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Balkan Report: February 11, 2005

11 February 2005, Volume 9, Number 6

MONTENEGRIN FOREIGN MINISTER MAKES CASE FOR INDEPENDENCE. Montenegrin Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on 10 February that Montenegro wants to join the European Union (EU) and NATO as an independent country and not remain a "hostage" of 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 they do not compromise its "right to international recognition." 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.

Rejecting arguments that Montenegrin independence would have a destabilizing effect on the western Balkans, Vlahovic stressed that Montenegrin independence would defuse long-standing tensions in both regional affairs and Montenegrin internal politics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005, "RFE/RL Balkan Report" 27 August 2004, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 December 2004, and 13 and 20 January 2005).

Vlahovic's remarks come at a time when the future of Montenegrin statehood continues to be the top political issue in that republic. With a population of about 650,000, Montenegro has more inhabitants than Luxembourg (480,000), which currently holds the rotating EU chair.

At the heart of what historians call the "Montenegrin question" is the fact that there has never been a consensus among Montenegrins in modern times as to whether they are a separate, distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. In 1918, led by the young and educated urban classes, Montenegro opted for union with Serbia. Today, those same social groups tend to favor scrapping the joint state with Serbia, which was set up in 2002-03 under EU pressure. The government of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is committed to independence, particularly through a referendum. A recent poll suggests that about 44 percent of the population would vote for independence, while 40 percent are opposed.

Speaking at RFE/RL, Vlahovic addressed a number of issues relating to Montenegro's role in the Balkans and its future as an independent state. He stressed that independence "will not change anything" in practical terms for ordinary people, noting that the union "does not function" at present and would be best done away with for everyone's sake. Asked about Serbian arguments that Serbian voters should also participate in the referendum on the grounds that an independent Montenegro would deprive Serbia of its access to the sea, Vlahovic said that only Montenegrin citizens can determine Montenegro's political course, as is the case in virtually every democracy. He argued that Serbia does not use the Montenegrin port of Bar, anyway, but does most of its shipping through Thessaloniki in Greece. The minister stressed that Montenegro's future is as part of the "European family" as an independent country "and not as somebody's access to the sea."

Vlahovic added, however, that some form of a "union of independent states on the model of the EU" could be set up between Belgrade and Podgorica in which everyone would benefit. He warned against a "Balkan zero-sum game" approach in which there would be only winners and losers, stressing instead that "we could stay together with Serbia while being independent" in a way that would help bridge the divisions within Montenegrin society as well as between the two republics. Vlahovic nonetheless said that Serbia must treat Montenegro seriously as a partner and agree to its international recognition, otherwise Podgorica will have no choice but to go its own way.

Asked about any impact of Montenegrin independence on Kosova's future, Vlahovic argued that the two issues are unrelated. He said relations between Belgrade and Podgorica have "different dynamics" from those between Belgrade and Prishtina, adding that Kosova "is not Montenegro's problem" and that his country is not involved in resolving the Kosova dispute.

That having been said, Vlahovic noted it is important for internationally recommended standards to be enforced in Kosova, especially "individual and collective rights" for the non-Albanian minorities. He pointed out that Montenegro itself is determined to remain a "functioning multi-ethnic and multi-cultural which we are very dedicated." The minister said Montenegro's Albanian minority enjoys some benefits, such as "positive electoral discrimination." As proof the Albanians are integrated into Montenegrin society, he noted that two of the Albanian deputies in the parliament come from ethnic Albanian parties, while two others belong to "civic parties" that embrace all ethnic groups.

While arguing that Montenegro must become an "independent European state...with the political and cultural capacities to solve all our problems in a peaceful and democratic way," Vlahovic also stressed the importance of his country joining the EU and NATO, starting with the U.S.-sponsored Adriatic Charter that includes Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania. He feels Montenegro can achieve these goals more quickly without being tied to Serbia. He argued for what in Croatia is known as the "regatta principle," in which each EU applicant proceeds at its own pace irrespective of what others do or do not achieve.

Montenegro has a proud military tradition, and no discussion of Montenegro's future would be complete without a reference to its fighting capacities. Vlahovic referred to the current military of Serbia and Montenegro as a bloated, "old-fashioned, and costly army without any reforms or civilian control." He noted that the current "ineffective" navy includes 2,500 men, while that of Croatia, which has a much longer coastline, consists of 700 men in what is essentially a modern coast guard operation.

Stressing that Montenegro is a peaceful country that does not plan to use its military, Vlahovic called for a "small, democratically controlled, multi-purpose army not exceeding 3,000 men," fully integrated into the Adriatic Charter and NATO and advised by experts from Europe and the United States. He said it might be possible to form a joint military with Serbia, but only if each state controls the forces on its own territory and if the joint force is integrated into NATO.

SERBIAN PRESIDENT SAYS EUROPEAN INTEGRATION IS A TWO-WAY STREET. Serbian President Boris Tadic told Germany's leading Balkan studies professional organization, the Southeast Europe Society (SOG), in Freiburg on 5 February that Serbia has clearly opted for "Euro-Atlantic integration," RFE/RL reported. He stressed that "European Serbia" won the 2004 presidential and local elections, adding that radical nationalist elements will not succeed in winning any upcoming ballot, either (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 October, 12 November, and 10 December 2004, and 28 January 2005).

Tadic called for a clear break with Serbia's recent past, appealing to Serbs in neighboring countries to contribute to the prosperity and stability of the region. The president called on Serbian war crimes indictees to appear before the Hague-based tribunal, stressing that "Serbia cannot become a hostage" because such people refuse to turn themselves in voluntarily. He noted there cannot be any collective war crimes guilt for an entire nation and that individuals must answer for their deeds.

The president argued that the international community must become more involved in resolving the Kosova question. He added that independence for the province will only serve to strengthen radical and nationalist elements in Serbia, appealing instead for an unspecified solution that will meet the interests of Serbs and Albanians alike. Tadic called on KFOR peacekeepers and the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) to become as successful in returning Serbian refugees to their homes as KFOR and UNMIK were in helping Albanian returnees in 1999.

The president said Serbia "is hurrying" to speed up the process of its European integration and to solve the Kosova problem "for the benefit of all citizens" of the province. Calling for better Western treatment of Serbia, Tadic argued that "the idea that the Serbs are on the bad side of the Balkans and the other [nations] are on the good side is wrong.... We are all victims and perpetrators" at the same time. He stressed that Serbia and Belgrade could some day return to their role as economic leaders of the Balkans, adding that Serbia could become Germany's "strategic partner" in the region. He believes that Serbia's road to Europe is not a one-way street, and that one must also speak of a "European road to Serbia."

On the sidelines of the SOG conference, Tadic told Deutsche Welle that talks on Kosova's final status can come about only after the international community's standards have been met. This is because there is now "no adequate protection for human rights" in the province, especially where the Serbian minority is concerned, he believes.

The president suggested, however, that he could accept the suggestion increasingly put forward within the international community that talks on status begin while the standards are in the process of being met. He attached certain conditions, the first being that Belgrade have a seat "at the conference an equal partner" so as to best defend the "interests of our people...and also of all citizens" of Kosova. Tadic did not explicitly refer to the view of most Albanian politicians that only local Serbs, and not Belgrade, can represent the Serbian minority at the conference table.

His second condition is that the Belgrade-sponsored "decentralization" process begin before the talks. Tadic argued that decentralization "is not just an administrative process but also must be filled with [real] content, especially where minorities" are concerned. He believes that a serious decentralization process could offer a solution to the divided city of Mitrovica, where Serbian "parallel structures" have emerged in the north, although the United Nations considers them illegal. The city could remain divided in the long term, he added, but this would not necessarily affect anyone's rights there. He did not explicitly address Albanian criticism that decentralization is simply a first step toward an ethnically based partition.

As is usual at SOG conferences, members participated in a scholarly discussion on the state of Balkan studies in Germany (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February 2003 and 27 February 2004). Several speakers called attention to the cuts in Balkan and East European studies programs at many German universities, particularly where language study is concerned. At Freiburg University, for example, it is no longer possible to major in Serbo-Croatian or Bulgarian, as was the case previously. At some universities, Balkan studies programs face extinction altogether.

SOG Chairman Gernot Erler, who is a leading member of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party's (SPD) foreign policy team, argued that the cuts constitute a "strategic mistake" at a time when the EU is expanding into the Balkans and the western Balkans remain unstable. A resolution to that effect was adopted in the name of the SOG, which will devote its main focus in 2005 to the western Balkans. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN VOTERS WARY AHEAD OF LOCAL ELECTIONS. Macedonia's 13 March elections are widely regarded as crucial for the country's future because, due to an administrative reform, the new counselors and mayors of the administrative districts will be granted much greater rights and powers later this year (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 February 2005).

The decentralization affects the pre-election period in that most political parties are very careful in picking their mayoral candidates. In some cases, the selection of candidates has even given rise to bitter infighting within the parties. This is especially true for the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and its various offshoots such as the VMRO-Narodna of former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and the small Democratic Republican Union of Macedonia (DRUM) of former Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004 and 21 January 2005).

But the decentralization is not only about power, but also about prestige. In the newly formed district of Cesinovo-Oblesevo in eastern Macedonia, for instance, the inhabitants of Cesinovo set up roadblocks to protest the decision that Oblesevo will be the seat of the district administration, rather than Cesinovo. Both Cesinovo and Oblesevo are governed by the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and have close family as well as political ties (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 31 January 2005).

Jovan Korubin, who is a social scientist, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 3 February that the Cesinovo-Oblesevo case shows that the controversy about the redistricting plans is not only about the predominance of one ethnic group over the other in the future districts, as the opponents of the reform had argued (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 July and 12 November 2004).

While the politicians seem to be well aware that acquiring the top jobs in the new districts is a golden opportunity, the voters appear to feel ill-informed and skeptical about the decentralization and the 13 March local elections, as a recent opinion poll by the Forum Center for Strategic Studies and Documentation showed. The results were published in the 3 February issue of the monthly "Forum."

The center polled 500 participants in five administrative districts that are by no means representative for the country as a whole. The districts Struga, Kicevo, Gostivar in western Macedonia, Cair (a district in Skopje), and Kumanovo in northern Macedonia are ethnically mixed. The majority of the respondents were ethnic Albanians (49.4 percent), while Macedonians made up for 42.2 percent. The rest were members of smaller ethnic minorities such as Serbs or Roma.

The answers were interesting because the polls were carried out in districts with a potential for interethnic tensions. The poll also confirmed findings of earlier studies that the perceptions of ethnic Albanians substantially differ from the majority Macedonians on a number of issues.

According to the poll, 61 percent of the respondents felt either not informed or insufficiently informed about the details of the decentralization. At the same time, about 50 percent of the respondents felt either that the reform will not change anything (41.2 percent) or that it will even lead to a deterioration of the situation on the local level (8.2 percent).

Like the politicians, the respondents of the poll, too, believe that the new powers at the local level mean new opportunities. Sixty-four percent of the respondents felt, however, that the chances for corruption will also increase.

This negative view is also mirrored by the fact that the respondents tend not to trust local representatives of the political parties -- nor do they trust the representatives of the international community and the members of nongovernmental organizations, who rank last. At the same time, expectations regarding the mayors and town council members is relatively high among the population.

But the poll should be a warning to future officials in the administrative districts, since it shows that the general feeling of security is relatively low among respondents (just over 50 percent). More than 62 percent of all respondents said they are not satisfied with the work of the local police.

The officials should also be aware of the fact that more than 45 percent of all respondents said that people are leaving their municipalities because of ethnically motivated pressure. Here, almost 63 percent of the Macedonians and some 28 percent of the Albanians agreed that such pressure exists.

Therefore, future mayors and council members will not only be granted greater powers, but they will also have much greater responsibilities. In the pre-election campaign, they will have to convince the voters that they are up to the new challenges. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We know that there is a lot of work ahead of us." -- Albanian Foreign Minister Kastriot Islami, on his country's prospects for concluding its Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. Quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 1 February.

"Increased cooperation with the International [War Crimes] Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is the key element. This is the most important part." -- European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 8 February. He was referring to Bosnia-Herzegovina's prospects for starting talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement in May.