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Monday, June 1, 1998 Published at 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK

World: Europe

Montenegro made (almost) simple

Montenegro and Serbia, which includes Kosovo, are the last remaining elements in the Yugoslav federation

The crisis in Montenegro is the offspring of Yugoslavia's troubled history and convoluted political system. Gabriel Partos, the BBC World Service's south-east Europe analyst, unravels the strands of a complex situation.

Is there still a Yugoslavia? I thought it all fell to bits years ago.

The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting of Serbia and Montenegro) was formed in 1992.

The previous Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had fallen apart with Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina voting for independence.

Montenegro was the only one of the six republics to vote to stay within the federation; Serbs were never offered a referendum on whether they wanted to leave.

And who are the Montenegrins? A sub-clan of Serbs, or a nation with a separate identity?

The Montenegrins are ethnically very close to the Serbs - so much so that quite a few of them regard themselves as Serbs. They speak Serbian and belong to the Orthodox Church.

But mountainous Montenegro - more difficult to conquer for the Ottoman Turks than Serbia - has had a separate history from Serbia's for very long stretches of time.

A bit like Austrians and Germans, most Montenegrins have a very strong sense of a separate identity.

Indeed, Montenegro was an independent state until the end of World War I when it was brought, through force of arms, within the state that was to become Yugoslavia.

So why are there now tensions? Have developments since 1992 persuaded the Montenegrin Government to reconsider its position?

The new tensions are due to:

1. An increasing realisation that being tied to Milosevic's Serbia is disastrous for Montenegro.

[ image: Momir Bulatovic]
Momir Bulatovic
International sanctions have been imposed on Yugoslavia because of Milosevic's policy over Kosovo, Bosnia, war crimes, and the present Yugoslavia's claims to be the sole successor state of the old Yugoslavia.

Montenegro is also suffering the consequences.

2. The emergence of a more independent-minded, pro-Western leadership under Prime Minister and now President Milo Djukanovic.

3. Yugoslav President Milosevic's determination to do away with any challenge - this time from Montenegrin President Djukanovic - to his grip on power.

Why don't President Djukanovic and the new prime minister of the Yugoslav federation, Momir Bulatovic, get on? Isn't Mr Bulatovic a Montenegrin himself?

Mr Bulatovic is widely regarded as President Milosevic's closest Montenegrin associate.

Following his defeat in Montenegrin presidential elections at the end of last year, a defeat he has refused to recognise, Mr Bulatovic tried to stir up street protests in Montenegro which, Mr Djukanovic feared, were aimed at destabilising the Montenegrin Government's position and at paving the way for the federal government to impose a state of emergency in Montenegro.

Were Serbia and Montenegro ever the equal partners they are supposed to be, or has Serbia always called the shots?

Because of the disparity between the two - Serbia 10 million people, Montenegro 650,000 - it has always been a rather unequal partnership.

Do you anticipate that the present crisis could lead to Montenegro leaving the federation?

[ image: Slobodan Milosevic]
Slobodan Milosevic
Leaving the federation would be a high-risk strategy. Even if there was full support for it within Montenegro, the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army would hardly allow it.

Serbia needs Montenegro as its outlet to the sea and to maintain the fiction that the current Yugoslavia is the sole successor to the previous Yugoslavia, giving it control over the assets of the old Yugoslavia.

But Milosevic is doing his best to alienate the Montenegrins, and if Kosovo gets out of control, tying up a large chunk of the Serbian forces, that could provide a window of opportunity for Montenegro to attempt to leave.

Power struggles in that part of the world have often ended in bloodshed. Is there cause for alarm regarding the rift between Serbia and Montenegro?

Although the scenario of Montenegro ending its association with Serbia is at present unlikely, as I have indicated, it is not impossible. In that case, bloodshed might result and it could even extend to a civil war among Serbs.

Some of Milosevic's Serbian opponents would blame him for the whole conflict and take up arms against him in an alliance that would include the Montenegrins. But for the moment that is a very remote prospect.

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