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Thursday, 28 December, 2000, 17:27 GMT
Analysis: Montenegro's quest for independence
President Milo Djukanovic
Djukanovic: Common market, not federation
By Tim Judah

In the room where he receives visitors President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro has a portrait of King Nikola, the last monarch of the last independent Montenegro, which was submerged into Yugoslavia in 1918.

If Mr Djukanovic has his way he will soon be president of the first independent Montenegro since King Nikola's day.

Independence is only a recognition of the existing reality

President Djukanovic
Serbia's 'October Revolution' and its general elections on the 23 December buried the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, the former Yugoslav leader. But the destructive processes that he set in train have not yet run their course.

Today, on paper, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia consists of Serbia, including Kosovo which is in fact now an international protectorate, and Montenegro.

Ever since Mr Djukanovic began opposing the policies of Slobodan Milosevic, in 1997, his tiny republic has loosened its ties with Belgrade to such an extent that, apart from the Yugoslav army and air traffic control, it is in fact independent in all but name.

Recognition of reality

For a long period Mr Djukanovic was ambiguous about whether he supported full independence.

Now he says that, in the near future, he wants a "Montenegro with renewed statehood and internationally recognised".

October revolution in Belgrade
'October Revolution': Put an end to the Milosevic regime
In the current circumstances he says and "taking account of the actual situation", independence is only a recognition of the existing reality.

Besides he adds, three former Yugoslav states have collapsed, the Kingdom, which died in 1941, Tito's Yugoslavia which disintegrated in 1991 and now the current state.

Still, Montenegrins unlike other former Yugoslavs are very close to Serbs and many Serbs trace their origins back to Montenegro, so Mr Djukanovic is offering Serbia a deal.

"The first element is independence and international legal personality for both Serbia and Montenegro and the second element is our proposal for a union of two independent internationally recognised states."

Yugoslav union?

Mr Djukanovic says he would like the union to consist of a common market, a common currency and co-operation in the fields of defence and foreign policy.

Unlike Mr Djindjic I don't think a solution within Yugoslavia is possible

President Djukanovic
Until the fall of Mr Milosevic, Mr Djukanovic had to talk in far more ambiguous terms, as he was afraid of either a civil war fuelled by Belgrade or a coup sponsored by Mr Milosevic.

Now that Mr Milosevic has gone those fears have evaporated too.

Zoran Djindjic, the man who is the new Serbian premier, has said that he believes it would be better to negotiate terms for a new federal relationship, which would exclude international recognition for the two republics.

But, Mr Djukanovic says: "Unlike Mr Djindjic I don't think a solution within Yugoslavia is possible."

Zoran Djindjic
Djindjic has spoken of a new federal relationship
Indeed, it is clear that Mr Djukanovic, who gave sanctuary to Mr Djindjic and other Serbian opposition leaders at key stages during the past few years, is irritated by their attitudes to Montenegro now that they are in power in Belgrade.

"I will try very hard to reach a mutually agreeable solution," he says, but he demands to know why Serbia's new leaders "need Montenegro".

'Land of two souls'

He asks: "Why are they against the establishment of Serbia as a state? Does this have to do with Serbian paternalism towards Montenegro, Serbian policy over the centuries... with vestiges of imperialism... and their need to treat Montenegro as younger brother which they have a natural right to own?"

In the old Communist-controlled Yugoslavia, which disintegrated in 1991, there were six republics with populations of varying sizes.

Now, one of the fundamental problems in building a relationship between the two remaining republics is that Serbia (without Kosovo) has a population of some eight million while Montenegro has a population of only 650,000.

Yugoslav army
Apart from the army Montenegro is essentially independent
As Aleksa Djilas, the Serbian historian and commentator notes, this imbalance means that trying to sort out any new relationship is akin to trying to successfully federate Germany and Luxembourg while at the same time, giving both countries an equal political status within the federation.

Montenegro's problem is compounded by the fact, that, as Mr Djilas, whose father was from there says, this mountainous land is one "with two souls" - that is to say one in which many people here see no contradiction between being both Serb and Montenegrin.

Formal talks

For this reason there has never been overwhelming support for independence in Montenegro in the same way as there was in Slovenia and Croatia and amongst Bosnia's Muslim and Croat populations.

Opinion polls show that just over half the population supports independence, a figure which analyst Srdjan Darmanovic expects to rise to some 60% when a referendum is held, probably in spring but most likely no later than June.

But since Mr Djindjic took over there haven't been any substantive talks on restructuring the relationship.

Western leaders who were happy to support Montenegro as a beacon of opposition to Mr Milosevic are now somewhat cooler towards it, and indeed envoys have been streaming down to the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica in recent weeks trying to persuade Mr Djukanovic not to press for eventual international recognition.

Western fears

They fear that Montenegrin independence will make any resolution of the problem of Kosovo even harder to come by.

They also fear that further fragmentation in the area of the former Yugoslavia might encourage the break up of both Bosnia and Macedonia, which has a large ethnic Albanian population.

While the debate between Serbia and Montenegro now picks up steam there are already deep strains inside Montenegro which came out in the open with the collapse of the governing coalition which in turn has led to the early elections.

In Mr Djukanovic's view, independence should usher in a new era of integration in the region of the former Yugoslavia.

Not in terms of recreating the old country but in terms of economics, culture and possibly security with the "ambition" he says "of making this region a meaningful part of Europe". 

Tim Judah is the author of The Serbs: History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia

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