Aside from exposing the abundance of political, legal and economic problems within Serbia, the democratization of the region opened up one more socio-political problem: the structure of the federation in light of the state of Serbian-Montenegrin relations.
After the democratization of Montenegro began, the regime of Slobodan Milošević did its best to punish Montenegro's "renegade" president, Milo Đukanović, and to return Montenegro to a subservient position. It was such behaviour by Milošević that caused the self-defensive reaction of Montenegrins and the Montenegrin leadership. The Montenegrin leadership, its international reputation boosted by Milošević's attacks and pressure, won the support of the international community as well as that of a good part of the Serbian democratic opposition.
After the fall of Milošević, the "any-enemy-of-his-is-a-friend-of-ours" effect seemed to vanish, even though the Montenegrin authorities still don't want to accept this fact.
On the fast track to independence
Aside from foreshadowing his eventual downfall, the democratization of Montenegro and the similar (if less certain) changes in the political life of the Bosnian Republika Srpska meant that the influence of Slobodan Milošević outside of Serbia was waning. But Milošević wouldn't be Milošević if he hadn't found a way to respond, and for a time that saved him.
In the Republika Srpska, Milošević could not do much to change what was happening; there were too many outside influences and international administrators. He could control the border trade and infrastructure, but Banja Luka became the administrative centre to the west and beyond his reach. In Montenegro, however, he could take more direct action, using the federal state apparatus as a tool of repression. The flagrant breaking of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's constitution, the introduction of border controls on the Montenegrin-Serbian border and numerous other unpopular measures put Montenegro on the fast track to independence.
The international community of course supported the Montenegrin leaders; in practical terms that meant they could try to constrict the Serbian dictator's room to manoeuvre. At this point, Montenegro only had two choices: setting a course toward full independence or subjugating itself to Milošević.
The long, slow decline of Milošević's popularity, the long, slow consolidation of the Serbian opposition and the scheduling of early elections eventually led to his downfall. Then, the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) naively believed that the Montenegrin leadership would be an important ally in bringing about change. However, not only did the government of Milo Đukanović not ally itself with DOS, it consciously or unconsciously helped Milošević.
The wrong turning
Most of the Montenegrin parties, particularly those in the governing coalition, boycotted the election and de facto handed over 30 seats in the House of Citizens and 20 in the House of Republics to Milošević. The only recognised political force that participated in the elections in Montenegro was the Socialist National Party of Momir Bulatović, which was then in coalition with Milošević.
Further, it was clear to the DOS leadership even before the elections that they could not take a majority in either house of the federal parliament, but they rightly believed that they had a solid candidate and that with a Koštunica victory they could eliminate Milošević's power. This is exactly what happened, and the DOS succeeded in creating a coalition at the federal level with the politically marginalized Socialist Party of Serbia, Milošević's former coalition partners.
And this is where Milo Đukanović went wrong. He could have actively participated in the political battle against Milošević, but by deciding to boycott the elections, he effectively chose the losing side and shared defeat equally with Milošević himself. All of the credit for the victory rightly went to the DOS.
It is uncertain whether it was personal vanity that lead the President of Montenegro to consider the DOS the enemy, but his treatment of Koštunica and the new Serbian government is essentially no different than his dealings with Milošević.
Facing up to now
Several clear facts must inform any attempt at solving the problem of Montenegrin-Serbian relations. The most important is that with the democratic opposition's coming to power in Belgrade, the Montenegrin leadership is simply no longer interesting to the international community. Financial support and other assistance is no longer flowing through Podgorica, but through Belgrade. And, of course, the regional political significance of Montenegro compared to that of Serbia is much less.
The Montenegrin government must find a resolution that will not only enable it to save face but that can justify its remaining in power. Not only the international community, but the Montenegrins themselves are seeing Đukanović in a new light now, since he is no longer the "good guy" wearing the white hat.
Borders are forever?
Whether the new government in Serbia differs from the former or not (and some circles in Montenegro like to believe that nothing has really changed in Belgrade) is irrelevant to this discussion. It is evident that the new Serbian government wants to get revenge on Đukanović for his actions during the September 2000 elections, when the opposition fought Milošević hard while Đukanović stood on the sidelines.
The pragmatism of the new Serbian leadership is forcing it to restrain much of its desire for vengeance, because of the harm it would cause to the new spirit of cooperation being shown by the international community: Serbs know their history, and they don't have to think back far to remember that the international community tacitly supported Milošević in the beginning, but eventually bombed Yugoslavia and gave its full support to the KLA.
Independence for Montenegro is dangerous above all because it could put much into question—particularly the status of Kosovo, which for the time being still exists in the Yugoslav framework, however uncertainly. Further, after the eventual independence of Kosovo, the question of independence for the Republika Srpska could be raised once again, and the very existence of the Dayton agreement would then be called into question. In the Balkans, people fight when territorial control is up for grabs.
Is independence still possible?