Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: April 7, 2000

7 April 2000, Volume 4, Number 25

Montenegro To Expand Its Diplomatic Presence Abroad. The Montenegrin leadership has been prudent to date in its pursuit of a political framework that will enable it to develop its own democracy and economy. It is now preparing to gradually extend its activities on the diplomatic front.

Last year, Podgorica proposed a concrete set of measures for redefining the terms of the federation with Serbia. It soon became clear that Belgrade was not willing to talk seriously and was more interested in undermining the leadership of President Milo Djukanovic through local Milosevic supporters, the military, and an economic blockade. Podgorica consequently continued with its gradualist approach toward what will all but certainly be independence.

The gradualism is the result of a variety of considerations. First, Djukanovic and his team are what might be called "men of the world" who know what is possible and what is not. They know that they need the economic, political, diplomatic, and perhaps military support of the EU and U.S. if they are to succeed. Brussels and Washington, however, have made it clear that they do not relish the prospect of the further disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Instead, they want Montenegro to stay within Yugoslavia and support the cause of democracy in Serbia.

The Montenegrin leaders are under no illusions about what they can do for Serbia. They have said repeatedly and publicly that only the Serbs can reform and regenerate Serbia. But as long as the international community frowns upon Montenegrin independence, Djukanovic speaks of a referendum on the subject only in vague terms as something for the future.

A second reason why he does not press ahead is that he does not have the strong domestic support for independence that Slovenia's Milan Kucan and Croatia's Franjo Tudjman had in 1991. The key issue is that there has never been a clear consensus among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct, separate people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. This problem has bedeviled Montenegrin politics back to the 19th century and will not be resolved soon. It is the basic question that underlies the current dispute with Belgrade.

Thus it is not surprising that Djukanovic won the presidency in late 1997 with barely half the votes. He defeated the pro-Milosevic Momir Bulatovic only with the support of the Muslim and Albanian minorities. Public opinion polls suggest that there is still no clear backing for independence despite two years of provocations by Bulatovic's followers and by pro-Milosevic activities by the army.

Bulatovic knows that and has sought to shore up his position. He and his supporters have sought to make political capital out of the fact that Djukanovic needed minority votes to get elected. The pro-Milosevic camp has also cynically noted cases of corruption and mafia-like activities among Djukanovic's backers, knowing full well that the two camps were not yet separate at the start of the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession in 1991 and both profited handsomely from sanctions-busting in the following years.

Milosevic's supporters have also sought to consolidate their backing among the "clans" and other people in the northern and mountainous territories that were added to the historical Montenegrin kingdom during or after 1878. People in this area tend to support union with Serbia.

But matters are not all black and white. Djukanovic told "Balkan Report" in Prague in October 1999 that opinion in the north is changing and that, anyway, "we have things under control." In the long run, Podgorica is counting on growing support for its policies as voters increasingly come to perceive the link with Milosevic's Serbia as detrimental to Montenegro's and to their own personal economic interests.

In the meantime, Djukanovic has been taking concrete steps. In November 1999, he introduced the German mark as a parallel currency to the Yugoslav dinar to guard Montenegro against exported inflation from Serbia. He and his lieutenants frequently go abroad and make their views known to the international media.

His latest move is to expand Montenegro's fledgling diplomatic presence. His backers argue that Montenegro has the oldest tradition of statehood of any country in today's Balkans, and that the end of the Montenegrin kingdom at the end of World War I does not change previous history. They say it is only natural for Montenegro to have its own representatives abroad, as do, for example, many U.S. or German federal states.

On 6 April, Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac was even more blunt. He charged that Belgrade's "diplomatic network does not serve the interests of [Montenegro]. Since Montenegro has great need for international cooperation and since the world is interested in supporting Montenegro to help it develop, we must establish our own state bodies and a network abroad," Reuters reported.

Podgorica already has missions in Washington, London, Ljubljana, and Brussels. Lukovac now wants to add New York, Moscow, Skopje, and Sarajevo to the list. And certainly an office in the Zagreb of President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan cannot be far behind. Lukovac stressed: "we are also interested in establishing the best possible relations with Croatia."

The main issue on the agenda for Zagreb-Podgorica relations involves Croatia's Prevlaka peninsula, which controls the entrance to Montenegro's Kotor Bay. That is the home of the Yugoslav navy's only deep-water base and has been of great concern to Belgrade. Podgorica, however, has suggested that Montenegro and Croatia should quickly solve the problem between themselves, since Belgrade has shown little interest in doing so. So far, Zagreb has dealt instead with the federal government. That may not be the case for long. (Patrick Moore)

Most Albanians Doubt There Will Be Fair Elections. Post-communist Albanian politics have long been characterized by polarization. A recent poll suggests that most of the population is skeptical that the parties can act in a spirit of civic responsibility and adopt a fair and balanced approach to electoral legislation.

A new opinion poll by the Tirana-based Eureka research institute concluded that most Albanians believe that the current electoral provisions of the constitution will invite abuse by the coalition government in the upcoming local elections, "Koha Ditore" reported on 1 April. Eureka polled 300 people in Tirana in March. Some 59.3 percent said that they do not trust the relevant provisions of the constitution to guarantee free and fair elections. Only 24 percent said that they believe the constitution will guarantee a free vote, while 16.3 percent said that they do not know. These results indicate that the majority of Albanians suspects that the Socialist-led coalition will try to manipulate the local elections, due in October of this year.

A large part of the respondents (30 percent) also said that they would not vote if elections took place the following Sunday. Only 46 percent said they would turn out to vote, while some 23.3 percent said they did not know. These results reflect a growing frustration with politics among the public at large, as well as a mistrust of public institutions--which many ordinary people consider corrupt and not transparent. The poll, which did not ask the respondents for their political preferences or party affiliation, indicates that Albania's democratic culture remains fragile.

Against this background of widespread mistrust, the legislators face a dilemma. When they drafted the new constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2000), the lawmakers intended to put an end to the culture of politicization of public office. Rather than staffing the election commissions with representatives of political parties--as had been done in previous elections--they chose to create a Permanent Central Election Commission (KQZ) made up of experts. Two of these have been appointed by the president, two by the parliament, and three by the High Council of Justice--a body elected by an assembly of judges and lawyers from throughout Albania.

The opposition, however, wants to change this. It demands the right to appoint the deputy head of the commission, arguing that otherwise the opposition has no control over the election process. (The opposition had this right in previous elections.) It also has threatened to boycott the elections unless the constitution is changed.

And the pressure on the governing coalition to agree to such a move is likely to rise. The intention of the legislators to create a depoliticized and permanent KQZ thus may fail in the end. This indicates that Albania's democratic culture still rests on weak foundations. But mutual trust is essential for developing democracy and respect for the rule of law. Accordingly, the coalition may have to decide whether democracy might not be better served by a political compromise--even if that would mean a return to the politicization of the KQZ--than by a confrontation, which may jeopardize public acceptance of the election results.

But so far no compromise is in sight. On 30 March, opposition and government coalition legislators met with OSCE legal experts to jointly draw up a proposed electoral law to deal with the nuts and bolts of conducting the ballot. But they did not address the disputed composition of the KQZ, the existence of which is already provided for in the constitution Eventually, the opposition representatives left the working group again, saying that an agreement on the composition of the KQZ is a precondition for further talks.

Meanwhile, the two KQZ members who were already appointed by the president resigned on 3 April, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 5 April. They argued that they cannot do their job properly if they do not have the support of all main parties. Their departure may open the way for a compromise, if the president opts to appoint opposition candidates in their place. A change of the constitution remains unlikely, however.

In any event, the government received support from the Council of Europe's Deputy Secretary-General Hans Christian Krueger, who visited Tirana on 31 March. Krueger called on the opposition not to boycott the elections. He stressed that "one can love the constitution, or not--but one has to respect it," "Albanian Daily News" reported.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) will give substantial assistance in the preparation of the elections. But UNDP officials said in Tirana on 31 March that their assistance program is not yet fully funded. The officials estimate that they will need about $2.7 million to compile up-to-date voters' lists, and to train 5,000 election assistants. Registration is scheduled to begin in May and last for about one month. (Fabian Schmidt)

'Es War Sehr Schoen, Es Hat Mich Sehr Gefreut.' Slovenian officials received Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner in Ljubljana on 5 April "with open arms," "Die Presse" reported. She assured her hosts of Austrian support for Slovenia's candidacy for admission to the EU. She declined, however, to recognize that Slovenia is the legal successor to the former Yugoslavia as a "protector" of the rights of Austria's Slovenian minority. That status was given to Belgrade by Austria's 1955 State Treaty. Ferrero-Waldner stressed that minorities in today's Europe do not need outside protectors.

She added, however, that Austria does not expect Slovenia to overturn the so-called Avnoj Decrees, by which the German minority in the former Yugoslavia lost its property and was expelled after World War II. Ferrero-Waldner stressed that the Avnoj Decrees are an integral part of the postwar European order and should not be "touched," the Vienna daily added.

Her Slovenian counterpart, Dimitrij Rupel, said that Ljubljana has already received "positive signals" over the status of the Slovenian minority since the new People's Party-Freedom Party (OVP-FPO) government came to power.

Ferrero-Waldner belongs to the OVP, but it was clear that the shadow of the FPO's Joerg Haider hung over the visit. He is a well-known critic of the eastward expansion of the EU. Furthermore, he has called on the Czech government to abolish the Benes Decrees before Prague can joint that club. That makes Ferrero-Waldner's statement on the Avnoj Decrees rather surprising, "Die Presse" noted.

But most importantly, Haider is governor of Carinthia, where most of the Slovenian minority lives. One can well expect that he does not want Ljubljana enjoying special rights in his fiefdom. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "While Milosevic is still in power, the serious money stays in the vault." -- EU Commissioner Chris Patten, speaking on the eve of the Brussels donors' conference for the Balkan Stability Pact, on 29 March.

"I think it's quite clear with the arrest of Momcilo Krajisnik that the French are fully cooperating with the tribunal and that, most importantly perhaps, that there is no place within Bosnia that can be considered a safe haven for persons who are indicted for war crimes." -- The Hague tribunal's Paul Risley, on 4 April.

"The mission of the French armed forces is exclusively to defend France, and the soldiers of our elite units are not policemen obeying foreign judicial organizations." -- France's far-right National Front, in its 4 April criticism of the arrest of Krajisnik. Quoted by Reuters.