Friday, March 03, 2006

Montenegrin Independence Vote Scheduled

AP: EU welcomes Montenegro
referendum agreement

The European Union's presidency has welcomed a decision by Montenegro's
parliament to set a formal date for a referendum on its future relationship with

"The referendum process has thus been provided with the necessary legitimacy
and sustainability," the EU said in a statement released late Thursday by
Austria, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the 25-nation bloc.

Montenegro's parliament on Thursday formally set May 21 as the date for a
referendum to determine the fate of the tiny republic's union with Serbia,
following weeks of EU mediation between Montenegro's pro-independence government
and opposition leaders who favor keeping close ties with Serbia.

In the statement, the EU also urged all Montenegrin political forces to
continue to cooperate with each other to ensure that the referendum's
organization and conduct was accepted throughout the country.

"This is crucial to the future political stability of Montenegro and the
region as well as to the pace of its movement toward the European Union," it

The Economist: Montenegro's independence

The European Union endorses hurdles for an independence vote

LAKE SKADAR, straddling the border between Albania and Montenegro, is one of
the most beautiful spots in the Balkans. Tiny, mysterious islands rise from its
blue-green waters. Drive from Albania along the lake and you see something else:
a country returning from the mists of time. At the frontier the flag of
Montenegro flaps lazily in the wind. Travellers are checked by Montenegrin
police and customs officers. Nothing odd hereexcept that their country does not
exist. If the Montenegrin government gets its way, it soon will.

Technically Montenegro is part of a loose federal "state union" with Serbia,
whose 8m people dwarf Montenegro's 673,000. Throughout the Balkan wars of the
1990s Montenegro stood by Serbia. But since 1997 various governments led by Milo
Djukanovic have been hoping to restore the independence that the country lost to
the old Yugoslavia in 1918.

Unlike public opinion in neighbouring Kosovo, however, support for
independence is far from wholehearted, suggest the polls. If pro-union parties
boycott the referendum on independence, now set for May 21st, a crisis could
ensue. Hence a plan proposed by Miroslav Lajcak, the Slovak special envoy for
the European Union. He has suggested that any referendum must be endorsed by 55%
of those voting; and that, to be valid, at least 50% of the electorate must take
part. The EU's foreign ministers have backed Mr Lajcak's proposal.

Polls suggest that independence is supported by around 41% of Montenegrins
and opposed by 32%. Since Mr Lajcak's plan first became public, Montenegrins
have become keen mathematicians. The referendum may produce a slim majority for
independence, but much will depend on turnout. Yet if the vote in favour is just
54.9%, says Dragan Koprivica, spokesman for the pro-union Socialist People's
Party, the government "would not have the right to promote an independent

Pro-independence politicians are seething about the Lajcak plan. They say it
is undemocratic, since it means that a pro-union vote is worth more than a
pro-independence one. Montenegrin officials also complain that they were
blackmailed by the EU, which insisted that, unless they accepted the Lajcak
plan, itwould not allow monitoring of the referendum by the Organisation for
Security and Co-operation in Europe, undermining the vote.

Miodrag Vlahovic, Montenengro's foreign minister, declares that, if there is
even a one-vote majority in favour of independence, "it is absolutely clear, the
state union will not exist any more." The implication is that Montenegrins who
participate in joint institutions with Serbia, such as the army and the foreign
ministry, would be recalled. Mr Koprivica says that his party activists report
that Mr Djukanovic's people are offering euro150 ($180) bribes to secure votes.
But the pro-union party has an uphill struggle of its own: its members are
mostly old and its leaders are linked to the ugly face of Serbian nationalism.

Pro-independence supporters joke that officials from Brussels act as though
they work "for the Soviet Union not the European Union". Mr Vlahovic insists
that "who will win in Montenegro will be decided in Montenegro, and not in
Brussels." He seems confident of victory. Mr Djukanovic's supporters believe
they can win a 57% majority for independence; some sources add that the party is
keeping this quiet because, with a tight battle ahead, it does not want to
foster complacency.

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