On the relationship between Montenegro and Serbia
by Milo Ðukanovic, Cedomir Jovanovic, Nataša Micic, Latinka Perovic, Nikola Samardžic
Starting from the premise that the state union of Montenegro and Serbia has proved unworkable, the Civic Alliance of Serbia and the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro organised a round table on 19 February 2005 in Belgrade, on the subject of the future relationship between the two states, in which the presidents of the two parties, Nataša Mićić and Milo Đukanović, took part. They were joined by the historians Latinka Perović and Nikola Samardžić, as well as by Čedomir Jovanović, former deputy prime minister of Serbia, on behalf of the Centre for Modern Politics. The initiative was organized with the help of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia, the independent weekly Vreme, and Freedom House. We publish below a much shortened and edited version of this fascinating exchange, as reproduced in a special supplement to Vreme, Belgrade, 3 March 2005.
Nataša Mićić: This meeting has not been called with the ambition of finding a final solution to the problem of the future of the union of our two states. It is our view that it would be more difficult today to make the union function than five years ago, when Milošević forcibly and unilaterally altered the constitution of FRY. We are now faced with three possible options: continuation of the state union in its present form; full independence and international recognition of our two republics; and an alliance of the independent states of Montenegro and Serbia.
It is our considered opinion that continuation of the existing association runs contrary to our citizens’ European future. The existing union has clearly failed the test of time. It is possible to imagine its continued survival only if a referendum is held in Montenegro in which the majority opts for that, after which a new joint assembly could be elected and a new constitution adopted. This is not likely to happen any time soon. Time, however, is the most important factor for modern Serbia’s European future. It is crucial that we reach a decision as soon as possible, since we are running out of time: Milošević has cost us ten years, Đinđić’s murder another two years so far.
The second option, i.e. that of Serbia and Montenegro as two independent and unrelated states, is also possible, provided that the majority of Montenegro’s citizens vote for independence in a referendum. The problem with this option is once again time: given the current relationship of political forces, on the one hand it would not be possible to organise a referendum quickly, while on the other, following the referendum, the losers - I refer here to those who are against Montenegro’s independence - are unlikely peacefully to accept the outcome. The movement for a dependent Montenegro recently organised in Belgrade enjoys the support of the top echelons of the Serbian government. This suggests that the referendum would not proceed peacefully, and that its result would not be accepted by them. We must add to this the resistance of the unreformed security services, which in the event would fully escape the already feeble control of the Supreme Defence Council. Problems of this nature would take a long time to resolve, during which time Serbia would definitely fall off the European train.
This is why the Civic Alliance of Serbia supports a third solution, based on a compromise between the two options. This solution envisages an alliance between an independent Montenegro and an independent Serbia. Montenegro and Serbia would both gain international recognition, but they would also enter into a close association. This association would not have elected organs, but merely a delegated assembly with some kind of government, and most importantly there would be a joint command for the army. We have in mind the Benelux model. The idea, of course, is to facilitate the adhesion of both Montenegro and Serbia to the EU. We in the Civic Alliance believe that it is in the interests of both states to join as quickly as possible the process of Euro-Atlantic integration, either together or singly. We think it would be best to do this together rather than as two separate states, because it would be easier and quicker. The EU has accepted this idea and so have the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation.
Let us imagine the possibility that Montenegro joins the EU in 2012 and Serbia does not. Would this be in our Serbian national interest? I believe so. The opposite too holds: if Serbia were to join the EU first, Montenegro should support it. Our so-called patriots should learn from the Macedonian Albanians, who are proud of the fact that, as things are now, they will be the first Albanians to join the EU and NATO. We here are running out of time. We have lost fifteen years. Serbia is in a hurry and the same is true, I believe, of Montenegro. We must move fast to make up for lost time.
Latinka Perović: Yugoslavia was a historical process in which two conceptions of its organisation inevitably clashed: the concept of a centralist and unitarist state on the one hand, and on the other that of Yugoslavia as an association of nations, in which some sought to maintain their independence while others used its framework to develop and gain their own. Yugoslavia was revived during World War II as a federation, which up until the 1960s was modelled on the Soviet one, in that the republics were only formally states. The constitutional reforms then turned Yugoslavia into an association of states. At the end of the 20th century the idea of a unitarist and centralist state died together with Communist rule, while the option of a confederation too was rejected. Yugoslavia’s break-up consequently became inevitable.
The current government is essentially pursuing Milošević’s policy of arrogantly refusing all compromise, with the price being paid by the ordinary people. Take for example the question of Kosovo. Its autonomy met with strong resistance in Serbia, and would not have happened had it not been for the federation. Albanians used to spend years in prison for advocating a Kosovo republic. The suppression of Kosovo’s autonomy forced the Albanians to create a parallel society. The intervention [by NATO] that came in response to the Serbian state terror has practically emptied Kosovo of Serbs: those who remain are in a difficult position. Yet although Kosovo is 98% Albanian, it is once again being treated here as part of Serbia. But no one says how Kosovo could be kept in that position. With the police, the army, or what? What would that mean for democracy in Serbia?
We are not interested in having partners. Time appears to be of no concern to us. The world is changing rapidly, while we remain prisoners of a consensus reached under Slobodan Milošević. Đinđić’s murder has drawn a sharp line between the pro-European and anti-European strategies in Serbia. While Đinđić tried hard to solve the outstanding international problems, in order for Serbia to be able to focus on its own development, the current government prefers to keep all problems unresolved in order precisely to avoid all domestic reform.
The union of Serbia and Montenegro is still-born. The EU with its idea of parallel tracks has finally acknowledged this. The proposal for an association of independent states is a reasonable one. However, it brings not only rights but also responsibilities. Many well-intentioned people like to say: others are uniting today, while we are forever separating. But two different processes are involved here. The EU is a union of sovereign states, which do not fear that their rights may be usurped by other members. The nations that once belonged to the socialist federations, and which later met or will meet within the EU, had first to dissociate from one another. This was an act of their emancipation. A state union is not the same thing as a union of sovereign states. One is imposed, the other is the result of free choice.
Nikola Samardžić: During the past twenty years Serbia has been using history as an instrument of manipulation, as the only secure bastion of the dominant elites - both the traditional one and the one that has emerged from practically nowhere during the war and chaos of the past fifteen years. But insistence on a union of Serbia and Montenegro based on offices and bureaucracy precisely represents a blind alley, a path along which these elites wish to turn back history. Or maybe they hope that Mother Russia will arise, that China will arise, and between them they will establish a parallel historical track that will protect our traditional cultural values, prevent foreigners from buying our collapsed factories, and instead of teaching our children how to use computers ensure that they pray to St Sava and heaven knows whom else.
We are in a situation today where the border between Serbia and Montenegro is far more sharply drawn than the one between France and Germany upon which over a million fell in World War I. The European future offer satisfaction to both those who believe that this border should not exist and those - above all in Montenegro - who believe that Montenegro must be an independent and internationally recognised state as it once was. The current Serbian government is using the deepening and prolongation of political crisis as an instrument for its own survival, in the same way that Milošević’s government used conflict to survive. And the present-day ruling elite, we must not forget, derives from Milošević’s system. The marriage between Serbia and Montenegro is increasingly unhappy and abstract. In particular, it is not wanted by the young and educated layer of the population of Montenegro, the generation of the future.
Milo Đukanović: Montenegro’s two key strategic interests are membership of the EU and of NATO. We believe that new integrations in the European spirit in this area are possible only after the process of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia has been completed, and Serbia and Montenegro have become fully independent and internationally recognised states. Neither Montenegro nor Serbia needs artificial and evidently non-functioning institutions, which in fact serve to camouflage the primary responsibility of the leaders of the two states towards their respective electors. When we talk with the representatives of the international community, we are given to understand that their basic concern is regional stability, and in that context the problem of Kosovo and the problem of Serbian-Montenegrin relations. In my view the essential question lying at the root of these two problems is that of Serbia’s democratic stability and European orientation. If Serbia were democratically stable and oriented towards Europe, there would be no Montenegro question and the Kosovo problem could be far more easily resolved.
Contemporary Serbia, I believe, is the site of two contending policies. One continues to be obsessed by a manic nationalism and false history, which drags Serbia down and prevents it from assuming its place in Europe. My concern is that the other, pro-European Serbian policy associated with the late Đinđić finds itself today on the defensive: Š ešelj’s Serbian Radical Party has retained its popularity, Milošević’s Socialist Party has grown stronger, and the Democratic Party of Serbia too has proved to be more nationalist than democratic. What is the reason for this state of affairs? In my view, it is because state policy is concerned with the wrong issues, with issues such as Kosovo and the union with Montenegro, rather than with Serbia’s own democratic and European transformation. What is more, it prefers to postpone any solution to these issues, even though as time passes it becomes harder and not easier to solve them. We recently learnt of a proposal sent [from Belgrade] to Brussels, without the knowledge of either Montenegro or the union, that the referendum on Montenegro’s independence should either be shelved for the time being or be postponed for at least another year. That is not in Serbia’s true interest. Serbia should wish to know the feeling of Montenegro’s population, so that it can concentrate better on its own pressing affairs. Serbia is instead repeating the same mistake in regard to Montenegro as with the other former Yugoslav republics. Serbia should invest in political good will towards Montenegro, rather than all the time sending negative signals.
We have today an escalation of para-political structures that were very influential under Milošević, with the difference that they are now operating far more publicly. There is no doubt, to take one example, that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) was highly politicised under Milošević; but he kept its authority in check. Now, however, the clerics are the first to address such purely political issues as whether the Kosovo Serbs should take part in local elections. When Montenegro adopted its state symbols and national anthem, the Church was the first to declare them to be ‘Ustasha symbols’. The announcement that the Pope wished to visit Serbia and Montenegro was promptly denounced by the SPC. One wonders whether Serbia will find sufficient strength to rid itself of these shackles, rid itself of nationalism and myth-making in favour of its European future.
Kosovo and Montenegro are two issues which Serbia should resolve as soon as possible, in order to be able to concentrate on its own democratic and European transformation. Montenegro has offered Serbia to negotiate an agreement that would permit our union to be changed into an association of two independent and internationally recognised states. We in Montenegro believe that international recognition would permit us to advocate our national interests better in the context of the workings of the international community. We do not believe that union with Serbia allows us to advance our authentic interests. We have nothing against the idea that our two states, having become independent in the eyes of the outside world, should form a closer association than that furnished by the EU model. Nataša has already evoked the Benelux example. Our offer will remain on the table throughout 2005. If Serbia refuses to negotiate, however, we shall have no other choice but to decide our future alone in 2006. The current three-year arrangement expires in February 2006, after which the citizens of Montenegro will decide the state issue. I am convinced that Montenegro is perfectly capable of ensuring that the referendum will be democratic and peaceful. I agree with the previous speakers that time is of the essence, and that neither Serbia nor Montenegro stands to gain anything from further delay in determining their relationship.
Čedomir Jovanović: The fact is that the union has failed the test of time. When we talk about the state union of Serbia and Montenegro, we are talking in fact about the last redoubt of a totalitarian concept that was defeated elsewhere in Europe at the end of the 1980s. Also as something that represents a deep threat to the democratic processes in both Serbia and Montenegro. Zoran Đinđić was in a sense a ritual sacrifice to the state union, in that this first democratically elected prime minister of Serbia was killed five days before Svetozar Marović [the new union president] was scheduled to draw a line under the whole previous rotten system. The relationship between Serbia and Montenegro is not a national issue, a national problem. It is a democratic problem which is being invested with national connotations by those who do not wish our societies to advance.
Who profits from a state union which is wholly de-legitimised by the fact that no elections have been held for the joint assembly? Who profits by this? Only those who have informed Brussels that they are ready to wait another year or two, provided nothing happens to spoil their plans. Europe and the world at large can no longer conduct a policy of crisis management as they have done for the past few years. I am an indirect witness - the Montenegrin premier knows far better - how this union was formed. It can certainly not be used by Europe as an acceptable model for establishing a new Serbian-Montenegrin relationship. European crisis management has in the meantime not solved a single problem. In fact the problems have instead mutated, and now threaten not only the democratic needs of the two societies but their very existence.
The citizens of our two countries are in fact being offered two models: a model of final solution and a model of permanent non-solution. Official Serbia favours the latter, because it relies on conflicts, conflicts that at present are only of ideas, but that are nevertheless real and dangerous for Montenegro. This is why democratic Serbia should point out the mechanism that supposedly seeks a solution to the national rather than to the democratic question. For solving the national question in the same manner as before means repeating the mistakes made during the 20th century, i.e. blind belief in illusions rather than knowing reality.
Is the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro a democratic issue? If so, why does it not have protagonists in Serbia seeking a referendum there on this issue? 270,000 Montenegrins with the right to vote in Serbia, and with an ambition to vote also in Montenegro, are a bigger problem for Montenegro than Serbia. But Serbian citizens have not been given the option that the democratic opposition has posed in Montenegro: to make a decision on their future through a referendum. This is because the current Serbian government ignores .the interests of its society. This is the way in which FRY was created in 1991, with all its negative consequences.
The existence of the state union has complicated the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro, and from the Serbian point of view made more difficult Serbia’s democratic transformation. Serbia’s need to reform the so-called security services, which have found a cover for themselves in the state union, is greater than Montenegro’s. Why? Because they are under threat primarily in Serbia. They have no partners in Montenegro, but only in Serbia. They defend the union in other to defend themselves. They thus tell us that the union is needed by the army. But do we need the army such as it is now, given structures such as Paartnership for Peace? If the state union is needed in order to prevent transformation of the army, then this should be openly discussed. If the state union is needed because of foreign policy, then why can Serbia not conduct its foreign policy through the appropriate ministry, as Montenegro does?
The state union has practically ceased to exist, because those who allegedly support it (and, in fact, favour a unitary Serbia) have refused to accept the fact that real life has passed them by. The kind of policy that dominates in Serbia should be met with an organised response from the democratic opposition. There is no reason why the union should not be one formed between two independent states. The old state union cannot exist and in fact has practically ceased to exist. Are we to admit that the emperor has no clothes, or should we wait for someone from outside to ask us whether we are normal? It is unacceptable that the Serbian government is openly putting pressure on Montenegro and seeking to divide it. The abuse of institutions in the service of generating conflicts must be condemned. I have in mind, above all, the army and the Church and the myths about the importance of these institutions. But just as the citizens of Serbia do not elect the Serbian patriarch, the clergy should not be allowed to influence our choice of politicians. We have not a single institution here in Serbia that can respond to the need of modernisation. This is why we must seek support abroad, in Brussels. The European future of Serbia and Montenegro cannot be fashioned by those who have taken the two countries further away from Europe than they have been for the past two hundred years. We know that the issue of Montenegro has been nothing but a tool against Serbia’s civil society. This game started with Slovenia and continued in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc. Let us put an end to it.
I am convinced that Montenegro will gain its independence. It is important for Serbia, far more important than for Montenegro, that it collaborates with Montenegro in this project. That it does not lose another day, since Serbia is bound to lose more time in 2005 than Montenegro. We in Serbia must openly insist that Montenegro cannot be an enemy solely because it thinks for itself.