The question of future relations between Serbia and Montenegro

2018-03-20T12:55:28+00:00 18. 01. 2002.|News|

In the coming weeks the process for defining future relationships will enter a quality new phase. This is the stage of political negotiations in which positions will be clarified. This could be compared with the situation in Czechoslovakia where the discourse was reduced to the either – or question: a common state or breakup!

The negotiation preparation phase was completed by expert talks. Strictly speaking, these were not de facto expert talks because they comprised representatives of certain political actors involved in the negotiation process, with a narrow mandate to further argue the attitudes of those they represent. So, there were no simulations of the proposed solutions or engagement by independent experts. Overall, these talks did produce several quality new results:

  • problem was defined, negotiations questions were prepared, the initial positions of the parties were presented, and, what is especially important, the current list of priorities was completely reversed: the issue of the status will come at the end of the negotiating process as a result;
  • during these talks, the subject of future relations, previously not among priority issues, was discussed by the media and in political circles. This debate brought about a new reality of Montenegro’s unwillingness to remain in the union without guaranteed equality. The prevailing thesis that the issue of the FRY, which also implies Serbia’s status, will be resolved by a referendum in Montenegro, has given way to the realization that it is necessary to define what is Serbia. As a result, we have increased public attention for a new constitution or for other forms of voting (a referendum in Serbia, for example) on Serbia’s status;


  • In this process the international community left the role of the mediator to the EU. The EU itself has entered the process relatively ambitiously, which can be explained by the fact that there is an ongoing EU engagement and that the EU is trying to confirm its credibility, and the ability to lead a successful foreign policy. That is why European political consultations are taking place these days in an effort to define a common platform for Montenegro and Serbia relations. During the talks with EU representatives, there were multiple signs indicating that the EU is taking a more objective position. From the initial pressure on the Montenegro leadership to seek the solution “within the framework of democratic Yugoslavia”, the attitude of the EU and the OSCE has evolved and is now equally considering “both positions”. It is realistic to expect that Germany’s advocacy will only grow more influential. This should lead to a compromise: a union of independent states or independence of Montenegro. It is to be expected that the EU will use its latest technology of the so-called “carrot and stick” support. This means that Serbia and Montenegro will be offered EU Accession Treaty if they follow what is agreed by the EU or what Serbia and Montenegro agree between them. A “stick” in this case will be a well-proven measure – conditioning the support to reforms, diplomatic pressure on politicians, etc. In any case, time is not a limiting factor for the EU. What is EU concerned about is that FRY will soon dissolve. This would make the work of the EU very difficult in Kosovo, Macedonia, especially in Bosnia.

It seems that the following scenarios for resolving the issues of future relations between Montenegro and Serbia are possible:


  • Loose federation: this option was used out in the previous phase. Even the advocates of this option are now taking a “reserved stance”. This can be summarized in the following sentence: “Common state or nothing!”, “nothing” meaning independence of Montenegro. In terms of a “common state”, which is still referred to as “federation” or “confederation”, Belgrade envisages five common functions. The problem with this option is that it is supported by nationalistic circles, both in government and the public. That is why it represents a platform which gathers like-minded people from both republics. However, their additional problem is that they have “appeared on the scene” too soon. In the last few months, they have occupied Serbian media. Their overwhelming public presence has led to the turning of a significant part of the public away from and even against them. A particularly important fact is that among the advocates of this concept, many belong to the old regime (academics such as Ćosić and Bećković, “the Bosnian lobby” and others) who have created Milosevic.

The main problem with this concept is that its application would require Montenegro to take a step back in reforms (for example, to return to RSD currency), which would be damaging to the interests of the majority in Montenegro. The second problem is that, in Serbia, there is a significant resistance to establish a system of equal rights or distribution of federal functions. So this option cannot be a solution, and should be regarded as something that belongs to the past. Although it cannot be the basis for the agreement, it can be a platform to mobilize opposition against the current government in Montenegro.

  • The Union of Montenegro and Serbia is becoming a more acceptable solution to many. The main problem is that in Serbia did not calculate its interests yet, especially in relation to pragmatic demands that could arise in the establishment of such a union. The other limiting factor is the influence of the advocates of a loose federation who, unable to realize their own agenda, oppose the union, calling it “unnecessary waste of time”.

The Union option could get EU support, especially US. If this is agreed, preparations should be made for serious negotiations on the Agreement on future relations. The aim should be to establish the key principles of future relations and to strengthen the framework for regional cooperation. If the agreement covers these issues, it would be an easy task to adopt new constitutions in both republics, to strengthen international support, to block possible negative effects from Bosnia and Kosovo. Then a referendum could support the agreement.

  • Montenegro’s independence is an option that cannot be agreed upon, but only a result of failed negotiations or a result of the referendum. The leadership of Montenegro could be forced by the opposition in Montenegro and by the proponents of a loose federation from Serbia. In case of unsuccessful referendum, the proponents from Serbia could see that as their chance: bringing down the present government and extending the status uncertainty status. Montenegro’s leadership has its own interests for a referendum, and one of them is to assess the level of political support.

It is wrong to estimate that the failure of the referendum, that is the failure of the independence option, would bring down Đukanović. But there is very little chance of a referendum failing. First, it would be the first referendum organized in the territory of former Yugoslavia that did not succeed. This can only happen if the government in Podgorica makes very serious mistakes and omissions, and the Coalition for Yugoslavia gets at least the support from the international community and Belgrade that it had in the last elections. That is almost impossible! After all, even in the case of a negative result, Đukanović has the opportunity to call for the establishment of a concentration government with a mandate to negotiate with Belgrade. This would only extend the process, but it would return it to option b or c.

From the standpoint of the negotiating process, there are no serious grounds for concern that the “worst scenario” could happen in terms of taking away Montenegro’s already won independence. Also, any military pressure is out of question. Indeed, in the past period, Montenegro’s autonomy was strengthened which raised the standard of equality. Of course, incidents or attempts to destabilize the state and the authorities in Montenegro are not excluded. They can come from the supporters of the Coalition for Yugoslavia, and perhaps from certain Bosniak political circles related to the idea of the Republic of Sandzak in Yugoslavia. However, any kind of public or immediate involvement of the official Belgrade in destabilization is excluded.

In the last week, judging by many indicators, attention is shifted to Serbia. Pressure on DSS and DOS has been strengthened to assuage internal conflicts and find a compromise. This would imply a reconstruction of the Government of Serbia and reaching an agreement on the commencement of constitutional changes. This is, on the other hand, the introduction to new elections. These elections should not be expected before the end of 2002. Namely, the most recent reform efforts in the area of prices, banking, the announced suppression of organized crime, have strongly shaken the status quo advocates and placed them in active opposition to reforms. Also, there is a widespread social dissatisfaction which is a fertile ground for radical political movements, protests, etc. That could seriously destabilize the government in Belgrade come springtime. For that reason the authorities in Belgrade and circles in international community that support this government are obliged to set up cooperation within DOS. One thing is certain: there is too much risk for stability and reform in Serbia if DOS collapses before firm foundations for privatization and rule of law are set. Serbia can no longer be identified as “the leftover of FRY after Montenegro leaves”. Serbia is becoming a problem by itself. It is then not surprising that most strategic analyzes, especially risk analyzes, see Serbia and Montenegro as independent entities. In addition, the American foundations, Think – Thank groups, go even further and speak of “promoting Serbia in the regional context”.

Dr Dušan Janjic