April 19, 2001

Madness in the Mountains

Milo Djukanovic can’t hardly wait to be called "Mr. President" – and not just any which way. He is absolutely determined to be the President of an independent, internationally recognized Republic of Montenegro. Come hell or high water, the former protégé and admirer-turned-enemy of Slobodan Milosevic wants to see the tiny state currently still within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia occupy a separate seat in the UN and – why not? – NATO. With him as its near-absolute ruler, of course.

In three days, depending on the outcome of state elections in Montenegro, that dream of his – and the nightmare for the rest of the Balkans – has a good chance of coming true.


For four years now, Djukanovic has faithfully served the United States as their Yugoslav "insider." He provided sanctuary for pro-NATO politicians such as Zoran Djindjic and Vuk Draskovic, when NATO attacked Yugoslavia in 1999. He also refused to fight against NATO, which largely spared his dominion the indiscriminate bombing reserved for the rest of FRY. Montenegro also served as a base of operations for US special envoys, diplomats, spies and reporters, and a channel for funds to Serbian opposition – notably Mr. Djindjic and other groups, whoever was more willing to renounce their Serb identity in favor of materialist liberalism.

His ascension to power in 1997 was aided by copious amounts of American taxpayers’ cash. Ever since, as a reward for his services, Djukanovic has received millions of dollars in direct US aid. He used it to buy the loyalty of the people and fortify his power. Bereft of income from tourism, its industry in shambles from five years of sanctions, Djukanovic’s Montengro relied almost exclusively on foreign aid to make up its budget. Last year, Montenegro was the second largest recipient of per capita US aid – right after Israel!


Unlike other republics of the former Socialist Yugoslavia (SFRY), Djukanovic’s regime eschewed the headlong approach to secession. Instead, they usurped more and more federal authority, from taxation, and customs to police, banking and currency, over time. German Mark replaced the Yugoslav dinar as legal tender last year, soon after NATO did the same in occupied Kosovo. Djukanovic’s regime has also armed and trained about 40,000 paramilitary police (around 7% of the total population!), just in case anything interferes with his destruction of Yugoslavia.

With Milosevic in power in Belgrade, the US enthusiastically funded and supported Djukanovic’s regime. Djukanovic enjoyed endless positive publicity, despite – nay, because of – the fact that he was destroying the Yugoslav union bit by bit. Of course, every action was justified in the name of self-defense against Milosevic’s "aggression," as if a country could really attack itself. Then again, if the world had bought NATO’s explanation for Kosovo, there was nothing Djukanovic and his masters could not get away with.

When Kostunica and DOS took power in October 2000, the Milosevic bogeyman disappeared. Supporters of Montenegrin independence, from the US government to the militant, pro-Empire ICG to Djukanovic himself howled that Milosevic was still a threat to Montenegro (i.e. Djukanovic, as those two terms had just about become inseparable in their eyes). But the regime was busily exploiting other openings.


Milosevic, Djukanovic suggested on one of his NATO tours, was not really the problem. What really stuck in his craw was that Montenegro could never be fully equal in a federation with Serbia. How exactly did he envision "full equality" of a tiny province of 600,000 with a several times larger entity of 9 million, Djukanovic chose not to elaborate. He did, however, reject with extreme prejudice the proposal by president Kostunica that would have reorganized the current Yugoslav federation (loose and dysfunctional as it is) into a virtual confederacy, with only a few key powers in federal hands. No, Milo replied, and demanded total and complete independence under a pretense of a union. Even Zoran Djindjic, the man who stands to gain the most if Djukanovic secedes and leaves Kostunica without a job, rejected this nonsense.

The negotiations were supposed to fail, though, since they bought time for Djukanovic to launch a media offensive and organize an independence referendum. He and his "foreign minister" Branko Lukovac went on tours of NATO countries, trying to secure political, financial and military support for secession. Lukovac wrote two editorials asking for US backing, dutifully printed in the Washington Post and the Washington Times. For foreign consumption, the regime’s argument focused on Montenegro’s contribution to fighting "greater Serbian nationalism" – i.e., if Montenegro seceded, that would somehow destroy the "dream of Greater Serbia," supposedly first espoused by Milosevic, and now Kostunica.

On the domestic front, Djukanovic has encouraged pseudo-histories and pseudo-linguistics, both aimed at somehow "proving" that Montenegrins have been a separate nation from Serbs entirely, and even spoke a different language. He even encouraged the formation of the "Montenegrin Orthodox Church", led by an excommunicated Orthodox priest Miras Dedeic. The MOC then proceeded to assault the priests, churches and offices of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s Diocese of Montenegro-Littoral. Frequent protests by bishop Amfilohije and his demands for legal protection fell on deaf ears in Montenegro’s capital, Podgorica.


The inhabitants of Montenegro (sr. Crna Gora, eng. Black Mountain) had long considered themselves Serbs – albeit first and foremost members of their mountain clans, much like the Scots. As fiercely as the Scots, they fought the Turkish invaders for centuries and managed to preserve their little mountain enclave as the last free remnant of the once prosperous Serbian kingdom, which had been lost in the 1389 battle of Kosovo. The traditional headwear of Montenegro’s men, incidentally, symbolizes the bloody field of Kosovo framed in a black as a sign of mourning.

Ruled by Orthodox bishops (vladike) for centuries, Montenegro was officially recognized as an independent state in 1799 by the Ottoman Empire, and in 1878 by the Western empires at the Congress of Berlin. One of its greatest rulers, Petar II Petrovic-Njegos, wrote the greatest Serbian liberation epic, the "Mountain Wreath" [Gorski Vijenac] in 1847.

Under Njegos’s heirs, Montenegro fought alongside the restored, independent Serbia in the Balkan wars of 1912-1913, and stood by its brethren in 1914-15, as Austrian and German troops overran the Balkans. In 1918, it finally joined the Kingdom of Serbia and accepted the Serbian crown – then merged into the Kingdom of South Slavs, later Yugoslavia.

Under Italian occupation in World War Two, Montenegro was administered by enemies of the unification, the so-called "Greens" [Zelenasi] because their "nay" votes in 1918 had been on green cards, while the "Whites" [Bjelasi] had voted on white cards. Yet many Greens still believed Montenegro to be a Serb land.

When the Communists took power in 1945, they established the Republic of Montenegro, in accordance with their ideology: the Serbs, as the most populous Yugoslav group, had to be weak and divided in order for the Communists to govern effectively.

So while the independent Montenegro had first been established as an expression of Serb desire for liberty and unity, the Republic was established as its absolute antithesis. Instead of joining, it divided. Instead of strengthening, it weakened. And instead of liberating, it enabled the Communists to imprison thousands of people in Serbia – and Montenegro – as "Stalinists," during the 1948-53 standoff with the Comintern.


Djukanovic’s regime is now trying to erase those centuries of Montenegro’s Serb identity by inventing the new language, history, culture and even favoring the western, Latin alphabet – though Njegos had written in native, Cyrillic Serbian.

Djukanovic is also trying to present his actions as the right of Montenegrins to self-determination. Even if one concedes the incredulous point that there is a "Montenegrin" nation – for the sake of tolerance and understanding – how come, then, that only those "Montenegrins" living on the territory of Djukanovic’s private fiefdom will be allowed to vote in the upcoming referendum? There are three times as many "Montenegrins" (many of whom consider themselves Serbs from Montenegro) in Serbia proper, or elsewhere in the world, and most of them are not in favor of Djukanovic’s folly. Because of that, they will not be able to vote. Ethnic minorities in Montenegro itself, though, will. Many Slavic Muslims in the north and most Albanians in the south support Djukanovic wholeheartedly. Whether the latter would simply prefer to be a sizable minority in a small, independent Montenegro to being a tiny minority in FRY – or their plans perhaps coincided with the authors of this map – is immaterial. Djukanovic counts on their votes to win the referendum, and they intend to deliver.

Given that there are enough minorities to push Djukanovic’s separatists over the "50% of participating voters + 1" mark, it is conceivable that the decision to secede will quite likely be made by a minority of "Montenegrins." Djukanovic has shown no sympathy for the fate of those "Montenegrins" who live in Serbia. As far as he is concerned, they do not exist. Someone might remember that Slobodan Milosevic’s not-so-remote ancestors came from Montenegro, after all…

Last, but not least, Djukanovic’s brazen request for 50,000 blank identity documents from Belgrade leaves no room for doubt. If he cannot win the election and the referendum legally, he is more than ready to cheat. He did say, after all, that Yugoslavia no longer existed.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and had contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specialized in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, which were published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Madness in the Mountains: Montenegro's Looming Secession

A House Divided


Empire at the Gates

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana’s Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

Bandits on the Border

It's the Spelling, Stupid

Zoran Djindjic: Serbia's Richard III

Wheels of Injustice

The Tragedy of Bosnia

The Suspended Castle

Hand Of The Empire: Decision in Kosovo

Introduction: The Balkans Babylon

ITN: Case Closed


The new authorities in Belgrade have been almost inexplicably and exceptionally tolerant of Djukanovic’s moves. It is possible that, fearing a new NATO attack, they are trying to avoid accusations of heavy-handedness by handling Montenegro with kid gloves. Officially, Washington is against Djukanovic’s secession. Nevertheless, American government’s word means little when money and guns indicate otherwise. NATO’s "security guarantee" to Montenegro, made by General Clark during the 1999 aggression, has never been revoked. Similarly, US financial aid to Djukanovic continues unhindered. Secretary Powell did avoid meeting with Djukanovic on two occasions already, but that means relatively little – there are plenty of US officials on duty in Podgorica.

It is certainly odd for Djukanovic to ignore the "warnings" of the US and NATO – unless one looks better at them and realizes they are generally mild and toothless, focusing on "unilateral action" and "violence." Certainly, if Djukanovic wins the referendum and declares independence unopposed, there will be no violence. Given that the EU had recognized Bosnia’s independence based on an illegal and illegitimate referendum in 1992, they can hardly call Djukanovic’s referendum "unilateral." No, all warnings against "unilateral action" and "use of force" had always been aimed at Milosevic and Belgrade – a point which the new government could have hardly missed.

While all that accounts for much of Belgrade’s relative ambivalence – the rest easily explained by political maneuvering between the supporters of Kostunica and Zoran Djindjic – it cannot explain the almost fatalistic acceptance of Djukanovic’s behavior. Kostunica seems to be hoping that Djukanovic would obey the law, despite the countless examples of the latter’s disregard for the Constitution he helped write. Djindjic, on the other hand, could not care less of Montenegro goes – as long as that does not jeopardize his hold on power and access to Western money and support.

Ironically, most attacks on Djukanovic’s position are using the argument that it would hurt the US interests in the Balkans – who cares about Yugoslavia and the Serbs, anyway? – by encouraging the secession of Kosovo. Djukanovic rightfully laughs at such pitiful resistance.


The Yugoslav idea – that Southern Slavs could live independently of outside powers – was firmly killed a decade ago, when most of its non-Serb population opted for foreign domination within semi-viable fiefdoms. If Djukanovic’s plans for secession are successful, however, the trend of disintegration would strike at the very core of Serbian nationhood, unraveling what little may be holding the Serbs together in those lands not yet occupied by NATO.

Implications of this for the Balkans are devastating. However flawed and however weakly, the Serb state still holds a stand for sovereignty and freedom of individual nations. If that state falls, the entire region would come under the boot of NATO, having sacrificed liberty for a pretense of peace.

Pressed as they are with Albanian attacks, occupation of Kosovo, economic collapse, prohibitive taxation and a general collapse of society as 18 parties in the ruling coalition struggle for power and influence, only a few people in Serbia are finding the courage and strength to speak out against Djukanovic’s treason. They are immediately accused of "hate-mongering" by the pro-NATO press and politicians (financially dependent on the same people who fund Djukanovic, incidentally), and largely ignored by the ordinary Serbs. At a time when patriotism and self-respect are war crimes, treason does not seem like much of a transgression. Quite the contrary – it might even represent "liberation" and "cultural decontamination," the final expression of loving Big Brother and the acceptance of Imperial Peace.

Map from The Guardian

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