Montenegro's Socialist People's Party: A Loyal Opposition?
The assertion of the primacy of Serbian rights over all other peoples by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has driven nearly every nationality of the former Yugoslavia toward the Republic’s exits. Even Montenegro, once Serbia’s closest political and military ally, has not been immune from the turmoil that Slobodan Milosevic has created and has opted to distance itself from Belgrade’s controlling influence.
The resulting political tensions have reshaped Montenegro’s political landscape. The Socialist People’s Party (SNP), which enjoys the support of about one-third of the Montenegrin public, was formed as the result of a split within Montenegro’s ruling party, the Party of Democratic Socialists (DPS). The SNP is a party increasingly on the defensive, caught between the initiatives of Montenegrin President Djukanovic to define pro-Western, democratising and reformist policies; and the intimidation tactics of federal President Milosevic who seeks to bring Montenegro to heel and thus salvage the Federation.
Cracks have begun to appear in the SNP’s once-united front. Tensions have reportedly increased between party leader Momir Bulatovic, the federal prime minister portrayed by Djukanovic as a Belgrade-centric gauleiter of Milosevic, and Predrag Bulatovic, the deputy party chief (and no relation of Momir), who appears to speak for Montenegrins concerned about Momir’s incompetent leadership and supportive of the Federation but who are increasingly sceptical of Milosevic’s assumption that SNP policies must be tailored to the Serbian leader’s wishes.
The SNP seems to be struggling whether to continue as an opposition party owing primary loyalty to Belgrade, or a loyal opposition to Djukanovic whose critique of government actions is based on the needs of the Montenegrin people. The policy issue for the Western democracies is to determine how serious these differences are and whether to engage the putative loyal opposition in serious dialogue that would advance the prospects for Montenegrin reform and stability without undermining the efforts of President Djukanovic to resist Belgrade’s pressures.
The SNP has yet to earn a status as the loyal opposition, but the possibility that significant elements of the party wish to do so should not be foreclosed. It is worth exploring – in a cautious but deliberate manner – whether a Western relationship with the SNP that is based on a reciprocal willingness to identify what is best for the Montenegrins will help Montenegro survive in its end game with Milosevic.
1. Western governments should undertake an exploratory dialogue with Socialist People’s Party (SNP) leaders in Podgorica that is based on the assumption that there is a legitimate role for a loyal opposition in Montenegrin President Djukanovic’s democratising strategy;
2. European and American non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should establish relationships with members of the SNP, including inviting them to international NGO-sponsored conferences, so long as the SNP does not exploit these overtures to undermine support for the Djukanovic government in resisting Belgrade intimidation;
3. Some Western assistance – including micro-lending programs that require small resources but promise high local visibility – should be extended to SNP-controlled towns on an exploratory basis to encourage SNP party loyalists to revise their perceptions of alleged Western hostility to the party.
4. The US and EU should send small observer missions to the 11 June municipal elections in Podgorica and Herceg-Novi to reassure the SNP that the West supports democracy for all Montenegrins prepared to participate in the electoral process.
Podgorica/Washington/Brussels, 28 March 2000