Memorandum submitted by Elizabeth Roberts
1. Montenegro faces a challenging period.
What emerges will be critical in determining not only Montenegro's
future course, but that of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
(FRY), and will have important implications for the Balkan region
2. The general assessment is that President
Djukanovic was caught on the back foot by the outcome of the Federal
elections of 24 September, which his government boycotted. The
Djukanovic Government did not expect Kostunica to win: they had
had a generally low opinion of the Serbian opposition, which they
saw as divided and lacking in political will. Moreover, they argued
that they had no choice over boycotting the elections to a federal
Parliament which they had not recognised as legitimate since the
Montenegrin Parliamentary elections of 1998 (when they were prevented
by Belgrade from appointing their chosen representatives to the
Federal Chamber of Republics). Their determination not to participate
in any federal institutions hardened again in July 2000 when Milosevic
pushed through new amendments to the Federal Constitution which
further downgraded Montenegro's position within the federation.
3. Having taken the decision to boycott
the federal elections, the Montenegrin Government found itself
on the sidelines while their political opponents, the Socialist
Peoples Party (SNP), formerly Milosevic's supporters, were rewarded
with the position of Prime Minister in the newly formed Federal
Government, together with some 40 per cent of Ministerial seats.
(Although only the pro-Belgrade partiesabout 20 per cent
of the Montenegrin electoratevoted in the September 24
elections, the positive weighting given to Montenegro under the
Federal constitution meant that the largest of them, the SNP,
held the balance of power in the newly elected Federal Parliament).
4. The Djukanovic Government was in an uncomfortable
position. While the security threat from Belgrade had been removed,
the rapidly evolving political scene obliged them to address constitutional
and political issues before their freedom to manoeuvre was futher
restricted by a combination of both internal and external factors.
From being something of a hero of the West, feted for standing
up to Milosevic over Kosovo, as well for taking in a large number
of refugees from the Kosovo conflict, for sheltering Serbian opposition
politicians and assisting free media in Serbia, Djukanovic found
himself no longer assured of the automatic support of the international
community and indeed facing criticism for his failure to implement
economic reform and tackle problems of corruption and cronyism.
5. During the Milosevic era, Montenegro
had moving cautiously towards a state of de facto independence.
It is true that they had to tolerate the Yugloslav army (VJ) presence
in Montenegro, but the VJ forces were balanced by that of the
pro-Djukanovic 20,000 stong Montenegrin police force. Montenegro
had been able to introduce its own currency and banking system.
It controlled customs and duties, and was training new recruits
for an independent Montenegrin Foreign Service. Viewed as the
only credible opposition to Milosevic, Djukanovic himself had
become a high profile figure, holding regular meetings with EU
and US leaders. Meanwhile the international presence in Podgorica
had been beefed up to deal with a steadily increasing number of
foreign dignitaries visiting the capital.
6. Not surprisingly, those close to the
centre of power in Montenegro are unwilling to see the country
return to being the small sister in the federation. They argue
that even in a weighted system Montenegro, with a population of
around 650,000 will never have due account taken of its interests
in a federation with Serbia's eight million inhabitants.
7. Externally, the international community
is pushing them to remain within some kind of Yugoslav federation
since they fear that independence could prove destablishing to
Serbia at a time when the country and President Kostunica are
still consolidating the transition to democracy. Even now that
the Serbian Republican elections have been convincingly won by
the DOS, the international community is concerned that a change
in Montenegro's status could provide ammunition to Kosovar Albanians
seeking independence for Kosovo and to Serb nationalists wishing
to reunite the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, with Serbia.
A number of countries are adamantly opposed to any revision of
international borders for fear of encouraging separatists at home.
8. Internally, the Djukanovic Government
has faced pressure from within its own coalition (the DZB) whose
raison d'être stemmed from its opposition to Milosevic
rather than genuine ideological affinity. On the major constitutional
issue, one partner, the People's Party (NS), supported retaining
close links with Serbia, while the other, the Social Democratic
Party (SDP), was committed to total independence. Even within
Djukanovic's own party, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DSP),
there are different shades of opinion. Both Svetozar Marovic,
the speaker of the Montenegrin Assembly and Vice President of
the DPS and the Prime Minister, Filip Vujanovic, are thought to
favour taking a more conciliatory line with Serbia than Djukanovic,
who has now come down firmly in favour of some form of Montenegrin
9. On 28 December the Montenegrin Government
adopted a revised "Platform" for negotiations on relations
with Serbia, which envisages an alliance of two independent and
internationally recognised states with some joint functions and
institutions. The NS attempted to insist that it should be able
to present its own stand in favour of a single state in the new
"Platform". This would effectively have entailed there
being two "Platforms" representing the Montenegrin Government's
position. When this was rejected, the NS announced it was leaving
the ruling coalition. The Government must now either try to replace
the NS with the pro- Independence Liberal Party of Montenegro
(LSCG) or call Republican elections. The Liberals' agreement to
support the Government will depend on the new Platform being approved
by the Montenegrin Parliament when it sits again in early January.
They may further demand a hardening of the Government's negotiating
stance in favour of independence. In the past, however, the Liberals
have frequently attacked the DZB and have proved an unreliable
partner for them at the local level.
10. Djukanovic's supporters maintain that
they would easily win Republican elections, that Djukanovic's
personal standing is very high and the electorate angry at the
way in which the SNP, which attracted only about 20 per cent of
voters in September's elections, has been able to secure its candidate
as Federal Prime Minister. (Recent opinion polls have shown some
37 per cent would vote for the DPS as against 22 per cent for
the opposition SNP and 3.4 per cent for the NS). Despite this
the Montenegrin Government would prefer to avoid elections which
would entail extra costs of between one and two million DMs at
a time when they are hard pressed to live up to their image as
the political option who promised voters a "Better Life".
They are also concerned that an election at this stage could contribute
to future voter resistance since the Government is anxious to
hold its proposed referendum on Montenegro's future status within
the shortest possible time. Elections would inevitably delay the
referendum, which would then probably take place in June/July,
rather than as previously intended in April or early May.
11. Republican elections in Montenegro would
offer a reliable indication of the degree of support for independence
within Montenegro and may well influence those Serbian politicians
who would prefer to see which way the wind is blowing before taking
a definite position on Montenegro's platform. Recently, President
Kostunica has referred to the possibility of federal level participation
in the negotiations. The Montenegrin Government could be expected
to oppose this since they claim that the negotiations should be
conducted at the level of the two Republican Governments. The
fact that Djukanovic and the Serbian Prime Minister designate,
Zoran Djindjic, have more understanding for one another than Djukanovic
and President Kostunica only reinforces this view. Nevertheless,
in December, after two years of non-attendance, Djukanovic joined
Kostunica at a session of the Federal Defence Council which agreed
the dismissal of a number of senior figures in the armed forces
in line with earlier demands by Djukanovic.
12. The division on the Montenegrin political
scene is further complicated by divisions within the country.
Traditionally Montenegrins have been divided between those who
are in favour of Montenegro's close links with Serbia and those
who wish to emphasise a separagraphgraphte Montenegrin identity.
The bulk of the pro-Serbia sentiment is concentrated in the poorer
northern part of the country adjoining Serbia, while the minorities,
both Slav Muslim and Albanian, are generally in favour of Montenegrin
independence. This distribution of opinion over the constitutional
question could lead to a highly charged atmosphere in the build-up
to the referendum, resulting in a still more polarised society.
13. Nevertheless, the developments of the
past three years and the changes in Belgrade mean that the constitutional
issue can no longer be ducked. The present situation whereby Montenegro
is a member of a non-functioning federation is wholly anomalous.
What then are the options?
14. Complete separagraphgraphtion. This
outcome would see Montenegro having no relationship with Serbia
beyond the normal diplomatic and trading ties with another neighbouring
sovereign territory. Montenegro would have to foot the bill for
all its own institutions. Serbia too would lose out, in particular
by not having access to the sea. As mentioned earlier, the international
community is opposed to any change in international borders not
least because of its effect on Kosovo. UNSCR 1244 governing the
IC's current regime in Kosovo, which is predicated on the continuing
existence of the FRY, would fall away. Albanian separagraphgraphtist
opinion would be quick to exploit this opportunity in a way that
might put further pressure on the new regime in Serbia and create
difficulties for the international community. Serb nationalists
could also exploit the changed status of Montenegro to argue in
favour of a change in the Dayton borders of Bosnia. Kostunica's
own position as President of the FRY would also be called into
15. Federation with some modifications.
This would envisage continuing the close ties between the two
Republics, in particular in the area of national defence. Modifications
might include renaming the federation. Some notably, at one stage,
Kostunica have suggested replacing Yugoslavia with Union of Serbia
and Montenegro. But this too would be unpopular with the International
Community because it raises obvious problems for Kosovo. This
option, although it might be favoured by Serbs, by Montenegrins
living in Serbia (about 150,000), by the majority of SNP voters
and some NS supporters would seem to have been rejected by Djukanovic
and the SDP in the revised "Platform".
16. A loose association (Commonwealth).
This option, modelled perhaps on the CIS, is central to the revised
"Platform" announced in December by the Montenegrin
Government. This "Platform" differs radically from their
earlier proposal in insisting upon the creation of two internationally
recognised sovereign statesSerbia and Montenegrobefore
proceeding to negotiate some joint functions. Although the precise
details of these joint functions have not been spelt out they
include co-operation on defencebut with a separagraphgraphte
command in each statea common currency and a single market
and customs union. Serbia would have access to the port at Bar,
(although this might be simply on the same basis as other foreign
ships and could therefore prove a difficulty in future negotiations).
The present two chamber federal parliament would be replaced by
a single chamber in which each state would have equal representation.
There would be a President and a Council of Ministers, whose areas
of competence remain unspecified.
17. The failure to fill in all the details
may indicate that the Montenegrin Government is prepared to leave
room for negotiation not only to make the Platform more acceptable
to the Serb side, but also to maximise support in Montenegro in
advance of possible elections and a subsequent referendum. There
seems little doubt that reaching agreement with Serbia over the
details of any such loose association will be challenging, especially
on defence issues where Montenegro lacks the means and manpower
to maintain an independent army. A further difficulty (for the
IC in particular) posed by this scenario is that the Montenegrin
Government is seeking separagraphgraphte representation in international
institutions, including its own seat at the UN and membership
of international institutions.
18. The Montenegrin Government is well aware
of the international opposition to their position. Nevertheless
they appear to believe that the international community would
not block any decision reached by Montenegro if it was agreed
with Serbia and supported in a referendum by a clear majority
of the population (say over 60 per cent of the country). They
claim that Montenegro as a former full republic of the Socialist
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) is entitled to the same
treatment as Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Macedonia. Their view
is that Kosovo is a specifically Serbian problem and that it is
simply unjust for Montenegro's future to be held hostage to it.
Although the Montenegrin Government initially rejected the idea
of a three way asymmetric confederation with Kosovo and Serbia
along the lines recently proposed by Kofi Annan, Djukanovic has
recently suggested that Kosovo might form part of a future commonwealth,
together with the independent states of Serbia and Montenegro.
In reality the Montenegrin Government is not particulary concerned
by questions over Kosovo's eventual status, and would prefer to
delay its resolution for some time since it considers the continuing
presence of the international community in the province offers
certain guarantees in terms of future security.
19. Predictions in this part of the world
are notoriously risky. However, the Montenegrin Government is
now clearly set on a course of support for a loose association
of two internationally recognised independent states. If they
fail in this we cannot exclude their going for a complete break
with Serbia, even in the teeth of IC opposition. It is possible
Kostunica might agree to this, although he has recently been taking
a less conciliatory line, possibly drawing encouragement from
the international community's position and from the endorsement
given to the democratic opposition (now Government) by the Serbian
Republican elections. There are signs that Serbs are growing impatient
with the Montenegrin position which they see as unwise and wholly
self-interested. At the same time, the state-controlled media
in Montenegro have been taking a pro-independence line with anti-Kostunica
sub-text. His poor relationship with Djukanovic is not improved
by Kostunica's family connection with the fiercely pro-Serbia
head of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro, Metropolitan
Amfilohije, nor by his close relationship with the NS. By contrast,
Djukanovic's relationship with the Serbian Prime Minister designate
Zoran Djindjic, who sought shelter in Montenegro during the Kosovo
conflict, is far better.
20. Conclusions. The loose association envisaged
by the Montenegrin Government's "Platform" is admittedly
not the outcome sought by the international community. However,
some form of loose association or commonwealth may be the scenario
best able to satisfy the majority of parties in Montenegro by
allowing the maximum level of independenceeffectively some
form of Montenegrin "sovereignty"while preserving
connections in the most fundamental areas. Serbia too may be able
to live with this outcome, particularly if the Montenegrin side
is prepared to show flexibility when it comes to the details.
Western Governments retain some influence with Djukanovic and
his colleagues and should do their best to persuade his Government
not to embark on precipitate unilateral action and to conduct
all proceedings relating to any future elections and to the referendum
in a democratic and fully transparent way. Now that the threat
posed to Montenegro by the Milosevic regime has disappeared, there
is no reason of course to expect automatic IC support for Djukanovic's
regime. Western countries can be expected to be critical if the
Djukanovic Government fails to live up to expected democratic
norms, which also include tackling problems of corruption and
21. It is in everybody's interests that
the negotiations between Serbia and Montenegro proceed in a way
which avoids deepening the existing divisions and increasing instability
in the region. It is worth pointing out the possible negative
consequences to both sides if the negotiations were to prove so
acrimonious as to leave them on lasting bad terms. There is already
some evidence of rising anti-Montenegrin feeling in Serbia and
it would be unfortunate if this were to translate into a future
Serbian boycott of Montenegrin tourist facilities in favour of
Greece or even, as relations improve, Croatia. In the area of
foreign policy it might complicate the ongoing negotiations with
Croatia over the disputed Prevlaka peninisula. Finally, the large
Montenegrin community within Serbia might suffer from any hardening
of an anti-Montenegrin attitude.
22. For Serbia, failure to achieve a negotiated
solution could result in a loss of access to the sea with obvious
consequences for the Yugoslav navy. Both sides would be less likely
to attact the foreign investment necessary to rebuild their economies
if the outcome of the negotiations led to a perception of increased
instability in the region. Finally, both Serbia and Montenegro
see their future path as leading to closer links with the European
Union and eventually to a membership in years to come. Yet, as
the Zagreb summit made clear, this is dependent upon their settling
existing differences between them, a process which will not be
made any easier by introducing a new element of rancour into their
23. It is important the international community
avoids an attempt simply to impose a solution. In the past imposed
settlements have not led to self-sustaining solutions but have
resulted in the IC having to commit itself to an open-ended policing
role. In the case of Montenegro, a heavy-handed approach, whether
by the IC or by Serbia, risks provoking a less desirable outcometotal
separagraphgraphtion. (It is worth recalling that on two previous
occasions, first over the dual currency and then over the election
boycott, the Montenegrin regime ignored the IC's objections and
went their own way). A solution negotiated between Serbia and
Montenegro need not prejudice the possibility of achieving a separagraphgraphte
and different solution for Kosovo where in any case an international
presence is likely to be needed for some time to come.
24. However reluctant we may be to accept
it, we may need to recognise that in a region that has been deeply
scarred by nationalism, the smaller nations need reassurance that
their needs will no longer be subject to abuse by larger and more
powerful ones. In Montenegro's case, the legacy of the Milosevic
years has reawakened grievances dating back until at least to
the beginning of the last century when many Montenegrins saw Serbia
as usurping Montenegro's sovereign rights. This has fostered a
growing though not necessarily majority desire for independence
strongest among the younger sections of the population. But while
there is much talk about reaffirming Montenegro's "sovereignty"
this does not have to be synonymous with closed borders and high
barriers. Sovereignty, as we have seen in other contexts, is in
today's world a very indefinite concept.
25. It should be possible for Serbia and
Montenegro to reach a settlement themselves through negotiations.
This need not hurt the interests of the international community.
But there will be negative consequences if the process is not
judged to be fair by some sections of the community in Montenegro
(eg pro-Serb elements in northern Montenegro). It would also be
damaging if independence were to be pushed through with a bare
majority or with the suspicion that it had been achieved by unfair
meansthrough manipulation of the media, in the wording
of the referendum, or in the voting process. This point needs
to be brought home to the Montenegrin regime. I believe there
is a better chance of achieving this by maintaining a dialogue
with the Djukanovic Government. The "simply say no"
policy is unlikely to work.
26. Ultimately both Serbia and the Montenegro
see their future within an expanded Europe. Although this is still
obviously some way down the track, it does suggest a way forward
for the longer term. The challenge for both the countries involved
and the international community is to ensure that borders, even
if they still exist as lines on a map, are experienced as facilitating
contact and exchange. Put another way, they should be lines which,
to quote Hubert Butler, distinguish, but no longer divide.