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Djukanovic Independence Drive

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic seems more determined than ever to break away from Serbia
By Milka Tadic

President Milo Djukanovic has openly declared his desire to turn Montenegro into an independent state.


Following the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia, some suspected that Djukanovic and his ruling DPS party would review their long-held position on independence.


But last week, the main committee of the DPS - which enjoys around 30 per cent voter support - proposed that Serbia and Montenegro become two internationally recognised sovereign states, each with separate membership in the United Nations and other global institutions.


The move is a blow the new federal president, Vojislav Kostunica, and the international community which wanted Montenegro to stay in Yugoslavia, if only to preserve the framework of a state in which Kosovo can survive.


The DPS committee decision comes as the Montenegrin political establishment reassesses its position on independence following the overthrow of Milosevic.


The DPS proposal for the future of Montenegro envisages the possibility of a loose union of independent states, with a joint army, but separate high commands. The two states could share a currency, on condition that the dinar is abandoned in favour of a convertible currency, and a foreign policy, but only "in those spheres where our goals overlap."


If Belgrade rejects its proposal, sources within the DPS say the party will pressure the Djukanovic government into holding a referendum on independence after Serbia's elections on December 23.


The DPS says it is not demanding an immediate response from Belgrade because it wants to show the international community it is prepared to be patient.


But this patience could be costly. Kostunica has already written to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting that Yugoslavia be accepted as a member. Moves are also afoot to get the federation back into the World Bank and other institutions.


Irked by this, Podgorica has written to numerous international authorities requesting recognition of Yugoslavia be postponed until Montenegro and Serbia come to an agreement over the future of the federation.


But Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac admits his government's appeals will not obstruct recognition of Belgrade. "Our's is just a symbolic gesture," he said. "We just want to show international community that Montenegro will not renounce its right to self-determination."


Meanwhile Djukanovic faces the added difficulty of dissent within the DPS over independence. There's not yet open conflict, but all the signs suggest that the party will be riven by differences over the issue.


Last Friday, two DPS vice-presidents, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic and Parliamentary Speaker Svetozar Marovic set out for Belgrade.


They were supposed to inform Kostunica that Montenegro wants at the very least a separate seat in the UN. Instead, they presented their position as open to change. Even international recognition of Montenegro was apparently open to negotiation.


Back in Podgorica, Vujanovic and Marovic's mission caused uproar. "Everybody talked about treason," said one DPS source.


Still, this fear and confusion is understandable. For years, the DPS was extremely cautious in its approach to Belgrade. Important political decisions were postponed - from essential economic reforms to statehood status - to preserve an uneasy peace with Milosevic.


The question of whether Montenegro should be independent was to be postponed until Milosevic fell. When this happened, the Montenegrin authorities were unprepared.


Vujanovic and Marovic do not want Montenegro to lose international support, which is now so well disposed to Kostunica. They also want to keep old alliances with Democratic Opposition of Serbia politicians now in power.


Djukanovic's uncompromising stance also risks causing tremors within his ruling coalition (comprising the DPS, the People's Party, NS, and the Social Democrats, SDP) where disagreements are already plentiful.


The NS is known to be against independence, and will leave the coalition if the DPS proposals are accepted by the government. This could lead to new elections.


Outside the coalition, the DPS's old opponent, the formerly pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party, SNP, is another potential headache. The SNP recently switched allegiance to Kostunica's DOS.


This is significant because it was the only main party to contest the federal elections in Montenegro. As a result, the SNP is the sole Montenegrin party represented in the Yugoslav assembly - even though it accounts for only 25 per cent of voters in the tiny republic.


Because of this Kostunica had no option but to appoint the party's Zoran Zizic federal prime minister.


This provoked fierce reactions in Podgorica. Kostunica was accused of trying to govern Montenegro, like Milosevic used to, by exploiting minority political parties.


As the dust following Milosevic's fall settles, there's no clue which way the wind will blow in Montenegro. For now, the pro-independence camp has the edge in public support, and in the wily expertise of Milo Djukanovic.


Milka Tadic is the editor of the Montenegrin magazine Monitor


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