Julius StraussBurning hatred of Montenegro's fire station rivals
Monday 18 September 2000
Kolasin - Locals have set up rival emergency services in the small town of Kolasin in northern Montergero, one pro-Yugoslavia; the other pro-independence.
The town, with a population of only about 4,000 people, now boasts two fire stations, because of this rift. Tension is rising across Montenegro - Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslavian federation - ahead of next weekend's Yugoslav elections, which could topple President Slobodan Milosevic.
In Kolasin, people fear that the local rivalry could spark a civil war. In the shadows of a crumbling Tito-era hotel, the pro-Yugoslavia fire brigade has a shabby set of rooms. Posters on the wall depict Milosevic and Momir Bulatovic, his local henchman.
The office is a hotbed of political passion. Miljan, 31, a former policeman, has been a fireman since the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party won control of the town in local elections two years ago.
He said: "The old fire chief refused to hand over the town's fire engine and all the equipment when we told him we were taking over. So we borrowed a fire engine and hoses from Serbia. The old chief is one of Djukanovic's people. They are all thieves and traitors. They talk about independence, but Montenegro cannot survive without Serbia."
Barely 50 yards away is the pro-independence fire station. Its chief, Radomir Begovic, said: "When there's a really big blaze we both go - but we don't talk to each other. I've been a fireman for 25 years. I'm slowly winning over locals to call my service, not theirs."
Beneath the apparent tranquillity of Kolasin on a sunny weekend afternoon, political divisions have set neighbour against neighbour and have divided families. Many local people now refuse to greet each other in the street. Each of the half-dozen cafes has been forced to declare its allegiance.
The choice of establishment reveals a patron's politics. An old lady sitting on a bench in the main square, said: "This is the most divided town in Montenegro. Politics have already turned family members against each other. One man threw his son out of the house when he said he supported Djukanovic."
A young man of 19, drinking at the Basketball Cafe, said: "The problem is that every family here has at least one gun. We usually fire them when we're happy. But there has already been one incident here after a drunk reservist opened fire in the air and another man shot him in the leg."
Belgrade and Podgorica - Mr Djukanovic's seat of power - are pouring in men to try to gain the upper hand. Local officials estimate there are now 500 pro-Djukanovic police in and around the town, compared with the normal 15.
The federal army has stationed hundreds of troops in Kolasin and is said to be recruiting volunteers for a paramilitary force. Local police fear this may be used to launch hostilities.
The pro-Belgrade deputy mayor, Nojo Mulevic, recalling the blood split between Montenegrins during the Second World War, said: "I don't think there will be war. We're cleverer than our fathers and grandfathers who killed each other fighting with the Partisans and the Chetniks."
But he disclosed that he had dusted off his grandfather's old rifle and bought a pistol, just in case. He said: "The situation is the same all over northern Montenegro. It's impossible to say what might happen."
Lutz Kleveman in Belgrade writes: The Belgrade regime has taken action against the opposition ahead of next Sunday's presidential, parliamentary and local elections. Opinion polls put Milosevic behind Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate nationalist from the Democratic Opposition of Serbia bloc.
At the weekend, three student activists were jailed for 10 days by a Belgrade court for "jeopardising public peace and order" when they sprayed graffiti on a Milosevic election poster. Friends said they were badly beaten by police.