AIM: start

MON, 24 DEC 2001 23:11:56 GMT

On the Eve of the New Round of Serbian-Montenegrin Negotiations

Experts Simulating Platforms

One should not have very high hopes that experts will solve what Serbian and Montenegrin politicians have not. The only curiosity of the forthcoming meeting in Belgrade is reflected in the fact that there will be more negotiators from Montenegro than from Serbia and that some of those from Montenegro will represent the Serbian party in negotiations – just in order to preserve FRY

AIM Podgorica, December 23, 2001

Exactly a week after Solana had the meeting with the leaders of FRY, Serbia and Montenegro, in accordance with the idea of EU representative Javier Solana, experts will gather in the following two teams: Serbian-Federal and Montenegrin. They will sit down at three tables and begin the first session on future relations between Podgorica and Belgrade. The following will discuss the constitutional and other legal questions: Mijat Sukovic, member of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, Nebojsa Vucinic, Professor of international law, and Slavica Milacic, head of Montenegrin Mission in Brussels - for the Montenegrin party, and Slobodan Samardzic and Zoran Lutovac, advisors of Yugoslav President, and Vuksan Simonovic, official of the Socialist People's Party (SNP) of Montenegro - for the Serbian and Yugoslav party. Economic, monetary and social issues will be analyzed by Veselin Vukotic, Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro and Miroslav Ivanisevic, Montenegrin Minister of finance, on the one side of the table, and Boris Begovic, economic advisor of Federal Deputy Prime Minister, Danijel Cvjeticanin, economist, and Predrag Drecun, one of the leaders of the People's Party (NS), on the other. Finally, foreign political and security aspects will be considered by Branko Lukovac, Montenegrin Foreign Minister, general Blagoje Grahovac, Djukanovic’s advisor, and general Radosav Martinovic, head of Montenegrin "special forces", for the Montenegrin, and for the other party Rade Bulatovic, Kostunica's advisor for security, and general Radovan Radinovic, military and political analysts.

As soon as the names of experts were stated, political "on-lookers" in Podgorica noted that except for Cvjeticanin, all the negotiators bear Montenegrin family names. Kostunica's decision to appoint three representatives of Montenegrin federalist parties - Vuksan Simonovic (SNP), Predrag Drecun (NS) and Radovan Radinovic who lives in Belgrade but is allegedly a representative of SNS - for members of his team was received as a principal attraction. When asked whom he would represent in Belgrade, Simonovic answered: "My party, coalition and the citizens of Montenegro".

Pessimism concerning the results of the meeting of expert teams has not remained limited to the circle of "on-lookers", nor founded only on historical analogy. The most convinced skeptic proved to be the one who had scheduled the meeting of experts in the Federation Palace - Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Speaking at the session of the Main Board of his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), he stated that "now like on October 26" he did not believe in the success of the negotiations and that only Montenegrin referendum would give the final answer. Kostunica even went one step further not caring to conceal discontent that, under pressure of the EU, resolution of the question of the relations between Montenegro and Serbia would be reached by the most roundabout way. Renewed talks between Belgrade and Podgorica will last until the end of February, and if they had not been interrupted on October 26, the referendum could have been scheduled for March. As it is, nothing will happen before the month of May... and Belgrade is indeed in a hurry. As usual, Kostunica's stand was repeated by president of NS Dragan Soc, who assessed that "nothing much should be expected from the meeting of experts", and that "experts should not be resolving political issues".

Even if the proportions of the difference between the views of Belgrade and Podgorica of the future relations had not offered adequate reason for the quoted hyper-pessimism, such expectations would have been justified by pure improvisation in the preparations of the first meeting of experts. Although President Djukanovic stated the names of Montenegrin negotiators on Thursday, and on Saturday officially informed Solana and Kostunica about it in writing, Predrag Drecun and Zoran Lutovac declared that they had learnt about their participation in the negotiations from the media! That did not bother Drecun much so he enthusiastically declared that he would "easily prove economic superiority of the federal concept", or that of the model of "maximum economic and minimum political union".

The high official of the People's Party was the only "expert" who dared forecast the scenario of the talks at the first meeting. But, by stating that it "would be logical" to first determine the method of work, he also showed that he was going to Belgrade unprepared. Zoran Lutovac also admitted on the eve of the meeting that "it would be hard to say what the real topic of the talks" would be.

"It seems to me that the politicians should have laid down the framework that the experts would form. As it is, it appears as if the experts were invited to bridge the 'void' in which there is no big progress, but nobody wants to see the dialogue interrupted, so the experts can serve to offer something that would keep the politicians around the table and enable them to make some progress through a series of talks", Lutovac tried to give some sense to the whole month he and his interlocutors will spend in negotiations.

Members of Montenegrin team met a few times and determined their strategy, but also the stand not to give any statements until the end of the first round of talks. From their interlocutors from Belgrade it was also impossible to learn what the agenda of the meeting is like. Neither ones nor the others knew anything about the possible arrival and role of EU experts! And their presence was agreed on at the last week's meeting of political leaders with Javier Solana.

Nevertheless, even from such tightly sealed circles news leaked that there would be a certain order of things in the negotiations after all. According to them, the key person for the explanation of the concept of "functional federation" should be Kostunica's advisor Slobodan Samardzic. His task, according to these sources, is to impose the platform of the federal government as the main topic of the talks, and push Montenegrin proposal on the union of two sovereign states in the background. Montenegrin expert team is, according to this, going to Belgrade aware that the other party has the advantage, so they prepared a few variants in response.

Such unofficial information, though, cannot change the essential impression that the two opposed parties, especially the one from Belgrade, have accepted this model of negotiations as an inevitable concession to Brussels. If Kostunica and Djindjic agree about anything it is the assessment that the relations with Montenegro should be resolved as soon as possible. Every month of delay of making this decision is removing Serbia away from the badly needed arrangements with foreign creditors and pushing its exhausted economy into bankruptcy. The image of "good guys" who have overthrown Milosevic is forcing them to be self-controlled and to make concessions to those who are feeding them.

Montenegrin party does not seem to be showing signs of nervousness, although in view of economic circumstances it would be normal. For Podgorica the talks of the experts are an opportunity to resume the lost initiative by demonstrating to the experts from the EU that the concept of the union of sovereign states is more in conformity with the model of integration of the fifteen states than the federation of two members that are utterly out of proportion. Practically, the phase of experts’ negotiations is expected to show precisely which of the offered platforms offers a better future to the citizens of Montenegro and Serbia. But, however convincing the calculus may be that shall bring about this result, the final decision will be made by experts from a different, inexact sphere – politics.