Montenegro's birth as an independent nation marks the final demise of an old multinational state - Yugoslavia, the land of the south Slavs, carved from the ruins of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires at the end of the first world war. With a population of just 650,000 it will be one of the world's smaller sovereign countries, though still more populous than Luxembourg and Malta, the two smallest members of the European Union, which many Montenegrins will now hope to join. For Serbia, the senior partner in what was left of the old Yugoslav federation, this marks the end of the road that began when the two neighbours were first joined together in 1918. Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia left, with differing degrees of bloodshed, in the early 1990s. Only Macedonia managed to get away peacefully. The future of the former Serbian province of Kosovo, over which Nato went to war, remains to be determined, but it now seems likely to win independence. The Balkans have never been as balkanised as today.
Montenegro believes it is well placed to take advantage of the European destiny it was offered when it united unhappily with Serbia back in 2003. Hinting heavily, it already uses the euro rather than the Serbian dinar. It is likely to be awarded its own UN seat by the year's end. Since it is no longer bracketed with Serbia, it will not suffer from Belgrade's disadvantages vis-a-vis Brussels - especially its failure to hand over to the UN war crimes tribunal the Bosnian Serb leaders Ratko Mladic and (the Montenegrin-born) Radovan Karazdic. It was that failure which halted Serbia's EU pre-accession talks in their tracks earlier this month.
Blessed with a sparkling Adriatic coastline, dense forests, forbidding mountains and a fas cinating history reflected in the old royal capital, Cetinje, Montenegro has a Ruritanian quality that belies some unpicturesque problems. The popular prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, has to meet European standards of accountability and transparency. The modern capital, Podgorica (ex-Titograd), has a reputation for shady deals and businessmen grown rich on cigarette smuggling and money laundering.
The first priority must be an orderly separation between the two parts of the old federation and agreement on whatever assets need to be divided. Since Serbia is now landlocked, access to the sea might perhaps be traded for generous access for Montenegrins to Serbian universities, hospitals and other public services. The hope must be that the two will part amicably to forge new ties under a European umbrella for a changed, modern Balkan region.