FATE OF THE STATE UNION:
REFERENDUM, LIES AND VIDEO TAPES
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.