HD Joven: A perspective about independentism: Montenegro ‘s Referendum and Independency experience

* Para leer el artículo en español, por favor pinche el siguiente enlace: Una perspectiva sobre el independentismo – El referéndum en Montenegro y la experiencia de la independencia


Today Critilo responds to a young student of Montenegrin nationality who, for personal reasons, does not want to make public her identity:

Montenegro is certainly one of the most interesting spots in the world. Even though it covers only 14,000 km2 and has about 670,000 citizens, its contribution to the cultural heritage of the world is impressive, considering its size.

The history of Montenegro is very colorful. During the centuries in which Montenegro has existed as a state, the date of the Congress of Berlin represents a historical turning point. On July 1878, Montenegro gained its first internationally recognized independence from the Ottoman Empire. It was the realization of centuries-long liberation aspirations of the Montenegrin people. Montenegro remained independent until 1918, when the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes) was created.

After the creation of the Yugoslav state, Montenegro, as one of its areas, did not have its own diplomacy, nor did Montenegrin political parties have influence on politics of the new state. Yugoslavia was renamed the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1946, when a communist government was established, just after Second World War. It acquired the territories of Istria, Rijeka, and Zadar from Italy. Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito ruled the country as President until his death in 1980. In 1963, the country was renamed again to the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). Finally, after an economic and political crisis in the 1980s and the rise of nationalism, Yugoslavia broke up along its republics’ borders, at first into five countries, leading to the Yugoslav Wars, and, after the breakup, the republics of Serbia and Montenegro formed a reduced federation, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), which aspired to the status of sole legal successor to the SFRY, but those claims were opposed by the other former republics. Serbia and Montenegro themselves broke up in 2006 and became independent states.

Indeed, following a referendum held on May 21, 2006, in which a narrow majority voted to secede from the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, and so the Republic of Montenegro declared itself independent. The outcome was difficult to predict, given Montenegro’s political background and its historical and cultural ties with Serbia, over 30% of the population being of Serbian nationality. Given those facts, concerns were raised about the country’s future, some arguing that the state was too small to be economically self-sustainable and too politically unstable to be viable.

Montenegrin people favored “independence” by 55.5 percent, bringing to six the number of countries formed from the former territory of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In response to the announcement, the government of Serbia declared itself the legal and political successor of Serbia and Montenegro, and that the government and parliament of Serbia itself would soon adopt a new constitution.

Despite concerns the country was too small to be economically viable, too politically divided to be stable, and too institutionally weak to effectively tackle endemic problems such as corruption and organized crime (issues that might mitigate their Euro-Atlantic aspirations; in particular, the EU & NATO membership), Montenegro has made, in spite of its evident problems, impressive progress. As an internationally-recognized state, Montenegro became a member of the United Nations (UN) and other international institutions, it has consolidated its position among its neighbors, and it has made great strides toward achieving the government’s core objective –the Euro-Atlantic integration. In June 2006, the European Union (EU) established relations with Montenegro and all member states recognized the country’s independence. Just over a year later, in October 2007, Montenegro signed a Stability and Association Agreement (SAA). Furthermore, in a short period of time they have managed to be classified by the World Bank as an upper middle-income country.

As a result of its independence, the relationship with the EU is probably the top priority for Montenegro’s external policy, and the EU has given positive signs in this regard. Relation between the EU and Montenegro’s authorities is important, because the state is under neoliberal pressure since 1990. Key strategic companies, such as telecommunication companies, banks, construction companies are privatized. The new owners are big multinational corporations, whose enormous profit goes abroad. The state energetic company “Elektroprivreda” probably would be privatized completely in next years. The link with EU is important for Montenegrin economic and political elite, because they will be more powerful, if they listen EU authorities.

On the economic side, Montenegro did pretty good, as well, before and after the referendum, but it was hit by the global economic downturn. There was an economic boom in the period of 2002-2008, partly due to the creation of an independent state, openly free-market oriented, which encouraged foreign investments. Montenegro received, as of 2008, more foreign investment per capita than any other nation in Europe. Over 5,000 foreign owned firms are registered and operating in Montenegro, though many of them are owned small proprietors or are not fully operating. The most significant investments have come from Italy, Norway, Austria, Russia, Hungary, the U.S. and Great Britain. Lately, China, Azerbaijan, Russia, Taiwan and the Gulf Emirates states have shown increasing interest in investing in Montenegro’s resort development industry. This attractiveness was reinforced by Montenegro’s choice to use the Deutschmark and then the Euro as its legal currency. If Montenegro would not use Euros anymore, nothing significant would have happened. The explanation is simple: Central Bank of Montenegro does not control emission of money and referential interest rate of Central bank is very high. High referential interest rate protect import lobby. Central bank of Montenegro is not holder of monetary sovereignty.

Besides the economic downturn, the budget deficit remains relatively large and the broader economic situation remains tenuous. A cautious optimism, and with it a modicum of confidence, has returned but there are still challenges ahead.

The domestic political scene has been characterized by both change and continuity. Even those individuals, parties and institutions that vociferously opposed independence appear to have accepted Montenegro’s sovereignty and the realities of operating within that framework. There has been a minor recalibration of the Montenegrin political landscape, numerous splits, re-alignments and the creation of new parties and coalitions. Most of these have taken place among and between opposition parties.

In the final analysis, however, Montenegro has made significant progress since the May 2006 referendum. The tensions surrounding it were very real, and conflict (even if only of a low intensity) was a real possibility. The country faced significant challenges in the first years of its independence; challenges that could have proved insurmountable. Today, the problems that seemed so acute in 2006 have been largely overcome. Montenegro has consolidated itself as an independent and solid country. Yet, there is no room for complacency; a countless challenges lie ahead, and while the foundations have been laid for Montenegro’s European future, there is much yet to be done before that future is secured.

Montenegro could be surely accepted in the EU, because of the geopolitical interests of western powers. The control of Adriatic Sea is important for the EU and more important for the NATO. If Montenegro somehow would not been accepted in the EU, it would be neutral state and Montenegrin authorities would be challenged with Russian influence. In that situation, our market would be opened for the companies from the East, because domestic production is very low. In order to enter into the EU, Montenegrin authorities need to fulfill these requirements: the rule of law, fight against corruption, the fight against organized crime, the strengthening of civil society and non-governmental sector. Montenegro independence is almost lost because we do not have monetary sovereignty, foreign embassies have enormous influence on authorities, political parties are financed from western states such as SDP and earlier DPS at the end of nineties, domestic industry have been capsized completely. Both parties run the country since 1998.

Indeed, a state is not sovereign, because it is politically recognized, it is recognized and sovereign only if it is partner in international economic relations.

1 comentario
  1. Manu Oquendo
    Manu Oquendo Dice:

    Hello, Critillo.

    After several successive readings of the article on Montenegro I must confess my rather miserable failure to catch its meaning. If any, that is.

    As a history of that territory it does not cover anything before the end of the XIXth century. Thus making the brief document very similar to any narrative dedicated to the sowing the seeds of myth since the dark ages. The romantic nationalist writers were very familiar with the process.

    The history of Montenegro is very much like that of any human settlement in this continent after the last Glacial Age.
    We should not forget that, as recently as 10,000 years ago, most of the European Land Mass was covered, all year round, by hundred of meters of solid ice and that even our peninsula was, at that time, not livable by human beings.
    For almost 30,000 years, Europe had no population at all.

    People slowly returned from Africa as the ice melted and the sea level began to rise following the same routes as the refugees today: some through the Gibraltar Strait, some by the Lampedusa route, most using the more hospitable Peloponnese land route.


    Europe, today, has a very short memory and it is fascinating to understand why our educational systems forget a Climate Fact as relevant to our collective history as the Last Glacial Age and, last but not least, that the Eastern Roman Empire lasted 1100 years more than the Western empire.

    These educational omissions start with the end of WW II. Really interesting, isn't it?

    Since that time the Montenegro history is also very similar to that of any other minor group of non sedentary population. The people of the entire Balcan region, not only Serbians or Montenegrins, were later named as Illyrians –primarily to differentiate them from Greek stock– and it remains to be genetically proved if there were are any original differences.

    A summary of those years appears here (Note 1) and shows, as in the rest of south-eastern Europe, a period of Roman and Christian domination from II BC and another one of Muslim domination. This period is without exception loathed by everybody living in these lands with a minimum of memory.

    If we, Europeans, bothered to recall our history we would certainly try to remember two things:

    1. The Last Glacial Age. When none of us lived here. We all came from the deep South.

    2. The Eastern Roman Empire, also our forebears, lasted more the 1100 years more than Rome.

    Nothing solid can come out of the collective lack of memory.

    And, if you are small and "different" your destiny is not to be free.

    Not as a people, not as individuals. Subjects of multilevel empires.
    Some people may be happy with it. Most wiil not.

    Best regards.

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