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South Slavic: August 24, 2000

24 August 2000, Volume 2, Number 31

What Future For Montenegrin Politics? Part II

Omer Karabeg: In today's Radio Most (Bridge), we are going to discuss how to overcome the strong polarization in Montenegro after the recent changes in the constitution of Yugoslavia. Our guests are two Montenegrin top officials, one from the opposition [pro-Milosevic] Socialist People's Party (SNP), and the other from the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) [of President Milo Djukanovic]. Our guest from Niksic is Zeljko Sturanovic, member of the presidency of the Democratic Party of Socialists, and from Podgorica Vuksan Simonovic, member of the steering committee of the Socialist People's Party. Part I appeared on 17 August, Part III will appear on 31 August, and Part IV on 7 September.

Zeljko Sturanovic: Mr. Simonovic, as a lawyer and as a man who has been dealing with this issue for a long time, you must be aware that the constitutionality and legality of legislation of a given federal unit is ruled upon primarily by the constitutional court of that unit.

Vuksan Simonovic: But, Mr. Sturanovic, are you familiar with the principle of hierarchy of legal documents, according to which the constitution of a federal unit as well as every law must be in accordance with the federal constitution? Did you know that? That is a basic legal postulate, and therefore you cannot possibly claim that the Constitutional Court of Montenegro has final jurisdiction over the issue. The Federal Constitutional Court has every right to decide about that.

Zeljko Sturanovic: Let me remind you that the same Federal Constitutional Court you are referring to, ruling on one and the same law that had been adopted by both the Parliament of Montenegro and the Parliament of Serbia, handed down two different decisions. First, that court decided that the law adopted by the Parliament of Serbia was in accordance with the Constitution, and then said that the same law adopted by the Parliament of Montenegro was not in accordance with the constitution. That is the way the Federal Constitutional Court you are referring to sticks to legal principles.

Vuksan Simonovic: You know that decisions of the Federal Constitutional Court represent an integral part of the constitutional order of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Therefore, this decision about the selection of deputies from Montenegro for the Upper House was also valid for the selection of deputies from Serbia, and, as you know, Mr. Sturanovic, Serbia implemented that decision of the Federal Constitutional Court. A new law was adopted and the deputies from Serbia to the Upper House were selected according to the proportional system. Is not that true, Mr. Sturanovic?

Zeljko Sturanovic: ...Let me now make a few comments about some of your points. You claim that these constitutional changes did not infringe upon the equal status of the federal units. We from the Democratic Party of Socialists consider these constitutional changes absolutely unacceptable since they annul the principles of equality and statehood of [each of] the federal units.

Vuksan Simonovic: You know very well that the Socialist People's Party will never allow anyone to threaten the statehood of the Republic of Montenegro.

Zeljko Sturanovic: But do you accept the infringement of [Montenegro's] equality?

Vuksan Simonovic: No way. We are for the total equality of the federal units, as well as for the equal status of all the citizens, which means of the citizens of both Montenegro and Serbia, and therefore of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. You know that we are a civic party and that is the main postulate of our program. That is our basic guideline and I can assure you that the Socialist People's Party has never deviated from it and never will.

Zeljko Sturanovic: However, these constitutional changes have annulled the equality of the federal units, and that was done in the first place by a constitutional amendment that modifies the way the Upper House of the Federal Parliament is created, as well as its status.

I am talking about the Upper House, which was supposed to protect the interests of the federal units in the Federal Parliament, since the members of the Upper House used to represent the republic that selected them. The Upper House used to be the soul of federalism in Yugoslavia, according to the constitutional principle that the two republics decide each in its own way about their respective power arrangements....

The new constitutional changes stipulate [however] that the deputies for the Upper House are to be elected directly. It is obvious that these elected deputies cannot represent the interests of the federal units in the Upper House, since they were not chosen by them but rather by their political parties.

That is absolutely legal for the Lower House of the parliament, but completely illegal for the Upper House, which is, as I have just said, is supposed to be a house to protect the interests of the federal units.

Given our internal differences on the Montenegrin political stage, [if the DPS were to vote] in the Upper House, that would actually mean that the political will of the bigger federal unit would prevail over the political will of the smaller federal unit. That would mean negation of the first article of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which guarantees the equality of the federal units.

Vuksan Simonovic: It is true that the deputies of the Upper House are supposed to represent their respective federal units. That is unquestionable. But you did not want it that way. You have adopted a law according to which only the Montenegrin parliamentary majority [parties] would have been represented in the Upper House. That is out of question, Mr. Sturanovic.

Zeljko Sturanovic: That is not out of question, Mr. Simonovic, since it is a sovereign right of every federal unit to determine its electoral system.

Vuksan Simonovic: All the [political forces] present in the Montenegrin Parliament should be present in the Upper House, in order to represent the federal unit the right way. And, to show you what sort of legalist you are and to what extent you respect the legal order, let me just remind you of the resolution that your parliamentary majority recently adopted in the Parliament of Montenegro, and with which you have practically imposed a moratorium on [Belgrade's] constitutional changes.

You, as a [governing] coalition, have already adopted a countless number of such documents over the past three years. They all went against the Constitution and the constitutional order, and their only goal was to destroy and dissolve our common state of Montenegro and Serbia.

Let me, for instance, remind you of the resolution about the protection of Montenegrin citizens doing their military service in Kosovo; or the Montenegrin government's decree about the import of commodities listed within federal import quotas, with which you have usurped an exclusively federal prerogative; or all those unconstitutional and illegal decisions about the introduction of a dual currency system in Montenegro, which is also an exclusive sphere of authority of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

And let me also remind you of the 19 March 1999 decision of the Montenegrin government, when you tried to proclaim Montenegrin neutrality during the criminal NATO aggression against our country, when our citizens and our children were being killed and our country destroyed. During the aggression, fearing your foreign mentors, you did not dare say the word "aggression", and you never did so afterward. This was although even those unfamiliar with the law understand that the bombing of Montenegro and Serbia was contrary to international law and the UN Charter. NATO has even infringed on its own statute.

That is the view of all independent-minded people in the world, but you are not allowed to say a single word about it. I do not have to keep citing examples, since this is more than enough for the public to understand what legal "outrage" you have being committing in Montenegro during the last three years.

Zeljko Sturanovic: Now that you have mentioned legal outrage, what has been done with the changes to the Federal Constitution is an outrage against the constitutional order of our state. That directly threatens the statehood of Montenegro.

Vuksan Simonovic: The fact that deputies of the Upper House are to be elected directly does not affect the equal status of either of the federal units.

Zeljko Sturanovic: You claim that this does not infringe upon the principle of equality or upon statehood. Let me just remind you that three years ago--when we were [both] members of the [then still united] Democratic Party of Socialists--you, I, and many of us from the steering committee were faced with this sort of constitutional change proposed by what were then our--and now are only your--federal coalition partners. [The changes were] then unanimously rejected by our steering committee, [including] by all those people [now in the SNP], who recently voted in the Federal Parliament for those same constitutional changes.

Vuksan Simonovic: But what was the Montenegrin system for the selection of deputies for the Upper House then? Was it a plurality system or proportional representation? It was proportional representation, and therefore there was no need to change the Federal Constitution.

Zeljko Sturanovic: Our party's stand, and therefore the stand of all of us--yours and mine as well--was proclaimed back then by Ms. Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic, who said: "Our side believes that such a change could alter the federal order within Yugoslavia, [which] could modify the place and position of Montenegro in the common state".

Vuksan Simonovic: And I am asking you--what sort of an electoral system did we have then?

Zeljko Sturanovic: It has nothing to do with the electoral system.

Vuksan Simonovic: What do you mean by "It has nothing to do". We had proportional representation then. That is the main issue here. What you wanted to do later was to carry out your separatist policy, and therefore you changed the system. You introduced the plurality one in order to allow only the Montenegrin parliamentary majority to represent Montenegro in the Upper House.

Zeljko Sturanovic: I would like to comment on another point of yours. You claim that these constitutional changes have created a basis for the democratic development of our common state. These constitutional changes, Mr. Simonovic, are not prompted by those democratic considerations...and they do not represent a democratic breakthrough. Their purpose is to set up a constitutional framework for Mr. Milosevic to extend his rule and to strengthen his grip on power.

Vuksan Simonovic: What would you do without Mr. Milosevic? There would be no one to blame for the complete failure of your policy in Montenegro--political and national, economic, social, and every other sort of failure.

Zeljko Sturanovic: Let us not change the subject. If these constitutional changes really represented a democratic breakthrough, if your motives were really democratic ones, why did you have to prepare it all far from the public eye, far from the eyes of the people you are referring to? And why did you have to do it overnight? Democracy and underground activities do not go together. If you were really so certain about your claims, why did you not inform the citizens of Montenegro in advance about the constitutional changes?