Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 in general.

  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 parties—about 20 per cent of the Montenegrin electorate—voted 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 independence.

  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 question.

  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 states—Serbia and Montenegro—before proceeding to negotiate some joint functions. Although the precise details of these joint functions have not been spelt out they include co-operation on defence—but with a separagraphgraphte command in each state—a 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 independence—effectively 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 criminal activity.

  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 relationship.

  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 outcome—total 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 means—through 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.

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