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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Montenegro fights "criminal" reputation
By Tim Judah
Podgorica

Podgorica pavement beggar
One in three Montenegrins are unemployed
There is a pleasant feel to Podgorica, the tiny capital of Montenegro, at this time of year.

Outside tables at cafes are packed, and people wave to their friends taking advantage of the evening cool to stroll the streets.

One might even be forgiven for thinking that all was well with the world and Montenegro.

But it is not. Harsh times lie ahead.

The government is being besieged with accusations of corruption, one third of Montenegrins have no job and those that do only earn a paltry 120 euros a month.

Industrial strife is on the increase.

Sanctions busting

Strains are also showing in Montenegro's relations with Serbia.

In February, both republics finally buried Yugoslavia - both the state and the name.

TIM JUDAH REPORTS
Map

Now both of them are struggling to redefine their relations within a new "state union" called simply Serbia & Montenegro.

The process is proving difficult because both republics have different interests and their failure, thus far, to agree on how to harmonise their economies will delay the beginning of their eventual integration into the EU.

In 1997, when Milo Djukanovic, Montenegro's current premier but then president, came out against Serbia's strongman, Slobodan Milosevic, the West lavished aid on the republic and turned a blind eye to its busting of the then existing UN sanctions.

This was because it was felt that keeping this bastion of resistance to Milosevic afloat was the more important political goal.

Many Montenegrins became very rich during these years, but now the government is under pressure both domestically and from abroad to make sure that everything is above board.

Brothel allegations

Over the last few years, but especially over last few months and weeks, the government has been hit by harmful allegations.

Mr Djukanovic denies involvement in illegal trade
Djukanovic: Attempts are being made to "criminalise" Montenegro
Mr Djukanovic says that he believes that Montenegro will soon be independent, and that these accusations always mysteriously surface at times when the west wants to pressure Montenegro.

The EU in particular is against Montenegro's independence fearing it will spark a new crisis in neighbouring Kosovo, now a UN protectorate.

One scandal, which broke last year, features a Moldovan woman known only as "SC".

She claims she was kept in a brothel where she was abused by, among others, top officials.

There is nothing that threatens my moral credibility
Milo Djukanovic
The republic's deputy state prosecutor was then arrested on charges of involvement in sex trafficking.

Last month however a Podgorica judge said that there was no case to answer.

This has resulted in howls of protest both at home and from abroad.

Smuggling allegations

Mr Djukanovic himself has also been under attack.

Montenegrin fisherman
A narrow strip of sea divides Montenegro from Italy
Last week a former ally alleged that the premier had been salting away money in foreign bank accounts.

Mr Djukanovic has denounced allegations in the Italian press that he has been involved in cigarette smuggling.

But prosecutors in both Naples and Bari - just across the Adriatic from Montenegro - are investigating allegations of smuggling levelled against the prime minister.

Mr Djukanovic has also been named in a suit brought by the EU against the American tobacco giant RJ Reynolds over cigarette smuggling.

Opposition newspapers in Montenegro have also been reporting recently that the republic has come under pressure from various European countries because thousands of cars stolen in other parts of Europe are ending up here.

Mr Djukanovic says that all the cigarette trading his government has been involved in has been legitimate and that the accusations are a "hideous political fraud" and an attempt to "criminalise Montenegro".

He says: "There is nothing that threatens my moral credibility."

Wanted: Karadzic

Mr Djukanovic and his allies may not be entirely wrong when they say that that there are wider political interests at stake, when news about these alleged scandals comes out.

It would be better to have an EU protectorate here rather than our domestic financial oligarchy
Nebojsa Medojevic, Montenegrin commentator
One senior European political source, says that the current allegations from Naples may prove very useful in pressuring Montenegro into doing something, he says its government has been reluctant to do until now.

That is to arrest Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, who has been indicted for genocide by the Hague War crimes Tribunal.

Mr Karadzic hails from Montenegro but the authorities in Podgorica deny that he ever comes here.

Nebojsa Medojevic, a well-known Montenegrin commentator and analyst, says that in his opinion Mr Djukanovic and his government no longer have the capacity to push through the reforms that this republic needs.

He says that the benefits of privatisations only go to friends of the government and concludes, only half jokingly: "It would be better to have an EU protectorate here rather than our domestic financial oligarchy."

Tim Judah is the author of The Serbs: History, Myth & the Destruction of Yugoslavia published by Yale University Press


SEE ALSO:
Yugoslavia consigned to history
14 Mar 02  |  Europe


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