Montenegro secession: Balkans still re-balkanizing

The vote for secession in Montenegro is being posed as the final chapter in the disintegration of Yugoslavia that began in 1990 with Slovenia’s vote for seccession. Technically, “Yugoslavia” ceased to exist in 2003 when what was left of it was formally renamed “Serbia and Montenegro.” But the salient point that most of the Western media is overlooking is the implications of Montenegro’s secession for neighboring Kosova. Ironically, the destabilization of Yugoslavia began with the crisis over Kosova, which lost its constitutional autonomy in the first wave of Serb ethno-nationalism in 1989. Subsequent protests there were put down in a wave of repression. This was the first blow to the Yugoslav federal system, and led directly to the subsequent secessions. Yet Kosova’s own status was never determined. It remains a de facto NATO protectorate while still officially part of Serbia. The Albanian majority there would like to formally secede; the Serb minority wants reunion with Serbia. The West has posed as the protector of the Albanians, but (as we have argued before) the actual motives in the NATO intervention were more likely to contain Albanian national apsirations in Kosova and head off the emergence of a new Muslim-led state in Europe. This is slyly (if unintentionally) revealed by the Western media’s universal use of the Serbian spelling “Kosovo” instead of the Albanian “Kosova” to denote the province which is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian.

The less “objective” but more honestly biased foreign media have addressed the Kosova issue directly. Iran’s official news agency IRNA asked NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer point-blank what the Montenegro vote will mean for Kosova. “We should not start to compare one with the other,” the secretary-general hedged. (What a surprise.)

Russia’s RIA-Novosti noted that Constantin Kosachev, chair of the State Duma’s international affairs committee, said the discussions on Kosova’s status will be taken to a new level by Montenegro’s secession, and warned against making any decision without taking into account the interests of the minority Serbs. If this were to happen, he said it would “set a far-reaching precedent for other situations (northern Cyprus and the Basque country).” (RIA-Novosti’s parenthetical interjection.)

RIA-Novosti made clear that the references to Cyprus and the Basque country were intended as a warning to the West, and Moscow’s real interests lie closer to home: “Russia has consistently opposed the breakaway of Kosovo. Earlier, Russian officials, in response to the intention to recognize the independence of Kosovo expressed by Western countries, claimed that Russia would then recognize independence of South Osetia and Abkhazia.” (These are breakaway regions of post-Soviet Georgia.)

Russia’s ITAR-TASS also noted separatist thunder from Moldova’s breakaway Trans-Dniester Republic, led by ethnic Russians who did not want to join an independent Moldova with the collapse of the USSR. The speaker of the self-proclaimed republic’s legislature, Yevgeny Shevchyuk, said that it will now follow in Montenegro’s footsteps to press for independence from Moldova.

“Montenegro was given the right and the opportunity to choose in compliance with international principles and the observance of human rights,” he said. “Sooner or later we shall achieve a situation in which it will be possible to settle the Dniester conflict only by political means, through a referendum. The people of the Dniester Region have the right to their own opinion, too, and that opinion must be respected by the international community. The international community must formulate standard principles and approaches to such conflict situations around the world.” Earlier, the Dniester Region’s parliamentary speaker said that “Kosovo might set a pattern for dealing with the other conflicts in the post-Soviet space.” The Moldovan authorities, the US embassy in Moldova, and head of the local OSCE mission have all said that the international community will not recognize the results of any Dniester independence referendum.

The Russians and Iranians are obviously on opposite sides of the Kosova question, but they are both quick to exploit the all-too-real Western double standards on secession. The Balkans, it seems, are not finished re-balkanizing. Indeed, the separatist virus could well continue to spread east into the greater post-communist world.

See our last post on the Balkan mess.