I'm working at home this morning, and there was a brief piece on the TV (which plays downstairs from the office, but can be heard in the background) about how Montenegro was thinking really really hard about declaring independence from their union with Serbia. In fact, the Montenegrin President and Prime Minister have presented a petition for independence (sort of) to the Serbian and federal leadership. More below the fold.
Serbia: medium-small country, population about 7 million (not counting Kosovo). Montenegro: very small country, population about 600,000. Poorer than Serbia. Mostly mountains, though with a nice seacoast. Serbs and Montenegrins speak the same language and have been united in one country since 1919. They stayed together when Yugoslavia broke up. Currently they're joined in a federal union as a single country called "Serbia and Montenegro". This began in 2003 and is supposed to last until March 2006, at which point the two countries will reconsider their options. Very broadly speaking, the international community would like to see Serbia and Montenegro stick together. (The region has enough countries already.) Here's what I wrote about Montenegrin independence the last time Montenegro made loud noises about it (eight months ago, in July):
Montenegrin independence is a deeply silly idea. And most Montenegrins know it! What's going on here is Montenegro holding itself for ransom. See, if they make a really convincing case that they're about to bolt for independence, then (they think) the Serbs will give them a better deal when it's time to renegotiate the S&M union in a couple of years. Hey, it's worked once already — the present deal is far better for Montenegro than it should be. (Frex, M'gro has 8% of the population but 50% of the ambassadors and diplomatic staff. A Belgrade acquaintance of mine dryly asked if they could find that many M'grins who could read…) Of course, sooner or later they're going to miscalculate, and push the Serbs too far.Talos, of Histologion, replied that it didn't seem like a bluff, if only because a lot of Montenegrins had turned out for public support. To which I said:
It's a bluff. It's not hard to rent a crowd of flag-waving patriots in M'gro. (Or anywhere else in the former YU.) But sooner or later Serbia will call the bluff, and then Montenegro will suddenly be in a very interesting situation. Note that this is rather similar to the way Slovakia split from the Czechs. Djukanovic [the Prime Minister of Montenegro for the last decade or so -- ed.] is a clever, amoral opportunist. (I know, I know… the very last thing you'd expect to find running a republic of the former Yugoslavia.) Like some other clever, amoral opportunists, he's had a good long run, with some remarkable accomplishments. But he's nearly painted himself into a corner in the last year or so. The economy isn't growing, FDI isn't flowing in, the Serbs can't stand him, people are getting unhappy about things like dead journalists, and the international community is no longer charmed by his 'look at me! I'm a plucky democratic patriot from an appealing small nation' act. So, time to play the independence card again, and see what more he can screw out of Serbia. I think the Serbs will grit their teeth and let him get away with it one more time. Losing M'gro would be a huge psychological blow, and the fragile coalition government in Belgrade might not survive. But I can't see this working too much longer.That was eight months ago. Today... well, I'm still not sure Montenegrin independence will happen. (And I still think it's a deeply bad idea.) But it's looking more likely. One straw in the wind: the term of the federal Parliament of Serbia-Montenegro expires on March 3. There should have been elections last month to choose a new Parliament. However, neither Serbia nor Montenegro could be bothered. The legislators' terms will expire without anyone being elected to replace them. So in two weeks Serbia-Montenegro will move into constitutional limbo. Not a good sign. Montenegrin independence would probably happen without violence. That's about all that can be said for it. It would further traumatize Serbia; meanwhile, little Montenegro, poor and isolated, doesn't make much sense as an independent state. More on this as it evolves.