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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    WED, 14 JAN 1998 14:36:19 GMT

    War or Peace in Montenegro

    Bulatovic's Protests: Demands Unknown, Epilogue Uncertain

    AIM Porgorica, 10 January, 1998

    The uncertainty which shook in the past week not only the Montenegrin political scene, but the entire public, was finally clarified, but the strain it has produced, remains. The political party of the current president of the Republic Momir Bulatovic, which is called by its sympathizers by the old name DPS (Democratic Party of Socialists) and by the opponents a self-proclaimed group, decided to keep the promise it had given and as of Monday, start with protests against "illegitimate and arrogant" Montenegrin authorities. However, the main board of Bulatovic's party which met on Friday did not formulate demands with which it will address the government and prime minister Djukanovic, but this job along with the entire organization was bestowed on the executive committee of the party. The main board agreed to adopt a proclamation which, due to the blockade of state media, was printed in 100 thousand copies on blue paper which symbolizes the spirit of Yugoslavia, in which the citizens were invited to attend the great national gathering because "all other means for protection of our rights have been exhausted". "The authorities which are acting unlawfully and which have no confidence in the people have no right to be the authorities... If we do not stop them today, the price will tomorrow be much higher just as the evil will be much greater which will be done to our people and our state", it is said among other in the Proclamation, along with the conclusion that it is necessary to persist with the protests "until demands are met which will be delivered to Montenegrin and Yugoslav authorities"!

    In a statement given after the session of the main board of his party, Momir Bulatovic said that he was aware that "every protest bears a large dose of risk", but also that "we have no other way and means". What is especially politically significant in his statement is that he expressed discontent with "passivity of the federal authorities" because, according to his words, this was not an internal matter of Montenegro but a conflict which reflects on the federal state and "it would be right for it to state its stance". Although, if read between the lines of the mentioned Bulatovic's statement, one could find a specific invitation for engagement of the army and introduction of a state of emergency, it is difficult to believe the information published today by the pro-government daily Pobjeda and carried by almost all the private dailies in Serbia, that at the recent session of the Supreme Defence Council that is exactly what Bulatovic asked for - introduction of the state of emergency and radicalization of the political conflict in Montenegro. Such an information does not seem to be reliable not only because of the denial issued by minister of defence Pavle Bulatovic, also member of the Supreme Council of FRY and vice-president of DPS, Predrag Bulatovic, but because of the obvious intention of the opposite, Djukanovic's block, to exert additional opressure on Bulatovic and his group by issuing half-information or rumours, suppressing in this way possible undesired consequences of the announced protests.

    That Djukanovic is succeeding in various ways to releave the tension intentionally kept up by Bulatovic is best illustrated by the decision of the leader of the Radicals, Seselj to cease offering support to the current president of Montenegro and, instead to the protest of Bulatovic's supporters, to come to Cetinje next week, where on 15 January Milo Djukanovic will be inaugurated for Montenegrin president. On the other hand, federal prime minister Radoje Kontic has also announced that he would be coming to Cetinje after all, which means recognition of the election result and the new president, although it should be said that from the beginning of the conflict at the top of the ruling party in Montenegro, Kontic has never stated support to either Djukanovic or Bulatovic, but it was obvious that he was much closer to Bulatovic. The greatest mystery resolution of which will condition the epilogue of the announced protests, is the stand of the federal president Milosevic. He and his left coalition have until now publicly and all the way backed Bulatovic. Bulatovic has also received material and media support from Belgrade. However, Milosevic is now faced with a great temptation. All the relevant political forces in Serbia, including his new coalition partner, the Serb Revival Movement (SPO), are pressuring him demanding that that he recognize Djukanovic's inauguration. Even more significant and larger pressure is coming from the international community. In just two days, concerning the forthcoming developments in Montenegro, both Robert Gelbard, Clinton's commissioner for the Balkans, and the Contact Group, demanded from Milosevic and Bulatovic to "peacefully surrender power to Djukanovic" and warned against the possible tragic epilogue of their protests!

    That Milosevic is not completely indifferent to all this is proved by unofficial information published by Nasa Borba that at the mentioned session of the Supreme Defence Council, the federal boss offered Bulatovic the vacant post of the foreign minister and that the latter refused. In a statement for the independent Podgorica daily Vijesti, Bulatovic denied such rumours calling them speculations and repeating his earlier stand that he would not go anywhere from Montenegro "although many would like that".

    When everything is summed up, Bulatovic is in a very difficult position, but he refuses to give up. Aware that if he accepted his fate and surrendered power in a civilized manner to Djukanovic, he might be badly beaten in parliamentary elections in the end of May, which would automatically send him to political history of Montenegro. That is why, with his fanatic followers, he is trying to keep up the tension among his future voters for as long as absolutely possible. This, however, might be a double-edged weapon. Montenegro is a small and scarcely populated territory of violent people, so that in the existing explosive atmosphere, the smallest spark could cause a conflict with unforeseeable results.

    Bulatovic calmly watched similar scenarios taking place in Croatia and Bosnia. Judging by the way he has behaved, acted and sounded in the past few weeks, it seems that he would not feel guilty even if war started in Montenegro. Regardless of the intensity of the attack and the amount of intrigue and deception against him coming from the opposed group, there is simply no excuse for stirring up the basic instincts and dissension in whole of Montenegro, starting from the tribal to ethnic and religious.

    On the other hand, Djukanovic is carefully and politically quite skilfully, although not rarely rudely, weakening and isolating Bulatovic. He gathered all the available forces around him, not just the state apparatus, but also the largest part of the opposition, the University, technocratic structures, world powers... All that gives him the possibility to tighten the encirclement around Bulatovic, to weaken his front every day, even making preparations for resorting to his arrest if it appears to be necessary. But for both of them, and perhaps even for Montenegro that would be the worst denouement, because after that it would be difficult to keep the situation under control and avoid developments such as the ones seen a few months ago in the neighbouring Albania.

    In any case, next week brings the largest challenge - both for democratic processes in Montenegro, peace and coexistence, survival of the joint state of FRY. After the mentioned session of the main board, Bulatovic mentioned that extremely important word - compromise, stressing that, as the organizers of the protests, they would form a negotiating team which will with the already formed demands be ready for negotiations with the other party.

    All this resembles walking on a tight rope above the abyss of a civil war. If Montenegro manages to find a way out of all this peacefully and without victims, it will be the best sign that its citizens have reached an enviable level of democratic culture and that they have succeeded in resisting the temptation to follow, like a herd, their irresponsible leaders to their own ruin.

    Marko Vukovic

    (AIM Podgorica)