Montenegro has more to fear from Belgrade than NATO

Milosevic could use war to crack down on West-leaning government

War In Yugoslavia

April 09, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia -- NATO's bombs don't bother Miodrag Vlahovic as much as the swirling rumors and divided loyalties that grip Montenegro.

With flak-jacketed police taking orders from one government and heavily armed military from another, with journalists hassled and politicians choosing sides, Vlahovic fears that Yugoslavia's second republic could be vulnerable to a crackdown orchestrated from Belgrade by Slobodan Milosevic.

"I don't think the military is capable of organizing a coup. It is a crawling coup," the lawyer and business consultant said yesterday, as he sipped coffee in the midday sun.

In a place of swaying palm trees and bustling cafes, where children skip to school and middle-aged men lumber on red-clay tennis courts, it's hard to imagine that NATO's war is hitting here.

But it is hitting Montenegro in many ways as Milosevic seems to be using the conflict to unhinge Montenegro's moderate, western-leaning government.

And residents in the provincial capital are increasingly nervous.

"We are in some kind of fear," said Milka Tadic, general manager of the Monitor, the independent weekly. "We are all waiting. What will be Milosevic's next step? Is he strong enough to open another battle here in Montenegro?"

The struggle between Milosevic and Montenegro has been months in the making, a feud fueled by different ideologies and personalities.

With its rugged mountains and stunning coastline, and a long-held reputation as a smugglers' paradise, Montenegro hardly appears to be a hotbed for Balkan politics.

Yet politics are now center stage, as Milosevic, an old-school Communist, takes on his former protege-turned-critic, Montenegro President Milo Djukanovic.

For the past few years, Djukanovic has been steering this tiny republic away from Belgrade and toward western Europe, with a pro-business policy designed to bring a measure of wealth to its 640,000 inhabitants.

Pushing his luck

But in trying to break free of Belgrade, Djukanovic may be taking a step too far.

While Yugoslavia's dominant republic, Serbia, is at war with NATO, Montenegro is officially neutral.

Yet this policy of neutrality poses severe problems for Djukanovic, who is trying to avoid open conflict with Yugoslav authorities.

Making matters worse for Djukanovic is NATO bombing. Montenegro's military facilities were targeted by allied warplanes during the opening stages of the war.

After a one-week respite, bombs came down again Tuesday after Yugoslav radar locked on to western planes.

All eyes are now on the 10,000 police, who answer to Djukanovic, and the 12,000-member military, who answer to Milosevic and his new hand-picked commander, Gen. Milorad Obradovic.

The police, armed with automatic weapons, guard such key sites as government buildings, the post office and the television station. The military, with its larger array of weaponry, controls the countryside but has recently moved equipment into residential neighborhoods of this provincial capital.

The army has started to throw its weight around by picking on foreign journalists. By seizing cars and equipment and detaining journalists, the army uses a nearly risk-free method of showing who is Montenegro's boss.

"The army is becoming an army of occupation," Tadic said.

But the army and Milosevic do have ample support here among a fervent minority who remain furious with NATO's undeclared war.

"This is a very dignified town and very peaceful people who don't have peace," said Vuk Mikorvic, a 48-year-old psychologist strolling the city's main street with his three daughters.

"I want this war and this madness from the powerful ones to stop as soon as possible," he said. "If not, I'll fight to give my daughters their freedom."

In several nightly rallies staged in Podgorica's main square, the nationalists have railed against NATO in increasingly strident language, even composing an obituary for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

"Montenegro and Serbia must stay together," said Vlado Asanin, editor-in-chief of the pro-Milosevic newspaper, Dan, which means Day.

"The U.S. and its allies will need 10 million missiles for Yugoslavia to lose Kosovo," Asanin said.

Protecting their country

Senko Cabarkap, managing editor of the newspaper, said the Serbs are simply trying to protect their country.

"No one is sinless in this war," he said. "But the Serbs are keeping their property."

Part of that property, at least for Yugoslavia, is Montenegro.

Vlahovic, the budding capitalist, said the war will produce one of two outcomes -- an independent Montenegro or a co-opted republic.

"You do not have Yugoslavia if you do not have Montenegro," he said. "We are a separate nation. We are very small, but is that relevant?"

In the end, the fight for Montenegro may go beyond words. And Tadic said the people are ready to take sides.

"Our motivation is much stronger than the motivation of the Serbs and Serb army," she said. "We are going to defend our country and those we have elected.

"I'm sure we will fight if Milosevic tries a coup here or to impose the rule of Belgrade. I'm sure we will win.

"The price can be high. But I have no doubt we will win."

Pub Date: 4/09/99

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