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Yugoslavia: Collapse Of Montenegrin Government Unlikely To Effect New Union

Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic resigned last week amid a government crisis over a European Union-brokered deal designed to prevent the final breakup of Yugoslavia. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos looks at the significance of the government collapse and its possible effect on the new accord that restructures a loose federation between Serbia and Montenegro.

Prague, 24 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The resignation of Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic and the subsequent collapse of the government had been brewing for weeks. The political shake-up was triggered by an agreement between Serbia and Montenegro that reconstitutes a new union between the two republics and postpones any independence referenda for three years.

The March agreement was bitterly received by Montenegro's main pro-independence parties, the Liberal Alliance and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Both of the parties withdrew support for the government in protest.

In a letter to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic on 19 April, Vujanovic said that without SDP and Liberal Alliance support, his government no longer held a majority in parliament.

The loss of Liberal support was especially punishing for the governing coalition. A small but highly influential party, the Liberals held no government posts but gave Djukanovic's governing coalition its majority in parliament. But as soon as Djukanovic and Vujanovic signed the European Union-mediated accord last month, the Liberals contested the deal. The party accused Djukanovic of becoming a traitor to Montenegrin independence, reminding him that he had been elected on a promise to call an independence referendum for the republic.

Vujanovic's resignation is seen as a setback for EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, who brokered the accord that restructures the Yugoslav Federation into a loose alliance with the new name Serbia and Montenegro. The new union would have common defense and foreign policies but separate economies, including currencies and customs services. In three years, each republic would be permitted to hold a referendum on independence.

But Vujanovic's resignation is unlikely to threaten the deal, which has already been ratified by both republics' assemblies. The federal parliament in Belgrade began a debate on the accord last week.

Instead, the government collapse reflects the crumbling of longtime political alliances in Montenegro and signals the possibility of early parliamentary elections ahead of presidential elections scheduled in September.

Djukanovic now has 60 days to name a new prime minister who could form a cabinet with sufficient support from parliament. If this fails, parliamentary elections would be called within four months. Until then, Vujanovic will remain caretaker prime minister.

Djukanovic's party, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), reacted bitterly to Vujanovic's resignation, calling for the Liberals' Vesna Perovic, who is the speaker of parliament, also to resign from her post.

DPS spokesman Igor Lukic said that if Perovic does not resign, DPS will call for a vote against her in parliament. "DPS has already put forth an initiative in parliament to vote against speaker Vesna Perovic. We will activate that initiative if she doesn't resign."

But DPS pressure is unlikely to force the Liberals' hand. Vujanovic's resignation is widely perceived as showing that Djukanovic is eager to placate the key party in the hope of forming a new administration with them and avoiding parliamentary elections.

Perovic said Vujanovic's resignation was "tardy" but a necessary step toward "democratic reforms" in Montenegro. She said she has no intention of giving up her post.

"I think it's not necessary. There is no reason [for me to resign]. My resignation, according to the constitution and the law, and because of the relations between the political parties at the moment, would force a new parliamentary election," Perovic said.

Although negotiations are ongoing between the Liberals and the ruling coalition, a new majority bloc will be hard to form.

Peter Palmer is a Balkans analyst for the International Crisis Group based in Montenegro. He said that with the independence issue having been shelved for three years, there is no longer a unified pro-independence, pro-reform bloc in parliament.

"And the prospects for forming a new government look rather weak. The Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Alliance, which are strongly pro-independence, were so bitterly disappointed with the decision to make this agreement with Belgrade. The Liberals, in particular, have lost all faith in the main ruling party, the Democratic Party of Socialists of President [Milo] Djukanovic," Palmer said.

Djukanovic will need Liberal support if he is to counter the increasing popularity of Montenegro's opposition bloc, Together for Yugoslavia. According to a Podgorica-based polling group, Together for Yugoslavia, which opposes independence from Serbia, has taken the lead from Djukanovic's bloc for the first time in years. According to the most recent poll, the Together for Yugoslavia coalition has more than 35 percent support, while Djukanovic's bloc has 27 percent.

Palmer said the rise of pro-Yugoslav parties is a direct consequence of the Belgrade agreement. "The pro-Yugoslav parties, those who were pro-Milosevic, who were against cooperation with The Hague tribunal, whose reform credentials are extremely dubious, they now seem to be on the rise on the Montenegrin political scene, which I'm sure is a consequence of the agreement the EU wouldn't have wanted to see."

But for all the upheaval the Belgrade agreement has caused on the Montenegrin political scene, any changes to the deal are likely to come from Serbia.

Palmer said high-ranking Serbian officials are now taking a second look at the accord. He said that authorities in Belgrade are questioning whether the new union can actually function as a new, reintegrated state.

"So whatever happens on the Montenegrin side, on the Serbian side the priority is to get an agreement that works. If they haven't got a reintegrated, functioning union, then they would rather have clarity in separation. We may find over the coming months that the major forces in Belgrade are pushing for a clear-cut separation," Palmer said.

Palmer said it's not clear when and how any changes to the agreement would be made. So far, the committee to write the new union's constitution has not been formed. But Palmer said Belgrade and Montenegrin officials are already talking about how to rearrange their relationship further.

Ironically, he says, the result may be independence for Montenegro after all.