by Stojan CEROVIC
The authorities in Montenegro have sharpened and deepened the well known old division and the problem became impossible, like squaring the circle. To the question of the type all or nothing we are supposed to get an answer that means something third, that would satisfy both sides. That is why at the same time they are preparing an independence referendum and offering a platform with common functions. Serbia is it seems expected to offer brotherly assistance, to calm the opponents of the independence in Montenegro and say that everything would be fine, that Serbia won't get angry or offended; on the contrary, it will treat that separation as a proof of love and after that we shall live in harmony and better than ever.
But, it seems that in Serbia the mood is different and Podgorica could get a cool response, along the lines: first you hold a referendum, decide whether you're in or out, and then we shall later see whether there will be any agreement and about what. That would probably decrease the likelihood of the success of the referendum, increase tension within Montenegro and put both Djukanovic's authorities and both, almost equal, sides in the conflict in the bind. That has already started as the ruling coalition has split after the departure of the People's Party.
The problem boils down to the international recognition of Montenegrin independence, and the formal abolition of FR Yugoslavia, which according to Djukanovic does not exist anyway. If that were correct then there would be no problem and the referendum would not be necessary. However, it is true that the common state does formally exist, at least with respect to the world outside its borders, and it is up to Montenegro whether that external form would be filled in with some meaningful content or be abolished. Djukanovic is going towards the latter solution putting at risk both the relations with Serbia and internal conflicts in Montenegro.
I do not see why formal independence would be so important for Montenegro, even if it could be achieved easily and cheaply. Now, when Milosevic is totally defeated, it could make a deal with Belgrade that would give it in practice everything it wants apart form the seat in the UN. But, in Podgorica, Milosevic is not used anymore as an argument, but all the other traumas, such as the unification in 1918, have been pulled out. People who claim to be staring exclusively in the European future talk incessantly about that past. They believe, I suppose, that that trauma was worse and more recent than all other European traumas ignored by Europe. Someone is supposed to understand that Montenegro has to protect itself from the repetition of the year 1918 and in Bosnia and Kosovo common life can be renewed on top of still fresh graves. In Podgorica, of course, they can protest against such tying in with other regional problems, but it cannot be expected from the world that is supposed to offer support and a recognition to ignore that Montenegrin secession is a bad example and counters all the efforts for the stabilization of the Balkans.
True, Montenegro recently obtained significant assistance from the US, almost as much as Serbia, which could be interpreted as "discrete" support to secession. I do not know what the American motivation is, if not to with the disappearance of FRY ease the problem of Kosovo status and make the UN resolution by which it is a part of Yugoslavia worthless. I do understand that Montenegro needs that money, but if that is the chief reason for this important historical endeavor, for causing trouble to others and itself, I would say that it is not worth it, especially since America will not forever pay Montenegrin bills.
As far as Serbia is concerned, it would not have to insist on the formal continuity of this commonwealth out of spite or inertia, nor so that president Kostunica would not lose his job, if it weren't for the Kosovo issue. Someone may note that Kosovo is anyway mostly lost for Serbia, but Belgrade definitely has the right to negotiate about that, to demand different concessions and in general to deal with that based on its own timetable, instead of immediately giving up everything when Podgorica decides to abolish Yugoslavia.
The authorities in Montenegro do not have an obligation to care about that, nor about other significant consequences and chain reactions that may be provoked by such automatic resolution of the Kosovo status, but they should not fool themselves by thinking that their forced march towards the secession is a friendly gesture towards Serbia. In that case they should not rely a lot on the offered platform, but exclusively in their own forces and St. Vasilije Ostroski, the miracle worker who gives eyesight to the blind and may help out with the referendum as well.
Is seems that at least about a half of Montenegrins would vote against the secession, and it would not sound great if the votes of Montenegrin Albanians ended up being decisive. They, as citizens, of course, have the full right to state their opinion about the issue, but the civic principle in this particular case only disguises an essentially national problem.
Montenegrins are divided especially because of national feelings, and Albanians would probably be unanimous because of their national reasons. Formally, of course, there is no need to take this into account, but gaining an upper hand in a vote with the assistance of an ethnic minority which promotes its own interests does not promise anything good for Montenegro.
Djukanovic, until recently a very popular politician in Serbia, maybe even more than in Montenegro, has now probably gone too far to stop and take a step back. That would, namely, cost him power, but for him there is no propitious way out even if he continues on this path. It seems that it would be best for him to simply loose that referendum and then quietly withdraw from politics.