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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 01:55 GMT 02:55 UK
Uphill struggle to secede
Pro-independence supporters at a campaign rally
The drive and enthusiasm for independence is great
By Paul Anderson in Podgorica

Montenegro emerged from Sunday's parliamentary election bruised, battered and divided, but little more sure of its future as an independent nation in waiting.

The election was always going to engender deep divisions in society because right from the start it was all about the big question of life - destiny.


They want the process of integration with the European Union to begin. And they want access to international finance

So great is the drive and enthusiasm for independence among supporters of Montenegro's dapper and youthful President Milo Djukanovic that many people believe it is already a done deal.

That is what a presidential adviser said on the eve of the election, knowing fully well that a referendum must first be held before independence is declared.

For that, Montenegrins are looking at the summer at the earliest - three months away. And as everyone knows three months is a very long time in the Balkans.

Economic difficulties

The new government will have its work cut out during those months.

It will need not just to keep its supporters loyal in the face of mounting economic difficulties, but to persuade the United States, Russia and the European Union that Montenegrin independence will be a force for the good in the Balkans.

Politicians in Washington, Moscow and Brussels believe it is not.

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic addresses a campaign rally
Djukanovic has already distanced Montenegro from Serbia
They believe it could unleash a new crisis which could in turn lead to violence and a deeper obligation on the part of the international community to keep it under control. On this they speak with one voice.

Their logic runs as follows: Montenegrin independence is not so much about the right to self determination, carried out by democratic means, as it is about sending the wrong message to the wrong people beyond its borders at the wrong time - like the extremists in Kosovo or Bosnia.

However, many observers like the head of the International Crisis Group in Montenegro, Peter Palmer, say the fears are exaggerated.

He says the Albanians of Kosovo are bent on seeking independence, whatever happens in Montenegro.

Nervousness

The West's preoccupations have left people here somewhat bemused and nervous.


Montenegro will be as dependent on western aid in the coming months as it is now

They want to see the Montenegrin flag - a gold cross on a mauve background - flying at the United Nations.

They want the process of integration with the European Union to begin. And they want access to international finance.

They will be closely watching the reaction of Western leaders to their decision to gauge how forthcoming they are likely to be in the future.

Montenegro will be as dependent on Western aid in the coming months as it is now, and the success of the independence project depends on the new government's resolve to tackle urgent economic problems, like raging unemployment and gaping holes in the budget.

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20 Apr 01 | Europe
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