Latest developments in Serbia and tiny Montenegro, including a degenerate
gangster form of capitalism similar to that found in Russia today.
for independence for their tiny republic in a referendum on May 21, in a move that essentially formalised an already existing
situation. Following the collapse of the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia between 1989 and 1992, two former republics,
Serbia and Montenegro, agreed to set up
a new federation, which they also called “Yugoslavia” (without
the “socialist” label). Montenegrins voted by a margin of 96%, to join this federation as a sovereign state. However, in the late 1990s Montenegrin leader Milo Djukanovic, developed differences
with Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, and began campaigning to end the federation. Both the European Union and the United States strongly opposed this push for independence, fearful of any instability resulting from further break-up
in the Balkans.
they feared that Montenegrin independence could set an example to the Albanian majority in Kosova, a formerly highly autonomous
province of the old Yugoslavia, now brutally oppressed under direct Serbian rule. Even when the US and EU courted Djukanovic during NATO's terror bombing of Serbia in
1999, they continued to oppose independence, instead aiming to push Djukanovic into alliance with various opposition forces
in Serbia. When Milosevic was overthrown in 2000, the West had still less need for Djukanovic.
The new rulers
in Belgrade, largely elements associated with the old regime seeking to restabilise their
capitalist rule without being tainted by the crimes of Milosevic, violated the Yugoslav constitution by maintaining representatives
of the Montenegrin opposition parties, rather than the elected ruling party, in the federal government. This meant the Montenegrin government was excluded from the federation, which began to fall apart. The final
nail in its coffin occurred in 2001 when the Serbian government of Zoran Djindjic wanted to extradite Milosevic to the Hague. Since it could not get agreement from the federal government because it was blocked by the Montenegrin opposition
representative, it simply violated the Yugoslav constitution and carried out its plan.
To avert the formal
end of the federation, which had in fact ceased to exist, EU chief Javier Solana stepped in and forced Djukanovic to postpone
his proposed referendum for at least three years, while restructuring the federation under the new name “Serbia and Montenegro”. Only the foreign and defence
ministries were shared, along with a largely symbolic federal president. The federal government rarely met. Everything else
belonged to the actual republic governments. The two republics ran completely separate economies, with different currencies.
Montenegro’s economy was oriented towards the Adriatic sea, while the much
larger economy of Serbia was oriented to the Danube and central Europe. Between them an almost
impassable mountain range gave their separate economies a further practical distance.
The new federation
— which Balkan people dubbed “Solania” — solved none of the problems of the one it replaced. One very
practical problem is the size difference. Serbia has 8 million people
and Montenegro only 650,000. One the one hand, this means Montenegrins inevitably feel dominated
and overshadowed by Serbia. On the other, it means in the federal government tiny Montenegro officially has an equal vote to Serbia — something basically
unworkable, and as in the example of Milosevic and the Hague, easily violable by the larger
republic. As the three years were up and Montenegro still insisted on holding a referendum, the EU badgered Montenegro
into agreeing that the vote would require 55% voting “yes” to be valid. The yes vote just scraped through, with
55.5%, with an 86% turnout. @subh confused ethnic identity
historically and culturally close to Serbs. This has led some analysts, including on the left, to moralise from afar that
they should “stay together”, because, based on their definitions of a “nation”, the two people are
the same nation. Montenegrins and Serbs speak the same language, and so do Croats and Bosniaks. While Croats are traditionally
Catholic and Bosniaks are Muslims, both Serbs and Montenegrins are Orthodox, giving them an even closer connection. However, Montenegro maintained an independent
existence from Serbia for hundreds of years. While Serbia,
along with the rest of the Balkans, was under Ottoman occupation, the Ottomans never completely subjugated Montenegro. This historical separation gave the people a sense of their own ethnic identity, as with Croats and Bosnians.
In a similar way, Macedonians and Bulgarians speak virtually the same language but see themselves as nationally distinct.
Montenegro was annexed by the
Serbian Kingdom, which became the first (capitalist) Yugoslavia, in 1918. Some Montenegrins resisted for 8 years.
A better way to
try to bring the related nations together began with the establishment in 1945 of the new Communist Yugoslavia, led by Broz
Tito, as a new multi-ethnic federation. Montenegro became a full equal republic, along with 5 other republics and 2 autonomous provinces.
Each republic had the right to self-determination including secession. Ethnic
Montenegrins account for 43% of the population, while those more clearly identifying as ethnic Serbs are 32%, Bosniaks (Slavic
Muslims) about 10% and Albanians 5%. While the divisions that were played out in the referendum are not exclusively “ethnic”,
most Serbs voted against independence, and most Bosniaks and Albanians voted in favour.
Djukanovic and Milosevic
The break between
the oligarchic elites ruling Serbia and Montenegro followed years of
close alliance. In 1988, Milosevic, then the new head of the Serbian wing of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, was driving
through a series of capitalist “reforms” that led to the collapse of the LCY and the restoration of capitalism.
Milosevic launched an “anti-bureaucratic revolution”, which meant
ripping down the structures of the Titoist order, purging the old Tito-era leaders and replacing the “brotherhood and
unity” slogan of socialist Yugoslavia with the virulent Serbian nationalism of the new bourgeoisie. In Montenegro, the leader of the youth wing of the party that led the reactionary “revolution” was Djukanovic.
He grabbed office as Milosevic’s tool in a staged uprising against the Titoist leaders in 1988, at the age of 26.
In the wars in
Croatia and Bosnia, Djukanovic supported
Milosevic. Montenegrin troops took direct part in the war crime of shelling Croatia’s
UNESCO heritage city of Dubrovnik, a city that had virtually no ethnic Serb population to “liberate”,
as they alleged they were doing. In the world of Eastern European capitalist
restoration, outright gangsterism played a prominent role in a new criminal capitalist class amassing its “primitive
capital”. Both Milosevic and Djukanovic ran gangster-oligarchic regimes in which their own families played leading roles.
Djukanovic was widely seen as a crook, and involved particularly in tobacco smuggling, in alliance with other Serbian interests.
In July 2003, the prosecutor’s office in Naples named Djukanovic as the central person in the smuggling of millions of cigarettes
across the Adriatic into the hands of the Italian mafia.
Around 1997 a gang
war broke out, apparently because Marko Milosevic, the son of Serbia’s
president who controlled the other main smuggling gang, wanted a bigger slice. But Djukanovic’s gang was connected to
Jovica Stanisic, head of Milosevic’s notorious paramilitary police, who controlled customs. In 1998, Milosevic suddenly
sacked his former loyal ally and closed the Montenegrin border, and Montenegro
set up its own customs system.
This split at the
top between Djukanovic and Milosevic coincided with an upsurge of opposition inside both republics to the disastrous chauvinist
and war policies of the last decade. In 1996, Milosevic’s party lost the vote at every municipal council in the country,
and 88 days mass protest followed his attempt to not recognise the results.
To head off the
movement in Montenegro, Djukanovic decided to “lead” it, as he had no other social base to
confront the pro-Serbian wing of the oligarchy. He began “apologizing” for the crimes he had participated in.
The movement needed little encouragement to find its goal in independence, even under this corrupt and compromised leadership,
as it saw this as representing a break with the Milosevic legacy. This independence movement began putting out the image that
Montenegro was a more “multi-ethnic” republic than Serbia. There is no question that the Bosniak and Albanian minorities, decisive in the “yes” vote, wanted out
of a union associated with the Milosevic legacy. Instead of the unworkable “Solania”,
Djukanovic proposed is a more realistic “Union of Independent States” between Serbia and Montenegro, involving no changes to the current relations between the two countries, for
example, no border taxes, passports, free movement and so on. This was rejected by Serbia.
The fact that the
Serbian ruling clique, still connected by a thousand strings to the former regime, has been unable to hand General Mladic
to the Hague War Crimes Court, was the final straw. Mladic is accused of leading the slaughter of 8000 Bosnian Muslim captives
in Srebrenica in 1995. Several weeks ago, the EU announced it was ending the accession discussions with Serbia-Montenegro
until Mladic was caught. This was the same treatment the EU last year gave to Croatia, until the handover of General Ante Gotovina in December.
their path to the EU would be shorter without this hangover. However, the immediate EU reaction to the vote has been to dampen
any expectations of rapid Montenegrin entry to the EU. The EU expansion commissioner, Olli Rehn, told Montenegro that there would be “no shortcut to Europe”, while Solana said “Let’s
wait and see. I think probably it’s much more important that they begin talking among themselves.”
is another bourgeois state, like Serbia and all other states of eastern Europe, and like them, its independence is conditioned
by its relative poverty and dependence on the wealthier capitalist states of the EU. Some on the left have counterposed Montenegro’s independence to the need for a new unity of the working classes of the Balkans. However, such
a new unity cannot be found in the rotten structures inherited from the deeply chauvinist 1990s, let alone Solana’s
latest attempt to reconstruct it. Montenegro’s right to self-determination should be supported because there will be no future proletarian unity
except as a unity between equals. Any feeling of oppression, or even denial of the democratic right of a people to form their
own state, does not lead to such unity, on the contrary it delays it. Increasingly now, Montenegrins will look to their own
corrupt leaders to blame for their poverty.
And a similar dynamic
will occur in Serbia: once freed from the concept that their state had an automatic right to rule over
others, and that independence struggles were all some “anti-Serb conspiracy”, class rather than chauvinist issues
will also have a chance to raise their head there.