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Montenegro Launches New Divorce Bid

Podgorica’s latest separation proposal is designed to disarm opponents in Belgrade and Brussels - as well as avoid a referendum that nobody appears to want.
By Nedjeljko Rudovic

Montenegro’s pro-independence government has launched a new initiative aimed at achieving the goal of separation from Serbia, without having to hold a divisive referendum on the issue.


Podgorica officials last week sent their Serbian counterparts a proposed draft agreement on transforming the current loose State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, SCG, into a still looser union of independent states.


IWPR sources close to the Montenegrin leadership said the government’s strategy aimed to take into account unofficial western opposition to an independence referendum.


The same sources said the authorities also feared stirring up divisions in a referendum and so deepening the chasm between finely balanced pro-independence advocates and supporters of ties to Serbia.


According to Montenegro’s premier, Milo Djukanovic, if the current strategy fails to yield the desired result, a referendum on independence will go ahead anyway in February 2006.


“Montenegro will undoubtedly use its right to a referendum and I openly told our partners that in Belgrade and Brussels,” Djukanovic recently told the media.


Montenegro justifies its initiative by insisting the State Union is a dysfunctional arrangement, which is slowing the passage of both Montenegro and Serbia towards the European Union.


Officials say the bids of both republics to join Europe will be more efficient if they become truly independent states, while at the same time remaining in a loose union.


An IWPR source in Brussels has indicated that the EU’s once-firm opposition to any moves to dismantle the State Union is weakening; the message now was only that the two sides should stay in it “for a little bit longer”.


The Brussels source added that if Montenegro became an independent state, “The EU would not turn its back on it.”


Podgorica wants Brussels to put pressure on Belgrade to accept the new, still looser, arrangement. At the same time, Podgorica now has the excuse that it has tried to reach an agreement with Belgrade prior to organising a referendum.


The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro emerged in 2002 as a result of the Belgrade Agreement, hatched under pressure from the EU.


As a result, the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY, was dissolved and the former tight federation was transformed into an arrangement that resembled a confederation.


The deal saw Montenegro abandoning its right to hold a referendum for a period of three years, which expires in February 2006 (as the SCG Constitutional Charter was adopted in February 2003).


An official of Djukanovic’s ruling Democratic Party of Socialists, DPS, who insisted on anonymity, told IWPR that Podgorica’s initiative was made in coordination with influential circles in the EU that accept the State Union is not functioning.


“This proposal is good for everyone,” he said. “Sovereignty supporters get Montenegro’s independence, unionists get the survival of the union, as there will be no barriers with Serbia and the EU gets stable relations between Montenegro and Serbia without a referendum on independence.”


“Western diplomats feel that holding a referendum would be problematic and we are meeting them halfway,” the DPS official concluded.


Montenegro’s president, Filip Vujanovic, and Djukanovic have included in their offer a pledge to maintain the free movement of people, goods and capital between the republics, modeled on the existing relations between EU countries.


They offered recognition of Serbia’s right to inherit the SCG’s position in international political organisations, which will mean Montenegro applying separately for membership.


As far as the union is concerned, they propose linking the two republics through a single-chamber assembly and a board with a president and three commissioners.


The commissioners would be in charge of matters still covered by the union, including defense and foreign affairs.


Citizens of both republics would have much the same rights and obligations in each republic except for the right to vote.


The new union would act militarily as one. “The joint activities of the two armed forces within the military alliance would be under the command of the Supreme Defense Council, made up of the President of Serbia, the President of Montenegro and the President of the union commission and would decide by consensus,” the proposal said.


While the terms seem designed to draw the sting out of unionist opposition to the independence drive, most of the latter in Montenegro still appear unimpressed.


Srdja Bozovic, deputy leader of Montenegro’s pro-union opposition Socialist People’s Party, SNP, dismissed the initiative as unconstitutional and anti-democratic.


It was another attempt by the Montenegrin authorities to avoid holding direct elections to the SCG parliament, he said.


Serbia also shows no signs of succumbing to Podgorica’s charm offensive. The prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, immediately condemned the offer.


“Podgorica is running not only from State Union parliamentary elections but from a referendum as well,” he told the media. “They are trying to create a situation leading to a spontaneous parting of ways.”


Serbia’s president, Boris Tadic, also urged both parties to retain the State Union, although he added that he was prepared to discuss the Montenegrin proposal.


Djukanovic on February 28 told journalists that his government wanted to remove all remaining obstacles slowing its path to Europe with the new initiative.


“We are in a hurry to get into the EU and NATO and we have the impression that we are wasting time with this union, because of which we want independence,” he said.


Montenegro does not want to suffer as a result of Serbia’s perceived failure to fully cooperate with the Hague war crimes tribunal.


Their officials fear that despite a probable green light from Brussels on a feasibility study for SCG to join the EU, negotiations on the signing of a Stabilization and Association Agreement, SAA, will still be delayed – largely thanks to unfinished business at The Hague. “We are suffering through no fault of our own,” an IWPR source in the DPS said.


The speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, Ranko Krivokapic, told the German ambassador, Andreas Zobel, on February 28 that Podgorica’s initiative deserved support.


The fact that the EU had already accepted the need to adopt a so-called “twin-track” approach towards the SCG’s EU membership drive confirmed that Montenegro and Serbia had separate economic systems, he said.


“Montenegro’s readiness to complete negotiations to join the World Trade Organisation in a record time shows the potential Montenegro has, if it speeds up the process of European integration as an independent state,” Krivokapic added.


Svetozar Jovicevic, head of the NGO Group for Changes, a strong critic of Djukanovic, is also convinced that a future union of independent states offers a realistic solution to the crisis in relations between Montenegro and Serbia.


“Its advantage is that it provides a certain way out for the EU leaders,” he told IWPR. “The EU will be able to say it has kept Serbia and Montenegro in some kind of union and avoided a difficult battle over referendum conditions, which I don’t think they want to engage in,” he said.


At a meeting on March 3 between Djukanovic and Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, reiterated the union’s commitment to the Belgrade Agreement and the Constitutional Charter, saying the road to Europe for Serbia and Montenegro would be better and faster together than apart.


Earlier, Christina Gallach, Solana’s spokesperson, said Brussels feared only that the latest proposal might stall the rate of political and economic reforms needed to bring both Serbia and Montenegro closer to Europe.


However, Montenegro is likely to press ahead with its initiative. President Vujanovic told the media that it represented the best model for cooperation.


Analysts believe Podgorica’s proposal is an attempt mainly to show Brussels that it is ready to compromise with Belgrade.


Drasko Djuranovic, analyst at the weekly Monitor, said Montenegro knew very well that Serbia would reject its advance; the aim was to present Kostunica, not Djukanovic, as the problematic element in the equation.


“Serbia’s refusal would be a good excuse for Montenegro to take the road to a referendum and the west would not stop it, as it did before,” Djuranovic added.


Nedjeljko Rudovic is a journalist with Vijesti newspaper.


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