Monday, June 05, 2006

Welcome Serbia!

On Saturday evening, Montenegro declared its independence as a result of its May 21 referendum on the issue.

And today it was the time for Serbia to do the same.

Montenegro becomes independent of Serbia - and Serbia becomes independent of Montenegro.

We see two new state entities on the map of Europe. But I hope that Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic was right when he said that it is "a state separation - not a separation of Serbia from Montenegro". The human and other bonds remain strong.

And on June 12th it is expected that the European Union will officially recognize the existence of the two sovereign states of Serbia and Montenegro in place of the former state union.

It was at an extraordinary meeting of the Serbian Parliament that it was proclaimed that, according to the constitutional charter, the international-legal subjectivity and jurisdiction of the former federal union will now be taken over by Serbia. This has been agreed before.

Serbian Parliamentary Speaker Predrag Marković said that the parliament will make the government aware of the fact that all state bodies must, within a deadline of 45 days, take all measures to make sure that all jurisdictions of the federal union are transferred to the state level, in order to avoid any problems or conflict in the separation from Montenegro.

This is easier said than done. There are numerous small issues that could become very big if not handled in a constructive and generous way. Control over the armed forces - up until now a joint responsibility - is just one among them.

For Serbia as well as for Montenegro there will be the need for new constitutions. In the case of Serbia that's been on the agenda for years, and was a key issue when the present Kostunica governmernt was formed. But progress so far has been exceedingly slow.

For all of the problems of separation, Serbia has all reasons to look with optimism to the future.

Its constitutional structure will be far more straightforward after the separation. The Serbian economy is already doing rather well with growth rates of 5 - 6% - substantially better than Montenegro in the last fe years. And Belgrade is gradually on its way back as one of key hubs of most things in the region.

There are substantial issues that needs to be handled - Mladic and Kosovo. Neither is simple. And there needs to be statesmanship and generosity in handling all the state divorce issues.

But once out of the way, there is every reason to believe that Serbia could become one of the pillars of growth and one of the foundations of stability in the region.