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Balkan Report: November 28, 2000

28 November 2000, Volume 4, Number 83

Yugoslavia Continues To Disintegrate. "The people of Montenegro must be entitled to determine their own fate -- be it independence, confederation, or commonwealth." This was the conclusion of the international experts who met in Dayton last week to consider the implementation of the peace accords five years after the end of the war in Bosnia. "There must be no precondition to Montenegro's admission to the international community if its citizens choose by referendum to seek independence," the declaration added.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic attended the meeting along with Kosova's leaders Ibrahim Rugova and Hashim Thaci. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica sent his advisor Pavle Jevremovic.

Montenegro's drive for independence set off political turbulence in Belgrade and within the international community already in 1999. The pro-Western government in Podgorica has now started preparations for a referendum on the future status of the mountainous republic, which is to be held at the beginning of next year. This decision provoked fear among foreign governments that if Montenegro declares independence, this may again destabilize the Balkans. Specifically, it may give an impetus to Kosovar Albanians to push for statehood for their war-torn province.

Kostunica, whom the Montenegrin government recognizes only as the democratic representative of Serbia, is desperately trying to save the federation. If Serbia's last partner walks out, following the example of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, the federation will cease to exist.

Jevremovic warned in Dayton against the further disintegration of Yugoslavia: "It is time to end this Balkanization and stop creating new states," he said. By contrast, Serbian human rights activist Sonia Biserko stated earlier at a conference in Podgorica that "taking territorial issues [about Montenegro and Kosovo] off of Serbia's political agenda will only help the democratization process."

The "legalist" Kostunica decided to turn to the Yugoslav constitution and called on the federal parliament to make a decision about future relations between Serbia and Montenegro. This provoked a furious reaction in Podgorica. Djukanovic's advisor Miodrag Vukovic asserted that Kostunica was attempting to resolve important issues through Milosevic's constitution in an illegitimate federal parliament. "This could be nothing but a threat and a provocation against democratic Montenegro," he said.

After Milosevic's departure from the presidency, public support for independence in Montenegro is growing instead of decreasing. Recent polls show that over 55 percent of the population would vote for independence. More than 65 percent want Montenegro to have the status of an independent and internationally recognized state in the event that it remains in a confederation with Serbia. Support for independence is especially overwhelming among young people and intellectuals. "The radicalization of Montenegrin society is inevitable if a referendum for independence is not called for soon," said Srdjan Darmanovic, director of the Center for Democracy in Podgorica, which conducted the polling. "This will be against the conventional wisdom both here and in the West," he added.

Montenegro's initial proposal for redefining the relationship between the two remaining Yugoslav republics provides for a loose confederation by two internationally recognized states with limited common functions such as foreign policy, the military, and finance. According to that platform, the people of Serbia and Montenegro should decide the fate of Yugoslavia in separate referenda.

However, Montenegro is gradually laying the grounds for full statehood (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2000). President Djukanovic spoke at Dayton in favor of dismantling the federal government: "Two governments are better than three both for the West and for Serbia and Montenegro. It is cheaper, more efficient, less troublesome and easier to deal with."

Podgorica had already moved in that direction by establishing its own Central Bank on 3 November and making the German mark the official currency in the republic. In this way the Montenegrin parliament cut itself off from the high inflation rate of the Yugoslav dinar and effectively severed its economic ties with the "criminalized" Serbian economy. (The German mark was introduced as a parallel currency one year ago in order to block Milosevic's effort to undermine Montenegro's economy. See "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 1999.)

At present, Montenegro has a stable financial system, has curbed inflation, and has reasonably good prospects for investment. Meanwhile, Serbia has still to rid its economy of the overwhelming influence of organized crime and faces a deficit of goods and a severe energy shortage.

President Djukanovic told "Balkan Report" earlier: "If Montenegro remains in the Yugoslav federation without being an internationally recognized state, it will mean one seat at the UN and joint membership in the World Bank and IMF. In this case, all the loans for Montenegro will be distributed by the Central Bank in Belgrade, which operates with a different currency. Montenegro does not want to regress to the Yugoslav dinar. This may cause a social revolution here" (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 10 and 17 February 2000).

President Djukanovic was elected three years ago and quickly turned his country toward the West. Although Montenegro participated in the 1991 war against Croatia, the country stood up to Milosevic during the Kosovo war and accepted 130,000 Albanian refugees, equal to 20 percent of its population. Djukanovic initiated cooperation with the international tribunal in The Hague, turning in evidence against indicted war criminals. Moreover, he apologized to Croatia for his country's participation in the shelling of Dubrovnik and the destruction of Croatia's Dalmatian villages in 1991.

The election of Vojislav Kostunica was not as enthusiastically welcomed in Montenegro as it was in the West. Although the republic's leaders and its population expressed satisfaction with Milosevic's ouster, many Montenegrins are more cautious, closely watching each move by the new leadership in Belgrade. They are frustrated with Kostunica's failure to move against indicted war criminals, with his deals with Milosevic's apparatus, and with his nationalistic views.

Podgorica is especially concerned about Kostunica's continuing claims to the Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia's two entities. Dejan Mijovic, an economist in Podgorica, pointed out that Kostunica enjoys the support of ultra-nationalist "Chetniks." "He relies on the support of the same institutions that kept Milosevic in power for more than a decade -- the army, the Church [sic.], and the Serbian Academy of Sciences." Kostunica's refusal to recognize the local elections in Kosovo made many Montenegrins even more suspicious that he intends to work for the interests of the Serbs alone, and not for all the people in Yugoslavia.

Podgorica insisted on the immediate dismissal of General Nebojsa Pavkovic, the Yugoslav army's Chief of Staff, who led the offensive in Kosova and was active for Milosevic in the election campaign. But Kostunica refused to dismiss Milosevic's former allies in the military and security institutions under the pretext that this would destabilize the country unless due process of law were patiently followed. Moreover, he convinced the West to remove Pavkovic and the security chief Rade Markovic from the EU blacklist for traveling to the West.

While passions about Montenegro's struggle for independence grow in the region, the Seventh Yugoslav army battalion -- a paramilitary unit deployed by Milosevic to prevent Montenegro from declaring independence and to intimidate the Djukanovic government -- continues to be stationed in the republic despite Podgorica's objections. (Margarita Assenova. The author is currently a consultant with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC (

Bihac Five Years On. Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian conflict. RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele returned to the town of Bihac in the northwest. Our correspondent first visited the town during the war in 1993, and again after the Dayton peace accords were signed in 1995. He reports that while day-to-day life is returning to normal, many problems remain unresolved. Here is his account.

Seven years ago, Bihac was a besieged town of frightened Muslims, Croats, and a few remaining Serbs. The town's residents were protected by the mainly Muslim Bosnian army and an allied detachment of Bosnian-Croat troops.

Bosnian-Serb forces and Krajina-Serb rebel forces from just across the border in Croatia encircled the town. Serbian shelling of Bihac was a daily occurrence. Residents were preparing for their second war-time winter -- many without glass in their windows. Electricity was occasional and gasoline was sold on the sidewalk in Coca-Cola bottles. Having enough firewood to make it through the winter was essential.

The Serbs never succeeded in overrunning Bihac, largely because their heavy weaponry was tied up in other parts of Bosnia. Bihac was thus spared the fate of another UN "safe area," Srebrenica, where Bosnian-Serb troops -- after overrunning the town in 1995 and separating the men from women and children -- murdered several thousand Muslim men.

Croat forces lifted the siege of Bihac in 1995 during Operation Oluja (Storm), in which they also routed separatist Krajina Serb forces.

Shortly after the signing of the Dayton accords that year, money from relatives abroad started reaching Bihac residents. International aid poured in, and within weeks, the town was rebuilding homes and businesses.

Today, few signs are left that Bihac endured years of bombardment. Although some facades remain pockmarked from shrapnel, most buildings as well as roads and infrastructure have been repaired and many new businesses have been established.

Ethnic tensions, however, have not dissipated as quickly. Now, with Muslims in full control of Bihac, it's the non-Muslims who have faced threats and expulsions from their homes and jobs.

A non-Muslim Bihac native who, together with her mixed-parentage husband faced threats in the first two years after Dayton, agreed to speak to RFE/RL on condition her name would not be used.

She says the situation in Bihac has improved since the immediate post-Dayton phase. In her words: "It is better -- I haven't had any problems for over two years and I've decided not to be frightened anymore." She asks: "Who has the right to tell me I shouldn't be here? I was born here."

The Dayton accords declared Bosnia-Herzegovina to be a single state divided into two entities: the ethnic-Serb "Republika Srpska" and the mainly Croatian and Muslim "Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina." The boundary between the two is largely identical to the front line at the end of the fighting. The Federation is subdivided into 10 regions, or cantons. Bihac serves as the administrative center of the Una-Sana region.

But frustration remains on both sides of the largely unmarked inter-entity boundary. This is largely because of the weak nature of the federal structures that supposedly link the two entities politically.

The all-Bosnian parliament, which has already served two two-year terms, has yet to enact a single law. Instead, the Office of the High Representative issues edicts.

The high representative also dismisses non-complying government officials, including last year, the governor of Una-Sana canton, a member of the main Muslim nationalist party (the Party of Democratic Action, or SDA).

His replacement was Muhamed Beganovic of the moderate Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose days as governor may be soon be over after cantonal and parliamentary elections early this month, in which his party fared poorly in Una-Sana canton. Beganovic is dismissive of the all-Bosnian state, calling it a "surrogate state," and says only an integrated economy can bring the country together: "I think if we succeed in regionalizing the Bosnian economy, regardless of the boundaries of the entities, if the economy works, the boundaries will disappear."

Beganovic says the Bosnian state has to be changed. He says that while nothing stops him from travelling to the Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka, there is no system of contacts between the cantonal governments in the federation and officials in the Republika Srpska. In elections this month, Beganovic's party's campaigned on the slogan "Bosnia Without Entities," for which it was condemned by the OSCE.

Beganovic says Bosnia desperately needs reorganization, especially in its economy. But he argues this remains out of the question as long as the country remains divided into two entities with a dysfunctional state superstructure. "Simply put, life and the economy will show what is best. Unfortunately, in our country, politics are always first and then the economy. I'm a businessman, and I say that the economy should come first and then politics, because the economy would regulate politics.

Part of the answer, Beganovic says, is that every citizen of Bosnia must have the same rights regardless of what part of the country he is in. He says laws have to be respected and applied equally, and the constitution must be implemented throughout the country.

Beganovic owns a Styrofoam factory. He says privatization is also key part to the solution. He argues that the sooner the country's businesses are privatized, the sooner life will improve and the more foreign capital will flow into Bosnia. But he notes this all depends on establishing the right conditions to make Bosnia "a real part of Europe."

Another Bihac businessman who has entered politics is the director of the local brewery, Adem Ibrahimpasic.

Throughout the war, Bihac's Czech-designed brewery, just 300 meters from the front lines, produced more than 10,000 bottles of beer a day despite mortar attacks by Serbian forces that destroyed parts of the brewery. Much of the beer made its way across the front to the Serbs -- for cash or for gasoline, weapons and other essentials.

The brewery, still under the same management as during the war, has since repaired and modernized itself and seven months ago went private. Its managers bought out the state-owned firm for six million German marks and are now boosting production to 100,000 hectoliters a year to meet local demand.

As well as running the brewery, Ibrahimpasic heads the cantonal leadership of the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party, the successor to the Tito-era League of Communists. He, too, is not impressed with developments since Dayton. "We are at a standstill, a total standstill. I'd call it a depression. We don't even have stagnation. We have damage. In this canton, we are far poorer than we were in 1995. I can assure you, on average, we are poor. Another matter is that a specific caste was allowed to become rich [during the war], incredibly rich, while the average person is poorer. That goes without saying."

Ibrahimpasic is barred from holding public office because the international community has banned anyone who owns more than 25 percent of a large business from holding public office. Ibrahimpasic holds a 40 percent share in the brewery. The SDA finished first in the canton in the November election, with nearly half the vote. This was considered a blow for the multi-ethnic and more moderate Social Democrats, but political observers point out local support for the nationalists has dropped over the past four years.

The Social Democrats are now trying to form what is termed an "anti-nationalist bloc" in parliament in coalition with other moderate parties. One of the bloc's main goals reportedly will be the unconditional and immediate apprehension of war criminals. (Jolyon Naegele)

Quotations Of The Week. "The old Balkan story of violence and ethnic cleansing is not over yet. Today, Kosovo is Europe's biggest problem, which could activate other, seemingly sleeping flashpoints outside the Balkans." -- Kostunica at the 24 November Zagreb Balkan summit. Quoted by Reuters.

"Given the enormous residual power and continuing influence of the hard-liners in Belgrade, it would be inconceivable to allow Milosevic to walk away from the consequences of his actions." -- Hague-based war crimes tribunal Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. Quoted by RFE/RL UN correspondent Bob McMahon on 21 November.

"It is of crucial importance that double standards be avoided in dealing with the former Yugoslavia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Any softening in the position adopted by the international community towards Yugoslavia will encourage other states to discontinue their cooperation with ICTY." -- Del Ponte.

"It is hard to drive forward when you look into the rear-view window all the time." -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic to AP in Zagreb on 22 November. He was referring to the obsession with the past throughout much of the former Yugoslavia.