Friday, March 03, 2006

The smell of freedom

On May 21, two new countries may emerge: Serbia and Montenegro. We currently know them as Serbia-Montenegro, a combined relic of Yugoslavia's official vanquishment in 2001.

A referendum in Montenegro will give Montenegrins two options: to remain with Serbia or to break away and go on its own. Montenegrins have to answer "yes" or "no" to whether they want full international legal recognition as an independent nation. Polls show around 40% leaning toward independence, around 30% against it.

The success of this referendum differs between organizations. If 55% of Montenegrins say yes to independence. EU will recognize Montenegro as a sovereign nation. If it falls short, EU will still consider Montenegro a part of Serbia. The U.S. has no rules: they view an independent Montenegro as a fresh chance to establish a Balkan presence, which they lack.

For Montenegro, a poor state with under 750,000 people, EU's non-recognition would be economically devastating. They would be better off merged with Serbia, which is approaching EU integration slowly with help from countries like Germany and Sweden.

Montenegrins are miffed at EU's 55% requirement -- they want the "yes" for independence vote to be 41%. A number of factors can be reasoned for that: Montenegro are concerned that minorities could swing the vote, among others.

Though friendly, they have not much to gain with Serbia, a trainwreck of a country itself. In four years together under one roof, they havent developed much. More Montenegrins believe they'd do better without Serb help.

Anticipating the referendum to be a success, businessmen are said to be scouring Podgorica (pronounced: Pod-go-ree-tza), Montenegro's capital, for business opportunities. Euro is Montenegro's official currency, a big business advantage.

Do the Serbs benefit from Montenegro's independence? No. Serbia and Montenegro have deep historic ties and Montenegro's separation could landlock Serbia, affecting them economically. But the Serbs will retain the important cities of Belgrade and the big cities of Novi Sad (which Montenegro would die to have) and Pristina (atleast for now).

Pristina has caught my imagination in the past. Sitting at London's Heathrow airport twice -- in 1998 & 2000 -- I saw Pristina flights go *packed*. Why would herds of folks head to a place I've barely heard about?

Happens so that Pristina is Kosovo's capital, another state seeking independence from Serbia. The Kosovo-Serbia melee has led to much of Serbia's internal turmoil. Kosovo is currently under UN administration, but the Serbs want it back.

To keep this piece short and sweet, I'll write about Kosovo and their ethnic Albanians later. That's a whole story in itself. It stretches way before genocide and war-crime accusations were levelled at the Serbs, yep, including Slobodan Milosevic.

The Serbs want Montenegro too, but they may fail this time. Montenegrins seem to cherish the thought of full over partial independence. So on May 21, be ready to update your geography books.


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