Issue 232 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 1999 Copyright Socialist Review


The Balkans balance sheet

Montenengro: road to disaster

The end of the bombing leaves Montenegro in a precarious position. It is part of the rump Yugoslav Federation, but its leadership sought to remain neutral during the war despite the fact that it was bombed by Nato. The question of independence has again been raised, but this will not happen without a bitter struggle with Belgrade.

Montenegro is a small and very mountainous state. It is home to large Serb and Albanian minorities, and the majority Montenegrin population are ethnically very close to the Serbs. When Yugoslavia broke up in early 1992, Montenegro was the only republic which voted to stay federated to Serbia.

Western governments have in the last two years made repeated efforts to court the president, Milo Djukanovic. He was invited to the White House in 1996, and since 1997 has usually been described as a 'reformer' and a 'democrat'. Djukanovic came to prominence in 1989, at the age of 27, when supporters of Milosevic in Montenegro kicked out the old ruling Communist leadership, and Djukanovic became prime minister after the 1990 election. As well as being a Milosevic loyalist, he became a supporter of the Bosnian Serb leader, Karadzic, and used Montenegro's geographical position to run guns to Bosnia and profit from sanctions busting. He used his position to line his pockets and take control of key industries, threatening the power base of the Montenegrin president, Bulatovic. After the Bosnian war, a power struggle emerged between Bulatovic and Djukanovic, who took an increasingly pro-western line since he saw Serbian support as a prize not worth having. The ruling party split, and Djukanovic captured the apparatus and won the presidential elections in October 1997 by the narrowest of margins. It is strongly rumoured that these elections were rigged, but because 'their man' won none of the western governments complained.

The tensions between Serbia and Montenegro are likely to grow worse. After the economic devastation of the war, the governments of the various Balkan states are desperate for western money. If the Nato governments will not give money to Serbia, this will increase the pressure for the Montenegrin government to break away. Already the US is encouraging a 'triangle alliance' between Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia to encircle Serbia with a ring of pro-western states. But in the meantime, the 2nd Yugoslav Army, loyal to Belgrade, has many troops in Montenegro. During the war there was regular talk of a military coup against Djukanovic, and this is still possible. The local police force, which is loyal to Montenegro rather than Belgrade, is only lightly armed and not in much of a position to resist. So in the last two months irregular Montenegrin armed groups have been encouraged, and the prospect of bloodshed has grown. The western powers' search for new clients in the Balkans is still laying the ground for conflict.
Nicolai Gentchev

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