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Montenegro Votes for Independence from Serbia

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott. Today marked what could be the final chapter in the history of the old Yugoslavia. Before the bloody Balkan wars of the 1990s, six republics made up that country. Only two remain together, Serbia and Montenegro, and today, according to early projections, Montenegrins voted for independence. Tom Hundley has been covering the independence referendum for the Chicago Tribune. He joins me from Podgorica. Hello, there.

TOM HUNDLEY (Reporter, Chicago Tribune): Hello.

ELLIOTT: Now, we don't have final results yet. What's the preliminary count?

HUNDLEY: Well, the count that was first announced was a victory for the pro-independence movement, and it was 56.3 percent, and that was more than a percentage point above the 55 that was necessary to satisfy the EU. But that has now slipped back, so a very slim margin. It's been shrinking all night. The government has not come out and claimed victory yet, and the opposition is saying it's too early to concede.

ELLIOTT: What's the mood there?

HUNDLEY: Well, the mood is jubilation, but I'm not sure if the celebrants on the street have gotten the latest news on the polls.

ELLIOTT: Why do some Montenegrins want to separate from Serbia?

HUNDLEY: Well, for most of the Montenegrins that I spoke to, mainly young people, they see independence as the fastest road to Europe and the European Union. They would like to disencumber themselves from all of the baggage that Serbia carries from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Serbia's failure to arrest the wanted war criminals and hand them over to the Hague. And also the lingering questions over the status of Kosovo.

ELLIOTT: What distinguishes Montenegrins from Serbs? They do share a language and religion, don't they?

HUNDLEY: They do. And if you ask Serbs, they would say a Montenegrin is a Serb who happens to have been born in Montenegro or whose parents or grandparents were born there. But many Montenegrins insist that they are a different nation, a different people, and that they should have their own country.

ELLIOTT: Economically, are these two republics, Montenegro and Serbia, viable on their own?

Mr. HUNDLEY: Well, Serbia should certainly be viable on its own. It has the population of about ten million. And although the economy is in a very bad state at the moment, there should be some potential for recovery. Montenegro is a very small place, only 620,000 people. Montenegro doesn't have much of an economy. At the moment the per capita GDP is around $3,000 a year.

ELLIOTT: Tom Hundley of the Chicago Tribune. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HUNDLEY: Your welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.