Wednesday

13th Dec 2017

Opinion

Montenegrin independence: what does it mean for Kosovo?

On May 21 the citizens of Montenegro voted to restore their country's independence without a single shot being fired. Predictions of civil unrest and interethnic violence proved unfounded and Montenegro displayed admirable democratic maturity.

While Serbian leaders hoped that voters would support past mirages of pan-Slavic grandeur, Montenegrins instead voted for a future in which they could determine their own fate. The small republic rejected doomsday scenarios of ethnic schisms and fratricide and chose the path to economic development and eventual EU membership.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The question on everyone's mind now is what kind of resonance Montenegrin independence will have elsewhere, particularly in the neighbouring UN-administered territory of Kosovo. Both Montenegro and Kosovo have been constructing their arguments for independence for many years based on their individual merits.

If the ongoing international negotiations on Kosovo's final status create one more state, this decision will not be a consequence of the referendum in Montenegro, but rather a result of recognition by the international community that the stagnant status quo in Kosovo-Serb relations is untenable.

Positive impact

Nevertheless, the Montenegrin ballot will have a positive impact on negotiations over Kosovo's status. Fears of a negative domino effect are unwarranted, because Montenegrin independence actually sets a positive precedent. The political sophistication and patience exhibited by the government in Podgorica emphasized that the goal of self-determination can be achieved peacefully.

The EU's recognition of Montenegro has signalled that the creation of new states in Europe is possible, as long as they respect European values and standards. This will act as a model and incentive for the Kosovo-Albanian leaders to focus on constructive political dialogue.

Another lesson from Montenegro that should be applied to Kosovo is the fact that an ambiguous interim status only delays political progress. The ethnic Albanians and the Kosovo Serbs, have conflicting and mutually exclusive positions, but this should not be a reason to seek vague alternatives to independence, or to aim at lowest common denominator options.

Pragmatism rather than wishful thinking

Belgrade's unclear proposal for the territory, calling for "less than independence, more than autonomy" would only cause further complications over state structures, administrative responsibilities, and international legitimacy. Any attempts to rebind Kosovo and Serbia in an unstable confederation would precipitate new conflicts and drain resources for many years to come.

Montenegrin independence should finally cause pragmatism to prevail over wishful thinking in Belgrade's external and internal policy. Unfortunately, much of the political elite in Belgrade has been reluctant to bite the bullet by publicly consenting to Kosovo's independence and instead Serbia's prime minister and the president have issued threatening warnings.

The key international players should curb rather than accommodate the nationalist appetite of Serbian officialdom. It is time for politicians in Belgrade to realize that only full independence for Kosovo can lead to lasting stability and development, otherwise the territory will be plagued indefinitely by crime, corruption, radicalism, and emigration that will worsen Serbia's own isolation.

Serbia is not in a position to negotiate. Belgrade's reluctance to deliver the indicted fugitive war criminal Ratko Mladic to the UN tribunal in The Hague has left it with only two options: accept Kosovo independence and focus on rigorous domestic reform or decline further and suffer the consequence of international isolation.

Serbia's general elections

Serbia is preparing for general elections and the maturity of the electorate and the country's leaders will be severely tested. Either the country chooses moderation, reform, and international integration or a victory by radical nationalists will lead to ostracism, isolation, and impoverishment.

Montenegrin independence is also unlikely to provoke conflicts elsewhere in the Balkans. States such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia aspire to EU and NATO membership and are unlikely to succumb to the radical sentiments of a minority that would rob them of such prospects. Military conflict is a thing of the past in the Balkans and doomsday scenarios should not be manipulated by Serbian officials for the sake of strengthening their nationalist credentials.

Instead, Belgrade should begin planning for its own reform initiatives once it unburdens itself of Kosovo. Upon settlement of Kosovo's status, Serbia will finally be able to pursue more rigorous structural reforms and prove that it is a responsible and democratic member of the European family.

With Montenegro's independence now a reality, it is time for an unequivocal settlement for Kosovo. Only through an independent, multi-ethnic Kosovo, guided by the rule of law and democratic values can the legacy of violence in the entire region be overcome. Only then can Belgrade, Podgorica, Prishtina and their neighbours move toward EU and NATO integration and attract much needed foreign investment.

Janusz Bugajski is a senior fellow at the Europe Programme of the Center

for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC and Milena Staneva is a research associate at CSIS.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

Fighting the terrorist virus on the internet

EU home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopolous congratulates some media platforms on their efforts to take down jihadist terrorist content at the EU Internet Forum - but warns it is 'not enough to turn tide'.

Iceland: further from EU membership than ever

With fewer pro-EU MPs in the Iceland parliament than ever before, any plans to resume 'candidate' membership of the bloc are likely to remain on ice, as the country prioritises national sovereignty and a more left-wing path.

News in Brief

  1. EU bank delays gas pipeline decision
  2. Hungary's leftwing parties join Jobbik in anti-Orban protest
  3. Barnier: EU will not accept UK backtracking on Brexit deal
  4. Puigdemont to return to Catalonia if elected
  5. Commission approves EasyJet partial takeover of Air Berlin
  6. EU medical command centre due next year
  7. Auditors: EU 'green' farm payments fail ecology criteria
  8. Austria gas explosion creates Italian energy 'emergency'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Last chance for Poland to return property to its rightful owners
  2. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  3. Volkswagen tells EU: we will fail on our recall promise
  4. EU will not start Brexit future talks before March
  5. Bitcoin risky but 'limited phenomenon', says EU
  6. Panama Papers - start of sensible revolution in EU tax affairs?
  7. Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees
  8. New Polish PM brings same old government

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level