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Momir Bulatovic

Momir Bulatovic

Momir Bulatovic (born 1956) became president of Montenegro in 1990 in the first democratic multiparty elections held there. Heading a left-wing Democratic party of Socialists, he won again in the elections of 1992 as part of the newly organized Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Momir Bulatovic was born on September 26, 1956, in Belgrade, capital city of Yugoslavia. His family belonged to the Vasojevici clan from Montenegro, a small mountainous region in southern Yugoslavia. Although similar to Serbs with whom they share the same language and religion under the auspices of the Serbian Orthodox Church, many people of Montenegro are proud of their rich history and consider themselves as Montenegrins rather than Serbs.

The childhood of Momir Bulatovic did not substantially differ from that of the majority of the youngsters who grew up during the 1960s and early 1970s, the most prosperous period in Yugoslav history. After finishing compulsory primary and secondary school, Bulatovic was accepted at the "Veljko Vlahovic" University in Podgorica (former Titograd) where he began his studies in economics in 1975. Diligent and methodical, he graduated as the best student in his generation in 1980. After the completion of his undergraduate studies he became a lecturer of political economy in the school of economics at the same university. As a lecturer he worked under the supervision and mentorship of professor Bosko Gluscevic, a prominent Yugoslav economist with strong political connections. In 1987 Momir successfully defended his Masters thesis, titled "The Role of Rent in the Economy of Montenegro." He published several articles and three books. In 1991 he published a political essay titled "Less than a Game—More than a Life."

Despite the fact that he was active in the Socialist Youth Organization during the 1980s and quite certainly connected to some political circles, the real political career of Bulatovic began in January 1989. After the death of Josip Broz Tito in 1980, Yugoslavia fell into a deep economic and political crisis. The constitutional crisis in Yugoslavia fully opened in 1988 with Serbia's attempt to reinstate its authority over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. The opposition from Croatia and Slovenia precluded any political solution within the existing framework of a crumbling federation. The inability of the ruling bureaucracy to cope with the problem fueled public outrage, which became especially dramatic in Serbia and Montenegro.

On January 10, 1989, more than 120,000 people rallied in Titograd and demanded the immediate resignation of the ruling Communist elite—an event without a precedent in Yugoslav history. Bulatovic and a group of young people, many of whom occupied less visible positions within the League of Communists (official name for the Communist party) seized the moment and came into power in Montenegro. Although there are several interpretations of these events, some question the authenticity of the popular discontent and imply that the whole affair was staged by Serbia's president, Slobodan Milosevic. Bulatovic and his group proved to be more capable, realistic, and progressive than their predecessors.

Soon after Bulatovic became president of the League of Communists of Montenegro, broad and sweeping reforms were introduced. He emphasized the necessity of movement toward a market economy and Western-style democracy. Under his leadership the old League of Communists of Montenegro was reorganized and changed into the Democratic party of Socialists. In the first democratic multiparty elections, held in 1990, his party won an absolute majority of seats in the Montenegrin Parliament, and Bulatovic became president of Montenegro.

Following the collapse of the old defunct Yugoslav federation that came after the unilateral secessions of four republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia) and the violent civil war that followed, Serbia and Montenegro formed a new federation under the name Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on April 27, 1992. In the early elections in December 1992 Bulatovic won a decisive victory over Branko Kostic, who ran as a candidate of the ultranationalist Radical party and remained the president of Montenegro. Bulatovic's Democratic party of Socialists again gained an absolute majority of seats in the Montenegrin Parliament.

Bulatovic was perceived as a moderate left-wing politician by many Montenegrins. He and his party faced many challenges, especially after the imposition of the crippling sanctions against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992. Bulatovic succeeded in confronting and defeating the open calls for secession from Yugoslavia that came from the Liberal party, as well as the demands for the inclusion of Montenegro in a Serbian state, which mainly originated from the ultra right-wing Radical party. In an effort to normalize the unstable relationship between Yugoslavia and Albania, he visited Tirana in 1993 and met with the Albanian president, Sali Berisa. In his commitment to keep a united Yugoslavia, he was nonetheless persistent in his refusal to compromise the special interests of Montenegrins.

Bulatovic's reputation in the United States was seriously prejudiced by his strict censorship policies and by his dubious support of free elections. He frequently came under fire by his own people, as well as the press, for actions in these areas.

Although often overlooked by the Western media, Bulatovic took an active role in the negotiations about ending the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was a member of the Yugoslav delegation to the peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio during the final eventful weeks of 1995 when a fragile accord was reached. Bulatovic then spoke out repeatedly against Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic who persisted in violating the Dayton accord.

Bulatovic was often described as an honest and modest person. Momo, as friends simply called him, liked to emphasize that despite the nationalistic frenzy in the Balkan states, Montenegro "remains the state of all its citizens regardless of their respective nationality and political affiliation." Many people still remember his open letter to Slovenian president Milan Kucan in which he questioned the ethics of the policy of violent secessions. Married and the father of two children, he lived in Podgorica.

Further Reading

Daily Digest of the Open Media Research Institute, January 23, 1995; October 9, 1995; December 20, 1995; January 2, 1996; June 27, 1996; July 1, 1996; July 29, 1996; August 23, 1996; September 16, 1996; October 21, 1996; November 19, 1996; December 13, 1996; December 18, 1996; February 27, 1997; March 13, 1997; March 26, 1997.

Pursuing Balkan Peace, July 2, 1996; September 3, 1996; October 22, 1996. □

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