The Time for Montenegrin Independence is Now
by Ranko Krivokapic
An interview with Ranko Krivokapić, president of the Montenegrin parliament and leader of the SDP, coalition partner of Đukanović’s ruling DSP
At the time of the signing of the Belgrade Agreement on 13 March 2002, there was much talk of Serbia and Montenegro drawing closer to the EU.
The Union [of Montenegro and Serbia] was encouraged on the basis that this would help them on the road to joining the EU. But, as you know, the Feasibility Study linked to that has been put off to the end of this year, which means that Montenegro has lost another year because of remaining united with Serbia. In 2002, the year the Union was formed, Montenegro was at the point of producing its own Feasibility Study. This means that what was being presented as the formal reason for joining the Union turned into its opposite, and has slowed down Montenegro’s progress in the direction of EU membership. As time goes by, the negative aspects of the Union are becoming ever more evident.
The Union has no emblem, flag, anthem or clear borders. Serbia’s currency is the dinar while Montenegro’s is the euro. Financial transactions between Podgorica and Belgrade are routed through Germany. How long can this last?
Not long. You can cheat everything but time. In politics as in life, time reveals what can and what cannot live. To be sure, even in this interregnum Montenegro is behaving like an autonomous state. We are independent in many ways, apart from foreign relations - and even there we have two foreign policies. My visits to Germany, Austria, Slovenia etc. were all arranged through Montenegrin channels, independently of the Union and the Belgrade diplomatic corps.
Because even when, for example, I attend the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe as official representative [of the Union], I face strong obstruction on the part of our so-called common foreign-affairs diplomacy. Its structure has not changed much since Milošević’s time. The only thing that has changed is the party-political allegiance of the staff, in the sense that former members of JUL and SPS [the parties of Mira Marković and Slobodan Milošević respectively] have en masse switched to the new ruling parties. And anyway, Serbia is run today by a de facto coalition between the SPS and Koštunica. The secret wartime alliance between Koštunica and Milošević has now become a public one.
So you do not trust Koštunica and the new Serbian government?
At the core of Koštunica’s political ideology lies the unrealized state-expansionist programme, as he made clear at the start of his presidency when he placed strengthening the union with Montenegro among his priorities, well above the Kosovo issue. We are dealing, in my view, with continuing designs upon Montenegro.
According to Monitor, unification of the customs regimes has cost Montenegro 45 million euros. Is that correct?
Yes, which proves my thesis that fifteen years of cohabitation with Serbia has led to Montenegro’s economic devastation. One should add to that sum another 45 to 50 million euros for the Army of Serbia and Montenegro, which was politicized during the war and ended up with very few truly professional officers. This is a lot of money. 7,500 soldiers have remained on the territory of Montenegro, even though there is no need for them. Montenegro can defend itself with police forces and reservists. On the border with Croatia, for example, we have stationed only a Montenegrin police force, yet we still have the Union army on the border with Serbia. Such examples show that the two parts have nothing common that is actually needed, except the problems the Union brings to both.
There is an increasing dispute over the question of the referendum on Montenegro’s independence which could be held in 2005 or 2006.
The Belgrade Agreement clearly stated that the referendum would be postponed for three years. The Convention on Serbia and Montenegro is an act derived from the Agreement, and cannot be interpreted differently from what is set out in the fundamental document, particularly since it was passed in both parliaments and carries Javier Solana’s signature. We in the SDP stick by that date. We do not have to organize the referendum on 14 March next year, but the decision when to do so must after that date be in our own hands.
What about Kosovo?
Recent events have shown how effective the international policy of maintaining the status quo really is. We have got a government in Serbia whose leader Koštunica radiates nationalism, and who has made clear his intentions regarding Kosovo, prompting the other side to respond. You have two nationalisms and an immediate escalation of conflict. It will not be possible to sweep the Kosovo issue under the carpet for much longer. In my view the year 2005, after the presidential elections in the United States, will be decisive for Kosovo, and also for Montenegro which will regain its right freely to decide its own future.
Brussels nevertheless keeps sending the message through Javier Solana that one should strengthen the Union of Serbia and Montenegro and not think about two states.
We are grateful to Mr Solana for his effective contribution in many fields. Two years ago, however, when I did not vote for the Belgrade Agreement, I already said that it was an unsustainable union and that it would not advance any of the promised paths of development. Practical results have shown that Brussels was wrong and that we did not need the Union. The best proof is the deceleration of adhesion to the EU.
It appears, however, that Montenegrin society is no longer interested in independence. Will it be possible to revive the old energy?
The greatest damage caused by the Belgrade agreement, apart from that I have already mentioned, has been the dissipation of pro-independence energy. People are greatly disappointed because they expected that a referendum would take place. The SDP, the party I represent, was not responsible for this. By leaving the government we brought it down, but we were replaced by the Liberals, who in the meantime had defected to the other side, further contributing to the loss of energy. The pro-independence movement, however, is of long standing and cannot easily be halted. It is up to us to carry out the necessary reforms as part of our road to independence. This autumn we will inform the citizens of our country of the date of the referendum, after which the energy will quickly return, since the sense of freedom is what stimulates people most. Mankind is constantly striving towards freedom, and independence is a necessary precondition for it.
This interview, conducted by Luka Brailo, has been translated from Feral Tribune (Split), 2 April 2004