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Independence

Montenegrins celebrating referendum results - Copyright © by The Associated Press, Podgorica, Serbia-Montenegro, May 22, 2006
Montenegrins celebrating referendum results

In February 1997 Milo Djukanović, then premier of Montenegro and in the early 1990s the protégé of Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević, made his irrevocable break with him. From that moment on, for almost the next decade, one topic was to dominate political life in Montenegro – should the republic stay with Serbia in one state or strike out on its own? 'It would be completely wrong for Slobodan Milošević to remain in any place in the political life of Yugoslavia," said Djukanović. "Milošević is a man of obsolete political ideas…" From then on he began a struggle, not only with Serbia but also with the international community, which was far from encouraging as he moved to an out and out pro-independence position, especially after Milošević's fall in October 2000. For three years, from 2003 until 2006 Montenegro stayed within a loose "state union" with Serbia until, on 21 May of that year its citizens voted in a referendum on independence. "According to the referendum commission, 230,711 voters (55.5 per cent) voted in favour of independence and 184,954 (44.5 per cent) against. Independence was declared on 3 June and Montenegro became the 192nd member of the UN on 28 June, the 617th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo.

As the architect of independence, Djukanović will inevitably be seen as the father of the nation, an impressive feat for someone still in his early forties. And it would be wrong to under-rate the significance of his achievement. He did after all take on the EU's 'Foreign Minister', Javier Solana, and by extension the combined weight of the EU countries over an issue from which the United States had substantially disengaged. Djukanović's consciousness of his potentially historic role was already evident in December 2005 when he theatrically unveiled an imposing statue of King Nikola on horseback in front of the Parliament building in Podgorica. Such concern for Montenegro's past will need to be paralleled by similar sensitivity over its future if Montenegro is to prosper and to vindicate its claim to be an ecological state. There is a clear need to avoid the despoiling of the beautiful coast and to maintain a careful balance in establishing the proposed eco-tourism in the under-developed north of the country…

Whether the Montenegrin state meets the environmental and economic challenges it faces is not a matter for history but for the future. Yet one clear lesson to be drawn from the most recent events is the need to bridge the deep division at the heart of Montenegrin society. Roughly 50,000 more Montenegrins voted in favour of independence than against it, a substantial enough victory but one which still left some 45 per cent of the voting population on the losing side. Prosperity has a way of healing divisions and here the EU and international financial institutions can help. Of course not all of those who voted against independence will in the future be reconciled to the new state: for a percentage of citizens, core beliefs about ethnicity are too deep for that. But many of these who voted against may well be won over by a more equitable distribution of wealth, particularly if it is coupled with a broad respect for minority rights and avoids thrusting 'Montenegriness' upon those who wish to celebrate the Serbian aspects of their culture and language.

[pp: 452, 473, 474-475]

Realm of the Black Mountain: A History of Montenegro. 2007. [C.Hurst & Co]

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