Friday, August 04, 2006

Montenegro's referendum: an evaluation

So Montenegro is independent now. I wish them good luck.

As I wrote in a previous post, secessions are not good for ethnic relations. In its june 23 edition IWPR described how the relations between Serbs on one side and Muslims and Albanians on the other had worsened due to referendum. It describes Serbs refusing to visit a Muslim café any longer, Muslims reproaching the Serbs for getting the best jobs, yet voting "against their country" and a Serb village planning to leave Montengro after hearing their neighbours celebrate the independence with cries like "Montenegro, my dear mother, we will slay the Serbs tonight", "Hang Serbs" and "Traitors, go to Serbia".

In a more recent edition IWPR describes how ethnicity will be much more important in the next elections (september 10) than in the past. Bosnians and Albanians are disappointed that promises about ethnic municipalities have not been kept and the Constitutional Court has annulled part of the Minority Rights Act. And the main Serb party has strengthened because of its anti-independence position.

As on of the articles concludes: some of this sentiment may be temporary and calm down gradually. It may. But people will not easily forget the hard words that have been said.

Of course the Muslims and Albanians have a somewhat inferior position. But I don't believe in revolutionary changes to solve that. Instead of solving problems they tend to make them worse - with people just exchanging the dominant and inferior position.

This brings me to the conditions under which the referendum was held. I think that the adversaries were right: the verdict of the Venice Commission that gave emigrated Montenegrans voting rights while denying the same right to those living in Serbia was unfair. In the ideal situation one should be able to measure how much the immigrants were still attached to Montenegro and only give them voting right when they were enough attached. The number of years that they had lived outside Montenegro might be a good criterion. It might also be reasonable to exclude people who had acquired a foreign nationality. However, the right to vote elsewhere was not a good criterium. It required considerable effort to get voting rights outside Serbia-Montengro, while in Serbia is was automatically. In addition: voting rights in Serbia should be considered as voting rights on the provincial level - not so different from voting rights on the local level that the immigrants in many European countries did have.

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