Rescued from a long-dead blog

A fascinating day yesterday in Podgorica. Met with Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and all three “expert teams” participating in the negotiations with Belgrade. This especially impressive as it was not only Sunday but also Christmas Eve in the Orthodox calendar.

EU seems to have badly screwed up by giving impression that it backs Belgrade no matter what. FRY/Serbia/SNP side therefore not inclined to actually negotiate with Montenegrins, and the converse also applies. EU not actually contributing to negotiations in any sensible way, certainly not to event hint they might provide the support necessary to prop up the preferred federal solution. My role was basically to reassure the Montenegrins that they had quite a good case and to offer a couple of suggestions about future tactics. They seemed grateful.

The ODIHR report on the Montenegrins’ draft election law is scandalously one-sided. Vague references to “best international practice” on qualified majorities and turnout thresholds in referenda, citing an obsolete provision of Danish law and various non-sovereign Pacific island instances. It’s obvious (but unstated by ODIHR) that the most relevant parallels are the post-Badinter referenda in the other ex-Yugoslav states, and the 1999 referendum in East Timor, which was also on its continuous membership of a federal state. Neither of these cases required a qualified majority. I bet none of the other recent cases examined by ODIHR did so either. The Montenegrins are moderately enthusiastic about the possibility of a multi-option referendum but I don’t see how this could possibly work. One anti-independence activist from the People’s Party wanted a qualified majority so that we could be sure that “real Montenegrins” backed independence. You might as well just deprive Muslims of the vote.

Also bumped into old friends. Podgorica was fairly empty in the afternoon as most of the population went up to Cetinje to dedicate their tree branches, some at the Serbian Orthodox church, more at the Montenegrin royal residence. I didn’t get out of Podgorica but had superb views of stunning scenery from plane both on arrival and on departure. Journey back via Zurich and Frankfurt tedious especially since a litre bottle of Vranac broke in my bag soaking clothes with aromatic red wine… Had bizarre phone call with journalist in Frankfurt airport, but also bought what appears to be excellent book on organising one’s work.

Back to work tomorrow.

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Rescued from a long-dead blog

Am off to Montenegro tomorrow to advise them on their future status negotiations with Belgrade. The call from Slavica arrived yesterday just before Anne’s parents; Anne and I went into CEPS this afternoon for me to print out some Montenegro/FRY reading material and also incidentally to finalise the sale of our house in North Belfast by fax with our solicitor.

The EU’s diplomatic intervention in FRY appears to be disastrously badly aimed. Rather than acting as honest brokers to ensure a soft landing for whatever solution is worked out between Podgorica and Belgrade, they are trying desperately to hold together a federation which even the Serbs don’t want on the present terms. This will strengthen Kostunica, Bulatovic and Soc in the respective internal political struggles against a) Djindjic and other relatively good guys in Belgrade, and b) Djukanovic and his multi-ethnic coalition. The smearing of Djukanovic (using Italian courts and Croatian press) as a smuggler is pathetic; it’s not as if he is the only politician in the region whose past is not beyond question, and it’s quite obvious to me at any rate that the potential replacements for him in Montenegro are bad news.

As for the eventual set of relationships, it’s clear to me (and indeed seems to have become clear to the Serbs back in October) that a two-member federation is an exceptionally unstable set-up. I don’t go all the way wth the Montenegrins – I think it could become viable if given enough outside support. But the only players who actually have both the incentive and the resources to keep such an arrangement going are the US and EU (and to an extent Russia). And at the moment I don’t see them offering enough to the Serbs, let alone to the Montenegrins, to make the continuation of Yugoslavia a worthwhile prospect.

And to be honest I think the international community overrates the importance of preventing Montenegro’s secession in terms of the destabilising effect on the region. Djukanovic has been arguing in every capital he can reach that Montenegro is a special case with no consequences for Kosovo, Western Macedonia or the Republika Srpska. In terms of international law (which I don’t really rate as a useful concept anyway) he is undoubtedly right.

Time for bed.

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