AIM: start

SAT, 12 JAN 2002 12:45:32 GMT

Christmas Quarrels in Montenegro

Yule-Logs of Discord

Montenegro started the new year with the old divisions. Events in Berane, Cetinje and Podgorica showed that the intolerance between the two blocs is on the rise.

AIM Podgorica, January 7, 2002

A hard smell of gunpowder spread all over Montenegro on the Christmas Eve. Ever since the summer of 1999, when Yugoslavia was at war with the NATO, there have been no such shooting, detonations and festivities. Even the Army of Yugoslavia joined the celebration of Christmas: sometime around midnight the sky over Podgorica was covered with tracer bullets of anti-aircraft artillery.

Luckily, when all is said and done, everything went well and without major incidents: in Cetinje one man was injured due to mishandling of a gun, in Podgorica a young girl and a boy applied for medical aid because they had been hit in the head by firecrackers. Nevertheless, it was not all so harmless either. In Berane, strong police forces stopped a storm of fanatic supporters of the Serbian Orthodox Church against followers of the Montenegrin Church (CPC) and thus prevented bloodshed.

Namely, for the first time this year followers of the CPC had the intention of setting the yule-logs on fire in the north of Montenegro, in Bijelo Polje and in Berane. And whereas everything went smoothly in Bijelo Polje, the main point of conflict was in Berane. How far that dislike goes was best attested to by the sequence of events: the Berane Mayor Sveto Mitrovic (once a DPS member and now a professional Serbian patriot) raised hue and cry against the supporters of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. To make things even morbid, Smajo Sabotic, former DPS delegate and prominent defender of the minority Muslim rights, joined the surge against the Montenegrin Church followers. Now Sabotic is a member of the Presidency of the National Movement for the Preservation of the Common State, together with Matija Beckovic, Ljuba Tadic and other Montenegrins living in Belgrade.

A well-organised group, some two thousand followers of the pro-Serbian parties, started gathering in the city centre already around 1 p.m. right on the plateau where the believers and supporters of the Montenegrin Church were planning to fire the yule-log. They started singing songs from the old repertoire ("Guards are everywhere..." "Far away, there...") shouting "This is Serbia". After that those most extreme charged at some thirty followers of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church who wanted to burn the yule-log in the centre of Berane. Only the police cordon prevented a major incident from breaking out, although followers of the Serbian Orthodox Church, led by Sveto Mitrovic at first engaged in a harsh clash with the police - a police camera was smashed and the cordon was showered with stones and snowballs. In that situation, the CPC's Church Council assessed that it was not wise to take chances, so they gave up burning the yule-log.

However, the police refused to back away. Quite the contrary - it launched a "counter-attack" and after a chase through the town arrested about ten rioters. However, the organisers, i.e. men who were in charge of organising the riots managed to get away. "Vuk Vulevic (f.Radosav) and Milan Scekic (f.Danilo), chief initiators of riots were not caught and found shelter in the barracks of the Yugoslav Army in Dolac", said the release of the Montenegrin MUP.

It was determined later on that the barrack commanders refused to surrender the wanted persons to the police. Later that evening they disappeared from the barracks. The Montenegrin police is still searching for the mentioned persons because of "the assault on members of the Security Centre of Berane who were in charge of order at the gathering, arms threats and the use of axe and for smashing a camera" read the MUP statement. All this left an embarrassing impression. When the first man of Berane organises actions against freedom of assembly and freedom of religion, whereas the state, which should keep order and peace, is incapable of preventing it, that doesn't represent an example of the developed democratic relations.

It is hardly likely that an outsider might have thought that that day Montenegro was celebrating Christmas - a day when those quarreled should make peace or, at least for 24 hours, forget hate. Actually, judging by all appearances, this will not end with Christmas arguments. A new duel has been announced for January 13 when the so called Serbian New Year according to the old calendar, is celebrated. Until last year, only pro-Yugoslav parties officially marked that day on the main square in Podgorica.

This time something new will happen! The other side came up with the idea not to allow a free-of-charge promotion of the common state and announced a big concert, which will be held precisely on the main Podgorica square on January 13. Formally, organisers are the Montenegrin Association of Entertainment Musicians and the Independent Youth Association, but no one has any doubts that the action is supported and financed from the highest state level. An impressive team from all parts of the former SFRY should perform (Bajaga, Hari Mata Hari Band, Tose Proeski, Sladja Djogani, etc.) Obviously: the idea is to move local Yugoslavs from the centre to the suburbs, which naturally provoked a revolt of the pro-Yugoslav parties.

It is now a dead heat and both sides claim that the square is theirs. Even the President of the National Party, Dragan Soc, announced that this strategically important point in the centre of Podgorica will be taken by the Coalition "Together for Yugoslavia" on January 13, at any cost and that no police will be able to stop them from doing it.

It would be possible to make a comic-satirical collage from the mentioned pictures, as well as those that are yet to come. But there is no reason for laughter nor comedy here: days of celebrations have revealed a sad Montenegrin reality. Two parallel worlds, two Montenegroes, which instead of getting closer are divided by a wall that grows bigger by the day.

In other words, Montenegrins have started the new year with old divisions. Us and them, them and us, as if everything here has been frozen in 1918. But, the main problem are not different visions of Montenegro's future, nor different philosophies of life. The actual Montenegrin problem is that two quarrelled and divided Montenegroes do not want to see or hear each other, but passionately try to eliminate each other.

That is why if things go on this way not much should be expected from the announced referendum. In view of the kind of policy that is being pursued no one would be surprised if two referendums are organised in the spring: according to one Montenegro would continue to live in the Federation and according to the other it would become an independent state.