THE ALBANIAN NATIONAL QUESTIONMONTENEGRO: WHERE WE STAND IN 2002
by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi
Nowhere is the refusal to learn from past mistakes in the Balkans clearer than in Montenegro. From December 2001 onward, there was great concern among Albanians throughout the Balkans about statements made by NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson, EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Javier Solana, and French President Jacques Chiraq, calling for the restoration of the Former Yugoslavia and asking Montenegro to abandon its plans to hold a referendum on independence in the spring of 2002. Just as the European Commission and the European Union opposed the will of the people of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, and Kosova to declare their independence from the FRY in 1991, they are now repeating this mistake with Montenegrins and Kosovars. The remarks made by Chiraq, Robertson, and Solana this winter undermined Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic’s negotiations with the Kostunica government. Their statements have also cast doubt for all Albanians about the international community’s intentions regarding the final status of Kosova.
On December 11, the members of the Montenegrin branch of PEN International wrote to Chirac to criticize his remarks in Belgrade rejecting Montenegrin independence. The PEN members stated that Western support for Belgrade “attacks the dignity of Montenegrins, who have as much right as any other people to determine their own future without outside interference.” They added that it also undermines the interests of ethnic minorities in Montenegro (Albanians, Croats, and Muslim Slavs), who “want to live as part of a multiethnic Montenegro, rather than as part of a larger state that is founded on the ideology of a Greater Serbia.”
As reported by Radio Free Europe, Lord Russell-Johnston, who is president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, told the Podgorica weekly Monitor that, “the EU is wrong to take sides in the dispute between Montenegrin and Belgrade authorities. He stressed that the EU’s support for a continuation of the Serbian-Montenegrin union is counterproductive because it will alienate many Montenegrins [who]…have the right to determine their own future.”
Nevertheless, on March 14, 2002, Solana succeeded in convincing Serbian President Vojislav Kostunica and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic to sign an agreement that postponed a referendum in support of Montenegro’s independence for three years in favor of creating a loose union called “Serbia and Montenegro.” (It has been widely reported that Montenegro was forced to enter into the agreement under threat of political and economic abandonment by the West.) On the positive side, Yugoslavia, could finally be pronounced dead, even though it had died thirteen years earlier in March 1989, when the
army of Serbian dictator, now indicted war criminal, Slobodan Milosevic brutally occupied Kosova and then went on to wage war against Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia. The bankrupt Western foreign policy of the early 1990s, when U.S. Secretaries of State James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger clung to the notion that Yugoslavia had to be held together at all costs, was now in its final death throes. Under the accord, Djukanovic managed to gain acceptance of an international referendum on independence after three years, to hold on to the Euro as currency, to maintain Montenegro’s own economy, army, and customs service, and to retain a measure of parity in joint institutions. In an address to the Montenegrin Parliament on March 26, he called the accord a “transitional arrangement toward the full independence of both republics.”
On the negative side, the European Union’s demand that Serbia and Montenegro stay together—with the Bush administration’s (but not the U.S. Congress’s) support—simply postpones the inevitable, complete dissolution of the former Yugoslavia into its constituent parts and risks war in the interim. Once the Yugoslav federation began to dissolve in 1991, all of the eight constituent units of the FRY, including Kosova, Montenegro, and Vojvodina, had a legal right to self-determination. By postponing a referendum on the final status of Montenegro for three years and keeping Kosova’s status off the table, the European Union and the United States have simply postponed the only way of achieving a just and lasting peace in the Balkans.
It is simply not the case that delaying Montenegrin independence will somehow stabilize the Balkans. The opposite is true. Montenegro, for all intents and purposes, has been independent since 1999, and many Montenegrin politicians, as well as all Albanian officials there, no longer recognize the authority of the FRY under Serbia’s control. For this reason, on April 10, 2002, four of the pro-independence ministers of the Social Democratic Party resigned from the ruling coalition in opposition to the accord, and, on April 19, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic resigned, stating that “the refusal of the Liberals to preserve the coalition left me with no other choice.” On the Serbian side, there is also ample opposition to the accord and doubt that the new union can be sustained. Meanwhile, both Albanian parties believe that the new federation will be short-lived. Fuad Nimani, chairman of the Democratic Union of Albanians, said that the new state “will not be stable, since a structure with such federal elements has no future in the Balkans.”
Although the parliaments in both Serbia and Montenegro have endorsed the agreement, the federal parliament must also approve it, and the respective legislatures have to adopt the country’s new constitution by June. The implementation of the agreement is, therefore, not assured. Montenegro’s internal politics are likely to become embroiled in protracted negotiations over the agreement and even turmoil, further stalling much needed political and economic reforms. Faced with another unworkable form of statehood, the already existing antagonisms between Serbia and Montenegro are likely to intensify. Ironically, it is the standard-bearers of Serbian nationalism, in both Serbia and Montenegro, who have triumphed in this period. They have been bolstered, not weakened, by the West’s refusal
to allow Montenegro to determine its own future, and this will only serve to thwart the very democratic reforms that the West hopes will take root in the new entity.
Kosova’s Final Status May be Affected by Montenegro
Naim Maloku, former Kosova Liberation Army senior officer and current AAK deputy leader, said in an interview with Zeri on March 19 that: “It is too naïve to think that the agreement between Serbia and Montenegro has nothing to do with Kosova, because it was reached with the intention of endangering Kosova’s path to independence. This agreement demands a more realistic approach by Kosova’s central institutions and a joint political strategy for the future.” Maloku voices the concerns of Albanians throughout the Balkans, because the agreement states that, in the event of Montenegro’s secession, Serbia will inherit the rights of the old Yugoslav federation in all international treaties, including UN Security Council Resolution 1244. This means that Kosova could potentially be deemed a part of Serbia under international law.
Albanians in Montenegro Continue to be a Vulnerable Minority
From the Civic League’s perspective, this is all the more reason that the joint political strategy that Maloku rightly calls for should also include the Albanian political representatives in Montenegro. Albanians, a minority in Montenegro, but a majority in the southeastern part of the republic (residing in Plave-Guci, Tuzi, and Ulqin), have always supported the independence of Montenegro, because they believe that they can better secure their civil rights once the country is free of Belgrade’s grip. The new federal solution will undoubtedly mean a setback for Albanian aspirations for cultural, economic, and political equality in Montenegro. Representing ten percent of the population of some 650,000, they have suffered decades of oppression and repression, leading to a state-sponsored policy of forced assimilation. Today, Albanians in Montenegro, while not victims of outright brutality and overt racism, have limited economic opportunities, no higher education or official communication in their own language, and minimal representation in government, the judiciary, the police, and the mass media. They lack equal political and civil status under the law. Above all, Albanians are under intense pressure to conceal their cultural, ethnic, and linguistic heritage, which is epitomized by the imposed addition of the Slavic suffix “ic” to their surnames and the denial of their right to use their flag and other national symbols. Albanians in Montenegro are Muslim and Roman Catholic, but those who are Muslim confront greater pressure to hide their religious affiliation and ethnicity.
Lacking institutional power as a minority, Albanians are pushed to tow the political line of the most nationalist, least progressive, forces in Montenegro. Otherwise, they risk a series of sanctions, including the inability to maintain contact, without interference, with their relatives and fellow Albanians outside of Montenegro and the right to bury their dead from the diaspora on Montenegrin soil. It is time for the Albanians of Montenegro to launch an international educational and public relations campaign to tell their story and, in the process, to secure equal rights.
This will mean opening up a history that, for example, includes the execution at the end of the Balkan Wars in 1913 of 1,250 Albanians in Previja at the hands of Montenegrin General Gavro Cemovic. This massacre occurred at a time when more than a half million Albanians were killed or died of hunger and disease at the hands of hostile and racist Slavic forces at the end of five hundred years of Ottoman Turkish rule. This also means discussing the mass expulsion of Albanians from Montenegro to Turkey in the 1930s, when Serbia negotiated “The Agreement on the Rule of Emigration of the Turkish Population from the Regions of Southern Serbia”—an agreement that initiated the expulsion of all Albanians who were Muslim from Serbia (which at that time included Macedonia and Montenegro) to Turkey. And it will mean revealing to the international community that an infamous subset of the Serbian genocide against Albanians in 1945 included the marching of 2,000 Albanians who had volunteered to join the Yugoslav army to “fight fascism” from Kosova to Tivar, Montenegro, where they were summarily executed. It will mean uncovering a buried legacy of oppression throughout four decades of Communist rule after World War II, as well as the current realities of political disempowerment.
This is also the time for the political leaders of the two Albanian political parties, the Democratic Union of Albanians and the Democratic League in Montenegro, to take a proactive role in the resolution of the Balkan crisis by developing an organized political strategy with Kosovar Albanians in response to Belgrade that will lead to the independence of both Kosova and Montenegro and their economic and political integration into a united Europe.