member has recently been admitted to the United Nations. Montenegro
with its 600,000 inhabitants recently had a referendum, where 86.6 per
cent of those enfranchised voted. Out of these, 55.5 per cent voted
for independence, and 44.5 against. Another way of presenting the same
data is that 48.1 per cent voted for, 38.5 against and 13.4 not at all.
There are reasons to dig deeper into what happened. What is the internal
and external background to this event? Does it increase or decrease
the stability of the region? Could this decision cause trouble at some
point in the future? Could it have an impact on the question of independence
for Kosovo? Indeed, is the Montenegrin drive for independence mainly
a result of external – at the time, anti-Milosevic – pressures
by the West and, thus, an unintended result of short-sighted policies
years ago? And what about the fact that there live about as many Montenegrins
in Serbia as in Montenegro, but the former could not vote?
few historical notes
Two Balkan states managed to preserve their independence throughout
the Ottoman period. Republica Ragusa (Dubrovnik) did so by being rich
and having a vast navy, very thick walls and a very complex diplomacy,
cautiously balancing among all the surrounding powers, that earned it
the nickname "Cittá delle sette bandiere" - the city
of seven flags. Montenegro also had an impressive international diplomacy,
but otherwise its security basis was just the opposite of Ragusa: it
was very poor, had mountains instead of walls and could mobilise most
of the male population within days. A small army entering it would quickly
face defeat, a big one would slowly starve to death.
For a long time most Montenegrins saw themselves as the noblest and
bravest Serbs, the only clans among them that did not capitulate to
the Turks. It did, however, capitulate to Austria in January 1916, once
its Thermopyle style defence in the Battle of Mojkovac permitted the
Serbian army and government to escape to the Adriatic coast from its
encirclement by German, Austrian and Bulgarian forces, embark on the
entente navy, camp on Corfu and eventually liberate its country from
Saloniki. On Corfu, negotiations were held between Serb, Croat and Slovene
politicians. They agreed to create a common state, which was done in
late 1918. It was originally called the “Kingdom of Serbs, Croats
and Slovenes” (from 1929: Yugoslavia), which was significant -
the other peoples in that state had recently been taken over from Turkey
or were yet to be taken over from Austria, and were not really asked.
Montenegro was about equally split between those who wanted to restore
its independence and those behind the slogan "Only unity can save
the Serbs". After the colours of the ballots in the referendum
that was soon about this, the former group was nicknamed “Greens”
and the latter “Whites” - and they have remained of approximately
equal size since then, as the recent referendum also showed.
referendum in the early 1920ies was rejected as invalid by many Greens,
and the ensuing rebellion took Belgrade years to suppress. The “Kingdom
of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” had the policy of eliminating names
of nationalities from the political map as it was divided into eight
provinces named after rivers or seas. The river Zeta gave name to a
province that included Montenegro, the Dubrovnik region and a slice
of southern Bosnia until World War II. When Germany attacked in 1941,
Yugoslavia immediately collapsed, also suffering from deep internal
After the partisan victory in 1945, the new constitution distinguished
between nations (narodi), who had their main domicile in Yugoslavia
and the right to national self-determination and their own republic,
and nationalities (narodnosti), for which neither was the case. Macedonians
and Montenegrins were immediately recognised as nations (Moslems 25
years later and Albanians never). Both got their own republics, the
Macedonians also their own official language; that spoken by the great
majority in Montenegro was counted as dialects of the Serbo-Croat language.
Repeated attempts were made to change the map, the constitution or both
in Tito's Yugoslavia. Small armed Croat groups who infiltrated the country
in 1968 were easy to suppress, having no popular basis, the "Croatian
Spring" in 1971 led to many long prison sentences and purges in
the Communist party of Croatia when the demands had rapidly accelerated
from cultural autonomy through economic autonomy (meaning the lion´s
share of Yugoslavia´s tourism incomes) to independence and finally
demanding a big slice of Bosnia-Herzegovina that was a part of Ustasha´s
Croatia in 1941-45.
- unarmed - Albanian rebellion in 1968 was easily subdued, the second
and armed one in 1981 was ruthlessly repressed by the Yugoslav People's
Army, with about 1,000 dead, and many thousands got very long prison
sentences. Noteworthy, however, there was no attempt at rebellion in
Yugoslavia begins to dissolve
The bells began to toll for Yugoslavia in the 1980ies. Slovenia and
Croatia demanded drastic constitutional changes to become independent
states in everything but name, with their own currencies, armies, economies,
foreign policies, and so on. Serbia and Montenegro wanted none of this
and also eventually got the leadership of the Yugoslav People Army on
their side. One Communist party after the other went from anti-nationalism
to nationalism; that of Serbia shifted in 1987, as did its new leader
Slobodan Milosevic, even though his new Serb rhetoric could not compete
with that of Vuk Draskovic or later Vojislav Seselj.
parties, whether socialist or anti-socialist, won everywhere in the
elections in 1990 – and in most cases, the also-runs were even
more nationalist. The winner in Montenegro was the pro-Serbian socialist
Predrag Bulatovic. The bi- or tri-national governments in Macedonia
and Bosnia-Herzegovina tried unsuccessfully to mediate between the two
other blocs and find a compromise, apparently aware that a break-up
of Yugoslavia had a strong likelihood of making them break up too.
In all parts of Former Yugoslavia, history was rewritten to fit with
the new nationalist ideologies, often by what Ivo Banac aptly called
"para-historians" (taken from "paralegals" or "paramedics").
Montenegrins were suddenly no longer Serbs; they arrived before the
Serbs and had a principality of their own before them. Petar Petrovic
Njegos in the mid-nineteenth century used to be thought of as the greatest
Montenegrin prince and the greatest poet in Serbian, but was now reinterpreted
as an instrument of the Serbianisation of Montenegro.
example: The Battle of Mojkovac in December 1915 was no longer seen
as a demonstration of "Only unity can save the Serbs", but
as a Serbian conspiracy to eliminate the Montenegrin army in order to
make Montenegro an easier prey after the war.
In short, Serbs were systematically transformed from in-group to out-group,
to become "Other". The implications of this in the new situation
are yet to be seen; historical parallels are far from encouraging, but
neither do they necessarily spell doom.
One effect of this sudden shift can be seen in the differences between
the censuses in 1991 and 2004. In these, everybody chose for himself
what group s/he belonged to (there were also occasional Bushmen, Hottentots,
Eskimos and Martians) – and could change that in next census.
In 1991, Montenegrins were some 60 per cent, followed by 13 per cent
Moslems, 10 per cent Serbs, 7 per cent Albanians and several even smaller
groups, including Yugoslavs.
new census in 2004, however, two thirds of the Moslems had disappeared,
as had one third of the Montenegrins, while the Serbs had tripled! What
first case, it seems that the majority of 1991 Moslems had followed
the example of the majority of those in Bosnia-Herzegovina and renamed
themselves Bosnjaks. The second case is more important. The 1991 census
seems to reflect the traditional image that being a Montenegrin also
entailed being a Serb, with no need to choose, whereas a Serb might
of course be a Montenegrin or not.
however, such a choice was now called for by the wide-spread assumption
that Montenegrins are not Serbs. One third of the 1991 Montegrins
apparently decided that in such a case they were Serbs, not Montenegrins,
the result being that Montenegrins went down from 60 to 40 per cent,
thus becoming the biggest minority in Montenegro, whereas the Serbs
tripled from 10 to 30 and moved up to being the second biggest. The
ironic effect of the ideology of the pro-independence groups was to
make Montenegro less Montenegrin than ever!
smaller the biggest group, the higher risk for troubles
One spine-chilling result of this is that Montenegro's demography
is now quite similar to that of Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1991: a biggest
group that is around 40 per cent, a second biggest around 30 and a third
around half of that (if we add Moslems and Bosnjaks). The post-Cold
War experience in Europe is that ethno-nationally heterogeneous states,
whether old or new, run much higher risks of secession, civil war, de
facto division - or any combination thereof. The smaller the biggest
group in a state is, the greater is the risk.
end of the Cold War, Former
Yugoslavia had the worst prognosis in Europe from this point of
view, with 38 per cent Serbs; then came Kazakhstan with 40 per cent
Russians (today, Kazakhs are the biggest group) and then again Bosnia-Herzegovina
with 42 per cent Moslems.
Going by this indicator alone, the new Montenegro would have a horrible
prognosis, so it is to be hoped that it manages to group itself together
with the peaceful development in Kazakhstan rather than Former Yugoslavia
lesson the international community could have learned - and funny voting
might have been drawn from these figures by the international community,
especially after the horrible reminder in Bosnia: if one seeks to promote
peace, one should not promote or recognise states as independent with
a small minority only in favour of it. Becoming independent would,
from a variety of viewpoints, be a decision so important and normally
irreversible that anything less than a very broad majority is reckless.
of various countries often demand a qualified majority, two thirds or
even five sixths, for particularly important issues, such as changing
the constitution. This was not the case here, so if democracy was to
have priority before stability, simple majority should be enough. The
demand from EU can be seen as a compromise violating both values: too
high for democracy, too low for stability.
It is not yet known with any precision who voted how in the referendum,
yet public opinion polls from recent years may give an idea. Serbs were
almost entirely against independence, Moslems/Bosnjaks and Albanians
almost entirely for; among Montenegrins there was a clear majority for
and a big minority against. The 44.5 per cent of the voters who went
against independence indicate that something like one third of the self-defined
Montenegrins must be among them together with practically all Serbs.
Citizens of Former Yugoslavia had in their papers 1) a domicile in Yugoslavia
(also most of those who lived abroad); 2) a nationality that they chose
for themselves and 3) a republic citizenship that was administratively
decided (though they could apply to get a new one). The two latter things
were indeed related, but not very closely. Slovenia was in fact the
only republic where the titular nationality was as high as 90 per cent:
in the others it was far lower.
the new Montenegro close to unique in another respect: after the changes
between the two latest referenda, there are more than half as many
self-defined Montenegrins in Serbia as there are in Montenegro itself,
and many of them see themselves as discriminated against by the voting
rules in the referendum: enfranchisement went by domicile, and you could
only have one domicile inside Yugoslavia, hence most Montenegrins abroad
with republic citizenship could vote in the referendum, but most of
them living in Serbia could not.
well have been crucial for the result of referendum: if they had been
allowed to vote, it is quite unlikely that "Yes" would have
reached the crucial 55 per cent (see below) and quite possible that
"No" would have gotten a majority. It remains to be seen what
social and political effects this equal distribution of self-defined
Montenegrins over two states will have.
outcome makes Montenegro virtually unique: very few states in history
were created on the basis of such a heavily split referendum: the
55 per cent threshold demanded by the EU was only passed by one half
of one per cent. The closest parallels in modern times are the
referenda about Scottish devolution a generation ago and about Bosnia-Herzegovina
in 1992. Scottish devolution won in terms of a majority for "Yes",
but lost by the condition imposed from London that the "Yes"
votes must be more than 40 per cent of those enfranchised.
the Serbs regarded the referendum as non-constitutional and de facto
voted "No" by 99,5 per cent boycotting it, as it were, whereas
the Croats voting "Yes" were indeed voting to get out of Yugoslavia,
but hardly to become a minority under a Moslem majority.
the referendum held in Norway after its unilateral declaration in 1905
– and upon Swedish request- was very convincing: some 368,000
voted to dissolve the union with Sweden, 184 persons to preserve it.
Internal dynamics in Montenegro and Former Yugoslavia have played important
roles in the developments; let us not forget foreign influence however.
First of all, the U.S. and EU have played complex games with independence
all over Former Yugoslavia since making their first bold statements
in June 1991, stating themselves in favour of democracy, human rights,
rule of law and minority protection, but not - repeat not -
of unilateral secessions.
and Croatia assumed that the West was bluffing, and were proven right
within months, when they were recognised and all other republics invited
to proclaim themselves independent. Macedonia and Bosnia did, but not
Montenegro, which initially participated side-by-side with the Yugoslav
army in various theatres, the attack on Dubrovnik in 1991/92 being the
Nicola of Montenegro told a Danish journalist a century ago that "The
Balkans is the small change that the great powers use in their transactions,"
and this has become no less true. The West had its own designs that
made the Montenegrin record less important. Montenegro was therefore
to some extent given special treatment, especially after Bulatovic losing
elections to Milo Djukanovic and when it was no longer necessary after
Dayton to treat Milosevic as the man who could deliver.
formula as in 1991 was proclaimed to Montenegro and to Kosovo: independence
was not in the fine print. Yet people in both areas easily arrived at
the same conclusion as Slovenia and Croatia in 1991: that they were
nevertheless promised independence somehow. The cornering of Milosevic
was stepped-up with determination and de-linking from Serbia encouraged
in many ways.
the night in 1996 before Montenegro abandoned the Yugoslav Dinar as
currency, American planes flew tons of Deutsche Mark into Montenegro;
and when NATO was systematically bombing out the economy of Serbia in
1999, Montenegro was largely saved. Milo Djukanovic was encouraged to
go for independence, this being yet another card to play in the ongoing
fragmentation of former Yugoslavia and of Serbia, with Kosovo to follow
As it turned
out, participation was very high but the majority for independence relatively
thin if we take 50 per cent as criterion, paper thin (one half of one
per cent, i.e. about one thousand voters) in relation to the 55 per
cent limit imposed by the EU, and non-existent (48 per cent) if we look
at the percentage of those enfranchised rather than of the voters.
From one point of view, this combination of high participation and narrow
majority is about the worst thing that could happen: the former indicates
that the issue is seen as having high importance and the latter that
Montenegro is deeply split on it.
possible consequences of this independence process
Whatever the case, Montenegro is now an independent and recognised state,
so what effects can this be expected to have where? First – but
not necessarily most important – there is a further sense of amputation
and humiliation throughout Serbia, even though its government has kept
a stiff upper lip with recognition, etc.. To Serbs more than other nations,
the dissolution of Yugoslavia was a disaster. They had a particularly
high stake in it: the dissolution placed some two million Serbs as minorities
in states whose majority populations had collaborated with Hitler and
Mussolini against the Serbs, showing no mercy.
A bit later,
the West (especially USA in this case) encouraged the shift of Kosovo-Albanian
separatism from Ibrahim Rugova´s nonviolence to the very violent
Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, of 20.000 fighters that it had been crucial
in creating, with and NATO’s bombing in 1999 as climax.
farewell to Montenegro may be less hurting, given its peaceful manner
so far and the affinity still felt between many Serbs and many Montenegrins
in spite of the nationalist elite ideologies in both states –
it can be seen as an encouraging sign that the areas voting "No"
did not declare themselves independent to stay with Serbia. Montenegro’s
dependence on trade with Serbia may also play a role – even Slovenia
has discovered that the Western market was tougher than expected and
the Balkan market important to (re)establish.
independence can be seen as setting a precedence in a region where all
problems are linked to each other, and the prospect of losing Kosovo/a
to full independence may create ripples in Serbia, where nationalism
is again on the rise as humiliations accumulate.
late as September 2006, the leader of Republika Srpska in Dayton Bosnia
has repeatedly more than hinted that it does not seem right that Serbs
are forced to remain as an integral part of Bosnia while, as it seems,
everybody else are allowed, even encouraged, to become independent.
Given the sentiments among Bosnian Serbs, one would hardly have any
problem satisfying the same – or even higher- EU criteria for
an independent Republika Srpska as those presented to Montenegro.
is qualitatively different from Montenegro, which was the last of the
old republics to secede. Kosovo is a part of a republic and once that
gate is opened, the international community may find it difficult to
prohibit the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia to secede and federate with
their neighbouring “mother states”, with Albanians in Macedonia
(and perhaps eventually in Montenegro) down the road.
economic sanctions against Yugoslavia greatly benefited criminality,
mafia and black economic operations all over the Balkans. Today, Kosovo
is allegedly the most criminalized square kilometers in Europe with
considerable networks all over it as well as in Central Asia, Russia
and the U.S. The mafia there is an important partner to that in Montenegro,
as is the Serbian mafia.
have strong political connections; in fact, the Italian minister of
finance fingered Milo Djukanovic himself as deeply involved in the cigarette
smuggling a few years ago.There are no convincing reasons to believe
that those features, coupled with rampant economic problems, debts and
skyrocketing unemployment figures in spite of considerable EU and U.S.
investments and loans will add to, rather than subtract from, stability
in all of Europe and the Balkan region.
just held September elections, Djukanovic could cash in on having provided
independence; yet he is now signaling that, perhaps, he wants to resign.
Perhaps he has read the writing on the wall: independence does not
automatically mean a better life for the majority of the population
– and from now on there will be no one else to blame, unless the
tough conditions the EU and the IMF will impose on Montenegro take over
that role. In addition, independence could have long-term divisive
consequences at home, as the changing census figures may indicate, and
intensify the struggle for power in one’s own house.
the independence movement ranged between soft versions ("we have
nothing against Serbs, but like everybody else we prefer to be run by
our own crooks") and increasingly extreme anti-Serb sentiments
during the last few years, which – like in Croatia and elsewhere
in the past – had a mobilizing role for in-group cohesiveness;
yet if this continues, we will get an increasing ethnic polarization
inside Montenegro, with potentially catastrophical effects.
A state is born, some infantile diseases could be readily identified
and others may be feared. Hopefully, the fears will turn out to be largely