Montenegro goes to the polls next month to vote on whether to become independent from Serbia. An interview with the pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic. The small Republic of Montenegro has been part of a loose union with Serbia since 2003. Both states have separate government institutions and economic policies and work together on some issues.
On the 21st of May the people of Montenegro will take part in a referendum on whether to keep the union going or to vote for full independence from Belgrade. The Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic sat down with our reporter Valerie Gauriat to talk about this high stakes vote.
EuroNews: “The date of the referendum on the independence of Montenegro is approaching yet more than 30 percent of of the population is against independence, many are undecided and worried about the economy. Won’t independence cost Montenegro a lot?”
Milo Djukanovic: “I am confident that in Montenegro we have a clear pro-independence majority and this will be sufficent and we will be able to meet the norms of Montenegro’s referendum law. I am also confident that a Montenegro with its independence restored will help the country gain momentum in its European and Euro-atlantic goals.”
EuroNews: There are concerns that if Montenegro is independent, it will be the last in the queue amongst those waiting to join the EU?
Milo Djukanovic: “ Montenegro has already achieved a lot on the way to EU membership and after independence with self responsibility as a small flexible system. It will be able to accomplish all its obligations quickly and in the process EU integration. Montenegro will show that it will be the first country in this region after Croatia to fulfill the conditions to become a member of the European Union.”
EuroNews: “The EU has set a 55% threshold for a “yes” vote to succeed. What will happen if it is more than 50% and less than 55%?”
Milo Djukanovic: “We dont think its a problem for the referendum in Montenegro. We think it will set a precedent which will create problems for European democracy. Suppose there is a 54% majority, its illogical and unfair to say its a minority, no its a majority. Thats why we think such precedents are very dangerous with regard to the rules of European democracies.
We are convinced that we already are beyond the 55 percent limit and that we in Montenegro already have a majority for independence.”
EuroNews: “Another issue is the close ties many people have with Serbia through relatives and jobs. Won’t independence make life more complicated for them?”
Milo Djukanovic: “No, its just an attempt by some to frighten those who support independence for Montenegro. Its been several years now that not only our neighbours , Slovenians, Croats, Macedonians, Bosnians but also all EU citizens and visitors from some non-EU countries too can enter Montenegro without passports as tourists. Its completely illogical to think that Serbs will need visas or passports to enter Montenegro. Its also unrealistic to think that Serbia and Montenegro will reinforce customs barriers.
EuroNews: “You have said that if there is “no” vote, Montenegro would have to live with much closer ties to Serbia. Why does this worry you?”
Milo Djukanovic: “Because the current arrangement has proved not to work. Montenegro during the ongoing transition period has been Serbia’s hostage. The Serbian government was not willing to respect its international engagements for instance. As you know, the Serbian government has refused to collaborate with the international tribunal in the Hague., Serbia and Montenegro have both suffered in their European ambitions. The logical conclusion is that Montenegro has suffered the consequences for something for which it was not responsible.”
EuroNews: “There is also concern that Montenegro’s independence would pave the way for Kosovo’s independence too and that could destabilise the region. What do you say to that?
Milo Djukanovic: “Those who say that Montenegro’s independence will influence the way the Kosovo issue is resolved are biased and are dealing in cheap politics. I would add those are the theories of Greater Serbia nationalists. Montenegro must not be a bargaining chip for the appalling policy led in Kosovo for years.”
EuroNews: “If there is a “no” vote what will happen?
Milo Djukanovic: “We will have to share power with Serbia and that will weaker our sovreignty. If this scenario occurs I am very pessimistic about our ability to serve the interests of Montenegrin citizens from both a political and economic point of view.”
EuroNews: “What is the most important thing Montenegro has to gain from independence?”
Milo Djukanovic: “The most important thing for me is that we will take full responsibility for our future in Europe. If its not in our hands then our wish to be part of European and Euro-atlantic integration wont depend on us but will depend on others as we have seen over the past. Without independence our ambitious plans will be stunted.”