord is dangerous and bad for Montenegro. The Democratic Socialist Party [Djukanovic's party] has unilaterally breached this coalition agreement. So what I expect is that members of parliament from the Social Democratic Party will vote against this accord."

Alex Grigorev, an analyst with the Project on Ethnic Relations in New Jersey, says the brokers of the new agreement understand the new union between Serbia and Montenegro does not address any of the issues behind the Montenegrin independence drive. Instead, he says, the accord is a stalling mechanism at best, buying time until an independence drive in Montenegro can no longer be ignored.

"The agreement, on the one hand, establishes a new entity. On the other hand, right away, it talks about dissolving that entity. It's one question to see whether it's good or bad -- the independence of Montenegro, that is," Grigorev says. "It's another question to recognize the reality."

Grigorev says European Union and U.S. diplomats pushed for the agreement to be signed in order to stave off an independence "domino effect" in the Balkans.

"Of course, the European Union and the U.S. government are concerned with a domino effect. The theory goes if Montenegro leaves Yugoslavia, a chain reaction would start. Kosovo will definitely leave that entity, then maybe ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. Then what's going to happen with Republika Srpska [and] therefore with the Dayton agreement? And then who knows what's going to be next?" Grigorev says. "There are still many ethnic minorities in the Balkans. So I understand, and I subscribe to those concerns of the EU [about] what's going to happen in the region. However, I think it's a mistake to hold the development of Montenegro hostage to the developments in Kosovo. Kosovo Albanians had their quest for independence irrespective of whether Montenegro wanted or did not want to stay in Yugoslavia. Therefore, Montenegro should not be held hostage to what Kosovo wants to do."

According to UN Resolution 1244 passed in 1999, Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia under UN administration. Serbia is not mentioned in the resolution. But in the new agreement, if Montenegro chooses to withdraw from the union after three years, Serbia will become the legal successor to Yugoslavia. The agreement states that all international documents relating to Yugoslavia, "especially UN Security Council Resolution 1244," would "relate in their entirety to Serbia as a successor," implying that Kosovo would remain within Serbia's borders.

The spokeswoman for the UN administration in Kosovo, Susan Manuel, says the new agreement has no effect on the status of Kosovo: "We believe that if Serbia and Montenegro is considered the successor state to Yugoslavia, there will be no effect on the status of Kosovo."

But Grigorev says the international community cannot smooth over independence-minded Kosovo Albanians with this formulation.

"We already heard statements from Pristina that many Albanian politicians are saying, 'Therefore, we are now independent.' Well, I think of course this is a concern of Belgrade's, but it's a bigger concern for the international community because the international community is the administration in Kosovo right now and the international community is responsible for the future of the province, of organizing talks, a referendum, whatever, on the future. And it's up to the international community to see how to deal with this issue. And obviously with all the problems, especially the security problems, the entity is not ready for the final resolution of its status. So I expect the United Nations to subscribe to that clause for the time being," Grigorev says.

Prominent Kosovo Albanian politicians support the new agreement. Parliament speaker Nexhet Daci told RFE/RL the accord is a positive development for the entire Balkan region. But he also said it will have no real effect on stemming a Kosovo drive for independence.

"Democratic accords in the neighborhood send a message that the wars are over once and for all," Daci said. "We are happy our neighbors managed to strike an agreement, but that can't have an effect on Kosova."

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