Serbia and Montenegro: How Much Sovereignty? What Kind of Association?

By Fraser, John M. | International Journal, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Serbia and Montenegro: How Much Sovereignty? What Kind of Association?


Fraser, John M., International Journal


Canadian ambassador to (former) Yugoslavia from 1983 to 1987. Since retiring from the foreign service, the author has given courses in Balkan affairs at the Institute of European and Russian Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa.

ON 6 DECEMBER 2002, the joint Serbian and Montenegrin Constitutional Committee unanimously adopted a charter that is to serve as the constitution for a new union of the two republics. After many delays at every stage of the process, the charter has been ratified by Serbia, Montenegro, and the now-defunct Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and is being implemented. Even the assassination of the Serbian prime minister, Zoran Djindji[Symbol Not Transcribed], on 12 March 2003 did not deflect the momentum towards the creation of the new state - much of which was due to his efforts to bring it about. 'Serbia and Montenegro' has thus replaced the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the name 'Yugoslavia' will disappear from the maps of the world.

Its passing does not seem to occasion much regret on the part of people in either of the component parts of all that was left of the former Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia. On the other hand, the new constitutional arrangement has not been greeted with any great enthusiasm - even among those who favour some kind of common state rather than a total break-up. When the agreement in principle to restructure constitutional relations between Serbia and Montenegro for a trial period of three years was reached in Belgrade on 14 March 2002, a local cartoon showed smiling international officials toasting each other while figures representing Serbia and Montenegro wept in a corner.

While not all of the loose ends have been tied up (allocation of ambassadorships and other government jobs, for instance), the major points have been agreed - even the 'harmonization' of the economy and adoption of a single customs tariff regime. Many observers had doubted that agreement could be reached on these sensitive issues without months of haggling and repeated pressure from the European Union, for which they were the essential elements of the new arrangements. Compared to Canada, which took more than fifty years to work out much less fundamental constitutional changes, Serbs and Montenegrins might be said to have moved ahead with breathtaking speed. When still mired in settling the details and a good deal behind schedule, they greeted comments to this effect rather sourly.

Why should Canadians care about all this? The constitutional future of Yugoslavia is hardly a matter of direct interest to Canada, and its possible implications for regional stability in a volatile part of Europe touch us only at one remove. Even so, the demise of a federation that has existed in one form or another for almost sixty years and had some similarities with our own can hardly be a matter of complete indifference. Nor can some of the proposals for new constitutional arrangements, which could well be seen as attractive precedents by those seeking to destroy Canada as it now exists. Most of all, perhaps, the notion that it does not really matter whether a federation survives as long as the component bits can be members of the same multilateral international organizations is a dangerous one for Canada.

The Belgrade Agreement and the Constitutional Charter to which it gave birth almost nine months later were the products of unremitting pressure from the international community, in particular the European Union (EU). The world seemed finally to be tiring of the endless proliferation of small Balkan states, most of them of dubious economic viability and likely to demand (and need) large quantities of international assistance for reconstruction and development - or simply to keep afloat.

The EU had the trump card, and its high representative for foreign and security policy, the former secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Javier Solana, had no hesitation in playing it. …

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