Prevent Violence in Montenegro

On from April 8, 2000

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T F F   P r e s s I n f o     # 9 1

P R E V E N T   V I O L E N C E   I N   M O N T E N E G R O

Lund, Sweden - April 8, 2000

"A fifth war in the Balkans can still be prevented. But whereas the
isolated leadership in Belgrade has plenty of time, Montenegro does not,
and the international community is so bogged down in Bosnia and in Kosovo
that it has little capacity to shape an effective violence-prevention
strategy for this tiny republic of 635.000 inhabitants. What we just heard
during our fact-finding mission to Podgorica," say Soren Sommelius and Jan
Oberg of the TFF conflict-mitigation team, "was frighteningly similar to
what people told us in Croatia in 1991 - in spite of all the differences
between the two cases."

"It was a bit surprising to listen to the level of verbal aggression in
Podgorica not only against Milosevic, but also against the Serb people and
the opposition and even the federal constitution that the Republic signed
as late as 1992 when a) it was fully aware of who Slobodan Milosevic was,
and b) had participated in the wars elsewhere as part of the JNA, the
Federal Yugoslav Army. It could hardly be argued that people in Montenegro
did not know who or what they federalized with.

Violence-preventive diplomacy by everyone is dearly needed now. Patience
and longterm policy for the Balkans as a whole, and implemented with utmost
caution, will be essential. Unfortunately, the international community's
policy in the region up till now is not exactly helpful to Montenegro,
whichever way it chooses," state Sommelius and Oberg.^


In contrast to other Balkan conflicts, this one can not be acted out
through ethnicity or religion. A 'real' Serb has Montenegrin roots and
there are probably more people of Montenegrin origin in Serbia than
Montenegrins in Montenegro where 62 % are Montenegrins, 9 % are Serbs, 14 %
are Muslims and 7% are Albanians (1991 census). It now also hosts some
50.000 refugees. In this republic there is much more inter-ethnic
cooperation and mixed government than elsewhere in ex-Yugoslavia - which
doesn't mean that there is no potential for ethnic tension, especially in
the wake of the Kosovo crisis. There is also more freedom of the press, a
quite relaxed social and political atmosphere. It's difficult to define
what 'nationalism' is in Montenegro and who is a nationalist but there is a
marked "Montenegroness" and national, historical pride that should not be

Relations between Belgrade and Podgorica are now virtually frozen.
Montenegrin MPs don't attend sessions in the federal parliament, President
Djukanovic is not called (or does not turn up) at National Security Council
meetings. Apart from the Yugoslav Army, there are no signs of federal
institutions in Montenegro. Many we met said they had stopped going to
Belgrade, some dared not because they had publicly supported NATO's bombing.

The border between Serbia and Montenegro is one of the most guarded in
today's Europe. Virtually all trade in goods has stopped since Serbia put
up a blockade against Montenegro; it argues that the latter has re-sold
subsidised goods and food from Serbia with a profit. Montenegro has had to
import from the West, from Croatia and Slovenia in particular, resulting in
much higher prices for the consumers. The Deutsch mark has been introduced
as parallel currency and all state employee salaries are paid in Deutsch
mark. Nobody we met could explain how this huge inflow of foreign currency
had happened to a country not exactly known for its financial stability.

In an attempt to get more tourists, Montenegro no longer requires a visa
for visitors, which means that travellers from Montenegro to Serbia must
show either their passports or their visas. The newly established
Montenegrin Airlines provide direct flights to Montengro - not via Belgrade
-  from 15 places in Europe.

And there have been tolerance-testing incidences. Belgrade recently stopped
traffic to the airport in Tivat, allegedly because of NATO activity in the
air. In December the government of Montenegro attempted to take over the
Podgorica Airport which happens to belong to Yugoslav Airlines, JAT, and is
also an important military airport (partly hit by NATO). Belgrade answered
with a military take-over for a few hours.

Both sides accuse the other of having violated the federal constitution;
but both have. And a quick comparison between the federal and the
Montenegrin constitutions will provide the ground for numerous conflicting
interpretations. Neither Serbia nor Montenegro can be characterised as
societies founded on the rule of law. Both have serious economic
difficulties, both have substantial mafia and black economy elements, and
they are linked to each other. In Montenegro the guesstimate for the
'informal' economy is 40-60%. ("Come to Montenegro on holiday, your car is
already here...")

Interestingly enough, President Milosevic stated around New Year that
Montenegro was welcome to seek independence. This statement was turned down
as deceptive by everyone in Podgorica. It could, however, have some
relevance. Milosevic has been President of Serbia and it is his last term
as president of FRY. It could be advantageous for him to let Montenegro go,
have the constitution revised and, in that process, make other changes that
would solidify his own power well into the future.

It's all a cat-and-mouse game. Steps are taken on both sides aimed to
provoke and test limits. We ask ourselves when these type of dangerous
chess or poker games acquire their own dynamics and spin out of control.
That's the moment when everybody will say - like four times before and
equally false: we did all we could to avoid war, but finally that was the
only option!

Montenegro's defence capacity is invested with its 20,000 police personnel,
many of which are equipped with heavy arms and, according to some sources,
trained by e.g. CIA and Mossad. The Yugoslav Army (VJ) in the republic
counts 14,000 plus some 900 pro-Milosevic troops in the so-called 7th
Military Police Battalion. That's more than enough to create havoc here.


The official policy states that the question of independence shall be
decided by a referendum. According to the most recent opinion poll figures
(January 2000) published by CEDEM, the Center for Democracy and Human
Rights, the overall opinions are the following: 36 % think it would be best
for both Montenegro and Serbia to be independent, sovereign states; 28 %
think the best solution for Montenegrins and Serbs is the Federation with
Serbia; 23 % think the Federation should be changed according to the
Montenegrin Government's so-called Platform proposal which aims towards a
confederation, and 6 % think one unitary state would be the best.

In other words, well over 50 % favour the federal idea or even a unitary
state with Serbia, but half of them are in favour of a looser relations.
So, there is a strong wish to keep some kind of formal ties with Serbia,
but the wish to remain in the present federation with Serbia has fallen
sharply since early 1998 when 52 % of the people favoured that option.
Complete independence is still a minority opinion, but has grown to 36 %
from 21 % in early 1998.

Given these figures it would be extremely counterproductive and
violence-promoting of the West to promote Montenegrin independence or
deliver security guarantees should it go for it. Referendums held in other
former Yugoslav republics showed 90% or more in favour of independence -
and still lead to violent struggle. Should Montenegro declare itself
independent with a smaller percentage in favour, the risk is high that it
will mark the beginning of civil war and intervention by the VJ - after
which the West will feel obliged to come to the defence of Montenegro.

Thus, a massive pro-independence opinion throughout the Montenegrin
citizenry should be the sole criteria guiding Western support for
Montenegro's secession out of the federation.


Next, even with a solid pro-independence majority,  there has to be a
strategy for a negotiated solution. When people have no ideas about the
political strategies or about the principles to be applied at a negotiation
table, the likelihood of war automatically increases. A federation can not
be dissolved and new relations of trust and cooperation be established
between the units unless there is a willingness to employ principled
policies, negotiations and compromise. We met no politicians or advisers
who had such a strategy. The response we obtained from most were along the
following lines:

'All we want is independence, to be a sovereign state and integrate with
Europe. We don't want war, for sure. But the decision to use violence is
not in our hands, it is solely in the hands of Mr. Milosevic and he is a
dictator. You simply can't talk with him. So, we have to be patient and
hope that the international community will support us economically and, if
need be, security-wise. But if we are attacked by Milosevic, we are a
strong people and not exactly unarmed, we will fight for our freedom as we
have throughout our history.'

This amounts to positioning rather than an exploration of needs and
interests.We have seen it lead to destructive processes from Slovenia to
Kosovo. It must be of the responsibility of the international community to
convince the Montenegrin leadership that it is not likely to achieve its
goals peacefully by throwing its hands up in the air and saying that all
future disasters will be the work of one man.


One way of overcoming such a policy of innocence-cum-blame coupled with
disclaiming one's own co-responsibility for the future  ('we don't decide
about war and peace') would be for someone in the international community
to take the initiative to establish an orderly fact-finding,
conflict-analysis and then to promote dialogue and negotiation.

The countries that bombed Yugoslavia can't do that, because of the
indictment of President Milosevic, because of what is at stake with the
faltering Kosovo mission and because there is no minimum trust in Belgrade.
These countries have lost every chance of being seen as impartial mediators.

Below follow some proposals to secure a negotiated solution. We emphasize
that they apply whether Montenegro stays with or becomes independent of
Serbia. We have no opinion about that. TFF's professional approach deals
with processes; we believe that conflicting parties have a fundamental
right to identify their goals as they are the ones to live with the

o Expand the present, excellent OSCE mission considerably and let OSCE set
up a professional negotiating facility.
o Establish a small UN mission like the one in Skopje (UNPREDEP) but
consisting only of UN Civil Affairs, civil monitors, professional mediators
and negotiators and a few UN Civil Police.
o Increase the presence of international NGOs and promote all kinds of
meetings, roundtables,  and seminars with people at various levels in
Serbia and neighbouring states. Without a comprehensive exploration of
regional issues, there will be no peaceful change.
o Help the parties themselves to do conduct shuttle diplomacy between
Podgorica and Belgrade.
o Various types of international economic support conditioned upon the
Montenegrin government taking measures to radically reduce the role of the
mafia in the country's economy.
o Stop every statement by Western politicians and military leaders that
could be interpreted by Montenegrin leaders to mean that it will be
risk-free to declare premature independence or take other steps considered
provocative in Belgrade. There are no short-cuts to a new status.


None of this would be easy. Indeed, we fear that the international
so-called community's leaders, due to their actions in Yugoslavia last
year, have radically reduced their ability to be helpful to Montenegro.
Western policies in Kosovo - or better  "Chaosovo" -  are a failure for
everyone to see and nobody has an exit strategy that can avoid either
producing violence or being extremely costly for the West over a decade or
two. Western decision-makers have not managed to weaken President
Milosevic' power a bit, but  they repeat mechanically that no changes can
occur in the Balkans before he is out of the picture. None of the larger
economic pledges to the region have been honoured.

OSCE might be the best suited organisation to deal with Montenegro's
substantial problems. But with FRY's membership suspended for the last 9
years (the U.S. insisting) and with the CIA-infiltrated OSCE Verifiers
mission set up in Kosovo before NATO's bombing, it is understandable if
Belgrade would turn down a request for establishing such a mission on what
is still federal territory.

Most of those we met clearly told us that the Western idea of using
Montenegro as a leverage in democratizing Serbia was grossly misconceived.
They also told us that they felt caught in a Catch 22 situation: on the one
hand, the West is telling them to take it easy with independence, on the
other hand they that they will not get any substantial foreign aid because
they are not an independent state.

The last thing Western politicians would wish at this point is another
military effort followed by a kind of protectorate. Unless, that is, there
is a longterm Western strategy to dissolve Yugoslavia by force. That would
mean instigating troubles in Sandjak, Voivodina - and Montenegro. Southern
Serbia is already a hot spot. The West is likely to need some kind of
formal settlement in Kosovo. Whatever it will be, it will influence the
future of Montenegro, but surprisingly many among those we talked with
seemed to see Kosovo as very far from Montenegro.


All this will prove utterly problematic for Montenegro. If it wants to
become independent, it should develop a longterm strategy between the
present situation and that goal. Provocative moves on the chess board are
likely to be self-defeating, particularly when not based on an overwhelming
majority of pro-independence sentiment in the people.

It should also avoid getting trapped in some larger game between Milosevic
and the EU/the US. However different the cases, Montenegro may do wise to
draw some conclusions from the Kosovo quagmire. There is no such thing as a
free secession and dissolution from a federation. But the costs can be
minimized if the parties, before the divorce, have been helped to define in
advance what the post-federal relationship would look like. But again, who
can serve as the trusted councellor with both sides? Not even the UN, given
its operation in Kosovo.

Local elections will take place on June 11 in the cities of Podgorica and
Herceg Novi. They will be important indicators as to where the Montenegrins
are heading. Until then, let's ask: how genuine is the wish for
independence in and of itself? How much of this wish is based on deep and
understandable frustration with the Milosevic regime and the bigger
brother's sorry state of economy? How much of the wish for independence has
been induced into Montenegro by the West as part of a possible longterm
policy of destroying former and present Yugoslavia? And how much, all said
and done, can the Montenegrin government and people do together not to end
up being a pawn in everybody else's not too noble games? We are afraid the
answer is: not that much" - end Jan Oberg and Soren Sommelius.

© TFF 2000

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Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia


Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone +46-46-145909 (0900-1100)
Fax +46-46-144512
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