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Published: Thursday, 5/25/2006

Divorce in the Balkans

VOTERS in Montenegro have brought their tiny republic full circle. They decided in peaceful, orderly elections Sunday to separate from Serbia, reestablishing the independence their forebears lost in 1918.

The split from Serbia, endorsed by a fraction more than 55 percent of those who went to the polls, completed the disintegration of the formerly six-republic Yugoslavia that began in 1991.

Slovenia and Croatia led the way, followed by Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, leaving Serbia and Montenegro in a sometimes uneasy union. Current Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has been pushing for independence for almost a decade.

Agreement was reached between the Montenegrin government and the European Union that if more than 50 percent of the eligible voters chose at a rate above 55 percent for independence, it would be gained and the EU would recognize the new, separate state.

Both conditions have been fulfilled; there is every reason to believe that Montenegro will now be added to the list of applicants for admission to the now 25-member EU.

For Montenegro, the advantages of independence are several. In historic terms it would regain a freedom that it had from 1878 to 1918, when it was folded into the newly created Yugoslavia, thus making Sunday's vote a nationalist triumph.

In terms of economic prospects, Montenegro, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, leaves Serbia behind, still mired in the events of the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

The disadvantage of independence for Montenegro comes from the fact that it will be a European mini-state, with a population of 650,000.

In general, particularly in economic terms, bigger is better.

The Balkan scramble that began with the breakup of Yugoslavia and subsequent violence will not be complete until the fate of Kosovo and possibly another piece of Serbia, the Vojvodina, both with populations of about 2 million, is finally determined and the pieces that seek membership in the EU are safely ensconced in the organization as full members of Europe.

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