Montenegrin independence is good for Serbia
by Živorad Kovacevic
‘Comparing Montenegro today with Slovenia and Croatia in the past derives from the misconception that the Slovenes and Croats destroyed Yugoslavia. They did not - Yugoslavia destroyed itself. If one can speak of the death of Yugoslavia, then one can say that it was a classical case of suicide. If we were to make a list of those who destroyed Yugoslavia, it would be a long one, and would be headed by Slobodan Milošević.’ That is the view of Živorad Kovačević, a well known Serbian politician and diplomat, former mayor of Belgrade and erstwhile Yugoslav ambassador to Washington. He is currently president of the Igman Initiative and tirelessly points out the noxious fruits of nationalism.
- interviewed by Milka Tadić-Mijović for Monitor.
Monitor: So such analogies are inappropriate also because circumstances are different?
Kovačević: Of course. It is being claimed that Montenegro is destroying the common state of Serbia and Montenegro [SCG]. But SFRY [the former Yugoslav federation] was a proper state, albeit one that was internally corroded. SCG, on the other hand, is not a state - it is an artificial creation which is not working. One cannot speak about breaking up a state that does not exist. Let’s imagine what would happen if this alleged state were preserved! Would the status quo remain? No, because it is quite unsustainable. Because this state does not function. The European Union is largely responsible for this state of affairs. Fearing the consequences of a referendum [on independence] in a divided Montenegro, the EU postponed a vote through the 2002 Belgrade Agreement, hoping that matters would be resolved in the meantime. But they were not, and today stand worse than before. Not only has time been wasted, it has also been wrongly spent. The EU has realised, however, that it has made a mistake, that it is impossible to harmonise two diametrically opposed systems, and has opted for a highly unusual dual-track strategy.
There is much talk here about what independence might bring to Montenegro. It seems, on the other hand, that the question of what it could bring to Serbia has not as yet been addressed in Belgrade.
Montenegro’s independence would unquestionably benefit Serbia. I once wrote an article for Politika called ‘Serbia’s Three Bukagije’. Bukagije are the iron balls worn by prisoners to slow them down. Those three balls are: The Hague, Kosovo and Montenegro. Serbian politicians find it hard to admit this, but the citizens have understood it. The politicians should concern themselves not with what is good for Montenegro, but with what is good for Serbia. I believe that it is in Serbia’s greatest and most selfish interest for Montenegro to be independent.
Do you think that Serbia’s main parties will interfere in the Montenegrin referendum?
They insist that they do not wish to interfere, that it is a matter for the Montenegrin people. This is how it should be, but right now that is not so. However, there is a feeling of resignation in the ruling Serbian elite in regard to the Montenegrin issue, because the referendum is clearly unstoppable. Serbia should not get involved in any way. It is not up to it to decide the conditions of the referendum, or whether [an independent] Montenegro is economically sustainable. It is not up to us in Serbia either to judge whether Milo Đukanović’s government is bad or good. If we really want to help Montenegro, we should stop helping it in the manner we have done thus far. The decision is for Montenegro alone. Serbia would do better to desist. It would be wrong to give in to the demands of some Montenegrins who live in Serbia to get involved in the referendum process. Nor should the presence of a substantial number of Serbs in Montenegro serve as an excuse. They are not under any threat, so there is no need to open up the question of their status. It seems to me, finally, that people in Serbia are in a sense giving up on Montenegro, because they feel they lack effective means with which to influence the outcome of the referendum.
Does this apply also to the right-wing parties?
The parties on the extreme right will, of course, behave as usual, and will try to influence the extreme right in Montenegro. When I spoke about a sense of resignation in relation to Montenegro, I was referring to the political establishment: the Serbian government and the opposition Democratic Party. Actually, those people in Serbia abhor the international community. But the EU has taken over the matter of the Montenegrin referendum, and its representative Ambassador Lajčák is playing the role of mediator between the government and the opposition.
How important is it for the region that the process of Yugoslavia’s dissolution be finally completed? And in that context, how important are the positions of Montenegro and Kosovo?
It may be better to define it as a process of acquiring state independence. This process is evidently not yet finished. The false argument is put about that everyone else is integrating, while we are disintegrating. But who are being integrated? Sovereign states! The process of acquisition of sovereignty must consequently be completed in order for the process of integration into the EU to begin. The process of acquisition of independence is unstoppable. Once it has been completed, there is a chance that in the course of our European future, on the basis of EU principles, we in the region may in a certain sense come together again, but as sovereign states. The process of acquisition of independence is a historical process that has its end.
Hoping that the referendum will fail, people in Serbia forget that the present situation cannot last either. This is because no one is happy with what we have now, not only in Montenegro but also in Serbia. If the referendum were to fail by some chance, it would lead to the common state being redefined. There would be a tendency for that future state to be much stronger than the present one. It is an open question, however, whether it would be possible to create a stronger state without opening a new crisis between Montenegro and Serbia.
The argument that a union with Serbia is possible only within a unitary state is frequently made.
States like this, i.e. two-member federations, are very rare, especially when they are so unequal in size. Montenegro’s de facto independence - in the economy, foreign policy and currency - was created at the end of the 1990s, in the process of resisting Milošević. What would it mean to reverse this process? Abolition of the euro and its replacement by the dinar? Just imagine such a move - is it realistic? On the other hand, is it possible to have a state with two currencies? In the propaganda conducted against Montenegrin independence, rational thought is set aside - i.e. answering the question of whether the process of Montenegro’s acquisition of independence, which is so far advanced, is not in fact irreversible. I am not sure whether among politicians and strategists in Serbia there exist wiser minds who think about the grave consequences of a failure of the referendum.
You mean it is an illusion that it would be good for Serbia if the Montenegrin referendum failed?
Absolutely. Can you imagine what would happen if we were back in a situation in which Žižić1 would be federal prime minister, and in which the Montenegrin opposition and the Serbian ruling coalition would jointly form a parliament - which does not exist today. Do we indeed wish to go back to that?
Does the idea of Great Serbia survive with Montenegro in the union?
I believe there’s no longer any serious politician in Serbia who dreams of a Great Serbia, in those imaginary borders. It would be good for this idea to be buried once and for all. For us [in Serbia] to turn to ourselves. Do you know that Milošević received his first blow when the Š umadinci deserted en masse. The Serbs of Š umadija are as a rule uninterested in the Serbs from Knin or from Bosnia. They see them as foreigners. To them, even Serbs from Vojvodina are foreigners. This is why one must be realistic: Serbia must acquire its own framework, within which it can assume sovereign responsibility for its European future.
Besides, many Serbian politicians say one thing and think something different. Foreign observers testify to this, saying that at formal meetings Serbian politicians fervently defend [Serbia’s right to] Kosovo, while admitting in private conversation that they know where things are heading. In the case of Montenegro, they display in public great aversion to the idea of separation and to Đukanović in person. There is no one in Serbia who is so demonised as Đukanović. Yet the issue of Montenegrin independence is not nearly as important in Serbia as in Montenegro. In Montenegro it is the number one issue, while in Serbia it occupies sixth or seventh place.
Is it not most important for Serbia to solve the question of its own borders?
That is not how the politicians think. Although they are negotiating about Kosovo, Serbian politicians are concerned with how this question will influence the next elections, how to resist the Radicals. That is why they talk about Kosovo in a manner that will prevent them from being accused at the next elections of having given it away. The political situation in Serbia, as in Montenegro, is highly unstable. Serbia is run by an unstable minority government, which does not dare to take any decisive steps. In Montenegro, on the other hand, everything pales before the issue of the referendum. Once the referendum is out of the way, many difficult questions will open up.
To what extent are Serbia and Montenegro burdened by their inability to muster the strength to confront the recent past, wars and crimes?
Neither Serbia nor Montenegro live a normal political life. They do not have real social-democrats, real conservatives, a real left or a real right. That already exists in Croatia. Thus the HDZ, for example, has been transformed into a true Christian-Democratic party. In our cases, we are still battling for and against Milošević. There will be no confrontation with what happened in the past until this struggle is over. This is the most difficult thing to accomplish. Until this political struggle ends, until the political situation is clarified or normalised, we shall not have a rational relationship with any question whatsoever.
1. Zoran Žižić was a member of the Montenegrin Socialist People’s Party who, when the latter became the principal political ally of FRY president Vojislav Koštunica following the fall of Milošević in September 2000, served as federal prime minister until July 2001, when he resigned in protest against the surrender of Milošević to the ICTY by Serbian prime minister Zoran Đinđić.
Translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 3 February 2006