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NO 93-94

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 93-94 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 93-94

March - April 2006

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By Igor Peric

The citizens of Montenegro have the chance to take the issue of state/legal status off the agenda by voting either way at the 21st May referendum. The preparations are in full swing: voting material is acquired, campaign is well under way, field campaigners work around the clock - in a word, the atmosphere is there. The problem is that in view of the awkward election model, the chances are that a clear result will not be reached and would instead be stuck somewhere between 50 and 55%, in the so-called gray zone, especially if the turnout is high. Although the pro-union block experiences this possibility as a heresy, which is also how the official Brussels sees it (just as it until recently looked upon the possibility of having a referendum at all), it has started the calculations of all players in the Montenegrin games without frontiers. This, indeed, includes Europe since this kind of an outcome, which is hardly unreal, would cause it the greatest trouble. Solana would once again have to mediate, lest the new three-year moratorium - anticipated in the event that the sovereignists fall short of the 55% vote - turned into a still more serious misunderstanding between Belgrade and Podgorica.

Under such circumstances both blocks in Montenegro, however they tried to present the referendum as the crucial battle, each build themselves a fallback position for the autumn election. The first to do that was the SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic. Even before the referendum campaign started, he organized a panel of the alternative four (with Nebojsa Medojevic, Andrija Jovicevic and Miodrag Lekic) sending a message that, the outcome of the referendum notwithstanding, a wide opposition front to depose the regime ought to be formed. His appearance with Bulatovic, on the eve of the referendum, cost Medojevic the entire Group for Change, after the president of the Group's Managing Board Svetozar Jovicevic, a supporter of independence, walked out unable to accept a long term pact with unionists before the plebiscite.

Seeking to deprive the unionists of the argument that he is fighting for independence in order to create himself a "five-family state", prime minister Milo Djukanovic, in his first TV debate, said that any vote bellow 55 and over 50 per cent, gives him no right to divert from the road to independence and invited Bulatovic to support independence, in which case he promised not to participate in the autumn election. The latter flatly refused saying the block he represented spoils for a minimum of 50 per cent.

With hints at what a post-referendum scenario may look like should May 22 awake to a "gray" dawn, it is quite clear that the only proper solution for Montenegro and its citizens is a clear result, without spillover, and for several reasons.

Needless to mention that it would put an end to empty political talk and waste of energy to define the form of the state framework, which has been going on intensively for at least ten years, ever since the split in the once united DPS.

On the other hand, whether the sovereignists won 55 per cent, or the unionists obtain over 50 percent, which is their set goal, the outcome would put an end to the division that has endured from 1918 onwards regardless of the ideological and economic context. That is the white and green division reflecting the option against or for an independent state.

Precisely that year and the position of Serbia are at the core of the ongoing Montenegrin misunderstandings, just as they were at that time. For one side the year 1918 marks the fulfillment of their historical aspiration, i.e. unification with Serbia, regardless of the consequences.

Whatever the case, it is a prism refracting the confronted approaches to all important things that forms what should be a social consensus. Two readings of history, two experiences of the present, different projections of the future, completely parallel tracks. Thus even the rallies to explain the reasons why the road to the EU would be better in one or the other state form, turn into history lessons which clearly reveal that the lecturers did not study from the same history books. For example, the unionists started their campaign in Mojkovac, glorifying the Battle of Mojkovac as just sacrifice for community, while the sovereign block started from Cetinje warning that Mojkovac was a lesson that the Montenegrins' protection of Serbian army retreat towards Corfu was at the expense of their own state, and was repaid by the abolishment of Montenegro.

Just how close, and yet how distant the two "systems" are is symbolically reveled by an exceptional event on the political scene, which is in fact a Montenegrin rule. Speaking from the studio of TV Montenegro, which daily broadcasts the messages of the two blocks, the Montenegrin voters were, within a half hour interval, addressed by brothers Dragan and Zdravko Soc expressing opposing views. The former is known to the public as one-time leader of the Popular Party, ex-minister of justice, advocate of the state union, a declared Serb. The latter is a Montenegrin, an official of the Liberal Party, formerly Liberal Alliance, a party that kept fighting for independence ever since the disintegration of the SFRY and was therefore the target of what was then a majority Montenegro which - as the Montenegrin prime minister speaking in Cetinje in mid-April admitted - "was honestly deluded by the deathly curve of Yugoslavism". (On that same rally Djukanovic thanked Cetinje for thus saving the face of Montenegro.)

These brotherly variances, and the fact that political boundaries are set between household members, are all used by the unionists to support their argument in favor of preserving the state union, as well as by the sovereignists to confirm that the issue of the state is exclusively a democratic one and that May 21 will be no end of the world, that all citizens will remain living where they are, and that after the referendum a joint struggle awaits them to enter the European integrations which is, at least declaratively, the priority for almost 80 per cent of the voters (which is also the expected turnout).

But, without too much of brotherly consideration, an open verbal war was started where words and men were expended with unbearable lightness, "globally, on the level of Montenegro" as a local politician put it, from town squares and local communities.

The air was contaminated with political messages in poor taste, instances of hate speech, intimidation and especially picking on minority nations, frightening the people with the alleged partition of Montenegro, which according to the champions of the union, will be the price of the minorities' support for independence.

On the other hand, the sovereignists believe that the minorities are legitimate representatives of the majority Montenegro and take the opportunity (Ranko Krivokapic) to give them the credit for preserving Montenegro, just as they did in the 1990s, when Montenegrins apparently forgot about it.

Foremost in the negative campaign is the pro-union block which, probably in line with its goal to select NO on the referendum ballot, has no other choice, since it has to persuade the citizens that an independent state is not their, but rather private interest.

The height was reached at a panel discussion in Biljelo Polje when an MP of the smallest member in the pro-union block, the DSS, Milorad Joksimovic said that all who do not turn out for the referendum had doubtlessly sold themselves for 100 euro. To this group he added the voters who would potentially sell their IDs (some would definitely abstain, but what about passports and drivers licenses) announcing that they will all end up on a pillory.

Joksimovic warned that these two categories of citizens with voting rights would be listed, their names made public as a reminder for descendents lest they, by an unfortunate turn of events, erred to enter into a marriage or another type of relationship with one of the outcast families, or god forbid, join them in a celebration or morning.

Along with these moral instructions, an additional argument in favor of preserving the union is sought in citing the comparative advantages of a wider market and impossibility of independent survival. Economic aspects in the scenario of a possible independence is apocalyptic from the point of view of the unionists: they see empty beaches, empty trains, a wasteland - Montenegro turned into a backwater of the Balkans. Furthermore, Serbia will be inaccessible without a passport, long queues for visas, to say nothing of the fact that once Serbia closes its borders we will have no one to sell our not-up-to-European-standards products. This is how the unionists see the burden ready to be brought down on the back of Montenegro should its citizens take a majority vote for independence. If to this we add education, health care. let someone take a vote for his own state under such conditions and with the degree of risk that the dark premonitions would all come true, and brotherly Serbia started to ignore us.

They say the Serbian government is right, although it does not interfere in the referendum, but merely realistically warns that students will become strangers and that medical patients will feel not only the rising blood pressures but also rising prices, naturally providing they have previously been issued passports and visas.

Kostunica's ministers and advisors have thus responded to the Montenegrin declaration guaranteeing all property and civil rights to Serbian citizens in Montenegro, except the right to vote.

Thus with the non-interference and restraint of Belgrade, and especially the Serbian media, the campaign unfolds on both sides of the border. Caught in the crossfire, the activists of both blocks wage a battle for each grandpa and grandma. One side persuades them to vote for independence or remain at home, while the other - opposed to independence and seeking the maximum turnout - stops short of dispensing physiological solution, ginkgo biloba and magnesium tablets hoping to put as many voters on their feet by May 21.

Even before the blocks descended on the people, the campaign set off with a cinematographic achievement - the famous Zeta Film, an affair of the same name, a soft crime story with a happy ending. Its protagonist, Radomir Buskovic, aka Masan, target of the DPS activists, and the proclaimed hero of resistance to the private state, figures in the front row at rallies of the pro-union union block and still consumes electric power, despite the fact that before his film debut he illegally "sucked out" of the grid 1500-euro worth of electricity.

In briefest terms, the event that resounded outside the borders of their native Zeta took place when two DPS activists, Ivan Ivanovic and Ranko Vucinic, a deposed officer of the Montenegrin state security service, who still held several active credentials of regional services, decided to persuade Masan to change his mind and vote for Montenegro, in exchange for settling his electricity bill. The court epilogue included a six-month prison sentence for Vucinic and ten each for Ivanovic and Mijovic, who was tried in absentia, since he had been mysteriously sent to Serbia to serve a sentence there upon the request of the Serbian judiciary, but instead of going to the Pozarevac prison ended up with his family in Belgrade. The person who installed the camera remained unknown, while Ivanovic and Vucinic accuse Mijovic of setting them up. Soon after, the public was released another film, once again starring Ivanovic, this time trying to persuade an affluent inhabitant of Zeta to abstain or vote for independence for a sum of 500 euro. Once again, no one knew where the camera came from or who directed the action.

Equally unclear is the fact how a member of the Republic Referendum Commission, a representative of the Socialist Popular Party, could represent Masan in court proceedings and then, together with him, go on spreading the idea of preserving the union before the masses.

Still more difficult to explain is the participation of another Commission member of the same political option, in matters revealing a conflict of interest. All hell broke loose when the legal representative of the unionist block tried to sneak a dead man's name into the voters' registry. This was followed by the arrest of the Commission member lawyer Nikola Medojevic, on charges of falsifying documents for the citizens' entry into the registry.

The combinations of the two blocks caught the Slovak president of the Republic Referendum Commission Frantisek Lipka unawares, and he was first embarrassed and criticized the state for arresting Medojevic, and in the afternoon of that same day found it incomprehensible that a Republic Commission member could engage in matters clearly revealing a conflict of interest.

As a result of the misunderstanding the unionists left the Commission for a day, only to return when Solana's envoy Miroslav Lajcak came to Podgorica and did nothing to hide his disappointment with the blocks' conduct in the campaign.

Although the struggle was transferred from the actual to the media field to follow the editorial concept, the campaign will be remembered no so much for the (un)fair media conduct as for the efforts of the Special Committee for Media Campaign comprising representatives of the blocks on a parity basis.

Leaving aside the fact that a body of this kind was destined to face a blockade - partly overcome by the publishing of a joint release with two different approaches - and the fact that it came to share a view on a single item, the height was reached when the representatives of the pro-union option requested to edit the reports from their rallies to be aired by public service broadcasters, since they knew best what was of interest to their voters.

Anyway, in a game of party interests who needs the media that only obstruct the free expression of politicians, the hate speech and the low blows? Cameras alone will do.


NO 93-94

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