Montenegro declares independence from Serbia

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon May 22 17:06:46 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, May 22, 2006

[Moderator's note:  this article states that "At least a third of
Montenegro's 650,000 people are Serbs"  My question is, what is the
ethnicity of the other 2/3rds? (hs)]

May 22, 2006
Montenegrins Elect to End Union with Serbia

PODGORICA, Montenegro, Monday, May 22 By the narrowest of margins, voters
in Montenegro, one of the original six pieces of communist-era Yugoslavia,
chose to cut their ties with neighboring Serbia, according to results
released today from Sunday's referendum. The vote means that 15 years
after inter-ethnic conflict broke out tearing the western Balkans apart,
one of the last steps in its final stabilization appears to be taking
place. With the results confirmed by all but 49 of the 1,100 polling
stations, the state's election commission said today that the referendum
was carried with 55.4% of voters favoring independence, just barely over
the 55 percent required by rules agreed to by the government and the
European Union.

The government was expected push quickly for a meeting of Montenegro's
parliament that is required before the referendum can become law.
Two-thirds of the assembly need to the support the proposal in order to
the change the constitution, which government officials believe will be a
formality unless opponents of secession choose to dispute the referendum
results. Montenegro would then be able to seek international recognition
and a seat at the United Nations and other international institutions.
While the victory of the pro-independence block has left a large swathe of
the Montenegro's citizens feeling despondent, the separation ends what for
many years has been an unhappy union. Since 1997, Montenegro's Prime
Minister, Milo Djukanovic, has distanced this small mountainous nation
from Serbia. The two now share control of the army and foreign service,
and little else.

In Serbia there was a reluctant acceptance that Mr. Djukanovic's
supporters had succeeded, although some media outlets suggested that
referendum had not been fought on equal terms. "Milo's majority is
questionable," ran the headline in Serbia's conservative daily paper
Politika. "One can conclude that the sovereigntists won, but no one can
not tell by how many votes," Aleksandar Simic, adviser to Serbia's Prime
Minister, Vojislav Kostunica, was quoted as saying by the paper. Serbia
could if it chose to, make Montenegro's separation more complicated by
disputing issues such as debt, and federally owned property.

"The risk is they could do it out of spite," said one western diplomat in
Podgorica to monitor the referendum. A mechanism already exists, dating
back from 1998 when the four previous break away republics, Slovenia,
Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia, negotiated issues left over by the Yugoslav
breakup. Most international officials doubt that will happen, though. "It
would be a bit like flogging a dead horse. I think they are going to move
on now. They have enough problems with other issues," said the same
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to
make public statements.

Late Sunday night, unofficial results had led thousands of independence
supporters to take to the streets, waving flags and signs. Fireworks and
celebratory gunfire could be heard across the capital. The initial partial
results gave the secessionist block a greater margin of victory, at 56.3
percent, but as the evening wore on that figure was gradually reduced and
some of the celebrations became more muted. In the euphoria, Mr.
Djukanovic sought to unite Montenegrins after what had been a divisive
campaign. "We have the right to celebrate in a dignified manner," he told
a victory rally outside the main government building in Podgorica. But he
said that nobody should be seen as winners after the vote. "This should be
a comfortable home for everybody who lives in Montenegro," he said. The
leader of the pro-union opposition, Pedgrad Bulatovic, contested
suggestions that the government had won, saying it was too early to draw a
final conclusion about the vote.

Groups of young Serbian men gathered outside Mr. Bulatovic's headquarters
in the city center, jeering as the referendum results were announced.
"They are lying, lying, lying," they chanted, hurling abuse when
pro-independence supporters drove by waving the Montenegrin flag. At least
a third of Montenegro's 650,000 people are Serbs. But Mr. Lipka said today
that there had been no official complaints filed to contest the results,
and European monitors called the voting free and fair. The European
Union's foreign policy chief, Javiar Solana, declared that he welcomed the
"successful" independence vote and that the election's results would be

Montenegro's secession would end what has become an increasingly fractious
federation with Serbia, kept together by pressure from the European Union.
Since 1997, Montenegro has sought to distance itself from the federal
government in Belgrade, creating its own customs regime and paramilitary
police. It has also dropped the Yugoslav currency, the dinar, and adopted
the euro. While diplomats and analysts here said the referendum would
finally establish a clearer relationship between Serbia and Montenegro,
the "yes"  vote is also viewed as a personal blow to Serbia's nationalist
prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, at a critical time.

"Psychologically it is important for Serbia to stop the process of
everybody seceding from Serbia," said Bratislav Grubacic, a political
analyst and director of the VIP independent news agency, based in
Belgrade. "This weakens Kostunica's position on Kosovo," he said,
referring to the United Nations-run region that is still formally a
province of Serbia, but that is thought likely by international officials
to gain independence by the end of the year. For supporters of Montenegrin
independence, the results, however narrow, are the fruition of a
decade-long struggle to enable Montenegro to reclaim its status from 1878
to 1918, when it was a republic and an internationally recognized state.

"This is a great day for the citizens of Montenegro to regain independence
after 88 years," said Ljubomir Djurkovic, a theater director from
Centinje, a picturesque, pro-independence town to the west of Podgorica.
He said he planned mark the occasion by visiting the graves of his father
and grandfather men who spent their lives hoping for an independent state,
he said, but who did not live to see it.

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