Montenegro: Djukanovic Plots Comeback

With the creation of Serbia and Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic has been dealt a severe blow but his political career, it seems, is far from over.

Montenegro: Djukanovic Plots Comeback

With the creation of Serbia and Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic has been dealt a severe blow but his political career, it seems, is far from over.

President Milo Djukanovic may survive the defeat of his bid to prise Montenegro away from Serbia. Following the creation of a new joint state, colleagues believe he may stage a comeback by aligning himself with the parties who had campaigned for the preservation of the Yugoslav federation.

The agreement to preserve the union was signed by Djukanovic himself on March 14 along with Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica. The former expressed the hope that "the Montenegrin people will accept this future union". But he faces a tough task explaining the move to his pro-independence supporters who make up about half the 600,000 population.

The deal followed marathon negotiations initiated by the European Union, EU, and conducted by Javier Solana, its foreign policy and security chief. The new state will be known as Serbia and Montenegro. The constitutional declaration of union must be verified by all three parliaments - those of the Yugoslav federation and the two republics.

This parliamentary adoption of the union, probably in June, will in practice signal the end of Yugoslavia as a state. Kostunica said it would be "the beginning of a new historic unity between Serbia and Montenegro".

The union will have a few joint institutions, such as a parliament, a president, a ministerial council and a court. The agreement stipulates equal status for Montenegro with the much larger Serbia.

A president elected by the Serbian-Montenegrin parliament will supervise the work of the ministerial council, which is to cover just five portfolios: foreign affairs, defence, international economic relations, internal economic relations and protection of human and minority rights.

Each member of the new state will retain its own economic system for a while. Montenegro will retain the euro and have its own customs regime. The agreement also envisages the possibility of a referendum on independence in three years time.

His unexpected endorsement of the union is key development in Djukanovic's chequered career. At the beginning of the Nineties, he was a close supporter of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. In 1997, he broke away and campaigned for Montenegrin independence.

As long as the latter remained in power, the international community backed Djukanovic's independence drive. Once Milosevic fell, the mood of the West changed. But the Montenegrin leader continued to insist on independence. With an electorate almost equally divided on the issue, Djukanovic's secessionist campaign brought him victory in last year's elections. He then planned to put the issue to a referendum in May.

The EU opposed a plebiscite and initiated negotiations between Belgrade and Podgorica last year to try and save the federation.

Political analysts in Podgorica now predict the fall of the Montenegrin government, which comprises Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, and the Social Democratic Party, SDP. The pro-independence Montenegrin Liberal Alliance, LSCG, has been backing the government but not participating in its work.

The SDP and LSCG issued no immediate reaction to the agreement. But party officials told IWPR the fall of the administration was almost certain. "We agreed to coalition with Djukanovic in order to promote the cause of independence. Now we no longer have reasons to stay in government," a senior SDP official said.

Meanwhile, the parties of the pro-Yugoslav bloc Together for Yugoslavia were jubilant at news of the new state.

"There will be no referendum, no two seats in the United Nations, the union lives and Djukanovic's separatist concept has been defeated," the leader of the Serbian People's Party, Bozidar Bojovic, told Podgorica radio.

The fall of the government will not necessarily lead to new elections that would inevitably spell the end Djukanovic's career. If he teamed up with his old pro-Yugoslav opponents, to form a new coalition, he might still stay in government.

Djukanovic expressed the hope on Thursday that his pro-independence partners would continue to back him and he insisted he would not join pro-Yugoslav parties, but Podgorica analysts say that they expect him to cooperate with his rivals.

And the first signs that anti-independence groups might extend Djukanovic a helping hand have begun to appear.

He won praise from the head of the People's party Dragan Soc who said, "Djukanovic stopped at the brink of disaster and we welcome that." And even before the agreement was signed, the leader of the strongest anti-independence party, Predrag Bulatovic, of the Socialist People's Party, SNP, told the Podgorica daily Vijesti, "If Djukanovic signs the agreement we will support him."

It looks increasingly possible that the DPS could now form an alliance with the SNP on a pro-union platform. The latter broke away from the former in 1997 when the Montenegrin president turned his back on Milosevic.

Now that that independence has failed, the two one-time allies might get together again.

Milka Tadic Mijovic is the editor-in-chief of the Podgorica weekly Monitor and a regular IWPR contributor.

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