Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Djukanovic On A Mission, Increasingly Far From Home

Montenegro's president is trying to reconcile Serbia's feuding political forces, while at home his fellow citizens make it clear they wish to be as close to Europe as possible - and as far as possible from Serbia.
By Milka Tadic

The secret meeting took place somewhere on the Montenegrin coast. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic met with Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement, the biggest opposition party in Serbia.


Though it took place last weekend (September 11/12), news of its occurrence was published only in midweek, in brief and without details of what was discussed. But it seems that Djukanovic is a man on a special mission.


It seems that he was supposed to persuade Draskovic to make up with the opposition Alliance for Changes, which whom he has a long-standing quarrel - a division largely blamed for the opposition's failure to unseat Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.


Furthermore, he appears to be working at the initiative of western diplomats, led by former US envoy to the Balkans Robert Gelbard, who have been trying to get the feuding Serbian political forces to kiss and make up all summer.


Gelbard's efforts were all in vain. Draskovic remains an adamant opponent of the Alliance of Changes and nearly ruined the opposition's protest rally in Belgrade, organised in August. Then he seemed to be much closer to Milosevic than to his former opposition coalition partner, Zoran Djindjic, the leader of the Democratic Party and leading Alliance member.


So Gelbard passed the hot potato to Djukanovic, who appears to have accepted it with enthusiasm. Even before the talks with Draskovic, the Montenegrin president had a whole series of meetings with the leaders of the Serbian opposition. After one meeting Djukanovic and Djindjic issued a joint declaration on plans for the democratisation of the federal state. According to Djindjic the declaration should be adopted at the meeting in Podgorica on September 18 or 19.


The leaders of the opposition parties in the province of Vojvodina, Mile Isakov and Nenad Canak, confirmed Djukanovic will be acting as a mediator between the different political factions and parties.


"We have made a proposal to Djukanovic to be a kind of mediator for a new attempt at gathering the opposition in Serbia together," said Isakov, president of the Reformist Party of Vojvodina. "At least for the sake of agreeing minimum common interests. He has accepted that offer."


Djukanovic's coalition partners in Podgorica gave a cold welcome to this news. Cabinet minister Dragan Soc of the People's Party said he knew nothing about the joint declaration cited by Djindjic and that his party had played no part in the talks or in the drafting of the declaration itself.


The junior partners in the People's Party led coalition, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), were more direct in their criticism of Djukanovic's overtures on behalf of the Serbian political opposition.


SDP spokesman Ranko Krivokapic said his party could not endorse any document that it had not been involved in drafting. "The Serbian opposition should start the democratisation of Serbia by itself," he said. "We will democratise Montenegro. After that, then we can sit down and make agreements together about the future."


He also fiercely criticised the opposition leaders in Belgrade. "They cannot prevent the disintegration of Serbia itself, yet, still want to keep Montenegro as its possession."


Supporters of independence for Montenegro, which include the SDP, fear that Djukanovic's efforts to reconcile the feuding leaders of the Serbian opposition, might lead Djukanovic into the task of reconciling Montenegro and Serbia.


Time has run out on a six-week deadline set by the Montenegrin government for the government of Serbia to take a stated view on its 'Platform' on redefining the relationship between them as Federation partners.


Podgorica wants more freedom within the Federation, but warns that unless Belgrade accepts redefinition of relations, Podgorica will organise a referendum - opening up the prospect of total independence. Speaking on


Radio Antenna M in Podgorica, Djukanovic's advisor, Miodrag Vukovic, said the referendum should now be organised whether or not Milosevic gives his view on the Platform.


Without an official response from Belgrade, calls from supporters of independence grow louder, and political figures on both sides of the Federation express surprise at Djukanovic's willingness to persevere with the Serbian-Montenegrin relationship.


"It is incredible how much Milo Djukanovic cares about the federation of Serbia and Montenegro," Vojvodina opposition leader Canak told journalists, after the talks with the Montenegrin President.


Even though he and Milosevic shared in the task of recreating the Yugoslav Federation as a joint state between Serbia and Montenegro, it is hard to believe that Djukanovic still feels the same way about the FRY since his falling out with Belgrade two and a half years ago.


It seems that he has been unable to resist the pressure from the West to take on - on Montenegro's behalf - the role of initiator of Serbian democratisation.


But should he follow the instructions of his Western allies, and put the salvation of Serbia ahead of the perceived interests of Montenegro, Djukanovic risks peace in his back yard.


SDP president Zarko Rakcevic has already warned Djukanovic: "If you want the federation you will not have the coalition". His efforts to reconcile the Serbian opposition may also cost him support among the general public in Montenegro.


Opinion polls consistently report that most Montenegrins would prefer to see their country either as an independent state or loosely confederated with Serbia, talking economic reform and looking to Europe - not Belgrade.


Milka Tadic is the editor of the independent magazine Monitor in Podgorica.