AIM: start

SAT, 03 NOV 2001 00:35:44 GMT

Reactions in Montenegro to the Talks in Belgrade

The Road to Referendum Paved?

There was no agreement because there simply could be none: Kostunica is in favour of a joint state, and Djukanovic advocates independence of Montenegro. It seems that both parties are in favour of a referendum now, although this does not mean that the Montenegrin story is drawing to its end

AIM Podgorica, October 30, 2001

The show in Belgrade lasted for only three hours. After the talks behind closed doors of the Federation Palace, Montenegrin and Serbian delegations remained firm in their initial stands: no agreement was reached on the community. "What the relations between Montenegro and Serbia will be like in the future will be decided by the citizens of Montenegro", concluded Montenegrin President Djukanovic. "During the talks convened to see whether these two different views of the state could be brought closer together, it was concluded that this is not possible", Kostunica confirmed.

This means: it was agreed that there was no agreement. After months of bargaining, weeks of political haggling about the composition of the delegations for the negotiations, more than a joint statement about the failure of the negotiations could not have been expected. It turned out that the initial differences were unbridgeable: Djukanovic and Vujanovic had come to Belgrade with the project of an independent state, Kostunica and Djindjic with the idea of the survival of the federation. Even if there had been a willingness to do so, it is impossible to bridge this gap, it is so huge. That is why the three-hour talks seemed to have served only for newspaper photographers to take pictures.

Nevertheless, the significance of the Belgrade meeting should not be underestimated. On the contrary, it will in every sense be a turning point, at least when political developments in Montenegro are concerned. For the first time since October 5 last year, the new Serbian administration publicly concluded that further expectations of negotiations were pointless and that the Montenegrin referendum was inevitable. Until just recently, official Belgrade publicly opposed the very notion of the referendum, and Kostunica stressed that "self-determination in a referendum should be prevented by all democratic means". Now it is evident that Belgrade is tired of waiting. "We have chosen the harder and the more expensive way, but I am convinced that the idea of the joint state will prevail", President of FRY stressed. Unlike him, Montenegrin President Djukanovic believes that "the referendum will quite certainly take place next spring and Montenegro will round off its statehood at it".

In Montenegro there were different evaluations of the outcome of the "summit meeting" in Belgrade.

President of the Serb People's Party (SNS) Bozidar Bojovic was the sharpest stressing that "by interrupting negotiations Milo Djukanovic has made a unilateral move that carries great weight and risk". Bojovic believes that this leads towards destabilisation of Montenegro and that the task of the Together for Yugoslavia coalition is to prevent that. Representatives of the People's Party (NS) reacted similarly, although with a milder wording. Predrag Drecun, vice-president of NS, stressed that it was obvious that Djukanovic had not wished an agreement to be reached and mentioned that he expected that open advocating of sovereignty of Montenegro by (Djukanovic's) Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) would indeed bring new votes to - Together for Yugoslavia coalition. As concerning the referendum, the People's Party obviously is not so very opposed to it - after even the leaders of Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) have said that the referendum is a "must". But Drecun stresses that the People's Party will be very precise when meeting all the conditions for the referendum is concerned and that there will be no referendum if "the proposal of the Liberals and the Social Democrats remains in force".

The reaction of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) caused the greatest wonder. In its first reactions SNP also laid the blame for the interruption of negotiations in Belgrade on Djukanovic's separatism, accusing Montenegrin President of having "intentionally obstructed the resolution of the relations with Serbia". But, concerning the future moves, especially the question of the referendum, SNP maintained certain reservations, mentioning that the leadership of SNP would certainly "reach a wise decision". What that will mean in practice can only be guessed.

These reactions illustrate the new position which, after Kostunica's statement on the necessity of the referendum in Montenegro, pro-Yugoslav oriented Montenegrin parties have found themselves in. Until last week, SNP, NS and SNS, as members of Together for Yugoslavia coalition, could threaten with their strongest weapon - boycott of the referendum, relying that DOS would support them their stand, and moreover that the international community would also back such a decision. Now hardly anybody in Belgrade or the international community will accept the boycott of the parties of pro-Yugoslav orientation, especially because Kostunica declared that the referendum was the inevitable and the only way.

In other words, this means that the focus of the political struggle when Together for Yugoslavia coalition is concerned will shift to the question of referendum conditions in order to make self-determination of Montenegrin citizens legitimate - internally and internationally. The problem for that political orientation is - how far to persist with it?

Because if parties in favour of sovereignty (DPS, SDP, LSCG) accept domestic and international standards, if voters' register is meticulously up-dated, and if orderly presentation in the media is provided - three federalist parties will have to give an answer to themselves and the voters: what are they to do next?

The latest investigations show that the option of sovereign Montenegro has a small but stable prevalence: 55:45 per cent of the total electorate. There is no doubt that all three - SNP, NS and SNS - will insist that "qualified majority" is necessary for full legitimacy of the referendum, but it is also certain that in case the referendum is organised it would officially be verified that the option in favour of FRY has the minority in Montenegro. In political sense this indeed is an awkward situation: as if you were forced to admit that you were lagging behind the times.

Perhaps that is the reason why the first reactions of the three parties are uncoordinated, and two minor parties - People's Party (NS) and Serb People's Party (SNS) - manifested a higher degree of nervousness than the Socialist People's Party (SNP). It is logical because SNP has a spare option: even in case of sovereign Montenegro this party would be strong and respectable opposition. Unlike SNP, the People's Party and the Serb People's Party are surviving thanks to Together for Yugoslavia coalition (put together these two parties do not have more than eight or nine per cent of the votes according to the latest investigation). It is also evident that Kostunica significantly supports Soc's People's Party. But if the referendum is lost, it is quite natural to expect that Belgrade would lose its enthusiasm to support, financially and politically, small pro-Serb parties. At the same time, there is no visible valid reason why Socialist People's Party would go on sharing the parliamentary stake at its own expense.

That is why the initial nervousness in the People's Party and the Serb People's Party is more the result of fear of the future than of surprise that the negotiations in Belgrade have failed. There is no doubt: in the coming days Predrag Bulatovic will need much political wisdom to keep his team together.

But what made the Montenegrin political scene even richer with new interesting features are the parties that are in favour of independent Montenegro - DPS, LSCG and SDP. Formally this political bloc should be satisfied because there was no agreement in Belgrade and because the leaders of DOS agreed that the referendum was the only option that would resolve the relations between Serbia and Montenegro. Most satisfied of all should be the representatives of the Liberal League of Montenegro (LSCG) who had persistently and publicly expressed doubts that Milo Djukanovic and his party would seriously politically back the project of independent Montenegro. However, even while in Belgrade Montenegrin President remained firm in the stand that he was in favour of the independence of the smaller federal unit of FRY.

This makes the first reactions of the Liberals to the Belgrade meeting even more curious. In a TV Elmag show, spokesman of LSCG Slavko Perovic repeated his conviction that Djukanovic was basically against independent Montenegro. Just a day later, political leader of this party Miodrag Zivkovic demanded concrete evidence that Democratic Party of Socialists was sincere in its advocating independence. "If DPS truly wants independent Montenegro it will support in the parliament the Draft Law on Referendum we have made. If they don't do that, the citizens should know that DPS is not in favour of sovereign Montenegro”, said Zivkovic.

The problem with the condition raised by Zivkovic is that the referendum organised in this way would be ignored by the parties of pro-Yugoslav option, but also by relevant fora of the international community. The OSCE has already announced a negative stand because of the lack of the condition existing at 1992 referendum when at least 50 per cent plus one vote were necessary for it to be legitimate. In the proposal formulated by LSCG and SDP this is not prescribed so that theoretically it is possible for the referendum to be successful even if just ten thousand voters turn up at the polls! That is why the representatives of Democratic Party of Socialists announced that that they would vote against this proposal in the parliament if this amendment was not added and the census of 50 per cent plus one vote established in order to make the referendum legally valid.

Of course, it is not difficult to find formal reasons when one wishes to blur the essence: within the so-called pro-sovereignty bloc there is not even the least amount of mutual confidence. Perovic has been expressing suspicion about Djukanovic and Rakcevic for a long time, and the latter two are publicly emphasizing that Perovic does not really wish resolution of the state status of Montenegro but just wishes to overthrow Djukanovic. In fact it seems that all three parties – DPS, LSCG and SDP – are trying to secure their positions for the time after the referendum. In other words they all seem to be concerned by the question: who will benefit from the victory – Perovic who in the beginning of the nineties promoted the idea of sovereign Montenegro or Djukanovic who simply claimed this idea as his own in the of the decade.

This resembles counting one’s chicken before they are hatched: because although they have said in Belgrade that they agree to the referendum and although the pro-Yugoslav parties in Montenegro have declared that they are not evading the referendum, we are still far from even the notion that the main job of preparing the referendum has actually begun. The law pursuant which it would be scheduled is still a mystery, it has not been defined who would have the right to vote at that referendum, nor the most important thing – what if either of the two options wins by only two or three per cent (for example, 51 to 49).

And although numerous Montenegrin analysts (Miodrag Vlahovic from the Centre for Regional and Security Studies, Srdan Darmanovic of the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights) believe that the referendum in Montenegro is now more an accomplished fact than ever before, this does not mean that the political situation is clearer. On the contrary, plenty of “turbulence” within the two opposed blocs should be expected, or more precisely, this is just the beginning of a new political story in Montenegro.