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South Slavic: October 26, 2000

26 October 2000, Volume 2, Number 39

Interview with Zarko Rakcevic, chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro, by Sabina Cabaravdic of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. Part I

Part II will appear on 2 November.

Sabina Cabaravdic: When will the Social Democrats become a majority governing party in the Balkans?

Zarko Rakcevic: I think that the day is coming. If we look at the election results in Croatia and the political reality there, we will see that the Social Democrats, as the strongest group within the [governing] coalition, are dominant.

I am personally satisfied that our colleagues from the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina achieved very good results in the local elections. I wish them even better results at the upcoming elections and believe that a rational solution, a solution that would bring peace and tranquility to Bosnia-Herzegovina, is the concept of social democracy.

I believe that a growing number of citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina recognize that. They see that after all the nationalistic drunkenness and all the awful things that happened in the last decade, the concept of social democracy is a concept that really means recovery, peace, tranquility, prosperity, and finally a normal life.

I will remind those who are listening that the new political reality in Montenegro--established after [the victory of the reformist For a Better Life coalition in] 1997-- is in many aspects cast in a social democratic mold. Not only because the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro is a part of the ruling coalition, but also because--and I must say so without false modesty--the ideas for which we were fighting during all those difficult years of war have since become the dominant ideas representing the majority in Montenegro. We were called traitors and enemies for more than seven years, until the end of 1997. But then we managed to get these ideas across and to make this new Montenegro--or if you want, the old Montenegro--recognized as a positive example in southeastern Europe.

In Albania, the Social Democrats are in power, although there is much more to be done there, which is very hard with such instability. Our fellow Socialists from Mr. Fatos Nano's party and the Social Democratic Party of the Left are dominant today, and they had very good results in the local elections [this month].

One should bear in mind that a very important period of peaceful transition in Macedonia [after 1991] was seen through under the Social Democrats. But after those successful first steps, many citizens of Macedonia thought that some national parties could do a better job.

Of course, in order to come full circle and to ensure lasting peace and stability for the Balkans, there remains that huge problem of Serbia. I have to admit that we, as a party, have very good relations with Nenad Canak's League of the Social Democrats of Vojvodina and with Professor Zarko Korac's Social Democratic Union (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 19 October 2000). However, I am not sure that these two parties are as influential as we are.

Sabina Cabaravdic: Do they have more than two or three percent of the electorate?

Zarko Rakcevic: I believe that the Social Democrats of Vojvodina have much more than that in Vojvodina. Unfortunately, I fear that their strength in Serbia is still under ten percent. I hope that plans on how to achieve Serbia's recovery have been coordinated among the 18 parties and groups in the coalition, but I doubt that this is so. The question remains "What after Milosevic," and that is a very complex one.

Sabina Cabaravdic: That is, what will happen later.

Zarko Rakcevic: Yes. We are very reserved about those who are now claiming to be democrats. We still remember them from the period when they adhered to the [nationalist] ideas that brought so much trouble in the region of former Yugoslavia.

Therefore, we are very cautious about giving our support to Mr. Kostunica and to Mr. Djindjic, together with many other political leaders. That is a very complex group with an undefined political program. They have been brought together by a common goal--to replace Milosevic.

We do want Serbia's democratization, but we will watch carefully what is going on. I am not so sure that Mr. Kostunica's and Mr. Djindjic's latest statements provide any hope that the badly needed understanding of the real reason for the conflict with the international community will be recognized and accepted [in Serbia] (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2000). I regret that I have never heard them talk about mass crimes, about what was going on in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and about ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering. On the contrary, I still vividly remember them criticizing Mr. Milosevic for not being successful enough [in carrying out his program to achieve a greater Serbia].

Sabina Cabaravdic: How is it that the Balkan state with the longest history of nation-building--Montenegro--is now the last to undergo a national reawakening, in the last wave of the national awakenings in the Balkans? Montenegro is the one that remained in a union with Serbia--long after all the others left.

Zarko Rakcevic: That is correct. We were completely unprepared for the breakup at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.

Sabina Cabaravdic: Do you think that anybody [in the former Yugoslavia] was [really] ready for that?

Zarko Rakcevic: Let me explain why I say so. We have [our] Academy of Arts and Science, which openly promoted the project of a greater Serbia. As to religious matters, many Montenegrins today are frustrated that their own Montenegrin Orthodox Church enjoys fewer rights than its Serbian counterpart, even in our own republic. The Serbian Orthodox Church has a legitimate place in Montenegro, since some 9.6 percent of the population declared themselves Serbs in the last census. But that church nonetheless denies the existence of a distinct Montenegrin people. This is part of an effort to promote our assimilation to the Serbian nation.

Sabina Cabaravdic: But Milosevic and his backers have never been so weak as now.

Zarko Rakcevic: Yes. But at the same time, Montenegro's [state] system is a small and very vulnerable one; therefore we have to be cautious. Some 10,000 troops and paramilitaries, and the 30 percent of the Montenegrin population that supports Milosevic are enough to set off bloodshed. We really do not want that to happen, and that is why we are doing our best to prevent this conflict.

We think that an independent Montenegro is a solution. This is not only because of our long history of Montenegrin statehood, but also from the point of view of our basic interests, as well as for the peace and stability in the region. I really think that Montenegro as an independent and internationally recognized state can better contribute to peace and stability in the region than what we have now.

Sabina Cabaravdic: Croatian President Stipe Mesic has said in an interview on Croatian Television that he predicts the following scenario: Milosevic knows he is losing and therefore reopens the question of Montenegro. But this time he backs those who want independence, hoping that once Montenegro becomes independent, there will be no more federation over which Kostunica can preside.

Zarko Rakcevic: Nothing surprises us when it comes to Milosevic. However, let me repeat that--unfortunately--we understand that Mr. Milosevic, Mr. Djindjic, and Mr. Kostunica all ignore Montenegro. The same goes for the [now marginalized] Serbian Radical Party or the Serbian Renewal Movement. The lot of them ignore our citizens' basic rights and the fact that the majority nationality in Montenegro are Montenegrins.

We obviously cannot expect peace and stability with such political ideas. I think that Serbia needs a catharsis, that they have to face up to the causes of their downfall.

To be frank, I do not think that it would be wise for Montenegro to lose a few more years waiting for Serbia to become democratic. This is why I would not like to comment on what Mr. Mesic has said, although I have a high opinion of his pragmatism and views.

We want the multicultural, multinational system of Montenegro to survive. I think that Montenegro has succeeded in maintaining a positive image and am not sure that there are other similar examples in this part of Europe.

Sabina Cabaravdic: In this changed Montenegro, does anyone acknowledge that you, the Liberals, and the weekly publication "Monitor" were the earliest champions of such ideas?

Zarko Rakcevic: Many people want to hide their dirty linen in the farthest corner, and that is probably quite normal. We know how lonely we were in the early 1990s, when we were the last line of defense of Montenegro's honor.

Montenegro was involved in the bloodshed. It was really sickening to see our people destroying Dubrovnik [in 1991]. Then they did the same thing in Bosnia, either as weekend-warriors, or as those who went there to fight for a week or a month.

We were only 15 percent of the electorate back then, and one cannot make an independent Montenegro based on 15 percent. This was especially so because we have always had completely different values from those people who were euphorically involved in the nationalistic project of greater Serbia.

But Montenegro's process of emancipation is continuing. I do not mind if it takes place at our [political] expense [and to the advantage of other parties that were late converts to our ideas]. Let the Social Democrats be a pontoon bridge [for the others].

I am glad that my conscience is clear. The other night, I saw for the first time some of the horrible pictures on TV about the crimes committed in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina [during the conflict at the beginning of the decade]. At least, I am glad--because of my friends in Bosnia and in Croatia--that I did not remain silent [back then].

But the other side [of the Montenegrin political spectrum] was silent. While my friends in Sarajevo, Tuzla, and Zenica were enduring all those things, they knew that in tiny Montenegro there was a party that disagreed with [the war] and condemned it--and that we were treated as traitors by the majority in Montenegro. They called us a "handful of traitors and separatists," "Ustashe," and "Mujahedin"--depending of the phase of--

Sabina Cabaravdic: --of the war [in question].