Break-Up Beckons

If Belgrade rejects Podgorica's proposal for restructuring the Yugoslav state, an independence referendum will be scheduled for the autumn.

Break-Up Beckons

If Belgrade rejects Podgorica's proposal for restructuring the Yugoslav state, an independence referendum will be scheduled for the autumn.

Wednesday, 16 November, 2005
Before Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, each republic held a referendum on the issue. Now Montenegro could be about to follow suit.

Unless Belgrade accepts Montenegro's proposal for a radical redefinition of relations between the two remaining Yugoslav republics in the next six weeks, Podgorica is planning an independence referendum for the autumn.

The Montenegrin proposal for redefining relationships within the Yugoslav Federation, which is currently in Belgrade's court, envisages a loose confederation between Montenegro and Serbia and a name change.

Podgorica wishes to suspend the existing Yugoslav constitution and proposes that the new confederal state be called the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Only a very few matters should be decided at the federal level and each republic should have sovereignty over the most important political and economic issues.

Podgorica anticipates equal participation by both Serbia and Montenegro in all common institutions with decisions to be reached by consensus. The president of the union could only be appointed with the support of the parliaments of both republics.

Podgorica envisages the most radical changes in the structure of the Yugoslav Army, whereby in practice Montenegro would have authority over the military on its own territory. The Montenegrin president would be commander-in-chief in Montenegro, and Montenegrin conscripts would serve exclusively in their own republic.

As far as the economy is concerned, the Montenegrin government has left open the possibility of a common currency, but would prefer to mint its own money, since it has no confidence in the federal monetary system.

Unveiling the Montenegrin proposal, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic insisted that it was not an ultimatum to Serbia. Instead, he said it was the maximum degree of unity which Montenegro was willing to accept.

Montenegro's Social Democratic Party (SDP), one of three parties in the ruling coalition, has expressed reservations about the proposal, which was conceived after prolonged and difficult discussions between the governing partners. Nevertheless, party president Zarko Rakcevic believes that it represents an important step towards independence, even though it falls short of demanding full international recognition.

The opposition has greeted the proposal with more scepticism. The most negative response came from the Liberal Party, one of the fiercest critics of the union with Serbia, which believes that the proposal rescues the federal state and seals Montenegro's future within the union.

According to Liberal leader Miodrag Zivkovic, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is already dead and it is not in Montenegro's interest to remain in any form of union with Serbia.

Zivkovic says that Montenegro's 640,000 inhabitants can never expect equal status to Serbia's 10 million inhabitants within a single state. As a result, he believes that the Montenegrin government does not have the right to decide to remain within the union when two-thirds of its citizens want independence.

The largest opposition party, the pro-Milosevic Socialist National Party (SNP), has an entirely different perspective. In its view the proposal reflects the separatist tendency of the government and is but an intermediate step to independence. That said, party deputy president Predrag Bulatovic said that it should not be discarded without discussion.

A final decision regarding the proposal should be formulated by the party's executive committee, headed by its president, Momir Bulatovic, the federal prime minister unrecognised by Podgorica who was himself previous president of Montenegro. Most expect that Bulatovic simply articulate Belgrade's position.

Although there has been no official pronouncement from Belgrade, it appears that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will not countenance any decentralisation of the existing state. Such a move would both destroy his power base. Crucially, it would leave him unable to use the Yugoslav Army to discipline and punish his opponents.

According to sources close to Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS), the party's executive committee has already decided to reject the Montenegrin proposal.

During a four-hour emergency session last Tuesday, it decided simply to ignore the proposal and, instead of entering into negotiations, to ratchet up the campaign against Serbia's junior partner.

Milka Tadic is editor of Monitor in Podgorica.

Support our journalists