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DOSSIER ON THE RIGHTS AND PROTECTION OF ETHNIC MINORITIES IN BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA, MACEDONIA, SERBIA, MONTENEGRO, AND CROATIA
Searching for European Standards
By: Veseljko Koprivica
Officially, Montenegro has no ethnic minorities - except in its Constitution. Parliamentary parties have agreed in September 1997 to introduce the term "minority nation" instead of the term used in the Constitution. By it they mean the members of the peoples who had the status of constitutive nations in former SFRY: the Muslims, the Albanians and the Croats. Since the introduction of the term minority nation, there has been no guessing about who belongs among the "majority" and who among the "minority" nation.
The Roma are an ethnic group. According to the data of social welfare centres there are about 21 thousand of them or 6.5 times more than at 1991 census. Such an enormous increase is the result of a large number of Roma refugees from Kosovo.
Montenegro is the homeland of members of 18 national and ethnic groups. Here is how its population was composed after 1991 census: Montenegrins 81.8 per cent, Muslims 14.57 per cent, Serbs 9.34, Albanians 6.57, Roma 0.53, and Croats 1 per cent. According to demographic estimates, Montenegro has about 720 thousand inhabitants at this moment. It is assumed that the arrival of refugees (and there are about 45 thousand of them, which is 6 whole per cent of the total population), ethnic composition significantly changed only in favour of the Serbs, the Albanians, and the Roma.
The rights of minority nations are a frequent topic of discussions on the political scene, of expert and scientific debates, but also among the citizens. The opinions about the level of protection of these rights are quite polarized. Political assessments are predominant, with distinct characteristics of different political parties. On the one hand, every improvement of the status of minority nations in reference to the situation preceding parliamentary democracy, and on the other, there is an apologetic stand concerning their status. Not only the minority, but even the majority Montenegrin people have different views of this issue. In order to get a more objective picture about it, it should be said that the fundamental human rights even of the Montenegrins, who are the so-called majority nation, are also threatened. In the past few days, in the midst of drafting of the Constitutional Charter, even the participants in finalization of the Serbian-Montenegrin state denied the existence of the Montenegrin nation ("Montenegrins are a Jesuit creation", is the statement of Dragan Jocic, member of the Commission and member of Kostunica's party). Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which was autocephalous for several centuries and gathers several ten thousand believers, is proclaimed to be a sect, and, on the eve of the first round of presidential elections, candidate Filip Vujanovic declared that there is only the Serb Orthodox Church in Montenegro!
Nevertheless, according to the reports of local and foreign organizations, there is no doubt that minority nations are not threatened in Montenegro. While referring recently to the time of war in former Yugoslavia, Milo Djukanovic, the president of Montenegro at the time, estimated as follows: " When everybody in the world doubted that harmonious interethnic relations were possible anywhere in the region, we in Montenegro showed that we could be an oasis of multiethnic democracy and break the darkness the Balkan was known for".
However, minority nations are discontented with their status. The Albanians, the Muslims and the Bosniacs complain the most, mostly because of inadequate participation in power. But, in the past few years, the situation is changing for the better. At this moment, the Muslims and the Bosniacs have one deputy prime minister and vice chairman of the Assembly each, and the Albanians have the minister of minority nations. A large number of assistants and advisors in various ministries are also members of different minority nations.
In order to come closer to European standards, the assembly of Montenegro decided in September last year to pass the law on authentic representation of minority nations in the Republican Assembly. This job should be completed by March in consultations with experts from OSCE and the USA.
Referring to European experience and standards that enable stable living in a multiethnic environment, spokesman of the Democratic Union of the Albanians, Ferhat Dinosa, has for quite some time insisted that for the Albanians in Montenegro "top quality personal autonomy" would be the best. Dinosa has repeated several times that Albanian ethnic parties wish to get authentic representatives in Montenegrin parliament by democratic means. "We want a position which will mean ethnic subjectivization of the Albanians, in other words, we want to be partners. If you are not a subject, you cannot be a partner", Dinosa believes. Insisting that the Albanians must not depend on the change of regimes in Montenegro, Dinosa warns that the status of the Albanians should not threaten territorial integrity of Montenegro. However, his idea on a special status for the Albanians is not strongly supported by the Albanians. They feel justified fear that this would lead them to self-isolation and living in an ethnic ghetto.
Recently, five Montenegrin non-governmental organizations - Civic Home, Parliament of the Young of Montenegro, Boka Tolerance Centre, Women's Media Centre, and Students' Cultural Centre - appealed on political parties to pay attention to the representation of minority nations in the election of candidates for the Republican and municipal parliaments, which would help more successful resolution of their problems. The disposition of Montenegrin public in general also goes in this sense. Judging by what could be heard at their promotional gatherings on the eve of last year's October parliamentary elections, pro-Yugoslav parties in Montenegro also agree with this.
On the eve of the latest parliamentary elections, representatives of Albanian parties demanded that the Albanians be granted double franchise - to vote for a party on the level of the state and for their ethnic parties in order to attain easier access to power. However, in the parliament, a different stand prevailed with the pretext that other minority nations could also immediately demand the same right form themselves, and that would cause political chaos. Nevertheless, the election limit for entering the parliament was abolished for Albanian ethnic parties (Democratic Union of the Albanians and Democratic Alliance).
President of Democratic Alliance Mehmed Bardhi believes that the Albanians in Montenegro, as autochthons, are still hostages of political authorities which have not clearly defined national and state interests and the status of minority peoples. "That is why it is of top priority to define the state and legal status of Montenegro on the global political level, and within it the position and the rights of minority nations, because the current situation is unacceptable and prevents the development of democratic processes", says Bardhi, claiming also that the state and legal status of Montenegro will not favourably be regulated by the Belgrade Agreement either. "The Albanians can best achieve their rights through their ethnic parties", Bardhi thinks.
In its Constitution, Montenegro inaugurated the concept of a civic state as the best solution for a democratic and multiethnic community. It warrants the rights of ethnic minorities like in all civilized countries. And how close are Constitutional provisions and everyday life is illustrated by a last year's investigation done for the Republican Council for the Protection of National and Ethnic Groups.
The general picture created by its results is comparatively favourable. Only one third of the respondents - members of minority nations (34.82%) think that some of their essential human rights are threatened. Among them, the most numerous are the Albanians - Catholics (76.67 per cent), and the least numerous are the Bosniacs - Muslims (13.04 per cent). Among the cities, on the list of the most threatened ones, Cetinje ranks the first, because the Roma from there declared that that they were one hundred per cent threatened, Pljevlja follows (56.41), and then Bar (50), Ulcinj (49.50), Podgorica (48.82) and Niksic (36.84 per cent). The situation is best in Tivat, Kotor, Rozaje and Bijelo Polje.
Which of their human rights are threatened the most? Here is the list: the right to freedom (23.40 per cent), the right to a fair and independent trial (12.45 per cent), the right to live (11.32), the freedom of expression (10.57), the right to respect of private and family life (7.55), freedom of thought, consciousness and religion (6.42 per cent). Among the most frequently threatened "other rights", the respondents stressed violation of the right to employment, ethnic self-determination (the Bosniacs) and participation in political life.
A more detailed analysis of empirical data shows that ethnic affiliation for three quarters of the citizens (75.47 per cent) was not a handicap in finding employment through public competition. But, at the same time, twenty per cent of the Albanians, twenty per cent of the Albanians who are Muslims, and the Croats believe that their ethnic affiliation was the decisive obstacle for them to get jobs although they met all the requirements.
A high percentage of the respondents believe that in Montenegro, political, normative, and partly institutional conditions have mostly been created that are favourable for recognition of different cultures. This stand is shared by 70.73 per cent of the respondents. The Croats are the least discontented by the opportunities to develop their culture, although the investigation showed that only 4.65 per cent of them are really satisfied with the content of school curricula in history, and 11.63 with literature curriculum. A much larger number of Muslim Albanians are discontented by the use of their mother tongue and the conditions for the improvement of their culture than Catholic Albanians (42.76 vs. 13.33 per cent). The trend of decline of positive replies is directly proportional with the level of education, in other words the most discontented are persons with college and university education.
According to the investigation, Kotor and Bijelo Polje can brag that they are examples of developed interethnic harmony and respect when the culture of minority nations and the use of mother tongue are concerned. No less than 89.43 per cent of the respondents think that they can freely use their mother tongue. Among those who have the opposite opinion, the most numerous are Muslim Albanians (23.34 per cent). It is interesting that in Ulcinj, which is mostly populated by the Albanians, only 0.99 per cent of the respondents believe that their right to use the mother tongue and free expression of ethnic and religious affiliation are threatened.
In places where they are the majority population, the Albanians can get elementary and secondary-school education in their own language. Introduction of university training in Albanian language is also planned. A considerable progress in access to information in Albanian language has also been achieved. Montenegrin state radio and television broadcast daily information program in Albanian language, but so do a few local radio stations. In Tuzi near Podgorica, where mostly Albanians live, there is a private Radio and Television station for two years already and it broadcasts programs in Albanian, and a weekly in Albanian language is published in Podgorica.
Five years ago, a Muslim cultural society was founded in Podgorica for the purpose of studying and protecting the cultural heritage of the Muslim people. Since two years ago, "Almanach" association has operated in Podgorica gathering intellectuals who are Muslim/Bosniac. The association publishes a cultural and scientific magazine and published the works of writers who are of Bosniac origin.
There have been attempts to break the traditionally good interethnic and inter-religious relations in Montenegro. Pro-Serb media from Montenegro - Dan and Glas Crnogoraca, with the logistics from Belgrade media - were especially active in this. In the past two years, for example, they stirred up interethnic tension for a long time, announcing that the Albanians in northern Montenegro in cooperation with their fellow Albanians from Kosovo and Albania were preparing an armed uprising and secession of the municipalities in which they are the majority population.
But, it turned out that these were classical cases of misinformation and futile manipulation of public opinion. This is also confirmed by a part of the mentioned investigation on neighbourly relations between members of different ethnic groups and religions. Radical attitudes towards other nations, religious intolerance, stereotypes and ethnic prejudice are very scarce in Montenegro. For example, 79.95 per cent of the respondents have never experienced any form of insult and belittling on ethnic grounds by their neighbours of different ethnic origin or religion. And even when it happened, it mostly came down to fowl language and blaming certain nations for what has happened in recent past in this space. The Roma experienced the least insults, then the Muslim/Bosniacs, the Muslims, Catholic Albanians, the Croats, and most of all the Albanians of Muslim creed.
A big number of insults, the investigation has shown, is experienced by the Roma in Cetinje and the Croats in Tivat, while nothing of the kind or just an insignificant percentage of them was experienced by the Roma in Niksic, Rozaje and Kotor. In this poll, 81.25 per cent of the Muslims said that they have never experienced insults by their fellow citizens of other ethnic origin, as well as 60.87 per cent of Muslims-Bosniacs, 62.50 per cent of Muslim Montenegrins, 74.19 per cent of Bosniacs, 55 per cent of Catholic Albanians, 42.76 per cent of Muslim Albanians, 86.05 per cent of Croats and 89.19 per cent of the Roma.
The investigation showed another interesting phenomenon. Keeping friends and companionship with members of one's own ethnic group speaks of hermetism and ethnic distance, especially in relation to the majority nation - ethnic Montenegrins. Only 11.11 per cent of the respondents have friendly relations with ethnic Montenegrins, and 1.08 with the Serbs and 0.81 per cent with the Croats. It is noticeable that the Muslims are in this respect the most acceptable ethnic category, the Albanians follow, which is understandable in view of the ethnic composition of the sample. All the respondents mostly manifest inclination towards keeping company with the members of their own ethnic group; only 11.68 per cent of the respondents expressed readiness to associate with persons from all ethnic groups. It is interesting that 23.26 per cent of the Croats declared that from the aspect of making friends members of all ethnic communities are equally significant for them, while 9.30 per cent stress that most of their friends belong to their own ethnic group.
A large number of respondents disassociated themselves from ethnic Montenegrins as possible friends. The Bosniacs do not have friends among ethnic Montenegrins, Serbs, Albanians, and Croats; Muslim Montenegrins, Bosniacs and Catholic Albanians claim the same about the Serbs. At the same time, 70.87 per cent of respondents stress that despite tumultuous developments in the past years, they have not broken up old friendships. Catholic Albanians have lost the fewest friends because of these developments, and the Bosniacs and the Croats have lost the most. The most frequent cause of broken friendships is different party and ideological stands, intolerance to political opponents. On the other hand, different religious affiliation has affected breaking up of friendships only in 7.46 per cent of cases, which is another proof that Montenegro has preserved its traditional religious tolerance.
In the mentioned investigation, minority nations have expressed a high degree of loyalty to Montenegro as their homeland where they can and should best resolve the questions of their status. This is one of the explanations why they are pessimistic about the Constitutional Charter of the new Serbia's and Montenegro's state community. Montenegrin Assistant Minister for the protection of rights of the members of ethnic groups, Sabahudin Delic, expressed discontent with the way ethnic minorities are treated in the Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro, claiming that this Ministry was not consulted in its drafting. Fuad Nimani, President of the Democratic Union of the Albanians, says that the Union is not interested in the rights of minority nations in the new state community of Serbia and Montenegro.
Harun Hadzic, President of International Democratic Union, national party of the Bosniacs from Montenegro, also declared just a few days ago that a special charter planned for the protection of the rights of minority nations degrades minority nations to second-rate citizens. "It appears as if the Serbs and the Montenegrins, as patricians, if compared to the Roman Empire, have their own Constitutional Charter as a superior document, while minority nations, as plebeians, have their own, inferior charter". Judging by earlier reassurances of the authors of the Constitutional Charter and experts on human rights, such and similar assessments are not realistic. And who is right will without bias be judged by life itself in the new state of Serbia and Montenegro.