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Montenegrin Separatists 'Deluded'

Montenegro only stands to lose if it opts to forge ahead with independence
By Stojan Cerovic

I confess that I, as a citizen of Montenegro who lives and works in Serbia, feel lucky not to have the right to vote in these elections.


I do not like the separatists who have embarked on a rather dangerous adventure, nor Milosevic's former cronies who support union with Serbia.


If I were handed a ballot, I'd probably be as confused as those grannies in the Florida elections.


However, though I sympathise with neither faction, I am opposed to an independent Montenegro.


Significantly, I do not think it would be secure. Not because it faces any imminent threat, but because, unlike Luxembourg in the heart of the developed and peaceful Europe, it is situated in the Balkans.


Who, for instance, can guarantee the loyalty of Montenegro's Albanian minority in the future, when the entire region is seriously threatened by those advocating


the idea of "Greater Albania".


There are economic reasons too for concluding that an independent state is unlikely to be viable. Serbia will not be very generous to Montenegro if it stays. But if it leaves it will be worse off. The Podgorica leadership has an unrealistic assessment of its economic prospects.


While Milosevic was in power, the West was giving the republic incredible financial support. The state's only export was Djukanovic's resistance to Milosevic. Now the republic is absolutely dependent on foreign aid. Montenegrin salaries will have to be drastically reduced, which could trigger a social explosion.


Djukanovic's cautious separatist policy was pretty well justified and easily


explicable while Milosevic was in power.


Now, there is less reason for secession because Montenegro could probably come to some sort of mutually acceptable agreement with Serbia on their joint future.


Without a clear threat from Belgrade, pursuing the path of independence


becomes senseless, unreasonable and risky.


This is why Podgorica is quick to seize on Belgrade statements that might be interpreted as hegemonic or nationalistic.


At the same time, there are attempts to discover new roots of Montenegrin identity, as means of putting greater distance between the two closely related nations.


Some are suggesting that the Montenegrin people date back to the Roman period - and therefore cannot be related to the Serbs at all.


But in truth, support for secession has never been huge, even in the worst period of Milosevic's rule. Indeed, the pro-Milosevic Montenegrin opposition has survived without much difficulty and only narrowly lost recent elections.


After his defeat, Milosevic lost almost all his support in Serbia. But his ally in Montenegro Momir Bulatovic continues to hang on. That is why Djukanovic has been cautious over secession.


Nonetheless, after the election, all the signs are that Djukanovic will probably be in a position to put in place his plans for independence.


But will he go all the way, or will he pause to see whether Serbia is prepared to make one last offer? I don't know the answer, but it seems to me that Montenegro faces uncertainty whether it opts for secession or not.


Djukanovic's exploitation of the independence issue has so deeply divided the population that it is hard to see how Montenegro can have a bright future,


regardless of the results of these elections.


The divisions are so marked that any future course will only have the support of half the population.


Should Montenegro opt for some form of loose confederation with Serbia, the pro-independence faction would claim every problem was a consequence of maintaining the alliance.


Independence, on the other hand, will be just as problematic given the poor state of internal relations and the fact that Montenegro has no strong international patron.


A small country like Montenegro would probably be a pleasant enough place to live if it were rich, calm and protected. The trouble is that it will be none of these things. And your safest bet as a citizen would be to get out as quickly as you can.


This is why these hugely important elections at the weekend seem so depressing - and not just to me.


Until recently, Montenegro seemed to be doing OK. Foreign donations supported the population. But this aid will not continue, whoever wins the elections. And when it stops, people will want to know why.


In the event of Montenegro striking out on its own, it will not take long for people to realise that the path to treasured European integration will be long and hard.


This will cause disappointment and mutual accusations - and Belgrade will be blamed for it all.


Stojan Cerovic is political analyst at the Belgrade weekly Vreme


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