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Vol 3, No 15
30 April 2001
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Independence or renewed chaos?
Brian J Požun

The outcome of the 22 April parliamentary elections in Montenegro has cast a shadow of uncertainty over not only the continued existence of the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) but also that of other regional states, such as Bosnia and Hercegovina and Macedonia.

Milo Đukanović, president of the smaller of the two republics of the FRY (home to some 650,000 people), billed the elections as a pre-referendum on independence from the FRY. His Pobjeda za Crnu Goru (Victory for Montenegro) coalition won only 42 percent of the vote, or 36 of the 77 seats in the republic's parliament.

The group of anti-independence, pro-Yugoslavia parties led by Predrag Bulatović managed to split the vote virtually down the middle, winning almost the same amount of support as the pro-independence forces: 40 per cent, or 33 seats. Two Albanian parties will also enter parliament, each with one seat.

Đukanović will likely strengthen his hand by moving to ally himself with the somewhat like-minded Liberal Alliance, which won about eight per cent of the vote, or six seats; but even still, the election results in no way represent a clear popular mandate, either for independence or against.

International reactions

The international community has reacted swiftly to Đukanović's moves and is cringing at the thought of an independent Montenegro. Diplomats from the United States, the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe and the United Nations are all urging Đukanović to resume talks with Belgrade and keep Yugoslavia together.

The EU launched a diplomatic offensive on 24 April, visiting Đukanović in Podgorica and, on 25 April, visiting Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica in Belgrade. The nine-member delegation, including foreign ministers from Sweden and Belgium, pushed hard for a diplomatic resolution to the Montenegrin problem.

The Contact Group, established during the war in Bosnia, consisting of the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Russia, is set to hold similar talks in Belgrade on 26 April.

The stakes for the region

Independence for Montenegro could reopen a Pandora's Box of border adjustments throughout the region. Since the United Nations has decided that Kosovo should be part of Yugoslavia but not necessarily part of Serbia, the dissolution of the FRY would call its future status into question and could lead to its independence.

Other border changes could ensue. With independence for Kosovo, the Albanians in Macedonia could push for the secession of western Macedonia. Sandžak and Vojvodina could also take up the banner of secession from Serbia. And, the already shaky federal Bosnian state could shatter, not only along the fault line between its two constituent entities, the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation, but the latter could also split into Bosnian Muslim and Croat statelets.

Some, however, believe this is necessary and of the utmost importance. One of the major points made by dissidents from the entire former Yugoslav region who participated in a conference entitled "The Future of the Ex-Yugoslavia Area," held on 19 February at Columbia University in New York, was that the break-up of the former Yugoslavia is not yet finished, nor should it be.

Ivan Zvonimir Čičak, a columnist for Nacional in Zagreb, conservatively said that in order for the region as a whole to move forward, Kosovo and Montenegro must leave the FRJ, and Vojvodina must be given the highest levels of autonomy within Serbia.

No one, including the leader of the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, Nedad Čanek, believed that an independent Vojvodina was necessary, and no one called for the disintegration of Macedonia and Bosnia. However, should the FRJ cease to exist, it is hard to imagine that other groups would not begin, or increase, agitation for further border changes.

Conference participants held the pessimistic view that only when disintegration is complete can regional stability be achieved and reintegration (economic, cultural) begin, based on a new set of principles. The republics of the former Yugoslavia must interact on the level of independent, sovereign states in order for there to be any foundation for communication.

Next steps

For now, the political situation in Montenegro is teetering. The pro-Yugoslav parties, joined by the Liberal Alliance, are refusing to accept the election results, believing that irregularities worked against them. The OSCE (Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe), however, has certified that the election was largely free of irregularities and can be considered legitimate.

Ignoring the fact that Montenegro could lose Western aid and that the results of the elections show that he in no way has a popular mandate to push through plans for independence, President Đukanovic is vowing to press ahead with plans to call a referendum on independence.

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Supporters of independence would like the referendum to be held on 13 July, the date when the independence of the Kingdom of Montenegro from the Ottoman Empire was recognised in 1878.

Đukanović was quoted in the Italian daily La Stampa on 25 April saying that, while there is no set date for the referendum, he is not giving up the idea of independence. In the article, he admitted that the election results were not what he had expected, but that was of little concern.

Đukanović told La Stampa that he is unwilling to hold talks with Koštunica, who he called "a man of the past," but said that talks might be possible with Serbian President Zoran Đinđić, whom he called "the man who really represents the future of Serbia."

The international community is not likely to be impressed by this stance. Should supporters of independence manage to win a referendum this summer, the clear polarisation of the population could lead to civil war. Even if it does not, Montenegro clearly faces a rocky road with potentially high costs for itself, as well as most of its neighbours.

Brian J Požun, 30 April 2001

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