Montenegro's Independence Drive
7 Dec 2005
Allowing Montenegrins to decide their future in 2006 free of outside pressure from the European Union and Belgrade will enhance, not undermine, the region’s stability.
Montenegro’s Independence Drive,* the latest report by the International Crisis Group, argues that Montenegro should decide on its own terms and its own timeline whether to hold a referendum on independence. The Montenegrin independence issue will not, as is sometimes feared, affect the international process underway to determine Kosovo’s final status or set off a domino effect of secession attempts in Macedonia or Bosnia, Crisis Group concludes.
“The EU should encourage opposition groups to participate peacefully in the process and make clear that if Montenegro chooses to leave its State Union with Serbia it will accept the outcome”, says Nicholas Whyte, Crisis Group’s European Program Director. “Unfortunately, there are already signs that Serbian nationalist elements are interpreting EU signals as a green light to boycott a referendum and perhaps even resort to violence”.
If Montenegrins decide to hold a referendum in April as they are entitled to do under the terms by which they entered the State Union, they should follow the procedural recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, due to be published by 20 December 2005. In the event that Montenegro chooses independence – likely but by no means certain – the EU should stand ready to offer assistance to both Montenegro and Serbia.
Belgrade and Podgorica should peacefully accept the results of a vote and negotiate as necessary smooth resolutions of issues such as dual citizenship, property, pensions, taxes, health care, education and residents’ rights. Both the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Army of the State Union should publicly underscore they will not take a position on the political issue of independence.
“Montenegro has proven it’s ready for this moment”, says James Lyon, Crisis Group’s Serbia Project Director. “It has a genuinely multi-ethnic government. It has been largely self-sufficient since 1999 and has undergone the necessary property, business and banking reforms. It has earned the right to decide whether to stay in this unhappy marriage”.