Yugoslavia could soon cease to exist even as a shadow of its former self. The last republic federated with Serbia, tiny Montenegro, is setting a course toward independence.
Montenegro has plenty of sympathy abroad. During the Kosovo conflict, it maintained its distance from the Yugoslav offensive against the Kosovar Albanians, and accepted thousands of refugees from the embattled province. Its president, Milo Djukanovic, is an outspoken critic of Yugoslav President (and indicted war criminal) Slobodan Milosevic. His government has even vowed to arrest Mr. Milosevic or other indictees if they venture into Montenegro.
Recognizing the hazards of parting ways with the much larger and militarily more-powerful Serbia, Montenegro is first trying to renegotiate its federation. It wants full equality with Serbia. Most of all, it wants to see democratic change there.
That, in fact, is basic to Serbia's recovery from the wreckage of a decade of warfare. Specifically, it's the key to international aid for rebuilding the infrastructure that NATO's bombs reduced to rubble.
But Milosevic's realm is in political upheaval - with critics of his policies becoming increasingly vocal. Thus it's unclear how Yugoslavia's president, beset on all sides, will respond to Montenegro's overtures for a reworked federation. Some worry he'll welcome yet another war, this time to prevent Montenegro's exit.
While Montenegro is preparing to fight if necessary, its forces are small. And though NATO has warned Milosevic not to attack his last Yugoslav partner, it's by no means clear the alliance would intervene.
A better outcome would be the type of new federation Mr. Djukanovic wants, with Montenegro serving as a catalyst for political change within Serbia. Progressive Montenegrins and Serbs know that such change must come - that Milosevic's brand of nationalism must be relegated to a clouded, unhappy past.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society