With its soaring mountain ranges, spectacular opening to the
Adriatic Sea, and leisurely pace of life, the tiny Yugoslav republic
of Montenegro seems worlds away from the confrontational politics in
much of the country.
But this land of some 600,000 inhabitants is in many ways the key
to the future of Yugoslavia, where ethnic violence is raging in the
province of Kosovo and where civil unrest seems inevitable in the
capital of Belgrade.
Western diplomats consider Montenegro to be a beachhead in their
effort to reform Yugoslavia and its dominant republic of Serbia. And
in recent months, they say, Montenegro has made significant strides
in helping to loosen Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's grip on
power - even in the face of US sanctions that are intended to punish
Mr. Milosevic's regime but affect Montenegro as well.
"The improvements we have seen in Montenegro over the course of
the last year ... have been historic," says US diplomat Robert
Gelbard. "The point here is that we have, as a strong policy, the
need to support and to help those who want democracy and market
Milosevic himself may have further pushed Montenegrin sentiment
for reform with a series of provocations. The leader, who has family
roots in Montenegro, has orchestrated several federal-government
shuffles, replacing reformers with regime loyalists. He also
recently fired the top general of the Yugoslav Army, Momcilo
who has close ties with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. In
addition, Montenegrins accuse Milosevic of withholding money
earmarked for Montenegrin pension funds.
Analysts speculate that after Kosovo, Milosevic may turn the focus
of his activities on Montenegro.
Reaction to Kosovo
For now, Montenegro has become increasingly important with the
deepening of the conflict in the province of Kosovo, where the 90
percent ethnic Albanian majority is calling for independence and
Serbian forces are accused of massacring civilians. Montenegrins
have openly criticized the actions of the Yugoslav Army there, and
have maintained solid relations with the ethnic Albanian populations
in both Kosovo and Montenegro.
When Yugoslav officials said Jan. 18 they would expel the top
international observer in Kosovo - William Walker of the
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - Montenegrin
promptly invited Mr. Walker to Montenegro.
Mr. Djukanovic, who finished his first year in office last week,
has promised economic reform and greater integration with Europe. To
do so, he has distanced himself from Milosevic and stopped
recognizing the federal government, whose prime minister is a
Milosevic ally hailing from Montenegro, Momir Bulatovic.
By pulling away from Serbia, Djukanovic has alienated those who
identify with the Serbs and want to maintain close ties. …