- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2000


For a man who has to go head to head with Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic on a regular basis, Montenegrin Premier Filip Vujanovic has quite a sunny disposition. Condemning his fellow Yugoslavian leader for trying to create a "fifth war" in the Balkans by stirring up conflict with Montenegro, a republic within Yugoslavia, Mr. Vujanovic said he was confident that his republic could still remain unified around democratic principles. Mr. Milosevic has done his best to destroy that unity, the Montenegrin premier told reporters at The Washington Times last week.
Mr. Milosevic was pursuing destruction of Montenegro, the premier said, as well as being the "greatest disaster for the Serbs and Serbia ever." But building a strong economic and democratic foundation through help from international donors such as the European Union may be a preferable option to immediately declaring independence when dealing with the man who sent around 94,000 refugees into Montenegro during the Kosovo conflict alone.
"Milosevic still has significant support … he's an excellent technologist of how to preserve power," and he has a stronghold over the media, the food supply, the police, the army, the universities and the budget, Mr. Vujanovic said. Mr. Milosevic continued his isolation of Montenegro Thursday by officially stopping all trade between Serbia and Montenegro, which has distanced itself from the Yugoslavian government in Belgrade recently by declaring the German mark the official currency. Such actions pit those who want independence against those who don't, but Montenegro is still trying to achieve unity through a coalition of three parties "For a Better Life." They are rallying around principles of democracy, complete privatization and the integration of European transatlantic organizations, no matter their differing views on when Montenegro should declare independence from Yugoslavia.
Such an agenda deserves financial support, if the United States and the European Union can ensure the money will indeed flow to where it is needed. So far the European Union has fallen short on its promises. Aid it pledged for '98 has yet to be seen, Zorica Maric of the Republic of Montenegro's Trade Mission to the United States said in an interview. The European Union has declared the rebuilding of the Balkans to be a priority, and in December its Council of Ministers said it would provide Montenegro with assistance. Since 1998, it has only provided around 21 million euros of the 55 million it pledged in humanitarian and overall aid, according to rough estimates by the European Commission.
With Kosovo still racked by ethnic tensions and impoverished conditions, and Mr. Milosevic still threatening unrest throughout the Balkans, aid is needed sooner rather than later. The United States has stepped up to the plate with pledges of $55 million for 1999 in technical assistance, budget support and humanitarian aid, and Montenegro has received $40 million of that so far, according to Montenegro's Trade Mission. Madeleine Albright said last week the United States plans to commit a similar amount this year. We clearly need accountability measures to ensure that the money goes to reconstruction and economic revitalization. However, as members of the European Commission meet this month to discuss aid to Montenegro, we also need to remind the Europeans of their responsibilities.

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