In december the International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report "Montenegro's independence drive". In this note I will discuss it and the ICG in general.
There is something strange about the ICG. Usually their reports are very informative and quite objective. But when you then read the "Executive summary and recommendations" it looks as if they have been written by a different person with a very partial view. You might even believe that he did not read the main text: it is not ununsual to find in the conclusions new arguments that you did not find in the main text.
The Montenegro report is a bit different. It seems to have been written by the person who normally writes the conclusions. As a consequence it is rather light on facts and quite partial. Have a look with me at the tricks that the ICG uses to
Blackening the Serbs
It begins with many negative remarks about Serbia and the Serbs. Some are true. Some quite distorted (for example mentioning Kosovo as a case of Serb territorial claims) and some years ago and only historical relevant (like arms export to Libya and Iraq).
It is rather comic to see the Serb army accused of smuggling through Montenegro's ports while it is well known that much more smuggling is done by Montenegrins and that the government of Montenegro is very involved.
But in fact all those remarks are totally irrelevant. This is about the relationship between Montenegro and Serbia. Whether we in the West like Serbia is totally irrelevant.
Montengro has some bad memories about the Milosevic (a Montenegrin) time, but these aren't even mentioned in this report. As I said before: it is light on facts.
According to the ICG report "in 1918, the Serbian army entered Montenegro, and the Serbian crown prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic forcibly incorporated it into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia) and prevented the royal government and parliament in exile from returning. At the same time the Orthodox Church in Montenegro, which had maintained its independence for centuries, was subsumed into the Serbian Orthodox Church.".
This is a rather one-sided view. Before 1918 Montengro liked to call itself a nation of Serbs and a defender of the Serb cause. Serbia's main national epos the Mountain Wreath was written in 1842 by the Njegos - then ruler of Montenegro. What happened in 1918 certainly wasn't very democratic, but that does not mean that it was without support within Montenegro. In fact until World War II Montenegro's main political parties were the Whites (pro independence) and the Greens (pro-union).
Another trick is the emphasis on the long history of Montenegro. The ICG forgets to mention that most of the time Montengro was a mini-state like Liechtenstein. Half of Montenegro's territory was conquered after 1875. And before 1794 Montenegro's territory was yet much smaller. It is in those new territories that there is the most resistance against independence.
Blackening the anti-independence opposition
The anti-independence opposition gets a similar treatment as the Serbs.
First the reporter tries to give them an ethnic image by stating that most of its members are Serbs. Only much later in the report it is mentioned that "Serb" in Montenegro is mostly not an ethnic, but a political label. People call themselves Serb when they feel related to Serbia. But they may have a brother who calls himself Montengrin.
Later he tries to paint them as right-extremists by mentioning Milosevic and Seselj supporters among them. Giving the large support of Milosevic and Seselj in Serbia it is not more than natural to expect that many people who consider themselves Serbs in Montenegro have a similar opinion. However, most of these people vote that way because they feel that Serbs have become the victims of the recent events - not because of aggressive intentions.
The pro-independent party has at least as much stains on its image, but you won't hear that from the ICG. Djukanovic has been accused by Italian officials of connections to the mafia and involvement with smuggling. He rose to power on the tails of Milosevic. Presently Djukanovic shows quite a few symptoms of a rising dictator. After he won the elections in 1997 he appointed many followers in the public service. In 2004 editor-in-chief of the main opposition daily paper Dan was shot by unknown assassins. His most recent achievement was the dismissal of the programming director of Montenegro's television. As a result the anti-independence voice is underrepresented in the media. My impression is that Djukanovic is an opportunist just like Milosevic. For him independence is a tool to strengthen his grip on Montenegro. The most pro-independent is the coastal region - where most of the smuggling takes place.
But of course all this is irrelevant. The opinion of both sides is just as valid - regardless of how many bad traits they have. Instead of trying to paint one party black the ICG could better have tried to analyze their motives.
Downplaying the risks of ethnic conflicts
The ICG does not see any potential for ethnic conflict in Montenegro. This seems rather naive.
While ethnic relations are rather good at the moment there are certainly tensions that could grow worse in the future:
- In the north-east the relations between Muslims and Montenegrins have worsened as a spillover of the conflict in neighbouring Bosnia. Independence for Montenegro might encourage Muslims in North-east Montengro and the Sandzak to seek attachment to Bosnia.
- Not all Albanians are happy either. Until now the long road (via Rozaje) from Kosovo to Plav and Guci has kept the Albanian militants from spilling over from Kosovo to Montengro - as they have done in the past to Macedonia and the Presevo. But this should not be taken for granted now that a direct road from Decani to Plav is being built.
- Montenegro's society is also still very tribal - what increases the chance of an armed conflict according to This US army report.
Using the EU as a crowbar
The EU had a rather dubious role in the dissolution of Yugoslavia. It was the promise of fast EU membership that made it a no-brainer for many citizens of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia to vote in favor of independence. Of course this comes very close to buying votes. The ICG would like to repeat this trick once again.
In my opinion we should be careful not to repeat these mistakes. The EU should offer Montenegro market access without demanding that it gives up its ties with Serbia first.
Rewriting the rules
Accoring to Montenegran law at least 50% of the voters should turn up for the referendum to be valid. As a consequence the anti-independence opposition is considering a boycot as the easiest way to defeat the referendum. In Italy this strategy recently used to defeat a referendum about liberalization of fertility laws. In Macedonia it was used to defeat a referendum against the municipal reorganization accoring to the Ohred agreement. And allthough the ICG is very much involved in Macedonia it didn't voice any objection against that strategy.
For Montenegro however the ICG would not like the referendum to fail and so it has started a lobby to vilify this strategy. An alternative would be to have a threshold of for example 40% of the total electorate but they don't like this either.
One of their arguments is the example of the autonomy of Scotland and Wales, that were approved by a simple referendum majority. However, this comparison only puzzles me: autonomy is something completely different from independence. It may give much of the same powers, but it misses the polarising effect on a society and it can easily be undone if the need might arise. The ICG should know better than using such improper arguments.
I find this a very dubious strategy. In an already conflictuous situation one should not worsen the situation by starting a discussion about the rules of the conflict. Also the 50% bar is already low. In most countries you need 2/3 of the votes to change the constitution. So why should something even more radical be decided so easily.
Some final thoughts
I believe we should be cautious about creating yet more states. Just as changing borders splits nearly always generate conflicts. And even if they seem to happen peacefully there are often victims. Take the case of Slovenia. After independence it robbed about 30.000 people from other parts of Yugoslavia from their civil rights. These people are "erased" from all public records - giving them lots of problems. They are usually not driven out, but if they ever leave Slovenia they will not be allowed back. Already 12000 of them have left Slovenia. Besides that Slovenia has also a border conflict with Croatia that has seriously damaged the relations between those countries.
So I think that everything should be done to make sure that if the Montenegrins vote for independence it is on basis of really feeling ethnically different and not because of EU membership or other opportunistic short term reasons.
For that reason I would recommend:
- give Montenegro access to the EU market without demanding independence first.
- reform the union of Serbia-Montenegro to a less cumbersome structure. One might consider abolishing the Serb republic, so that Montenegro becomes a kind of autonomous province.
When small children have done something wrong they often try to redirect the attention by accusing someone else. This is exactly the impression that the ICG is making on me. They do there best to destabilize the situation in Montenegro out of hatred for all what is Serb related. And if things do get out of hand one can be sure that they will be in the front row to put the blame on Serbia. Really disgusting!