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Montenegro - Referendum on independence

Referendum on the independence of Montenegro, a round up one week before the vote

Referendum on the independence of Montenegro, a round up one week before the vote

15/05/2006 - D-7

On 30th April last the ultimatum set by the european union on Serbia to surrender serb general Ratko Mladic to the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia in the hague (ICTY), for war crimes, (the murder of 8,000 muslims in srebrenica) and genocide (having led to the death of over 10,000 people in Sarajevo) expired without the country succeeding in delivering the fugitive, on the run since his indictment in 1995. As a result the european union decided to suspend its negotiations that had aimed to bring it closer to the state of Serbia and Montenegro. Prime minister Milo Djukanovic did not hesitate in using this event in his campaign in favour of his country's independence declaring: "The serb government did not want to keep its international promises by refusing to collaborate with the international criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia in the hague. And the state of Serbia and Montenegro has suffered as a result in accomplishing its european objectives. The logical conclusion is that Montenegro simply because it does not belong to this entity, finds itself taken hostage and has suffered the consequences of something for which it was not responsible".

On 21st May next 470,000 montenegrins are being called to vote on the future of their state and will have to answer "yes" or "no" to the following question: "Do you want the republic of Montenegro to become an independent state with full legal and international acknowledgement?" the political community is divided on the subject of independence. The democratic union of socialists (dps) led by prime minister Milo Djukanovic, the social democrat party (sdp) and the democratic albanian union (dua) are in favour; the popular socialist party (snp) led by predrag bulatovic and the democrat party (dss) led by Ranko Kadic, the popular party (SNS) led by andrija mandic and the popular party (ns) led by predrag popovic are against it.

According to the most recent poll undertaken by the centre for monitoring opinion poll agency (cedem), 87% of the electorate say they are ready to vote on 21st May next. A participation rate of 50% of those registered is necessary for the referendum to be declared valid. A majority (56.3%) say they will vote for independence versus 43.7% against. To be acknowledged by the international community independence must imperatively be approved by at least 55% of the voters. If more than half of the voters – but less than 55% of them – say they are in favour of independence montenegro will remain united with Serbia.

Prime minister Milo Djukanovic, continues to say he is confident in the vote of his fellow citizens and the future of an independent montenegro. "I am convinced that we shall win a clear majority in favour of independence and this majority will be enough to meet with the norms planned for in the referendum law. I am also convinced that this re-found independence will provide montenegro with a new dynamism to reach for its european and euro-atlantic objectives. We shall win the 55% and I expect the unquestionable acknowledgement of all countries, our neighbours first and foremost", he maintained. "Montenegro has already made great progress on the road to joining the european union. I am sure that after independence, and becoming responsible for its own fate my little country which is run on a flexible system will be able to meet its obligations very rapidly to become part of the european union. Hence Montenegro after croatia, will be the first country in the region to fulfil the conditions to become a member of the european union", added the prime minister.

For his part the president of the republic, Filip Vujanovic stresses the fact that present relations between montenegro and Serbia are "totally unproductive" for both countries. He says he is certain of the victory of the "yes" vote in the referendum believing that "It is inconceivable that the citizens of a state will vote against their own independence". He also maintains that an independent montenegro will uphold open and cordial relations with its serb neighbours via bilateral agreements, open borders, the free movement of goods, capital and people with a guarantee of equality of citizens' rights for both populations. Finally the president of the republic maintained once more that he did not wish, contrary to prime minister Milo Djukanovic to associate his future as head of state to the referendum results. "I was elected president of the republic by popular vote, which obliges me to respect the will of the citizens of montenegro. in addition to this I do not want to make a forecast with something in which I do not believe as a basis (a negative result to the referendum)". He highlighted the positive role played by the eu in the organisation of the popular vote and said that he is convinced that the opposition will accept the referendum results and independence. "On 22nd May next everyone will concentrate on the construction of a prosperous Montenegro", he declared. "The day after there will neither be victors nor vanquished and the government will do everything it can to achieve a synergy of strength", maintained prime minister Milo Djukanovic. "On 22nd May both camps will have to shake hands", answered the leader of the popular party, Andrija Mandic.

Finally the present president of the state of Serbia and Montenegro, montenegrin Svetozar Marovic, announced his intention to leave his post the day after the referendum and whatever the result. The montenegrin authorities have also decided to withdraw all of their executives from the state institutions.

"Montenegro is already independent from an economic point of view. there is no longer any common economic function federally", stressed the minister of economy Petar Boskovic. "Montenegro has more economic prospects alone than in a community", maintains deputy prime minister Branimir Gvozdenovic. Conversely the opponents to independence highlight the fact that "Serbia has a political and economic capital on which Montenegro can depend", according to Andrija Mandic. The supporters of the union with Serbia also accuse Milo Djukanovic of wanting to transform Montenegro into a "state led by criminals".

A war of figures is raging without either side emerging as the victor. Montenegro can in effect boast an inflation rate of 1.6% whilst Serbia's rate stands at 19%. likewise 80% of its companies have been privatised; It has an open economy and an expanding tourist industry. Those against independence remark however that the growth rate is one of the lowest amongst european countries which do not belong to the union and that Montenegro still has not eradicated poverty: 12% of the population lives below the poverty line. It is however uncertain that the country's economic results feature amongst the primary reasons behind the electorate's vote on 21st May next.

On May 1st last around 15,000 people rallied in favour of Montenegro's independence. But a harder tone was recently adopted by both camps in the electoral campaign. Nationalist graffiti in favour of a grand Albania were discovered in several of the country's towns. "Montenegro and Albania will be one and the same country". "Long live grand Albania and the Kosovo liberation army (UCK)" could be seen on the walls of some official buildings. Miladin Joksimovic, a democrat party mp recently qualified independence supporters as "sovereignist lepers" maintaining that they never went to weddings or funerals, two things that are unthinkable in montenegro. Some flags and other symbols of the state of montenegro have been destroyed. Each side regularly accuses the other of irregular and fraudulent activities. "Both sides are probably trying to buy votes although that is impossible to prove", believes political analyst Srdjan Darmanovic.

Those against independence are counting on the vote of sanction with regard to the ruling power. "We cannot expect all the supporters of the democratic union of socialists to vote in favour of independence because many of them have been disappointed by the two-faced policy undertaken by their party", declared the leader of the popular socialist party, predrag bulatovic. "Our main aim is that each opponent to prime minister Milo Djukanovic's regime bothers to go and vote for the upkeep of the union with Serbia", also emphasises Dobrilo Dedeic, spokesperson for the popular party.

The prince of Montenegro, Nicolas Petrovic Njegos, said that he was in favour of independence whilst criticising the electoral campaign. "No one speaks about what really is at stake, of a project for the future of our country. Independence is not an objective in itself but a wager that we have to win long term", He pointed out.

As for the ethnic minorities living in montenegro the leader of the rom centre for strategy, development and democracy, Vladan Stanojevic, called on the roms not to vote on 21st may in order to render the referendum invalid. "The roms, as all other minorities must not be scapegoats. We shall vote for neither camp because neither of them is supported by more than 35% of the electorate. We are pro-yugoslav and we do not want the montenegrin referendum to become a market on which the minorities can be bought", he declared. Rifat Fejzic, the reis ul ulema, the highest muslim authority in the country, refused to take part in the electoral debate. "As far as I know the other religious communities have not given any clear instructions to their followers to support either one camp or another. The muslim community should not participate in political affairs but be concerned with those affecting the upkeep of religious life. I believe that religious communities must not interfere in the political life of the state", he declared. Finally the orthodox bishop of Montenegro, amfilohija, is committed to the upkeep of the union with Serbia.

Although Serbia wants to maintain the union and still refuses to speak of possible future relations that it might have with an independent montenegro the country's authorities say that they will be respectful of the montenegrin vote on 21st May. "This development is important: it means that the dangers of conflict or mistakes if there is a positive answer to the referendum on the independence of montenegro are relatively limited", analyses jacques rupnik, research director at the centre for international studies and research (ceri). The serb population says that it is in favour of maintaining the union between Serbia and montenegro in the polls. However 54% of the serbs are expecting a montenegrin vote in favour of their independence according to the most recent poll undertaken by the centre for monitoring opinion poll agency.

Thirty observers from the organisation for security and co-operation in europe (osce) are present in montenegro at the moment. The european organisation's parliamentary assembly has invited fifty mp's from fifty different states to joint them on 21st May next. Also the mep Jelko Kacin (liberal democrat party of Slovenia, lds) was re-elected on 10th may as head of the group of observers requested by the european parliament to monitor the election). Just one week before the referendum the situation is far from being a foregone conclusion. Independence supporters must imperatively rally voters beyond their camp if they expect a chance in winning more than 55% of the vote and witness their country achieving independence on 21st may next.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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