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Montenegro: Settling for Independence?

 PDF version of Montenegro: Settling for Independence? Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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International relief at the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milo�evi� has been marred by dismay at the prospect of a breakaway from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) by Montenegro. As long as Milo�evi� was in power, the international community supported Montenegro�s moves to distance itself from Belgrade. With Milo�evi� gone, it was widely expected that Belgrade and Podgorica could patched up their relationship, and find a satisfactory accommodation within the framework of the FRY. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovi�s decision to opt instead for independence has caused international consternation.

The FRY has long since ceased to function in any meaningful sense. Over the past three years, Montenegro and Serbia have, for all intents and purposes, come to operate as separate states. This was in large part due to actions by Belgrade that ended meaningful Montenegrin participation in joint, federal institutions. In response, Montenegro took over the functions which notionally belonged in the federal domain. The governing parties in Montenegro have not participated in the federal parliament since 1998, and they boycotted the September 2000 federal elections that brought defeat to Milo�evi�. The principal pro-Yugoslav party, the Socialist People�s Party (SNP), does participate at the federal level, and is a member of the coalition that governs FRY. Montenegro�s governing parties do not recognise the legitimacy of the federal authorities for Montenegro, insisting that they represent only Serbia.

The Montenegrin government and FRY President Vojislav Ko�tunica have presented different proposals to change the relationship between Montenegro and Serbia. In August 1999, the Montenegrin government adopted a �Platform� that envisaged a very loose union, in a single state, with limited joint functions in areas such as monetary policy, defence and foreign policy. In December 2000, a revised platform was presented by Djukanovi�s Democratic Party of Socialists and its coalition partner, the smaller Social Democratic Party (SDP). This differed from its predecessor in the key respect that it envisaged a union of two independent states, with separate international subjectivity and two UN seats. In response, in January 2001 Ko�tunica issued a counter-proposal for a functioning federation, with considerable powers devolved to the two republics. Ko�tunica�s proposal was endorsed by Serbia�s ruling Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS).

Initial attempts at negotiation between Belgrade and Podgorica proved fruitless, sticking on the question of a single-state or a two-state solution. However, many of the issues to be addressed in defining a future relationship remain the same, whatever shape that relationship will take. These include the practicalities of putting in place a single market and a currency union, co-ordination over taxation and competition policy, and education and healthcare provision. A more constructive approach would be to discuss how such matters would be dealt with in future. Belgrade and Podgorica should be encouraged to begin negotiations on such areas of common interest as soon as possible, and before any referendum on independence for Montenegro. They should start by defining points of crucial concern to each side. For example, it is important for Montenegro to ensure that all security forces in the republic should be under its control, so it will never again be subject to threats from Belgrade.

The international community has made clear its opposition to Montenegrin independence moves. This opposition has largely been ineffectual, and has not deflected the Montenegrin government. Whether or not Montenegro will become independent will depend on domestic factors, in particular the performance of the pro-independence parties in parliamentary elections scheduled for 22 April 2001.

International opposition has been based on fears that independence would destabilise both Montenegro and the region. Such fears are probably exaggerated. With Milo�evi� removed, the threat that Belgrade might use force to prevent Montenegro�s departure has all but disappeared. Without support from Belgrade, any in Montenegro who might wish to resist Montenegrin independence other than through political means would have little prospect of success. SNP leaders have in general participated constructively on the Montenegrin scene, and deny any intention of opposing independence other than politically.

Fears of wider regional destabilisation also seem exaggerated. While Kosovo Albanian leaders would welcome Montenegrin independence and the ending of the FRY that that would imply, they say there would be no immediate consequences for Kosovo. Kosovo has to establish functioning institutions and prepare for self-government before its final status can be resolved. The question of that status needs to be resolved by the international community irrespective of what Montenegro does. Fears of a possible domino effect, with Montenegrin independence encouraging separatism among the ethnic-Albanian community in Macedonia and among Serbs and Croats in Bosnia are similarly misplaced. As a full republic of former Yugoslavia, Montenegro�s position is rather analogous to that of Slovenia and Croatia, with the exception that Montenegro�s departure should not be expected to bring serious instability, domestically or regionally.

The key international interest is not served by heading off Montenegrin moves towards independence, but rather by achieving a solution, whatever it may be, that does not undermine stability in the region, and may in the longer term be most likely to enhance it. The international community should adopt a neutral stance as to the final outcome. In the mean time, it should be ready to assist Montenegro and Serbia in working out the details of their future relationship. It should also be ready to appoint a high-level mediator or facilitator to help them reach agreement on their final status, perhaps under the auspices of the OSCE.


1. The international community should discontinue its approach of pressurising Montenegro into abandoning the aspiration for independence. On the issue of the status of Montenegro and the future relationship with Serbia, the international community should adopt a neutral stance, and should be prepared to accept whatever arrangement Serbia and Montenegro decide upon.

2. The international community should continue to assist Montenegro with aid and technical support for reforms. Assistance should be conditional on progress in carrying out reforms, and should not be linked to the issue of Montenegro�s status.

3. International organisations, including the international financial institutions, should explore ways of enabling Montenegrin access to them whether Serbia and Montenegro resolve their relationship as two states or as one.

4. The international community should encourage both Belgrade and Podgorica to engage in meaningful negotiations about their future relationship.

5. Belgrade and Podgorica should immediately begin discussions on the detailed, functional issues involved in any future relationship, irrespective of what form that relationship might take. Such issues include areas in which both have stated that they would like to cooperate, including defence, foreign policy and monetary policy.

6. The EU should be ready to assist Serbia and Montenegro in its efforts to devise appropriate arrangements in such areas in which joint approaches are envisaged. These include a single market, a customs union, taxation, competition regulation etc.

7. The international community, perhaps under the auspices of the OSCE, should be ready to appoint an experienced, high profile mediator or facilitator to help Serbia and Montenegro resolve the issue of their final status.

8. The authorities in Belgrade should be prepared to accept the possibility of Montenegrin independence, and should engage constructively with the Montenegrin government to define their future relationship.

9. The Montenegrin government should enter into serious negotiations with Belgrade about the future relationship before holding an independence referendum.

10. The Montenegrin authorities should adhere strictly to the constitutional procedures regarding a change in the republic�s status, including the requirement for a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

11. All parties in Montenegro should work to ensure a calm and constructive environment in which citizens can freely decide on the future of the republic.

12. The Montenegrin authorities should ensure that the election campaign and any subsequent referendum campaign is conducted in a free and fair manner, with particular attention to the campaign coverage in state media. Any tendency for the incumbent to have an advantaged position in the news reporting in state media should be eschewed.

13. The anti-independence political parties in Montenegro should continue to participate constructively in political life, and should reject the idea of a boycott of a referendum over their dissatisfaction with the referendum law.

Podgorica/Brussels, 28 March 2001

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