AIM: start

THU, 02 AUG 2001 21:49:24 GMT

Montenegro between a Minority and Coalition Government

Dialogue or a Waste of Time

An all-party coalition government could help resolve the status of Montenegro only if, prior to its forming, all relevant parties agree on conditions for a referendum on independence.

AIM Podgorica, July 27, 2001

Only a nation accustomed to the unbelievable could so peacefully accept that which in the election campaign seemed impossible: in a conversation with Premier Filip Vujanovic, representatives of the Together for Yugoslavia coalition said they were ready to enter a cabinet composed of all parliamentary parties and simultaneously participate in preparations for a referendum on Montenegro's independence. True, neither God nor the participants of this historic meeting did anything to boost media coverage of the event. When they did what they did in silence, they sent a carefully worded and optimistic message to the public: "We hope that our talks will lead to stability and the development of democracy in Montenegro."

There have been similar meetings in Montenegro in the past, held in seclusion and with the same list of participants, and other optimistic messages. And all of them had one thing in common: the talks took place only when the players were up to their necks in trouble, and when they, embattled as they were, deep down had some common interests. When the situation is perceived from this angle, there is nothing strange about it. Montenegro remains deeply divided. Milosevic's departure has confirmed what everybody knew all along: no one outside Montenegro, neither Belgrade nor the world, could assist in this matter even if they wanted to do so. This is why it is not prudent to rule out any chance of an agreement between the feuding politicians. But experience says it is good to take a better look at what, in fact, inspired the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the Together for Yugoslavia coalition to start negotiating at this particular moment.

According to competent observers, including Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, the Democratic Party of Socialists has not abandoned the idea of a sovereign Montenegro, but is no longer giving any deadlines. The animosity inside the "Montenegrin bloc" did not subside even after the Liberals decided to support the minority government. Montenegro is overwhelmed by depression and exhaustion, two conditions aggravated by waiting. The Nacional scandal has shaken the government, the roads are often blocked by discontent workers whose companies are going under and whose families are starving and who should not be asked about their national awareness and political preference. When all this is taken into account it is quite understandable why the DPS decided it could profit from talks with the Together for Yugoslavia coalition. If everybody in Montenegro accepted participation in government, if they are all somehow brought together with the DPS, criticism will subside, both in the legislature and outside of it. Every day of respite, in this light, seems like a gift from God.

Together for Yugoslavia doubtless made the same assumptions before the meeting with Vujanovic. Its leaders also know what others in Montenegro are very familiar with: supporters of Montenegro's independence, despite all their mutual differences, are in the majority in the Legislature. The government, albeit minority in character, has had its schedule confirmed by the Legislature, and according to it the status of Montenegro has to be resolved in a year's time at the most. It cannot be that such experienced politicians as Predrag Bulatovic, Dragan Soc, and Bozidar Bojovic have not taken a peek at the Constitution and found out that it says Montenegrin citizens have a non-alienable right to state, by referendum, what kind of country they would like to live in.

By saying that it would accept the referendum if it were prepared by an all-party coalition government, the Together for Yugoslavia bloc has not, in fact, made any major concession. This is why its leaders keep insisting on psychological arguments: "Our coalition would probably boycott a referendum organized by the Filip Vujanovic government, which would lead to political instability," said the leader of the Socialist People's Party, Predrag Bulatovic, after the meeting. Together for Yugoslavia's participation in government would be the shortest way for them to make up for their defeat in elections and, as part of the government both in Podgorica and in Belgrade, have a say in what happens. And there is also something else: Predrag Bulatovic and his fellow fighters, possess detailed information on presently invisible factions in the DPS. This is why they believe that by returning to government they would have a more favorable position to further undermine the not overly united Djukanovic party.

Despite all this, in an interview on BK TV Milo Djukanovic supported the idea of forming a broad coalition government if, as he put it, "the opposition agrees to a referendum." Premier Vujanovic was more direct: "Our goal is clear, and whether the referendum will be prepared by a broad coalition government or a multi-party legislature group is only a technicality." This is a brief description of the outward appearance of the situation. However, things are not that simple. The problem is that the two main parties are not alone in the Legislature.

The Social Democratic Party, a smaller partner in the victorious coalition, is not enchanted by the idea of a broad coalition government. "After seven or eight traumatic years of clashes with the international community, the democratic forces of Montenegro absolutely have no need to create either a coalition or broad coalition government with forces that still favor protecting war crimes policies and war criminals, and are against cooperation with the international community in regard to the key issue that caused this tragedy and the economic, political and moral ruin of the region -- which is cooperation with the Hague court," said party vice president Ranko Krivokapic.

The mood in the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro, which has offered support to the Vujanovic minority cabinet, is similar. "Montenegro is not in a state of war nor is a major national emergency in progress, so we do not need an all-party coalition government," said its political leader, Miodrag Zivkovic.

It is clear that an all-party government is not possible without the Social Democrats and the Liberals. And this is where the most embarrassing chapter of the story begins. It is quite clear that both the DPS and the Together for Yugoslavia bloc knew the small parties would react the way they did. Why then did they initiate the talks in the first place? There are many plausible answers to this question, but it is hard to say which is right. Things are very mysterious indeed. Several days ago a message arrived from Belgrade, coming from Dragoljub Micunovic. Micunovic said Belgrade had received word that Podgorica was ready to abandon its demand for international recognition. This was swiftly and strongly dismissed by senior DPS official Miodrag Vukovic.

One thing is certain: the Liberals and the Social Democrats could prevent the forming of a broad coalition government, but can do nothing if the DPS and the Together for Yugoslavia bloc make an agreement and find a suitable form for a joint venture. That would be very simple because in the Legislature they control almost 90 percent of the seats.

Well-informed observers claim that not even this is the end of the story about Montenegro's broad coalition government. Some say that the DPS and the opposition bloc met for talks without any specific goal but simply to buy time, and right now that seems likely. Neither of the two knew what their next step would be. If that was true, this would be the best illustration of what is going on in Montenegro. Everything appears genuine -- the promises made by certain parties, the obligations of the government, the talks -- and in real life Montenegro is gradually losing its desire for any kind of decision and preference for one idea or another. Numb of waiting, Montenegro does not know how to go forward, cannot go back, and is out of valid excuses. If Milosevic were only here so we could blame the whole mess on him!

Esad Kocan