Is there a war in Montenegro

GSoA newspaper

It's been a year since the last war in the former Yugoslavia ended. There is still no peace and the next campaign is imminent

Milosevic's regime holds Serbia under its grip with an iron fist. The everyday life of the citizens is shaped by the desolate economic situation and a climate of violence. Anyone who criticizes publicly quickly waits even longer for their wages or retirement, loses their job, is harassed by the police and charged in court with - or simply beaten or even gunned down on the street. Dozens of independent media outlets had to shut down. Protests from abroad are ineffective because Milosevic no longer has any partners in the West to whom he should listen.


The weakness of strength
The brutal state authority needs an ideology that legitimizes its actions. This building is crumbling more and more in Serbia, as surveys show:
84 percent of those surveyed are dissatisfied with their standard of living, 66 percent fear starvation. More than 80 percent demand a quick and thorough change of course in politics, 75 percent explicitly blame the government for the misery. Not abstract national interests, but tangible social and economic demands are in the foreground for the population. Such survey results show the deep gap between institutional violence and political control: the regime still has the former, but has lost the latter. The government is in a state of emergency and legitimation deficit - and it is to be feared that it will fall back on tried and tested diversionary maneuvers: Only a new war can help it out of the mess.
A group of independent economists is predicting hyperinflation in Serbia. The inflation rate is already 20-30 percent per month. Research has shown that 60 percent of the population has just enough income to pay for bare necessities such as rent and food. A third is already living below this minimum. In hyperinflation, the ones that are still functioning
Parts of the economy collapse. Mass protests and hunger riots would only be exacerbated by tough crackdowns by the police. A new war will not prevent hyperinflation, but it will discipline the population. A war offers the regime a seemingly plausible explanation for the impoverishment and once again diverts attention from the economic and political lack of prospects.


Dangerous elections
This year local and federal elections are due in what is now the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This creates two problems for the Milosevic regime: First, the government of the Republic of Montenegro will refuse to take part in elections as long as it has not wrested an agreement from Milosevic on the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro. Second, Milosevic can be far from certain that he will win the elections. According to surveys, only 22 percent of the electorate in Serbia support the parties of the ruling coalition. More than half of the voters - despite their determination to get rid of the current Slobodan Milosevic regime - have not yet been able to decide in favor of the divided and conceptless opposition. Milosevic has every interest in postponing the elections as long as possible. But according to the constitution, they have to take place this year. Only an exceptional situation can justify its postponement. So Milosevic comes in handy when an extraordinary situation arises ... In addition, according to the constitution, this was the last term of office for Milosevic - he is no longer allowed to stand for re-election. One more reason to prevent the elections, because apart from Serbia or The Hague there is probably nowhere for him to live.
To prevent the elections, the government can declare a state of emergency and go into an open dictatorship. However, this will provoke a rebellion that goes well beyond the circles of today's opposition. At the moment an is being prepared in the Serbian parliament, which, according to the will of the Radical Party, should even bring about the reintroduction of the death penalty. Two political killings in Bosnia and Montenegro in the last few weeks could lay the groundwork for this law beyond Serbia. This would give the government a means by which it could do away with the opposition and resistance in a civil war. Nonetheless, Milosevic fears civil war in Serbia, as this is the only war he must not lose if he wants to stay in power. So he will only use this scenario in combination with the second: a new war outside Serbia.
Anyone who has followed the process of disintegration in the former Yugoslavia knows that the war in Kosov @ was not the last in the Balkans. The enormous potential for conflict in Yugoslavia remains. The regions of Montenegro, Sandzak, Vojvodina and Southern Serbia remain on Milosevic's list for further escalations. So the question is: where will the next war be most convenient for Milosevic? Everything points to Montenegro today.


Theater of war Montenegro
Together with Serbia, which is 15 times larger, little Montenegro forms today's Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since Djukanovic, a head of government who turned away from Milosevic, was elected in Montenegro, the two republics have been at war. Over the past few months, Montenegro has been moving step by step towards independence, while the Serbian regime and the Yugoslav federal government have raised the threat against Montenegro.
After NATO and the Yugoslav Army signed a ceasefire agreement in Kosov @, units of the Yugoslav Army were withdrawn from there and moved to Montenegro. Montenegrin army cadres were dismissed and the posts were filled with Serb shop stewards. Strategically important places such as borders, airports and sea ports were placed under the control of the army by Milosevic.
In February, Milosevic imposed a blockade on Montenegro. All freight traffic across the Serbian-Montenegrin border has been prohibited since March. This strategy undermines the already weak economic situation in Montenegro, because the goods now have to be imported from Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia at increased prices. The social situation is coming to a head due to increasing impoverishment. The pro-Milosevic parties in Montenegro are trying to blame the government of Montenegro for the social problems and to turn them into protests.
Most of Milosevic's followers live in northern Montenegro. A war between Serbia and Montenegro could be staged as a civil war. The activities of the army and special police forces suggest nothing good: weapons were distributed to selected people, the political opponents of the Montenegrin government were mobilized, local police stations were taken over by Serbian police cadres and media were set up to function as mouthpieces for the Milosevic regime. Staged armed incidents like those in Croatia years ago could lead to a situation in which the Yugoslav army intervenes and legitimizes itself as .
Another war in Kosov @ would confront Milosevic directly with NATO. The same applies to the Albanian-inhabited areas in southern Serbia. Civil war alone is too risky. Montenegro offers itself as a theater of war.


Time is running out
Of course, the West has followed developments in Montenegro closely. The USA and the EU have explicitly signaled to the Djukanovic government several times that they do not want the republic to gain independence too quickly. Economic aid was promised on condition that Montenegro slows down the process of separation from Serbia. But there is no Western strategy that could prevent war. Statements by NATO about a war in Montenegro remained unclear. The West hardly wants a third after Bosnia and Kosov @
To impose de facto protectorate. The inability of the KFOR to achieve their declared goals in Kosov @ and the growing criticism of their warfare diminish the credibility of such adventures of the Alliance.
In the year of the presidential elections, the USA will hardly embark on a new foreign policy risk.
All the Balkan wars in the 1990s were foreseeable - and they should have been avoided. This next and fifth war could also be avoided. But since one is still preoccupied with yesterday's problems, there is no willingness to deal with tomorrow's problems. Time is running out and the international community is once again lacking a strategy for civil prevention.


* Nena Skopljanac is a political scientist. She lives in Switzerland and is involved with Medienhilfe Ex-Yugoslavia. A detailed version of their contribution can be found in English on the GSoA homepage.


Solidarity for the media
Medienhilfe Ex-Yugoslavia calls for solidarity with independent media workers in Serbia. In order to be able to resist the acute state repression, the media urgently need support. Information at http://www.medienhilfe.ch/