Tensions mounting in Serbia Montenegro defection: Milosevic inches toward crackdown, but with reduced support.

December 27, 1996

FIVE YEARS AGO, the Milosevic regime's wanton printing of money for political purposes in Serbia provoked the first secession from federal Yugoslavia, by Slovenia. President Slobodan Milosevic is again printing dinars, to hire demonstrators favoring him after solid protests against his oppression. And this provokes the last republic still joined to Serbia -- Montenegro -- to threaten its own secession from what remains of Yugoslavia.

The smaller republic's government is run by ethnic Serbs who owe their authority to the intervention of Mr. Milosevic. But they have been sympathetic to the opposition that has taken to the streets of Belgrade in numbers above 100,000 for more than a month. Premier Milo Djukanovic has said that Montenegro is prepared to conduct its own foreign policy, and now his vice premier warns that it may issue its own currency.

What Montenegro wants is for the Milosevic regime to clean up its act, take the measures necessary to end United Nations sanctions, and bring what's left of Yugoslavia into the mainstream of Europe. Mr. Milosevic, his backbone stiffened by his Communist ideologue wife, Mirjana Markovic, is moving the other way.

After tolerating the peaceful protests in the capital while keeping them out of the news media, the regime is slowly cracking down. The hint of force is intended to make its unbridled use -- as in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989 -- unnecessary. There were counter-demonstrations by hired supporters, a bit of violence taking one life, a prohibition of further peaceful protests and a police blockade of marchers giving them a route out -- all played against Ms. Markovic's threat of "the greatest material destruction and psychological trauma of the last 50 years." None of this seems to work.

The State Department yesterday strengthened its admonition to the Serbian authorities to show restraint and to not interfere with the protesters' democratic rights." A spokesman said the U.S. will "hold Milosevic responsible for any violence which may occur." The United States could not be true to itself otherwise, no matter how inconvenient after Mr. Milosevic signed the Dayton peace accords. As one of the last of the Communist bosses gets nearer the end of his rope, keeping him in power against the people's will is not Washington's responsibility or in its interest.

Pub Date: 12/27/96

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