Montenegro and European Union

By reading excerpts of this article from 1998, it is possible to make interesting conclusions about current situation in Montenegro, the role of organized crime and corruption, and absence of real democratic principles.

The New York Times:

Full article available here:

November 2, 1998

The Next Trouble Spot in the Balkans: Montenegro

Budva, Montenegro— As the white launch cut around the breakwater and made for the deep waters of the Adriatic Sea, the wind tangled a Yugoslav flag flying from the rigging. Krsta Niklacevic, who said he was on his way to help his elderly father bring in fish for their restaurant, leapt to clear the tangle and set the flag flying proudly again.

“As a Serb, I love Yugoslavia,” he said. “But I am the biggest Montenegrin patriot I know, and Montenegro is through with being dominated by an evil government.”

The statement captured the complexity and danger of the newest flash point in the Balkans, Montenegro. Here, the Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, is being challenged by people who are familiar with his cunning and for the most part have no ethnic or religious quarrel to pick with Serbia, by far the larger of the two republics that make up Yugoslavia.

Defying Mr. Milosevic, many Montenegrins, including government officials, say they hope to create an open and democratic society as an example of how all Yugoslavs should be able to live.

But to achieve that, they are falling back on a tradition of smuggling. Officials who support Montenegro’s President, Milo Djukanovic — a former ally of Mr. Milosevic who turned against him and won election in this small republic of 630,000 people last fall — argue that this is the only way to subsidize a government cut off financially by Belgrade. (read here his controversial political biography).

Senior officials say about a third of the government’s budget comes from fees charged to smugglers who operate from here.

The smuggling poses a problem for Western countries that praise Montenegrins for challenging Mr. Milosevic. “We don’t have much information on that,” one Western diplomat said when asked about smuggling, and then quickly changed the subject.

At the helm of his boat, with the centuries-old walled port of Budva slipping out of view, Mr. Niklacevic said, “Why do I oppose Milosevic? Our tourist season used to be six or seven months long, now nothing.”

“That is his fault,” he said, referring to the international contempt and isolation that Mr. Milosevic’s policies have reaped. “Do I need another reason?”

He looked toward the horizon. One hundred twenty miles beyond lies Italy, the destination of the speedboats that smuggle cigarettes from warehouses in Montenegro to the European market.

“Milosevic sent the navy out there to stop the boats,” Mr. Niklacevic said with a broad grin, “but the smugglers are too clever. The Italian police can’t stop them either.”

Once a proud kingdom, though smaller than many American counties, Montenegro runs down rough mountains to the Adriatic. Its people have their own history, and many want to reverse the decision made in 1918 to join Yugoslavia.

If that happens, it will be the end of what is left of the Yugoslav Federation. Since Mr. Milosevic came to dominate Serbia in 1987, it has lost Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia as federal partners. Now Yugoslavia could lose Montenegro, and even the province of Kosovo, the cradle of Serbia’s history.

“We in Montenegro no longer want to live in an autocratic society,” President Djukanovic said in an interview. “Milosevic wants absolute and uncontrolled power.”

Mr. Djukanovic, 36, and other Montenegrins say they would like to remain part of Yugoslavia, but not if Mr. Milosevic is in charge. (see a short video about his role in Yugosla war – Montenegrins bombing Dubrovnik)

After Mr. Djukanovic’s narrow election victory over a Milosevic ally last year, Montenegro began to ignore federal laws and became independent in practice. “The only influence the federation has is the army and the currency,” Mr. Djukanovic said, “and many army officers are very helpful to us.”

The other republics that left Yugoslavia were places where non-Serbs were a majority. But Montenegro is mostly populated by people who share Serbian traditions. Indeed, Mr. Milosevic himself hails from a Montenegrin family, although he was born and reared in Serbia.

Not all Montenegrins back a fight with Mr. Milosevic. Some think their republic is too small to survive alone. Many consider themselves Serbs first and Montenegrins second and are inclined to keep the current union with Serbia. Many do not want to abandon the idea that Yugoslavia, though troubled, can be saved.

But even those Montenegrins who doubt that conflict with Mr. Milosevic is wise say they are paying the price for his mistakes.

About 12 percent of the people in Montenegro are refugees from the wars that accompanied Yugoslavia’s breakup, most recently from the conflict in Kosovo. In addition, between retirees, the unemployed, those working for antiquated state-owned companies and those working directly for the government, more than half of the people in Montenegro depend on the virtually bankrupt government for their livelihood.

While in Serbia the government is clamping down on independent media and foreign broadcasts, the Montenegrin government’s own stations broadcast reports by the Voice of America and the BBC.

“It’s 100 percent better than in Serbia”, said Dusan Masic, a field supervisor for the Association of Independent Electronic Media, an organization promoting press freedom in Yugoslavia. “But you won’t find many stories criticizing Djukanovic. You won’t find any stories about crime or corruption.”

The reluctance to report on crime stems in part from the republic’s unorthodox source of revenue: smuggling.

“It’s cigarettes for the most part,” said a senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Private companies ship the goods here, to government warehouses on the coast. Then the shippers’ boats get the goods to Italy.”

While still a Milosevic ally, President Djukanovic oversaw much of the smuggling that kept Yugoslavia going when it was under international sanctions from 1992 to 1995, foreign diplomats say. But he rejected the idea that his government was knowingly aiding smugglers today.

“What happens is that merchandise comes into Montenegro and continues on to other destinations,” he said. “We charge a tax for that. You could consider it a normal tax on commercial transactions.”

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