bosnia report
New Series No: 21/22 January - May 2001
The West will accept the will of the people
by Morton Abranowitz, with accompanying extract from Janusz Bugajski

The recent visit by the Montenegrin delegation to Washington has produced many often contradictory comments. What political considerations, in your view, induced Secretary of State Powell to refuse to meet President Djukanovic?

American spokesmen have come up with a plethora of reasons, some of which are quite absurd. I believe that the essential message was that they would like Montenegro to remain with Serbia within FRY. I am convinced, however, that if Montenegro continues on its present path and organizes free and fair elections and a referendum of a similar kind, and if these show strong public support for the position currently advocated by Djukanovic, the United States and other countries will accept the result.

President Bush has talked about the withdrawal of US forces from the Balkans. Do you think the United States will indeed leave?

Positions taken during an election campaign need not be translated into actual policy. This is what happened in the case of the Clinton administration, and I expect that something similar will happen now too. In one of his recent statements Powell made it clear that the USA came to the Balkans together with NATO and will leave together with NATO. So far as I know no decision to withdraw has been made. This is why the position taken at the start of the campaign was avoided in its later stages and especially after the elections. I myself doubt that there will be any significant departure from the policy of keeping US forces in Bosnia and Kosovo for an indeterminate period.

Many American politicians do not believe that Europe is capable of controlling the situation in the Balkan area. Do you think that Europe on its own can secure Balkan stability?

There are two aspects to this question. The first and more important is of a military nature. American forces possess vital capacities which the rest of NATO forces do not. This means that, irrespective of whether US ground troops remain or not, some American presence will be required to ensure the necessary support. There is also a political question that the Bush administration will have to answer: does a US military presence in the Balkans send a more encouraging message than does the presence of other forces in the region? It seems to me that many in the Balkans do not have confidence in Europe s resolution or - in places like Kosovo, in regard to the French presence - its intentions. The American presence is a factor of stability and the new US administration will have to take this into account.

Presidential candidates always err, in my view, when they announce they will withdraw troops before becoming responsible for them. I do not think anything will happen in the short term. In time I believe ways will perhaps be found to reduce the military presence. I do not think one should keep 20-30,000 soldiers in Bosnia forever. It is possible that the number will be reduced. I do believe, however, that it is indispensable to keep troops in both Bosnia and Kosovo for an unlimited period. It would be shortsighted in my view to decide to withdraw US troops on the basis of the idea of a division of burdens between the USA and Europe. Europe should, of course, do more in this regard, and that is what it is already doing: it already supplies most of the troops in the Balkans.

The question of the status of Kosovo and Montenegro appears to be the most complicated in the region. Given the attitude of the international community, many of us here in Montenegro feel that we have become hostages to the Kosovo problem. Would you agree?

In a certain sense you are indeed a Kosovo hostage. You should not be, of course. This, however, is only part of your problem. I believe that you in Montenegro are hostages also to Serbian internal politics and the concern in many European circles that the Serbian domestic political scene will become unstable as a result of the loss of Montenegro, and that Europe should therefore proceed cautiously. There is also, I believe, the worry that some forces in Serbia could find ways of intervening in Montenegro.

Fear is another factor. It is being said that any change in Montenegro' s status would bring about a change in the status of Kosovo, which in turn would affect the situation in Macedonia, Bosnia, Greece, etc. This is the domino theory which we have heard many, many times before. These fears are used either as a serious argument, or as an argument whose only aim is to prevent change and the creation of another uncertainty at this stage.

Are these fears justified?

They do exist in some circles. It is another matter whether they are justified. The situation is in many ways similar to that at the start of the 1990s, when many expressed such views - first in relation to Slovenia. That was a different time, of course, when the chance of eruption of mass violence was far greater. The Europeans have retreated from the conditions for recognizing the former Yugoslav republics established by the Badinter Commission, which they themselves set up. Montenegro satisfies these conditions as much as, say, Macedonia does. It seems they have all been overcome by amnesia and persuaded themselves that freezing the situation and maintaining the status quo will improve things. The widely held fear is undoubtedly rooted in the strong nationalist pressure within Serbian politics, which has grown as a result of events in the Presevo valley, as well as in the possibility that Montenegrin independence might encourage conflicts in other areas.

You talk about the new Serbian government. There have been many changes since Milosevic's departure. Do you think they indicate a radically new policy? What do you think of the unwillingness to cooperate with The Hague?

There is no doubt that many fundamental changes have taken place in Serbia, which is good. There exist certain aspects, however, including Serbia's relationship with The Hague, which give rise to concern. They have done nothing on the question of surrendering war criminals. Also, we hear few expressions of sorrow coming from the Serbian officials for what has happened in the past ten years. It is not being recognized that, as the Macedonian president has said, Serbia has lost all moral right to govern Kosovo. I hope that the Serbian people and government will find the time to consider these questions.

At this moment, indeed, one can hear in Serbia mostly criticism directed against the international community, NATO and everyone else, but no criticism whatsoever of anything they have done during the past ten years. I do not wish to be pessimistic. What has happened in the last six months is positive. We have all welcomed the change and we all wish to see Serbia become a more democratic and prosperous state and part of Europe. I myself have always held the view, mistaken perhaps - I wrote an article for The Washington Post on the subject a few months ago - that democracy will win in Serbia only after they have freed themselves, however difficult that may be, from some of their long-held beliefs.

Would Montenegro's independence contribute to ending the dream of a Greater Serbia, given that this idea can exist only if Montenegro remains tied to Serbia?

Complex and highly emotional questions always contain a degree of uncertainty. It is my position that in the last instance the people of Montenegro have the same right as those in the other republics - that they must be free to decide whether they wish to be part of FRY or not. It is highly offensive, in my view, that Western governments should tell the people of Montenegro what is good for them. If Montenegro freely decides to remain in partnership with what is now FRY, then that is fine. I have nothing against that. If, however, they do not, they have every right to follow their own path.

From the economic point of view, it is difficult for Montenegro to be a part of Serbia. This is one aspect. It is evidently highly desirable, however, that whatever happens should proceed in as peaceful a manner as possible. It would be best if Montenegro and Serbia could reach an agreement on independence, or some kind of union, or close cooperation. If they cannot, there exists a well-established procedure for their separation. This in my view should be conducted without the West taking sides. I do not believe that we are doing Serbia any great service by helping to preserve FRY.

If Montenegro decides in a democratic manner to become an independent state, would the international community recognize this?

I think it should and it will. There will, of course, be forces within the international community as well as Serbian political parties which will try to undermine the concept of an independent Montenegro. If Montenegro persists on its course, however, it is highly likely in my view that the international community will accept it.

What is your view of the argument that 50 per cent plus one vote would be insufficient to validate the outcome of the referendum?

That is a matter for the Montenegrin parliament. If 55 per cent vote for and 45 per cent against, then the decision is valid. It would be more acceptable if the vote turned out to be 75 per cent in favour. We all know that serious differences exist within Montenegro in regard to this issue. But what is to be done with the 55 per cent whose will would not be honoured?

It is interesting that those Montenegrin parties which used to take a hostile attitude towards the international community and any referendum on independence are now insisting on such conditions.

This is indeed wonderful. They are suddenly in favour of honesty, transparency and openness - all that in a small country in which Milosevic's party is in coalition with DOS at the level of FRY. Montenegro is one of the small number of reasonably democratic states in the region, which those who denigrate it are now placing under the microscope. It is worth noting that many of the foreigners who bring up such questions used to cooperate with Milosevic and help him to survive, apart from engaging in sanctions-busting during the war. None of this, however, calls into question the need for Montenegro to continue with its reforms.

How do you judge Montenegrin policy during the last few years?

During this period Montenegro has behaved in accordance with Western demands: by choosing the path of democracy, privatization, fighting corruption, etc. There is much that remains to be done, however. Having made a big mistake at the start of the 1990s, Montenegro changed its course and linked its future with the USA. It did not wish to live in Milosevic's FRY and sought protection against him. Djukanovic took great risks. Montenegro now needs support, and this it certainly deserves. It is clear that whatever happens it will seek to build good relations with a democratic Serbia. Although I am critical of the way in which the USA has behaved, I do not doubt that the USA wishes Montenegro well. Times are difficult. The Bush administration wishes as far as possible to maintain the status quo, out of fear that things may get worse. This is the path we followed before and we have paid a great price for it. Montenegro finds itself caught in a kind of vice. It remains to be seen how the international community will weigh what it thinks are opposing views. I believe that it will find the right approach and accept Montenegro s democratically expressed will.

This interview has been translated from Monitor (Podgorica),

16 February2001


accompanying extract

Serbia and Yugoslavia

'Serbia's neighbours from Slovenia to Macedonia soon came to realize that by entering various Yugoslavias they had simply replaced non-Slav (Austrian, Turkish) domination by "brotherly" control. It is not surprising, therefore, that they grabbed the first opportunity to disengage themselves from Belgrade's embrace. The Serbian elite and the Belgrade bureaucracy have got used to having two governments and two state structures which serve to promote their interests and ensure profitable business and privileges for them. The two administrations in Belgrade serve as a useful mechanism for personnel rotation, for postponement or obstruction of reforms, for disguising opposition to Western norms, and for maintaining control over neighbouring countries such as Montenegro. While Montenegro is making preparations for independence and trying hard to join the real world, Serbia is persisting in its efforts to create a new "virtual reality" for its neighbours. It is time for Serbia to become independent.'

Janusz Bugajski writing in Nacional (Zagreb),

27 February 2001


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