Montenegro Wants Independence, Looser Yugoslavia

By Ljubinka Cagorovic, Reuters, Friday 29 December 2000, 1:23 AM ET

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia (Reuters)—Tiny Montenegro says it wants to divorce Serbia and become independent—but then remarry immediately under a looser Yugoslav nuptial contract.

“Independence and the (new) alliance will be determined in a referendum of citizens of Montenegro and Serbia,” a Montenegrin government statement said.

President Milo Djukanovic's government approved the blueprint for the future of the Yugoslav federation and said it would send it straight away to Serbian leaders in Belgrade.

A junior partner walked out of his three-party coalition in protest, saying Djukanovic was sparking a political crisis. But the defection will not harm his hold on power.

“The People's Party will leave the ruling coalition tonight. We are still in favor of…a democratic Montenegro in a European Yugoslavia,” party deputy leader Predrag Popovic said.

Djukanovic, who has warmed to independence since taking power in 1997, suggests sovereignty for both republics under the umbrella of an alliance far looser than the current federation.

The proposal envisages one army—but with the leader of each republic in complete charge of forces on his territory.

The new alliance would pool embassies and have one convertible currency, a single market and a customs area—as do those European Union (news—web sites) members who adopted the euro currency.

Djukanovic has said both republics should have a separate seat at the United Nations.

Too Loose?

Critics say such loose ties are practically meaningless. Serbian opponents accuse Djukanovic of wanting his own state but with help from Serbia's nine million people to pay for it.

The two republics are very close and many Montenegrins also consider themselves to be Serbs.

Their republic of 600,000 people has little industry but a stunning coastline that could draw in tourists if peace lasts.

It has stayed with Serbia while Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia all seceded from the old Yugoslav federation.

Kosovo, a province that was controlled by Serbia until last year, is still officially part of Yugoslavia but its majority ethnic Albanians want full independence too.

Its status would be even less clear if Yugoslavia dies.

If that happens, new Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica (news—web sites)—who beat Slobodan Milosevic (news—web sites) in September elections—would lose his job and might set his sights on the Serbian presidency.

Djukanovic wants to discuss his proposal with the new Serbian government which premier-designate Zoran Djindjic is forming after reformists won Saturday's general election.

The Montenegrin leader once favored autonomy and blamed Milosevic's autocratic policies for alienating Montenegro, which has operated almost as a separate state for two years.

He opposed Milosevic over repressing Kosovo and has since made the German mark the main currency in use.

He is now pursuing independence although the strongman was forced out of office in street protests in October.

The most recent opinion survey by DAMAR pollsters found that 43 percent of Montenegrins favored independence, 16 percent a loose confederation, 23 percent the status quo and nine percent a total fusion with Serbia.

It is less clear what Serbs now think of keeping Yugoslavia.

No Government Crisis

The walkout of Montenegro's mainly pro-Serb People's Party, which has four ministers and just six seats in parliament, will not change the balance of power.

The pro-independence opposition Liberal Alliance said it would support a minority government of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists and the smaller Social Democratic Party.

The main opposition, the Socialist People's Party (SNP), accused Djukanovic Thursday of trying to sacrifice the Yugoslav federation because of his personal ambitions.

“He poses a threat to stability in Montenegro. Because of his interests, he is prepared to destabilize the entire region,” deputy leader Predrag Bulatovic told Reuters.

The SNP, long-time Milosevic allies, are now part of the reformist-led Yugoslav government.