Montenegro Briefing: Calm Before the Storm
Just under a year ago a nervous Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic warned the world that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was preparing to trigger a new Balkan war by launching a campaign of violence against the tiny republic of Montenegro. Djukanovic was right about Milosevic’s intent, but wrong about the target. In March of this year, the dictator struck against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and unleashed the barbarous Operation Horseshoe.
Now, in the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict, Milosevic seems to be concentrating his fire on the opposition within Serbia, which is struggling to build sufficient momentum to mount a major challenge to the dictator’s rule. At the same time Djukanovic and officials supporting them, including head of the Montenegrin police force Vukasin Maras, are warning that while violence may yet come to Montenegro, any clashes are weeks if not months away. If they are correct, this may mark an important opportunity for the international community to pre-empt another bloodletting in the Balkans.
In the first place, Western governments must be absolutely clear about the kind of support that they are prepared to offer Djukanovic in time of conflict. The reluctance of the international community to challenge the territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY or Yugoslavia) may have to give way to support for an independent Montenegro if the Yugoslav dictator intervenes violently to disrupt the Montenegrin government’s democratic reforms.
Secondly, the international community must take seriously Djukanovic’s recent warning that Milosevic’s successors may be as bad, if not worse, than the sitting dictator. Milosevic’s departure from the formal trappings of political office and power does not necessarily mean that Montenegro is free from the threat of conflict. While the Yugoslav dictator’s removal is a precondition for reform in Serbia and Yugoslavia, it does not guarantee that reform will even begin to take place.