Author Topic: A CALL FOR FREEDOM  (Read 342 times)

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Offline rusalka

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« on: March 05, 2006, 09:22:19 PM »

Gwynne Dyer

`I don`t believe that the Montenegro government would choose to step into contradiction with the EU over this issue,` said Miroslav Lajcak, the European Union`s envoy to the region, in the tones of silken menace that diplomats practice before mirrors in the privacy of their bathrooms. And he was right: Montenegro does not dare to `step into contradiction` with Brussels on the question of how to conduct its referendum on independence `” but there may be hell to pay as a result.

Montenegro is very small, and it doesn`t even have a distinctive language: Montenegrins speak exactly the same language as their Serbian and Bosnian neighbours. But it`s been around as a nation for a thousand years, so if the Montenegrins want to be independent again, why not?

Alas, Montenegro is in the Balkans, and the EU grandees up north feel that there are already quite enough countries in the Balkans after the wars that broke up former Yugoslavia. They don`t want another impoverished Balkan state that will demand lots of aid from the EU in the short-run, and expect a separate seat at the EU table in the long-run. Can`t Montenegro just stay part of Serbia?

Better alone

You can see their point, but Montenegrin separatists have a point too. Their country has only been attached to Serbia since the First World War, when the victors bundled the Montenegrins into the new, Serb-dominated state of Yugoslavia along with Bosnians, Croatians, Slovenes, and Macedonians. A minority of Montenegrins immediately rebelled, demanding their old king and country back, but they had no real chance of leaving until Yugoslavia began to break up. Even then, opinion was so divided that they kept postponing the decision to leave.

By the start of this decade, a majority of Montenegrins definitely wanted out, since Serbia had become a pariah state, rightly accused of sponsoring a genocide in Bosnia but still defiantly denying its own guilt. But by then, the EU`s main priority was calming the Balkans down, so, in 2002, they pressured Montenegro`s separatist government into staying in the `Republic of Serbia and Montenegro` for three more years before voting on independence. That time expired last month, and prime minister Milo Djukanovic began negotiating with the opposition parties on the date and wording of the referendum.

Playing with fire

An opinion poll showed 41 per cent of Montenegrins in favour of independence and 32 per cent against it, with the rest undecided or refusing to say. But the EU doesn`t want any more countries in the Balkans, so its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana Lopez, told Djukanovic that a vote for independence would not be recognized as valid unless at least 55 per cent of voters backed the `˜yes`.

This is a recipe for civil war. If you take last month`s opinion poll and split the undecideds evenly between `˜yes` and `˜no`, then the final result would be 54.5 per cent in favour of independence and 45.5 per cent against it. With a nine-point majority in their favour, the pro-independence side would nevertheless be deemed to have lost the referendum. Montenegro is already independent for all practical purposes, and more phlegmatic people might be tempted to leave it at that. But most Montenegrins care greatly about the symbolism of formal independence, whether they are for it or against it.

Under pressure, Djukanovic yielded to the EU`s terms. The referendum will be held on May 21, with a 55 per cent threshold for an independence victory. But he warned that `the EU formula contains a virus dangerous for stability...The decision should belong to the majority, not the minority.` If the `˜yes` loses despite getting 53 or 54 per cent of the vote, there may be some more shooting in the Balkans.