Montenegro's Loveless Marriage Survives

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Serbia and Montenegro don't like living with each other, but neither side is quite ready to face up to the dramatic consequences of that fact. Talks on Montenegro’s proposals to substantially increase its autonomy failed to produce any agreement Tuesday, but both sides pledged to keep talking in order to avoid plunging the region into a new war. Despite the Montenegrins’ threat to secede from Yugoslavia if they’re not granted substantial independence from Belgrade, neither side is ready for such a confrontation. "It’s like an unhappy marriage in which the husband and wife are being kind to each other because they’re aware that any move to change the situation could result in a messy divorce, and right now neither side can afford that," says TIME Central Europe bureau reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "Serbia hasn’t recovered from the Kosovo conflict and Montenegro is still home to large numbers of Milosevic supporters, so neither is prepared to start a war right now."

But agreeing to disagree with Belgrade is only a temporary solution for Montenegro’s pro-Western government. "The differences between the two governments are fundamental and it’s unlikely that they’ll ever agree," says Anastasijevic. "The very fact that the talks are going on is a sign that both sides need to buy time to prepare themselves for the inevitable showdown."