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Djukanovic in Trouble

Djukanovic's determination to press ahead with Montenegrin independence raises Yugoslav tensions
By Milka Tadic

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's insistence on independence is threatening renewed political turmoil in Yugoslavia.


He has already antagonised the newly elected Belgrade government and triggered political instability in Montenegro.


Montenegro's ruling coalition has fallen apart over Djukanovic's determination to win independence.


During the final weeks of last year, the Peoples Party, NS, withdrew from the 'For A Better Life' coalition that has ruled since parliamentary elections in spring 1998, leaving Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP, of Zarko Rakcevic without a parliamentary majority.


Since the September election of Yugoslav Federal President Vojislav Kostunica, himself a keen advocate of maintaining some form of federation, the NS has acted much as an opposition party, campaigning against the editorial policy of Montenegrin state television - the main power-base of Djukanovic - and boycotting work on legislation for a referendum on independence.


The Podgorica authorities refused to take part in Yugoslav elections after Slobodan Milosevic changed the country's constitution to downgrade Montenegro's federal status and allow him to run for a second term. The NS, which had begun to move away from its traditional commitment to the Yugoslav federation during the final years of Milosevic's rule, reverted to its old position when Kostunica took over in Belgrade, breaking ranks with its coalition partners to acknowledge him as the legitimate president of Yugoslavia and establish good relations with his government. The crunch came when the NS refused to ratify the "Platform for the New Relations with Serbia", the document prepared by Montenegrin Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic's cabinet laying the groundwork for independence.


"The Platform has no legitimacy since it doesn't have majority support within Montenegro," said NS leader Dragan Soc.


The latest opinion polls, conducted last month, tell a different story. Over 50 per cent of interviewees supported independence, a higher figure than in previous polls, with only 30 per cent backing continued union with Serbia. The big question now in Podgorica is whether Djukanovic and his weakened coalition will manage to stay in power following the departure of the NS. Podgorica government would like to avoid early elections, which could sap the energy of the voters and lead to a low turnout in the referendum.


To hang on, the DPS and SDP need the parliamentary support of the five opposition Liberal Party deputies. Happily for them, although the party has been highly critical of the government for delaying economic reform, its main platform is independence for Montenegro and its spokeswoman Vesna Perovic has announced the party will support the minority government.


Djukanovic also has popular support. The polls show him to be the politician the Montenegrins trust most.


But leaders of the opposition, formerly pro-Milosevic, Socialist People's Party, SNP, have threatened street protests and a boycott of the referendum, due in the first half of this year.


The NS is also warning that it will ignore the results of the referendum "if consensus regarding the legal basis and conditions under which it would be organised are not achieved".


Djukanovic wants separate international recognition for Montenegro and Serbia. He believes the two republics should form a loose union with a shared army under separate commands, shared foreign policy, a common market and convertible currency.


Kostunica acknowledges that the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro, the last survivors of a federal union set up by Josip Broz Tito after the Second World War, needs to be restructured, but says it should continue. "The present Yugoslav federation suffers from a construction fault," he said in an interview with the Belgrade daily Blic. But he is against the division of the federation into two internationally recognised states.


He has appealed for Montenegro's independence moves to be slowed down, and has said his priority for 2001 would be to keep the troubled federation intact. "I am president of a federal state which someone is seeking to destroy at all costs," he said recently.


Talks over future ties between the two republics should "include all the interests of the electorate," argues Kostunica, who is pressing for participation of representatives of all political forces in both republics. "This is the only democratic procedure. Everything else would make a mockery of democracy and common political sense."


Djukanovic paid his first visit to Belgrade in two years at Christmas, attending a meeting of the Supreme Defence Council and holding talks with Kostunica.


But in an interview with the pro-government daily Pobjeda, Djukanovic accused Yugoslavia's new leader of still wanting to dominate his tiny republic and of being unprepared for talks on the future of the Yugoslav federation.


"We had hoped to find a solution and common aim with the new Serbian


authorities...I will be cynical: judging from Kostunica's statements a


common aim is reduced to desire to govern Montenegro, " he said. "We wish to govern our own state, but Kostunica would like to govern our state. Who here is interested in power, I am asking."


Belgrade "has a feeling of some paternal right to dictate to Montenegro what is in its best interest," Djukanovic added.


Kostunica has the backing of most leaders of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, DOS, which now controls both the Yugoslav and Serbian parliaments, including Djukanovic's erstwhile friend Zoran Djindjic, the leader of the Democratic Party soon to be sworn in as Serbian prime minister.


Djindjic became close to Djukanovic in 1999 when he spent several months in self-imposed exile in Montenegro during the NATO bombardment of Belgrade.


Djindjic told the German Spiegel magazine that he was against a referendum for Montenegrin independence and called the Montenegrin Platform an "unacceptable proposal" - in effect betraying his former friend.


Milka Tadic is a regular IWPR contributor


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