It looks like Europe has a new country.
As of 6:00 am this morning, with over 99% of the ballots counted, it appears that the “out” votes have just barely won in Montenegro. Secession from Serbia required a 55% supermajority; the unofficial, not-quite-final count has 55.2% of the voters approving.
Now, in a jurisdiction the size of Montenegro, 0.2% of the total is a few hundred votes. Literally a couple of hatfuls. So we can pretty much guarantee that the count will be contested. Still, at this point it appears that the secessionists have won the day.
Anyone who’s been reading this blog regularly knows my thoughts on this; I see no need to repeat myself. I wish the Montenegrins good luck with their new endeavour.
Some thoughts on Serbia below the fold.
This is a huge blow for PM Kostunica. He staked a great deal on opposing the referendum, up to and including making vague but ominous threats as to what his government would do if it passed. Now it has. And while the departure of Montenegro won’t have much effect on the ground — the two countries have been de facto separate for a while now — psychologically, it’s a blow.
And it doesn’t end here. This is just the second of what will probably be three painful blows. The first came last month, when Brussels suspended membership talks because of Serbia’s inability-or-unwillingness to turn over General Mladic. The third will come later this year, when Kosovo will probably gain its independence. Arguably these things are not connected. But, if you’re a Serb in Serbia, that may be hard to believe.
About the only good thing here is that it doesn’t seem to be leading — yet; so far — to a resurgence of right-wing Serb nationalism. The obnoxious Serbian Radical Party seems to be holding steady at about 35-40% support. Which is dangerously high, to be sure, but not quite enough to form a government.
My best guess? Apathy, disillusionment. No elections this year. The Kostunica government staggers on, wounded and increasingly ineffective, but better than any plausible alternative.
And, really, the political alignment in Serbia is such that there isn’t really an alternative. The Radicals remain loathsome pariahs, thank goodness, so nobody will form a government; but they’re big enough that any Serbian government has to consist of almost every party but the Radicals, in coalition. That’s what happened in 2004 — the elections produced a government that included liberals, monarchists, socialists, technocrats, conservatives, mystical nationalists… you name it. Not a recipe for efficiency or stability.
Anyway. The next thing to watch out for: will Kostunica follow up on his pre-election threat to treat Montenegrins in Serbia as foreigners? This would be vindictive and stupid, so let’s hope not. There are something like a couple of hundred thousand Montenegrins living in Serbia; they’re perfectly well integrated into Serbian society, and they send a lot of money home to Montenegro. Kicking them around would poison relations between the two states, while serving no purpose other than to vent nationalist frustration. Of course, nationalist frustration is often a major driver of policy in the former Yugoslavia… but still: I can hope that he won’t be that damn dumb.
Watch this space.
[Update, one day later]
“Serbian Labour Minister Slobodan LaloviÄ‡ said that there will be many changes if Montenegro is confirmed to be independent. For instance, the legal basis for paying pensions in Montenegro will be lost, and Montenegrin citizens in Serbia will receive the status of foreigners, LaloviÄ‡ said.
“This means that they will be subjected to the law regarding the employment of foreigners, which calls for the issuing of ‘a number of licences, paperwork, and documents regarding residence in Serbia.’ Minister LaloviÄ‡ said.”
The bit about paying pensions is probably a lie. But there’s no question that the Serbian government could hassle the heck out of Montenegrins in Serbia, if it so chose.
Will Kostunica really be this dumb? He’s making his first statement on the referendum tonight (Tuesday, 5/23).