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Montenegro: Resolving the Independence Deadlock

 PDF version of Montenegro: Resolving the Independence Deadlock Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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Ten months after the fall of Slobodan Milo�evi�, considerable progress has been made in establishing democratic governance in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and reintegrating the country into the international community. Yet the future of the federation itself remains in doubt. The FRY is a hollow edifice whose institutions hardly function except as an address for the international community. Montenegro�s authorities no longer recognise the legitimacy of the federal government. All sides agree that the status quo is unsustainable and that Montenegro and Serbia must find a new basis for their relationship.

Montenegro�s authorities remain committed to independence. However, the hopes of the republic�s ruling parties that the election on 22 April 2001 would bring a comfortable victory, to be followed swiftly by a referendum and independence, were not realised. The narrow victory for the pro-independence parties only confirmed the depth of division over the republic�s status. Plans for an independence referendum were postponed until early 2002. With some difficulty, the pro-independence ruling parties formed a minority government backed by the radically pro-independence Liberal Alliance, which demands rapid progress towards a referendum. However, the lack of a broad consensus on the status issue or on the rules and conditions for a referendum makes it difficult to press ahead with independence plans under current circumstances.

While there is little risk of serious conflict in Montenegro, prolonged political uncertainty could further polarise and radicalise the different sides. There is also a danger that the continued domination of the political agenda by the status issue could result in a loss of momentum in government reform efforts.

These risks can, and should, be avoided. Various initiatives are underway to break the deadlock. Serbian government officials have stated that Montenegrins should decide on their future as soon as possible, so that Serbia�s own development will not be held hostage to the indecision of its federal partner. Belgrade�s impatience has been heightened by difficulties with its Montenegrin coalition partner at the federal level, the pro-Yugoslav Socialist People�s Party (SNP), particularly over cooperation with the international criminal tribunal in The Hague, which the SNP opposes. The view is increasingly gaining ground in Serbia that a federation which is boycotted by the ruling Montenegrin parties and whose survival hinges on an alliance with Milo�evi�s recent allies, the SNP, is not worth preserving.

The new FRY government is drafting a constitution for a revitalised, thinner federation. Because they still do not recognise federal institutions, the Montenegrin authorities reject this initiative. Instead, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovi� hopes that Belgrade�s impatience will accelerate direct negotiations with the Serbian government on a new, loose union of independent states.

In case Djukanovi�s hope for an agreed separation cannot be achieved, other exits from the deadlock need to be explored. The Montenegrin government stresses the need for dialogue within Montenegro and with Belgrade. This should be encouraged. However, the Montenegrin authorities should be discouraged from proceeding with plans for an independence referendum without having first achieved a consensus on its rules and procedures.

Although the Montenegrin authorities currently refuse to postpone independence plans or to participate at the federal level, a compromise should not be ruled out. To succeed, it would have to avoid the appearance of producing winners and losers. For now, the ruling Montenegrin parties should be encouraged to cooperate at the federal level for the mutual benefit of both Serbia and Montenegro. However, the pro-independence parties cannot realistically be expected to abandon their goal, which did win majority support, though narrowly, on 22 April. Both Belgrade and the international community should acknowledge the right of Montenegrins to choose independence, but they should encourage Montenegrins to postpone any decision to a period when conditions are more favourable than they are now.

Meanwhile, the international community is contributing constructively to long-term stability in Montenegro through extensive technical support for reforms. Continued support should be strictly conditional on progress, especially in making government cleaner and more transparent. Reform of the criminal justice system and serious action against organised crime are litmus tests of the government�s real willingness to change. At the same time the international community should drop its fruitless and unnecessary opposition to Montenegro�s independence, which only hinders its ability to influence developments positively. Rather it should help Montenegro to find a way out of the deadlock over independence by encouraging and assisting in the search for a compromise solution.



1. The Montenegrin authorities should:

(a) seek a resolution of the status issue through dialogue among the political parties in Montenegro as well as with Belgrade;

(b) not proceed with plans for an independence referendum without having first reached a broad consensus among the parties in Montenegro about the conditions under which it would be held;

(c) adhere strictly to the constitutional procedures regarding a change in the republic�s status, including the requirement for a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

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

3. The anti-independence political parties in Montenegro should continue to participate constructively in political life and reject the idea of boycotting a possible independence referendum.

4. All political parties, media and institutions should respect the equal rights of all citizens of Montenegro, including members of ethnic minorities, and should avoid any actions or statements that might encourage inter-ethnic tension.


5. The authorities in Belgrade, federal and Serbian, should engage constructively with the Montenegrin government to define their future relationship, without excluding the possibility of Montenegrin independence.


6. In looking for ways to resolve their future status, both Belgrade and Podgorica should:

(a) put the emphasis on dialogue rather than simply adopting proposals or platforms that largely re-state already well-worn positions;

(b) 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.


7. The international community should modify its present policy approach to:

(a) emphasise its acceptance of the right of Montenegrins themselves to decide their future;

(b) adopt a neutral stance on the status of Montenegro and its future relationship with Serbia and be ready to help the two find a mutually satisfactory basis for their new relationship; and

(c) urge the Montenegrin authorities, in the absence of a broad domestic consensus in favour of independence, to find ways of cooperating constructively with Belgrade in the mutual interest of both Serbia and Montenegro.

8. The international community should continue to assist Montenegro with aid and technical support for reforms, but

(a) condition this assistance to progress in carrying out reforms and not link it to Montenegro�s status;

(b) take a pragmatic approach to reforms by helping to devise structures that are acceptable to both republics, based on best international practice rather than setting as a key policy priority the revival of defunct federation structures.

9. The international community should make a long-term commitment to assisting reforms in Montenegro, emphasising the work of building the capacity of Montenegrin institutions to implement reforms in practice and insisting upon progress in reforms especially in areas concerning cleaner and more transparent government, including:

(a) reform of the Ministry of the Interior (MUP) � downsizing, de-politicisation and increasing the effectiveness of law enforcement; (b) action to reduce organised crime and corruption, including a thorough investigation of official involvement. As signs of good will, the black market in cigarettes should be ended, and steps should be taken to stop the trade in stolen vehicles; (c) judicial reform, including de-politicisation of the judiciary; and (d) putting into practice the promises to end conflicts of interest on the part of government officials.

10. The European Union should assist Serbia and Montenegro to devise appropriate arrangements in areas where joint approaches are envisaged, including a single market, a customs union, taxation, and competition regulation.

Podgorica/Brussels, 1 August 2001

 PDF version of Montenegro: Resolving the Independence Deadlock Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
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