Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Fourth Report


Prospects for the federation: the state of discussions between Montenegro and the federal Government

54. One of the most important issues facing Yugoslavia, and one which has the potential to distract both Serbia and Montenegro from the tasks of economic reconstruction, is the question of the future of the federation. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia exists as a union between Serbia and Montenegro. The possibility of Montenegro holding a referendum on independence has been mooted for some time, but has appeared increasingly likely in recent months. In August 1999 the Montenegrin Government submitted a "Platform" proposal to the Yugoslav federal authorities which envisaged Montenegro remaining loosely linked with Serbia in a confederation with the right to maintain its own army, foreign ministry and currency. The Milosevic government did not reply to this proposal. On 28 December 2000, in response to the revolution in Belgrade, the Montenegrin Government adopted a revised 'Platform', which envisaged future negotiations taking place between Serbia and Montenegro as two internationally recognised independent states.

55. A declaration of independence by Montenegro would clearly have repercussions for the region, although different commentators make different claims as to how extensive or negative these might be. In the following paragraphs we examine these issues, and in particular the policy of the United Kingdom Government towards the possibility of Montenegrin independence.

Montenegrin representation at federal level

56. One of the factors which has complicated relations between Belgrade and Podgorica is that the political parties represented in Mr Djukanovic's Government boycotted the federal elections of 24 September 2000, with the result that its political opponents, the Socialist People's Party (SNP), won the majority of the Montenegrin vote and now hold the balance of power in the Federal Parliament. Under the federal constitution, the SNP has been rewarded with the post of federal prime minister and about 40 per cent of other ministerial positions. Mr Djukanovic's Government thus has no active stake in the current federal administration, which is instead a forum for his political opponents. Chris Patten has told us that "some people wonder whether President Djukanovic believes that he made the wrong option when he chose not to take part in the Federal elections in Yugoslavia back last autumn".[102]

Current state of integration in the federation

57. All parties in Serbia and Montenegro appear to agree that the status quo is unacceptable. We refer above to some of the inefficiencies generated in Serbia by the presence of two administrations with an unclear division of powers.[103] Different currencies are in use in Serbia and Montenegro, while on 12 February 2001 the Federal authorities re-established customs posts on the Serbian-Montenegrin border. As Elizabeth Roberts of Trinity College, Dublin, has written, "the present situation whereby Montenegro is a member of a non-functioning federation is wholly anomalous".[104] In this context, it should not be assumed that a federation, particularly one based on the current minimalist model, would be by any means more integrated than a functioning relationship between an independent Montenegro and an independent Serbia might be.

58. The prospects for a federal solution do not look good. A Montenegrin general election has been called for 22 April 2001, with a referendum on independence likely by the end of June if Mr Djukanovic and his allies achieve a majority.[105] Serbian leaders have meanwhile been quoted in the media—and they confirmed this to us during our visit to Belgrade—that although they are prepared to negotiate with Montenegro within the federal context, they would rather establish normal bilateral relations than negotiate a new regional structure with an independent Montenegro. President Kostunica has said that talks between himself and President Djukanovic "confirmed two radically opposed stands which cannot be overcome".[106] According to Tim Judah, "many Serbs ...suspect...a Montenegrin ruse for having the benefits of independence while getting Serbia to subsidize the irritating expenses".[107] It may well be that this absolutist position will weaken in the event of a clear vote in favour of Montenegrin independence.

Why might Montenegro want to be independent?

59. Some of the support for Montenegrin independence is rooted in Montenegro's history. Montenegro achieved international recognition at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, at the same time as Serbia, and was forcibly incorporated into the new state of Yugoslavia following the first world war. The idea of Montenegrin independence is not therefore a recent invention. Part of the current campaign for independence consists of rehearsing the alleged wrongs of the past in the termination of Montenegrin statehood.[108]

60. In practice, independence would give Montenegro two advantages which it would not have as an autonomous republic within a federation. The first of these is a seat for Montenegro at international organisations, which would not only have symbolic resonances but which would also, more practically, allow international loans and aid to be sent directly to Podgorica, rather than being channelled through Belgrade. The second advantage is that, as an independent state ceding powers voluntarily to a supranational body (if Serbia agreed to such a body), Montenegro would have the right to withdraw unilaterally from this body whenever it chose. As a republic within a federation, that right is less unequivocal, even if in practice the international community would be unlikely to reject the result of a referendum on independence conducted in accordance with international standards.

61. Another factor is that, despite the democratic changes in Serbia, Montenegro still fears domination by its far larger and more powerful neighbour. The Yugoslav census of 1991 calculates the population of Serbia (not including Kosovo) to be 7,766,433 and that of Montenegro to be 616,327. Extremist Serbian politicians such as Vojislav Seselj have openly espoused direct rule over Montenegro from Belgrade. Suspicion clearly extends even to the current federal Government, with Zoran Kusovac going so far as to write that President Kostunica intends "the incorporation of Montenegro into Serbia, annulling its status as a constituent state".[109]

62. It is also worth remembering that the Montenegrin government has been in charge of an almost entirely autonomous state for several years. It would be unsurprising if it now wished to hold onto its current powers.

Does Montenegro have a valid claim to independence?

63. It appears to us that Montenegro has a greater claim to independence than other potential candidates for secession in the region, such as Kosovo and Republika Srpska. Montenegro has a history as an independent state and, just as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)[110] were, it is a full republic of the Yugoslav federation, a status that Kosovo has never had.

64. The constitution of the FRY is different from the constitution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), which granted republics the right to secede and which was in force during the disputes of 1990-91. The 1992 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—comprising Serbia and Montenegro alone—provides no explicit right to secede.[111]

65. The FCO has made it apparent quite how complex an issue is the question of Montenegro's right to secede.[112] The federal and Montenegrin constitutions appear to be incompatible, and their provisions are interpreted differently by those who favour and those who oppose independence. It is also important to be aware that independence is not just about exercising a right to secede: it also involves recognition by the international community. To this extent, the provisions of the Yugoslav constitution are irrelevant. It is not for the international community to determine the constitutionality of Montenegro's wish to secede. It does, however, need to consider whether to recognise Montenegro as an independent state if it decides to secede.

66. When faced with declarations of independence by Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia, the international community, while holding to the principle of self-determination, did not wish to set a precedent for the fragmentation of other federal states. The result was a legal fudge. The Badinter Commission,[113] set up by the European Community (EC), found that the SFRY was in the process of dissolution, which allowed the EC to extend recognition to those republics seeking independence while skirting the issue of secession altogether. The EC then set up a framework for the international recognition of the other former Yugoslav republics in 1991, calling upon the Badinter Commission to evaluate the republics' applications for recognition. Montenegro could have become an independent state at the same time as the other former republics, but chose instead to join the new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As a result, the issue of Montenegrin statehood did not arise at the time. In legal terms, therefore, the Badinter precedent does not apply to Montenegro.[114]

67. The Badinter precedent is not, however, confined to the strictly legalistic. Some commentators seem to regard it is maintaining a moral validity of some sort. As Misha Glenny told us, "it is rather difficult to argue with the Montenegrins that they should not go for independence, everyone else was allowed to go for independence, they are allowed to under the Badinter Commission".[115] While the Badinter Commission may not represent a happy precedent, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 states that the signatories "consider that their frontiers can be changed, in accordance with international law, by peaceful means and by agreement."[116] The Yugoslav government, which is now a member of the OSCE and a signatory of the Final Act, has stated that it will accept a legal and peaceful declaration of independence.[117] We conclude that there is a persuasive argument for saying that Montenegro has the right to seek independence, irrespective of the merits of it doing so. The decision to recognise a state is, of course, a matter for other states.

68. However, Montenegrin independence would clearly have consequences for the region, for Serbia and for Montenegro itself. We turn first of all to the main reason for international opposition to Montenegrin independence—the effect it is feared it might have on stability in the region.

What effect would Montenegrin independence have on the region?

69. The international community's concerns about the possibility of Montenegrin independence have changed little since we outlined them in our report on Kosovo.[118] Full independence for Montenegro, it is argued, would lead to the end of Yugoslavia as an entity and would force a decision on the status of Kosovo, leading to greater demands from Kosovo Albanians for independence, and perhaps also encouraging separatists elsewhere in the region, notably the Serbs and Croats of Bosnia and the Albanians of western Macedonia.[119] Any change to international borders in the region should therefore be resisted, according to this argument. We will now examine this rationale in detail, dealing in turn with Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia.


70. The FCO has written that "a Montenegrin declaration of independence would be an extra factor to be taken into consideration in the political process to address Kosovo's future. It is likely that it would increase pressure in Kosovo for independence."[120] Misha Glenny has informed us that it is safe to say that Montenegrin secession "would strengthen Albanian calls for Kosovo's independence,"[121] and Elizabeth Roberts noted that "the international community is concerned that a change in Montenegro's status could provide ammunition to Kosovar Albanians seeking independence for Kosovo"[122] and also that "Albanian separatist opinion would be quick to exploit this opportunity in a way that might put further pressure on the new regime in Serbia and create difficulties for the international community."[123]

71. It is often said that the legal implications of Montenegrin independence create uncertainties about Kosovo's future. The Military Technical Agreement (MTA) was signed by representatives of the government of Yugoslavia, the government of Serbia, and a NATO representative. Under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 Kosovo remains a part of Yugoslavia. It is argued that, if Yugoslavia ceased to exist, the MTA and UNSCR 1244 would cease to be valid, and Kosovo would cease to be a part of Yugoslavia.[124] However, if in the event of Montenegrin secession, Serbia were to become the internationally recognised successor to Yugoslavia (the most likely scenario) then this would not be the case: Serbia would be deemed to have adopted all of Yugoslavia's obligations.[125]

72. Regardless of the legal implications for Kosovo, it is clear that the political situation in Kosovo will be changed by the final end of Yugoslavia. The international community has been studiously avoiding answering the question of Kosovo's final status (Mr Vaz told us that "this is not an issue for now."[126]) This is because it is feared that an answer will provoke either the Serbs (if independence were declared) or the Kosovo Albanians (if something short of independence were declared), resulting in further instability and violence, which in turn has implications for the extent and duration of the international community's commitment to the region. Some apparently entertain the hope that some form of loose association between Kosovo and Yugoslavia might be devised, and therefore do not want to rule out any possibility for Kosovo. Professor Mary Kaldor wrote in evidence to us that there is talk among diplomats of "a three-republic solution, whereby Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo become the three constituent republics of a newly constituted Yugoslavia. This could have been an excellent solution before the Yugoslav wars...but after all that the Kosovar Albanians have experienced at the hands of the Yugoslav authorities not just during 1998-9 but since 1989, it is difficult to imagine that the Kosovar Albanians would ever be willing to submit to Yugoslav sovereignty, however nominal."[127] Zoran Kusovac wrote that "expecting to nominally tie Kosovo in any way with Serbia and/or FRY in future is completely unrealistic, including the proposal to create a three-member federation of Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro."[128] Tim Judah told us that "I do not think that [Kosovo] is ever going to be reincorporated back into Yugoslavia."[129] Indeed, the Serb leaders we met during our visit were clear that Kosovo had been lost, and did not foresee Kosovo returning to Serb political authority.

73. However, the international community appears to hold out the possibility of some future association. Mr Vaz told us that "we do not believe that a constitutional settlement at this very moment is in the interests of the people in this troubled land [Kosovo]."[130] The FCO informed us that "the proposal for equality of status for Montenegro and Kosovo in a Federal Yugoslav Republic could be an option, but any such decision will be for the authorities in Belgrade and the elected representatives of the communities of Kosovo following engagement in the political process facilitated by UNMIK."[131] Our experience of Kosovo entirely excludes the possibility of Kosovo's elected representatives agreeing to such a model. The only form of association with Yugoslavia which might be entertained by the Kosovo Albanians lies in a distant and uncertain future when Kosovo and Yugoslavia might become members of the EU. Otherwise Kosovo could only be reintegrated with Yugoslavia (beyond the legal association which already exists under UNSCR 1244) by force, and it is difficult to see the international community sanctioning this. Therefore the possibility of Montenegrin independence matters not because it rules out one scenario for Kosovo—because this scenario has been unrealistic since June 1999—but because it brings to the fore the question of Kosovo's future. We discuss this issue below.[132] We conclude that Montenegrin independence will confirm the obvious for Kosovo: namely that there is no possibility of any form of association between Kosovo and Serbia for the foreseeable future beyond that which already exists.


74. Until early 2001, Macedonia remained more stable than many had predicted, in spite of the fragile ethnic balance between the main Slavic Macedonian population and the large Albanian minority.[133] However, a spate of clashes between armed ethnic Albanian groups and Macedonian security forces recently has raised doubts over whether this stability can be preserved, with some observers warning that Macedonia could become the next flashpoint in the region. We address the recent fighting and the international response below.[134]

75. Another concern is that independence for Kosovo—which as we note above,[135] could be precipitated by Montenegrin independence—might encourage the predominantly Albanian areas in western Macedonia to secede and either link up with Kosovo or seek to join a greater Albanian state. Misha Glenny told us that the Macedonian state is "internally very weak",[136] adding that independence for Kosovo would have a "pretty negative impact" on the stability of Macedonia.[137] Other observers, such as Jonathan Steele, downplay the threat to Macedonia's territorial integrity, arguing that the participation of Macedonian and Albanian nationalist parties in the current government bodes well for the future.[138] The FCO has written that the changes in Belgrade will lead to a "strengthening of those in Macedonia who are committed to ethnic inclusiveness, notably to integrating the ethnic Albanian community fully into Macedonian society."[139] The FCO added that: "Macedonia's economy will benefit substantially from the reopening of traditional transit routes to central and western Europe."[140] Nonetheless, as Misha Glenny argues, Macedonia will continue to need strong international support in order to safeguard its stability and to convince the Albanian population that its interests would be best served by remaining within the state of Macedonia.[141] We conclude that while the direct threat of Montenegrin independence to Macedonia's stability is limited, any encouragement which Montenegrin independence gives to independence for Kosovo represents a significant threat to Macedonia's cohesion.


76. Independence for Kosovo, which might be encouraged by Montenegrin independence, could also encourage Serb and Croat nationalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina[142] to press for their own independence or integration with Serbia and Croatia. However, any such move by the Republika Srpska would probably find little support from the current Yugoslav government, which has moved rapidly to establish diplomatic relations with its Balkan neighbours. Similarly, recent efforts by Bosnian-Croat nationalists to establish a separate Croat entity in Bosnia have not received the backing of the Croatian government in Zagreb, an issue we discuss in greater detail below.[143] The FCO has written that "the election of FRY President Kostunica has removed one of the most serious impediments to implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement".[144] President Kostunica has committed Yugoslavia to upholding Dayton, and representatives of the Yugoslav government stressed during our visit to Belgrade that they saw the territorial integrity of Bosnia as vital for the region. We welcome the commitment by the Yugoslav government to the Dayton Agreement and to the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


77. The FCO must of course be concerned about the implications of the actions of one area in the region for other areas. At the same time, however, policy must take account of the interests and wishes of each part of the region. Failure to do so will result in unsustainable arrangements. The risk is that policy as it currently exists does not take account of the interests and wishes of the Montenegrins, because regional concerns are being given precedence. We have examined above some of the possible implications of Montenegrin independence. It could be argued that recognising Montenegro—a republic which is not ethnically homogenous—as independent within its own borders could be interpreted as encouraging ethnic groups within other former Yugoslav republics to secede, particularly now that the threat of military intervention by the Yugoslav army has receded.[145] As Jonathan Steele told us: "The question of Bosnia is not linked to Montenegro because the Republica Srpska was never a constituent part of the old Yugoslav federation so that if Montenegro now chose to go independent that that means that the people of the Republica Srpska have some kind of similar right to become independent is just not true. There is no linkage of that kind."[146]

78. The real problem underlying international concerns is that, if Yugoslavia ceased to exist as a result of Montenegrin secession,[147] the status of Kosovo would need to be resolved with greater urgency,[148] and independence for Kosovo would be a change of international borders along ethnic lines without regional precedent, which might well lead to secessionist aspirations among ethnic groups in Bosnia and Macedonia. Jonathan Steele goes so far as to argue that the international community is opposed to Montenegrin independence entirely because of the Kosovo question, and that "we are using Montenegro as a hostage to our failure to come up with a proper policy for the future status of Kosovo. I think that annoys people in Kosovo, it annoys people in Montenegro, and I think it is a foolish policy and they should change it". A number of our witnesses expressed the view that it would be invidious to hold Montenegro's future hostage to the West's difficulties in finding a solution for Kosovo.[149]

79. Jonathan Steele believes that, while Montenegrin independence might have an effect on Kosovo and Macedonia, it is impossible to say with any certainty what this effect would be: "The domino effect assumes things that are inevitable: the first domino hits the second, the second hits the third, the fourth. There is no inevitability [in this case]."[150] If there is no 'domino effect', then each issue "should be treated on its merits. We should have a proper policy towards Kosovo, a proper policy towards Macedonia, and a proper policy towards Montenegro."[151] There clearly is no inevitable 'domino effect' as such. The recent violence in Macedonia has occurred regardless of the status of Montenegro. But this is not to say that Montenegrin independence might not have an exacerbating effect on such situations. The question is how serious this effect would be, and whether it should lead the international community to oppose Montenegrin independence.

80. It is understandable, given the violence which followed the independence of Croatia and Bosnia, that the international community should be concerned about the possible fall-out of yet another declaration of independence. But the situation has changed radically with the fall of Milosevic—one of the main instigators of the violence. As the FCO has written, the fall of the Milosevic regime has removed a "source of political destabilisation, always potential and sometimes real."[152] It should not be assumed that the current situation contains only risks. It also opens up a number of potential opportunities. We conclude that while Montenegrin independence would be likely to lead to increased demands for greater autonomy by other groups in the region, the problems caused by this would be slight when compared with other factors contributing to regional instability.

102   Q242. Back

103   See para. 15. Back

104   Appendix 2, p.83. Back

105   Appendix 8, p.95. Back

106   The Times, 18 January 2001  Back

107   Goodbye to Yugoslavia, p.6. Back

108   Last year, Montenegro: the Crime of the Peace Conference, a critique of the Versailles Peace Conference by Whitney Warren, originally published in 1922, was republished in Montenegro. Back

109   Appendix 9, p.98. Back

110   Hereafter simply "Macedonia." Back

111   See Articles 3 and 7. Back

112   Ev. p.61. Back

113   An Arbitration Commission comprising five Presidents from among the various Constitutional Courts of the EC countries was created on 27 August 1991. The Arbitration Commission became known as the Badinter Commission after Robert Badinter, the French lawyer appointed as its president. Back

114   Although a comparable situation to the Badinter model would exist if the FRY were considered by the international community to be in a state of dissolution. Back

115   Q43. Back

116   Article 1. a. I, available on:­1999/summits/helfa75e.htm Back

117   See para. 58. Back

118   Kosovo report, para. 260. Back

119   Appendix 2, p.82. Back

120   Ev. p.30. Back

121   Ev. p.4. Back

122   Appendix 2, p.82. Back

123   Appendix 2, p.83. Back

124   For example, Appendix 2, ev. p.83. Back

125   The legal situation would not be entirely straightforward, as for example the Ground Safety Zone (GSZ: see para. 147) currently extends into Montenegro as well as Serbia: in this case, given that there is no requirement for a GSZ on the Kosovo-Montenegro boundary, this aspect of the MTA might be allowed to lapse. Back

126   Q140. Back

127   Appendix 10, p.101. Back

128   Appendix 9, p.99. Back

129   Q47. Back

130   Q141. Back

131   Ev.p.34. UNMIK is the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo. Back

132   See paras. 137ff. Back

133   The precise ethnic composition of Macedonia is disputed, although most figures place the Albanian population at between 20 and 30 per cent.  Back

134   See paras 161ff. Back

135   See paras 70ff. Back

136   Q95. Back

137   Q49. Back

138   Q95. Back

139   Ev. p.35. Back

140   Ev. p.35. Back

141   Q95. Back

142   Hereafter simply "Bosnia." Back

143   See paras. 169ff. Back

144   Ev. p.35. Back

145   Ibid. Back

146   Q45. Back

147   Kosovo report, para 260. Back

148   Q43. Back

149   Appendix 2, ev. p.84. Back

150   Q46. Back

151   Ibid. Back

152   Ev. p.35. Back

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