- The Washington Times - Monday, September 20, 2004

Montenegro’s new foreign minister says the country’s nearly three-year-old union with Serbia is not working, and it’s time to form a looser association.

“Montenegro is experiencing a crucial phase in its history,” Miodrag Vlahovic said Friday at a U.S.-Montenegrin Policy Forum discussion hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“The Serbian-Montenegrin union was considered as a temporary solution and the people of Serbia and Montenegro should now be able to re-examine it,” Mr. Vlahovic said. “The people of Montenegro should have the right to self-determine their future.”

Under the rules of the unification of Serbia and Montenegro ratified by both countries’ parliaments in April 2002, either country could hold a referendum after March 2005 to decide on reverting to independence.

Montenegro was part of the former Yugoslav Federation along with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia and the dominant republic of Serbia, which includes the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo.

The federation broke up in 1991, leading to independence of all the republics except Serbia and Montenegro. Serbia offered the unification to wean Montenegro from the path of independence.

After years of resisting the extreme nationalism promoted by former Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Montenegro is now ready to regain its national independence and statehood, Mr. Vlahovic said.

There are more and more sticking points in political understanding between Serbia and Montenegro and no major improvement in their relationship, he said, thus “the easiest, most constructive and most democratic solution” would be to create two independent states.

“It is the best framework for our way to Europe. We do not want to be integrated in the European Union as a Serbian province,” he said and offered the Czech Republic and Slovakia as a model.

Mr. Vlahovic said the former Yugoslav republics could form “a union of independent states” to promote cooperation among themselves.

However, he said the European Union continues to follow a “twin-track” approach to the membership application of Serbia and Montenegro. Even though the two countries have no common currency, central bank or a unified market, the European Union still thinks it is more practical to keep Serbia-Montenegro intact.

Some analysts say EU leaders fear that Montenegrin independence could spur the separatist drive in Kosovo and reopen a Pandora’s box of border adjustments throughout the region.

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