Next step in carve-up of the Balkans: Montenegrin regime approves plan for statehood

                    by Barry Grey

                    The government of Montenegro, outside of Serbia the only remaining
                    republic of the Federation of Yugoslavia, took a major step toward
                    secession August 5 when it approved a plan to dissolve the federation
                    and establish an independent Montenegrin state.

                    Under the plan, the tiny republic would establish its own currency,
                    assume control over all Yugoslav troops within its borders and maintain
                    its own foreign ministry. It would remain loosely linked to Serbia in an
                    “Association of the States of Serbia and Montenegro.”

                    Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and other top officials make little
                    attempt to conceal the fact that the plan, which they forwarded to
                    Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, was intended to prepare the
                    way for a formal declaration of independence later this year. Djukanovic
                    said Milosevic would have six weeks to approve the proposal. If he
                    failed to do so within the allotted time, Montenegro would proceed with
                    a referendum on secession.

                    The plan has the character of an ultimatum which the regime in Belgrade
                    cannot possibly accept. Besides the provisions listed above, it demands,
                    for example, the replacement of the existing two-chamber Yugoslav
                    parliament with a one-house parliament, in which Montenegro, with a
                    population of 630,000, would have equal representation with Serbia,
                    which has 10,000,000 inhabitants.

                    If the provocative character of the Montenegrin plan recalls the
                    Rambouillet ultimatum that became the pretext for the US and NATO to
                    launch their war against Serbia, this is more than accidental. Djukanovic
                    and his government have for some time functioned as political assets of
                    the United States, which was the driving force behind the Rambouillet
                    sham. Just last week Djukanovic met with US President Clinton at the
                    Balkan Stability Summit in Sarajevo.

                    Zarko Vukcevic, a member of Montenegro's ruling coalition, said the
                    plan “represents a major step toward a sovereign Montenegro because
                    we are moving from the dead end called Yugoslavia.” Asked if the plan
                    were not an actual declaration of independence, Montenegrin Deputy
                    Prime Minister Dragisa Durzan said, “It sounds like that to me.”

                    The US and the European powers have embraced Djukanovic and
                    portrayed him as an enlightened and democratic counterweight to
                    Milosevic. This is a farce, one, however, that is dutifully cultivated by the
                    Western press.

                    Prior to his election as president of Montenegro in 1997, when he ran
                    with the backing of the US, Djukanovic was an ally of Milosevic. His
                    politics differed in no essentials from the Serb chauvinist policies of the
                    Yugoslav president. In its report on the new Montenegrin proposal, the
                    Philadelphia Inquirer described Djukanovic as “a former communist
                    and cigarette smuggler.”

                    Like his forerunners in the other former Yugoslav republics—Kucan in
                    Slovenia, Tudjman in Croatia, Izetbegovic in Bosnia—Djukanovic came
                    to the conclusion that the narrow and selfish economic interests of his
                    clique could best be served by shifting alliances directly to the imperialist
                    powers. His moves toward independence have no more to do with
                    democratic principles than the secessionist path taken by his Slovenian,
                    Croatian, Bosnian, Macedonian and Kosovan counterparts. In all of the
                    above cases, ruling cliques promoted by the West have established highly
                    repressive regimes which function as more or less direct puppets of the
                    great powers. The conditions of the masses—of all ethnic groups—have
                    generally declined to levels of poverty and social desperation
                    considerably worse than the already depressed levels that existed prior to
                    the breakup of Yugoslavia.

                    The essential content of Montenegrin independence is revealed in the
                    economic platform drawn up by the Djukanovic regime. Last month the
                    Financial Times of Britain reported that it called for “accelerated
                    privatization, deregulation, protection of private property rights, equal
                    treatment for foreign investors, and the establishment of a foreign trade
                    regime open to world markets.”

                    Bluntly stated, the stunted, economically backward land of Montenegro
                    is to become a semi-colony of the United States, whose corporations will
                    have a free hand to plunder whatever natural resources and cheap labor
                    reserves the new state offers, while US military and intelligence agencies
                    employ it as a staging ground for new provocations against Serbia.

                    The proposal to split off Montenegro from Serbia is, in some respects,
                    more reckless, retrogressive and potentially explosive than the
                    Western-backed secession of the other republics. With its tiny,
                    mountainous land mass (half the size of the state of Maryland), scant
                    population and backward economy, Montenegro lacks any material basis
                    for independent economic development. On the other hand, its secession
                    would be a further, and perhaps crushing blow to Serbia. Montenegro
                    provides Serbia's only access to the sea. Montenegrin ports on the
                    Adriatic are Serbia's primary trade link to supplies of oil and other vital
                    resources. Western encouragement of Montenegrin separatism
                    underscores the fact that the great powers, spearheaded by the US, are
                    pursuing a policy of strangling Serbia.

                    There is no Montenegrin “people.” The vast majority of the republic's
                    inhabitants are Serbs, bound by history, tradition, language and religion to
                    Serbia proper. By fomenting Montenegrin separatism and promoting the
                    myth of Montenegrin nationhood, the US and its European accomplices
                    are creating the conditions for a fratricidal conflict that could become
                    even more bloody that the civil wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.

                    The US, while prodding Djukanovic forward in order to use him against
                    Milosevic, is at the same time seeking to head off a precipitous
                    declaration of Montenegrin independence. Washington's caution in this
                    regard is bound up with tactical calculations in its drive for domination of
                    the Balkans. The Clinton administration may believe its client regime in
                    Montenegro can, for the present, be more effective in producing the
                    desired political changes in Serbia if it remains part of the Yugoslav
                    federation. Moreover, the unstable situation in Kosovo argues against
                    provoking, at least for now, a new military clash with Belgrade.

                    Responding to the Montenegrin plan, US State Department spokesman
                    James Rubin praised Djukanovic for showing “a measured and rational
                    approach to political and economic reform,” which he said the US
                    supported. Rubin added, however: “We think that they should continue
                    to work within Yugoslavia to insure their rights are protected.”

                    But as the past decade of carnage has demonstrated, once imperialism
                    has set in motion the process of dismemberment and communal conflict,
                    it is not necessarily in a position to control the consequences. Those who
                    pay the price are the masses of the entire region.

                    Ninety years ago, almost to the day, Leon Trotsky wrote in his profound
                    essay “The Balkan Question and Social Democracy”: "The Great
                    Powers—in the first place, Russia and Austria—have always had a direct
                    interest in setting the Balkan peoples and states against each other and
                    then, when they have weakened one another, subjecting them to their
                    economic and political influence. The petty dynasties ruling in these
                    ‘broken pieces' of the Balkan Peninsula have served and continue to
                    serve as levers for European diplomatic intrigues. And this entire
                    mechanism, founded on violence and perfidy, constitutes a huge burden
                    weighing down upon the Balkan peoples, holding back their economic
                    and cultural development."

                    With only a few changes to account for contemporary
                    circumstances—substituting the United States for “Russia and Austria,”
                    nationalist ruling cliques for “petty dynasties”—Trotsky's analysis stands
                    as a penetrating assessment of the tragic condition of the Balkans at the
                    end of the twentieth century.