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The Army Takes Sides In Montenegro

The long-running fight between the pro- and anti-Belgrade blocs in Montenegro has a new partisan, the Yugoslav Army, which has sided against the current Western-oriented leadership.
By Predrag Vulikic

The prospect of open conflict between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) and the West has provoked dangerous new divisions within Montenegro, with the military lining up against the current Montenegrin government.


In a recent statement, President Milo Djukanovic has confirmed that the government "will undertake all legal measures to prevent the use of the territory of Montenegro in a possible conflict with military forces of the international community." The Yugoslav Second Army, stationed in Montenegro, reacted vehemently, suggesting that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic can now rely on the military command in settling accounts with the disobedient Podgorica leadership.


The Second Army has accused Montenegro of suffering from the "Slovenian syndrome"--that is, being pro-Western and independence-oriented--and emphasised ominously that it will have "unlimited support" from the people of Montenegro for its "patriotic actions". Momir Bulatovic, the former Montenegrin president and current Yugoslav federal prime minister whom Podgorica does not recognise, immediately met the Second Army leadership and said that the decision of the republican government will not be respected. The ruling board of Bulatovic's Socialistic People's Party (SNP) stated that "in case of an aggression against FRY, all members, supporters and voters of the SNP will only and exclusively join the ranks of the Army of Yugoslavia."


The SNP also warned the authorities in Montenegro not to attempt any practical moves against the Constitution that would lead to the violent destruction of FRY. "The scenario of secession of Croatia and Slovenia is not possible in Montenegro. Every intention of a violent and illegal secession of Montenegro will be prevented," the party said. In the same statement, the SNP warned that "all who try to prevent us in [exercising] our legitimate right to defend ourselves from foreign aggression are in fact siding with the aggressor and will be treated as such."


The Montenegrin authorities appear determined not to respond to such threats. Nevertheless, they are pursing a delicate, even paradoxical political line. Officially they state that the possibilities of a common life with Serbia have not been exhausted and that they aim to preserve the federal state. At the same time, recent moves step-by-step towards independence continue, from bilateral international trade relations to the opening of a border crossing with Croatia at Debeli Brijeg without federal approval. The decision to use all legal measures to ensure that Montenegro does not become involved in a possible war between Serbia and NATO is an important new step in that direction.


Montenegro, which has not been involved in the Rambouillet process, has expressed concern that its interests may be jeopardised by the Serbian-Albanian negotiations. It has opposed ideas to make Kosovo a third republic within federal Yugoslavia. "Instead of Yugoslav emotions, a responsibility for Montenegro ought to be accepted," Djukanovic has said. He added that if its position is threatened by the Rambouillet process, Montenegro will "very quickly fill its chair in the United Nations"--that is, seek independence. As a republic it would assert a legal right to withdraw from the federation, raising a serious question about the fate of the latest version of Yugoslavia.


At a recent party meeting in Podgorica, Djukanovic stated that any links must be based on shared interests, not abstract ideas of Yugoslavism. "Yugoslavia will survive if Belgrade realises that the only way for the survival and the development of Yugoslavia is democracy, economic development and the opening of a pro-European way." Yet in political terms, it seems difficult to see how the conflict can be resolved. In appointing Bulatovic as federal prime minister, Milosevic has given a role to Djukanovic's arch-rival. But in imposing him in an extra-legal manner, without reference to Montenegro as Serbia's federal partner, he has broken a critical componenet of the federal relationship.


Montenegro cannot accept the move without acknowledging its subordinance effectively as a toy for Belgrade, and effectively acknowledging that it has no constitutional role. Yet Milosevic cannot renounce Bulatovic, which would undermine his only relevant ally in Montenegro and hand an enormous victory to the anti-Belgrade forces.


The conflict is also played out over economic issues. While the Podogorica leadership seeks increasing links with the West, Milosevic had made clear that the republic can only enjoy access to Serbia's market if it falls into line politically. The latest attempt to exert pressure was the attempt by Belgrade to replace Montenegrin customs officials with 68 officials brought in from 68 Serbia. In this instance, Podgorica blocked them from taking up their duties, and after several days they departed from the republic. Meantime, Montenegro is preparing a mass-voucher privatisation soon, unlike Yugoslavia's continued stranglehold over the small privatised economy in Serbia. Montenegro has also offered an open home for independent media.


Given the severity of the conflict within Montenegro, it seems increasly likely that the result will either be the re-establishment of Milosevic's authority over the small republic, or its independence. The ominous entry of the Second Yugoslav Army into the fray may only speed up the process, whatever the final result.


Predrag Vulikic is an independent political analyst in Podgorica.


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