This week, a newspaper in Montenegro ran a headline saying "We Have Our Own Country," a reflection of what the Montenegrins have long hoped for. A majority of Montenegrins voted for independence in a referendum on Sunday, ending Montenegro's union with the much larger Serbia and breaking up the last remnant of federal Yugoslavia.
Over the past two decades, two countries in the European region have disintegrated. The first disintegration took place when the Soviet Union split into 15 separate nations. The second one occurred when Yugoslavia broke up into six separate countries. The dissolution of these two countries has shown a respect for democratic principles and the right of self-determination.
Although the disintegration of federal Yugoslavia led to severe conflict, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Slovenia broke away from Yugoslavia to become sovereign nations. Montenegro's secession has left Serbia the only member of a federal Yugoslavia and so that name can no longer be used.
Montenegro's efforts to split from Serbia were peaceful and clearly showed the greatest respect for the public's choice. First of all, the results of the referendum were not collectively decided by those living within federal Yugoslavia, but by the people of Montenegro themselves in a local referendum. Serbia is eight times larger than Montenegro and its population 11 times greater.
If the future of Montenegro had been collectively decided by the Serbs, it would have been a classical example of how a larger nation bullies a smaller and how the larger nation deprives the people of the smaller nation of their right to choose.
In recent years, the independence of East Timor and Slovakia have also been achieved as a result of the local people's decision rather than by being decided in a "collective decision" also made by outsiders. In the past, the independence referendum in Quebec was also decided by people living in Quebec rather than collectively by all Canadians. This also demonstrates a respect for the principle of local self-determination.
Montenegro's successful independence should also be credited to Serbia. Serbia is already a democracy. It did not threaten to use military force against Montenegro when it decided to hold an independence referendum.
In fact, three years ago Serbia agreed to let Montenegro hold such a referendum to decide its relationship with the Yugoslav federation, and stated that it would respect the results of that referendum. This was very similar to what happened when Slovakia and the Czech Republic split up a few years ago. It was also a very peaceful separation, mainly because then-president Vaclav Havel and the majority of the Czech people respected the people's right to choose.
Although the pro-unification faction within Montenegro was strongly opposed to Montenegrin independence, they still held on to democratic principles by agreeing to make "independence" one of the options in the referendum and refraining from setting a high threshold for the referendum. They agreed to rules laid down by the EU, whereby separation would require at least 55 percent of votes cast, with at least half of the electorate participating.
Following the independence of Montenegro, Kosovo -- formerly in union with Yugoslavia but now enjoying autonomy -- will be next in letting the public decide on the question of independence. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia has created 20 new nations, evidence that respect for a people's right to self-determination has become an international norm.