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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 09:25 GMT
Yugoslavia's death sinks in slowly
Pro-independence camp won last April's elections by a slimmest majority - ending up fewer than 5,000 votes ahead of the pro-Belgrade camp.
Some Montenegrins want an independence vote now
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By Paul Anderson
BBC Belgrade correspondent

For all the talk of history in the making, Thursday's agreement with Montenegro to restructure Yugoslavia has aroused little sense in Serbia that people are standing on the brink of a brave new era.

Now we can tackle economic problems and not just worry about whether we will stay together or not

Belgrade resident
But there is plenty of relief that finally, after months of wrangling and deadlock, Yugoslavia's politicians have been able to strike a deal.

"I am glad this is finally over" said one man. "That we know where we are and who we are."

Another said: "Great! Thank God! For once they have agreed on something. I am very happy and touched. Now we can tackle economic problems and not just worry about whether we will stay together or not."

EU 'cynicism'

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
Solana: First Kosovo, now Montenegro
There is also incomprehension among some people at what they see as the gall of the European Union's high representative to engineer the agreement.

One man, who didn't want to identify himself, said: "Three years ago, when Javier Solana was Secretary General of Nato, he signed the papers authorising the air strikes which tore one part of Yugoslava, Kosovo, from the rest of it.

"Yet here he comes now trying to stick what's left back together. The cynicism is just breathtaking."

"If this is the European Union we're all supposed to be dying to join, they can keep it."

Map of the Yugoslav Federation
Some people in Serbia are concerned that the agreement offers no foundation for the future because it looks no further than three years ahead - and that it was forced through to satisfy just one strategic objective, not to rock the Balkans boat with another declaration of independence.

Observers of the political elite in Belgrade have also been moved by the effect of the agreement on the people.

Aleksander Timofejev, editor of B92 news, said the loss of the name of "Yugoslavia" for "Serbia and Montenegro", when the new constitution is promulgated later this year, will hurt many people nostalgic for the pre-Milosevic years.

It may also hurt fans of the national football and basketball squads.

"Serbia and Montenegro!" belted out from the terraces doesn't have quite the same ring as "Yugo-Slavia!".

Montenegrin crisis

But greater sympathy is reserved for Milo Djukanovic, the Montenegrin president. "He's going to find it difficult", said Milos Vasic, a veteran commentator.

That is an underestimate. Already the sands are closing in on the man who promised a referendum on independence in the spring of 2001, but who has failed to deliver.

Plenty of people consider this agreement a defeat

Srdjan Darmanovic, Montenegro Centre for Democracy and Human Rights
Mr Djukanovic did point out before he left for his capital, Podgorica, that Montenegro still reserves the right to self-determination after three years, if the deal fails the test of popular approval.

But three years may be too long for some to wait.

One passionately pro-independence party, the SDP, on whose support Mr Djukanovic's government depends, has threatened to pull out unless the agreement is annulled and a referendum held.

Another party driven by the same goal and also in the government, the Liberal Alliance, is apparently too shocked to speak.

"Plenty of people consider this agreement a defeat," said Srdjan Darmanovic, from the Montenegrin think tank, the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights.

"The guarantees for independence are reduced now. That was the foundation of what Djukanovic promised. That was why he was elected. If he loses his partners he will be forced to form a coalition with his opponents to survive," he said.

Although he's barely turned 40, Mr Djukanovic is a veteran of the Montenegrin political scene and a survivor.

This crisis is going to test his skills to the full.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
"There is still a get out clause"

Yugoslavia RIP
Was the country doomed from the start?
See also:

15 Mar 02 | Media reports
Balkan media divided on historic deal
14 Mar 02 | Europe
Yugoslavia consigned to history
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