Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Montenegro: Can Another Balkan War Be Prevented?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Montenegro: Can Another Balkan War Be Prevented?

Article excerpt

Montenegro: Can Another Balkan War Be Prevented?

In the Balkans this spring, there are ominous signs almost every day of escalating tensions centering on the tiny Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. "It is no exaggeration," as International Crisis Group (ICG) president Gareth Evans put it, "to say that the fifth Balkans war of the past 10 years is about to burst out...This is a real test of the West's capacity to prevent one."

Evans suggested some steps the international community might take to lessen the chances of conflict in a joint appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace with Ambassador Morton Abramowitz, now a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. Their discussion on March 25 occurred on the same day the ICG issued a 25-page report, Montenegro: In the Shadow of the Volcano.

The volcano, of course, is the fact that for more than two years, Montenegro and Serbia have moved further and further apart politically and economically. There is talk of independence in Montenegro, the smaller partner in the two-republic Yugoslav federal republic. But President Slobodan Milosevic is waging psychological war on the ground there, to prevent a further splintering of his realm.

Montenegro, the tiny Kosovo-sized junior partner in what's left of the old Yugoslavia, has a population of about 640,000 and is Yugoslavia's only remaining outlet on the Adriatic Sea. Montenegro is a budding democracy, with a growing reform movement led by Milosevic arch-foe Milo Djukanovic. President Djukanovic narrowly defeated Milosevic ally Momir Bulatovic in presidential elections in 1997 and then expanded his political base by winning a Montenegran national election by a much wider margin the following spring.

Since then, Milosevic has engaged in what the ICG called "a series of political and military chess moves to keep the Montenegrans edgy." He is, in effect, employing a technique well-honed in run-ups to the four earlier conflicts which split Yugoslavia into pieces: the wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Among Belgrade's actions listed by Evans and Abramowitz and in recent news dispatches:

- Temporary closures of the republic's main airport at the capital, Podgorica.

- Expansion in Montenegro of the Yugoslav 7th battalion, a federal Yugoslav security force tightly controlled and run from Belgrade.

- Recent replacement of 120 senior officers by Milosevic loyalists in the Second Army of the Yugoslav National Army (VJ) deployed in Montenegro.

- New construction in Montenegro of at least two federal military TV transmitters controlled by Belgrade.

- Dispatch of dozens of Serbian para-militaries to Montenegro, many of them veterans of the Serb ethnic cleansing operations in Bosnia and Kosovo.

- Tightened frontier restrictions at Montenegro's southern border with Albania to inhibit trade.

"The threat of an attack on Montenegro," a U.S. Institute of Peace report said last January, "is increasingly likely. It may take any form, ranging from an indirect `constitutional' coup to a more direct attempt to enlist pro-Milosevic forces in Montenegro in acts of violence against the democratic regime. Although Montenegro remains a politically divided society (between pro-Milosevic elements and independence-minded reformists), it is making great strides toward establishing inclusive political and social institutions." (Montenegro is multi-ethnic and its minorities hold seats in parliament and prefer to work with the Djukanovic majority coalition, rather than the pro-Belgrade opposition. Minorities include Bosniaks [Bosnian Muslims] of Sandzak, 14. …

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