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Serbia-Montenegro: Search For New Coat Of Arms, Flag Symbolic Of Past Conflict

  • Jolyon Naegele

New laws accompanying the Constitutional Charter that dissolved rump Yugoslavia delineate the manner in which the symbols of the new state, Serbia and Montenegro, are to be adopted. Nevertheless, considerable confusion has arisen over the use of the old Yugoslav flag, coat of arms, and national anthem. As RFE/RL reports, it is far from clear whether lawmakers from the two constituent republics will find sufficient common ground to agree on fresh symbols.

Prague, 10 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Finding acceptable national symbols for Europe's newest state, the loose confederation of Serbia and Montenegro, is proving a difficult task.

Last week, rump Yugoslavia ceased to exist as part of a bid by the European Union to keep Serbia and Montenegro linked and to prevent further instability in the Balkans.

The secretary of the lower house of the outgoing Yugoslav federal parliament, Ljiljana Perovic, explained why the new state so far has no national symbols. "Article 27 of the law accompanying the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro stipulates that a law on the flag of the common state of Serbia and Montenegro must be submitted within 60 days after the new parliament of Serbia and Montenegro is constituted. A law on the coat of arms and anthem of the common state of Serbia and Montenegro must be submitted by the end of 2003," Perovic said.

This means that symbols of the now defunct Federal Republic of Yugoslavia are invalid for use in Serbia and Montenegro, and it is far from clear whether they can be used to indicate Serbia and Montenegro's participation in international institutions such as the United Nations.

The issue of national symbols will be high on the agenda of the new state's constitutional commission. A member of that commission, Dragan Jocic, the deputy chairman of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, said there should be no rush to adopt new symbols, however. "I don't think there should be any [quick] resolution of the symbols -- I mean the flag, coat of arms, and anthem -- of the new common state for the simple reason that after the adoption of the Constitutional Charter, there is a tendency to believe that this is a temporary state," Jocic said.

Under the European Union-brokered agreement, Serbia and Montenegro are each entitled to hold an independence referendum after three years.

However, other commission members, including Bosko Ristic, a member of the leadership of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's Democratic Party, said resolution of the issue is in the hands of the members of the federation, the republics of Serbia and Montenegro.

Ristic said, "I see that, above all, the debate over the symbols of Serbia and Montenegro, such as the anthem, flag, and coat of arms, in view of the equal rights of the members [of the commission], symbols or portions thereof should be implemented from each of the constituent states into a coat of arms of a common state."

Serbian heraldic expert Dragoljub Bacovic said there is no need for a new coat of arms, at least for the time being. He said the coat of arms of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia "contains all the elements that related to each of the two federal constituent units and now to each of the two [republican] governments. From that point of view, speaking in terms of pure heraldry, nothing has happened. The [Yugoslav] coat of arms can continue to be the emblem."

Bacovic noted that reaching any sort of agreement will be difficult and that the status quo should be maintained wherever possible. "As far as the flag is concerned, the two flags [Serbian and Montenegrin] differ only in the proportions and shades of blue, [so] it's evident that it would not be necessary [to change the flag] as it would be difficult to find a [new] flag that would correspond to logic," Bacovic said.

He said that if you consider issues aside from the logic of the flag itself, "you end up with [artsy] flags like those of Greenland or Thailand."

The Serbian and Montenegrin flags each consist of three horizontal stripes of red, blue, and white. The middle stripe in the Serbian flag is dark blue, while in the Montenegrin flag it is light blue. The Yugoslav flag also consisted of three horizontal stripes, but the order of the colors was different: blue, white, and red.

Bacovic said there is virtually no chance of Serbia and Montenegro reaching agreement on an anthem to succeed the pan-Slavic Yugoslav anthem "Hej Sloveni" ("Hey Slavs"). RFE/RL's Belgrade correspondent says the Yugoslav anthem has fallen into some disfavor among many former Yugoslav citizens.

Compounding all this is the realization that the more than 10 million citizens of the new state do not yet know what to call themselves. Egon Fekete, a Belgrade-based linguist, said: "I simply don't see a way for us to come up with a term or name to refer to the inhabitants of the new state. Anything that could be done would constitute violence against the language."

Bacovic said calling the inhabitants "Serbo-Montenegrins" would be discriminatory, as he put it, because it would turn Serbs into "Serbos" while leaving the Montenegrins alone. "This contradicts the logic, beauty, and feel of the language," Bacovic said. And he said that referring to them as "inhabitants of Serbia and Montenegro" leaves it unclear what is being referred to, the residents of the common state or the constituent republics.

In Montenegro, presidential adviser and former Prime Minister Miodrag Vukovic is optimistic about the chance of agreeing on a common flag. But he predicted that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the two republics to agree on a common coat of arms or anthem.

The Yugoslav coat of arms contained a two-headed Serbian eagle bearing a quartered shield containing the Montenegrin lion and the abbreviation SSSS in Cyrillic, standing for "Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava" ("Only Unity Saves the Serbs"). The abbreviation, which riles non-Serbs, was often scrawled by Serbian forces on conquered or destroyed property during the conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Montenegrin painter Tiho Vujovic said the best thing would be for each of the two constituent republics to preserve their own symbols without insisting they be present in the symbols of the common state. "You should take everything out of the [new joint] coat of arms that irritates or has irritated in the past one side or the other side," Vujovic said.

A spokesman for the junior member of the ruling coalition, Branislav Radulovic of the Social Democratic Party, described the coat of arms of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a "very unsuccessful compilation of the symbols of Montenegro and Serbia," which he suggested predestined rump Yugoslavia's fate. He said a poor choice again could doom the new common state. "The eagle on the shield has its wings lowered, unlike the Montenegrin eagle, whose wings are pointed upward, so it would soon come crashing down," Radulovic said.

Montenegro's coat of arms, adopted in 1995, shows a double-headed eagle bearing a shield with a lion on it.

Meanwhile, citizens of Serbia and Montenegro wanting to travel abroad for the foreseeable future will have no choice but to travel on passports bearing the name Yugoslavia, featuring the eagle with lowered wings, the Montenegrin lion, and the SSSS abbreviation.

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