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Serbia And Montenegro: Phantom Internet Message Causes Public Stir

A previously unknown group, the "Albanian National Army," has threatened to carry out attacks in Montenegro to counter what it says is discrimination against ethnic Albanians. The warning came in a statement posted on the Internet. It's not clear yet whether the message is a hoax, but RFE/RL reports it has put the spotlight on interethnic relations.

Prague, 14 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A phantom message posted on the Internet has stirred some concern in Montenegro over possible ethnic tensions.

In the statement, a group calling itself the "Albanian National Army" said ethnic Albanians in Montenegro were subjected to "discrimination" and "pressures." The group said if such practices continued, it would strike at the vital interests of what it called the "pseudo-state" of Serbia and Montenegro.

The statement was signed by a "Commander Meti." The website gave no further information about the group. A day after the warning, it disappeared from the Internet.

Montenegrin authorities say the are looking into the message to determine if such a group actually exists. Ethnic Albanian leaders have dismissed the message, pointing to spelling errors in a text supposedly written by Albanians.

The National Army may be a fabrication, yet the question remains who could be playing such dangerous games in a region where interethnic tensions have played deadly havoc in the recent past.

Miodrag Vlahovic, a political analyst at the Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Podgorica, cautions one should not leap to conclusions. But he says there are a number of political forces and people, especially among supporters of closer ties with Serbia, who could be interested in the destabilization of Montenegro.

"I think we are facing a continuous attempt to prove that Montenegro cannot survive as an independent society, that it is not self-sustainable even in security terms, that Montenegro has a problem with minorities, that minorities per se are the problem, and that the Albanian minority is, or so they say, the problem of the Balkans," Vlahovic said.

Ethnic Albanians make up about 7 percent of Montenegro's population, according to a census conducted last year. Relations are seen as generally good, yet there are signs of some problems.

An ethnic Albanian group, Iliricum, recently called for setting up an ethnic Albanian region near the border with Albania and Kosovo. It later suspended the initiative after it was rejected by Montenegro's two main Albanian parties.

Vlahovic says the situation of ethnic Albanians in Montenegro is much better than in neighboring Balkan states. "Albanians in Montenegro -- as a minority ethnic group, as a political factor, as a constituent part of our republic -- are in a profoundly different situation compared to the situation in Kosovo, southern Serbia or Macedonia," he said.

Vlahovic, however, concedes there are problems, particularly in local administration. He says Montenegrin authorities have to sit down with legitimate Albanian representatives and openly discuss these.

Aleks Grigorijev, a regional expert at Princeton University in the United States, agrees that ethnic relations in Montenegro are better than in other countries. But Grigorijev is critical of any effort to create ethnic regions. Besides, he says, in such a small country, such regionalization would only be a waste of time. "What Montenegro needs is not regionalization but decentralization. It needs it not only for the areas where ethnic Albanians live but for all other communities and towns in Montenegro as well. And the government knows that," he said.

He said, in his opinion, the country's longer-term interests, including joining the European Union, would be better served by improving living standards, employment, health, and education instead of seeking to create ethnic regions.

As he pointed out, individual countries -- not regions -- will be invited to join the EU based on their performance. "People always forget one important thing: that the European standard is not the political structures, regions or borders. It is not 'Greater Albania,' 'Greater Montenegro,' 'Greater Serbia,' or Kosovo that will join the European Union -- but only a 'good' Serbia, a 'good' Montenegro and so forth," Grigorijev said.

In the past, he has said Montenegro is "the biggest reservoir" of interethnic goodwill in the region and that this should not be squandered.