15 March 2001, Volume 3, Number 9
MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER: FIRST THE ELECTIONS, THEN THE REFERENDUM.
Part II. Part I appeared on 1 March 2001.
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. -- Ed.
RFE/RL: How united is the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) regarding the national identity of Montenegro? By this I am referring to the mood of the local committees, the parliamentary group, and other such bodies. One can get the impression that the party leadership is somehow nuanced even if still united [on the basics].
Vujanovic: Our Steering Committee unanimously reached the decision to adopt our platform [on future relations with Serbia]. I would say that the leadership is absolutely united. Naturally, there are some differences of opinion over tactics, but that should not be surprising.
RFE/RL: How united do you think the Serbian government is about Montenegro?
Vujanovic: As far as the parties that make up the [governing] Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) are concerned, there are various ideas about the future relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. Obviously, there is a hard-line, rigid attitude claiming that the joint state should be uncompromisingly preserved, but there is also a more flexible attitude from some parties that show some understanding for the Montenegrin platform...
I believe that the [formal] talks should start as soon as possible, in order to have a favorable atmosphere for determining our joint or separate ways to the future...
In January, I had several meetings in Belgrade. Some of them were public and covered by media. I think that Montenegro's stand is absolutely clear. There is not one single statement that could suggest that President Djukanovic, Speaker Marovic, and I have different views on the matter.
RFE/RL: But what strikes one the most is the silence [from Montenegro] concerning [top officials'] meetings with Vojislav Kostunica and Zoran Djindjic. It does not matter which one of you was in Belgrade: Mr. Djukanovic, Mr. Marovic, or you. It seems to me that the officials from Serbia are much more direct, and that the Serbian media report about such meetings far more than do those in Montenegro.
Vujanovic: Well, as far as I am concerned, all these meetings are just breaking ground for the official talks, so I would not attach too much importance to them. The most important thing for me is how the [formal] talks will progress and how everything will end up...
What is important now is that we have something official -- the [Montenegrin] platform and the DOS document. We finally have the two positions that should be discussed. Your impression might be right -- the leaders of the Democratic Party of Serbia might talk in public more frequently than we do. But that is not so important at this stage.
RFE/RL: Have you tied your political destiny to the project of an independent Montenegro, or do you intend to -- as you once said -- happily return to the legal profession?
Vujanovic: I do not consider the political fate of state officials so important. What does matter is that we achieve what is good for the citizens of Montenegro and for the state of Montenegro. As I have already said, we, the Democratic Party of Socialists, have unanimously opted for this model of internationally recognized states, and I will support that model together with the entire party. The party leadership should be held responsible if the model fails and, of course, they should support it and implement it if we reach an agreement and the citizens express their support.
RFE/RL: Mr. Vujanovic, there has been some criticism of certain state officials for allegedly having abused their positions to get rich. Do you think that social unrest might take place in Montenegro, and that there might be some political demands as a result?
Vujanovic: ...It is obvious that Mr. Bulatovic and his wing of the Socialist People's Party are trying to take advantage of the difficult economic situation in some companies and exploit the workers' discontent. I think that this is a wrong political choice, both for the party and for those it is manipulating...
The Montenegrin government has significantly helped the economy in order to allow those companies to maintain their present level of business activity.... We know that there are some problems, but we have to solve them together. I think that we can find good solutions with the good will of all, and especially with the necessary help of the international community.
We must keep in mind that Montenegro was isolated for a long time by Serbia. The other issue centers on the structural problems as a consequence of the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. This means high unemployment and low productivity, but I think that we have achieved the best possible results under the circumstances...
RFE/RL: And, finally, it seems that the Serbian Orthodox Church has recently been pushed onto the political stage of Montenegro. I am talking about the protests of the Orthodox Youth, the celebration of the Orthodox New Year, as well as the statement of the so-called Montenegrin Resistance, etc. Although most of their demands are aimed at protecting the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, don't you think that there is too much politics in all this? [Editor's note: the majority of the population is Serbian Orthodox, but the smaller Montenegrin Orthodox Church has become increasingly vocal in recent years. Its supporters charge that the Serbian Orthodox Church is being misused by those favoring close ties with Belgrade. Defenders of the Serbian Church call its rival an interloper. Close links between religious and political identities are a tradition in the Balkans going back at least to Ottoman times.]
Vujanovic: Politics certainly are involved, and the Metropolitan See of Montenegro and the Coast is obviously being exploited. I think that the celebration of the Serbian New Year was organized by a state institution -- and that shows that religion is being abused for political ends.
It is strange that a state institution organizes a religious celebration and brings religious leaders to address the crowd assembled. I think that the church should stick to religious issues, while the government should be concerned with state issues...
RFE/RL: Recently, you were a guest on several Belgrade TV programs. You were harshly criticized and attacked in their call-in shows. What do you feel about those criticisms and that sort of interaction?
Vujanovic: I feel best when I am attacked, and this is why I do not mind it. I think that we all should be ready to defend our strategy, and that everybody should choose how to do so.
I am not as aggressive as my opponents. My approach is to defend myself with arguments, and if someone understands me, then I am happy to have succeeded in representing the interests of Montenegro.
RFE/RL: If Montenegro becomes independent, will it be ready to exercise all the functions of a democratic state?
Vujanovic: Public opinion polls in Montenegro show that the majority wants sovereignty. I suppose that, if some 60 percent of the citizens support that idea, then we also have a respectable minority to consider. We have tried to reconcile the two groups with the model that we offered -- an internationally recognized independent Montenegro and a commonwealth with Serbia. This would guarantee the stability of Montenegro. We think that it corresponds to the interests of Serbia as well, and therefore we have tried to explain that there is nothing bad for Serbia in such a commonwealth.
I expect Serbia to recognize its own interest in having its own state. I expect the Serbs to stop being represented via Yugoslavia or something else. I expect their ancient state to return to its international existence, just like those former Yugoslav republics that have never been independent before.
This is why I find it strange that Serbia and Montenegro are not independent now, but instead are disguised with the mask of a federation in which their own states do not exist. I believe that at the end of the talks we will find a model to ensure the independence [of each state] as well as the existence of a commonwealth. I think that Serbia and Montenegro deserve to remain together, and that the citizens of Serbia will understand that.