A couple of years back, Brussels Gonzo and I had a debate about Montenegrin independence. I did a post saying it was a really bad idea. Gonzo replied with a post saying that I was just plain wrong. Bosh and drivel, I replied a few days later.
Okay, so: two and a half years have passed since that debate. Montenegrin has been independent since May 2006. How does that debate look in retrospect?
Well, it looks like Gonzo was right and I was wrong.
1) Montenegro’s economy has not collapsed. In fact, Montenegro grew faster in 2007 than in any of the previous four years.
2) Montenegro’s secession has not inflamed Serb nationalism. In fact, Serbia today has a much more liberal, non-xenophobic, and generally sensible government than it did when we had that debate.
3) While Montenegro’s government continues to be corrupt, inbred, intolerant of criticism, and deeply linked with regional criminal elites, independence has not made those things worse. Indeed, matters may have improved a little.
The whys of this would require a much longer post. But here are a few quick thoughts.
(1) Kostunica’s government wisely decided not to punish the Montenegrins, but instead handled the separation with tact and even generosity.
(2) Djukanovic has lost none of his cunning. He cleverly took a couple of years off, “retiring” (at the age of 44) to run things from behind the scenes — thereby allaying the fears of donors and investors — and only returning to formal power earlier this year. And he’s done a solid job of managing the transition to formal independence. While I don’t much care for Djukanovic — he’s an amoral opportunist who’s been involved in a variety of creepy and criminal activities — he’s no fool, and he deserves credit for good policy and competent management.
(3) Tourism has boomed.
(4) Light industry (mostly garments) has picked up sharply.
(5) Foreign aid has continued to pour in.
(6) Montenegro’s big Yugoslav-era aluminum refinery, while perpetually trembling on the brink of bankruptcy, has stubbornly refused to die — thereby keeping thousands of people employed, and the government’s finances from imploding.
This is not to say that everything is wonderful in Montenegro. It’s still poor, it’s still corrupt, and it’s still not a great place to be, say, an investigative reporter with an interest in public finance. Human Rights Watch and Transparency International have a variety of things to say about Montenegro, most of them none too flattering.
But, you know: it’s not an economic basket case. Independence was not a disaster.
Of course, it’s possible that things may still go bad. Maybe in five years Montenegro will be a blighted, post-apocalyptic wasteland. But given enough time, so will everywhere else. I mean, in a few million years we’ll all be a thin film of graphite between two layers of sedimentary rock. Two and a half years seems like a reasonable time to say whether something’s working out or not. And so far, Montenegrin independence seems to be working out.