By Gabriel Ronay
A REFERENDUM today could sound the death-knell for the runt artificial statelet Serbia-Montenegro, created by the Serbs as a fig-leaf for their pan- Serbian dream following the collapse of Yugoslavia.
Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic expects 60% of voters to back his Sovereignist Block’s call for a “divorce” from Serbia. Such an outcome would further undermine Vojislav Kostunica’s nationalist regime in Belgrade, already under pressure following its failure to arrest the war criminal Ratko Mladic. Several coalition ministers have threatened to quit and Brussels has parked talks over European Union membership.
The EU, concerned about fragmentation in the Balkans, has insisted on a minimum 55% pro-independence vote to allow Montenegro to secede. But at a rally in Podgorica, Djukanovic insisted that “the EU has now changed its stance and does not insist anymore on the preservation of the dual state at any price”.
In a blunt speech, he noted that “both states have their very own interests and nobody can expect either to sacrifice these in the interests of the artificially created dual state”. He added that “the independence movement was unstoppable even if it missed the 55% target by a few percentage points”.
Djukanovic reassured Belgrade that “an independent Montenegro would seek close links with Serbia”. But he added that “nobody can expect the Montenegrins to demolish their own house for the sake of fraternal feelings”.
Djukanovic is clearly punching above his weight, but the outcome of the election is psychologically much more important than could be expected from an electorate of half a million. For the Serbs, the Montenegrins’ choice is simply crucial as Serbia-Montenegro is all that remains of the six republics of the Yugoslav Federation.
The prospect of Montenegrin independence is viewed with alarm by Belgrade because it might be seen as a precedent for breakaway Kosovo. This Serbian province has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when Nato used armed force to stop the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing of the Albanian majority.
In an emotional speech, Premier Kostunica of Serbia urged Montenegrins not to split up the dual state and offered “Serbia’s brotherly hand” to build “our joint and European future”.
However, the Movement for a Joint State, representing the Serb nationalist minority of Montenegro, was more forthright. At a Belgrade election rally last week, speaker after speaker accused “the separatist Djukanovic” of “stabbing Serbia in the back,” and urged Serbs “to return home and convince your families and friends to vote no”.
If Montenegro does opt for divorce from Serbia, it will be the final nail in the coffin of the Serb-dominated Balkan south-Slav state, created from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the first world war.
21 May 2006