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Montenegro & splintering of former Yugoslovia
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A deterioration of conditions, similar to the former Soviet Union has occurred in the former Yugoslavia.


MONTENEGRO: Majority vote for independence

Michael Karadjis

From Green Left Weekly, June 7, 



Latest developments in Serbia and tiny Montenegro, including a degenerate gangster form of capitalism similar to that found in Russia today. 


Montenegrins voted 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.


In particular, 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


Montenegrins are 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.


Montenegrins felt 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.”

Obviously, this 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.

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