Djukanovic Under Pressure

As Slobodan Milosevic steps up pressure on Montenegro, the republic's leader reassures the West that he will not rush towards independence.

Djukanovic Under Pressure

As Slobodan Milosevic steps up pressure on Montenegro, the republic's leader reassures the West that he will not rush towards independence.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The Yugoslav Constitutional Court has challenged the Montenegrin government twice in the past week, as part of an apparent attempt by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to tighten the screws on the troublesome republic.

The court declared unconstitutional the Montenegrin government's decision to establish a dual monetary system using the German mark as a parallel currency.

Furthermore, the court overturned a law granting amnesty to soldiers who defied their call-up to the Yugoslav Army during the NATO intervention.

The moves have led to a boycott of the court by Montenegrin judges.

"In doing this Milosevic is deliberately provoking the Montenegrin government in the hope that they will make a sudden and panicky move, like splitting from Yugoslavia," said Montenegrin Vice-President Novak Kilibarda.

But Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic made clear during a visit to London this week that his government would continue to pursue a patient policy towards Belgrade.

"We don't think the time is right for a referendum [on independence from Yugoslavia]," Djukanovic said. "We think that Belgrade should be given more time to respond to our offer of redefined relations."

But Djukanovic did indicate for the first time that he objected to Western insistence that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) must be kept together at all costs.

"If this is the exclusive demand of the international community, then the way to achieve this is very simple," Djukanovic told journalists in London.

"Milosevic should be permitted to clamp down on the democratic movement in Montenegro and then we will have an undivided FRY as the only dictatorial country in Europe."

Political and economic support from Europe and the United States - of limited and intermittent relief to Montenegro in recent months - has been conditional on Montenegro remaining within the Yugoslav federation.

But the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has made clear it will not begin serious investment in Montenegro because it is not a sovereign state. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank take a similar view.

Since Montenegro remains subject to the international sanctions currently imposed on Yugoslavia as a whole, the Djukanovic government's ability to deliver on promises of economic improvement has been severely limited.

Djukanovic's coalition partners, the Social Democrat Party (SDP), welcomed the president's criticism of Western policy but expressed annoyance at his continued softly-softly approach to Belgrade.

SDP leader Zarko Rakcevic has been stepping up the pressure on Djukanovic to begin serious preparations for a referendum on independence.

"The FRY is now in the past for us and the proposals for the redefinition of relations between Montenegro and Serbia are already dead," Rakcevic said. "We cannot wait forever for an answer from Belgrade."

In early January, the SDP threatened to leave the coalition over the government's continued refusal to recognise the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, a symbol of Montenegrin statehood.

But last week the SDP opted to stay in the coalition on condition that a decision on holding a referendum is taken by spring 2000. The SDP insists a plebiscite must follow this decision and should take only a few months to organise.

Despite this apparent compromise and Djukanovic's sharp words in London, the SDP is still far from winning the battle for a referendum - not least because of continued opposition from Western governments and clear signals from Belgrade that a conflict would ensue.

Milka Tadic is editor of Monitor in Podgorica.

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