Cause for celebration in Europe today, with results from Sunday’s general election in the world’s newest independent nation, Montenegro.

Montenegro separated from Serbia earlier this year following a referendum in which a little over 55% voted for independence. Serbia did not contest the result, and relations between the two appear to be amicable. But there had been some fears that pro-Serbian parties would win enough seats to frustrate pro-independence prime minister Milo Djukanovic.

Instead, Djukanovic’s Coalition for European Montenegro narrowly won an absolute majority of seats on a turnout of about 71% (Adam Carr’s Psephos has preliminary results). European monitors, according to the BBC, described the vote as “largely fair”.

Democratic progress for Montenegro contrasts sharply with the continuing deadlock over Serbia’s other contender for independence, Kosovo, which has been administered by the United Nations since the Serbs withdrew after a brief war in 1999. Negotiations on the province’s future status continue, but Serbia’s leaders have vowed never to give up their claim to Kosovo – prime minister Vojislav Kostunica said: “There will be no other answer from Serbia, as long as it exists.”

On the face of it, this is strange. Montenegro is almost indistinguishable from Serbia in linguistic, ethnic and religious terms, while the large majority in Kosovo is ethnically Albanian, with a different culture, language and religion to the Serbs and an overwhelming desire for independence. Yet Serbia is willing to let one go, but determined to hang on to the other.

International relations, however, are not guided by logic. Serbian history is closely tied up with Kosovo in a way Montenegro is not, and the Kosovo issue therefore provides good emotional fuel for nationalist politicians. One day they will have to resign themselves to its loss, but for now they seem determined to make things more difficult.

Incidentally, the linguistics fans who earlier this year happily argued about “Turin” vs “Torino” should take a look at Montenegro. The locals call the country “Crna Gora”, which means “Black Mountain”. “Montenegro” is simply a straight translation into Italian. Using either the English or Montenegrin version would make sense, but why Italian?

Peter Fray

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