|THE NEXT BALKAN HOTSPOT?|
July 14, 1999
Talks have begun over Montenegro’s uncertain future and reports that Slobodan Milosevic is sending additional troops there. Ian Williams of Independent Television News reports on the tiny republic's efforts to protect itself from Milosevic.
IAN WILLIAMS: It's a message designed for Slobodan Milosevic; these men form part of the new 10,000-strong special police force hastily assembled by Montenegro's pro-western leaders. Much of their training and equipment has come from the West, and may soon be tested as Montenegro steps up its defiance of Serbia. Relations between the last two remaining parts of Yugoslavia are close to breaking points. Montenegro is about to take a dangerous gamble over the future of the tiny republic, and it will be the task of these men to defend against any violent reaction from Slobodan Milosevic. With President Milosevic weakened by the Kosovo war, Montenegro has told Belgrade that unless it gets far-reaching autonomy within Yugoslavia, it will go its own way.
|They want to live normally|
FILIP VUJANOVIC, president, Montenegro: (speaking through interpreter) Absolutely. If Belgrade continues to treat us like second class citizens and if all they're interested in is keeping Milosevic in power, then we'll decide on our own destiny and proclaim independence.
IAN WILLIAMS: Checkpoints have been set up by federal soldiers loyal to Milosevic. There's an estimated 15,000 troops, with reports of more arriving. Local television secretly filmed these tanks controlling a key border highway. There have been a series of tense standoffs. This one at the height of the Kosovo war a month ago was filmed from the police side, and was triggered when the military, in the distance, tried to disarm the police. They failed. And with the end of the war, suspicion of the federal army has continued to grow.
VESKO TOMOVIC: The Yugoslav army is not professionals. The Yugoslav army is under the command of one man, of one party. It's the party of -- Socialist party of Serbia and Mr. Slobodan Milosevic. And he tried to provoke, every time, some kind of incident.
IAN WILLIAMS: Mr. Timovic's radio station, the most popular in the capital, was almost closed down during the war. Military police accused it of treason. The Montenegro police gave it armed protection. Now it trumpets its pro-independence line louder than ever. Pro-Milosevic voices are largely silent. The moves towards independence here are more practical than nationalistic.
Just about the only goods that move on Montenegro's mountainous highways are smuggled. Legitimate commerce is just about dead, killed by the Yugoslav embrace. In the center of the capital, an army of black market traders hawk the increasingly worthless Yugoslav dinar. Nearby graffiti proclaims, "From cradle to grave, Slobo will get you there the fastest way."
VESELIN VUKOTIC: We want to be open colony and open society. We want frontier, we want to limit barrier to Montenegro and laborers and tourists and investors and capitalists. We want to be part of Europe.
IAN WILLIAMS: The government thinks it's correctly reading the mood of the people, particularly the young. At the weekend, a Serb band entertained the young, though largely subdued crowd. Lead singer Goritza's father fought with the Yugoslav army in Kosovo. He returned to Belgrade a fortnight ago a disturbed and changed man, refusing to talk about what he'd seen or done. And for her, like so many others here, ten years of conflict is enough.
GORITZA, Singer: Now they just want one thing: Just to live normal, that's all.
IAN WILLIAMS: Montenegro has concluded that the time and mood are ripe for change, and it's gambling that the West, having backed them during the war, will continue to do so. Ian Williams, Channel Four News, in Montenegro.
|Trying to buy time|
JIM LEHRER: And to Elizabeth Farnsworth.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On Monday, the Yugoslav army denied it was sending more troops into Montenegro, calling the report "American propaganda." Serbian and Montenegrin officials began two days of meetings today about Montenegro's future. And for more on that we turn to Daniel Serwer, a Balkan analyst at the U.S. Institute for Peace and a former special U.S. Envoy to the Bosnian Federation; Janusz Bugajski, director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Laura Silber, a senior write for the Financial Times, who reported extensively from Yugoslavia for ten years. She wrote "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation."
Laura Silber, what's at stake in these talks between Montenegro and Serbian authorities in Belgrade today and tomorrow?
LAURA SILBER, Author/Journalist: I think basically both sides are actually trying to buy time. They're trying to stake out their positions, and they're looking for a way out, each obviously a very different way out. But I don't expect anything really to come out of these talks. I think it's a way of beginning a dialogue, and it's a dialogue the Montenegrins are hoping there will be a change in the government in Belgrade. And that's what they want.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Mr. Bugajski, Montenegro has real demands. It has something it's asking at these talks, right?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Yes. I mean, Montenegro, I think, has come to the end of its patience in a way with this Milosevic regime. It's not really a question simply of political independence. It's a question of survival. They feel that Serbia's going to sink into the economic abyss this winter. They don't want to be dragged into it. Secondly, they want to benefit from the stability pact that's been proposed for the region. And they can't if they're part of the Yugoslav economy. Hence, they want primarily economic independence and the self-determination that comes with it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So they're making specific economic demands. They want a separate currency, right, or a separate arrangement for their currency?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: They want a convertible dinar or a separate currency as seen by an international currency board much like the Bulgarians have which allows for a certain degree of economic progress, plus to open up the country for foreign investment, privatization, and so on.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But even if this is not perhaps -- even if nobody expects this to solve anything, it could still cause big problems, right? I mean, there is something at stake here.
DANIEL SERWER: Very definitely. There's the potential for conflict between Montenegro and Serbia. And there is no way -- it seems to me -- that that conflict would be won one in which the West would intervene. If, in fact, this comes to conflict, the Montenegrins are probably on their own.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why? Why do you say that? I thought NATO had made it pretty clear that they would move if Milosevic moved against Montenegro.
DANIEL SERWER: There's no security guarantee. There are lots of, what shall I say, efforts to get Serbia not to move against Montenegro. But I think the Montenegrins are fundamentally on their own. They're going to have to -- if they need to be defended, they're going to have to do it themselves.
|Milosevic needs Montenegro|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why? Why does Milosevic need Montenegro so much? Explain that.
LAURA SILBER: Well, he needs it for a few reasons. One is Montenegro itself is not united behind Djukanovic.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain who Djukanovic is.
LAURA SILBER: Djukanovic is the president of Montenegro. He's been in office for over a year. He is actually giving exactly the message that the West wants to see now. He's pro-democracy. He's pro-western. He also has minorities, Albanians and Muslims in his government, and it's setting an example that, in fact, there can be democracy in Yugoslavia. Milosevic wants him out. Milosevic does not recognize him and vice versa. So - and also he really resents that Djukanovic has a window to the outside world, what Milosevic now an indicted war criminal doesn't have.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we should explain that Djukanovic opposed what Milosevic did in Kosovo, never was part of that war, and NATO pretty much spared Montenegro, although there were a couple of NATO bombings during the war, too. Okay. Mr. Bugajski, we're not talking about ethnic differences between Montenegro and Serbia. What are the differences? Just briefly, what's the background?
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Without going into the history of it, let's put it this way, during the Ottoman occupation, the Montenegrins were one of the few, if you like, entities in the Balkans that maintained a certain degree of independence. Hence, a lot of Montenegrins particularly in the South feel they have a better claim to statehood than many of the other former Yugoslav republics. There is a regional difference, in other words, I would say a sub ethnic division where Montenegrins feel they are part of a separate identity, linked of course with Serbs in terms of language and religion, nevertheless, a strong regional identity, and one that has incorporated I would say both Albanians and Muslims, as Laura just said, into the government. I would just like to add there's two other reasons why Milosevic doesn't want to let Montenegro go. If Montenegro goes, there's no more Yugoslavia. If there's no more Yugoslavia, there's no more Yugoslav president, there's no more Milosevic. Secondly, if Montenegro goes, Serbia is a landlocked country. And Montenegro is much more important for Serbia than Kosovo.
|Trying to establish an open society|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right, now Mr. Serwer, put this in the context of the opposition demonstrations against Milosevic. How does the Montenegrin situation fit in that?
DANIEL SERWER: I think it's quite clear that the Montenegrin leadership has taken a definitive turn in a democratic direction. It's trying to establish an open society with an open economy. There's no question about that. It seems to me. And that's a big threat to Milosevic. It's the same threat he faces to some degree from the Serb opposition.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Would you consider the president of Montenegro, Mr. Djukanovic, a leader of the opposition, not of the Serb opposition, but an opposition leader?
DANIEL SERWER: I think he has only limited political appeal inside Serbia today. But Montenegro is an important symbol for the Serb opposition. And frankly, if Montenegro is able to take this definitive turn in a democratic direction, it will expose the failure of the autocracy in Serbia even more. And that's what he's Milosevic is really afraid of. Djukanovic has the problem that he can't achieve what he wants to achieve with Belgrade under the leadership that it's under at the moment.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In other words, he can't have the kind of free market system and democracy and those elements that he's looking for as long as Milosevic is in power?
DANIEL SERWER: I think that's right. And we're all concerned with Montenegro today. I think there are legitimate reasons to be concerned. But the main game is really inside Serbia today. And Montenegro will be much better off if the regime changes in Serbia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you want to add anything about how it fits in with the opposition?
LAURA SILBER: Well, one thing, for example, Zoran Djindjic - one of the leaders of the Alliance for Change, the opposition coalition leading demonstrations against Milosevic is he had sanctuary in Montenegro during the bombing. He has a very close relationship with Djukanovic, and Djukanovic has been very, very supportive of the opposition and willing to travel abroad with opposition members, so willing to forge a united front against Milosevic. But I agree with you completely, he is not going to be the leader of Serbia. And we can make no mistake about that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And is there -- does Milosevic still have the force to come down on him? I mean, I want to get back to this question that you raised about whether Montenegro's alone and whether NATO would step in and help, but does Milosevic still have the force to put down anything that might happen in Montenegro? With these police we saw, for example.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Well, sure. There are several elements he controls; he controls the Yugoslav army. The exact numbers we don't know. It's somewhere in the region of 20,000 to 30,000 that are in Montenegro. Secondly he controls or at least supports paramilitary units, some of whom -- some of which have been relocated from Kosovo to Montenegro, in other words, the possibility that these paramilitaries could whip up ethnic tensions within Montenegro where there's a large refugee population, as well, and thirdly, various intelligence agents who have penetrated all the Montenegrin institutions and have been there really for ten, twelve years since he staged a coup against the original Montenegrin government 12 years ago. I would just like to add there's a basic contradiction here. You cannot have a democratic Montenegro in a non-democratic Yugoslavia. One or the other has to go.
|"Largely on their own"|
FARNSWORTH: Okay. Let's say that there is a move further towards democracy in
Montenegro. You don't think that there there's anything that NATO can or will
DANIEL SERWER: I have my doubts that the United States is ready to lead NATO into another war over Montenegro. I don't see signs of that at this point. What I do see is a lot of political support from Montenegro, a lot of economic support. But if the Montenegrins take a turn that leads to physical confrontation with Serbia, I think they're largely on their own.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you agree with that?
LAURA SILBER: I do. And I think it's also a calculation of whether President Milosevic thinks he wants to open a front in Montenegro. In the past he's thrived on conflict. And I think if he thinks it will prolong his hold over Serbia by starting a civil war in Montenegro, which obviously could also involve Serbia, there could be a civil war that would spread, I think that the United States would be very reluctant to get involved in a civil war in Montenegro, in Serbia. I think they would feel it would be too dangerous, too uncertain. And that is what worries me.
DANIEL SERWER: To me the lesson here is that time is running out. And time is running out on what's needed inside Serbia and what's needed is a definitive turn in the democratic direction there. We need to be supporting democratic forces much more aggressively than we're able to do today. And we need to bring about the transition that's required in Belgrade.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: But there's an alternative scenario. In other words, if the democratic opposition is not successful in dislodging Milosevic through peaceful means, the spark for democratization naturally would be through bloodshed, which is provoked in Montenegro, which as Laura said could spread to Serbia - in other words, a potential Serbian civil war would start in Montenegro. There's one other thing I'd like to add about western involvement. Quite possibly, what's needed is Dayton or a Rambouillet, some sort of international conference between Povorica and Belgrade, something to bring this into the international forum.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some kind of a conference which has international sponsorship.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: International sponsorship, support, evident support for Montenegrin democracy, openness, integration.
LAURA SILBER: But we can't do a conference with Milosevic at the helm. It has to be later on, because I think that having Milosevic decide what rights Montenegro gets is ridiculous.
JANUSZ BUGAJSKI: Well, he didn't decide at Rambouillet, and I don't think he decided the kind of conference I suggested.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Well, thank you all very much for being with us.