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

Making Concessions And Buying Time

Celebrations of the seventh birthday of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were muted last week in Montenegro, as the days of the federation seem numbered.
By Ljubinka N.

Officially Montenegro has appealed to the international community to halt the NATO offensive against Yugoslavia.


But many Montenegrins fear that a premature end to the campaign would lead to the ouster of the current pro-Western administration.


The Yugoslav Army and Milosevic loyalists in the tiny republic, which together with Serbia makes up the Yugoslav federation, are stepping up pressure on the Montenegrin government and appear stronger by the day. In response, Podgorica is making concessions and attempting to buy time, in the hope that Belgrade will eventually cave in to NATO's demands.


In an official statement issued last week, the state leadership, comprising President Milo Djukanovic, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic and Speaker of the Parliament Svetozar Marovic, explained their position: "The leadership and the state organs of Montenegro . . . do not wish to complicate further the already complicated situation.


"Rather, with their constructive behaviour they strive to contribute to an easing of political tensions and the return of peace into the country, after which it will launch an initiative to improve the constitutional system of the federal state, so that problems in its functioning could be avoided in the future," the statement said.


Immediately after the first NATO bombs landed, Podgorica imposed a so-called civilian state of emergency, and obliged everybody employed in the state sector to work. The move was aimed at heading off imminent mobilisation of Montenegrins following Belgrade's imposition of a state of war, a condition which Podgorica refuses to recognise.


This initial uncompromising approach to Belgrade has since been modified. A moderate faction in President Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), headed by the Speaker Marovic and supported by Prime Minister Vujanovic, have decided on a policy of concessions, rather than head-on confrontation, thus handing the tactical initiative to the Yugoslav Army.


After three days of debate, the Montenegrin parliament unanimously adopted a resolution on the maintenance of civic peace. Through this the authorities effectively adopted a policy of passive resistance. Meanwhile, Belgrade has been engaged in what amounts to a creeping coup against the Montenegrin leadership.


The newly-appointed commander of the Yugoslav Army in Montenegro, Gen. Milorad Obradovic, who replaced the moderate Gen. Radoslav Martinovic on April 1, has steadily been raising the pressure on Podgorica, even using press gangs to mobilise Montenegrins. The number of reservists failing to respond to the draft is ever greater, and has reached 30 per cent.


The Yugoslav Army has tried to draft Montenegro's Justice Minister, Dragan Soc, and has initiated criminal proceedings against Deputy Prime Minister Novak Kilibarda, whom it intends to try in a military court, despite his parliamentary immunity. General Obradovic has also demanded control over state television, a ban on foreign programmes, and the right to censor the media.


The authorities have refused to give in to these demands, but have allotted more time to Serbian television. Meanwhile, the Yugoslav Army continues to hassle foreign journalists and, on occasions, confiscate their equipment. A military court is also prosecuting journalists from the weekly newspaper Monitor and Radio Free Montenegro, for daring to criticise the military.


Belgrade also demands control of Montenegro's oil reserves and authority over the police. "The Montenegrin police will be brought to heal, or it will cease to exist," Federal Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, a Montenegrin loyal to Milosevic, told a rally in Podgorica last week.


Montenegro has handed over the fuel storage depot in Bijelo Polje to the Yugoslav Army, but the republic's special police are jealously guarding all other supplies.


The Yugoslav Army attempted to take control over the border crossing with Croatia, in the UN-monitored demilitarised zone of Prevlaka, but backed down rather than force a confrontation with both Podgorica and the UN. Nevertheless, it dispatched some 500 reservists to the south of the republic tasked with defending the Montenegrin coast.


The atmosphere of fear and insecurity increased when the Yugoslav Army killed six Kosovo Albanian refugees in the village of Kaludjerski Laz near Rozaje. Deputy Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan called this a "crime against humanity" and has demanded the surrender of those responsible to the civilian authorities, to no avail.


The insecurity of the government is acutely felt by Montenegro's Muslim Slav community, many of whom are leaving the mountainous inland areas of the republic where they live and heading for Bosnia. The influx of some 105,000 Kosovo Albanians, roughly 17 per cent of Montenegro's population, has packed predominantly Albanian areas such as Rozaje, Plav and Ulcinj with refugees.


On April 27, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia celebrated its seventh birthday. But from Podogrica, it seems that the days of this latest Yugoslav federation are numbered. In an address to the nation on that day, President Djukanovic said: "The fate of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is even today on the verge of uncertainty." He characterised the country's existence as "seven long years of international isolation, civil war in the surrounding [countries], of enduring suffering, but also of patience and faith in better days."


Ljubinka N. Cagorovic is a journalist in Podgorica.