AIM: start

SUN, 27 JAN 2002 06:21:39 GMT

Serbian & Montenegrin Experts on the Future of Yugoslavia

They Achieved Next to Nothing

Reports on what the three expert teams concluded during their talks will be published on Monday, Jan. 14, and Javier Solana is expected to arrive in Podgorica in a day or two for yet another round of talks with republic and federal government representatives.

AIM Podgorica, January 13, 2002

After three rounds of negotiations, two in Belgrade and one in Podgorica, Mongenegrin, Serbian and federal government expert teams at the beginning of this week completed their part of the job. That is to say, it is over for the time being, because there are indications that a compromise on the future relationship between Montenegro and Serbia could be sought by mixed, political and expert teams. How fruitful the debate on the common state or an alliance of states was can be inferred from a curt announcement released after a full day of talks in Belgrade's Federation Palace. The teams, dealing with economic and foreign policy and security issues, managed to produce a joint report consisting of their firmly opposed stances. Experts analyzing the constitutional aspects of splitting up could not achieve even that much!

"The key point of contention was the issue of whether we should have one or two seats in the U.N.," Vuksan Simonovic, a Socialist People's Party of Montenegro official who spoke in favor of the federal state and a "redefined, minimal function federation," said briefly. Although after the third round of negotiations the experts were obliged not to divulge anything to the press, except for a short briefing by Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac and Yugoslav presidential advisor Slobodan Samardzic, details on the debate began leaking out. Predrag Drecun, a member of the federal team, revealed there was no political rapprochement, but that a high degree of agreement was reached in regard to what the consequences of Yugoslavia's dissolution would be! Drecun added that EU experts confessed to him of being "slightly displeased" over how the negotiations were organized. According to him, the foreigners were openly in favor of preserving the common state and had, occasionally, "better arguments in that regard than we did."

Montenegrin experts were quick to respond to Drecun's statement. After the talks in Podgorica, Veselin Vukotic denied claims that progress had been made on the reintroduction of the Yugoslav dinar in Montenegro. A member of the Montenegrin delegation who wanted to remain anonymous angrily said after the meeting: "Drecun is telling lies, nothing but lies!" In any case, except for these tidbits for reporters, nothing else was achieved.

The results, however, were differently interpreted in Belgrade and Podgorica on one side, and in Brussels, on the other. Political parties were unanimous in calling the expert negotiations a failure, and it seems that nobody expected anything else. "Nobody should be surprised or disappointed by the results of the talks," said People's Party president Dragan Soc, adding that the experts were given little maneuvering space and that politicians would have a final say anyway. "The talks did not produce a single argument that could convince Montenegro to abandon its concept of an alliance of two internationally recognized states," said Democratic Party of Socialist of Montenegro official Igor Luksic. Solana's spokeswoman, Christine Gallac, said the EU believed "progress was made in the talks concerning the future of Montenegro and Serbia, but there is no final agreement and all difficulties have not been surmounted."

It will be clear who is right on Monday, Jan. 14, after Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica returns from a visit to China and after what happened at the talks is disclosed. At the middle of next week senior EU official Javier Solana, Vojislav Kostunica, Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus will arrive in Podgorica. At a meeting with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Premier Filip Vujanovic they will attempt to end the deadlock. Judging by what Brussels says, which was confirmed by Djindjic, after this meeting talks could continue at the highest level or in the presence of experts for another 10 days "because not all options have been exhausted."

Supporters of the federation do not hide they expect the EU to exert strong pressure on Djukanovic to give up his idea of holding a referendum, and to accept some form of union with Serbia. Dragan Soc believes that European diplomats will find a compromise and offer it to embattled factions inside Montenegro. "I believe this compromise will be a federal solution. After that it will be clearer whether Djukanovic will decide to lead Montenegro to a clash with Europe, or will realize that his policy is not supported either by Montenegro or Europe, and will yield," said Soc.

The director of the Podgorica Center for Democracy, Srdjan Darmanovic, however, does not expect the EU to resort to a take-it-or-leave-it approach and threaten to punish Podgorica if it refuses a federation. "Europe does not have any reason for such an attitude, because objectively Montenegro is not a threat to peace in the region, nor has it violated any international standards. This is why the EU will not have sanctions backed by all 15 members if Djukanovic persists on the road to independence," said Darmanovic. Belgrade analyst Srbobran Brankovic, director of the Medium agency, shares this view. "The EU will say what it thinks, but I am not sure they will pressure those who disagree," says Brankovic and adds that Brussels will not be too firm if it turns out that the independence option receives strong support in Montenegro.

If sincere, the position announced by EU Council of Ministers officials after the talks is certainly the most significant. The officials stressed that although they are against a separation of Montenegro and Serbia, "the Union will not impose a solution on the two sides." Montenegro's media outlets widely publicized an analysis by Helmuth Lipelt, a rapporteur of the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, who said it was not the Council's job to regulate relations between Serbia and Montenegro. He added that Djukanovic's idea of a union of two internationally recognized states, with common international borders, a common market and the euro as legal tender, was not in opposition to a trend of future European integration.

Lipelt's statement came after a series of statements and analyses which in the past several weeks created an impression that international opposition to Montenegro's independence was gradually weakening. The hopes of the pro-independent forces were greatly boosted by Washington's silence and its recent US$15 million aid package to the smaller Yugoslav republic. This is why negotiations between Belgrade and Podgorica are increasingly being perceived as a mere formality, which Solana needs more than Djukanovic and Kostunica.

The real story, inside Montenegro itself, has yet to begin to unravel. At least officially.

Darko Sukovic