Yugoslavia's Death Is Balkans' Gain
Yugoslavia's Death Is Balkans' Gain
The Western Balkans: Fragile Majorities
The Western Balkans: Fragile Majorities

Yugoslavia's Death Is Balkans' Gain

Yugoslavia, which died in spirit a decade ago, can now be buried. It will have no further incarnations. This is the first significance of the agreement signed in Belgrade on Thursday by the federal, Serbian and Montenegrin leaders along with Javier Solana, the European Union's first High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security.

Slobodan Milosevic, who did more than anyone to make Yugoslavia a dirty word, launched Serbia and Montenegro as the "third Yugoslavia" in April 1992. But his federation was a fake, an effigy of multi-ethnic statehood that betrayed a once noble idea.

Milosevic never intended his Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) to function democratically. When his stooges in Montenegro lost power in 1998, the federation was pitched into crisis. To no-one's surprise it proved incapable of reconciling the legitimate interests of its two republics, Serbia and Montenegro.

Stability

Thursday's acceptance by all parties of a new "Union of States" should spell the end for a delusion that had become dangerous. For this reason alone, the agreement is a welcome step that should help to stabilise the Balkans.

Supporters of a stronger foreign policy role for the EU will also be satisfied. Following his widely praised mediation in Macedonia last year, Javier Solana has now won further credit.

The most ardent supporters of the FRY since Milosevic's fall in October 2000 have been found in Western capitals. Fearful that abrupt Montenegrin independence would destabilise not only Serbia but also Kosovo, Bosnia and even Macedonia, the international community has openly backed Belgrade against Podgorica, in the process encouraging the least enlightened elements in both republics.

In this context, it is fascinating to see that Solana has brokered a framework solution that clearly favours the reformists.

Bitter pill

The Serbian camp wanted a veto on rapid, unilateral Montenegrin secession, no impact on Kosovo's status, a single seat in international institutions, and a range of important joint ministries.

For their part, the Montenegrins wanted international acceptance of a future referendum on independence, to keep the euro as currency, to have soldiers serve in their own republics, and protection against being swamped by Serbia in joint institutions.

These demands have been met. Crucially, the "re-examination provision" will allow referenda after three years. The agreement will be welcome to Serbian Government leaders, many of whom would be happy if Montenegro went its own way, but don't want to incur a nationalist backlash by letting it go.

Federal leaders, on the other hand, along with pro-Serbian groups in Montenegro, may find the agreement a bitter pill. Their apparent success in thwarting Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic masks a deeper defeat for their cause.

Dysfunctional statehood?

These groups may be tempted to take revenge by stalling the agreement's implementation - and there will certainly be abundant opportunity for this, as the agreement lacks much significant detail. "The modalities for achievement of these goals shall be formulated in parallel with the Constitutional Charter," the text of the agreement concludes somewhat blithely, referring to a document that does not yet exist.

Negotiations on the modalities will take months, diverting energies from much needed internal reforms.

Indeed, it won't be surprising if the agreement is never implemented in full. In that case, the peoples of both republics might grow more inclined to dissolve their new "Union" at the earliest opportunity. Djukanovic and Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic may even be calculating on this outcome.

Javier Solana must be hoping that the new hybrid state will gain weight and roots over the next three years, giving Kosovo's government vital time to mature under its UN protectorate. While this is unlikely, it could happen. A perfectly acceptable alternative would be a separation in 2005 by mutual agreement, without disruption.

What cannot be discounted, however, is a third possibility: that frustration with yet another dysfunctional form of statehood, imposed on twisting local leaders by the great powers, will accumulate and sharpen existing antagonisms.

Averting this risk will be Mr Solana's continuing task.

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