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Montenegro

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Yugoslavia R.I.P.

22 May 2006

Yugoslavia R.I.P.

By Gwynne Dyer

Within days of Montenegro’s successful referendum on independence on Sunday, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic will be arriving in Brussels to open talks on joining the European Union, while other Montenegrin diplomats arrive in New York to seek admission as the 193rd member of the United Nations. A country that was extinguished 88 years ago has risen from its grave — and the mini-empire that absorbed it has finally come to an end.

With Montenegro’s independence, the last vestige of former Yugoslavia is gone: Serbia has lost its seacoast and reverted to its land-locked borders of 1918. Yugoslavia was a project that was bloody at the start, bloody again in the middle, and exceedingly bloody in its last years in the 1990s. The lesson we should draw from this is: no more shotgun marriages in the name of tidiness.

As the Ottoman (Turkish) empire retreated down the western side of the Balkans during the 19th century, half a dozen Christian ethnic groups who spoke closely related South Slavic dialects were candidates for nationhood, but not all of them got it. The Slovenes and Croatians became part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which eventually absorbed the Bosnians as well. Serbia and Montenegro became independent states in 1878, but after the Balkan wars of 1911-12 the Macedonians were just handed over to Serbia (which almost doubled in size).

As early as the mid-19th century, many Serbs believed that all the western Balkans should eventually be ruled from Belgrade. In his famous Nacertanije (Programme) of 1844, Ilija Garasanin, Minister of Internal Affairs in a Serbia that was still technically under Ottoman rule, outlined the stages by which Serbian control might gradually extend to include the whole of the region, and generations of Serbs were taught to dream of that Greater Serbia. Their opportunity came with the First World War, which destroyed the Austro-Hungarian empire and left the Slovenes, Croatians and Bosnians free to seek their own destinies.

Where they all ended up, however, was in the new, Serb-dominated state of Yugoslavia. The victorious great powers let the Serbs have their way in part because they owed Serbia a favour (since it had fought on the winning side), but mainly because it was a tidier arrangement than cluttering up the western Balkans with half a dozen small countries. They even bundled long-independent Montenegro into the new Yugoslavia (althoughsome Montenegrins immediately revolted against rule from Belgrade).

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was dominated by Serbia from the start: all of its prime ministers were Serbs, as were 161 of its 165 generals. So it fell apart at once when Nazi Germany invaded in 1941, and a Croatian fascist regime set out to take revenge on Serbians and assert its own independence: over half a million people died in Croatian concentration camps. Then Communist guerillas took power after the Second World War and reestablished Serbian domination, killing all those (mostly Croatians and Bosnians) who had collaborated with the Germans.

Communist Yugoslavia lasted almost half a century, but when it started to break apart in 1992 the Serbs would not let go, and it took four wars and a quarter-million deaths before Serbia finally accepted the loss of its South Slav empire. Even after that the European Union tried to hold Serbia and Montenegro together, bullying the Montenegrins into accepting a lopsided two-country federation (Serbia has twelve times as many people as Montenegro) in 2003. But the Montenegrins insisted on the right to a referendum on breaking up that union after three years, and last Sunday they exercised that right.

Kosovo will almost certainly also get official independence from Serbia by the end of this year, and there will then be seven countries where fifteen years ago there was only one. It is very untidy, and you could certainly accuse some of these countries of being driven by the “narcissism of small differences.” But THEY cared about these small differences, and bad things happened when they were ignored.

Serbia wanted to rule the western Balkans, but it never conquered the other ethnic groups. They were pushed into Serbia’s arms by great powers that wanted to keep things simple, and the result was almost a century of resentment and intermittent murder. Now it’s over, and they have to learn to live alongside one another again. It will be much easier if they have some larger context in which to submerge their differences, and there is one at hand: the European Union.

Slovenia is already an EU member, and Croatia and Macedonia are candidates. Montenegro is applying now, and Serbia would open talks tomorrow if it could get around the EU’s insistence that it hand over the worst Serbian war criminals first. Bosnia will take much longer, as it remains deeply divided between its Serbian, Croatian and Muslim “Bosniak” communities, and Kosovo isn’t even officially a country yet.

Will the EU actually take them all in? For the sake of peace in Europe, it should, but it will be up to 27 governments when Romania and Bulgaria join next year. Adding the western Balkans would increase the number of EU member states with full voting rights by another 20 percent while increasing the total population by only 5 percent. It’s a lot to ask, and we won’t know the answer for years.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 10. (“Kosovo…ignored” and “Slovenia…yet”)

Montenegro: With Friends like This…

3 March 2006

Montenegro: With Friends like This…

By Gwynne Dyer

“I don’t believe that the Montenegro government would choose to step into contradiction with the EU over this issue,” said Miroslav Lajcak, the European Union’s envoy to the region, in the tones of silken menace that diplomats practice before mirrors in the privacy of their bathrooms. And he was right: Montenegro does not dare to “step into contradiction” with Brussels on the question of how to conduct its referendum on independence — but there may be hell to pay as a result.

Montenegro is very small, and it doesn’t even have a distinctive language: Montenegrins speak exactly the same language as their Serbian and Bosnian neighbours. But it’s been around as a self-conscious identity and nation for a thousand years, so if the Montenegrins want to be independent again, why not? An independent Montenegro (population 650,000) would still be 30 percent less ridiculous than independent Luxembourg (pop. 450,000).

Alas, Montenegro is in the Balkans, and the EU grandees up north feel that there are already quite enough countries in the Balkans (if not too many) after the wars that broke up former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. They don’t want another impoverished Balkan state that will demand lots of aid from the EU in the short run, and expect a separate seat at the EU table in the long run. Can’t Montenegro just stay part of Serbia?

You can see their point, but Montenegrin separatists have a point too. Their country has only been attached to Serbia since the First World War, when the victors bundled the Montenegrins into the new, Serb-dominated state of Yugoslavia along with Bosnians, Croatians, Slovenes, and Macedonians. A minority of Montenegrins immediately rebelled, demanding their old king and country back, but they had no real chance of leaving until Yugoslavia began to break up in the 1990s in reaction to the intolerant and brutal rule of Slobodan Milosevic, an extreme Serbian nationalist. Even then, opinion was so divided that they kept postponing the decision to leave.

Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia are all independent countries now, but Montenegro teetered on the brink of independence for years, never quite daring to jump. Montenegrins are so close to Serbs in many ways, even sharing the same Orthodox faith, that their sense of national identity is rather slippery. The proportion of the population who choose to identify themselves as “Serbs” or “Montenegrins” slides around literally from decade to decade.

At a time when people were murdering one another in large numbers just beyond their borders over questions of identity, the Montenegrins chose not to open Pandora’s box. They broke the chains of political authority that gave Serbia any real power over them, but they stopped short of a formal break with Belgrade in order to avoid a civil war at home. It was a wise choice, but it meant they were still legally tied to Serbia when the shooting finally stopped in the Balkans.

By the start of this decade a majority of Montenegrins definitely wanted out, since Serbia had become a pariah state, rightly accused of sponsoring a genocide in Bosnia but still defiantly denying its own guilt. But by then the European Union’s main priority was calming the Balkans down, so in 2003 they pressured Montenegro’s separatist government into staying in the “Republic of Serbia and Montenegro” for three more years before voting on independence. That time expired last month, and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic began negotiating with the opposition parties on the date and wording of the referendum.

An opinion poll last month showed 41 percent of Montenegrins in favour of independence and 32 percent against it, with the rest undecided or refusing to say. But the EU doesn’t want any more countries in the Balkans, so its foreign policy chief, Javier Solana Lopez, told Djukanovicthat a vote for independence would not be recognised as valid UNLESS AT LEAST 55 PERCENT OF VOTERS BACKED THE “YES”.

This is a recipe for civil war. If you take last month’s opinion poll and split the undecideds evenly between “yes” and “no”, then the final result would be 54.5 percent in favour of independence and 45.5 percent against it. With a nine-point majority in their favour, the pro-independence side would nevertheless be deemed to have lost the referendum. They would be very, very unhappy, and this is still the Balkans.

Montenegro is already independent for all practical purposes, and more phlegmatic people might be tempted to leave it at that. (The Serbian new dinar is not even legal tender in Montenegro, which uses the euro instead.) But most people in Montenegro care greatly about the symbolism of formal independence — whether they are for it or against it. The EU is playing with fire.

Under irresistible pressure — the EU even threatened to withhold the foreign observers whose presence is needed to reassure everybody that the vote is fair — Djukanovic’s government yielded to the EU’s terms. The referendum will be held on 21 May, with a 55 percent threshold for an independence victory. But he warned that “the EU formula contains a virus dangerous for stability….The decision should belong to the majority, not the minority.”

If the “yes” loses despite getting 53 or 54 percent of the vote, there may be some more shooting in the Balkans.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 6. (“Slovenia…Balkans”)

Serbia

February 21, 2000

Time to end sanctions against Serbia

By Gwynne Dyer

A year ago this week, the Rambouillet conference on Kosovo was nearing its end and hopes were rising that war in the Balkans could be avoided. They were misplaced.

A decade of Serbian repression of the Albanian-speaking majority in Kosovo had led to the first flickerings of armed resistance by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), followed by massive, indiscriminate Serbian retaliation, often against innocent civilians. Many feared we were heading for another genocide of Balkan Muslims like the one the Serbs carried out in the mid-’90s in Bosnia; NATO was talking of using force to stop it, but Rambouillet broke up on an optimistic note.

NATO had demanded that Serbian troops and paramilitary forces withdraw from Kosovo and the KLA disarm, while a NATO-led peacekeeping force moved into the province for an interim period of three years, pending final settlement. Neither side liked the proposals, of course.

The ethnic Albanians were unhappy because they had not been promised a referendum on independence. The Serbs did not like the plan for NATO troops to enter Kosovo, and even to cross Serbia proper on their way to and from the province. (The famous demand for free passage through Serbia, which the Serbs and their foreign apologists later claimed was a last-minute deal-breaker, was actually received by the Serbian negotiators at Rambouillet without comment.) But both sides seemed ready to deal.

The KLA had promised to sign when the talks reconvened for a final session in Paris on March 15. As Ratko Markovic, the head Serbian negotiator, left Rambouillet, he agreed that “major progress” had been made and said Serbia was willing to discuss an “international presence” in Kosovo to implement the accord. But when he got home to Belgrade, it all fell apart. Serbian Leader Slobodan Milosevic, convinced the Kosovar Albanians would not sign (and that even if they did, NATO always only bluffed about using force) cancelled almost everything that had agreed upon.

So everybody returned to Paris in mid-March, the Kosovar Albanians did sign and the Serbs stormed out in fury. NATO bombing started on March 24. Western leaders thought it would only have to last three days before Milosevic caved in, but since they had foresworn the use of ground troops, he had no incentive to deal.

It was only after 78 days of bombing, when NATO began to talk seriously about a ground invasion of Kosovo, that Belgrade suddenly caved in — principally, one suspects, to save Milosevic’s own neck, for a ground war with major NATO casualties would have made it difficult, in terms of public opinion, for the Western alliance to leave him in power at the end. The peace terms would probably have included a demand to hand him over to the international tribunal in The Hague to face war crimes charges arising from the Serbian-directed genocide in Bosnia.

So Milosevic signed promptly, the bombing stopped, the Serbs pulled out of Kosovo and NATO troops went in, bringing the half of the ethnic Albanian population that had been driven into exile back with them.

A year later, Milosevic is still in power: His sudden surrender saved him. Another war may be brewing between Serbia and its increasingly reluctant partner in “Yugoslavia,” little Montenegro, but there is peace for the moment. A full-scale genocide was averted in Kosovo (about 7,000 ethnic Albanians were murdered by the Serbian forces before they withdrew) and almost all the surviving ethnic Albanians have at least a thick sheet of plastic where their roofs used to be. It could have been worse, but much remains to be done.

The first priority is still restoring law and order in Kosovo, where even after nine months of United Nations occupation there is still no proper civil administration, no judges, not even much in the way of police: Of the 6,000 trained foreign police promised by the U.N., only 2,000 have actually been sent. Those of the Serbian minority who chose to stay behind have suffered most from this failure. Between 400 and 700 have been killed since the end of the war, in many cases simply for the “crime” of being Serb.

This is a problem that can be solved, for the most part, by throwing money and resources at it. NATO risks bringing the entire Kosovo operation into discredit, and any future military interventions for humanitarian purposes along with it, for the want of money equivalent to the cost of a few days’ bombing. Innocent Serbs are entitled to protection just as much as innocent Albanians and they are not getting it.

It is also high time to end the economic sanctions against Serbia. It was never a NATO war aim to remove Milosevic from power (sanctions cannot achieve this) and the civilian population of Serbia should not be punished for their failure to remove him either. Besides, if you don’t end the sanctions now, you can’t threaten to reimpose them later and you have no leverage on Milosevic in the event that he turns his forces loose on Montenegro.

There is still time for NATO to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It seems determined to try.

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Serbia

February 21, 2000

Time to end sanctions against Serbia

By Gwynne Dyer

A year ago this week, the Rambouillet conference on Kosovo was nearing its end and hopes were rising that war in the Balkans could be avoided. They were misplaced.

A decade of Serbian repression of the Albanian-speaking majority in Kosovo had led to the first flickerings of armed resistance by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), followed by massive, indiscriminate Serbian retaliation, often against innocent civilians. Many feared we were heading for another genocide of Balkan Muslims like the one the Serbs carried out in the mid-’90s in Bosnia; NATO was talking of using force to stop it, but Rambouillet broke up on an optimistic note.

NATO had demanded that Serbian troops and paramilitary forces withdraw from Kosovo and the KLA disarm, while a NATO-led peacekeeping force moved into the province for an interim period of three years, pending final settlement. Neither side liked the proposals, of course.

The ethnic Albanians were unhappy because they had not been promised a referendum on independence. The Serbs did not like the plan for NATO troops to enter Kosovo, and even to cross Serbia proper on their way to and from the province. (The famous demand for free passage through Serbia, which the Serbs and their foreign apologists later claimed was a last-minute deal-breaker, was actually received by the Serbian negotiators at Rambouillet without comment.) But both sides seemed ready to deal.

The KLA had promised to sign when the talks reconvened for a final session in Paris on March 15. As Ratko Markovic, the head Serbian negotiator, left Rambouillet, he agreed that “major progress” had been made and said Serbia was willing to discuss an “international presence” in Kosovo to implement the accord. But when he got home to Belgrade, it all fell apart. Serbian Leader Slobodan Milosevic, convinced the Kosovar Albanians would not sign (and that even if they did, NATO always only bluffed about using force) cancelled almost everything that had agreed upon.

So everybody returned to Paris in mid-March, the Kosovar Albanians did sign and the Serbs stormed out in fury. NATO bombing started on March 24. Western leaders thought it would only have to last three days before Milosevic caved in, but since they had foresworn the use of ground troops, he had no incentive to deal.

It was only after 78 days of bombing, when NATO began to talk seriously about a ground invasion of Kosovo, that Belgrade suddenly caved in — principally, one suspects, to save Milosevic’s own neck, for a ground war with major NATO casualties would have made it difficult, in terms of public opinion, for the Western alliance to leave him in power at the end. The peace terms would probably have included a demand to hand him over to the international tribunal in The Hague to face war crimes charges arising from the Serbian-directed genocide in Bosnia.

So Milosevic signed promptly, the bombing stopped, the Serbs pulled out of Kosovo and NATO troops went in, bringing the half of the ethnic Albanian population that had been driven into exile back with them.

A year later, Milosevic is still in power: His sudden surrender saved him. Another war may be brewing between Serbia and its increasingly reluctant partner in “Yugoslavia,” little Montenegro, but there is peace for the moment. A full-scale genocide was averted in Kosovo (about 7,000 ethnic Albanians were murdered by the Serbian forces before they withdrew) and almost all the surviving ethnic Albanians have at least a thick sheet of plastic where their roofs used to be. It could have been worse, but much remains to be done.

The first priority is still restoring law and order in Kosovo, where even after nine months of United Nations occupation there is still no proper civil administration, no judges, not even much in the way of police: Of the 6,000 trained foreign police promised by the U.N., only 2,000 have actually been sent. Those of the Serbian minority who chose to stay behind have suffered most from this failure. Between 400 and 700 have been killed since the end of the war, in many cases simply for the “crime” of being Serb.

This is a problem that can be solved, for the most part, by throwing money and resources at it. NATO risks bringing the entire Kosovo operation into discredit, and any future military interventions for humanitarian purposes along with it, for the want of money equivalent to the cost of a few days’ bombing. Innocent Serbs are entitled to protection just as much as innocent Albanians and they are not getting it.

It is also high time to end the economic sanctions against Serbia. It was never a NATO war aim to remove Milosevic from power (sanctions cannot achieve this) and the civilian population of Serbia should not be punished for their failure to remove him either. Besides, if you don’t end the sanctions now, you can’t threaten to reimpose them later and you have no leverage on Milosevic in the event that he turns his forces loose on Montenegro.

There is still time for NATO to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It seems determined to try.

———————-