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Montenegrin Alternative: Transition, Identity, State

Professor Milan Popovic
University of Montenegro Law Faculty
Podgorica, Yugoslavia

Rule of law has never been a really working and stable principle in the shaky Balkan states. What has been happening in the second quarter of 1999, during the devastating NATO bombardment, in Montenegro, however, has been unprecedented even for these unsteady lands. Two phenomena or sides of this unique process have been the most striking of all. The first one has been the worsening of the crisis and almost total collapse of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, common state of Serbia and Montenegro. As a matter of fact, there have been only two remaining and functioning quasi-federal institutions on the territory of Montenegro today: Army of Yugoslavia and Dinar, national monetary unit. In other respects, Serbia and Montenegro have been functioning as the two de facto separate and independent states. The second phenomenon or side of this very special process has been a bitter internal Montenegrin power struggle between the two extremely antagonized political camps, pro-Milosevic and anti-Milosevic forces. The struggle has already escalated into a kind of extremely unstable duality of power wavering at the very edge of internal fratricidal turmoil. Two differently dressed armed forces, Army of Yugoslavia and Police of Montenegro, patrolling Montenegrin cities and villages every day in a mutually susceptive, tense and semi-hostile mood, have only been the most evident indicator and expression of this duality.

To understand fully these and other present Montenegrin political, legal, and constitutional peculiarities, one should put them into the wider time framework. First of all, one should put or back them into the framework of heavy post-communist transition. Globally as well as in Montenegro this transition began in 1989, but in Montenegro it has been consisted of the two essentially different and distinctive phases. In the first phase, during the period of 1989-1997, Montenegro passed through a sort of negative transition, substituting one (nationalistic i.e. Greater Serbian) for the other (communist) type of closed society. It goes without saying that the Balkan wars have been the main ground, fuel and force of this negative and devastating process. Through all this period, Montenegrin ruling Democratic Party of Socialists was in coalition with Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia. Together these two extremely authoritarian and war nationalistic parties founded Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992. Given its undemocratic origin and nature, however, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia could never become anything more than a facade federation, to use famous Karl Friedrich's phrase. Needlessly to say, Greater Serbia has been under its facade.

The great, three months lasting, anti-Milosevic protests in Belgrade and other parts of Serbia during fall and winter of 1996-1997 were a prelude to the second phase of Montenegrin post-communist transition. In Serbia these protests vanished with almost no political result. In Montenegro, however, they provoked and, in the course of spring and summer of 1997, led to open political struggle and split within the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists. Slobodan Milosevic's supporters led by Momir Bulatovic eventually lost the struggle, left Democratic Party of Socialists, and founded new and explicitly pro-Milosevic Socialist People Party.

Disintegration of old monopolistic Democratic Party of Socialists was a necessary pre-condition for the beginning of positive transition of the second phase. To fight and resist Slobodan Milosevic's regime, new, Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists has been forced to form a coalition with anti-Milosevic opposition parties. Great Montenegrin anti-Milosevic coalition was formed and declared on September 1, 1997. As result, Montenegrin pro-Milosevic forces suffered two heavy political defeats in the next several months. On October 19, 1997, pro-Milosevic candidate and puppet, Momir Bulatovic, lost the presidential election, and his opponent and anti-Milosevic contender, Milo Djukanovic, became new President of Montenegro. More importantly, on May 31, 1998, pro-Milosevic Socialist People Party was defeated by Montenegrin anti-Milosevic coalition on the premature parliamentary election.

Political confrontation between the two main political blocks, pro-Milosevic and anti-Milosevic forces in Montenegro, has been characterized by standard transitional problems, topics and disputes. So, pro-Milosevic i.e. anti-modernization forces have been advocating and fighting for Greater Serbian aggressive nationalism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, closed society, economic and political conservatism. On the other hand, the anti-Milosevic i.e. pro-modernization forces, quite conversely, have been advocating and achieving first and nascent but important results in developing multi-ethnic tolerance, open society, civic culture, reintegration into international community, economic and political reforms. Given the situation of prolonged and exhausting Post-Cold War Balkan chaos, uncertainty, fear and war, however, all these and similar problems, topics and disputes have been somehow shadowed and complicated by one single but most complex and difficult question. That question is the question of State.

The question of State marked the very beginning of the second phase of Montenegrin transition in 1997. Slobodan Milosevic's authoritarian rule affected both human (civil) and Montenegrin (state) constitutional rights. The rule finally provoked not only opposition protests in Serbia but also deep dissatisfaction and division in Montenegro. The line of division was clear. "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without alternative". This was the main political idea and slogan spoken by Momir Bulatovic, leader of Slobodan Milosevic's loyalists in Montenegro, in March of 1997. Having in mind the real substance of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, however, the slogan should be appropriately translated and understood as the "Greater Serbia and Slobodan Milosevic without alternative". Political reaction of pro-Montenegrin and pro-democratic forces was prompt. Montenegro may live only in democratic Yugoslavia in which Montenegrin constitutional rights are fully guaranteed and respected from both federal and Serbian authorities. Consequently, if Greater Serbian political repression and violation of Montenegrin constitutional rights continue, Montenegro may leave the federation. This was the main political idea of the reaction. Montenegrin alternative was born.

Being unable to put Montenegro under control, Slobodan Milosevic and his loyalists have changed political tactics in the following two years. They have done their best to expel Montenegro from Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. One after the other, almost all federal constitutional norms and institutions, Administration, Parliament, Constitutional Court and others, have been gradually but totally destroyed and emptied out of any credible constitutional substance. Politically, this has been executed through a machiavellian, pro-Milosevic, but at the same time anti-federal and anti-Montenegrin coalition, which has been concluded between Serbian political majority (Socialist Party of Serbia plus Serbian Radical Party) and Montenegrin political minority (Socialist People Party). Legally, it has been misinterpreted as a would-be defense of the constitution of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia through countless and sometimes really incredible decisions of Federal Constitutional Court. In reality, this constitution and federal facade as a whole have been definitely turned into ashes by this very forces and decisions. Not the secession of Montenegro, as a would-be Yugoslav (Greater Serbian) propaganda ceaselessly accuses, but the secession of Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, that has been the real nature of this creeping process. As a result, what one can see today in Montenegro is a balance of fear and duality and confusion of power from the beginning of this essay.

After a decade of cascading and cataclysmic disintegration of communist Yugoslavia, from Slovenia and Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo, one should not wonder at all about the ongoing process in Montenegro. However, one must really wonder why and how it has happened that relatively large percentage of domestic Montenegrin population has persistently (twice) supported "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia i.e. Greater Serbia without alternative". Momir Bulatovic, author of this political formula, lost the presidential election on October 19, 1997, but with extremely small, almost negligible political margin (the result was very close to 50:50). His Socialist People Party lost the premature parliamentary election on May 31, 1998, with much greater difference (36:50), but still the 36% has been pretty high percentage.

No doubt, long lasting political propaganda and repression of Slobodan Milosevic's regime may explain at least a part of this percentage. Nevertheless, much greater part of the percentage deserves some deeper and more complex explanation. Such deeper and more complex explanation of this phenomenon may be found in the hidden sphere of identity. To enlighten peculiar behavior of Montenegrin constituency more comprehensively, one should correlate numerous and complex problems of transitional and state controversy with even more numerous and complex contents of unique Montenegrin identity.

Montenegro is one of the smallest European and Balkan entities. According to the last census from 1991, Montenegro has only 616 552 citizens. Their ethnic composition has been as follows: Montenegrins 61.9%, Muslims 14.6%, Serbs 9.3%, and ethnic Albanians 6.6%. Even if we reasonably suppose that the most if not all Muslims and ethnic Albanians voted against and most if not all Serbs for the "Federal Republic (Greater Serbia) without alternative", it is quite obvious that these groups could not decide the elections held in 1997 and 1998. Obviously, the ethnic majority group of Montenegrins decided the elections. Correlating these figures with the results of some previous elections, it is possible to conclude that this very group has been sharply divided around the state controversy in almost same 50-50 proportion just like the overall population and constituency of Montenegro. From some other sources, it is known that some ethnic Montenegrins consider themselves to be only Montenegrins, but some of them consider themselves to be simultaneously Montenegrins and Serbs. It is quite reasonable to suppose that the latter voted for "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Greater Serbia) without alternative".

However bizarre, the above-described phenomenon of double identity is not absolutely unknown. Quite the contrary, Samuel Huntington's concepts of "torn country" and "cultural schizophrenia" perfectly describe the phenomenon. But only describe. Samuel Huntington's "civilization", "religion", "culture" is not the deepest factor of explanation. Double identity still waits for some deeper and more complex elucidation. In Montenegrin case, the elucidation comes from at least two centuries long lasting and extremely contradictory state-building processes. Independent Montenegro or Montenegro as a part of some greater state (Greater Serbia, Yugoslavia), these two-three state-ideas have been two-three principal and sometimes warring alternatives of modern Montenegrin history. Double identity imprinted on the mass consciousness of most Montenegrins has been a contradictory but logical result of these two competing and confronting state ideas.

Montenegro is not only one of the smallest, but one of the oldest European and Balkan entities as well. Centuries before Montenegro was formally recognized as an independent state by great powers at Berlin Congress in 1878, this entity had been enjoying privileges of an independent territory, jealously and permanently fighting for freedom against surrounding Ottomans. Being constantly jeopardized by numerous and mighty enemies, Montenegro and Montenegrins have been historically determined to accept some greater, pan-Slavic or pan-Serbian state idea. On the other hand, a great pride in unique and long lasting independence, as well as a disappointing experience of more recent discontents and frustrations within new greater state, has made more and more Montenegrins accept and fight for the revival of independent Montenegrin state. There is no mystery at all. Montenegrin double identity comes not from some abstract "civilization", "religion" or "culture", but from real and contradictory historical process.

This process and its double identity have been dramatically pulsating through the whole turbulent and violent XX century. In 1918 Montenegro lost her independence for the sake of Greater Serbian Yugoslavia. The reaction in Montenegro was a kind of low-intensity but protracted civil war between the so-called "Whites" (supporters of Greater Serbian "unconditional unification") and so-called "Greens" (supporters of independent Montenegro and con-federate Yugoslavia) in the period of 1918-1929. Little wonder, Montenegrin so-called "Whites" were directly and indirectly supported by Greater Serbian forces from bordering and semi-hostile Serbia. The link between Greater Serbia's followers from Serbia and Montenegro has been established very early and it has been constantly operating until today. In 1945 communists reestablished a surrogate of Montenegrin State within a facade and highly centralized federation. In fact, communist federation was a kind of tacit (and intelligent?) compromise between the two contradictory forces. The process has been coming full circle in the 1990-s. Drama of Montenegrin double identity has been reopened and replayed in the midst of the heavy post-communist transition and deformed modernization.

In the course of the 1990s, this drama has been reaching its climax. On the one hand, there has been a clear increase of pro-Montenegrin voices, namely of those Montenegrins supporting independent Montenegro or Montenegro within con-federate Yugoslavia. In the period of 1991-1997, the number of Montenegrins with such political stance was not greater than one fifth of Montenegrin constituency. In 1997 and 1998, the number reached a half of that constituency. Finally, the hammer of NATO bombardment from abroad and the anvil of Greater Serbian pressure from within make that number reach almost two thirds of the constituency today. On the other hand, however, this evident increase has been followed and countered with equally evident increase of political polarization and risk of internal conflict between the two main political forces in Montenegro.

Being aware of this risk, the main Montenegrin political forces have agreed to "freeze" their dispute about the traumatic state question and leave it for constitutional resolution after the ending of current NATO bombardment. Namely, according to the constitution, Montenegro may leave the federation if Montenegrin citizens decide so on referendum. Given the prevailing internal and international realpolitik, however, there are no necessary guarantees that this rational consensus and constitutional road will be respected at all. Quite the contrary, a danger of violent explosion of internal Montenegrin dispute is still relatively high.

First of all, Slobodan Milosevic's aggressive nationalistic regime, the main source of chaos and war in the Post-Cold War Balkan turmoil, is still in power. It is true that this regime has been threatened with the ongoing NATO action and recent Hague indictment. It is also true that in the long run this threat will probably weaken and finally crash the regime. But before this final collapse comes, this regime will probably become even more aggressive and dangerous for its surrounding. This is especially true if the surrounding is the only remaining territory for such kind of exercises, like Montenegro is. Endangered dictatorship is the most dangerous dictatorship. In addition, Montenegro alone has been "torn country". Slobodan Milosevic's regime and Greater Serbian alternative have had a decreasing but still significant support in Montenegro. Therefore, the Greater Serbian threat to Montenegro has been a very complex mixture of internal and external forces, not a simple external threat. This makes Montenegro be extremely vulnerable to any Greater Serbian aggressive move. Last but not least, the Post-Cold War Balkan scene is far from normalization. It goes without saying how much this scene favors and breeds violent forces and alternatives.

Montenegro is still on the tightrope between war and peace. Montenegrin constitutional and overall future is still extremely uncertain and blurred. No wonder that one of the names that is most frequently on the lips of common people in Montenegro today is the name of St. Peter of Cetinje, Montenegro's founding father, religious leader and statesman who lived two centuries ago. Could it be a sign of Higher Care and Hope?

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