Let the Montenegrins Have Their Say
Let the Montenegrins Have Their Say
Thessaloniki and After (III) The EU, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo
Thessaloniki and After (III) The EU, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Let the Montenegrins Have Their Say

Montenegro is a small land, but it is not a small issue whether it becomes independent or remains joined together with Serbia.
 

The European Union and to a lesser extent the United States have been notably vocal on the issue. They insist that Montenegro not only cannot be independent but also that its people should not have the right to have a referendum on that question. They have emitted some dire warnings on future aid if Montenegro goes down the independence route, and they have encouraged Montengro's people to repudiate their leaders.

Montenegro has been virtually independent for the past four years, and its authorities no longer recognize the legitimacy of a rump Yugoslav state created by Slobodan Milosevic in 1992, which now has no other republics except the far larger Serbia.

But the country is divided over the issue. There is a sizable opposition to independence, mostly former followers of Mr. Milosevic who have shifted their support to President Vojislav Kostunica of Yugoslavia, the leader of Serbian efforts to maintain the federation.

All parties agree that the status quo is unsustainable and that Montenegro and Serbia must find a new basis for their relationship. One side wants a new constitution for a changing relationship between the two entities but only within Yugoslavia. One side wants two independent states which would work out a mutually agreeable close relationship, perhaps even some sort of union.

Serbia's leaders say they do not prefer but would accept Montenegro independence.

The EU is trying to mediate but only along the lines of keeping Yugoslavia intact without a referendum. Its one-sided initiative seems destined to fail. The principal issue is not, as many Western governments contend, that Montengro's independence would cause some sort of upheaval among the independence-minded Albanians of Kosovo. Few analysts believe that, including the American intelligence community.

The risk is that the festering issue continue to prolong political uncertainty in two fragile countries. Democracy inside Serbia will not expand without major economic and political reform, but that is unlikely to occur in Serbia - or Montenegro, for that matter - while this existential question hangs overhead.

Moreover, the Serbian nationalist effort to continue the federation keeps Serbia rooted in the past and encourages leaders resisting reform. The Western stance serves to boost political leaders and party politicians in both countries whose nationalist credentials are stronger than their reformist interests.

The proper role for the West is not to tell the people of the two countries how to organize themselves, but simply to insist that the parties achieve a stable solution in a democratic way with a maximum of cooperation whatever the choice. That is not likely to be achieved without allowing the people of Montenegro to make a democratic decision between independence or another Yugoslavia.

Since the end of the Cold War, 19 new states have been established, all against Western opposition, including trying to keep the Soviet Union together. Many proceeded by referendum. Apparently the West wants to keep its consistently dismal record intact and, despite its democratic protestations, not allow a decision to be made democratically.

Thessaloniki and After (III) The EU, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo

Since the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, the steady normalisation of Serbia's relations with the international community has significantly enhanced the prospects for long-term peace and stability. The European Union (EU) rose to the challenge, providing resources for reconstruction and reforms in Serbia itself, as well as in Montenegro and Kosovo.

I. Overview

Since the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, the steady normalisation of Serbia's relations with the international community has significantly enhanced the prospects for long-term peace and stability. The European Union (EU) rose to the challenge, providing resources for reconstruction and reforms in Serbia itself, as well as in Montenegro and Kosovo.[fn]With the adoption of a new Constitutional Charter in February 2003, Serbia and Montenegro redefined their relationship as a loose State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, replacing the former, defunct Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Under UN Security Council Resolution 1244, Kosovo remains legally a part of this state, as successor to the FRY, although under UN supervision.Hide Footnote As part of this assistance effort, it included the three entities in the Stabilisation and Association process (SAp) that it established to build security in the Western Balkans and open perspectives for eventual membership.[fn]The Western Balkan countries covered by the SAp are, in addition to Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Albania.Hide Footnote

As far as Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo are concerned, however, Thessaloniki is likely to produce only limited results and not advance long-term stability unless it is harnessed to a clear political agenda to resolve outstanding post-conflict issues and set all three entities firmly on the path of EU integration. For this to happen, the EU must address the status of Kosovo without too much delay. It already plays the key role in promoting the province’s economic development, through both the resources it devotes and its leadership of the economic pillar of the UN administration. Amid widespread calls for it to take on an even greater role, it cannot afford to endanger its substantial political and financial investment because of unreadiness to tackle the underlying causes of instability. The EU should also be ready to help Serbia and Montenegro resolve their relationship in a mutually acceptable way, so that both republics can finally move past the endless debates over statehood that have dominated political life since Milosevic's fall.

In this briefing paper, our basic conclusions with regard to the EU and the SAp are:

  • The EU should maintain its assistance at levels commensurate with the seriousness of the challenges facing Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo provided that they achieve clear, realistic benchmarks along a roadmap whose destination is EU membership.
     
  • The SAp should be adjusted so as to address the specific circumstances in Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo more flexibly, in particular through creative use of the new European Partnerships which will be drawn up with each country.

With regard to Kosovo,

  • The EU should prepare to address the issue of Kosovo’s final status, first of all by reaching a common understanding among its member states on their goals.
     
  • Using the European Agency for Reconstruction and in direct liaison with the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government, the EU should develop an integrated approach to delivering targeted assistance, establishing benchmarks and assessing progress on carrying out reforms in line with EU standards.

Belgrade/Podgorica/Pristina/Brussels, 20 June 2003

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