Montenegro: North Celebrates New State

Opponents of Montenegrin independence relieved at survival of union with Serbia.

Montenegro: North Celebrates New State

Opponents of Montenegrin independence relieved at survival of union with Serbia.

The pro-Yugoslav block in Montenegro, mainly concentrated in the north of the country, heaved a collective sigh of relief this week at news that the union with Serbia is to survive.

They believe that the north played instrumental role in President Milo Djukanovic's decision to give up on his pro-independence programme, as prominent members of his ruling Democratic Socialist Party, DPS, in the region had been defecting to pro-Yugoslav ranks in the last few months.

The DPS has been leaking members in the north since the April 2001 parliamentary elections. In the horse-trading that followed the close result, the party adopted an increasingly strident pro-independence policy, alienating many of its supporters in the region, who have traditionally had close links with Serbia.

"Never with Milo anymore!" declared Bato Djurisic, a key activist and DPS financier in the northern town of Berane, on leaving the party recently.

Djurisic, a former member of the national boxing team and owner of the Nacional restaurant in Berane, was bitterly disappointed by Djukanovic's insistence on secession from the Yugoslav federation.

Djukanovic and his coalition Victory Belongs to Montenegro won the April 2001 parliamentary elections by a margin of only 1.4 per cent over the rival Together for Yugoslavia coalition.

Before the vote, Djukanovic refrained from openly declaring his backing for independence, because he was wary of losing support in the north. But in the immediate aftermath of the election, internal rifts began to emerge over the issue.

In July 2001, Berane mayor Sveto Mitrovic and several colleagues from the Victory coalition switched to the pro-Yugoslav bloc, turning the town into an opposition stronghold.

Prominent DPS members of the local assembly followed soon after - Milenko Radivojevic, general manager of the Izgradnja construction company, and Aleksandar Bulajic, director of the local veterinary centre, left the party saying its pro-independence policy was unacceptable. Their DPS colleagues claimed their departures were prompted by pure self-interest.

But the defections continued. In Bijelo Polje, the DPS mayor, Djordjije Lukic, resigned in January 2002. In the same month, Djuro Tvrdisic, head of the municipal urban planning department, and Vujica Obradovic, in charge of the municipal finance and economy secretariat, also left the party.

Djukanovic loyalists insisted these losses are not indicative of a decline in support. Miloje Drobnjak, a DPS deputy from Bijelo Polje, said the only party in terminal decline in Montenegro was the Socialist People's Party, the former allies of ousted Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. "I expect to win in local and any other elections in this town," Drobnjak told IWPR.

Just as damaging for Djukanovic was the waning support for his party among the Muslims of the Sandzak - an area split in two by the Serbian-Montenegrin border.

In the past, Sandzakis have backed the president. But the prospect of independence threatened its future. One of the region's politicians, Smajo Sabotic, defected from the DPS last year. "It is not me who abandoned the DPS - the party leadership abandoned its own statute and political programme. Of its ten crucial principles, the first was the preservation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," he said.

Sabotic is now a leader of the newly formed National Movement for Preservation of the Joint Serbian-Montenegrin State. He says that around 8,000 Montenegrins and Muslims from Berane and Bijelo Polje, and some 10,000 Muslims from Novi Pazar, on the Serbian side of border, have joined in recent months.

Momcilo Delic, a Montenegrin factory worker from Bijelo Polje, said he was delighted the union was to survive. "Many people feared that they would need passports to visit their closest relatives in Serbia. Hopefully, better days are ahead of us now," he said.

"They kept us in suspense and uncertainty for too long," said Beli Dizdarevic, a Muslim from Bijelo Polje. "We would be nothing if we were not together."

Senko Cabarkapa is deputy editor-in-chief of the Podgorica daily Dan.

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