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Serbia And Montenegro: What Comes Next For Serbia?

RFE/RL regional analyst Patrick Moore (file photo) (RFE/RL) Serbian President Boris Tadic today said he accepts the preliminary results of a May 21 referendum in which Montenegro voted for independence. In the run-up to that referendum, pro-independence leaders in Montenegro said they wanted to split with Serbia partly because of Belgrade’s increasing isolation in Europe for its non-cooperation over indicted war criminals. RFE/RL Balkans analyst Patrick Moore discuss what impact -- if any -- Montenegro’s departure will have on Belgrade.

RFE/RL: Montenegro is on the road to independence and, unlike in the cases of the other former Yugoslav republics, there doesn’t seem to be much bitterness in Belgrade about it. Why is that?

Patrick Moore: In the case of the separation of Montenegro from Serbia, it is not the same as, say, that of Croatia. There just isn't the bad blood there. Montenegrins will continue to attend Belgrade University and work in Belgrade; Serbs will continue to spend their summers on the Montenegrin coast. There will be much going back and forth, it will be a sort of velvet divorce, I am pretty sure. And let’s not forget that up until now they have had two different currencies, two different customs systems, so this isn't something that is coming out of the blue.

RFE/RL: What finally motivated the Montenegrins to opt for independence?

Moore: The historical problem goes quite deep. It is basically one of there has never been a consensus in Montenegro as to whether the Montenegrins are a distinct people or a sort of special branch of the Serbian nation. This lack of consensus has meant that sometimes the Montenegrins favor closer ties with Serbia, sometimes there is support for independence or, as it was among the Montenegrin communists in 1945, support for having there own federal republic separate from that of Serbia. I think, though, for the current state of debate, it was the widespread feeling that they could do much better on their own if they were separate and that they realized that Serbia was a dead weight holding them down.

RFE/RL: During the referendum campaign we heard pro-independence leaders saying that Montenegro could join the EU faster and prosper more quickly if it left its union with Serbia. That is because the EU has frozen talks with Belgrade over its inability to hand over indicted war crimes suspect Ratko Maldic, among others. Do you think that leaders in Serbia now are increasingly aware of the high price they are paying over the war-criminals issue and that this could be added pressure on them to cooperate more?

Moore: We are dealing with a political culture [in Serbia] that has a very strong streak of stubbornness and puts some value on that. There is a term used in much of the Balkans, it is a Turkish word "inat" and it translates as spiteful defiance. Inat is there in Serbia. Now, granted, I don't think that most Serbs care much of a whit about Mladic anymore. As we saw in Croatia recently when a prominent indictee is arrested and hauled off, these are considered yesterday's men by today's people in the Balkans. It is really frankly anybody's guess -- the EU has tried to do what it can do, somebody obviously knows where Mladic is, and presumably in the military there are people who know where he is and know how he could be captured, but it simply isn't done.

RFE/RL: We have been speaking here mostly about Serbia’s political leaders. Can’t ordinary people in Serbia, who might be alarmed by this increasing isolation of their country, be a force for change?

Moore: The Serbs have been given opportunities. The Serbs have been given the message and if ordinary Serbs are displeased with what their leaders are doing then they are going to have to select the right leaders in the next elections -- ones who are going to do something about it. But from what the polls show that is not necessarily going to be the case.

RFE/RL: The EU has said it does want to work toward eventual membership for Montenegro but has set no timetable. Do you think Montenegro’s referendum decision now will put it on a faster track, as pro-independence leaders promised?

Moore: Let's see exactly how quickly the EU lets Montenegro get ahead of Serbia. I am not sure that they want to send that message yet, lest it be taken elsewhere in the Balkans or perhaps even farther to the east as a message saying secession will get you somewhere. That is a message that the EU has tried to avoid all along, making it look like secession would bring EU benefits.

RFE/RL: We have looked a bit at what the departure of Montenegro from the union might mean for Belgrade. Will it also have an impact on Kosovars, who also are seeking independence from Serbia?

Slobodan Samardzic, Kosovo Serbian chief delegate, arrives for Kosovo status talks on Kosovo in Vienna on February 20 (epa)

Moore: The Kosovars say that their matter, as far as they're concerned, was settled with the defeat of the Serbian forces in June of 1999, that that ended the matter regarding their status and they don't feel that Montenegro has any link to that. But, on a purely psychological basis, I think it goes without saying that the Kosovars will indeed be emboldened by this.

RFE/RL: Finally, could the departure of Montenegro also have an impact on other restive areas of Serbia, such as Vojvodina, where feelings often run high against Belgrade?

Moore: The situation in Vojvodina is different from Kosovo. Vojvodina, first of all, is overwhelmingly Serbian. The Hungarians make up just about 15 percent of the population. The other former Hapsburg minorities, if we can use that term -- Croats, Slovaks, Czechs, Ruthenes, Ukrainians -- are still altogether just about 25 percent. Kosovo is over 90 percent Albanian. I think the issue in Vojvodina has not been independence calls from any serious politicians there, but simply demands for more democracy, more rule of law, and more minority rights. I don't think we can speak of secession.

Montenegro's View

Montenegro's View

Miodrag Vlahovic (AFP file photo)

'AN INDEPENDENT EUROPEAN STATE': Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on February 10, 2005, that Montenegro wants to join the EU and NATO as an independent country and not remain "hostage" to Serbia's reluctance to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He argued that Montenegro is "patient" and willing to discuss any number of possible political formulas regarding its statehood, providing that such options do not compromise its "right to international recognition." He said he believes that Serbia and Montenegro can find a better basis for understanding in a union of independent states than in the current "non-functioning" joint state.... (more)


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