Montenegro: On the edge

In a special report from Montenegro, the BBC's Brian Barron looks at a small country which some fear could become engulfed in a new Balkans War

Monday, 14 August, 2000

Relations are already tense between the Milosevic regime in Belgrade and Montenegro, the junior partner in the Yugoslav Federation. We, in Montenegro, can't function properly because the Belgrade regime wants to take absolute control. As for the danger of war, anything is possible in these hard times.
Savo Paraca, mayor of Cetinje
Now, they have worsened because of the arrest of two Britons and two Canadians near the border with Kosovo.
Supported by the European Community, Montenegro is hoping to eventually become an independent country again.
However, the Milosevic regime is trying to paralyse Montenegro with an economic blockade, closing the Serbian border.
Meanwhile, snugly tucked away in a valley, the city of Cetinje waits again for the call of history.

Old splendour
A century ago, all of the big powers had missions on what became known as Embassy Row - for Cetinje was the capital of Montenegro.
Now a music school has taken over the old British embassy. Around the corner, Montenegro's royal palace dazzles foreign visitors.
The trouble is that the numbers have dropped from 300,000 a year a decade ago, before Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, to a fraction of that today.
Without money, Cetinje's heritage could moulder away.
For the city's conservation chief, Petar Cukovic, who talked to me in the splendour of the old royal parliament, the looming question is starker: war or peace?
"I think people are very tired because of the last 10 years," he says.
"They're very tired against war. People are a little bit afraid. God knows what will happen in the next two months."
Uncertainty, and President Milosevic's policies of intimidation, have brought economic ruin.
In a place where up to 70% of residents are jobless, any work is acceptable. Preparations for winter have started early. Handouts from the European Union help them to survive.
At City Hall, the Mayor, Savo Paraca, says that the pressure from Belgrade's invisible siege of Montenegro has eclipsed the routine tasks of local government.
"The truth is we live in a totally unstable situation," he says.
"We, in Montenegro, can't function properly because the Belgrade regime wants to take absolute control."
"As for the danger of war, anything is possible in these hard times."
Once, a refrigerator factory was the golden goose of Cetinje, making it the most prosperous city in Montenegro. It brought work to over 5,000.
Recently, the last few hundred workers were sent home. A warehouse filled with refrigerators is the result of the Milosevic blockade.
Aleksander Misatovic, chief executive of the company, Obod, expresses his uncertainty about the future.
"I really don't know what will happen," he says.
"Will Serbia open or will it maintain closed this border for a long time? I don't know."
The factory's truck fleet stands idle. Serbian security forces will not allow them to cross the frontier.

Rich tourists stay away
Twenty miles away on the Adriatic Coast, there is an unexpected glimpse of the good life. However, at Buddva, appearances are deceptive.
Locals pack the beaches but they are short of cash. There are no big spending foreign tourists.
Hotels teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. It is small wonder that many feel hemmed in.
To a reporter returning after a year away, there does seem a rise in pragmatism, an awareness that only through patience, cunning and luck can the risk of a new Balkans war be averted on the road to full independence.

Original article