Although Montenegro's recognition of Kosovo divided opinion and was ''emotionally painful'' for neighbouring Serbia, it made the decision for the stability and European future of the region, Vladimir Radulovi?, Montenegro's ambassador to Germany, told euractiv.de in an interview.
Montenegro recognised Kosovo in October 2008, following its secession from Serbia six months earlier. The move divided Montenegrins and prompted an angry reaction from Belgrade, which expelled Montenegro's ambassador.
Radulovi? acknowledged that Kosovo is a ''delicate and painful'' issue for Serbs. ''You will find a lot of people in Serbia who will tell you that for them, Kosovo has the same symbolic meaning as Jerusalem for the Jews [or] Mecca and Medina for Muslim people,'' he said.
However, the diplomat believes that despite the ensuing diplomatic crisis, recognising Kosovo was in Montenegro's best interest and ''serves the cause of long-term stability and the European perspective of the region."
''At the end of the day, Kosovo was recognised as an independent country by 22 EU member states, the United States and many other countries: by all countries in the Western Balkans, including Montenegro, with the exception of Bosnia and Herzegovina,'' he said.
''In many ways, we have to be careful about what Serbia […] is thinking and planning to do. At the same time, we have to take care of our own interests, take our own path and make our own decisions," he added.
Radulovi? also elaborated on the ''complex relationship'' between Montenegro and Serbia and the ties that many Montenegrins still feel to the former Yugoslavia. ''It is true that a lot of Montenegrin citizens declare themselves to be Serbs – even though they were born in Montenegro, as well as their ancestors, their fathers and grandfathers,'' he said.
''Most people in Montenegro still feel that they are part of this big, greater country that was known as Yugoslavia. There is a certain political, mental and psychological dualism that you will not find in any other country. There are lots of people who are very loyal or, at least, mindful of what Serbia says,'' he further explained.
EU accession talks 'to open in 2011'
The diplomat affirmed that Montenegro is making good economic progress and is gradually enhancing its legal system to conform to EU standards. ''Of course, there is still a long way to go before we will be able to claim to have a perfectly functioning and fully efficient rule of law-based society,'' he cautioned.
Radulovi? spoke of the rapid transformation he has witnessed in Montenegrin society in recent years and is fully confident that the country can begin formal EU accession talks at some point next year.
''I have no doubt that we will become a EU candidate country – either in December of this year or early next year – and that accession negotiations can be opened in the course of 2011,'' he affirmed.
British MEP Charles Tannock, rapporteur on Montenegro in the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, also envisages such a timeline. Montenegro's membership negotiations ''in all likelihood should be able to start in 2011,'' he told EURACTIV in an interview (EURACTIV 19/05/10).