President of Montenegro

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 22 September 1999

Mr President, members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured by the invitation of the President of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Lord Russell-Johnston, to visit Strasbourg and to address this high Chamber.

I regard this as a tribute to the policy of the state of Montenegro, which is steadfastly and resolutely pursuing a democratic and pro-European course.

I take this opportunity to thank you all for the interest, understanding and support that you have expressed for the democratic process in our republic. A confirmation of this is the agenda of this part-session, the documents prepared for today’s debate and the very constructive bilateral meetings that I have had today with the senior officials of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and of the Committee of Ministers.

The invitation that I have received, in my understanding, also reflects a great interest not only in the implementation of the Montenegrin programme of democratic and economic reforms, but in the situation and the relations within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in the grave Kosovo problem and in the situation in the region. It is an encouragement, too, to all the democratic forces in our country and in the troubled Balkan regions. I also see this invitation as an indication of willingness on the part of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and its bodies to make an even more determined contribution to the efforts of the European Union, the United States, the Russian Federation and the entire democratic world in helping to achieve, through the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, a lasting reconstruction of the region and its speedier integration into the European mainstream. Not only is the future of the Balkans at stake, but that of Europe and wider integration.

In view of this, I will briefly address all of those issues.

The situation in Montenegro is relatively stable despite all the political risks, the economic and social problems, the various pressures imposed by the Belgrade regime, and the unfavourable developments in the country and across its borders. In the aftermath of the Kosovo conflict and the Nato intervention, the democratic movement in Montenegro has been strengthened – although Mr Milosevic intended otherwise. He plunged the country into a conflict with the most powerful military alliance for the sake of preserving his unrestricted rule, abused the situation created by the state of war and clamped down on the democratic government in our republic. It would take a long time to list all of the disruptive actions – both covert and public – as well as the military, political and economic propaganda and military and other pressures caused by the arsenal of the dictatorial regime in Belgrade that were brought to bear at the time. Many of those tactics are still being used with the aim of destabilising the democratic state of Montenegro.

Nevertheless, I hope very much that the worst is now behind us. The democratic process towards a civil multi-ethnic society — including economic reforms, closer ties with democratic forces in Serbia, the rehabilitation of relations with newly established states in the area of the former Yugoslavia, co-operation with our nearest neighbours and encouraging regional, European and trans-Atlantic integration – has demonstrated the vitality of our development on the threshold of a new millennium. It is the right choice. A guarantee of stability in Montenegro has awakened hope, and the liberation of a positive energy among our citizens is now almost visible to the naked eye.

For a decade, Montenegro has been an oasis of peace and inter-ethnic harmony. In the past couple of years, it has been an island of democracy and hope and an awakened voice of reason in the region. It has been a safe haven for all of those fleeing the wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo that have affected Serbs, Montenegrins, Muslims, Albanians and the Gypsy/Roma people. At times, refugees and displaced persons accounted for more than 20% of Montenegro’s population. We still have about 70 000 refugees today, including refugees from Croatia and Bosnia. In an era that has witnessed all sorts of rampant nationalism throughout the former Yugoslavia, Montenegro has preserved interethnic harmony and religious tolerance.

Albanians and Muslims who live in Montenegro, together with Montenegrins and others, regard Montenegro as their own state. At the parliamentary elections in May last year – which were followed by the formation of a coalition and multi-ethnic government – the people voted for Montenegro’s democratic development rather than for their ethnic parties. That is our precious political capital and our guarantee for a safe future.

Such a political framework has been a prerequisite for the economic and social reforms that we have been carrying out, in almost impossible conditions, as part of the transition process. In addition to all the problems that have characterised eastern European countries undergoing that process, Montenegro is part of a state that has, since its establishment, been in almost total international isolation. There have been constant threats of war on its threshold as well as an internal cycle of sanctions that Belgrade continues to apply against it. It has also received very little in the form of the international assistance that is normally allocated to countries in transition. That makes the results that we have achieved in our reform process even more important.

The process of the transformation of ownership is progressing successfully – although not at the scheduled pace, which would have been desirable. This process will pick up speed with the forthcoming launch of a mass voucher privatization programme. Competent international advisers have been chosen for the largest and the most important state-owned enterprises, which will be sold through an international tender procedure. We enjoy very good co-operation with the British Know How Fund, USAID and other relevant international partners. Such co-operation is also in place with regard to the reform of the judiciary and public administration, and much effort is being devoted to reforming the education system. This state has also devoted particular attention – within its means – to the social dimension of the reform process.

Unfortunately, our efforts have not been accompanied by adequate, concrete international support. We appreciate greatly the political support of key players in the international community as that is very important to the success of our democratic project. We are of course grateful for all the concrete assistance that we have received so far. However, it seems impossible to find a modality that will allow Montenegro a way out of the vicious circle in which it finds itself through no fault of its own. The strengthening of the integration processes is pushing the sovereignty of states and borders into the background. However, when concrete assistance is given to Montenegro, precisely such categories – primarily involving the European administration – come to the fore. We then receive the explanation that Montenegro is not subject to international law and that it is an integral part of a sovereign state. Therefore, we end up with sanctions that are totally undeserved.

Instead of asking the logical question – why sanctions were imposed against Montenegro in the first place – we must wait months for a decision about how they may be lifted. This has a direct impact on Montenegrin public opinion: lessening enthusiasm for life in a union with Serbia on the one hand and, on the other hand, playing directly into the hands of the Belgrade regime and strengthening its propaganda message that the whole world is hostile to the Serbs and Montenegrins. That regime says that the international community applies the same standards regardless of whether one is constructive or quarrelsome.

Europe and the developed world appear not to have learned any lessons from the long Yugoslav crisis. Providing assistance to, and support for, a positive player such as Montenegro is far more productive and effective – and, importantly, much less costly – than putting out fires like those in Bosnia and Kosovo. Montenegro is not asking for charity but offering profitable projects for joint ventures, with an adequate legislative infrastructure, which can have a positive impact not only in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia but in the wider region. We hope that the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe – which has been fully endorsed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and welcomed by the Sarajevo Summit – will, within its strategy framework, adopt a more positive and constructive attitude to such an approach.

Together with the implementation of its economic and democratic reform programme, Montenegro, as part of a joint state with Serbia, wants to contribute constructively and responsibly to stabilising the situation in the country. This aim motivated our government to adopt a platform defining the basis for a new relationship with Serbia. Costs aside, the main flashpoints and sources of bloody conflicts in the area of the former Yugoslavia in the past ten years have been resolved or overcome in one way or another. I have in mind the relations between Serbia and Croatia, and also Bosnia, Slovenia, and the status of “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. The problem of Kosovo is now in the post-conflict phase.

The relationship between Serbia and Montenegro – involving historic and other burdens – remains an outstanding problem. As a responsible leading state with a strategic vision of democratic development and a wish to pre-empt new conflicts and flashpoints in the Balkans, we have decided – guided primarily by the need to safeguard the national, economic and overall interests of our citizens – to offer Serbia our proposal for fixing our mutual relations and resolving the political tension between Belgrade and Podgorica in a peaceful and civilised manner.

The platform has three underlying principles: full equality for member states of the union; democratisation and Europeanisation; and full co-operation with the international community. The platform proposes a new set-up in compliance with European standards in the defence field, the monetary sphere, in tax, customs, the foreign trade system and in foreign policy. The document of the Government of Montenegro was presented to the Government of Serbia at the beginning of August, and was made available to the public, domestically and internationally. It was also sent immediately to all key players in the international community, including the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Regrettably, our proposal has thus far received no positive reaction from Serbia. The responses are either formal and lack seriousness or are indirect and take the form of unbecoming accusations of alleged Montenegrin separatism. They whip up division and disunity and incite economic blockading and similar methods which are, unfortunately, well known to us.

A part of the democratic opposition in Serbia has understood our initiative properly, but its influence in Serbia is insufficient. Our proposal has been put to all the political structures in Serbia, not only to the Belgrade Government. It represents not an ultimatum but a fair and responsible initiative aimed at preventing the disintegration of this – the third – Yugoslavia. As a result of the suspension of the constitution by the Belgrade autocrat, of the disregarding of the electoral will of the citizens of Montenegro and of the total manipulation of federal bodies for the purpose of preserving a dictatorship, there is today practically no functioning federation. It is because of this that the number of people in Montenegro who do not believe that there can be any viable union with Serbia is increasing daily. Montenegro, and especially our younger generation, is not prepared to lose yet another decade in its development because of a wrong policy at the federation level.

At the same time, the Belgrade regime is in effect doing everything it can to push Montenegro out of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia while publicly laying the blame on our republic’s democratic government. Should Belgrade ignore our initiative, Montenegro, under its constitution, has the capacity to decide on a different constitutional status, but it will certainly not abandon its democratic, pro-European path as this is the only path for the future of the entire Balkan region. The sooner that this is understood in Belgrade, the better it will be for Serbia and all its people who will, in the long term, have to bear the brunt of their leader’s disastrous policy.

Relations with the federal republic will for a long time continue to be determined largely by the Kosovo problem, the solution to which must be secured in line with the UN Security Council resolution within the boundaries of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, through broad autonomy and with the highest standards set for human rights and democratic institutions.

Unfortunately, no one can be satisfied with the way in which the international community has been carrying out its role in Kosovo. Perhaps better results could not have been expected in the first months. Today, KFOR and the civil administration are faced with brutal Albanian revenge in Kosovo. That revenge is a reaction to Serb extremism, and their common denominator is fascism. The ordeal that the Serbs, the Montenegrins and other non-Albanian populations are undergoing is a result of the atrocities perpetrated by Serb forces, who wreaked havoc during the war in the province and then fled to a safe distance, leaving their compatriots to pay for their misdeeds.

Of course, all this cannot and must not justify the crimes committed by Albanian extremists in Kosovo; nor can it be a justification for any prolonged ineffectiveness of the international community. It is now imperative that the international community preserve at all costs the multi-ethnic character of Kosovo as this is the cornerstone of the reconstruction of the whole region in the spirit of the Stability Pact. Otherwise, we would be confronted with unpredictable consequences and uncertain developments in the Balkans, which would call into question the mediation of the international community and even, I fear, the future of Europe.

I take this opportunity to stress once again the importance of the implementation of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe – that is, not only for the Balkans but for peace and stability on the continent. The economic reconstruction of the Balkans is a sine qua non for improving the overall situation in the region and for the future of all the peoples and states in this traditionally troubled area. Europe’s safe development cannot be guaranteed if the Balkans is to remain the prototype of backwardness. It is no exaggeration to say that, in the Balkans, Europe is today being tested about the future.

Of course, the primary responsibility lies with the Balkan peoples themselves but they are incapable of overcoming all the antagonism, the grave economic disruptions and the backwardness without a helping hand from Europe and the developing world as a whole. Without a market economy, its institutions and rules; without putting in place sound business practice and encouraging a business spirit; without a state strategy at the European Union level, designed along with the developed international entities; without encouraging private inward investment and promoting economic and other co-operation between the Balkan countries and the EU, the Balkans would remain the Balkans – but Europe would no longer be the same. I think that the developed world has realised this, and that the result of that realisation is the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe. Montenegro sees its implementation as a major chance for its democratic project.

I am pleased and grateful that Montenegro has once again found a place in the documents prepared for this session, and to support the commitment to open an office of the Council of Europe in Podgorica. I am pleased and grateful that support for its democratic policies is being expressed properly, through the request that immediate and more generous economic assistance be provided for Montenegro. Also, the picture of Serbia and Kosovo as reflected in the documents is a realistic one. The assistance to and support of democratic forces in Serbia and of the citizens of Serbia by the international community is crucial for future developments in our country and thus for the security and stability of the whole region.

I hope that my presentation has at least to some extent helped solve the jigsaw puzzle of your impressions of the situation in Montenegro and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. I also hope that I have shown some possible ways out of the crisis that our country has been suffering for many years. I thank you for your attention. I am willing to answer questions and provide any additional information or clarification. (Applause).


Thank you President Djukanovic. The applause that you have received shows that your speech was appreciated by the Assembly. As you say, I hope that it will be possible for you to make a further contribution later to respond to any comments and queries prompted by your wide-ranging and informative speech which set out your opinions and judgments clearly.