The Ninth Balkan War in less than a hundred years

The decision to conduct presidential, parliamentary and local elections in FR Yugoslavia came exactly three weeks after Milosevic rewrote a constitution that had prohibited him from running for reelection after his term expires next year. Under the new constitution, he can potentially hold on to power for two more terms of four years each. On July 6, "both houses of the Yugoslav parliament have voted for constitutional reform in the country. In the upper house the reforms put forth by Milosevic supporters were supported by all 27 legislators who voted. In the lower house "yeas" outnumbered "nays" 95 to 7" (Parlamentskaya Gazeta, No. 130(510), Thursday, July 13, 2000). Milosevic pulled off what opposition politicians called "a constitutional coup" in a matter of hours July 6--with the unintended help of his foes. The Serbian Renewal Movement, led by Vuk Draskovic, was boycotting parliament, thus guaranteeing that there were not enough votes to defeat Milosevic's constitutional amendments (LA Times, 7/28/00). From now on the President of Yugoslavia is to be elected by popular vote, not by the parliament - in a society rift with ethnic strife for past decade such a measure, clearly favoring the majority ethnic group, was bound to offend the minorities. "Under the new constitution, federal parliament deputies will also be elected by popular vote, instead of by separate assemblies in Montenegro and Serbia. Critics say it will make it easier for Mr Milosevic to push for candidates loyal to him." (BBC 7/28/00)

Bicameral Federal Assembly or Savezna Skupstina consists (as of last elections in 1996 - from the CIA World Factbook) of the Chamber of Republics or Vece Republika (40 seats - 20 Serbian, 20 Montenegrin; members distributed on the basis of party representation in the republican assemblies to serve four-year terms) and the Chamber of Citizens or Vece Gradjana (138 seats - 108 Serbian with half elected by constituency majorities and half by proportional representation, 30 Montenegrin with six elected by constituency and 24 proportionally; members serve four-year terms) - with elimination of proportional representation, many times smaller Montenegro will obviously loose most, if not all, of its seats in Chamber of Citizens. According to the analysis of Constitutional changes by prof. Kosta Cavoski on 7/12/00 "The current provisions gave Montenegro 50 of the 178 seats in both chambers of Parliament, i.e. 28% of the voting deputies. According to the new provisions, the participation of the Montenegrin electorate would be reduced to 6,25%." Ulrich Fischer, Vice President of the International Helsinki Federation, said on 8/31:"We consider the 6th July change of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as an obvious political attempt of the Serbian regime to bend the remainders of federal institutions in its favor. This is why we understand Montenegro's policy of opposing and boycotting the elections. With this change Montenegro resembles Serbia's 27th electoral unit than more than an equal federal partner.", ok, that’s Djukanovic’s valid justification for a boycott, that he announced on 7/28: "Montenegro said it would boycott any ballot Milosevic calls. Its pro-Western officials said they would organize an independence referendum should Milosevic force elections on Montenegro's territory." (AP, 07/28/00) He mellowed his threat with referendum after polls showed that only 1/3 of population might vote favorably(1) and after copious displays of power by Yugoslav Army(2), now promising not to obstruct holding the Federal elections on Montenegrin territory: "in Podgorica, President Milo Djukanovic said that the Montenegrin authorities will not obstruct the holding of the elections on Montenegrin territory," (RFE/RL BALKAN REPORT, Vol. 4, No. 62, 18 August 2000). Now, it even looks like Slobodan Milosevic will come to campaign in Montenegro (in Serbian held Herceg Novi). Still, Djukanovic did not rescind his intent to boycott. On the contrary, he urged his state-controlled media not to report on the elections - a move that prompted RSF (Reporters Sans Frontieres) to send him a protest letter.

The boycott, however, may end up costing him more than his supporters are willing to pay. With a requirement for a minimum turnout of half the eligible voters removed from Constitution with the same package of changes, there is no chance the opposition may claim the elections invalid for low turn-out due to boycott. Milosevic may loose the presidential elections, but his party may still win the majority in the Federal Assembly, partially due to the absence of Montenegrin vote, partially due to a split between Vuk Draskovic’s SPO and 18 party united opposition, in which case he may push for yet another change of Constitution to tailor it to his needs: he may have the powers now vested in the function of the country’s federal president transferred to the function of federal prime minister (as is the situation in most of European democracies) and let himself be elected to that function by ‘his’ Federal Assembly, essentially remaining the holder of absolute power in the country, and in the position to command Army against any Djukanovic’s move to secession. Milosevic changes offices (this would be the fourth), but he always makes sure that one he is moving in is vested with the the ultimate power.

Djukanovic, given that the living standards in Montenegro are currently much better than in Serbia (average salary in July was 2.11 times the average salary in Serbia), is following the ill example of all the other republics of former Yugoslavia, hoping that he too may get to rule his own duchy in exchange for letting Milosevic retain his ever shrinking kingdom. Of course, that may happen, but, as we learned from other such examples (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo...), it may not happen without at least some blood-letting(3).

This is precisely why Djukanovic was asked repeatedly both by his colleagues in Serbian opposition(4), who offered a lot of understanding and solidarity(5), and by the ‘international community’ (in person by Madeleine Albright) to rethink his boycott idea(6). He, however declined to change his mind. Now, we are faced with the prospects of what ‘international community’ may do to prevent Milosevic’s obstruction of Djukanovic’s drive for independence(7): the suggestions are coming from known places, and they look and sound as what we’ve seen and heard many times over the past decade(8), reflecting the only two extremes seemingly politically acceptable to the Western powers, regardless of circumstantial evidence of their futility: either observe Milosevic massacre Montenegrins, or unleash another bombing campaign.

If Djukanovic is saved, it won’t be on his own merits. So far, the European states are going along with his boycott offering "friendship" (Xavier Solana). Djukanovic’s government increased its diplomatic activity, mimicking the same increase of diplomatic activity in Milosevic’s government, and, sometimes, even meeting with same "friends" - like the Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Guchang. This week both Djukanovic and his old friend and political ally, now the bitter enemy and Milosevic’s protege, Momir Bulatovc, the FR Yugoslavia’s prime minister, should have been in New York city for the UN millenium celebration: Djukanovic as a guest of the Slovenian mission and Bulatovic on a special limited visa (like the one Karadzic got when they served him with court papers for his role in Bosnian rapes). Ideally Momo and Milo would have met, settled their differences and found a way for one Yugoslavia with no Milosevic, but that could be just a bit too utopian a conclusion. State Department meanwhile decided not to grant Bulatovic and his entourage an exemption from the visa embargo on associates of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

With the new electoral regulation, passed virtually overnight, that requires polling stations monitors to look into ballots before they are placed into the box, and with the fact that the monitoring in Montenegro is left to the Yugoslav Army, it is clear that the Federal elections in Montenegro are a staged intimidation of local population, teaching them about their place in the federation. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that about a third of Podgorica population left the city on the eve of the electoral weekend - expecting the worse. [The U.S.] Sixth Fleet is parked in the Adriatic, but [Yugoslav Army] Seventh Batallion might get an upper hand on the ground anyway.


  1. Public opinion polls conducted in Montenegro show that Djukanovic is simply bluffing when he "scares" Belgrade with the prospect of a referendum on the republic's exit from the Yugoslav federation: only a third of those polled support the creation of an "independent and sovereign" Montenegro. (Parlamentskaya Gazeta, No. 130(510), Thursday, July 13, 2000)

  2. Montenegrins dodge draft for the first time in history. In Niksic, the antics of the Seventh Battalion, a paramilitary force fiercely loyal to President Milosevic, has soured relations further. Its members recently took up position in the centre of Niksic, shouting political slogans and obscenities and "jokingly" pointing their submachine guns at passers-by. In a separate incident, a drunken Seventh Battallion sergeant attacked diners in a restaurant, cursing their "Turkish Mothers". ... Army units also recently blocked off the road from Niksic to Trebinje. "They behave like an army of occupation" says 45-year-old Zorka, whose previous unswerving loyalty to Belgrade has evaporated in recent years. Yet whatever the provocation, police are under strict orders not to respond, says a source close to the Montenegrin government. The army is thought to be trying to provoke an incident as a pretext for taking over the Montenegro's borders and closing the republic off altogether. ... The military has already closed the Bozaj border crossing with Albania once, demanding that Albanians show visas, even though the Montenegrin government has lifted the visa requirement for foreign visitors. While the constitution requires the army to secure the borders, it is not entitled to control border crossings or block roads. (IWPR BCR, 162) "The commander of the Yugoslav Army’s 2nd Army, Col-Gen Milorad Obradovic, has said that the Yugoslav Army will take part in the election campaign for the federal elections in such a way that the army members will, as civilians, take part in political activities, and at the same time, as members of the army, will continue to discharge their military duties." (Montena-fax news agency, 8/27)

  3. "Strobe Talbott, the US deputy secretary of state, and General Wesley Clark, the former Nato commander who led the campaign in Kosovo, are both convinced that the Serb leader will strike in the next few months. General Clark, in particular, urged the White House and the Pentagon to begin making preparations: putting aircraft in place and securing the backing of as many Nato allies as possible. Concern over an impending crisis is growing in Washington after Madeleine Albright, the US secretary of, state failed this week to convince Mr Djukanovic to participate in elections called by Mr Milosevic." (Guardian, 8/4/00) "The United States is increasingly worried that Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav leader, will move militarily against Montenegro, the junior republic in Yugoslavia, forcing Washington and NATO into the awkward position of deciding how to react, Clinton administration officials said yesterday. . . At the North Atlantic Council last week, Mr. Milosevic's designs on Montenegro were discussed at some length, a NATO official said. None of the 19 alliance members had much enthusiasm for any sort of action against Mr. Milosevic over Montenegro, the official added. . . Samuel Berger, the US National Security Adviser, stressed that he believed that it was important for the opposition parties in Serbia to run as effective a campaign as possible against Mr. Milosevic. Then, if Mr. Milosevic stole the election, the opposition would have a reason to mobilize street demonstrations against him, Mr. Berger said." (NYT. 8/5/00) "The consensus among Montenegrins is that their land is being groomed as Slobodan Milosevic's "next victim" that would need NATO's "humanitarian" intervention. Keen local observers are puzzled by the presence of scores of foreign "businessmen" huddling with paramilitary warlords and doing no visible business. The "human rights industry," too, is well represented in Podgorica. With minimal resources expanded, activists of this "industry" are busy co-opting and corrupting elites for as little as a paid trip to Washington and a platform to recite anti-Milosevic grievances." (The Washington Times, 8/29)

  4. "The leadership of Montenegro is wrong if it believes that Milosevic will leave them alone if they boycott the elections and increase his chances for victory. They are wrong if they believe that the game "we are here only for a day or two and then we'll be gone" will work. The policy of the official Montenegro is wrong for Montenegro as well as for Serbia. To boycott the elections in response to illegal changes of the Constitution is a response, but the weakest possible response." (Vesna Pesic in Danas, Belgrade daily, on 8/2/00)

  5. "if the members of the For Better Life coalition do not want to participate in these elections their will should be honoured. It should not be substituted with something exported from Belgrade." - Kostunica, 8/24 "Vuk Draskovic, the leader of the largest single opposition party in Serbia, the Serbian Renewal Movement, says he will not take part in federal elections if Mr. Djukanovic will not." NYT, 7/30/00 "SECONDLY, we will pass a resolution suspending the current economic and political blockade of Montenegro, while the highest state bodies will pledge to immediately commence talks with the legitimately elected Montenegrin leadership on the characteristics and duties of the future joint state of Serbia and Montenegro." (From DOS PROGRAM FOR DEMOCRATIC SERBIA, signed by all 18 parties and coalitions of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia/DOS)

  6. "American officials are putting strong pressure on the president of Montenegro and the leader of Serbia's largest opposition party to take part in Yugoslav elections called in September, according to Yugoslav politicians and Western officials. The American officials argue that a united opposition in Serbia, together with voters in Montenegro, Serbia's increasingly independent partner in the Yugoslav federation, would have a good chance of defeating President Slobodan Milosevic." NYT, 7/30/00 "QUESTION: Madam Secretary, do you want Montenegro to take part in federal elections? SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that it’s very important that we do everything we can to strengthen and unify the opposition. This is what we talked about. QUESTION: (inaudible) SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I’ll leave that to President Djukanovic." (Press stake-out at the Djukanovic-Albright meeting in Rome 8/1/00)

  7. "Officials from Montenegro's Olympic Committee said recently that they will seek approval from the International Olympic Committee to participate in all games after the 2000 Olympics as a separate team under their own flag and not as part of a Yugoslav team" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2000).

  8. "The United States and it allies should publicly commit themselves to defend Montenegro and the Djukanovic government against any forceful attempt to undermine it from inside or out. Washington and its allies must make clear that this commitment includes the use of whatever force is necessary--and that they could continue to prosecute the war until Milosevic was removed from power." (The Washington Post 8/22 op-ed by Ivo Daalder, Brookings Institute - the same Institute favored splitting Kosovo between Serbs and Albanians) "US Democrats Nominate Gore US Vice President Al Gore won the Democratic Party’s nomination for President 17 August, pledging to continue policies that have created what was described as the strongest economy in the country’s history, news services reported. "In the Balkans, the Clinton-Gore Administration ended ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo by the resolute use of military power and vigorous diplomacy. We look forward to the day when Serbia will be free from the grip of Slobodan Milosevic, and we will work to make that happen. America did right in the Balkans, and now we must finish the job," the Democrats wrote in their party platform. (BIE, 8/24) - vague, veiled threat (speak softly when you carry that large stick) "From the side of the international community we find it unacceptable to use Montenegro as a joker for pulling down the actual Serbian regime and holding open the unsolved question of the international status of Kosovo, not having sufficiently in view Montenegro's own democratization process. We therefore ask the Security Council of the UN to consider measures to prevent a possible conflict in Montenegro that might spillover to an international dimension and destabilize the region. Also it jeopardizes necessary arrangements of the international presence in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. We think that these measures should include the sending of monitors to Montenegro, as was asked by a group of 55 prominent Montegrin intellectuals on August 12th." International Helsinki Federation on August 31, while up to the point with the diagnosis - the ‘international community’ does ruthlessly use Montenegro as a joker to wedge Milosevic out - as a prescription repeats all of the usual jargon used in adapting the circumstantial realities of the Balkans in the past decade to the political realities of the international community (the wish-full thinking of well fed Western diplomats that the Balkan people would just behave for once): they find something unacceptable, as they did in Bosnia and Kosovo, and, following the proper procedure and channels, they first ask UN, a proven failure, to consider doing something; again there is the fear of "spillover to an international dimension" (as if the Yugoslav failure is not already internationalized enough), and finally they settle for "sending of monitors to Montenegro" - an old recipe, that we saw in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo: send monitors - so someone can count the bodies.

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