bosnia report
New Series No: 27-28 January - May 2002
EU's wrong policy
by Morton Abramovitz - interview

You wrote in your recent article in the International Herald Tribune that Montenegro may be a small country, but that it is not a small issue whether it will become independent or remain within FRY. Why is the Montenegrin issue important?

Because the answer to this question will resolve the dilemma as to whether the region is moving back to the past or forward to the future. The Montenegrin issue is closely related to reconstruction, reform and democracy. It is important, if only for moral reasons, that Montenegro have the power to realize its democratic right, which is the right of its citizens to decide their state’s future; or whether it will be forced by the EU to accept a decision against its better judgement. These to me are no small issues, although there are those who think that what happens to Montenegro it is not all that important.

How do you judge the negotiations between Montenegro and Serbia, and the role of the EU and Javier Solana in the process?

The negotiations, in my view, are not based on real foundations and principles. This is because the mediator has accepted the view of one of the negotiating parties, which makes it difficult for him to behave objectively. The Serbian side is not interested in serious negotiations, because it expects that the EU will do its job for it. The EU has committed a grave error by siding with one party. As a result, not only are the negotiations being poorly conducted, but the EU has taken the side of the less democratic and more nationalistic elements in both Montenegro and Serbia. This bad move on the part of the EU worries me.

In other words, the main problem is that the EU is not neutral?

Exactly, it’s not neutral. It has stated publicly that one side should accept what the other side is demanding, and which is acceptable to Brussels. The EU’s policy has unfortunately created a situation in which part of the opposition in Montenegro may refuse to take part in the referendum. Instead of encouraging all sides to take part in the referendum, since this is the democratic way of resolving the problem, the EU is stimulating internal divisions in Montenegro.

You have said that the EU supports nationalist elements in Serbia and Montenegro. At the same time Brussels is trying to weaken the position of Montenegrin president Djukanovic and other pro-independence and reformist forces, including those which were Slobodan Milosevic’s strongest opponents. What effect do you think this could have on the internal life of Montenegro and Serbia?

What is the EU up to? It is in effect trying to prevent the organization of a referendum, i.e. to postpone finalization of the negotiations in the hope that the coming elections will weaken the position of those seeking independence. This appears to be its strategy. I do not quite understand why this is so, but it seems to me that the smaller the country the more aggressively it acts. Brussels, it seems, wishes to maintain the federation, regardless of the fact that it exists only on paper, because of the potential consequences Montenegro’s independence may have for Kosovo. Perhaps they believe that they can even keep Kosovo in Serbia. There may be other reasons too. With this policy the EU is turning its back on those forces in Montenegro which favour reforms; which were less tied to Milosevic and more to the West. This is very worrying.

What does this policy entail for the area?

As I have already said, the resolution of the Montenegrin issue will decide between a return to the past and moving forward. The non-existent ‘Yugoslav’ federation is Milosevic’s creation, and is based on inequality. Its preservation means preserving Kostunica’s position and maintaining an old ideology that cannot in any way be part of the future. The essential thing is that the EU’s insistence on the federation is preventing Serbia and others too from thinking about the future. This is the most negative aspect of the efforts to preserve FRY.

The EU policy is contradictory. On the one hand it is ready to grant EU membership to just the southern part of Cyprus, which means a de facto partition of the island. On the other hand, so far as Montenegro is concerned they say it is difficult to admit two states to EU membership. This is nonsense. There is no reason why they cannot accept separately both Montenegro and Serbia into the union.

Is the preservation of FRY not a victory for the idea of Greater Serbia, which has caused wars in the Balkans?

I hope that the nationalist idea of a Greater Serbia is dead, despite the continued existence of forces loyal to it. The West should certainly not encourage them. It should instead encourage democratic changes and those who favour them in both states. I hope these forces will win. Rather than supporting the forces of the past, the EU should turn to those who insist on democratic change and on cooperation with the Hague tribunal.

Who is leading the nationalist forces in Montenegro and Serbia?

In my view the leadership is provided by two parties: that of Mr Kostunica in Serbia, and the SNP in Montenegro. This question, however, should be answered by Serbs and Montenegrins, not by outsiders.

What about the theory that an independent Montenegro would be a serious impediment to regional security?

Montenegro is already de facto independent, while the federation does not exist. Everyone knows that. As for Kosovo, it is clear that it will be impossible to persuade by peaceful means the Kosovo Albanians to remain in union with Serbia. Montenegro’s status thus has nothing to do with Kosovo’s future, which will develop in its own way regardless of what happens with your republic. These two questions should be considered separately.

Why then do the majority of Western politicians relate the status of Montenegro to that of Kosovo?

I am not in a position to judge, but I think that they are not united in this. They may be so in the EU, but in the United States the people who deal with the Balkans believe that it would be best if Montenegro were left to decide its own future through a referendum. If it chooses independence, this will be respected; and if its citizens decide to stay in a union with Serbia, this too will be respected. The longer the referendum is postponed and the negotiations continue, in other words the longer a decision is postponed, the more difficult it will be to conduct democratic reconstruction and reforms in both Montenegro and Serbia. In my view the EU has become involved in a tricky business from which it does not know how to extricate itself.

You say that people in the United States believe it best that Montenegro decide its own future, yet we are getting messages from Washington too about ‘a democratic Montenegro in a democratic Yugoslavia’.

In my view the position of the US government is ‘a democratic Montenegro and a democratic Serbia’.

But your ambassador William Montgomery has stated on several occasions that the USA would like to see a democratic Montenegro inside a democratic Yugoslavia.

This continues to be the formal position of the US government, its preferred option. However, given that the negotiations are not leading anywhere, its seems that the most realistic and democratic option is to let Montenegro organize a referendum and in that way decide its own road and accept the consequences of that decision.

It is interesting that Washington has refrained from commenting on the negotiations chaired by Mr Solana.

The US has for the time being left this issue to the EU. I do not know whether they agree with the EU’s approach to the negotiations. I myself would prefer that Washington take a position different from the one now displayed by the EU. I also think that the people of Montenegro should take courage and decide their own future. I am indeed rather surprised that you have not already done that. You should take courage and decide in a referendum whether you favour independence or maintenance of the federation.


This interview with Morton Abramovitz, former US deputy defence secretary, has been translated from Monitor (Podgorica), 8 February 2002.


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