A new Balkan country
FOR a country that has just voted to become independent it is surprising how many people are fretting. On May 21st Montenegrins voted to divorce from Serbia. Immediately after the first results were announced, the sky over Podgorica, the tiny capital, was lit up with fireworks. Jubilant crowds came out onto the streets. With their girlfriends perched precariously on car roofs, young men drove around town in victory laps. The next morning, Montenegrin television repeatedly showed Milo Djukanovic, the prime minister, celebrating with champagne.
And yet, as the festivities died down, a distinct note of complaint started to be heard--and not just from those who had voted to keep the union with Serbia. Serbia and Montenegro have been linked in the same state since 1918. Montenegro's secession is one of the last acts of the dissolution of the old Yugoslavia that began 15 years ago. It is not the very last. Within a year, Kosovo, the mostly ethnic-Albanian province that is technically part of Serbia (which Montenegro was not) will also probably gain its independence.
Several things were striking about the referendum. First was the absence of conflict or violent incidents, in a highly divided society. According to the official results, 55.5% voted for statehood, and 44.5% voted to keep the union. That is a solid margin by any standard. Pro-union leaders say that Mr Djukanovic's supporters cheated, and that they will not recognise the result. But although they will lodge formal complaints, independence now seems a fait accompli.
The European Union had insisted that, for recognition, more than 55% had to vote in favour. This figure was reached, but only just. Montenegro has only 672,000 people, so it took only a little over 2,000 to tip the result. Unionists say that the government somehow found a way of financing the return of thousands of Montenegrins from abroad who were in favour of independence. Some of this was sour grapes. Serbian railways gave free tickets to mostly anti-independence Montenegrins living in Serbia to go home to vote.
Despite its size Montenegro has significant economic potential, especially in tourism. Now, however, some hard realities are beginning to sink in. Many people who supported independence loathe the 44-year-old Mr Djukanovic, who has been in power for 17 years. They believe that too many people around him have got suspiciously rich over the past decade.
Mr Djukanovic's position is hardly under threat. Igor Milosevic, a political analyst, says simply that "Milo will be king now." An election will be held this autumn. The main opposition parties have lost their prime reason for existence, which was to preserve the union. Predrag Bulatovic, leader of the largest pro-union block, may now resign; if he does, the opposition will lose one of the few people able to turn the party into a normal post-independence, social-democratic party. In June a new party will emerge, led by Nebojsa Medojevic, an economist. He hopes to gather support on the basis that he is for independence but against Mr Djukanovic, whom he accuses of creating "a Colombia on the Adriatic, a paradise for tycoons."
Mr Medojevic surely exaggerates. And Mr Djukanovic is a phenomenally clever politician, with an unerring instinct for survival. In the early 1990s he was a Serbian nationalist. Today he is hailed by many as the man who delivered independence from Serbia. But now he needs to do something else: deliver the fruits of independence to ordinary people.
Many of Montenegro's economic indicators are good, but most people do not see the results. Average salaries are a mere euro250 ($300) a month, and unemployment is running at 18%. A good many Montenegrins were not all that worried about independence; they just wanted the issue resolved so that the government could start delivering something for ordinary people. There is a lot of work to be done in Europe's newest state, and it needs to be done fast if it is to join the EU any time soon.
SOURCE: The Economist