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Journal of Democracy 14.1 (2003) 145-153

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Dilemmas of a Small Republic

Srdjan Darmanovic

For the small Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, the early parliamentary elections held on 20 October 2002 were another in a series of "critical" votes since the advent of multiparty competition in 1990. As in the April 2001 voting, the pro-Western governing coalition of Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) turned back a challenge from nationalists and supporters of a strong federal union with Serbia whose ranks included former close allies of one-time Serbian strongman (and now accused war criminal) Slobodan Milosevic. If anything, the most recent elections returned a more decisive verdict, boosting the DPS-SDP from 36 to 39 seats in the 77-member parliament and allowing the coalition's two parties to form a new government on their own.

Premier Milo Djukanovic, the consummate political survivor who had been Milosevic's accomplice as prime minister of Montenegro (1990-96) and then his fierce opponent as president (1997-2000), emerged stronger from the most recent elections and has now sustained himself through 12 continuous years in power, during which he has sometimes cooperated with and sometimes opposed leading Western nations on the issue of Montenegro's sovereign status and place in the world.

The priorities of Montenegrin policy will thus remain largely as they were, with the new-old Djukanovic government pursuing economic and political reforms with support from Western experts and donors. The reform agenda will probably become more comprehensive and will move forward at a faster pace. The government will observe the 14 March 2002 [End Page 145] Belgrade Agreement that redefines relations with Serbia as a very loose federation replacing the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, with an option for an independence referendum within three years. 1 Movement toward European integration—meaning membership in the Council of Europe and participation in the European Union's so-called program of association and stabilization—will remain a lodestar in foreign policy. The possibility of a resurgence by hard-line Serbian nationalists seems more remote than ever.

When the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) collapsed amid bloodshed in 1991, Montenegro was the only constituent republic to forgo independence and stick with Serbia. Whether or not to seek its own place among the sovereign states of the world has long been a dilemma for Montenegro. This mountainous enclave of about 700,000 people on the Adriatic coast south of Croatia is the smallest of the six republics that made up the SFRY and has close linguistic, religious, and cultural ties to Serbia. Yet before the formation of the Kingdom of the South Slavs at the end of the First World War, Montenegro had been independent for centuries, and indeed had been the only portion of the Balkan Peninsula outside the borders of the Habsburg Empire never to come under Ottoman Turkish rule.

As had happened during other critical historical moments, the breakup of Tito's Yugoslavia faced Montenegro with the "eternal dilemma" of whether to opt for pan-Serb nationalism (led at this juncture by Milosevic) or independence. The new guard of Montenegrin communist-cum-nationalist officials who had come to power in 1989 with help from Milosevic decided, albeit not without hesitation, to stay with Serbia. In a referendum held on 1 March 1992, after fighting had already started elsewhere in what had been Yugoslavia, 62 percent of Montenegro's voters agreed, while pro-independence advocates boycotted the vote. Montenegro's decision, and the cooperation with Serbian war policy that it involved, made Montenegro subject to UN sanctions. It was a unique case of a political elite and a population deciding to remain within a country (Milosevic's new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) that at the very time of its formation had been placed under sanction by the world community.

A Tale of Two Transitions

It might be said, to borrow an idea from Guillermo O'Donnell's seminal January 1994 essay on "Delegative Democracy" in these pages, that Montenegro hada first transition (lasting...


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