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by Patrick Moore

        Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is on a
collision course with the reformist leadership of Montenegro
under President Milo Djukanovic. Milosevic's immediate goal
may be to influence Montenegrin voters in the runup to the
31 May parliamentary elections, but the outcome of his
actions may have longer-term repercussions.
        The current political crisis began on 18 May, when
federal parliamentary deputies unseated Milosevic's prime
minister, Radoje Kontic. The following day, Milosevic
nominated as prime minister his ally Momir Bulatovic, who is
also Montenegro's former president and the political arch-
enemy of Djukanovic. The legislature quickly approved
Milosevic's choice on 20 May.
        Kontic's grave mistake in Milosevic's eyes was his
failure to help Bulatovic stay in office in Podgorica after
his term expired in January. At that time Bulatovic stirred
up violence and hoped to prompt Belgrade to declare a state
of emergency and prevent Djukanovic's inauguration, but
Kontic refused to intervene. In the end, the Montenegrin
police kept Bulatovic's rowdies under control and Djukanovic
took office on schedule.
        Djukanovic has mounted the strongest challenge to
Milosevic from within Serbia or Montenegro since the former
Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991-1992. Throughout last year,
then Prime Minister Djukanovic argued that Milosevic's
policies were keeping Yugoslavia isolated internationally
and consequently preventing the economic revival of
Montenegro, which traditionally depends on tourism and
shipping to earn foreign exchange. As president in 1998,
Djukanovic visited Washington and other Western capitals,
where he received a sympathetic hearing and offers of
political and economic support in his efforts to return his
country to membership in the international community.
        After Milosevic launched his campaign of repression in
Kosova at the end of February, Djukanovic disassociated
himself from the use of violence and called for
internationally mediated talks leading to autonomy for
Kosova. Speaking to French journalists on 13 April in
Podgorica, Djukanovic charged that "Milosevic is tragically
behind the times in his assessments and is always embarking
on new political failures." The Montenegrin leader dubbed
Milosevic's 23 April referendum against foreign mediation in
Kosova "the collective suicide...he proposes for the Serbian
people." Djukanovic urged the international community to
back his "efforts to form a block of reformist forces [in
Yugoslavia] capable of barring the way to the damaging
policies that Milosevic personifies."
        The spring of 1998 thus found Milosevic confronting
two crises that were largely of his own making. The first
was in Kosova, where his repressive policies had radicalized
much of the mainly ethnic Albanian population and driven
them into the arms of the shadowy Kosova Liberation Army.
His policies in Kosova also threatened to trigger the
reimposition of the political isolation and economic
sanctions that the international community had placed on
Yugoslavia during the Croatian and Bosnian wars of 1991-
        The second crisis was with Montenegro, whose
leadership insisted upon full equality with Serbia within
the federation and resented Milosevic's attempts to increase
his own powers at the expense of the republics. Djukanovic,
moreover, was clear about his own policy goals and had won
the support of a slight majority of the voters the previous
        Moreover, he made it clear on 19 May that he would not
allow Milosevic to provoke "Montenegro into giving up the
idea of joint statehood [with Serbia] by engaging in
irresponsible, uncontrolled, and unpredictable moves on the
federal level," such as sacking Kontic and replacing him
with Bulatovic.
        With regard to his relations with Podgorica, Milosevic
may have sought to bring matters to a head in the runup to
parliamentary elections in Montenegro at the end of May. He
may have reasoned that a bit of pressure from Belgrade might
cost Djukanovic's supporters votes and bolster the chances
of Bulatovic's backers. The Yugoslav president may also have
felt that he needs to bring Montenegro into line as he
prepares for what may prove a longer confrontation with both
the ethnic Albanians and the international community over
        But that strategy could backfire on the Yugoslav
president. He is himself of Montenegrin origin and has
presumably made his calculations carefully; but a head-on
confrontation with Djukanovic is potentially fraught with
danger for Milosevic, and its outcome is not easy to
predict. In Montenegrin politics, the fault lines
traditionally involve relationships between clans and
tensions between supporters of unity with Serbia and those
who favor emphasizing a separate Montenegrin identity. But
even among those who back close ties with Belgrade, there
are few who would submit Montenegro to centralized rule from
the capital. Djukanovic, for his part, has made it clear
that he and his government will recognize neither the
sacking of Kontic, the election of Bulatovic, nor the
appointment of Bulatovic's government.
        Meanwhile, speculation is rife in Belgrade and
Podgorica as to whether Milosevic will now begin to purge
other prominent officials who have defended the autonomy of
their respective institutions and have not done his bidding.
One such individual is General Momcilo Perisic, the chief of
the General Staff, who kept the army out of the Milosevic-
Djukanovic feud and has been less than enthusiastic about
waging a war in Kosova. Whatever may happen in the coming
days, Belgrade is clearly faced with its worst
constitutional crisis since the breakup in 1991-1992 of the
Yugoslavia created by Marshal Josip Broz Tito.

               Copyright (c) 1998 RFE/RL, Inc.
                     All rights reserved.

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