Montenegro's best export

2006 textes seuls

Ah, Montenegro. What a place. I'm a bit hazy on some details like what kind of stuff it produces, how friendly its people are or what language they speak. But I'm sure it's interesting. Why, it got Quebec politicians hopping as though the ground was on fire last week, straining their noodles to emphasize just how different from Quebec Montenegro is and why we should move along nicely and pay no attention to what's going on there. Wherever it is.
It turns out Montenegro is a small part of Serbia and Montenegro, on the Adriatic Sea between Bosnia and Albania. It has just over 600,000 people, a tiny fraction of Serbia and Montenegro's total population of slightly under 11 million.
Now, for reasons that are outside my area of expertise when it comes to the Balkans (pretty much limited to having found it on a map), some folks in Montenegro want their own independent country. They're having a referendum in May, asking whether they want Montenegro to be “an independent state with full international and legal legitimacy”. Wow, so it is possible to ask a clear question in a referendum. Who knew?
Both sides agree the Yes will need at least 55 per cent of the votes to win. Oh, and there's a 50-per-cent minimum participation rate, too. Why? Because the European Union - very much including France - insisted on both conditions.

That bit of news threw a wrench into the Parti Québécois' theory that the international standard for secession referenda is simple majority, or 50 per cent plus one. Having spent their whole political life struggling, without success, to get that many Quebecers to say Yes, these guys are not at all pleased that some other place is required to have 55 per cent. (The participation rate in Quebec is not a problem; in 1995 it was well over 90 per cent.) Montenegro has “INTERNATIONAL PRECEDENT ENDORSED BY FRANCE” written in block letters all over it, which would make it difficult for France immediately to recognize an independent Quebec after a squeaker separatist victory - if the question is clear, the PQ will be extremely lucky to get 50 per cent. If not France, then who would endorse Quebec's new status? Haiti?
Hence the panic in Quebec City last week. No, really. There was. I watched my old prof, constitutionalist Henri Brun, telling Radio-Canada it wouldn't be a bad idea for Quebec to declare that 50 per cent plus one is all it needs to split - something all three political parties agree on, including the supposedly federalist Liberals. Otherwise, “real” federalists might want to use Montenegro as ammunition.
It's all extremely amusing. Including French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, in Ottawa last Thursday, doing his best to justify his country's stance vis-à-vis Montenegro while not commenting on Quebec's case, next to a Peter MacKay as absolutely silent as a Harper cabinet minister. I'm also slapping my knees watching folks like former PQ premier Bernard Landry trying to make us understand it's not nice to look for similarities where there are none. That Montenegro's case is so drastically different from Quebec's it's almost not worth discussing.

Ah? Pray do tell; what is so different? Aside from that Montenegro might actually manage to separate, that is.
OK, so Montenegro is located in an area where there were violent skirmishes not so long ago. Perhaps the EU is worried a slim majority for the Yes might lead to violence, which is not something I wake up at night worrying about in Quebec's case. But apart from that? Who seriously thinks a small Oui majority, say 52 per cent, would lead to a smooth and painless transition to Quebec nationhood?
Besides, while Prof. Brun et al. continue to insist that 50 per cent plus one is the international standard, you never hear them mention any actual referenda that were held using this rule. When Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993, 99 per cent of voters endorsed the move. When East Timor had its referendum in 1999, 78 per cent of voters chose to separate from Indonesia. Just last month, the tiny islands of Tokelau (population: almost 1,500 spread over 10 square kilometres) had a referendum on whether to leave New Zealand. Some 60 per cent of voters said yes, but it was short of the required two-thirds so they're staying.
Secession is a pretty serious matter. More consequential, I would suggest, than electing a city councillor. So perhaps requiring more than simple majority isn't completely crazy, especially when that's how the rest of the world seems to operate.
Ah, Montenegro. What a place. I never knew its principal exports included examples embarrassing to Quebec nationalists.

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