29 January 2004, Volume 6, Number 4
HISTORIANS REFLECT ON SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
A program by Srdjan Kusovac with Predrag Markovic, Institute for Modern History, Belgrade, and Serbo Rastoder, history professor of the Faculty of Philosophy in Niksic
RFE/RL: You used to be a fervent advocate of the commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro, which does not seem to be the case anymore.
Predrag Markovic: I had several reasons for that at the beginning. First, I thought that the disintegration process [of former Yugoslavia] must be stopped to show that Serbia is able to live in a commonwealth together with another partner. I expected the commonwealth to become the nucleus of future regional integration within the western Balkans.
I also expected the EU to help show through this example that the disintegration process can be stopped, and that the region can be reintegrated.
Of course, these assumptions now seem to have been shaky from the start.
RFE/RL: Are we talking about one state or rather two separate states here?
Markovic: It is more like two separate states. The army is already unofficially divided, and there is no joint customs system or currency. There is some freedom of movement for individuals, but that is far from enough. In many respects, the Republika Srpska probably has closer ties with Serbia than does Montenegro....
However, there is another very important element that makes them divided, namely that the emotional bond between them has been broken.
RFE/RL: How do you explain the increasing number of those advocating an independent Serbia?
Markovic: Serbia is disappointed with this [state] because it cannot find a single short-term interest in it. Many people here see Serbia as a hostage to the smaller partner in the commonwealth, since, if we follow everyday economic logic, the commonwealth just does not pay.
The advocates of an independent Serbia have already dramatically grown in number from a few percent to higher in the double-digit range.
Dropping the name Yugoslavia was incredibly important [in finalizing the break]. The public in Serbia is now absolutely indifferent regarding Montenegrin politics, which shows how distant the partners have grown.
RFE/RL: Could the example of the peaceful breakup of the Czech Republic and Slovakia serve as a model for Serbia and Montenegro?
Markovic: We must bear in mind that we are not a state with much sovereignty. Czechoslovakia was a sovereign state at the moment of its disintegration in 1993.
For this reason, Brussels will probably play a major role in any decision to divide the commonwealth but will not oppose it if support for a split here is very strong.
RFE/RL: How does Brussels view the situation?
Markovic: Europe has a problem with the three undefined entities in its southeastern part. I am talking about Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo, which are a Bermuda Triangle of crime, traffic, and lawlessness. Maybe they simply want to make Montenegro join something larger in order to establish some sort of law and order there. The question is: would Montenegro become a semi-criminal entity, such as Kosovo, or more or less like Albania?
RFE/RL: How do you explain the fact that the United States is not yet directly involved?
Markovic: They did the same in Bosnia. They let the EU discredit itself and got involved at the very end of the crisis.
But it is strange that the United States gives disproportionately so much aid to Montenegro. Whether this is discreet support for independence or simply the result of bureaucratic inertia left from the time of fighting against Slobodan Milosevic, I really don't know. It is something to think about.
RFE/RL: Do you think that riots might break out in Montenegro if it declared itself independent?
Markovic: As we have already seen, a huge infrastructure and support base are needed for a civil war. It means that in spite of the pro-Serb feelings in the northern parts of Montenegro, they have no backing such as the Bosnian Croats and Serbs had from across their borders [during the 1992-95 conflict]....
RFE/RL: How do you see the future of the commonwealth of Serbia and Montenegro?
Markovic: The commonwealth seems to be getting weaker and weaker. It might simply die out quietly, just as the United Arab Republic of Syria and Egypt simply melted away after everyone recognized that it was an anomaly.
Serbo Rastoder: I see no model that would guarantee equal status for the two member states. Let's be objective: Montenegro as a partner with equal rights is a burden for Serbia, and a union without equal status for the two partners constitutes a trauma for Montenegro.
Strengthening the commonwealth basically means weakening the authority of Montenegro. This is why the present commonwealth has no future: both sides will demand changes, and both sides will be right.
RFE/RL: There are few differences of opinion regarding Montenegro across the Serbian political spectrum. Why?
Rastoder: To lose Montenegro is to lose the last link to the old Yugoslav project. It also means that Serbia would lose its access to the sea, which many consider geostrategically important....
RFE/RL: What do you think will be solved first: the problem of Montenegro and Serbia or that of Kosovo and Serbia?
Rastoder: Once again historical sentiments might play a role here, since there is so much sentimental attachment to Kosovo among the Serbian public that no politician wants to discuss the issue on its own merits. That would make him suspect on nationalist grounds....
There is only one clear democratic solution: self-determination. You cannot force anybody to stay with you.... [But self-determination would certainly lead to regional as well as internal problems.]
RFE/RL: How important are the results of the last Montenegrin census for the future of Montenegro and Serbia?
Rastoder: The results have encouraged supporters of the union between Serbia and Montenegro.
Some 30 percent of the Montenegrin population consider themselves Serbs and would never accept the status of a national minority....
RFE/RL: Just like in Croatia...
RFE/RL: Yes, Bosnia. Can we expect violence in Montenegro?
Rastoder: I don't think so. We are talking about people who are very close to each other. The Serbs might become a sort of an self-isolated community within Montenegro, which would be very bad. On the other hand, the Montenegrins and others might come to feel blackmailed by the Serbian minority. This is, however, a perfect opportunity for Montenegro to put forward a modern concept of a "state of all its citizens," [a state that is above the concept of rival ethnic groups].
RFE/RL: What developments do you expect in 2004?
Rastoder: I do not expect any substantial changes. The year of denouement is likely to be next year, 2005, and the decisions are likely to be made abroad.