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Balkan Report: October 22, 1999

22 October 1999, Volume 3, Number 41

Montenegro On The Threshold Of Independence? The people of the rugged, mountainous republic of Montenegro have long been known as jealous guardians of their freedom and independence. Their history has, however, also been characterized by their reluctance to settle once and for all a fundamental question of their national identity: are they a distinct nation, or a very special branch of the Serbian people?

That question has recently emerged anew. In the wake of Serbia's military defeats, international isolation, and ever deepening economic and political malaise, an increasing number of Montenegrins are rethinking their relations with Belgrade. A large number of Montenegrins want to stay with Serbia regardless. But at least a narrow majority do not want to stay locked into a relationship that is dragging Montenegro down.

President Milo Djukanovic, who had previously supported Slobodan Milosevic, best represents this shift in Montenegrin thinking. He has argued that Montenegro's interests will best be served by remaining united with Serbia, but only in a loose and democratic confederation. If Serbia remains undemocratic and refuses to negotiate seriously with Montenegro, then, he argues, it is time for his republic to "think of its own interests."

Whether as part of a joint state with Serbia or on its own, Djukanovic and his supporters want Montenegro to have democracy, a market economy, and close ties to the outside world. They have sought the support of democrats in Europe and beyond. (Patrick Moore)

Djukanovic Counts On The 'Critical Mass.' President Djukanovic visited RFE/RL in Prague on 20 October. He stressed that a "critical mass" for change has built up in Montenegro in recent months. People want to press ahead with democratization and market reforms, even if this means leaving the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Those who feel this way are not romantic old nationalists, but primarily impatient young people, he added.

There are many Montenegrins who deeply want to remain united with Serbia come what may. But Djukanovic feels that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will not be able to manipulate these people as easily as he did the Serbs of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosovo starting over a decade ago. The Montenegrin leader cited three reasons for his confidence. First, pro-Serb Montenegrins know that Milosevic ultimately deserted his supporters in those three areas and left them dead or as refugees. Second, democratic forces in Montenegro are too strong for Milosevic to do as he pleases there. And third, the international community has tens of thousands of troops stationed in the western Balkans and will not easily let Milosevic start a new war, Djukanovic continued.

Belgrade, for its part, has yet to "talk seriously" with Podgorica about the Montenegrin proposals for redefining the nature of bilateral relations. Djukanovic said that Montenegrins will remain patient "for a time" but will not sit by indefinitely until "they become a victim" of Milosevic's policies. Yugoslavia, the Montenegrin leader stressed, is simply the "dictatorship of one man, Slobodan Milosevic." Montenegrins "understand and respect" the view of the Western powers that Podgorica should not take any step that might lead to an armed conflict with Belgrade. But, Djukanovic argued, Montenegrins have already "lost one decade" under Milosevic's rule and have no more time to lose.

The Montenegrin president added that there are two overriding problems facing federal Yugoslavia. The first is that of democracy. No change is possible under Milosevic, and the only hope for saving the federation is for the Serbian opposition to come to power as soon as possible. For its part, Montenegro will do what it can to help them.

The second issue is Kosovo. Djukanovic feels that the international community underestimated the magnitude of the problem, thinking that it was enough to defeat Milosevic militarily and send in NATO troops. As a result, the Montenegrin leader argues, KFOR and the UN were unprepared for dealing with the growing Kosovar Albanian desire for independence. Djukanovic stressed that independence for Kosovo will lead to the creation of a Greater Albania that will include Albania and parts of Montenegro and Macedonia as well as Kosovo. And that will cause as much conflict in the Balkans as did Milosevic's campaign for a Greater Serbia.

Turning to his own record, Djukanovic conceded that "democracy is not perfect" in Montenegro. He argued, however, that even if state television is controlled by his party, there are ample alternatives on the media scene in which others can present their views. The development of democracy, moreover, and that of the economy will go hand in hand.

He further stressed that part of Montenegro's problems with democracy stem from the fact that it remains part of an undemocratic federation. In this vein, he denied that Montenegro played a key role in Milosevic's wars in Croatia and Bosnia. But a member of the audience reminded him that he was Montenegrin prime minister for much of that time, and cannot count on people having "short memories" about this. (Patrick Moore)

Another View Of Montenegro. Djukanovic and his allies have, in fact, largely succeeded in persuading Western governments that they are good democrats who want to bring Montenegro into an open, progressive Europe. The Djukanovic team does not like to recall that he was originally part of the pro-Milosevic network of Momir Bulatovic, or that he is widely regarded as having made big money as a war profiteer.

The Montenegrin president's best known enemies are Milosevic's circle in Belgrade and Bulatovic's allies back home. But a different sort of critical view of Djukanovic comes from Slavko Perovic. He is the long-standing head of the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro and recently gave an interview to RFE/RL's Srdjan Kusovac.

Perovic's fundamental argument is that Djukanovic and his police chief Vukasin Maras are unrestructured communists who espouse independence only in order to win votes. Djukanovic's feud with Milosevic is one between two war profiteers, not between a dictator and a democrat.

The Liberal leader says that Djukanovic manipulated the 1997 election results and that Maras's police are "the only shop that functions" in today's Montenegro. Official institutions like the Pen Club never fully broke with their communist past or with the state. The really independent institutions and free media in Montenegro are those that the Liberal Alliance helped found. Montenegro remains in essence a neo-communist polity with "mafia attributes."

Nor is Perovic particularly optimistic regarding Serbia. The Serbian opposition is little better than Milosevic where Montenegro is concerned, and democracy in Serbia will be a long time in coming. Perovic concludes by saying that independence is the only choice for Montenegro if it wants to become truly democratic. (Patrick Moore)

Bosnian Serb TV For Serbia. Several Serbian opposition leaders met with Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik near Banja Luka, "Vesti" reported on 20 October (they also met with U.S. and EU representatives). Dodik promised them that Bosnian Serb television will broadcast a program on the activities of the opposition for two hours daily. Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic said that the opposition will seek to rebroadcast the program within Serbia. It is not clear when the program will be aired, "Danas" reported on 21 October. (Patrick Moore)

What--If Anything--Is The 'Serbian Liberation Army'? A previously unknown group calling itself the Serbian Liberation Army (OSA) recently sent a letter to the Montenegrin weekly "Glas Crnogoraca," in which the OSA claimed responsibility for the 3 October car accident that killed four aides of the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic. On 18 October, the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA carried the statement, in which the organization declared itself to be in the Chetniks' monarchist-nationalist and Serbian Orthodox tradition. The statement said that nationalist leaders like Draskovic "are worse than the open enemies of the Serbian people" because people like Draskovic "lead the people astray." "Vesti" two days later carried a photo of men in Chetnik dress, which the paper said the OSA allegedly sent to the "Belgrade media."

Observers note that there are several strange aspects to the story. If this is not a hoax, why did the OSA wait for nearly three weeks to reveal itself, and then only to a relatively obscure publication? And what is the role of SRNA, which is not regarded by most journalists as a particularly credible source? (Patrick Moore)

Granic Warns Croats Against Self-Isolation. Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said in Zagreb on 19 October that participation in the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe is a condition his country must meet if it is to join NATO's Partnership for Peace and eventually the Atlantic alliance itself. Granic conceded that the idea of participating in a project encompassing the Balkan region may be distasteful to many Croats, who fear that the Western powers may force them to join a revived Yugoslav state or regional federation. The minister warned, however, that Croatia will be isolated like Serbia is if it does not join the pact, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.

In Geneva, Vladimir Drobnjak, who is Croatia's chief "coordinator" for the pact, said that Croatia's participation will depend on whether it receives sufficient concrete benefits for doing so, "Vecernji list" noted on 20 October.

President Franjo Tudjman and most Croats are firmly opposed to linking their country to anything that smacks of a Balkan union. They want the international community to treat Croatia as part of Central Europe. Slovenia takes a similar line. Ljubljana, however, has been more responsive to international pressure to take a "noblesse oblige" attitude toward helping the poorer former Yugoslav republics. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "It is very difficult to live in the same house as a pyromaniac." -- Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Perovic, to Vienna's "Die Presse" of 16 October

"The idea of EU enlargement has acquired new impetus over the past year. One of the key lessons of the Kosovo crisis is the need to achieve peace and security, democracy and the rule of law, growth and the foundations of prosperity throughout Europe. Enlargement is the best way to do this." -- Paper accompanying the EU Commission's report on enlargement, cited by "The Guardian" on 14 October.

It "is not reassuring for journalists to work here [in Bosnia]. The current legislation allows authorities to put any journalist, even for the smallest mistake, on trial and put them in prison." -- Wolfgang Petritsch's spokeswoman Alexandra Stiglmayer, in Sarajevo on 14 October. Quoted by Reuters.