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New Series no.17/18 July - September 2000


The spreading desert

In its fourth issue, on 16 November 1990, Monitor's editorial bore the headline: `Terror in Montenegro'. It referred to an attack by supporters of the ruling party on a rally in Niksic organized by the Alliance of Reform Forces at the time of the first multiparty elections. `Democracy knows both meetings and counter-meetings, but in recent political history physical attacks on political opponents have accompanied the birth of fascist states.'

A little later the government's activity reached a new peak. Yugoslav prime minister Ante Markovic was stopped outside Virpazar. In its issue of 6 December 1990 Monitor recorded: `A group of considerate hosts erected a barricade and, with familiar songs of welcome and a readiness to defend physically the integrity of this small place, succeeded in preventing the Federal premier from - just imagine! - having lunch at the local hotel. This small place is bound to enter into history or become a tourist attraction.'

After the Communists' electoral victory in Serbia and Montenegro in 1990, their enthusiasm grew. Then came the war in Croatia. The Montenegrin government distributed weapons to selected sons of the nation. On Christmas Eve 1992 Monitor went to Cetinje: `We entered the monastery courtyard and found beneath its portal with the fresco depicting St Peter of Cetinje none other than Arkan posing for the photographers.' And also: `The Committee for Return of Montenegrin Church Autonomy waited for two weeks for the authorities' response to its request that it be permitted to light the Christmas Eve bonfire in front of King Nikola's Palace. After some hesitation the negative decision arrived, replicating the similar ban imposed a year earlier. Fifteen minutes before the appointed time the courtyard in front of the Palace was filled beyond the organizers' expectations. In front of the people and separated from them by some twenty metres was a police cordon. In between, on the trodden snow, a row of lighted candles. The crowd began to sing `Hail to the May Dawn' and `Under Ostrog, in the mountains' [Montenegrin national songs]. An elderly gentleman wearing a black hat raised the paper banning the bonfire and set fire to it. At the same time yule-logs were piled up and lit.'

That spring Bosnia burst into flames. In comparison to the events there, local news appeared humdrum: `Director Milan Stojovic of the Niksic Information Centre physically attacked the journalist Dragoljub Ilic. The latter's dismissal from work represents the culmination of a year of rule by men in uniform.' (Monitor, 24 July 1992)

On 7 August our front cover had: `Pljevlja on our conscience'. Seven days later, inspired by the news from Pljevlja: `War is coming home'. `In the last two days Pljevlja has experienced two occupations, or liberations if you prefer.' Monitor had the whole story. On 8 August a Chetnik major, Ceko Dacevic, took control of Pjevlja. `Barricades were erected, the post office and the municipal assembly building and the relay station and the petrol pump were seized - the whole lot. The police was unable to prevent it - but whether it wanted to, that's another story.' After a ceasefire had been established between the Montenegrin government and Mr Dacevic, a series of similar news items succeeded one another: `Mirsad Delic's car was blown up. A grenade exploded in Mersudin Rustemagic's shop. Senad Strujic's shop was saved by the fact that it was located on higher ground, so that the bomb thrown at it simply rolled away.' The wall of the `Maxim Gorky' primary school in Pljevlja became a notice-board: `Run away, you Turks, before it's too late!' The Montenegrin public was then offered an expert opinion by General Radomir Damjanovic, commander of the Podgorica Corps, which Monitor recorded: `As a sapper, I'm 90% certain that the Muslims themselves ignite and throw bombs at their own shops in order to make problems for the other side.' Bukovica, on the other hand, was ethnically cleansed in silence.

The struggle against national traitors continued to be pursued by patriotically minded citizens. In November 1992 the Liberals (LSCG) were prevented from attending an election rally organized by their supporters in Bijelo Polje. Nothing new. Monitor's comment was: `Although transparent and primitive like everything that comes from the red-brown mafia, the banning of the Liberal rally points to a deeper political reasoning. The LSCG had to be prevented from appearing in northern Montenegro, which the Serbian political agencies (writing off the Muslims) treat as their own lair. At the same time it was necessary to present as politically important a ragbag of marginal individuals mainly grouped in the SNO [Serbian National Renewal] and SRS [Serbian Radical Party] paramilitary units, whose political thought and action can best be described as ethnic Darwinism.' At the end of 1995 Dacevic and his co-fighters were put on trial. In a text headed `In a totally dark courthouse' Monitor noted: `After spending five months in prison, he became a deputy and a much sought-after media personality. Following a month-long trial, Dacevic was sentenced to a year in prison for violent behaviour and for obstructing officials in pursuit of their lawful duties.'

The refugees too underwent state treatment. `We are dealing with an unprecedented case of one state using its police and army to assist the mobilization of refugees by another. This is what is happening in Montenegro today: the Yugoslav army is drafting refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina for military service in the so-called Republika Srpska' (Monitor, 28 June 1994). In an article entitled `The sunset zone' it reported: `Between 19 and 24 May 1992, the Montenegrin police surrendered to their colleagues in Foca, Cajnice and Srebrenica more than 180 refugees of Muslim and Serb nationality.'

The arrest of Montenegro's SDA leaders on the grounds that, with their handful of guns, they were `endangering the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia' drew the following comment in Monitor (4 February 1994): `One would praise the police for disarming civilians were it not for the fact that the same police has remained passive in the face of events that have caused great fear and insecurity among Montenegro's Muslims. Not much time has passed since the hot Pljevlja summer of 1992, when 29 shops in this town alone were blown up, all of them owned by Muslims, while the police stood by. The Montenegrin police also earned no kudos when it persistently failed to question the armed bands responsible for the brutal ethnic cleansing of Bukovica, to discover the terrorists who had blown up Muslim properties in Bijelo Polje and Berane, or to stop those who fired at vehicles transporting workers of Muslim nationality.'

In March that year Monitor recorded details of the police torture inflicted on the arrested SDA leaders: beatings, sadistic acts, `asbestos caps', electric shocks. `I would much rather kill myself than have to go through that experience again', declared Sefket Brkovic, one of the arrested. That was in the north. Here is a picture of what was happening in the capital: `Control of entry into the city has been strengthened; police with sawn-off shotguns patrol the streets; identity checks and evening raids are common; there are a great many police cars. It is a picture normally associated with visits by Montenegrin government leaders or church dignitaries, equally unwelcome here. But it has become a permanent state, indicating the authorities' growing concern with what is happening in the capital. We have also got a new police chief, one Vuk Boskovic, who has been brought in from Bijelo Polje to replace a man whose only sin was that, thanks to his ability to maintain the peace, he won popular affection.'

Further south, Boka [Kotorska] was foaming with Serb enthusiasm. Monitor, 1 July 1995: `Our interlocutors say that there is no individual persecution, but Croats are leaving Boka because they fear abduction. Every aspect of their individuality is treated as suspect. The only thing that has escaped ethnic ``correction'', and that recalls the centuries of their existence here, is their Musical and Educational Society.' A text titled `My unharvested olive tree' ends with the following paragraph: `Everyone faced with the loss of something extremely dear experiences an emptiness before succumbing to sadness. Such an emptiness is caused by the departure of the people of Boka, who are silently leaving for good. So many have left that whoever passes through cannot but ask whether Boka is dying in the shadow of the wars.'

A few months later Monitor wrote (23 December 1995) about the trial of twenty persons from Cetinje accused of having, in September the previous year, committed the following acts: `In Cetinje, in front of Njegos's Billiard Room, they offended President of the Republic Momir Bulatovic with their rude insults and behaviour, in that when he came out of the Room and walked towards his official car they shouted:''Traitor, thief, Slobodan Milosevic's bastard, you have betrayed Montenegro.'

At about the same time, the trial of the SDA leaders was taking place in Bijelo Polje. Monitor summed up: `In the last twenty days alone, Montenegrin courts have extended or confirmed sentences on the current regime's political opponents which, taken together, amount to 104 years in prison.' The SDA leaders got 87 years, and the Cetinje group 16.

In the course of the 1990s, practically all Montenegro's opposition leaders were put on trial: Acim Visnjic, Slavko Perovic, Novak Kilibarda... Monitor's offices were bombed on several occasions, our reporters and supporters were sacked from their jobs, trials were arranged. All part of the service.

And then twenty people who boarded Train no. 671, which set off on 27 February 1993 from Bar to Belgrade, never reached their destination (they were taken off the train and murdered at Strpci in Herzegovina). Monitor's cover: `Horror trains in the land of puppets'. Editorial: `In today's Montenegro, it seems perfectly normal that the president of a republic twenty of whose citizens have been taken hostage by bandits has not found it necessary to speak to the nation on the matter; that no one has even called for an emergency session of the assembly; that the authorities have not even sent a public protest to their political and military allies; that no political leader, as a matter of simple courtesy, has paid a visit to the families of those who have not returned from their journey. The impotence of those who see this as their own shame suggests that Montenegro has entered a wilderness from which it will not return for a long time.

The desert continued to spread. The LSCG deputy Savo Jablan and the SDP [Social-Democratic Party] deputy Dragisa Burzan summed up their experience as follows: `The Montenegrin government is doing all it can to obstruct the working of the parliamentary commission set up to investigate this crime.' A year, two, three, four years passed and nothing happened. Monitor's comment: `All that can be heard are the cries of a woman, asking; ``Can anyone imagine how a mother feels, when she cannot place flowers on her son's grave''.'

On the eve of the last elections in which the ruling DPS appeared as a united party, the traumatized families were able to hear their president declare on TV: `The abducted passengers were murdered.' Nebojsa Ranisavljevic, one of the perpetrators, was subsequently arrested. His trial opened, but was soon suspended.

`Oh, yes, and Mujo Babcic has died. This school caretaker from Podgorica told the Montenegrin media in 1993, with a groan: ``I find it painful to be asked how many children I have.'' His Ismet had been a passenger on Train 671 from Bar to Belgrade. He did not wait for the official silence to be broken', wrote Monitor on 29 October 1999. Strpci is still an unsolved case.

Somewhat earlier, in late summer, the Montenegrin coast was awash with bodies of Romas who had drowned after their dilapidated boat capsized. `It remains a secret how one hundred people could drown and the public learn about it only a week later, despite the fact that there were hospitalized survivors. It also remains to be known who has pocketed at least five million Deutschmarks', wrote Monitor on 27 August 1999. In the same issue a comment: `We who have been wading through this mud, who have remained indifferent to the gaze of dead children, if there is justice in heaven we shall be on this earth nothing but dust and a breath of icy wind - a sign of warning.'

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