Independence by Referendum

It certainly is delightful and very refreshing to hear that Montenegro – or Black Mountain – gained its independence from Serbia on Sunday by way of the most basic democratic mechanism of popular vote; the referendum. In a day and age where the world is fuelled by wars and conflicts, and big countries bullying small nations, the process in which the independence of Montenegro was decided has put a lot of so-called democratic countries to shame. And perhaps it has just shown a third way towards how protracted armed conflicts for independence can be resolved through simple democratic processes, provided there is political will and commitment!  

Once an independent kingdom Montenegro has a history of struggle and had gained the dubious distinction of being the only Allied nation to disappear off the world may after World War I. Through hand-picked individuals, Montenegro was included as part of the union with Serbia which was followed by active resistance from pro-independence supporters but was quickly suppressed and during which many died. The territory of Montenegro became part of the six member Yugoslav federation in 1945. 

The status of Montenegro began to change when it supported NATO during the war over Kosovo and later provided logistic and organizational support to Serbian democratic parties which eventually unseated Milosevic in 2000. The European Union fearing any further fragmentation of the Balkans brokered a deal in which Serbia and Montenegro formed a loose union. Nonetheless pro-independence movement gained strength and just this past Sunday, the people of Montenegro participated in a referendum, with 87% turn out, of which 55.4% voted for an independent state. Only a minimum of 55% ‘yes’ votes were needed for Montenegro to gain independence.

While the road to establishing independence has been far from easy, Montenegro will need to find ways in maintaining and exercising its sovereign power while still forging close relations with Serbia, with whom they share the same religion, language, culture and a common history. The task of negotiating an interdependent relation in which both Serbia and Montenegro can exercise their independence while respecting the rights of both will be a daunting task. Consequently the dynamics between the anti- and pro-independence groups which has been shrouded in suspicion and deep violence will have to be addressed in a reconciliatory manner. 

As Montenegro joins a host of other recognized independent States, one cannot help but things of the many unrecognized peoples that are still yearning to become an independent State. In many of these situations, armed conflict is a reality in which many continue to become casualty to the scourge of war. Unfortunately in most of these situations, clear distinctions between armed and non-armed persons are not made and usually whole populations are perceived as the ‘enemy’ causing great suffering to the people. 

When 99.9% of the Nagas voted for an independent Naga state in 1951, the democratic world kept quiet and chose to ignore the plight and aspirations of the Nagas. If the rights of the Nagas were recognized then, perhaps today the sub-continent would not be riddled with such contagious political strife; and India would have been a stronger State!