Montenegrin ruling coalition threatened to fall apart?

It is not the first time that one of the two minor members of the ruling coalition is threatening Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) that it would return to the opposition. Contrary to the previous ones, the latest threat of Social Democrats sounds more resolute and more convincing.

Dragoljub VUKOVIC

MON, 31 JAN 2000

Podgorica, 16 January, 2000 - Hardly a month passed since the day Montenegrin prime minister Filip Vujanovic praised the Social Democratic Party for its "patient and wise way" and now his cabinet might be left without majority support in the parliament because of Social Democrats. Their leader Zarko Rakcevic announced this possibility on Orthodox Christmas day, angry because high authorities of Montenegro, without consulting SDP, decided to ban the priests and the believers of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church to burn the yule-log in Podgorica in front of the court chapel in Krusevac.

"Not only as a Montenegrin, not only as citizen Zarko Rakcevic, but also as president of the party which participates in the ruling coalition, I openly say that I feel humiliated", he said the next day in his interview to Vijesti daily, announcing at the same time that SDP would "very thoroughly reconsider whether it will remain in the regime both on the Republican and the municipal level".

Almost ten days have passed since then, and the Social Democrats are still silent. It is not the first time that one of the minor members of the ruling coalition (SDP of Montenegro and the People’s Party) is threatening Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists that it will return to the opposition. Contrary to the previous ones, this latest threat of Social Democrats sounds more resolute and more convincing. The immediate cause of discontent perhaps did not carry more weight than some of the previous ones, but the impression was that suddenly the cup of patience has spilled over.

The Social Democrats have never concealed that they do not feel too comfortable in the company of parties of significantly different past and different views of certain essential political issues, such as the one about the legal status of Montenegro. "We are uneasy and we have often put up with things we do not actually approve of", said Zarko Rakcevic in his latest interview to Monitor weekly. He did not bother to conceal his uneasiness and discontent at his party’s convention in mid December last year when his leading position in the party was reconfirmed.

Rakcevic then stated that his party was not tied by the joint document - the government platform on redefining relations in Yugoslav Federation any more. By doing this he indirectly criticised his coalition partners for delaying the solution of the status of Montenegro. He at the same time expressed discontent because of sluggishness in implementation of reforms, but especially the attitude of the key political figure in the authorities to privatisation. Constant discontent of SDP is also caused by favouring of the Serb Orthodox Church in Montenegro at the expense of the revived Montenegrin Orthodox Church which was evident on the past Christmas eve.

Although at times Social Democrats managed to impose their stands on their coalition partners and force them to make a compromise (they contributed to passing of certain important laws which strengthened the position of Montenegro in the Serbian-Montenegrin Federation), much more often they were the ones who had to give in for the sake of peace in the house and "the noble cause" - resistance against Milosevic’s regime.

"We are convinced that we are contributing to strengthening of state and ethnic awareness in Montenegro much more since we are in the government than when we were in the opposition". This is how recently Rakcevic interpreted the reason why his party despite all its discontent, still remained in the authorities.

Have these reasons been devalued after humiliation on Christmas eve and is it already certain that Social Democrats will soon say good-bye to Djukanovic and Vujanovic?

Except for the serious warning of the president of the party Zarko Rakcevic that this could actually happen, the SDP has not made a single move in that direction. The party main board should soon reach the final decision after broad inter-party consultations and unofficial negotiations with the Democratic Party of Socialists as the key coalition partner.

It is interesting that from DPS there has been no public reaction to threats of Social Democrats, so that this restraint can be explained with a wish not to add oil to the fire of discontent of Social Democrats and by doing it to minimise chances for another agreement and a compromise. Contrary to the DPS, the other coalition partner, the People’s Party, estimated that Social Democrats do not really mean it when they are announcing they would step out of the government and warned about the risk such a move carries. Vice president of the "populists" Dragan Soc declared that by stepping out of the regime SDP could "shaken political stability of Montenegro" and that this would not meet "with too big understanding of democratic community, both internal and external".

To abandon the authorities at this moment would really mean to assume responsibility for the imminent political crisis which would certainly be convenient for the regime of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, and it is a question whether its resolution would change anything in Montenegro. "I think that the price of leaving the ruling coalition would be high both for SDP and the coalition, and I do not think that this party will make up its mind to do it", this is the estimate of Srdjan Darmanovic, former high official of SDP and now director of the Centre for Democracy and Human Rights from Podgorica.

However, it is also risky for SDP to remain in the authorities by pretending as if nothing has happened. This would create an image of a politically frivolous party which does not think highly of its honour and dignity. It would turn out exactly as their political opponents are already ironically commenting: "Zarko Rakcevic has shot a blind cartridge". In order to honourably and without serious political consequences remain in power, Social Democrats would have to be given some tangible concessions and serious assurances that the ruling coalition would have more understanding for their proposals.

What could political allies offer SDP as public satisfaction. It is already certain that DPS will sacrifice the minister of religion, Dr Slobodan Tomovic who has been a thorn in the flesh of SDP for a long time. It is true, however, that he is not to blame for the bad treatment of the revived Montenegrin Church by the state, but he is exposed the most as protector of Serb Metropolitan Amfilohije and persecutor of Montenegrin Metropolitan Mihailo. Whether there is anything else it is hard to assume, but also to believe that this "anything" could be much more significant than promises.

What can SDP expect if it steps out of the authorities? It would be normal if it immediately got close to its natural ally, the Liberal League (LS). "The Liberal League remains open for all talks, but there can be no talks with SDP as long as it is in power", said political leader of LS of Montenegro Miodrag Zivkovic. Having in mind the continuous rivalry, the previous and the latest haggling between the Liberals and Social Democrats, it is hard to imagine that these two parties could get together and form a powerful Montenegrin political block which would in early parliamentary elections spoil the game for the so far favoured political parties. It is therefore much more probable that the Social Democrats would be left alone in the opposition. This is quite a big challenge but it does not guarantee a very big political gain.

The Social Democratic Party is aware of the fact that so far it has gained by participating in the government and that this has at the same time been a gain for Montenegro, too. The question that arises is, however, whether such a trend would continue in case it remains in the regime, especially if it does not manage to "charge" for remaining in it by at least slightly significant concessions?