AN OLD-FASHIONED SCANDAL
U.S. AMBASSADOR IN SERBIA DEPARTS UNDER THE CLOUD
by Srdja Trifkovic
The announcement from the American Embassy in
Belgrade on January 22 was bland: “U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro,
William D. Montgomery, will retire from the U.S. Foreign Service at the end of
February after a 30 years career.” The story behind Mr. Montgomery’s premature
departure from the key Balkan post is interesting in a rather scandalous way,
and—so far—unfit to print in the U.S. (the cat is out of the bag in Europe). It
combines power, greed, sex, jealousy, corruption and violence.
William Montgomery (58) was a very powerful man in Serbia, to which he came after several tours of duty elsewhere in the region (Zagreb, Sofia, Budapest). His views of the Balkans were formed during this period in the late 1990s, when he served in the region during Mrs. Albright’s tenure at the Department of State. As a prominent Serbian political commentator noted recently, those views “bear a permanent imprint of the enitre Clinton team’s prejudices and mistakes in ex-Yugoslavia to this day.” He supported the interventions in Bosnia and Croatia (1995) and the war against the Serbs over Kosovo (1999).
Afetr Milosevic’s fall (October 2000) Montgomery was able to ensure the continuity of the previous Administration’s policies by relying on the compliance of Milosevic’s successors. This compliance was forthcoming because the late prime minister Zoran Djindjic and the rest of the “pro-Western, reformist” DOS coalition—who used Vojislav Kostunica to come to power but then marginalized him—went out of their way to earn brownie-points with the Ambassador by being “cooperative” and “moderate.” “They vied for Montgomery’s approval as a means of improving their rating in Washington,” our source says, and to that end they accepted his “line” on The Hague war crimes tribunal, on Kosovo, Bosnia, and a host of other issues. The U.S. Ambassador also became a key arbiter in domestic politics, most recently by threatening Kostunica (in his current role of prime minister-designate) with a host of unspecified sanctions if he were to include the nationalist Radical Party in a future government coalition.
In the words of a Western diplomat who was posted to Belgrade until recently and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Montgomery managed to “impose himself on Serbia as in imperial proconsul” because the local politicians were willing to treat him as one. “He was a very big fish in a rather small tank.” The power, status, and attention, so disproportionate to a middle-level bureaucrat’s experience and personal mindset, proved to be too much for Montgomery, more than he—and, far more damagingly, his wife—could handle.
Lynne Montgomery is a vivacious woman fond of partying and media attention. She was born in Norfolk (England) 45 years ago to a family of modest means and social standing. Her lifestyle in Belgrade reflected her refusal to come to terms with either her middle age or her status as a diplomatic wife. As the Sunday Times of London put it fairly tactfully on February 8,
“She has been a popular figure on the Belgrade cocktail circuit, but her penchant for low-cut dresses and late-night carousing has caused as much comment as her charity balls for children’s cancer units… [T]he platinum blonde raised eyebrows by writing a controversial column in a local newspaper in which she described dancing on tables in restaurants.”
In one of those columns the diplomat’s wife regaled her Serbian readers with the story of her husband beating time on her bottom with a spoon as she danced to a Gypsy band on a barge on the Danube.
Mrs. Montgomery may have been born in Norfolk but she is a quintessential Essex Girl. She was a married junior staffer at the British embassy in Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) when she met the up-and-coming American diplomat, Bill Montgomery. It was in the summer of 1986, just as he was expecting the arrival of his fiancee from the United States. A steamy affair apparently ensued, with Montgomery calling off the wedding and Lynne leaving her husband.
She could have continued with her lording over Belgrade’s social scene for another year at least, had it not been for an ugly incident in the first week of July last year when she was involved in a violent fracas with her husband’s personal secretary, Biljana Jovic (38). The ensuing scene is believed to be the main reason for Montgomery’s premature retirement. As the embassy made arrangements for its Independence Day celebrations—a key date in Belgrade’s social calendar—Mrs. Montgomery unexpectedly came back from the Croatian coast where she was enjoying a break at the family summer home. She called her husband’s cell phone number from the Belgrade airport; to her surprise and chagrin the call was answered by Miss Jovic, who cut her off. Mrs. Montgomery ordered the driver to take her to the embassy instead of the family residence in the leafy suburb of Dedinje, marched through the front office, and allegedly attacked Jovic, whereupon Marine guards had to be called to separate the women. The Sunday Times says that Montgomery bit Jovic and continued her tantrum in her husband’s office, scattering papers. When it was all over, Ms. Jovic—an American citizen—flew to Washington to lodge a formal complaint. State Department investigators went to Belgrade to and their findings are said to have been extremely detrimental to Mrs. Montgomery. She was told to stay away from her husband’s assistant, which effectively barred her from the Embassy. As the gossip spread through Belgrade Montgomery’s position grew untenable.
Lynne Montgomery is said to be shattered at the thought of her high-profile life ending. She enjoyed herself tremendously in the Balkans: when her husband was posted to Croatia, she gained a doctorate in philosophy from Zagreb University. Her thesis, “The Philosophy of Marriage,” remains described as a “work in progress,” but it nevertheless enabled her to obtain the position of a part-time lecturer at the private Brothers Karic University in Belgrade at a salary of $ 2,500 (roughly five times the salary of a full-time tenured professor at the University of Belgrade). The proprietor of the university is Bogoljub Karic, Serbia’s wealthiest oligarch, who made his fortune—measured in hundreds of millions, if not billions—during the reign of Slobodan Milosevic.
These shinenigans end the career of a diplomat whose activities proved to be deeply detrimental to the stability and lasting peace in Southeastern Europe. That region is not an inherently important part of the world, but it is significant because American policies there throughout the 1990s have come to embody all that is wrong with the fundamental assumptions, values, and modus operandi of the decision-making community in Washington. With the fall of Slobodan Milosevic a thorough revision of those policies became possible. William Montgomery, more than any other individual, has contributed to the maintenance of a negative continuity of the Clintonian-Albrightesque Balkan mindset on the Bush Administration. In particular it was his fervent insistence on Serbia’s compliance with the demands of The Hague war crimes tribunal that proved to be counterproductive. It undercut the legitimacy of the “reformist” government in Belgrade, which played right into the hands of the nationalist opposition: the Radical Party is now the most powerful political force in the country.
Montgomery’s successor should try to make a fresh start. With the focus of the Administration’s attention on the Middle East, the Caspian basin, the Korean peninsula, and the war against terror, the United States should pursue pragmatic policies in the Balkans that will make further disengagement possible, at no cost and with least risk of fresh instability. The only obstacle to such policy is the maintenance of a regional pax Americana—until now doggedly pursued by Montgomery—that entailed Serbia’s submission to The Hague, support for Montenegro’s secessionist cleptocracy embodied in Milo Djukanovic, Bosnia’s ever-tighter centralization favored by its Muslim plurality, and the treatment of Kosovo’s eventual independence as an inevitability.
By the time the new ambassador arrives there will be a new government in Belgrade, less likely to follow “suggestions” from the U.S. Embassy at No. 50, Kneza Milosa Street. By standing firm on the key issues that affect its own national interest, that government will also help promote a new Balkan policy in Washington. If it refuses to be drawn into another round of Montgomery’s combinazioni, Belgrade will best defend its own interests while at the same time contributing to the long-overdue review of the U.S. policy in the Balkans.