20 January 2005, Volume
In this program of the Radio Most (Bridge) series of RFE/RL/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, Omer Karabeg discusses the possible consequences for the region of any dissolution of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro with guests Slobodan Samardzic, professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade and adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and Rade Bojovic, a political analyst at the Center for Democracy in Podgorica, Montenegro.
Montenegro gave up some of its sovereignty through the 1992 referendum that was legally valid despite a very low turnout, and because of this it would be completely absurd and contradictory to try to block moves toward independence by setting an unrealistically high threshold for a future referendum on independence. This is why I consider the classic democratic standard of 50 percent plus one [of all votes cast] to be the only appropriate and legally acceptable formula.
As far as insisting on complying with [Serbia and Montenegro's] Constitutional Charter -- which, according to Mr. Samardzic, is the priority of the present government of Serbia -- it seems to me that [Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav] Kostunica is very selective and populist in his use of legalistic arguments. For instance, he insists on direct parliamentary elections while "overlooking" the legal provision requiring that the defense and foreign ministers come from different republics. In fact, both men are Serbs, but this does not seem to bother Kostunica.
Let us return to the "domino theory," namely the idea that Montenegrin independence could possibly affect developments in Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
Those things cannot be easily predicted, but I think that circumstances favor the domino theory.
It is well-known how much the European Union wanted to preserve the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and transform it into the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro. Security was one of the reasons. Economic reasons played no role in this case as the European Union has no significant economic interests in this part of the Balkans.
It was those security reasons that prompted the European Union to realize that it has interests here and as early as 1999 to launch its policy of stabilization and association. Then in 2001 came the Montenegrin government's ultimatum that the referendum on independence be held, and the EU stopped the process. We have not sufficiently discussed why Brussels acted as it did, but Belgrade was not at fault.
I remember it well, it was October 2001 when Kostunica said at a press conference -- after I do not know which round of talks with the Montenegrin leadership -- "This is a problem we cannot resolve together. Montenegro must do it with its referendum." But just a couple of days later, [EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier] Solana intervened by saying, "we will try to do something."
Why did Solana take that approach? Because the European Union recognized that the process leading to Montenegrin independence would lead to a domino-like reaction. The EU would be powerless to stop it because it has no mechanisms for dealing with larger conflicts....
We do not need to create additional territories, states, mini-states, entities, etc., that are not really sovereign. And claims that someone took someone else's sovereignty or that the other party gave up its sovereignty to promote someone else's interests -- it's all just smoke and mirrors.
We share the problem and we must resolve it together, with the help of the European Union. Even if new states were created, they must have the consent of the neighboring states, and I am talking about direct consent, because it is also a matter of regional stability.
Do you think that Montenegrin independence would actually set off a chain reaction leading to new conflicts?
Even worse. I think that a chain reaction of demands would be automatically triggered, and within Montenegro disputes and conflicts would arise, if the vote were carried out in a legally incorrect way.
The main problem in Montenegro is what the referendum law would be like, and I do not think that Montenegro will write one. Even if it is formally written in Montenegro, it will be approved by an expert commission, for instance from the OSCE, and the European Union will have a significant influence on it. This is exactly why the Belgrade agreement and the Constitutional Charter stipulate that the referendum must be held in accordance with European standards.
It is not clear what European standards will define a referendum on independence, since things like that have never happened in Europe before, but there will be much leeway for interpretation and arbitration in Brussels.
This is why that last word on what is the majority's wish will not rest with Montenegro, or at least not with it alone.
Mr. Bojovic, according to you, would the independence of Montenegro start a chain reaction in the region, including further border changes?
Theoretically speaking that might happen, but not necessarily in practice. Those are all separate, unfinished political processes [regarding other republics and provinces of former Yugoslavia].
I am not sure whom Mr. Samardzic was talking about when he mentioned narrow-mindedness, but I think that Montenegro has spent the lion's share of its history being generous to others, and now it is high time for us to start taking care of our own interests. Of course, Montenegro is interested in living in a region of cooperation rather than confrontation, but the fact is that this time nobody will be allowed to impose a solution on Montenegro....
I am deeply convinced that the pro-sovereignty trend in Montenegro cannot be stopped. Let me just say one more thing. The line about security and stability is the latest defense strategy of the dinosaurs who are still trying to promote a unified state. That is behind us. Something that seemed quite realistic during Milosevic's time, when conflicts and wars were raging, is simply unimaginable now.
Regarding Montenegro, I think that in spite of the rhetoric, emotions, and exchange of very harsh words both in the parliament and outside, there are no realistic circumstances that would lead to the dangerous confrontation that Mr. Samardzic is talking about. That is simply not possible any more, unless someone outside is trying to get involved as a potential military or paramilitary force.