(Washington) - Witnesses appearing today before The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe warned of the potential for conflict in the Balkans—similar to that which occurred in Kosovo in 1999—if democracy fails to take hold in Montenegro, a province that in federation with Serbia comprises contemporary Yugoslavia.
“Since 1997, Montenegro has moved toward democratic reform, and its leaders have distanced themselves from earlier involvement in the ethnic intolerance and violence which devastated neighboring Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo,” said Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “In contrast, the Belgrade regime of Slobodan Milosevic has become more entrenched in power and more determined to bring ruin to Serbia, if necessary to maintain this power. The divergence of paths has made the existing federation almost untenable, especially in the aftermath of last year's conflict in Kosovo. We now hear reports of a confrontation with Milosevic and possible conflict in Montenegro as a result.”
Srdjan Darmanovic, Director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Podgorica, said, “Without the active role of main Western countries and without a serious peace and stability preserving strategy in the whole region, including Montenegro, the Belgrade regime will sooner or later decide to act in order to topple the Djukanovic government or to instigate conflict in Montenegro. It is in the very logic of that regime. The real questions is, will Milosevic act, whether a referendum on independence is held or not?”
Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) commented, “Common sense makes clear that timely efforts to prevent the outbreak of conflict are worth pursuing. We are fortunate today that we can focus on developments in Montenegro where the prospects for democracy offer one of the few glimmers of hope in a region torn by conflict and ethnic hatreds. I admire the courage of those pursuing the path of democracy in Montenegro and doing so at some risk.”
Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) pointed out, “We need to send as strong a signal as we can that another Milosevic-made conflict will not be tolerated. We can hope that democratic forces in Serbia can change the environment in which Serbian-Montenegrin relations are determined, by challenging Milosevic’s rule. Until they do, we must be sure that instigating new violence is not an option for Milosevic, not a solution to his political problems at home.”
Veselin Vukotic, Managing Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in Podgorica, said, “We in Montenegro believe that the most efficient way to avoid new conflict and to develop permanent democracy is through complete reform and reconstruction of our political and economic system. However, reconstruction is needed not just of our economy, administration and state, but also of our mentality. Our principal problem lies in how our society thinks—how we understand and solve problems.…Our key problem is overcoming our fear of open society, open economy—overcoming our fear of globalization. On this point, we are more irrational than rational at the moment.”
“In order for Montenegro to begin changing our mentality, we must build a new economic system based on private property, economic freedom, and the development of entrepreneurship. We have already started this process, and we are getting closer to an American-style free market system, rather than the so-called “social market” system of Europe or the state-controlled system in Russia. We are very grateful for the assistance we have received from the United States in helping us begin our reform efforts.
“Our viewpoint is that everything must be privatized. There must be no area in which the state controls property.
“We Montenegrins don’t have time to wait for Mr. Milosevic to resign. The question of his resignation is not Montenegro’s problem. It is Serbia’s problem. If the citizens of Serbia choose Milosevic as their president, then good luck to them. Serbia’s votes are not Montenegro’s concern.”
Janusz Bugajski, Director of the Eastern Europe Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC stated: “Other than surrendering Montenegro altogether, Belgrade has three options: a military coup and occupation; the promotion of regional and ethnic conflicts; or the provocation of civil war. More likely, Milosevic will engage in various provocations, intimidations, and even assassinations to unbalance the Montenegrin leadership. He will endeavor to sow conflict between the parties in the governing coalition, heat up tensions in the Sandjak region of Montenegro by pitting Muslims against Christian Orthodox, and threaten to partition northern Montenegro if Podgorica pushes toward statehood. The political environment will continue to heat up before the planned referendum.
“I fear the worst from Mr. Milosevic at this point,” Bugajski concluded.
In closing, Mr. Smith said, “As democracy is strengthened in Montenegro, the international community can also give those in Serbia struggling to bring democracy to their republic a chance to succeed.”
Media Contact: Chadwick R. Gore