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Yugoslavia: Country Dissolves As Kosovo Lawmakers Threaten Independence

Yugoslavia's federal parliament today debated a new constitutional charter and accompanying laws that, once enacted, will result in the dissolution of Yugoslavia and its replacement tomorrow by a loose federation to be known as Serbia and Montenegro. But as RFE/RL reports, ethnic Albanian lawmakers in Kosovo, angered by the inclusion of the province in the new charter, are preparing a declaration of independence.

Prague, 4 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The speaker of one of the chambers of the Yugoslav federal parliament, Dragoljub Micunovic, said in advance of today's joint session that adoption of the constitutional charter would be the final act in forming the new state of Serbia and Montenegro. "At any rate, I believe that, although some people might not vote for it, the majority of deputies will vote for the charter. After that, it will be proclaimed, and at that moment the state union of Serbia and Montenegro will come into being," Micunovic said.

The republican parliaments of Serbia and Montenegro approved the charter last month after European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana brokered negotiations between Serbian and Montenegrin leaders.

Once the charter takes effect tonight, with the proclamation of the new state, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will cease to exist and the name Yugoslavia will be consigned to the dustbin of history to join Austria-Hungary, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia.

The successor state, Serbia and Montenegro, will be a looser federation within the same borders as the former Yugoslavia. Some wags in Serbia are calling it "Solania."

The two constituent republics will have the right to hold referenda on independence after three years. Montenegrin leaders have pledged to push hard for independence.

The new state will enter the world without a flag, coat of arms, or national anthem. A joint parliament, yet to be elected, will have 60 days to resolve the flag issue and until the end of the year to adopt a coat of arms and an anthem. However, no dramatic changes are expected either in the pan-Slavic tricolor or the pan-Slavic anthem, "Hej Sloveni."

Within 10 days after the new state comes into being, the republican assemblies of Serbia and Montenegro must establish the rules of election to the new state's 126-seat parliament. Within five days after that, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, in one of his last acts in that function, must set a date for parliamentary elections. But during the new state's first two years of existence, deputies to the new parliament will not be elected directly by the public but rather by the Serbian and Montenegrin assemblies.

Once elected, the joint parliament will choose a speaker, deputy speaker, and president of the new state.

Micunovic said: "At the following session, the president of the republic, who is simultaneously the prime minister, will have five days to come up with a council of ministers to present to parliament. Parliament will vote on the council of ministers and, if approved, it will be sworn in as the government. If not, there will be more time to come up with a new government."

The new parliament will then proceed to establish government institutions and a court for the common state.

Yugoslavia was founded in December 1918, just weeks after the end of World War I, but was known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes until 1929 and subsequently as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. From 1945, it was known as the Democratic Federation of Yugoslavia; from 1953, as the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia; and from 1963, as the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. That, in turn, was replaced in April 1992 by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the secession of four of the six constituent republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Meanwhile, ethnic Albanian politicians in Kosovo are preparing a declaration of independence. They are angered by inclusion of the province in the constitutional charter, as well as by renewed calls by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic to the international community to allow Serbia to deploy up to 1,000 soldiers and police in the province.

Bujar Dugolli is the parliamentary whip for Ramush Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosovo. "On the basis of the rules of the assembly, the 42 undersigned deputies request an extraordinary session of the assembly be held on 13 February with the purpose of adopting a declaration of Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state," Dugolli said.

Dugolli said the initiative is a direct response to references to Kosovo in the preamble of the new constitutional charter as being a part of Serbia and a response to the EU's failure to condemn Kosovo's inclusion in the constitutional charter.

Michael Steiner, the UN secretary-general's special representative to Kosovo and the head of the United Nations civilian administration in the province, UNMIK, has said he will block any attempt by Kosovo's parliament to declare independence. Steiner has also rejected Djindjic's call for a return of Serbian forces to the province. "The stance of the international community and [the NATO-led peacekeeping force] KFOR is that there is no return of Serb[ian] military and police forces to Kosovo," Steiner said.

UN Security Council Resolution 1244 does not recognize Kosovo as part of Serbia but as part of the Yugoslav Federation. While some Kosovar Albanians have sought to interpret this as meaning that the dissolution of Yugoslavia would set Kosovo free, the international community has made it clear that while Kosovo remains an international protectorate, with a yet-to-be-determined final status, it will continue to be de jure a part of the successor state to Yugoslavia: Serbia and Montenegro.

In part, that's because sudden independence for Kosovo would in all likelihood result in a declaration of independence by the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, followed by an attempt by that ministate to form a union with Serbia. That would leave the Bosniak Croat entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina in an even weaker, less viable position than at present. Out of necessity, this could lead to its forming a union with Croatia, which many Bosniaks could perceive as a threat to their identity.

Montenegro, in all likelihood, would withdraw from the new common state with Serbia and declare independence.

Dugolli expressed the hope that Steiner would not dissolve the Kosovo assembly, since, he said, such a move would be all too reminiscent of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's dissolution of the Kosovo assembly in 1990, when ethnic Albanian lawmakers tried to declare republican status for the province.