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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000

How Monitor Monitored a Dark Decade

Monitor, the Montenegrin independent weekly born on 19 October 1990 which under the editorial direction of Miodrag PeroviÃ’ and others has been one of the most authoritative public voices in the area of former Yugoslavia, recently produced its 500th issue. During the darkest hours of the war Monitor's brave pursuit of professional journalism was at all times inspired also by impressive political and moral principles. We publish here an ample selection from the retrospective survey published in its anniversary issue of 19 May 2000, reviewing its coverage of events as they unfolded since its inception, both to remind our readers of a past that is still alive and to honour Monitor's tireless advocacy of an independent and democratic Montenegro living at peace with itself and its neighbours.

Crucible of lies

The `anti-bureaucratic revolution' of 1989 found a fertile soil in the smallest Federal republic. It is here that the re-making of Yugoslavia began. The war cry `We want arms!' was heard for the first time during a rally of solidarity with Kosovo Serbs and Montenegrins, held on 20 August 1988 in Podgorica. When two years later shots were fired into the air at a public meeting, the response of the authorities - incarnated by Branko Kostic [Montenegro's representative on the Federal Presidency] - was: `Don't waste bullets. You'll need them.' With the installation of a puppet government in Montenegro and its transformation into the `fourth Serb vote' in the Federation, the obstruction of decision-making in Yugoslavia could proceed - and with it the country's redesign.

In its first number (19 October 1990) Monitor surveyed Montenegro's stance in the period between the mass rallies and the first multiparty elections and concluded: `We cannot fulfil our obligations - to defend Yugoslavia, about which we care desperately, or to preserve Montenegro - by recourse to myths.'

`Slovenia is gripped by enthusiasm at its proclamation of state independence. Croatia is emotional about having won democracy and self-government by peaceful means. Serbia, brought to the boil by national myths and messianic fervour aimed at all Serbs, is living in an expansionist trance. Bosnia-Herzegovina is held together by fear of schism and Macedonia by awareness of its own impotence', Monitor observed, asking: `Where in all this are Montenegro and its vital national interest?' And it warned: `In these ongoing Yugoslav dramas, Montenegro seems to have become more of an object of barter than an equal partner in the future reorganization of Yugoslavia.'

Considering the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro, a Monitor commentator stressed: `The launch of the slogan ``All Serbs Together!'' is not an invitation to a discussion respecting Montenegro's individuality, but a call to battle. This call is bound to activate Croat and Albanian nationalism to Montenegro's detriment. It is ideological code for animation of the myth that Montenegrins are Serbs. Such ideas are passionately supported by some Montenegrins, especially ones who live in Belgrade, who hope that the imperial institutions will reward their fervent engagement. The matter has become very serious now that Serb Orthodox mythical consciousness has taken hold of the mass media and of many Montenegrin state institutions. Their military formations and volunteer units rule the streets and act as a permanent threat to the system. Their militant activists dominate the police, while many of our party and state leaders have become their chief propagandists. This state of affairs signals the arrival of dictatorship.'

The writer Mirko Kovac, interviewed in the first issue of Monitor, deciphered the state of culture and society as follows: `People are once again becoming enslaved by myths, now national ones. Leaders are once again being acclaimed, and we shall end up with so-called ``electoral mobs''. Assuming for a moment the role of a prophet, I am convinced that at the first free elections the Orthodox masses will vote for Communism. I hope to God I am wrong, but my reading of Berdayev makes me increasingly convinced that there is a genetic link between Communism and Orthodoxy.' And Professor Ivan Duric warned in the pages of Monitor: `Croatia is threatened by provincialism, and Serbia by barbarism.' Montenegro, however, was threatened by both.

The first parliamentary elections of 1990, comfortably won by national parties, heralded a tragic fate for the former common state. Commenting on the hullabaloo surrounding Stjepan Mesic's proclamation as a member of the Federal Presidency, in which the Montenegrin vote was decisive, Monitor noted in October 1990: `Stjepan Mesic, an ``Ustasha'' from the age of six (five members of whose family were murdered by his ``own side''), a man landed in gaol by one ``verbal offence'' and taken to the top of the Yugoslav state by another, has filled the gap in the collective command of the Yugoslav state ship. Only one small matter remains to be decided: the ship's actual course.'

In early November Monitor was signalling the start of `war games': `The search for what belonged to whom in the past, who used to be in a majority in what area, where the borders once were, who shed blood where, where everyone's graves are, and so on, is a devilishly difficult business with no end in sight.' In an article `The Owners of Our Fates', dedicated to the various political elites' programmes for Yugoslavia's future, Monitor stressed: `Those who have made sure that rising passions would come to the boil, and always blamed others ``over there'' for the misery of their own people, can now with no trouble at all appeal to the mood of ``their public''. '

An article entitled `The Night of Frightening Lists', published in February 1991, dealt with the threat of war, the affair surrounding Croatia's secret import of automatic weapons, and the tactical deliberations of active and `re-activated' Titoist generals (Kadijevic and Adzic on one side, Tudman on the other). `The basic question is no longer how to uphold Yugoslavia, but how to separate without bloodshed. In our mixed-up Balkan area it is not possible to achieve this with old expansionist ideas, an ideologically-motivated Army, so-called historic rights, state ownership, or national and confessional intolerance.' The text also offered the following assessment: `Each of the bosses in the Yugoslav political furnace, if he wants to raise the temperature, can find plenty of material and, at any given moment, ways of ordering the stokers to make the fire blaze up. So it is too early to celebrate the ``common sense'' that seems to have prevailed in the Federal leadership.'

The well-known architect and writer Bogdan Bogdanovic stated in an interview in Monitor: `I watch how here in Serbia Milosevic has managed to embroil the nation in his own madness. Psychiatrists know very well how a madman in power can create a vicious circle that can entrap also a good number of otherwise perfectly sane people. The Serbian appropriation of Montenegro can only destroy good relations, and I find it truly disgusting. I find equally disgusting their attempt to divide Bosnia and their claims on Macedonia, relations with which have become permanently soured thanks to Serbia's policy.'

The contents of Monitor at the start of July 1991 included: `Military or European Union?'; `Yugoslavia: its defence and its last days'; `Yugoslavia: the evil is upon us'; `Slovenia: militarization'; `Croatia: fear of Slovenization'; `Bosnia-Herzegovina: together in opposition'; `Macedonia: a retreat has been prepared'; `Montenegro: Montenegro is ready for war'; `Serbia: the Serbs love the Army'; `Interview with Savo Brkovic: the Chetniks no pasaran'. In an article `How to destroy the reform', Monitor wrote: `If the negotiations on the future of Yugoslavia do not take as their starting-point a minimum of conditions necessary for the survival of the state and economy, the government's reform programme stands no chance. In that case, may God help us all.'

Serbia and its Montenegrin satellite advocated the `modern federation' model for all, Slovenia and Croatia a confederal arrangement or an asymmetric federation, while Izetbegovic and Gligorov offered a compromise solution. Their proposal, called a Federal Confederation, advocated a `graduated model': all Yugoslav republics would first agree on a `minimum of functions for a new association, i.e. a common defence and economic area.' After that `Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro would most likely form core states, linked by stronger ties than those linking them with Slovenia and Croatia.' Also, `there would be a difference between Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on the one hand and Serbia and Montenegro on the other, in that the last two would be bound more tightly.' This proposal did not pass. The time of territorial expansion had arrived. After failing to discipline Slovenia with an economic and political blockade, Milosevic helped it to leave Yugoslavia.

There followed the brief June war in Slovenia. When, after the ceasefire had been agreed, the last remnants of the humiliated Yugoslav army left Kopar, Yugoslavia ceased to exist. `People - children, in fact - had died in vain, due to irresponsibility and brutality on both sides. No one bothered to explain to them how it had come about that Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Albanians, who until then had been brothers by destiny, were now fighting one another!', wrote Monitor during those days.

It is understandable that an army whose world view involved rejection of capitalism in favour of Communist ideals could not accept a non-Communist like Stjepan Mesic as its - albeit only formal - commander-in-chief. When, as a result of outside pressure, the military leadership understood that this could not be avoided and that the federal concept was lost, its anger passed the line of rational behaviour. The most striking sign of this was General Adzic's declaration of war against Slovenia. Caught in the web of its own contradictions, the JNA displayed the porousness of its structure and the weakness of its old-fashioned military doctrine. By failing to react in a principled manner to the initial challenge, it pursued its ideological model until it became a mono-national army. `The only battle which our elderly and vain generals should now strive to win is the battle against themselves', wrote Monitor in July 1991.

Our paper, seeing Montenegro's slide towards war, insisted: `Refusal to take part in a meaningless slaughter is not a question of patriotism or treachery, bravery or cowardice, but of common sense and the inalienable right of every man to refuse to become a murderer.' With Slovenia gone, Monitor wrote, `Tudman's moment of truth has arrived.' The `log-revolution' started in Knin and a murderous game engulfed Vukovar, Petrinja, Pakrac, Plitvice. . . There was the bloody Thursday in Borovo Selo. Montenegro experienced Momir Bulatovic's `dark events of Vucji dol'. Montenegrin anti-war demonstrations were denounced as `national treason'. After the first victims had fallen in Plitvice, Monitor wrote: `Those who would not stop when one person died will not halt even when that number reaches hundreds of thousands.'

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