TCS Daily


Another Nation-State?

By T.K. Vogel - May 2, 2006 12:00 AM

The fashionable notion that the nation-state is dead makes it easy to forget that some places and people -- quite a few, in fact -- still aspire to achieve that quaint condition. The liberal internationalism prevailing (at least notionally) among Europe's elites adds to Western bafflement at attempts by "peoples" -- all an invention of 19th-century nationalists, you see -- to be independent. We are collectively not so far from Woodrow Wilson's attitude towards the Irish question: "His view," reports Margaret MacMillan in her admirable account on the 1919 Paris peace conference, "was that the Irish lived in a democratic country and they could sort it out through democratic means."

Indeed, the emergence of new states has over the course of the 20th century become an increasingly rare event. A first wave of state creation took place after the collapse of the Romanov, Habsburg, and Ottoman empires at the end of World War 1. A second wave brought the decolonization of what came to be known as the third world. And the third wave might run its course this year.

This third wave began with the demise of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, which would put some 20 new countries on the map. (In addition, the peaceful break-up of Czechoslovakia made two countries out of one.) But in contrast with the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia has been in a process of progressive dissolution ever since Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991, followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia in 1992. In 1999, Kosovo became de facto independent when NATO invaded this Serbian province to protect its ethnic-Albanian majority from a massive campaign of repression by the Milosevic regime. What was left of Yugoslavia was then replaced by the "State Union of Serbia and Montenegro" in 2003, a construct that has never even begun functioning properly.

This year, this process of dissolution is likely to reach its logical conclusion. Kosovo's final status is the subject of ongoing negotiations in Vienna that are widely expected to lead to some sort of formal independence before the year is over, imposed on Serbia if it need be. But even before that -- on 21 May -- the citizens of Montenegro will vote whether to leave the state union with Serbia.

Montenegro? A tiny republic of some 600,000 people perched on mountains high above the Adriatic, this former Yugoslav republic is hardly an obvious candidate for independent statehood. In fact, Montenegrins don't appear to be too sure about it, either: according to recent opinion polls, around 41 percent of its citizens want to leave the union with Serbia while 32 percent want to remain; 25 percent of those polled said they were undecided or wouldn't vote.

This ambiguity has raised fears that a very small majority at the polls representing an even smaller plurality of the population could decide the future of an entire country. The EU has sought to counter such fears by declaring that it would not recognize an independent Montenegro unless at least 50 percent of the electorate turned out to vote and at least 55 percent of actual voters approved the independence bid.

In the best case, this will produce much-needed clarity: if these thresholds are indeed reached, there will be little ground for anyone to consider the result inconclusive, or unrepresentative, or in any other way illegitimate.

But what if they aren't? What if, say, only 49 percent turned out but delivered an overwhelming majority in favor of independence? This is an entirely conceivable scenario: if the pro-union camp feels it cannot deliver the necessary number of no votes they might still be able to deliver the necessary number of non-voters, and thereby invalidate the poll. The EU has said it would not recognize the result if the pro-unionists boycotted the poll; but the EU cannot penalize a party if its voters, individually and without the party's overt encouragement, choose to stay home, and there are various means for an informal boycott to take place without being too obvious. In the final analysis, however, it is hard to see why people who aim to sabotage a vote because they cannot win should be rewarded. And it is even harder to see why it should be the EU that delivers the reward.

Through these conditions, the EU is running the risk of putting itself between the Montenegrins and their legitimate aspirations to free themselves from the legacy of war and isolation embodied by the Belgrade authorities, the democratic change of 2000 notwithstanding. It also runs the risk of being inconsistent.

Why should Kosovo gain independence, even against the wishes of its Serbian minority, while the same may be denied to Montenegro? Kosovo, unlike Montenegro, has never been an independent state, not even a republic within Yugoslavia. Its ethnic Albanian majority has driven out many ethnic minorities, above all the Serbs but also Roma and others perceived as pro-Serb. The human-rights record of the local government is dreadful, rule of law close to nonexistent. Yet it is Montenegro, not Kosovo, that is made to prove that it is "ready" for independence. As justified as the Kosovar resistance against the Milosevic regime may have been, it is hard to believe that it, rather than Montenegro's entirely peaceful quest for independence, should be rewarded by the EU.

Eventual independence for Montenegro is an almost inevitable last element needed to complete the dissolution of the old Yugoslavia, together with a final status for Kosovo. One does not need to buy into dubious theories about the "artificiality" of Yugoslavia -- hardly a place more artificial than Spain, or Belgium, or France -- in order to see the final demise of what remains of it as an inexorable event, and probably a beneficial one; it will allow Serbs and Montenegrins to focus on their real problems instead of providing life support to the moribund union.

If there was nothing particularly artificial about Yugoslavia and nothing inevitable about its demise, the Serbian power-grab of the late 1980s and early 1990s changed all that. Few non-Serbs could be convinced that a better future awaited them inside a Milosevic-run Yugoslavia that refused to honor the rights of non-Serbs, to allow political pluralism, and to reform its dreadful economy. And so, by the end of the decade and several wars, there was nothing left for Montenegro to secede from -- but after the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, it had become awfully hard to convince the Europeans that that was the proper thing to happen.

While Milosevic was still in power, Montenegrin aspirations were a useful tool for Western governments. Once he had fallen from power, they became a nuisance. The EU's foreign policy supremo Javier Solana then came up with the idea for the state union of Serbia and Montenegro, a construct as cumbersome as its name. Inaugurated in 2003, a year after the traumatic assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, the union never became functional. Montenegro is already de-facto enjoying independence, and the bureaucrats in Brussels know that as well as anyone else.

It cannot be in anyone's interest to completely alienate Montenegro's large community of Serbs or to penalize those Montenegrins who feel close to Serbia. But neither can it be in the EU's interest to raise the bar on a country that has a centuries-old history of undeniable statehood; an emerging majority favoring independence; and a democratic process that, while flawed, is as good as anything happening in Serbia or Bosnia or Kosovo. In the end, it would be foolish to prevent it from achieving through law what political reality has already delivered.

The author is a South-East Europe editor with Transitions Online (www.tol.org), a newsweekly covering the post-Communist world. He has written for the Wall Street Journal Europe, the International Herald Tribune, and the Neue Z├╝rcher Zeitung.

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2 Comments

Needed to complete the dissolution....
You are correct to say that the separation of Montenegro is "needed to complete the dissolution of the old Yugoslavia" & that "Eventual independence for Montenegro is an almost inevitable last element needed to complete the dissolution of the old Yugoslavia, together with a final status for Kosovo". this was the view of Hitler & it is now the view of NATO.

The dissolution of Yugoslavia as opposed to supporting the interests of the people, is not, per se, a lawful or moral activity. It is indeed an entirely criminal activity when practiced by NATO countries which signed up to Section 1 line1 of the Helsinki Treaty that we would "take no action against the territorial integrity or unity" of other signatories.

It is also not in the interests of NATO members other than Germany. Germans have a deep hatred for Serbs due to their vital role in opposing Germany in 2 world wars & to racial antipathy. Germany also wished to demonstrate its dominant position in eastern Europe by exterminating those in its way. This however was not beneficial to other NATO members in 3 ways.

1) Exterminating nations who have been your allies to suck up to ***** guarantees you fewer allies.
2) By destroying all the rules of international law we have made the world a much more dangerous place. For example in the 1970s Yugoslavia deliberately decided not to develop its own Bomb & as mentioned, accept the Helsinki Treaty. Does anybody think that there is the most remote possibility that North Korea, Iran, Israel or indeed anybody else can ever duplicate that trust.
3) Since the 1860s it has, correctly, been considered a vital US interest that there be no legal right to seccession. A precedentv has now been established which applies to the mMexican majority areas of Texas & California.

The position of Kosovo is even clearer. Legally it is part of Serbia & indeed NATO specifically guaranteed that under the occupation agreement. Insofar as there is a historic Kosovar "nation" it is Serbian. The Albanians are overwhelmingly recent immigrants (as indicated that there are 1,000 year old Christian churches there but not Mosques - though far fewer since the occupation). An "ondependent" Kosovo would want to join Albania. To do anything worse than divide the province into those ares which used to have an albanian majority to Albania & the rest returned, with extensive financial compensation to Serbia would merely be to enshrine genocide & ethnic cleansing within the new world order..

Unclear natiomhood
I (as many others) belong to the group that doesn't see clearly cut the question of Montenegrin nation as a separate nation from Serbs. That probably the major issue that puts "specific demands" on the side of EU for validity of referendum. Simply history doesn't give very strong credit for the Montenegrin as separate nation from the Serbs. Yes - there was an independent state for certain period, but on similar ground Naples and Sicily was an independent state for much longer period but there was not such nation as Sicilians.
It is well known that nationhood of Montenegrin people was literally "created" as an decree by communist Party of former Yugoslavia - after WWII. Even Milovan Djilas - who was the one who made this construction (based on given order) later reflected on it saying "If Montenegrins are not Serbs - Serbs doesn't exist at all...".

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