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

The Last War Begins

While opposition figures gather in Montenegro, the Yugoslav Army is putting the second Yugoslav republic under increasing pressure.
By Zeljko Ivanovic

Montenegro feels on the eve of war -- army checkpoints and machine-gun nests punctuate the countryside, the borders are closed, and armed men break into flats to press gang men of military age, leading them away in handcuffs.


The situation is so tense that several independent journalists--including Nebojsa Redzic, editor of Radio Free Montenegro, and Milodrag Perovic, editor of the independent publication Monitor--have fled abroad.


Foreign journalists and aid workers are being systematically harassed by Yugoslav soldiers. Every day the army appears to be extending the area of its activity, while the Podgorica authorities find their room for manoeuvre increasingly limited.


"It is obvious that [the generals] have tied their destiny to [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic," asserts Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. "They are here not to save Montenegro but to implement the plans of an authoritarian regime."


The increasingly blunt language used by Djukanovic and others in Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation, illustrates both their desire to raise an international warning and a recognition that attempts to placate Belgrade and avoid conflict have failed.


Djukanovic argues that, when the crisis is over, "Somebody will be held responsible for the kidnapping, the plunder of humanitarian aid, the theft of property and money, and the economic blockade of Montenegro."


Clearly he is referring to the current leadership in Belgrade, on the assumption that it will be defeated. Otherwise, Montenegro's position within the federation will be in question. "If Milosevic remains in power, Yugoslavia has no prospects even after the war is over," he says.


Other leading politicians have argued that the republic must reconsider its relationship to Serbia whoever rules Belgrade. "Montenegro no longer wants to fear the possible abuse of the Constitution, whether it comes from Milosevic or somebody else," says Dragan Soc, Montenegrin Justice Minister.


He promises to use this week's Balkan conference in Bonn as a forum to seek "guarantees which would enable this republic to make all decisions independently."


Leading Belgrade opposition figure Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party agrees that Montenegro cannot be held hostage to its larger federation partner. "Montenegro must have as its goal a fast entrance to Europe," he said, in an interview in the recent issue of the independent Montenegrin publication Monitor. "Should Serbia be a big obstacle to the realisation of that goal, then I am sorry, but it has to be jumped over."


Yet as Djukanovic, his ministers and fellow opposition figures have taken an increasingly aggressive stance, Belgrade has sought to demonise all opposition and blame them for the country's troubles.


A recent issue of the Belgrade daily Politika devoted an entire page to Djukanovic, Djindjic, and the opposition leaders Vesna Pesic and Vuk Obradovic, branding them "new Brankovics"--a notorious Serbian traitor--for trying to impose "tomahawk democracy". The paper demanded their arrests.


Such public denunciations have lead Djindjic's Democratic Party, whose headquarters in Belgrade have been attacked, to argue that "Milosevic is beginning his last war--the civil war in Serbia."


The increasingly close ties between Djukanovic and Djindjic may be built on a common wish to democratise Yugoslavia, but they are also based on common fear: the former over war in Montenegro, and the latter over his and his colleagues' personal security


As diplomats discuss possible settlements to end NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, both leaders are concerned that any kind of compromise satisfactory to Milosevic would merely herald further conflict. They fear that Belgrade will settle scores with its internal opposition and, in particular, Montenegro.


Even if foreign troops sent to Kosovo might make it difficult for Milosevic to wage a new war, he could use the several week gap between a peace agreement and their deployment to meet out retribution.


"The state of neither war nor peace can be dangerous," warns Podgorica political scientist Sasa Burzanovic. "Milosevic must resolve the issue of opposition before foreign troops march in, by attempting to eliminate it."


Zeljko Ivanovic is founder and director of Vijesti, the only independent daily newspaper in Montenegro.