23 January 2004, Volume
HISTORIANS REFLECT ON SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
A program by Srdjan Kusovac with Milan Stefanovic Protic, historian from Belgrade, and Slavenko Terzic, director of the Historical Institute of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
What do you, as a historian, make of this creation called "The Commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro"?
Milan Stefanovic Protic:
The commonwealth was created under strong pressure from the international community instead of by the free will of the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro. It became clear last year that the few institutions provided for in the [joint state's 2002] Constitutional Charter either still have not been set up or do not really function. Serbia and Montenegro lead separate lives, with just a common roof over their heads. This does not mean much and has no real influence on how each one lives.
Neither in Serbia nor in Montenegro do I see real efforts to make living together possible. To say the least, people are indifferent. A state cannot be based on indifference or the will of a strong individual. It must be based on the will of the vast majority of its citizens. That will is not present, nor will matters change if Milosevic's Socialists come to power again.
What do you think will happen next, bearing in mind that the recent elections in Serbia were won by parties advocating even stronger ties between Serbia and Montenegro?
The electoral victory of those in Serbia who want stronger ties with Montenegro will encourage separatist tendencies in Montenegro. The problem is that the democratic forces in Serbia advocating stronger ties with Montenegro have no counterparts in Montenegro.
There is no truly democratic political party in Montenegro advocating a union between Serbia and Montenegro. The existing democratic parties in Montenegro advocate either Montenegrin independence or, for now at least, a very loose commonwealth. Those who want stronger ties with Serbia are mostly the parties left over from the Milosevic era or others that have no significant influence among the voters in Montenegro.
Do you think the efforts of the EU to keep the commonwealth alive will continue?
Interest abroad in Serbia and Montenegro is obviously on the wane, meaning that it is not as big and important an issue as it was a year ago. There are many reasons for that. One is that setting up the joint state was a way for some individuals within the EU to realize their [personal] ambitions. Within the EU as a whole, the joint state was not considered as important as it was by some individuals.
There is also the issue of Kosova. Since the international community does not know what to do with it, the commonwealth is a provisional justification for not attempting to define the status of Kosova. Some people might be seriously looking for a way out of that impasse, but in essence these are typical European provisional solutions. They reflect the absence of ideas regarding how to find real solutions for the key problems in the Balkans.
You used to live and work in the United States and were later ambassador in Washington, so you are familiar with the situation there. Could the Bosnian case be repeated, meaning that America will get in and solve the problem only after European attempts fail?
I don't expect changes in the White House, meaning that I don't expect the policy toward the Balkans to change, either. I think the Americans will keep gradually withdrawing their troops from the Balkans, leaving the EU to solve the problem, since there is no risk of renewed violence, wars, or the other horrible things that led to U.S. intervention. The Bush administration considers the Balkans primarily a European problem and that Europe is the one to deal with it.
Do you think the problem of Kosova will be solved before the problem of the survival of this commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro, or must those two processes go together?
I consider the Kosova issue a regional problem, while the issue of the commonwealth is something between Serbia and Montenegro. A change in the status of Kosova will set off reactions across the central Balkans, and there will be indirect consequences in Turkey and Bulgaria, not to mention Serbia.
Serbia and Montenegro will certainly live longer than was provided for by the [spring 2002] Belgrade agreement and the Constitutional Charter, meaning more than two years. I think that Serbia should start the necessary preparations for that moment by creating all the necessary institutions and especially by adopting a new constitution.... As far as our policy toward Kosova is concerned, we should start thinking about other ways and other visions of future, different from the ones we have had so far, and which were [unimaginative].
I have been very skeptical about the charter since the very beginning. It is a creation without precedent, either in the regional or European contexts.
My impression is that the government in Montenegro accepted it partly under EU pressure, but also in order to buy time through incessant bickering. That, in turn, has further discredited the project in the eyes of ordinary citizens. The commonwealth is thus a self-defeating proposal that actually strengthens the separatist processes in both Serbia and Montenegro.
Has the project worked?
Undoubtedly this is a commonwealth of two independent states. That is a fact. But the key issue is whether it reflects the interests of peoples of Serbia and Montenegro.
The separatist idea is a huge step backwards for the interests of the peoples in both Serbia and Montenegro. There are so many people in Serbia with roots in Montenegro. Some of them came here to study and stayed to work and live. An end to the union would pose big practical problems for them. I am talking about the interests of ordinary people.
Could it be dealt with the way the Czechs and Slovaks divided Czechoslovakia?
Of course, it would be much easier if the Serbs were Czechs. But they are not. You must be aware what kinds of problems might arise between brothers.
We have been talking about the Montenegrin wish to be independent, but the advocates of an independent Serbia are growing stronger, too.
The separatist idea recently appeared in Serbia for the first time.... [put forward by] immature political leaders in a panic over elections, thinking that it could bring them votes [from people fed up with the endless bickering].
What do you think the year 2004 will bring?
It depends on the international situation and the attitude of the great powers. I think and hope that the trend will be towards integration, which will in turn promote the cause of integration throughout the region....
If the opposite happens and Serbia and Montenegro breaks up, must it be in a violent fashion, as happened before in the Balkans?
That would be a big step backwards, in contradiction of all historical trends toward Serbian unity....
It would pose big problems daily for the Serbs in Montenegro, including ensuring protection of their rights.
It would raise questions about the stability of Montenegro, such as the Albanian question. Independent Montenegro would be an easy target for Greater Albanian aspirations that involve significant parts of the territory of Montenegro. There is also the Muslim question in Montenegro, as well as the Croatian element in Boka [or Kotor], which is not an issue at the moment but should not be underestimated in the long term. Independent Montenegro could thus face big problems affecting its stability and development.