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Balkan Report: April 20, 2001

20 April 2001, Volume 5, Number 29

MONTENEGRO AT A CROSSROADS. Montenegrin voters go to the polls on 22 April in early parliamentary elections. The issue is whether Montenegro will remain in a joint state with Serbia or reclaim the independence it gave up in 1918.

At the bottom of the dilemma facing the voters is the fact that there has never been a broad consensus in Montenegrin society as to whether Montenegrins are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. The dispute between these two political camps has dominated Montenegrin politics for most of the past 200 years.

The more recent impetus for seeking a resolution to the dispute is much of the Montenegrin political elite's growing disenchantment with the leadership in Belgrade. Most of the Podgorica leaders around President Milo Djukanovic supported former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic during his rise to power in the late 1980s and in the Croatian and Bosnian wars that began in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Many observers suggest that Djukanovic and the rest of the Montenegrin leadership profited handsomely from illegal sanctions-busting transactions in gasoline and cigarettes at the time.

But by the mid-1990s, Djukanovic and his allies concluded that they and Montenegro had more to gain by breaking with a Belgrade regime that had become an international pariah. They accordingly parted ways with then Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic, who went on to become Milosevic's prime minister in Belgrade after Djukanovic won the Montenegrin presidency in 1997.

Since winning Montenegro's top office, Djukanovic increasingly struck out on a path that seemed destined to lead to full independence from Belgrade, while still holding out at least some hope that negotiations could lead to a redefinition of relations with Serbia. So long as Milosevic was in power, Djukanovic could count on political and economic support from the international community, which regarded his Montenegro as a less-than-perfect democracy but a democracy nonetheless.

Matters changed markedly with the victory of the Serbian opposition in two sets of elections at the end of 2000. The international community became increasingly critical of Montenegrin aspirations towards independence and urged Djukanovic to work for "a democratic Montenegro in a democratic Yugoslavia," as Washington and Brussels often put it.

But for Djukanovic, there was no turning back. Whether or not he would have been amenable to a generous deal from a sympathetic leadership in Belgrade is open to dispute. In the event, he has often complained that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is as disrespectful toward Montenegro and its interests as Milosevic had been, and that independence is the only alternative for Montenegro.

The 22 April ballot is the first electoral test for Djukanovic and his Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) since the ouster of Milosevic. Polls suggest that Djukanovic's Victory for Montenegro coalition is likely to win the largest bloc of seats in the new legislature. The opposition Together for Yugoslavia coalition of Predrag Bulatovic and his Socialist People's Party (SNP) trails by at least several percentage points in most polls. The much smaller, pro-independence Liberal Alliance can probably be counted on to support Djukanovic on key legislative votes.

The Muslim, Croatian, and Albanian minorities favor independence and could provide the decisive votes to tip the balance in favor of Djukanovic, as many observers think they did in the 1997 election. Ham-fisted efforts by the pro-Belgrade camp to exclude Albanians and Muslims from an eventual referendum on independence have only made those minorities more determined to support Djukanovic and his allies.

And independence is what the 22 April vote is really about. Should the Victory for Montenegro coalition win, Djukanovic has pledged to call a referendum on independence, probably in June. Polls suggest that more important than the timing of a referendum will be its wording. Sentiment among ethnic Montenegrins on maintaining ties with Belgrade continues to be more or less evenly divided, although polls indicate that the pro-independence camp is growing, particularly among young people.

The Belgrade leadership has not been silent during what is ostensibly a Montenegrin election campaign. Kostunica has bluntly reminded Podgorica that Montenegro is a tiny country and that tens of thousands of Montenegrins live in Serbia. He is willing to negotiate with Montenegro about redefining the legal basis of the federation, but not on terms that Podgorica can accept. Djukanovic wants Serbia and Montenegro to set up a new relationship as independent states, but this is unacceptable to Kostunica. And in remarks intended perhaps for the international community, Kostunica has suggested that Montenegrin independence could lead to moves by "extremists" and others in the region to "redraw the map of the Balkans" by declaring independence for their respective areas, such as western Macedonia.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has been less outspoken than Kostunica, but he has made it clear that there can be no "special relationship" between Belgrade and Podgorica if Montenegro opts for independence. Whatever the case may be, neither Djindjic nor any other Serbian politician can agree to Djukanovic's demand for full equality between the two republics, because Serbia's population is roughly ten times that of Montenegro.

But Djindjic may be less opposed to Montenegrin self-determination than Kostunica. This is because Djindjic's power base is in the Serbian government, while Kostunica will be out of a job if Montenegro leaves Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia ceases to exist. In any event, Djindjic took refuge from Milosevic's police in Montenegro in 1999 and is likely to know conditions and leaders there better than many others in Belgrade do.

Should the Victory for Montenegro coalition win the parliamentary elections and announce a referendum, the international community will have to consider its options. Russia, which traditionally enjoys prestige and influence in Montenegro, may have painted itself into a corner politically by unambiguously backing Kostunica and Together for Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March 2001). The EU and U.S. have let it be known that they want Montenegro and Serbia to remain together, but have usually qualified their remarks to that effect by adding that they will respect the will of the Montenegrin voters. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "[Macedonia is] our neighbor, it's our people. It is important there is no violence along the border. And it's important that there be constitutional movement to satisfy the people's grievances there." -- Kosova's Ibrahim Rugova. Quoted in the "Washington Post" on 19 April.

"[Each indicted war criminal] sent to The Hague makes it easier to build a lasting peace in the Balkans." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Quoted by AP in Amsterdam on 16 April.

"In the Balkans, truth is usually an elusive thing." -- Sean Sullivan, head of NATO's Yugoslavia office. Quoted by Reuters in Merdare on 17 April.

POPULATION CENSUS IN MACEDONIA TO BE POSTPONED? The recent violent clashes between Albanian guerrillas and Macedonian police forces raised questions whether the population census, which is scheduled for 15 to 30 May, should be postponed. The census and the process surrounding it have raised a number of politically sensitive issues.

At a meeting in March with Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel said he doubts whether the Macedonian government has had enough time to prepare and conduct the census properly.

The expert for human rights of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, Eileen Simpson, discussed the issue with Macedonian Minister of Justice Xhevdet Nasufi, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 11 April. Simpson stated that, given the present situation in Macedonia, it will be necessary that the population count be monitored by international experts. She urged the justice minister to postpone the census in order to give the international community more time to prepare the monitoring.

Whereas the OSCE seems to be mainly concerned with the organizational problems of the census, the two main ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia -- the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) -- want the law on the census to be changed. "We hope that Minister Nasufi will propose a change of the law; his statements clearly indicate that [he will do so]. There are still displaced people, the atmosphere is still tense, and there is the possibility that political parties may call for a boycott. We don't want the results of the census to be questioned by anybody, and that is why we want an atmosphere of consensus [for the population count]," the coordinator of the PDSH's parliamentary faction said.

For his part, Naser Ziberi of the PPD noted: "If the census is held now, it will not be realistic and objective, and we will not recognize the results."

Although the newspapers did not mention it explicitly, there might be a connection between the government's plans to change the naturalization law on the one hand, and the Albanian parties' demand for postponement of the census on the other.

At the urging of experts from the Council of Europe, the UNHCR, and some other European institutions, the Macedonian regulations on citizenship will be changed soon, the Skopje daily "Vest" reported on 12 April. According to the present rules, foreign nationals must live in Macedonia for 15 years before they can become citizens. Large numbers of ethnic Albanians came to Macedonia from Kosova and other parts of Yugoslavia more recently than 15 years ago and hence do not qualify for citizenship. The planned new regulations, however, will cut the residency requirement to 10 years. The number of ethnic Albanians citizens in Macedonia will therefore certainly rise if the census is delayed until after the law on citizenship has been changed.

The government, however, does not seem inclined to postpone the census. Neither government spokesman Antonio Milosovski nor experts of the statistical bureau see any major difficulties in holding a regular population count at present. President Boris Trajkovski's council of experts, who met on 13 April, also said that there is no reason to postpone the census, as "Dnevnik" reported.

But matters have not stopped at Macedonia's borders. In an apparent attempt to divert attention away from its own polices, the government criticized the authorities in neighboring Albania, who began conducting a census on 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2001). As the Macedonian Information Agency (MIA) reports, Milosovski said: "We deeply regret that Albania failed to respect democratic principles by rejecting [Greek and Macedonian] ethnic minority demands to have a special [section on the census forms for questions on religion and national origin]." According to official Macedonian sources, about 350,000 Macedonians live in Albania, whereas Albanian authorities put that number at only 5,000. The dispute about the census in Albania affects Macedonian party politics as well. According to "Dnevnik" of 11 April, the leader of the nationalist "Real Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization" (VMRO-vistinska or VMRO-VMRO), Boris Stojmenov, has demanded that the Macedonian census follow the Albanian model unless Tirana changes its policy. According to his proposal, Macedonian citizens would have to declare their ethnic identity as either "Macedonian" or "other."

Several newspapers also criticized the recent Bulgarian population count (see, for example, "Dnevnik" of 9 March). Their reports are based on the views of the Bulgarian ethnic Macedonian party OMO Ilinden-Pirin to the effect the Bulgarian authorities have created an "anti-Macedonian hysteria" and allegedly plan to falsify the real number of ethnic Macedonians in Bulgaria.

Population counts in the Balkans have always fueled political or ethnic tensions -- internal as well as international. It does not seem that this rule will be broken soon. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

WILL INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY, KOSOVARS AGREE ON CONSTITUTION? An unidentified official of the international community told "Koha Ditore" on 16 April that the new constitution for Kosova will not mention the possibility of a referendum on independence. The official made his remarks during a visit of UN Special Representative Hans Haekkerup to Tirana.

The leaders of the main ethnic Albanian parties in Kosova demanded such a provision at a meeting of the Provisional Administrative Council (KPA) on 10 April in Prishtina. Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), and Ramush Haradinaj from the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) agreed with the international experts, in any event, that the new constitution should provide for "a president of Kosova, a parliament with full powers, a government, and a constitutional court," "Koha Ditore" reported on 12 April.

Despite the differences over the referendum, work on the text of the constitution has not yet produced any major controversies. The daily quoted the deputy High Representative for Kosova Garry Mathews as saying that the KPA discussion on the constitution was "very good" and "without contradictions." Mathews reportedly said that he expects an international working group of experts to draft a final document by the end of April with the support of ethnic Albanian and Serbian experts. He expressed hope that the working group will agree on a common formula that the majority Albanians can accept.

Rugova said that introducing a provision for a referendum will not violate UN Resolution 1244, which defines the duties of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) as part of Yugoslavia. He argued: "The question is, how to decide on...the most important formulations, because both we and the experts are making political decisions." Rugova added that there must be "pressure on [the UN General Assembly in] New York" to gain international acceptance for such a document. Haradinaj argued that the Albanian demands are demands for "a successful government...which is also in the interest of UNMIK."

Differences remain, however, even among the Kosovar politicians. Rugova wants the president of Kosova to be elected directly by the voters, while Thaci prefers an indirect system, in which parliament would elect the president. All three leaders also suggested that there be a broad public debate about the constitution in Kosova. Haradinaj warned that without such a debate, there may be lack of public acceptance of such a document.

Meanwhile, Rada Trajkovic, who represents the Kosova Serbs on the KPA, has agreed that Momcilo Trajkovic, who heads the Yugoslav government's Committee on Cooperation with UNMIK, will conduct the negotiations on the constitution on behalf of the Kosova Serbs.

In Belgrade, Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, and several ministers and other officials agreed on 9 April to send their own expert team to the negotiations. That decision followed direct talks in Belgrade on 5 April between Haekkerup and Kostunica.

"Koha Ditore" quoted unidentified sources as saying that the Serbian judicial expert Dusan Celic will conduct the negotiations on behalf of Belgrade. According to an unnamed ethnic Albanian law professor, Celic was formerly an assistant law professor at the University of Prishtina and was closely involved with Belgrade's institutions in Kosova in recent years.

One UNMIK official told "Koha Ditore" that the international negotiators will first try to agree on a draft text with the Albanian representatives. Once those differences are ironed out, the international experts will negotiate with the Serbs regarding the final draft, which the KPA will then present to the public by the last week in April. (Fabian Schmidt)