by Batic BACEVIC
Sad history indicates that the biggest river in the Balkans is the column of refugees and emigrants who found shelter from the Ottoman oppression in Montenegro and left Montenegro fleeing from hunger, blood revenge, and other misfortune to go to Serbia. They did all that in total ignorance that these were two totally different nations, burdened by many illusions poured into their minds by Njegos [greatest Montenegrin writer and prince] and other Serb hegemonists, all until, at the start of the new millennium, the truth was finally discovered. Before the truth, Montenegro became the only European country with more citizens living abroad than within the borders of the motherland.
In Serbia, according to the census ten years ago, there were 140,024 Montenegrins, but no one knows for sure how many citizens of Montenegro live in Serbia, as it is likely that many Montenegrin nationals declared themselves as Serbs, Yugoslavs or Muslims after moving to Serbia. Members of the radical faction of Belgrade based supporters of Momir Bulatovic claim that there are between 800,000 and one million Montenegrin nationals in Serbia, but until now there have been no serious investigations about the most recent phenomenon in the distorted Balkan understanding of politics, history, and identity - the domestic diaspora.
The Federal Minister of Internal Affairs [Police], Zoran Zivkovic, says that there are no official estimates or statistics regarding the number of Montenegrin nationals living in Serbia, but he believes that there are "hundreds of thousands". The fact that a large number of Serbian residents could against their will suddenly end up in the status of stateless persons, or tourists who in their search for exotic locales somehow ended up in Serbia, motivated the opponents of the Montenegrin President, Milo Djukanovic, to politically activate the "domestic diaspora". It also forced the liberal democratic public to face a dilemma - how can one support a referendum if a large number of citizens of the state do not have the right to vote in it? Citizens who are convinced that the mutual links between the state and its citizens is the main pillar of every democratic society.
However, the general discussion about democracy and legal norms has been overshadowed by a rather banal question. Will this favor "us of them"? On January 15, deputy president of the Socialist People's Party Predrag Bulatovic stated that "a forceful action aiming to register all the Montenegrin citizens living in Serbia has been started. Judging by the experiences from abroad and OSCE views, they will eventually have the right to vote in an independence referendum". On the other hand, other federal officials announced that they would file a suit with the Human Rights Court of the European Council, whose verdicts are final. "That is another one of a serious of activities organized by the Greater Serbian team against Montenegro and the planned referendum," reacted the president of the Montenegrin Matica in Belgrade, Branko Baletic. Baletic's views are shared by the director of the Center for Human Rights of the Montenegro University, Nebojsa Vucinic, who emphasized that "if the citizens of Montenegro who live in Belgrade and have tied their fate with Belgrade get the right to vote, that would place the citizens of Montenegro in an unequal position, and the international community would not tolerate that. On the other, hand that only revels the true intentions of the Greater Serbian circles to continue to treat Montenegro as a part of Serbia, which is impermissible." The quoted author of the theory that the desire of numerous citizens of Montenegro to decide about their own destiny, as they are not exactly excited by the prospects of becoming stateless persons is actually a mask for Greater Serbian circles teaches international law at the Podgorica University.
The dispute regarding the participation in the best-prepared referendum in the recent history opens the issue of the status of Montenegrin citizens living in Serbia if the negotiations about the common state are ultimately unsuccessful. Namely, if the third Yugoslavia disappears and leaves behind many citizens on the wrong side of the border. According to the valid laws, the citizens of the third Yugoslavia have the citizenship of the Federation and one of the member states, which allow them to enjoy all the rights anywhere on the Federation territory. If the negotiations about the fate of the common state totally fail, citizens of FRY would be left only with their state citizenship. Professor Gaso Knezevic states that "it would be nice and humane if the authorities in Serbia gave the citizens of Montenegro an opportunity to acquire Serbian citizenship is they desire to do so," but he also emphasizes that the in the past people automatically ended up with the citizenship of the state they had at the time of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. "Many Serbs from Croatia wanted to get Yugoslav citizenship but they were not allowed to do so because they automatically became Croatian citizens and until today they haven't been able to acquire Yugoslav citizenship."
According to Knezevic, foreign citizens do not have the right to vote; to participate in political activities; they cannot hold state offices or jobs in public services, such as judiciary, for example; their right to work becomes questionable, as well as the right to own property [all former Yugoslav states as a rule ban foreign nationals from owning real estate; Slovenia is the only exception as she was forced to adjust its legal norms to the European Union standards]. NIN's interlocutor notices that a break-up of the federation would be felt the most by the Serbian judiciary as many judges, prosecutors, and lawyers are Montenegrin nationals.
The Federal Police Minister agrees with the statement that in the case of a break-up of the federal state, Montenegrin citizens in Serbia, as well as Serbian citizens in Montenegro would become foreigners. "They would loose some very important rights. I believe that both Serbia and Montenegro would enact laws that would improve the situation of these persons, but at first they would be denied the rights they currently have," says Zivkovic.
The disappearance of the semi-defunct federal state could be felt by many owners of vacation homes on the Montenegrin coast, as well as the entrepreneurs who have over the last few years moved their business activities to the more liberal member of the federation. "I believe that that would be regulated by inter-state treaties and reciprocity. I haven't noticed the mood to question the property rights of the citizens of Serbia in Montenegro, and I doubt that any such mood exists in Serbia," says Soc.
The whole story regarding citizenship is rather hypothetical, as there are serious chances that the common state will survive separatist turbulence, but it reveals a serious issue related to the relations and identity of Serbs and Montenegrins. Wherever they went in the past, to American mines, Argentine farms, to fight against Che Gevara, or for Stalin, Montenegrins invested a lot of energy in the preservation of their tongue, moral codex and traditional divisions. Curiously enough, they only did not do that in Serbia.