1 February 2000
Helsinki Commission, U.S. Congress
THE MONTENEGRIN CRISIS: A Synopsis
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Contrasts with Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova
· The Montenegrin government has acquired the resources not only for self-government but also for self-defense.
Montenegro is more prepared than Croatia in 1991, Bosnia in 1992, or Kosova in 1999 to challenge Belgrade's
domination. Diplomatically, politically, and economically Podgorica is proving that it can survive without Belgrade,
while its security forces are trained and motivated to resist the Yugoslav army. President Djukanovic has gained
support among a broad range of political forces, including ex-communists, democrats, nationalists, and ethnic
minorities. This support is also based on a calculation that the ruling team is best positioned to deal with Belgrade.
Many factions have agreed to subsume their partisan disputes beneath the drive for sovereignty.
· More than at any time since the disintegration of Tito's Yugoslavia, there seems to be majority support for
Montenegro's statehood. Opinion polls indicate that nearly 70% of the population would back independence:
while half of this number are committed Montenegrins, the rest are Djukanovic supporters. The independence
position is based on pragmatic grounds. Remaining in a union with Serbia will accelerate economic decline, social
unrest, and international isolation. Conversely, leaving the Serbian federation could launch Montenegro on the
road to international institutional integration.
· The NATO intervention in Kosova, the promise of the South East Euopean Stability Pact, and the democratic
breakthrough in Croatia have also encouraged Montenegro's self-assertion. Podgorica has issued a platform for a
loose confederal arrangement with Serbia but the offer has been ignored by Belgrade. Plans are underway to hold
a referendum on statehood this spring. President Djukanovic's critics charge that he has delayed the referendum in
expectation that Milosevic will be dislodged by the Serbian opposition and that a new political agreement can then
be forged. But such a prospect has become increasingly remote given the failures of Serb democracy and the
deepening economic abyss in the Yugoslav federation
· Other than surrendering Montenegro altogether, Belgrade has three options: a military coup and occupation; the
promotion of regional and ethnic conflicts; or the provocation of civil war. More likely, Milosevic will engage in
various provocations, intimidations, and even assassinations to unbalance the Montenegrin leadership. He will
endeavor to sow conflict between the parties in the governing coalition, heat up tensions in the Sandjak region of
Montenegro by pitting Muslims against Christian Orthodox, and threaten to partition northern Montenegro if
Podgorica pushes toward statehood. The political environment will continue to heat up before the planned
Conflict Prevention and the U.S. Position
· Washington should aim to deter armed conflict but it is not in a position to prevent a political showdown between
Belgrade and Podgorica. Above all, the international community must avoid any repetition of the Croatian,
Bosnian, and Kosova scenarios where a half-hearted response to Milosevic simply encourages violence. In order
to have any chance of dissuading Milosevic from striking against Montenegro the Allies need to make clear that
any attempted crackdown will provoke a strong NATO response against Yugoslav and Serb targets.
Preparations must now be made for a forceful reaction and for direct military assistance to the Montenegrin
security forces. Simply encouraging Montenegro to stay inside Yugoslavia indefinately without any short-term
prospect of democracy in Serbia may assist Milosevic in applying pressure on Podgorica and undercut our
leverage with Belgrade. Ultimately, Montenegro has as much right to statehood as the four other post-Yugoslav
states that we have recognized.
Advantages of Independence
· Montenegro's independence could contribute to resolving some combustible regional issues. It would take
Montenegro off the Serbian national agenda, which has proved a distraction to domestic reform. If Montenegrin
independence is non-nationalist but based on the principles of democracy, pluralism, multi-ethnicity, and
international cooperation, then it could become an important factor for Balkan stability. This will also contribute to
resolving the wider Albanian question by giving the Albanian minority a stake in the new state and by eliminating
the possibilities of Serb-Yugoslav manipulation of minority issues. Montenegro is also prepared to become a
reliable partner for a number of states in the region including Croatia, Albania, Bosnia, and Macedonia: this is
simply not the case with Serbia.
How Democratic is Montenegro
· Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and other former Yugoslav satellites did not achieve independence as civic
democracies, and neither did the Soviet republics escape from Moscow as fully formed democratic states.
Montenegro is now in a similar position. Independence should not be opposed on the grounds of a communist
legacy or because of insufficient progress toward a liberal democracy. To its credit and unlike the regime in Serbia
or the nationalist authorities in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro has avoided ethnic division, discrimination, and
conflict, and has involved a broad range of political forces in the government. This creates an invaluable foundation
for tolerance, compromise, and democratic development.
Will Independence Foster Democracy
· The Djukanovic government can become a stepping stone toward democracy in a much more manageable
territorial unit, especially with more substantive international involvement. The current coalition government can
help ensure that statehood is constructed on a non-nationalist basis in which the country's minorities (Serbs,
Albanians, Muslims, and Croats) are involved in the political process and where citizenship is based on residence
and not ethnicity. With independence, Montenegro will become more open to international democratization
programs that should focus on the development of a civil society, a free media, and international cooperaton.
· Alongside statehood, Montenegro will need to launch a process of economic transformation based on market
competition, transparency, and legalism. This will not only stimulate entrepreneurship but will also attract foreign
investment. As a sovereign country, Montenegro can plug into regional reconstruction programs and move toward
an association agreement with the European Union. Far from being a disadvantage, Montenegro's size could be
turned into an asset as it may be easier to ensure progress among a smaller and more homogenous population.
Impact of Serbian Politics
· A major transformation in Serbia, not only in terms of the ouster of Milosevic but the replacement of the
authoritarian regime in Belgrade, may be the last hope for keeping the federation together. However, if any new
Serbian government is unwilling to create a genuinely equal two-republic system then the pressures for
independence may actually increase while the fear of a violent Milosevic-type intervention will substantially recede.