1 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 8
Note: The Next Issue Of South Slavic Report Will Appear On 15 March 2001.
MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER: FIRST THE ELECTIONS, THEN THE REFERENDUM.
An Interview with Filip Vujanovic, prime minister of Montenegro, by Beba Marusic. The program was aired on 21 January. Shortly afterward, the leaders of the parties represented in the parliament agreed to hold early elections on 22 April. The new legislature will then decide whether to hold a referendum on independence.
RFE/RL: The present situation in Montenegro might be called the "period of talks," since talks are going on within Montenegro about early elections, as well as between Belgrade and Podgorica about the future of the joint state of Montenegro and Serbia.... How do you see matters developing?
Vujanovic: First, I hope that that we will reach agreements within Montenegro and with Serbia. As far as our parliamentary talks are concerned, they have reached their final phase, and I believe they are closer to success than to failure...
As far as the talks with Belgrade go, they have not yet officially started. We are waiting for the government of Serbia to be formed and after that, we expect to start the talks in a good and constructive atmosphere, searching for a comprehensive agreement.
RFE/RL: I would like to return to the talks later. Let me now ask you something else about the referendum and the elections. Although the head of the parliamentary group of the [pro-independence] Montenegrin Liberals, Miroslav Vickovic, said that failure to reach an agreement means that there will be no referendum, some analysts now think that the option of a referendum without previously holding elections remains open. What do you think about that?
Vujanovic: I think that the political crisis should be overcome by democratic means, which means that we must ascertain what the will of the people is. Now that the People's Party has left the ruling coalition...a new parliamentary majority should be determined democratically, by ascertaining the will of the people. A new government should be formed according to the situation in the new parliament. This is why I believe in elections before the referendum, rather than in the creation of an artificial parliamentary coalition, which would then "ensure" the outcome of the referendum.
RFE/RL: The People's Party -- or at least its top officials -- claim that this is the most profound political crisis in Montenegro since the introduction of a multi-party system. Do you agree?
Vujanovic: This is, of course, a crisis, but I hope that we do have a political consensus to find an adequate way out. Obviously, we do not all share the same ideas about that way out, but I do not think that we lack the political will to reach a mutual understanding...
RFE/RL: You have said: "I am convinced that Kostunica is not against [Belgrade-Podgorica] talks, since all negotiations contain at least a chance of reaching an agreement. If the talks are successful, then we have reached an agreement. If not, we are going to find a way to keep on going on our own..." What do you mean by this?
Vujanovic: We have, at any rate, an [official Montenegrin] document [to provide a basis] for talks. That is a government document, adopted by the majority that consists of the Democratic Party of Socialists and the Social Democratic Party. I must remind you that the Democratic Party of Socialists has 70 percent of the posts in the government, while the Social Democratic Party has 13 percent. The platform was adopted by a majority and presented to the government of Serbia for discussion.
The [governing] Democratic Opposition of Serbia has replied to us. We think that their document and ours should simply be compared and common points identified. There should be an opportunity to discuss what remains in dispute...
If we fail to reach an agreement, then we should separate in a constitutional way, which means that the citizens should decide about the future of the state [in] a referendum. However, that should be done only as a last resort. This is why I said [recently] that I do not think that we should say our stands are irreconcilable before the talks have officially started.
RFE/RL: Does Kostunica's view that a sort of loose "commonwealth of independent states" does not suit Serbia actually eliminate all the solutions offered by the Montenegrin platform -- except for an internationally recognized and a sovereign Montenegro?
Vujanovic: There are many points of contention concerning both the Serbian and Montenegrin platforms. I think that we should try to play down those issues. When we come to the point where we cannot agree about some things, the referendum will appear to us in a different light.
This is why I am convinced that we should start the talks between two serious and responsible states instead of proclaiming those talks unsuccessful before they even start. This is why I am convinced that Mr. Kostunica too -- as a responsible and serious politician -- believes in talks...
The two governments should finally start those negotiations. I am convinced that he should naturally take part in the talks, since he is a man with a high international reputation and therefore ties to the international community. [Editor's note: the Montenegrin government does not formally recognize the legitimacy of the Yugoslav government in Belgrade -- including Kostunica.]
RFE/RL: Mr. Vujanovic, what makes you say that both of the platforms have flaws? Let us not discuss Vojislav Kostunica's platform, which was unanimously adopted by the Democratic Opposition of Serbia. What could be subject to change as far as the Montenegrin platform is concerned?
Vujanovic: No, I do not think that the two platforms have flaws. Each side has prepared its offer, and those offers include some common points. First, both platforms conclude that Montenegro and Serbia are two ancient states that acquired international recognition back in the 19th century. As such, the two states had a special importance for the region and all of Europe [when many other Balkan peoples were still under Ottoman rule].
The two platforms agree that Serbia and Montenegro are disproportionate in terms of size and population, which -- as Mr. Kostunica said -- means that they need a special, "atypical" model of organizing their mutual relations in order to overcome the natural threat of hegemony that could result from that imbalance. [Editor's note: the population of Serbia is roughly ten times that of Montenegro.]
Starting with these common premises and bearing in mind that the Serbian and the Montenegrin governments are now sovereign within their own respective borders, as well as that we each of necessity need an international profile, we [Montenegrins] have proposed a commonwealth of internationally recognized states.
Mr. Kostunica has offered a functional or minimal federation. It remains to be seen what we can agree upon. I am talking about the sphere of activity of the commonwealth, the bodies that would be the commonwealth's instruments for those activities and -- what will obviously be an issue -- the respective powers of the commonwealth and the member states. [We should now determine where the common points lie through negotiations...]
RFE/RL: When you refer to such talks, could you explain whether the Montenegrin government will accept less than the minimum that you and President Milo Djukanovic have spoken about? In other words, will you persist in demanding a commonwealth of internationally recognized independent states, Serbia and Montenegro?
Vujanovic: This is what we consider an optimal way to adequately offset this disproportion of size, as well as the problem of [Serbian] hegemony that has existed throughout our history. We think that the threat cannot be eliminated unless we ensure that we have an internationally recognized sovereignty. This sovereignty, moreover, guarantees that the present division of powers will remain and not threaten to destabilize the relations between Serbia and Montenegro.
RFE/RL: Mr. Vujanovic, I would like you to comment on some recent statements from Serbia. DOS leader Zarko Korac said that the [13 January] meeting between Vojislav Kostunica and Slobodan Milosevic was a simple "message to the citizens of Montenegro that the policies of Slobodan Milosevic remain relevant in Serbia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001). What do you make of this statement?
Vujanovic: We Montenegrins find that statement disturbing. You must be aware that Mr. Milosevic was an enemy of democracy in Montenegro and Serbia. Our conflict with him had affected our relations [with Serbia] to such an extent that [the dispute with the larger partner actually] threatened Montenegro. This is what made us decide to protect our interests permanently from some basic problems inherent in such an unequal relationship.
To treat Mr. Milosevic now as a man whose point of view should be heard -- and if you are listening to what he has to say, you certainly intend to take it into consideration -- proves that Montenegro is right to be afraid that Mr. Milosevic's influence might remain important [in Belgrade]. I agree with Mr. Korac that the Milosevic-Kostunica meeting adversely affects Montenegrin-Serbian relations.