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

Momir's New Year's Rally

On a cold winter's night in Podgorica, thousands of demonstrators chanted their support for Federal Prime Minister Bulatovic, proving that the pro-Serbian constituency in Montenegro remains a force to be reckoned with.
By Milka Tadic

Several thousand supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic gathered in the main square in Podgorica on January 13 to celebrate Orthodox New Year. Although officially billed as a celebration of 2000 years of Christianity, the real reasons behind the gathering were deeply political.


"The celebration of the Serbian New Year has demonstrated that the [Socialist People's Party] is the strongest political party in Montenegro," Federal Prime Minister Bulatovic claimed at a press conference, held the day after the gathering.


At a previous New Year gathering two years ago, Bulatovic supporters fought with Montenegrin Ministry of Interior police. More than 40 officers were injured.


This year, Bulatovic's party in Montenegro - the Socialist People's Party (SNP) - again organised the gathering. A close associate of Milosevic, Bulatovic is a fierce opponent of the Montenegrin president, Milo Djukanovic.


The pro-Milosevic media in Montenegrin widely promoted the event, encouraging supporters to gather for the "celebration of 2,000 years since Christ's birth." Supporters of Bulatovic and Milosevic arrived from the north and south of the republic in an organised manner. They carried Serbian nationalist insignia, mainly Chetnik flags. They sang songs calling for war against "the enemies of Serbdom." They cheered any mention of Milosevic and pledged to defend Kosovo and Montenegro. Guns were fired into the air at midnight.


Djukanovic's party used the spectacle as ammunition against the SNP, accusing Bulatovic and his fellow leaders of "hypocrisy, immorality and demagoguery." According to the Democratic Party of Socialists, the grand celebration of the New Year cost around 500,000 German marks, the equivalent of at least 10,000 average Montenegrin pensions.


Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and the Yugoslav United Left headed by his wife, Mirjana Markovic, were cited in some reports as the main financiers of Bulatovic's gathering. "We received the means for the celebration from financially powerful friends in Serbia and not from Milosevic," Bulatovic explained.


He accused the Montenegrin authorities of obstructing the gathering by dispatching an excessive number of police officers onto the streets. "This is not the police force of these people and this state, it is paid by other countries," Bulatovic claimed, alluding to the financial aid that Djukanovic receives from the United States and other NATO members.


At the press conference, Bulatovic also presented the political platform that the federal government and the SNP will campaign on during the next few months. Mirroring official opinion in Belgrade, Bulatovic dismissed calls by the Serbian opposition for early elections in Serbia and Yugoslavia as unnecessary.


But Bulatovic insists early parliamentary elections in Montenegro are essential due to "the political crisis in this republic and the anti-Yugoslav character of the current authorities."


He also threatened the Montenegrin authorities with legal action, claiming arrests will follow for the unconstitutional implementation of a two-currency system. Djukanovic has pushed through legislation creating a parallel currency for Montenegro using the German mark alongside the much less popular Yugoslav dinar.


Satisfied with the turnout for the New Year celebrations, Bulatovic has demonstrated to his opponents that he and Milosevic can rely on numerous, ardent supporters in Montenegro.


According to December opinion polls, 22 per cent of respondents support Bulatovic's party. This represents a drop of 14 per cent from the votes polled for the SNP in the last parliamentary elections. The surveys indicate that the SNP draws support from pensioners, the poor and the less well educated - i.e. those most threatened by the economic reforms and closer ties with the outside world advocated by Djukanovic.


Opponents of Montenegrin independence also support Bulatovic. Likewise many veterans from the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo, as well as Yugoslav Army reservists and active officers support the SNP. And it is these circles that may fire the first shots in a new conflict, should Belgrade decide to wage a war on Montenegro, edging towards independence.


Milka Tadic is editor of Monitor in Podgorica and a regular contributor to IWPR.