Fifteen years after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the restoration of capitalism that ensued, the shockwaves of this devastating earthquake are still shaking the Balkans. The imperialist powers - after promoting the conflict in the first place - have now opted for "stabilisation" and an end to any further fragmentation, but they are now faced with the uncontrollable process that has a logic of its own.
Playing with the tinderbox of nationalism in order to achieve the break-up of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, imperialism sparked off a chain reaction of regional fires and then tried to put them out from above. Airplanes circled the region for years, either delivering bombs or diplomats - both delivering neo-liberal ultimatums. All this acted as a catalyst and it was only a matter of time before the fire would reach the thick forests of Montenegro.
Montenegro emerged last month as the newest country in the Balkans. In a referendum overseen by the EU, 230,711 Montenegrins (55.53%) voted for independence and 184,954 (44.47%) against; the turnout was 86.3%. Although the referendum passed without any serious clashes the country remains deeply divided. The night after the referendum was very tense with the supporters of both sides on the streets. The situation was so tense that an "incident" could easily been sparked off. Just a few hours after the closing of the polling stations, the government of Milo Djukanovic started the celebrations with their fireworks display and independence supporters spilled out onto the streets acting on the first preliminary results. The only thing that prevented serious clashes was the reaction of the pro-union leaders who tried to pacify the other half of the country by promising them the possibility of a different outcome by the morning.
"Young, Beautiful and Smart"
The origins of both the pro and anti-union fronts in Montenegro today are the same. Both, the unionists and the independence block were born in the late eighties as the Montenegro wing of the so-called anti-bureaucratic revolution that was shaking Yugoslavia at the time. Led by the Serbian bureaucrat Slobodan Milosevic, this was in fact a counter-revolution in disguise, which broke the spine of the strike movement of the Yugoslav working class in the eighties. This imperialist-backed new layer of ambitious young politicians presented themselves as fighters against the old corrupt Titoist bureaucracy and channelled the anger of the masses into nationalism. (see: The role of Slobodan Milosevic in the break-up of Yugoslavia)
By 1990, Montenegro had been purged of the old school of politicians and had become an ally of Milosevic with the "young, beautiful and smart" trio of ex-communist youth leaders (Momir Bulatovic, Svetozar Marovic and Milo Djukanovic) at its helm. Milo Djukanovic was the youngest and soon proved to be the most cunning of them all. He earned his first wages as a prime minister at the young age of 29. Along with Bulatovic, he was an obedient supporter of Milosevic and his war policy, not hesitating to shell the Croatian city of Dubrovnik in 1991. By 1996 however, Milosevic had become an obstacle in the region from the point of view of the interests of imperialism. The Serbian regime was becoming increasingly isolated and an opposition movement within Serbia was gaining momentum. Djukanovic recognized this early on and took advantage of Milosevic's decreasing influence. He cut his ties with Bulatovic and split the biggest ruling Montenegrin Democratic Party of Socialists into two factions. This is the point of origin of the two rival blocs we see today in Montenegro.
Shortly afterwards, Djukanovic beat Milosevic loyalist-Bulatovic in the presidential elections and the road was paved for him to become the sole leader of Montenegro, establishing close ties with the West and running the small republic like a pariah. The west nurtured him as a thorn in Milosevic's side and created a James Bond movie type of a villain. Positioned between Albania Bosnia and Serbia with access to the sea, Montenegro became a smuggler's paradise. Montenegrin beaches were covered with the yachts of Italian mobsters. Having distanced the country from Serbia, Djukanovic promoted a rapid programme of privatisations, destroying all industry and relying on cigarette smuggling and tourism as the main economic activity of this tiny country. Djukanovic introduced the Deutsch mark as Montenegro's currency and put up customs barriers on the border with Serbia. After some time this political chameleon started backing the call for an independent Montenegro, an idea he had picked up from one of the smaller opposition parties, and then based his rule on this new slogan calling for Montenegro to become "sovereign" from Belgrade.
The absurdity of Montenegro's move towards being a so-called "sovereign state" through independence is clear. A small Balkan country of 700,000 people with an economy in ruins is an easy prey to almost anyone and has no real negotiating powers. Having said that, we have to recognise that the politics of the pro-unionist wing are not much better. Opposition to independence was not based on any rational or progressive platform. For this faction of Montenegro's nascent bourgeoisie, the main argument against separation was that the Montenegrins are in reality Serbs, and should therefore stay with Serbia. With this nationalistic approach, directed from Belgrade, the unionists limited the appeal of their message form the start only to citizens who consider themselves Serbs but also alienated a good number of potential voters who consider themselves Montenegrins and minorities such as the Muslim Slavs, from the Sandzak region, who are sympathetic to the idea of being united with Serbia but in a form that existed during Tito. Thus the vote for a Union was not seen as a vote for the legacy of the old Yugoslavia, but for present-day Serbian nationalism.
How much further can it go?
Montenegro is now the sixth and final republic to emerge as an independent state from the old Yugoslavia. Does this mark the end of the atomisation of the Balkans? Definitely not. In the Balkans, where things on the ground are in most cases different shades of grey rather than simply black and white, it is very hard to define clear ethnic lines. Basing any political project on a nation is therefore a blueprint for disaster. The whole region is inhabited by people who speak the same language and have similar cultures, but who have evolved historically as different nations - strung between various states and imposed borders.
Montenegro is now split in half between the northern part with a large percentage of people who consider themselves Serbs and the southern part which feels Montenegrin. Add to that a considerable Albanian minority in the southeast and the Sandzak region in the northeast, inhabited by Slavic Muslims, now split between Serbia and Montenegro, and you are faced with an inherently unstable new state.
In a broader regional perspective, Kosovo will soon follow Montenegro's lead adding yet another dwarfish satellite state to the region. And this also puts the Macedonian question back on the agenda. Neighbouring Bosnia is also split in two with the Serbian part openly advocating unification with Serbia. Serbia itself lives with Serbian refugees from Croatia and Kosovo and with the feeling of being a humiliated potential local power that has been punished for everything that has happened in the Balkans over the last fifteen years.
This situation is unsustainable in the long run. All this has happened in a historical conjuncture when the imperialist powers have some sort of consensus among themselves over the Balkans. One can only imagine how dangerous the situation could become once there is an intensification of inter-imperialist rivalries, when these numerous puppet states would become clearer exponents of these different interests.
Meanwhile in Belgrade...
In Belgrade the news of the referendum result was not received dramatically as was the case with the secession of the former republics in the nineties. Under Djukanovic, Montenegro has been acting as a de facto independent state for years. The referendum therefore, merely confirmed the reality on the ground.
However, what is true is that his move had a definite negative impact on the consciousness of the Serbian and Montenegrin. The feeling of hopelessness and inability to do anything to stop the fragmentation of the country that has been going on for more than a decade now is becoming chronic and pushing people into a passive state.
The majority of the Serbian ruling class was calling for a joint state and openly supported the unionist block in Montenegro. As the referendum result reached Belgrade, a section of the ruling class tried to flog a dead horse and stir up pro-Serbian sentiment by rallying people around the fact that Serbia is "finally" an independent state itself. This fact fell on deaf ears however, as most people in Serbia would rather exchange this "independent" state for any kind of union that even mildly resembles the old Yugoslavia.
The success of the latest scheme of Milo Djukanovic is seen as a defeat by the population of Serbia and also a good part of the population of Montenegro. For those Montenegrins who still have illusions that a nation state will bring them a better tomorrow, a bitter disappointment will follow, just as it did in most of the Balkan nations now living in supposedly "free and independent states" where the people feel more restrained than ever.
Brothers in Arms
History and facts easily expose the nationalists and their demagogy on all sides. In the old pre-Second World War bourgeois Yugoslavia Montenegrins, like most of the other smaller nations, could not even declare themselves openly as Montenegrins. During the Second World War, Montenegro provided a disproportionate contribution to the Partisan movement. Already by 1941, this tiny republic with its then population of around 360,000 people had 22,000 of its citizens engaged in the armed struggle equalling that of much larger republics. The Montenegrin cultural identity reached its peak after the Yugoslav revolution. In the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, the overwhelming majority of the population of Montenegro declared themselves as Montenegrins, and yet at the time the idea of an independent Montenegro would have been laughed at.
Today, with only 43% of the population declaring themselves Montenegrins, support for an independent Montenegro is stronger than ever. There is nothing contradictory in all this. What held Tito's Yugoslavia together, first and foremost, was not any abstract national unity, but a planned economy and social progress. The economy was developing at quite a fast pace and this was the bedrock upon which Yugoslav unity was maintained. Once bureaucratic planning started to break down, an economic crisis ensued that prepared the ground for the break-up. Without the framework of a federal republic based on state ownership and planning it is very hard for the Montenegrins to stay in a union with Serbia no matter how close they feel culturally.
So far, so bad
A delicate balance between various regions of different sizes and economic development could have been maintained only through a conscious economic policy that was based upon agreement and not the blind forces of the market. In a market economy, it is not hard to see why the underdeveloped Montenegro would feel dominated by the bigger partner in the Union. It was therefore not difficult for a political opportunist like Djukanovic to play on this sentiment and achieve his goal.
The Balkans under capitalism are constantly threatened with bloody conflict. The break-up of the former Yugoslavia was a major blow to the working class of all the republics that made it up. The working class has still not recovered from this blow. With the working class still not entering the scene in a well-organized manner, nobody is able to stop the barbaric tendencies which threaten to suffocate the region as a whole.
The local ruling classes are intrinsically reactionary and dependent on the backing of one or other of the major foreign powers. The imperialists themselves do not have a clue about how to tackle the issue. They operate in the short-term and have no long-term plans. They are conscious of the fact that the Balkans can potentially become a big problem for them but they are currently occupied by other priorities. They are either ignoring the problem by letting the conflicts continue at a low intensity or they are trying to solve things in a pragmatic fashion with short-sighted bureaucratic measures which prepare the ground for much worse explosions in the future.
The basic dilemma for the Balkans, in spite of the surface calm, is becoming clearer with each passing day: either Socialism or Barbarism.
June 30, 2006
- The role of Slobodan Milosevic in the break-up of Yugoslavia by Goran M (March 15, 2006)
- A Curse Over The Balkans? – Nationalism and War in ex-Yugoslavia by Goran M (January 19, 2005)