AIM: start

MON, 08 OCT 2001 18:15:20 GMT

Montenegrin Pre-Referendum Games

Technical Government to be Formed in November

Is a final agreement on organizing a referendum in Montenegro between the Democratic Party of Socialists and the Socialist People's Party in sight?

AIM Podgorica, September 28, 2001

On the evening of Sept. 27, the presidency of the Democratic Party of Socialists did not bother to even mention Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's offer to revive negotiations on future relations between Montenegro and Serbia. Let us recall: a day earlier, after Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic failed to come to talks in Belgrade, Kostunica said that there would be no further negotiations and that a referendum was the only remaining option. What brought about the Yugoslav president's sudden change of heart is not known. The Democratic Party Socialists, however, failed to take the bait either time. This meaningful silence was not caused by Kostunica's insistence that Dragisa Pesic, the unrecognized federal prime minister, also sit at the negotiating table. Djukanovic obviously believes that he has a strong hand and can dictate the rules.

And for that he has a good reason: the Yugoslav president scored an own goal by declaring an end to talks that hadn't even started and he made things much easier for the Montenegrin authorities. The remaining DOS parties almost made fun of his move, and even Kostunica's Montenegrin satellites were unwilling to comment.

The importance of this mistake, however, should not be exaggerated: the two conflicting and much publicized statements by the Yugoslav president have essentially changed nothing in the Montenegrin political arena. The chief players have probably only chosen their weapons and are awaiting tactical maneuvers.

"There will be a referendum, but not as soon as Kostunica and his followers would like it. It will be prepared by a technical coalition government, instead of the current minority government, as the Liberals keep demanding," said a source from DPS top.

Political analysts will have plenty of time to determine whether the Democratic Party of Socialists has any chance of reaching the top again, which, given the nature and magnitude of the Montenegrin divisions and Djukanovic's public advocacy of independence, could be possible only by collective hypnosis. The vast majority of the people, however, are interested much more in the practical consequences of this policy and, to an extent, its methods, than in its theoretical implications.

Thus the above statement by a DPS official could be read in the following manner: Djukanovic knows that Kostunica's advocacy of a referendum in Montenegro is motivated by a desire to find a reason to get the pro-Yugoslav bloc to boycott it. This is quite obvious: Kostunica declared the interruption of the talks the same day when the DPS, the Social Democratic Party and the Liberal Alliance of Montenegro passed in the Montenegrin Legislature an initiative to form a working group for preparing a referendum bill. Obviously, the Yugoslav president believed that it was the right moment to lay all the blame for the failure of the talks on Podgorica. The failure of the talks with Serbia and the drafting of the referendum legislation without the participation of the pro-Yugoslav bloc was meant to finally mark as "separatists" those who resorted to a unilateral act, strictly forbidden by the international community.

But Kostunica showed that he is not on slippery ground only when it comes to foreign policy -- he cannot even predict how his coalition partners will react. Djindjic has called him a "sovereign" and violator of the Yugoslav Constitution, the Democratic Party of Socialists has said that "Kostunica cannot resolve the problem because he is the problem," Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic coldly remarked that negotiations should be continued by those who know how to negotiate, and the Montenegrin Social Democratic Party proposed direct negotiations between the governments of Serbia and Montenegro.

The second quotation translates as follows: the DPS will continue to risk early elections (having lost the Liberals' support), and to include a part of the For Yugoslavia coalition in the pre-referendum procedure and the plebiscite itself. A source from DPS top said that Predrag Bulatovic, the leader of the Socialist People's Party, was ready to have his supporters vote in the referendum under certain conditions. "Bulatovic and Kostunica are no longer allies. A part of the People's Socialists, led by Zoran Zizic, will opt for a boycott, but Pedo (Bulatovic) is resolved to have the referendum put an end to the issue of the future of Montenegro and the common state," said the DPS senior official.

The People's Socialists' key demand is that power ahead of the referendum be shared not only in the cabinet and state-run media outlets, but in municipalities and larger companies as well. Government concessions in this regard would provide Bulatovic with strong arguments in disputes inside his party, even though officials deny they exist. All other disputed issues will be resolved in accordance with international standards, which are partly on the side of the pro-Yugoslav coalition (control of the media, police, finances), and partly on the side of the pro-independence bloc (only Montenegrins currently residing in Montenegro will vote in the referendum, its results will have to be observed...).

The first act of the Montenegrin political drama will end, probably, during November, at the time elections in Kosovo are held. Podgorica and its relations with Belgrade will be out of international focus, which should provide for major decisions and less publicity. The DPS top estimates that the People's Party and the Serb People's Party will not agree to enter the technical coalition government. It is, however, still believed that the project will be supported by the Liberals and the Social Democrats. The current cabinet of Filip Vujanovic, namely, will resign only when a precise date is set for the referendum, as well as the issue of referendum ballots and other important elements are agreed upon. In such circumstances the Liberals and Social Democrats will have trouble explaining why they will not join the government that is supposed to prepare the referendum.

Although the mistrust between the Liberals and the DPS is gradually diminishing, it is still unknown whether with the Social Democrats as a catalyst, trust could be restored in only one month. Moreso because the Social Democrats equally oppose the all-party government or any other technical coalition government at that, in which "pro-Serb" parties are included. This week's visit by the U.S. ambassador, William Montgomery, and the British ambassador, Charles Crawford, to Podgorica has confirmed that the West wants a clear and an absolutely convincing victory in the referendum to recognize an independent Montenegro. If all supporters of the pro-Yugoslav coalition boycotted the independence vote, a victory would not be achieved, and the vote's results would be doubtful and, possibly, conflicting. This is where the DPS will find its arguments to deal with the pro-independence bloc. The Djukanovic party, however, will have to be much more tactful in dealing with the two parties that it has been so far, when it did not even bother to acquaint them with the draft agreement that was to lead to the forming of an all-party government.

The Liberal Alliance and the Social Democrats keep warning that the pro-Yugoslav parties, if they enter the transitional government, could at a decisive moment break the agreement and instead of having a referendum, force the holding of election elections for the Montenegrin Legislature. It seems that for the time being, if ever, there is no adequate defense against this danger. Obviously, Predrag Bulatovic, would not opt for a referendum he knows he would lose, but would do everything possible to win in it. In such a situation, major moves should be expected from both sides on the Montenegrin political scene. Thus, the Liberals could offer to join the Vujanovic cabinet and thus prevent the forming of a technical coalition government. And Bulatovic, on his part, will certainly attempt to convince the leaders of the People's Party and the Serb People's Party, Soc and Bojovic, respectively, and, most of all, his fellow partisan Zoran Zizic that the referendum cannot be avoided, so that he will not fight for preserving Yugoslavia on his own.

The Montenegrin politicians have become experts in surviving their political schemes, but this time around everybody's political career will be on the table. And then we will see whose vision of Montenegro will ultimately prevail.

Darko Sukovic