Slovenia declared its independence 15 years ago this month, marking the beginning of the wars of the former Yugoslavia in which hundreds of thousands died, millions more were made refugees, and the country was ultimately dismembered. With Montenegro’s recent referendum on independence and Serbia’s subsequent declaration of independence, regional analysts say that Yugoslavia is undone.
Ljiljana Smajlovic, editor of Politika newspaper in Belgrade, says there has been virtually no celebration over Serbia’s newly proclaimed independence. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Ms. Smajlovic says many Serbs feel they are now independent because “someone else did not want to continue living with them in the same house."
They are right, according to Drashko Djuranovic, director of the independent Monitor weekly magazine. He says most people in Montenegro are elated and quite optimistic about their future. He notes that an independent Montenegro means the end of the dream of “Greater Serbia.”
Kemal Kurspahic, former wartime editor of the Bosnian daily Oslobodjenje, adds that recent developments mark the end of a long process that began in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with the coming to power of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. He says the “arrangement” – with the domination of Serbia within the Yugoslav federation – became unacceptable for Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, and Macedonians.
The arrangement also became intolerable for the Kosovar Albanians who represented 90 percent of the population of the formerly autonomous region of Kosovo. In a 1999 campaign of ethnic cleansing, the Yugoslav army, Serb police and paramilitary units drove them from the province, and NATO responded by bombing Belgrade. Kosovo has been under a UN protectorate for the past seven years. But Agron Bajrami, editor-in-chief of Koha Ditore daily newspaper in Pristina, says all the sign points to a decision on independence by the end of the year. According to Mr. Bajrami, it is now clear that there is no other way of dealing with the Balkans except “by accepting what the majority of the population demands.” So, considering the Montenegrin referendum in which 55 percent voted for independence, he thinks it will be “totally impossible to deny” 95 percent of the people in Kosovo the same thing. Aferdita Kelmendi, director of Radio/TV 21 in Pristina, agrees and says the independence of Kosovo is at hand, even though Serbia would like to turn back the clock.
However, Ljiljana Smajlovic says Serbia is preparing for a large influx of refugees from Kosovo when the status talks are resolved, and she predicts that the refugee crisis will help the Serbian Radical Party come to power. Bosnian journalist Kemal Kurspahic says that scenario is indeed possible. But he suggests that, even though Yugoslavia is dead, the eventual inclusion of the successor states in the European Union will be a “healing experience” after two decades of violent breakup.
To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.