An apology to Croatia - reparations, too?
In the southern Dalmatian town of Cavtat last Saturday, President Milo Đukanović extended an unprecedented apology to the Croatian nation for the "pain and damage" inflicted by Montenegrins serving with the former Yugoslav National Army (JNA) during the war in Croatia.
Đukanović particularly singled-out the cities of Konavle and Dubrovnik, which were besieged in late 1991 by JNA forces who included a significant component of Montenegrin reservists.
"On my own behalf and on behalf of all the citizens of Montenegro, I want to apologize to all citizens of Croatia, particularly in Konavle and Dubrovnik, for all the pain and material damage inflicted by Montenegrins," Đukanović said.
"We have paid with the lives of our people, the severance of traditionally good ties between Croatia and Montenegro and our banishment from the international community," he added.
Croatian President Stipe Mesić welcomed Đukanović's comments, noting that Montenegro's role in the destruction of Dubrovnik had been a significant roadblock to normalization of relations between the two former Yugoslav republics.
"This is a small step for Europe, but a big step for Croatia and Montenegro toward European integration," Mesić said.
Đukanović's unprecedented act of contrition was broadly acclaimed in Croatia and Montenegro, as well as by the Serbian opposition.
In televised interviews, Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) caucus leader Đurđa Adlesić and Liberal Party (LS) Vice-President Kramarić both welcomed the apology, saying the Montenegrin president's remarks had cleared the way for the complete normalization of relations.
Back in Montenegro, Zarko Rakčević, a top Social Democratic Party leader, said the apology was a "positive and wise step," adding "I expect him to apologise as well to the citizens of Montenegro who were harassed because they opposed the pointless war with Croatia."
"This is the beginning of a new era in our relations with Croatia. All persons who committed war crimes during that period must be arrested and tried," Rakčević added.
Meanwhile, Predrag Simić, a top advisor to Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) leader Vuk Drašković, said the apology was "brave step" that acknowledged not only the need for improved relations between Montenegro and Croatia, but that also marked Đukanović as a "politician who wants to send the past into history and create a new future for these two countries."
While in Croatia, Đukanović also discussed joint infrastructure projects, including the construction of an Adriatic-Ioanian highway linking Greece to northern Italy via the Adriatic coast, a project vital for the tourism industries in both nations.
Asked by Jutarnji list about discussions on the status of the Prevlaka peninsula, Croatia's Mesić refused comment, saying that neither president was interested in seeing Prevlaka "over-burden" relations.
Đukanović elaborated on his comments throughout the week, repeatedly noting that he "does not care" that his apologia was condemned by Belgrade authorities and Serbian media. He dismissed in particular an editorial piece in the regime-controlled daily Politika that claimed him to be a Mesić lackey by apologising for "something that never took place" - namely Serb assaults on Croatia.
Politika added that Đukanović "virtually commended Mesić's secessionist policies, [policies] that led to the tragic events whose greatest victims were Serbs."
Finally, the daily Vijesti reported Đukanović as saying, late in the week, that he would be willing to consider paying war reparations to Croatia "if that proves to be necessary."
"I told President Mesić that I regret all the misdeed of Montenegrin soldiers at Dubrovnik. The majority of Montenegro's citizens feel the same way. Montenegrins were manipulated by the Belgrade regime, and that is why they took part in assaults on Dubrovnik," Đukanović concluded.
In the wake of Montenegro's visit to the UN Security Council as the guest of Slovenia last week, officials this week publicly outlined new directions in Montenegro's foreign policy that appear geared toward gaining international acceptance of a possible referendum on independence.
Speaking at a press conference early in the week, Minister of Foreign Affairs Branko Lukovac noted that "The Montenegrin presence at the session of the Security Council was praised and supported by council members."
"US Ambassador Richard Holbrook recommended that other members of the Security Council discuss the situation in the region with our delegation, and Karl Bildt and Javier Solana supported Montenegro in their opening speeches," Lukovac continued.
"We explained, in our meetings with Holbrook and Russian Ambassador Sergej Lavrov, that Montenegro expects strong support of the international community. We will continue our cooperation with the UN and the Security Council. Belgrade has no right to represent Montenegro and its opinion."
The Social Democratic Party's Zarko Rakčević said that Montenegro's new diplomatic efforts were a "a positive, more radical step in diplomacy," while other commentators noted that the government was opening new diplomatic front to gain international recognition for a possible move for independence.
"The abyss between the policies of Belgrade and Podgorica is getting wider and wider," Lukovac said, "because a policy of oppression cannot be compared with a policy of democratic values. As far as my presence at the UN SC session is concerned, Montenegro intends to represent its own interests without mediation by Yugoslav diplomacy."
Lukovac's comments seemed to underscore local media speculation that a referendum on independence could be held as early as January 2001, particularly after comments by President Đukanović noting that it would soon be time for the government to put the cases for and against independence to the electorate for an "informed vote" on the nation's future.
Anti-terrorism not applicable?
Minister of Justice Dragan Šoć told the daily Vijesti this week that the pending Serbian anti-terrorist law "will not apply to Montenegro. It is just another way to pressure officials here."
"Since we do not recognize the legitimacy of the federal parliament, such a law would not be applicable in Montenegro."
Prime Minister Filip Vujanović added that "It is obvious that terrorism is being exported from Serbia to Montenegro. It is also obvious that an organized group from Belgrade tried to murder [Serbian Renewal Movement leader] Vuk Drašković. The announced anti-terrorism law will thus not be applied in Montenegro because it is politically motivated. It is proof that official Belgrade has no intention of cooperating with Montenegro," Vujanović added.
For more coverage of the measure, see this week's Serbia news review
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