Washington Post
Light in the Balkans

Anna Husarska

Saturday, July 8, 2000

DUBROVNIK, Croatia –– "Sorry" isn't a word that comes easily in politics, especially Balkan politics. It's hardly been heard in this region over the past decade, during which four armed conflicts have taken hundreds of thousands of lives.

Three weeks ago, in a little Croatian resort just outside Dubrovnik, President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro (the smaller partner of Serbia in what remains of Yugoslavia) expressed to Croatian President Stipe Mesic, who had come down from Zagreb, his "sincerest apologies to all citizens of Croatia, and especially of Dubrovnik," in his name and in the name of his fellow Montenegrins, for "all the pain and suffering and material losses inflicted by Montenegrins" who fought on the side of the Yugoslav army in Croatia's 1991 war of secession.

His apology referred to the brutal pounding of beautiful Dubrovnik and vicinity in the fall of 1991, during which 92 civilians died and 539 houses were destroyed.

"Moderation" is another word not often used in Balkan politics, but the Montenegrin president also put on a good display of that quality this week after Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic staged a "parliamentary coup" that strengthened his personal position and put increased pressure on Montenegro. Djukanovic's government rejected Milosevic's constitutional changes, but declined to take any drastic action, such as declaring independence, and appealed to "the citizens of Montenegro, Serbia's democratic public and the international community to contribute to peace, and the members of the Yugoslav army not to be misused against the citizens and the institutions of Montenegro."

Djukanovic has, over the past three years, shown that a Yugoslav politician can adopt normal behavior, be pro-Western and moderate, allow an independent press, permit free and fair elections, be foreigner-friendly--and yet remain in power.

He is definitely not a charismatic figure; he has in the past been an ally of Milosevic. But in a way, that makes the success of his policy even more impressive.

Montenegro's collaboration with the international community goes very far indeed. Just two days before apologizing to his Croat counterpart, President Djukanovic was welcoming the chief prosecutor from the Hague Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte. The plan was that del Ponte would come to Podgorica, Montenegro's main town, but the anti-Djukanovic opposition, which is loyal to the main Hague indictee, Slobodan Milosevic, warned that it would stage protests, and the Second Yugoslav Army, stationed all around Montenegro, was certainly going to create problems too. (The army, air traffic control and postage stamps are about the only federal vestiges still to be found in Montenegro).

But Djukanovic managed to outfox the federals by going to a small village, and del Ponte came to Yugoslav soil to hear that a Yugoslav republic is ready to collaborate with the Hague Tribunal, a collaboration that may at some point mean having to allow the snatching of Milosevic.

Interestingly, the meeting took place in the municipal district of a coastal town that last month elected a new, pro-Milosevic mayor. The other municipality where elections were held that day was Podgorica, and there the pro-Djukanovic coalition won. The fact that this was a draw means that a referendum on independence is not going to happen anytime soon. This is probably to the liking of the international community, which doesn't want any boat-rocking in the Balkans during a presidential election year in the United States.

Montenegro obviously is toeing the line and deserves credit (and credits) for it. Apart from financial aid, which is crucial and effective (because with only 650,000 citizens, even relatively small amounts go a long way), there is also the question of giving Montenegro the moral support it needs to continue in this delicate balance between the West and Milosevic.

NATO Secretary General George Robertson and the European Union's foreign and security policy chief, Javier Solana, spared no effort to show support of the Djukanovic government, by visiting and receiving the president often. But unfortunately, it is the strong signals coming from the Pentagon that really capture the attention of Milosevic.

At the beginning of May, the outspoken American Gen. Wesley Clark, who frequently expressed his concern for stability in Montenegro, was replaced as NATO supreme commander for Europe by Gen. Joseph Ralston, also an American. Ralston has been silent on this subject--almost as if Montenegro has fallen off the maps at the Pentagon. This may be misread in Belgrade as a green light for stirring up trouble, and it may be a costly mistake.

The most recent conciliatory moves by Djukanovic were applauded by democratic-minded political forces in what was once Yugoslavia. The Serbian opposition expressed its approval too. That provides yet another reason to give vital support to beleaguered Montenegro.

Original article