FATE OF THE STATE UNION:
(UN)ACHIEVABLE 55 PERCENT
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Serbia did not vote, and it now turns out that the Montenegrins have
spent 14 years living in virtual reality.