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Belgrade Leaders Spar Over Montenegro
Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic are both hoping events in Montenegro will shore up their respective bids for political supremacy.
Both Djindjic and Kostunica advocate "minimal federation" - a Yugoslav state with its constituent republics sharing decision-making on foreign, defence and monetary policy and represented by one president.
Kostunica would like this to happen soon, while Djindjic is prepared to wait. In addition, the former is not prepared to countenance any other solution while the latter has been careful not to rule out Djukanovic's suggestion of a union of independent states.
Initially, there was relief in Serbia over the stronger than expected pro-federation vote, but disappointment soon set in when it became clear the question of Montenegro's future had merely been postponed.
Kostunica and the majority of Serbs want the issue to be swiftly resolved. And the quicker Montenegro decides, the better for Kostunica - whichever way Podgorica decides to go.
"The future of Yugoslavia must be resolved within a month at the latest," said Kostunica's spokesman Milorad Jovanovic. "Serbia does not have any time to wait for Montenegro to decide whether it wants to go its separate way."
Protracted negotiations are not in Serbia's interest as it needs to press ahead with reforms.
Behind Kostunica's stoicism is the fact that it does him no good to be seen as the president of a faltering federation. He may well be Serbia's most popular politician for the moment, but he knows all too well that his powers as Yugoslav president are largely symbolic while his prime minister holds the real reins of power with control over finance, police and the media.
Although Kostunica favours the preservation of the federation, he's likely to benefit even if a referendum is called in Montenegro and the independence cause triumphs.
Serbian general elections would then have to be called. Kostunica and Djindjic would be the main contenders in the presidential poll and the former has a good chance of winning.
While Kostunica favours a swift conclusion of the Montenegrin question, Djindjic would prefer it to linger a while longer. This would provide him with more time to concentrate power over foreign and domestic policy into his own hands - and, in so doing, marginalise Kostunica.
Djindjic also realises that postponement of the referendum would also work in favour of Djukanovic - a personal friend - by giving him time to reduce tensions between the pro and anti independence blocs.
With this in mind, he has advised Djukanovic not to make a post-electoral pact with the the Liberal Party. Composed of nationalists and radicals, the Liberals had been pressuring the Montenegrin leader into calling for a referendum in the summer - far too early for Djindjic's liking.
Djindjic has suggested that Djukanovic negotiate with all factions - including those intent on remaining within the federation. In so doing, Djindjic argues, Montenegro's president would show himself as an advocate of democratic and economic reforms.
"I have advised him to look for a stable solution, not to form the government for the sake of it but to try to bridge the division within Montenegro," stated Djindjic.
Djukanovic calls the Serbian prime minister "a man of the future" and someone he can do business with. Kostunica, on the other hand, is for him a "man of the past", burdened down by nationalist ideals.
Djukanovic has confirmed that he is willing to postpone the referendum a further nine months - which he believes will give Djindjic sufficient time to deal with their mutual rival Kostunica.
Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor.
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