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Aleksa Kecojevic

Washington Post (27 Apr. 2001)

Montenegro vs. the World

NO SOONER did vigorous Western intervention manage to tamp down the latest outbreak of
fighting in the Balkans than a new crisis began brewing. This one involves Montenegro, the
last Yugoslav republic besides Serbia to remain in the federation. Montenegro's president,
Milo Djukanovic, bravely stood up to former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic; now, even
though Mr. Milosevic is gone, Mr. Djukanovic wants to hold a referendum on full
independence. The European Union and the United States strongly oppose this initiative, as
do at least 40 percent of Montenegrins, who voted for pro-Serbian parties in parliamentary
elections last weekend. But Mr. Djukanovic says he is determined to go forward anyway.

 His precipitous press for independence is troubling on several grounds. When opposed by
such a large part of the population, a move to statehood might only destabilize Montenegro,
or even touch off violence. For most of its history, the republic has been culturally and
lly inseparable from Serbia, with which it shares both religion and language. Western
governments consequently fear that if Montenegro declares independence, the far larger
Albanian population in neighboring Kosovo will insist on independence as well. So might the
Albanian population of Macedonia, or the Sanjak region of Serbia -- not to mention the
three ethnic communities of Bosnia. Caught in the middle will be the Western governments
and peacekeeping forces that have already fought two wars and spent tens of billions of
dollars trying to collect the fragments of the Balkans into viable and stable countries.

 But independence for Montenegro is more than geopolitically inconvenient; it would almost
certainly be a bad course for the Montenegrins. The country, which as its name suggests is
dominated by a single massif, is half the size of Maryland and has only 650,000 people. It
has few resources and no real economy outside of tourism and a port that is Serbia's sole
outlet to!
 the sea. Mr. Djukanovic likes to talk about Montenegro's rapidly moving toward membership
in the European Union and NATO -- and no doubt likes to imagine himself taking his seat at
the various state councils in Brussels. But his ministate would be most unlikely to be
accepted by either organization. Instead, the republic would probably become an isolated
and unstable backwater, and even poorer than it is today.

 The united Western front against Montenegrin independence is not especially principled --
the same governments welcomed Mr. Djukanovic's separatism, and benefited greatly from it,
when Mr. Milosevic was the common enemy during the 1999 Kosovo war. But the course the West
is now pressing on the Montenegrin leadership is a reasonable one. Serbia now has a
democratic government that has proposed broad negotiations between the two republics on how
to preserve a loose federation. Given the divisions in his own country, Mr. Djukanovic
should drop his rush for a referendum !
and take the time to pursue those talks. It may be that holding the last few pieces of
Yugoslavia together will prove as futile a project as was the West's effort to keep the
whole country intact a decade ago. But as the bloody history of the subsequent 10 years
shows, a breakup isn't likely to benefit anyone but the nationalist politicians who promote
it -- and maybe their warriors.

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