Montenegro After the Coup Attempt
by Stanko Cerovic
Things being the way they are in the Serbian-Montenegrin Federation, something
evil or wrong is always bound to occur. Such is the kind of state it is, this
remnant of Yugoslavia for whose existence no one has yet found a real reason.
Its reality has been in constant collision with the name of the former state,
which did have considerable reasons to exist and was nevertheless destroyed.
Such is the nature of the regime in Serbia, whose only policy is to conceal the
responsibility for its crimes and mistakes. It is panic-stricken at every
demonstration of common sense in the public life of Serbia or Montenegro. Such a
leader is Slobodan Milosevic, who has no equal in Europe, at this century's end,
in the art of destroying, undermining and inflicting misery upon his own and
other peoples. Such is the psychological condition of the nation, through which
wander lost groups of people stunned by the disintegration of the state and by
an unacknowledged defeat in war that they never dream of acknowledging.
In such a state, which can scarcely be called a state, misery follows in the
footsteps of misery without any prospect of improvement until the regime in Serbia is changed. The one positive event has been the failed coup attempt by
Milosevic's supporters in Podgorica: the price of the coup's failure has not
been as high as what we have been used to paying under this regime. What is
happening in Montenegro is something that is in any case inevitable: the process
of confronting mistakes is being completed, a tyrannical regime is being replaced, new forms of governance are being sought after the destruction of Yugoslavia.
The first lesson of the failed coup is, so to speak, technical: Milosevic can be
resisted only by force. Nobody finding himself in Milosevic's orbit has saved
his skin for free. Milosevic will go on destroying wherever he feels softness
and weakness, until he encounters resistance. He will stop only when he senses
that his adversary will go further than him.
Mile Dukanovic's greatest advantage has been to have understood this. That is
why he has survived - and certainly helped many others to survive. This is
important for Montenegro, but important also in the process of changing the
regime in Serbia. The Dukanovic-Vujanovic partnership is tough with the Serbian
regime, and superior to it in every way. The Belgrade regime is indeed beginning
to look ridiculous in relation to Podgorica. However, Milosevic will be forever
tempted to use force to subdue Montenegro, or banish it from the Federation as
soon as possible, simply because it will unmask - at home and abroad - the monstrosity of the Serbian leadÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ
er's politics. But if Montenegro is saved, this will
give encouragement to Serbia.
Role of multinational Bosnia
The failed coup has not by itself destroyed this little Yugoslavia. The Montenegrin authorities reacted well, the Americans were sharp with Milosevic, the Army
no longer trusts his orders to defend the frontiers of a state that he, its master, destroys in person - and then shifts the blame onto the Army for his own
ineptitude and crimes. But the coup attempt did demonstrate one unavoidable
truth about this state: that it is an illusion sustained by the inertia of the
former Yugoslavia. The destruction of the former Yugoslavia is being completed,
despite the wishes of many, because there is no longer any real reason to prevent it. Yugoslavia was a Serbo-Croat state founded upon the national intermingling in Bosnia. When such strong and profound links were broken, at the price
of horrendous crimes, what could be the basis for such an insignificant federation as this to survive? Not a single nationalist in Serbia has ever seriously
considered keeping the name Yugoslavia for the Serbian state, for whose sake the
former federation was indeed destroyed. Is it possible to imagine Serbia once
again reconciling itself to federal institutions and Yugoslav symbols, just for
the sake of Montenegro's rocks and half a million Montenegrins, just for the
sake of the port of Bar and a few dozen kilometres of sea coast? There is all
of that and better in Greece. But it is equally unrealistic to expect the Montenegrins to disappear, to sacrifice themselves for no reason, especially if
they are being subjected to a nationalist politics.
There are two logics at work in the Serbian-Montenegrin Federation, which need
not be opposed to one another as the Serb and Croat nationalisms were, although
they have no binding common interest in being in one state. A common state is
simply not necessary. The only reasons for its existence might be the closeness
of Serbs and Montenegrins, and the presence of a great many of the latter in
Belgrade. But that closeness could be better preserved without the conflict of
interests provoked by this unnatural - and in Serbia unaccepted - federation.
For the Montenegrins, equality in the federation is all-important, because a
federation that does not respect equality is no a federation but a prison. But
Serbia, which is so all-powerful in that federation, has almost no interest in
sharing its sovereignty with Montenegro.
The reality of the Serbian-Montenegrin Federation has become visible simply because Dukanovic has insisted upon common sense and real politics. From behind
the slogans and nationalist dreams, this reality is emerging. Confronted by it,
the Serbian authorities - confident of their rights - are seeking to liquidate
their federal partner by force. The reality is being unveiled, but the foundations of this state are nowhere to be seen.
There is another important reason why the process of the federation's decomposi-
tion is accelerating: the existence of this irrational state prevents Serbia
from confronting its own problems, thus prolonging the life of the regime of
Slobodan Milosevic, for whom blabbering about the Yugoslavia he has destroyed
has remained the most important propaganda tool for keeping Serbia in submis-
sion. Serbia will confront Milosevic when it has to confront itself. The sooner
the better, since Milosevic may finish Serbia itself off in order to avoid such
It would be better to draw geographical, political and economic lines between
Serbia and Montenegro, and then open up possibilities for collaboration and communication between them, than to sustain a federation without prospects in which
Milosevic can always commit crimes.
Because the settling of accounts between Serbia and Montenegro is only the final
stage of an already finished process of destruction of Yugoslavia, it does not
depend on political parties or social forces, and nationalism does not play an
ortant role. The pragmatic approach adopted by Dukanovic is useful in these
circumstances, because it avoids extremes; at the same time it is effective because it allows what is real to be revealed and followed. The present government
is more Montenegrin than all others to date, simply because it is pragmatic and
realistic. If it manages to continue in the same measured but nonetheless firm
vein, despite the poverty of material and human resources at its disposal, its
politics will disclose a real country with which many people will be able to
Stanko Cerovic is a Montenegrin writer living in Paris, where he works for
French radio. This text is translated from a longer article in Monitor (Podgorica), 30 January 1998