BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Independence in Montenegro: For and Against
HITS: 2208 | 12-01-2007, 16:43 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 0)

Montenegrin independence is supported by the leading political party, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its allies the Social Democrats, although traditionally the issue was always associated with the small Liberal Party that has been in and out of coalition with the DPS over the past eight years. The minorities – Albanians in the south and Bosnians along the border with Bosnia Herzogovina – have also propped up Mr. Djukanovic’s governments. They, too, support independence. BHHRG visited the Albanian village of Tuzi which lies on the main highway to Albania, south of Podgorica. The road is known as a conduit for stolen cars and a steady stream of expensive Western models passed through that day. Some Montenegrins cynically point out that the Albanian and Bosnian communities which live mainly in the border areas would benefit from the smuggling opportunities resulting from internationally recognised borders with their own customs arrangements.
The Albanian area of Montenegro seems sparsely populated compared with Kosovo, southern Serbia and northern Macedonia where massive house building programmes have led to large communities spreading themselves as far as the eye can see. However, inter-ethnic relations have remained harmonious possibly because large numbers of Albanians from the Tuzi area have emigrated to both the US and Australia - which also raises doubts about the accuracy of the census numbers for this area. It was estimated that 10,000 Montenegrins returned home to vote on 21st May, including many Albanians.
Pro-unionists are led by the main opposition party, the Socialist People’s Party (SNP) and its ally the Peoples Party. There were fears that they would call for a boycott of the poll but after the EU negotiated rules for turnout – 50% with 55% voting ‘Yes’ for the referendum to be judged a success – they agreed to participate. Mr. Djukanovic wanted a much lower threshold. BHHRG visited the SNP’s headquarters still situated in a temporary shed-for-an-office by the Moraca River where it has operated since the split with Djukanovic’s DPS in the late 1990s.
In the past, few international representatives made their way to the SNP’s offices. In 1998, party officials begged BHHRG’s observers to distribute their complaints about election fraud in that year’s parliamentary election as neither the foreign NGOs (including the OSCE) nor diplomats had showed any interest. However, on 3rd May 2006 two foreign ambassadors (from Spain and the UK) were visiting the shed for briefings. This represented a sea change in the attitude of the international community towards the opposition parties in Montenegro and, indirectly, to Mr. Djukanovic himself.
Although the pro-unionist bloc accepted that Montenegro is 95% independent they still claimed to want to preserve what is left of the union with Serbia. They cited family ties, tourist revenue and other economic benefits. They also predicted that living standards would fall with independence as well as access to health care and education in Serbia itself. Aleksandar Damjanović, Secretary of the SNP parliamentary group, also said that an independent Montenegro would be prevailed upon to join Western military structures, like the NATO-led Partnership for Peace, which would impose an unsustainable economic burden on the small republic.
But, the SNP and its allies played a somewhat mercurial role in the independence debate. According to Tim Judah, Predrag Bulatovic told him that “he had no problem with independence”[1] which might explain the impression gained by BHHRG that the party and its allies had failed to campaign as forcefully as they might have done. For example, each side received €1 m. from the state for campaign propaganda – a large sum of money for a country with c.450,000 voters. On top of this, the rules governing the referendum stated that a further €400,000 could be collected from private donations. The state had a monopoly on propaganda because, according to Aleksandar Damjanović, it has close relations with the two local companies producing billboards; advertisements on TV were expensive by local standards (€ 2000 per day to advertise on independent TV Montana).
Nevertheless, the anti-referendum parties did not have much to show for their €1 m. BHHRG caught one television advertisement lasting several seconds on the 2nd May and saw a handful of billboards in Podgorica although there were more in the rejectionist areas – including the coast. However, on 15th May Predrag Popovic, Chairman of the People’s Party and one of the leaders of the anti-independence campaign, said he had “no complaints” and that the referendum campaign “had been proceeding without major incidents”[2], so it is hard for the SNP and its allies to claim that they were prevented from spreading their message. Such comments also tend to downplay incidents like the occasion when two DPS activists were filmed buying votes for the ‘Yes’ campaign, a criminal offence for which they were sentenced to 10 months imprisonment on 28th April.[3] In fact, Bulatovic and his allies seem to have forgotten that they made numerous complaints about the conduct of the campaign during the run up to the vote.
The pro-union bloc’s main concern but one that seemed to cause the EU and other international observers little problem was the accuracy of the voter registers. Media reports give wildly different figures for Montenegro’s population ranging from c.650, 000 to 750,000. However, the last census held in 2003 gave the figure of 620,145. The authorities claimed that the population (and therefore the numbers of voters) had increased due to an influx of refugees. But, there have been few refugees in the former Yugoslavia since 1999 other than a handful of Serbs periodically driven out of Kosovo but who have gone to Serbia proper. In fact, there is every reason to believe that the population has declined as people have left to work abroad – including the Albanians in the south of Montenegro. However, it was claimed that the number of voters had increased by 21,000 since 2002 and the numbers registering to vote kept on increasing - from 466,079 to 479,523 on 27th April, and finally 484,718 by the deadline for registration on 13th May.[4] Reporters on the newspaper Dan estimated that at least 50,000 “ghost” voters were on the central register.
It seems that the opposition was playing a longer game. Dissatisfaction with Mr. Djukanovic has grown within the international community i.e. the EU and US are looking around for a replacement. This might explain the almost unprecedented visits made by diplomats from significant European states to the SNP’s offices. In February 2006 Nebojsa Medojevic described by Serbia’s Blic newspaper as “united with SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic” said that “our chief task is coordination of opposition activities after the referendum”.[5] In late April, Medojevic led a group including Predrag Popovic, Miodrag Lekic, former Yugoslav ambassador to Italy and Andrija Jovicevic, former Montenegrin Interior Minister to Washington where they visited the NDI and asked for “support to the democratic forces in Montenegro” … “the undemocratic regime in Montenegro is an obstacle to the development of democracy and the start of essential societal reforms.[6] Medojevic told local media in Podgorica that “the visit was the result of long standing preparations”.[7]
BHHRG’s observers were told that the SNP would be happy to cooperate with Medojevic in the future after he formed a political party to fight the next election. Aleksandar Damjanovic said that they regarded Medojevic as a “Social Democrat” even though he was close to the extreme free market G17 group of economists in Belgrade – the nearest thing to a neo-con outfit in the Balkans! Perhaps this explains why the SNP distanced itself from Medojevic during the referendum campaign. In 2001, along with leading Montenegrin “artists and intellectuals” he had signed a grandiose, Soviet-style petition demanding that the EU immediately allow a vote on the independence issue.[8]

 

The view from abroad – including Serbia

 

A mini building boom is underway in Podgorica. In the downtown area fountains play in piazzas where new apartments and offices have sprung up while, over the road, a large Orthodox cathedral is under construction. Other prestige, ‘Mobutu-like’ projects include a striking, but pointless, new Millenium bridge over the Moraca River opened in July, 2005. The whole area is a far cry from the grey, concrete buildings and dingy blocks of flats that make up most of the city. However, again, there seems to be only a marginal benefit to local Montenegrins: the materials used on the construction site seem to be overwhelmingly imported from EU countries like Germany and Italy – the only local input is the cheap labour.
Some EU governments have already taken up residence, for example, the UK has established a “British Office” in one new building. It is hard to see what this could be other than a holding operation for premises that will become the ‘British Embassy’. In other words, independence has been taken for granted by important foreign governments long before referendum day and Podgorica’s new quarter is Montenegro’s Brasilia – the country’s future capital.
Meanwhile, various European agencies including the EBRD provided loans for the construction of a new airport in Podgorica which opened only days before the referendum. The previous building was adequate for the handful of daily flights to and from the capital. As tourists use the coastal airport at Tivat and never have reason to visit Podgorica the conclusion must be that this is yet another foreign-funded white elephant that has lined the pockets of contractors as well as the suppliers of building and other materials in the EU.
Advocates of independence criticized the EU for adopting tactics which delayed the realization of their dream. It was Javier Solana who oversaw the 2003 constitutional agreement that gave the union of Serbia and Montenegro a new lease of life although conditions were built into the final document allowing for the independence issue to be revived after three years. It is alleged that the EU was concerned that a rush to independence would destabilize the region, especially as Kosovo’s status still remains unresolved.
It is also possible that the EU feared that an independent Montenegro might immediately seek fast track entry (or, at least, special pre-membership arrangements) to the bloc at a time when there is growing enlargement fatigue among some member states. But, this is all something of a smokescreen as the EU was essentially supportive of the country’s independence all along. Miroslav Lajčak, the EU’s envoy at the referendum was always drawing parallels with his own country (Slovakia’s) peaceful split from the Czech Republic and its successful embrace by the EU. If the EU was so hostile to Montenegrin independence surely they would have chosen a representative from a country with no secessionist baggage – Denmark or Portugal, for example?
However, if the EU decided on caution, the US had no inhibitions about throwing its weight fully behind independence for Montenegro. US advisors have been present in the country for some time. It was an economist from Johns Hopkins University, Steve Hanke, who “weaned” Montenegro off the dinar in the late 1990s and into using the Deutsch Mark. Former US ambassador, Richard Sklyar, has been an advisor to the government on privatization and was accused of direct involvement in decision making. USAID funds numerous “projects” and the NGO community receives valuable funding both from EU countries as well as the US. The web page of Nebojša Medojevic’s Centre for Democratic Transition fulsomely thanks the “American people” for their generous support[9] – the NGO is funded by, among others, the NDI, although it is unlikely that many of the US “people” know that their taxes are so used.
The International Crisis Group a regular echo chamber for US foreign policy has been scathing towards the foot draggers. James Lyon, the ICG’s Serbia Project Director says that “Serbia is like an anchor dragging Montenegro toward the bottom” . ….he stressed that “serious analysts have no doubt that Montenegro’s independence would provide a positive contribution to the stability of the region”.[10]
As for Serbia, observers might be forgiven for thinking that the government in Belgrade would be dismayed at losing yet more territory as well as Serbia’s only access to the sea. But the official response to the ‘yes’ vote has been positive – President Boris Tadic was on his feet congratulating the Montenegrin people on their independence even before the official results were announced. Although Djukanovic tried to appear bold and confrontational by claiming that the Belgrade media was parti pris, the old cynic must have known that most media outlets in Serbia were at best lukewarm to keeping the federation afloat and mostly supportive of Montenegro’s aspirations.[11] As the regime in Belgrade, including the slightly more subdued prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, is totally “other directed” towards the demands of Brussels and Washington this should come as no surprise. It remains to be seen whether or not the Serbs will continue to be so compliant. According to their Economy Minister, Predrag Bubalo, “ it is necessary to quash the illusion that everything will be the same in the event of separation”.[12]


[1] See, Judah, ibid,
[2] “Both blocs say Montenegrin referendum campaign “fair” Serbian radio, 15th May 2006
www.bbcmonitoringonline.com,
[3] “Montenegro: “Opposition Cries Foul Ahead of Independence Referendum” AKI 24th March, 2006,
[4] “Montenegrin referendum electoral roll completed with total of 480,000 voters” Montenegrin Mina agency, 27th April, 2006,
[5] “It is important to bring about the downfall of Djukanovic”
www.blic.yu/arhiva/2006-02-14/E-Index.htm,
[6]
www.seeurope.net/en/Story.php?StoryID=59488&LangID=1,
[7] “Montenegrin Opposition Visits Washington”
www.seeurope.net 27th April, 2006,
[8] “Letter of Protest Addressed to Western Democracies by Montenegrin Intellectuals”,
http://www.montenet.org/2001/miodrag.html The list of intellectuals is intriguing as it seems to contain no minorities, e.g. Albanians or Bosnians, despite Montenegro’s proud claim of ethnic inclusivity;
[9] See, for example,
http://www.electiondog.net/book/doc1147275864.doc,
[10] “ICG:Montenegro to join EU sooner without Serbia”
www.makfax.com 23rd April, 2006,
[11] The bulk of the Serbian print media – as in neighbouring states like Bulgaria and Croatia – is owned by the German WAZ corporation whose executives and editors in Germany itself routinely promoted a “death of Yugoslavia” line from 1991 onwards;
[12] Lazerovic, ToL, ibid.

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