[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Separation focuses Serbian minds
By Nick Hawton
BBC correspondent in Belgrade

Ordinary Serbs are less troubled by the result than the politicians
The heat arrived in Belgrade yesterday with soaring temperatures and beating sun.

People were enjoying the weather, sitting in roadside coffee bars until late in the evening.

If the words "Montenegro's independence" were on anybody's lips they were in a minority. Iced teas and cold beers were the priority.

Most people in Belgrade exude an air of laissez-faire about the independence vote in Montenegro.

"Let them go, if they want to" is the most common attitude. There is an underlying sense of inevitability.

Democratic principles

But the press was filling column after column. So many questions, so many issues, so many "scandals".

The popular Blic newspaper said Serbia was not ready for its own independence because it had several unresolved issues: Who will be commander in chief of its armed forces? What about car registrations? And will work permits now be needed?

One tabloid newspaper suggested the pro-independence lobby in Montenegro may have won because Albanians had been brought from across the border in order to vote for the break with Serbia.

After an initial silence, the politicians edged towards accepting the result of the Montenegro vote.

Parliament of Serbia and Montenegro
The dissolution of joint institutions is expected to be smooth
"I supported the preservation of the joint state but as a democratic president of a democratic republic, I recognise the free will of Montenegro's citizens," said Serbian President Boris Tadic.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, a little more reticent, said he would be "ready to acknowledge the results once they become final".

The Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Vuk Draskovic - who will shortly be out a job - took the opportunity to renew his call for the restoration of the Serbian monarchy.

"This is an historic moment for Serbia itself, a beginning which would be based on the historically-proven and victorious pillars of the Serbian state and I am talking about the pillars of a kingdom."


Of course, the independence of Montenegro also means the independence of Serbia. After more than a decade of Serb nationalism playing such a crucial role in the break-up and wars of Yugoslavia, Serbia is finally left as a single state.

As President Tadic put it: "This day marks the beginning of the restoration of Serbian statehood... all of us, Serbian citizens, regardless of our nation or religion, will build a better future for Serbia, our joint house."

Perhaps the one positive aspect for Belgrade over the referendum vote is that at least it simplifies matters. The Serbian government has its hands full.

There is the continuing pressure over its co-operation - or non cooperation - with the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Talks on closer ties with the EU are on hold until the government hands over the war crimes suspect, General Ratko Mladic.

Then there is the crucially important issue of the status of Kosovo.

Mr Draskovic has already warned that no comparison should be made between Montenegro and Kosovo.

Whereas Belgrade's leaders are willing to accept Montenegro's independence, it is extremely questionable whether any of them could be seen to accept Kosovo's independence or sign any agreement permitting it. The political cost would be just too great.

Serbia is more streamlined. Perhaps its focus on those other issues will now be sharper.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific