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Transitions online: The Arithmetic of Secession

Published date: 07.03.2006 17:00 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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The Arithmetic of Secession
by Aida Ramusovic
6 March 2006

Montenegro agrees to EU proposals to ensure the legitimacy of its May referendum on independence but it had little choice.

PODGORICA, Serbia and Montenegro | On 21 May, 466,079 registered voters in Montenegro will decide whether they want to live in an independent country or remain in the existing state union with Serbia.

After two months of negotiations between the government, the opposition, and EU representatives, Montenegros parliament voted on 1 March to accept the EUs formula for a vote. It also agreed on a referendum date and question. Montenegrins will now be asked on 21 May, Do you wish the Republic of Montenegro to become an independent state with an international legal personality? to which they can answer with yes or no.

The historic parliamentary session was attended by most top officials of the small Adriatic republic, including President Filip Vujanovic.

Let [the session] be our shared success, but the victory will be for Montenegro, said speaker Ranko Krivokapic.

But the upbeat statements could not disguise the fact that the parliament of this tiny republic of some 600,000 people had little choice but to approve the EU proposal, otherwise the EU could have refused to recognize the outcome of the referendum.

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic called the EUs formula undemocratic since it requires a voter turnout of over 50 percent and a yes vote of at least 55 percent of the votes cast for independence to be recognized. The EU also made it clear that any pro-union boycott of the referendum would invalidate its results.

Its outrageous. The scenario is for a real mess of Brussels own making, Nicholas Whyte, director of Europe programs at the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group, told the Guardian.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said immediately after the parliament session that he was thrilled at the outcome.

A FORMULA FOR SUCCESS?

The controversial model had been proposed by the EU special envoy, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak, in Podgorica on 15 February. The EU believes [this] will be the formula that will give the referendum its legitimacy, Lajcak said in February. However, we will not impose anything, and this has to be a decision of the two political blocs in Montenegro.

But it was clear that the pro-independence parties had little choice but to approve the formula even though they considered it to be undemocratic.

The EU has traditionally been wary of yet another Balkan republic declaring independence. Serbia and Montenegro formed their loose union in 2003, when they signed an agreement that allowed either of the two republics to call a referendum on independence after a three-year period. Solanas mediation was decisive in the formation of the union.

Even though they acknowledged Montenegros right to hold a referendum, Brussels officials stressed that the rules had to be clear so that no doubt regarding the legitimacy of the outcome would be left after the vote. In December 2005, the Venice Commission a Council of Europes expert body on constitutional issues opined that the Montenegrin referendum law was in line with international standards and recommended EU mediation between the government and the opposition. Lajcak, who reports to Solana, then began his mission at the beginning of 2006.

The most controversial issue was the specific majority required for the referendum to be valid. While Montenegros pro-independence government argued that between 25 and 40 per cent of all registered voters voting in favor of independence would be enough to ensure the legitimacy of the referendum, the pro-union parties said that at least 50 per cent of eligible voters had to vote for the bid to succeed.

A DIVIDED COUNTRY

While many pro-independence politicians were baffled by the EUs demands, Prime Minister Djukanovic, who is also the leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), was more upbeat. The majority for independence in Montenegro exists, he said. It has been proven and no model can challenge it.

But Djukanovic warned the EU that Montenegro shouldnt be provoked with some newly-created solutions.

The same day that Lajcek presented the EU formula to political leaders, Djukanovic told Podgorica TV that Montenegrins should expect to live in a much closer union with Serbia if the referendum failed since the current arrangement was unsustainable. It will be impossible for Montenegro to continue to use the euro while Serbia is using the dinar [currency], the prime minister said.

He also said that neither the separate tax and customs systems nor a separate foreign policy could be sustained.

But while calling the EU proposals undemocratic, Djukanovic stopped short of rejecting them outright, and the DPS ended up agreeing to the formula it had no choice.

Djukanovics allies, however, immediately rejected the proposal. The Social Democratic Party, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, said in a statement the EU package was unacceptable. The Movement for Independence said Solanas offer was an example of discrimination against the pro-independence voter, whose vote would be worth a fifth less than that of a unionist.

Opinions were divided in Serbia as well.

The deputy leader of the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Tomislav Nikolic, warned Djukanovic that in case Montenegro gained independence with the votes of less than 50 percent of the entire electorate, the Serbs would demand their own state within Montenegro.

Serbian President Boris Tadic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, was more conciliatory and said that any decision taken by all the political forces in the republic would be valid.

But Aleksandar Simic, a close adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, agreed with the SRS demand of a 50 percent threshold.

THE NUMBERS GAME

Regardless of the political calculations made in relation to the EU proposal, the numbers needed under different scenarios suggest that even though the pro-independence forces are leading in Montenegro, the government is fighting an uphill struggle in its campaign for independence.

Even without the EU formula, independence would need more votes than the cause, and the parties committed to it, have ever won (around 38,000 more, to be precise).

In addition to securing a clear majority in favor of independence, the government will also need to persuade enough voters to turn out. And the EU has made it clear that any vote boycotted by the opposition would not be valid.

According to a January survey, 41.4 percent of Montenegrin citizens were in favor of independence, with 32.3 opposed and about 25 percent undecided. The surveys margin of error was 2 percent.

With so many undecided voters and so much at stake, the campaign is now heating up. Intellectuals, civic groups, former politicians, even the church are now chipping in with their views, spurred on by the prospect of a general election to be held next fall.

The opposition seems to be coalescing around a group that includes the director of the civic Group for Change, Nebojsa Medojevic, one of Djukanovics strongest critic; the leader of the opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP), Predrag Bulatovic, known for his strong ties with former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and current Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica; a former minister of interior, Andrija Jovicevic; and the former Yugoslav ambassador to Italy, Miodrag Lekic, also a backer of Milosevics rule.

The four held a press conference in Podgorica at which they called on the electorate to peacefully participate in the referendum and to then change the government at the polls.

Serbian Orthodox Metropolitan Amfilohije, also a supporter of Milosevic and Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, and known as a tough opponent to Djukanovics politics, for the first time expressed his views on the turnout question.

Amfilohije told the press agency MINA that as a citizen he thought that only two-third of the voters or at least 50 percent plus one of the entire electoral body could guarantee the stability of Montenegro, though he also added that the church did not need either an independent Montenegro nor the state union in order to fulfill its mission.

The referendum campaign is just about to get in full swing. The first debate between parliament speaker Krivokapic and the leader of the opposition SNP, Bulatovic, will be held not in Montenegro but in Serbia.

But whichever way the vote swings, trouble might be brewing.

The EU formula contains a virus dangerous for stability, Djukanovic said. The formula harms a basic democratic principle. The decision should belong to the majority, not the minority.