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NO 91-92

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 91-92 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 91-92

January - February 2006



By Igor Peric

Well done boys, you acted responsibly like Europeans, the Brussels envoy, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak commended the domestic officials and opposition leaders in late February when they decided to accept the conditions for the referendum following the "constructive suggestions" of the European Union.

The European achievement is seen in the following: the question for the 21 May referendum - "Do you wish Montenegro to be an independent state with full international subjectivity" - will require the support of 55 per cent of the voters, subject to the previously agreed turnout of a half of the total electorate, for the smallest of formerly Yugoslav republic to be granted exit from the state union, formed without any say of its citizens.

A superior force, in this case the European Union, saw to it that the outcome remained uncertain to the end. Seeking to overcome the Montenegrin differences, it created a set of original, special rules which would not be accepted e.g. in Spain, not to mention France or Holland. If it is any consolation for the Montenegrins the Danes no longer have the primacy in European standards with their requirement of a trivial 40 per cent of the total electorate compared with the Montenegrin imported census of 55 percent of the total turnout to gain their independence.

In case the referendum fails, i.e. the supporters of independence win less than a 10 percent advantage, Europe has anticipated a three-year moratorium (its favored device to stabilize the political circumstances in the Balkans), for the duration of which a new vote cannot be taken.

The achieved level of democracy is the fruit of two-month "shuttle" negotiations, which nearly missed adding the local elections to the referendum package. The negotiations were preceded by efforts of the Venice Commission and European experts. Under the pretext of fearing a conflict between brothers in Montenegro, and concerned over Serbia's easier acceptance of the plebiscitary outcome, Brussels, ultimately, decided to make use of the legal lacunae, irrespective of the Venetians' view that the Montenegrin referendum law was in compliance with European practice and their recommendation that the required majority should be agreed in an internal Montenegrin dialogue.

Starting, unfortunately, from the fact that the authorities and the opposition, due to absolute mutual mistrust, cannot reach the agreement, Europe took the initiative and raised the crossbar of legitimacy by making the minority a bit more equal than the pro-independence majority.

It is likely that in doing that Brussels took into account the weight of the Montenegrin decision that would, at the same expense, make Serbia an independent state.

Depending on the turnout (over 85%), the outcome of this special model of qualified majority may vary from 43 to as many as 50 per cent of the total electorate. In other words, low turnout works in favor of supporters of independence, while the other side, more than ever before, wishes that Montenegro had a population of 2 million.

There is no doubt that with the rules of the game so conceived, the opposition, or rather the block advocating the preservation of the state union, given an up-front advantage of ten percent, will try to bring out as many voters as possible. Quite simply, it is a matter of mathematics: the more voters turn out, the more difficult it will be for the independents to attain the minimal 10 per cent difference required for the proclamation of independence in the large numbers game. Or, to put it simply, a 45 per cent minority would suffice to leave Montenegro in the state union.

The decision on the implementation of problematic referendum rules was adopted by the Montenegrin parliament on the 14 anniversary of the well-known hastily arranged plebiscite when Montenegro provided the alibi for the creation of the third, Milosevic's Yugoslavia comprising the proverbial "pair of eyes".

The key players on the Montenegrin political scene, the DPS and the SNP, who, pressed by the Europeans, supported the adoption of the Belgrade agreement, have now signed the Brussels lex specialis for the referendum.

The package of referendum recommendations received the votes of the complete parliamentary pro-union block, while the supporters of independence were not unanimous.

Although the independents were immediately aware that the proposed 55 per cent census was not in their favor, it was already too late for any attempt to diplomatically influence the European centers. In mid-February, faced with the maximalist requirements of the opposition reaching 65 per cent of the total electorate, on one side, and the authorities' readiness to embrace the Danish solution of a 40 per cent vote of the total electorate, on the other, Miroslav Lajcak brought a compromise solution of 55 per cent.

Emphasizing that this is not an ordinary referendum on a matter of public utilities, the EU supported Lajcak's efforts to ensure a legitimate plebiscitary decision.

Two days before the parliament's vote for the law, the views of all political parties on the recommended qualified majority had already been known. Actually, it wasn't particularly difficult to anticipate the parties' reactions once the EU spoke its mind.

The burden of responsibility fell on Djukanovic's DPS. Caught between the option to refuse the recommendation and face an almost certain boycott of the opposition, not knowing the positions Brussels might take, Djukanovic invoked higher interests and decided to accept the "mangled model".

The DPS still found some consolation in the fact that the opposition made an about-turn hitching on the referendum train.

The smaller members of the governing coalition, the SDP, Civil and Liberal Parties voted against the law, saying it was an undemocratic proposal that violated the principle of citizens' equality. The Albanian national parties were divided: the DUA supported the European model, while the Democratic Alliance was opposed. Despite their different vote, the supporters of independence announced a single approach to the referendum campaign in order to best the unionists by at least a vote.

In this whole story of the Montenegrin referendum, Europe has once again resorted to experimenting, just as it did when it packed Montenegro up in a three-year state arrangement under the firm of the SCG state union - a "cross-eyed" constitutional mutant. Is it because we are suitable for experiments, or for a simple reason that Brussels, unable to otherwise translate the specific Montenegrin run-ins into a language of democracy, decided to leave some maneuvering space, just in case. Namely, having no option, the EU agreed to the referendum, but used its good services to formulate aggravated conditions for the Montenegrins to vote for their state.

Even the referendum question was conceived by Europe. Although the parliament, before taking the vote, pointed to the illogical formulation of the question and the fact that it was incorporated in a legal act, it remained unchanged. "Do you wish." sounds more like a survey than a typical model that starts from a rational, rather than emotional attitude towards one's state.

According to some estimates, even the question so conceived is not without a point, or a "devil" as the Montenegrins would say, because even if the independents should fall short of the requirement and win between 50 and 55 per cent it will still be clear that the majority in Montenegro is opposed to the state union, but that the critical mass for a legitimate decision is lacking. To put it differently, that outcome would show the difference between the wishes and possibilities. That could start a new round of EU mediation in defining the relations between Podgorica and Belgrade, because it would be hard to expect that a pro-independence majority, in case of a Pyrrhic victory, would easily step aside and make way for a minority helmsman.

There is yet another thing that has remained insufficiently clear - the scenario of the so-called gray zone, severely criticizes by the opposition, i.e. a situation wherein a percentage of 55 minus two would still ensure independence.

Former Popular Party leader Dragan Soc found the announcements that, in that case, the authorities would insist on declaring independence, a threat of civil war.

An additional charge to the whole story was added by Prime Minister Djukanovic himself, who repeatedly said that one couldn't expect 54.9 percent to be a minority. He simultaneously used the situation to consolidate the ranks of independence supporters and vacillating abstainers, warning that any slip-up at the referendum could mean the unification of the state union.

This allowed the SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic to score a point saying that unification is out of question and that his party would oppose it with all its might.

All in all, what we see in Montenegro is an unbelievable phenomenon, where political opponents in the past years, in changing circumstances take the positions of their former rivals. Is there another way to explain the rhetoric of the DPS, primus inter pares in the pro-independence block, knowing that the 1992 referendum and the wrapping up of Montenegro into Milosevic's Yugoslavia was the project of precisely that party. It is curious that in a decade one party should arrange two referendums going in opposite directions.

On the other hand, the present day SNP has taken the position held by the DPS after the dissent in 1997. That is when the DPS supported a functional federation, while the SNP advocated Yugoslav state without an alternative. On the other hand, smaller Serbian parties in Montenegro fill the space vacated by the SNP, which had to deal with the burden of its internal reforms, and has now, at least rhetorically, taken the path of a party of civic and social orientation.

All these realignments become additionally important viewed in the context of the forthcoming parliamentary elections this autumn, with the already emerging contours of the front against the ruling coalition. The newly established cooperation of the "big four" - Bulatovic, Nebojsa Medojevic (GZP), Andrija Jovicevic (Djukanovic's former police minister) and Miroslav Lekic (Former FRY ambassador in Rome), was not much of a surprise to the Montenegrin public since all four of them picked on Djukanovic in the past two years.

The opposition foursome, who speak of close cooperation in future, trying to skip the unpleasant story of the referendum, put all their cards on the regular parliamentary elections, for the simple reason that their mutual differences are much too large for a single approach to the plebiscite.

It is thus clear why the GZP, aspiring to become a Montenegrin version of the G17 Plus, despite the pro-independence option of its leaders, will not call on their voters to turn out, but will leave it up to them to do as they see fit. At the same time, they accuse Djukanovic that his power, tarnished by organized crime connections, turned the project of independence into a personal venture of a handful of tycoons, and brought upon it the wrath of Brussels, who responded with difficult conditions for sovereignty. According to the GZP, these "merits" it assigns to Djukanovic will make him the "gravedigger of the Montenegrin statehood".

An aggravating circumstance for the rising NGO leader, Nebojsa Medojevic, may be the public reaction to his "Identity" problem, especially since the Montenegrin authorities make good use of his column in that paper which, on the eve of the assassination of Zoran Djindjic, drew a target on the late Serbian prime minister's forehead.

Another member of the future four-member opposition axis, Andrija Jovicevic, seems to be entangled in problems, which do not work in his favor at the very beginning of a serious political campaign.

The controversial minister who, during the affair with the Ukrainian S.C. directly accused the prime minister of dishonorable acts and reappeared on the political scene this February, was taken to the police acting on his wife's accusations of physical abuse.


Solana's theory of relativity

Only the smallest of pro-independence parties, the Civic Party, known for its "Only Referendum Is Fair" campaign in the past few months, arranged a performance in front of the parliament building in a symbolic protest against the European recommendation of a 55 percent vote of the turnout for the validity of the plebiscitary decision.

Noting that the vote of the citizen in favor of a sovereign Montenegro is thus devalued, since it was worth "less than a man" , i.e. 0.82 per cent, protesting against the opposition's embracement of such recommendations, the civic party presented the SNP leader Predrag Bulatovic with a notebook to practice "Solana's theory of relativity of numbers".


Rules and principles

"It's like entering a house through the door and exiting though the chimney," Miodrag Ilickovic, vice-president of the Montenegrin Social Democratic Party graphically described the different rules applied at the 1992 referendum (when Montenegro entered the union with Milosevic) and the ones to govern the 21 May referendum (when Montenegrins will decide about their state), unraveled in a way that could earn the local politicians and Brussels mediators the envy of Latin American soap opera scriptwriters.

Noting that a process started according to one rule must be ended according to that same precept, Ilickovic accused the oppositionists in the parliament of acting unmanly by accepting a lesser value for the vote for a part of Montenegrin citizens.

Let us recall that 14 years ago in the rump Yugoslavia the required majority for the Montenegrin referendum was 50 per cent of the vote, compared to the present 55 percent. The story could be expanded still further if we were to discuss who, apart from Montenegro, was called to vote whether they wanted to live in the community "with others who so wished". In the absence of other interested parties, Montenegro alone, at a referendum scheduled and held within a period of seven days, said YES to a question which could be interpreted broadly, depending on the personal affinity of the voters...

Serbia did not vote, and it now turns out that the Montenegrins have spent 14 years living in virtual reality.


NO 91-92

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