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Montenegro Quits Serbia

Prepared by: Lee Hudson Teslik
Updated: May 22, 2006


Montenegrins turned out en masse to vote in Sunday's referendum on independence from Serbia. Those in favor of separation garnered just over the required 55 percent necessary to achieve independence (CNN). The vote is a political victory for the pro-independence prime minister, Milo Djukanovic, who had pledged to push for secession even with just a simple majority. The run up to the election is analyzed in this new CFR Background Q&A.

The secession of tiny Montenegro, often overlooked in a tumultuous neighborhood, could open a final phase in the crumbling of the former Yugoslavia. All that remained of the federation is a two-country union, officially named "Serbia and Montenegro," which encompasses Kosovo, the ethnic Albanian-dominated province that is also seeking national sovereignty. A number of experts now predict a Kosovar solution in the near future, though most do not believe Montenegro's elections will have much of an effect on that process. A December 2005 report by the International Crisis Group emphasizes that the results of Montenegro's referendum should have no bearing on Kosovo's campaign for independence.

The position of the European Union remains unclear. It was the EU, after all, that negotiated the 55 percent target for the referendum (EU Observer), when a simple majority would have almost guaranteed the vote's success. Some experts say the EU may have set the bar high because it didn't want to see the referendum pass (the rationale being that independence—or, at least, independence now—would create instability in the Balkans). But experts say it's more likely the EU set a high target to stave off the threat of boycott by Montenegro's large ethnic Serb minority. The United States, for its part, has remained more or less mum on the issue; this 2005 Special Report by CFR Senior Fellow William Nash argues for a more active approach.

Another question is whether an independent Montenegro stands a better chance of admittance into the EU. Many Montenegrins consider themselves handcuffed to a country which has burned its European bridges (Deutsche Welle) by failing to arrest and hand over a number of war criminals, including Ratko Mladic. Separatists argue that independence would "dramatically increase" Montenegro's chances of admittance (RFE/RL). As this analysis from England's Daily Telegraph points out, the recent spat over Mladic has almost certainly strengthened the hand of Montenegro's pro-separation forces.

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