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Balkan Report: July 26, 2006

July 26, 2006, Volume 10, Number 7

A TALE OF TWO SERBIAS. As the discussion over Kosova's status moves toward its conclusion, the question has arisen as to how the international community should treat Serbia in the aftermath.

Kosova seems likely to complete soon the transition from Serbian rule, which effectively ended with the departure of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in June 1999, and the declaration of Kosova's independence, the circumstances of which are likely to be clear before the end of 2006. The international community has indicated that Belgrade will not have a veto over Kosova's future, although the Serbian leaders have been given numerous opportunities to state their views. The key principles involved in resolving the status issue are self-determination and majority rule, with strict international guarantees for the rights of minorities (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," June 27, 2006).

This outcome is hardly surprising. By mid-2004, many in the international community had concluded that prolongation of Kosova's political limbo, under what much of the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority regards as inefficient colonial rule, was untenable and likely to lead to further violence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," December 17, 2004). U.S. diplomacy in particular was assertive in moving toward resolving the status issue, and Denmark's Soren Jessen-Petersen, who recently completed his tenure as head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), took an especially active role in the process.

Numerous suggestions from Belgrade that the decision on Kosova's status be put on hold for years seemed unrealistic and geared more to appeal to Serbian voters than to reflect broader political realities. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who is a traditional conservative, argued that granting independence to Kosova would open a Pandora's box of Serbian nationalist passions in response. He stressed that Kosovar independence could thus benefit the antidemocratic and nationalistic Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the early elections that many have been expecting to be called since early 2004, when a minority government was formed with great difficulty.

Kostunica's views did not seem to convince many decision makers abroad, but at least one influential person called for a form of nonterritorial compensation for Serbia for the loss of Kosova. Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Brussels on July 17 that "Serbia deserves some sort of compensation for the regional situation and I think, indeed, Serbia should be offered some kind of conditional membership in the EU. I think if we talk about conditional independence of Kosovo, at least we should talk about conditional membership of Serbia in the EU."

It is not clear what Rupel expected to achieve by such a statement. For years, EU officials have been telling those who want to join that body -- including Slovenia, which entered the EU in 2004 -- that there is no "fast track" to membership, which can be obtained only by meeting the political, economic, and legal criteria set down in a very long and explicit list. Countries like Croatia, which have played by the EU's membership rules and are still waiting in line for admission, would certainly take a dim view of Serbia's being allowed to "jump the queue," particularly in view of Belgrade's failure to find, arrest, and extradite some prominent war crimes indictees. Some Kosovar Albanian commentators wryly suggested that Rupel was possibly thinking more of preserving Slovenian access to Serbian markets than of making constructive suggestions for regional stability.

In its July 22 issue, Britain's "The Economist" wrote that "it has long been said that there are two Serbias. One is conservative, nationalist, and backward-looking; the other is liberal, modern, and progressive."

Both elements have readily identifiable traditions in both the distant and less remote past. Most recently, the antimodernist trend was at the forefront during the Milosevic years, which ended in October 2000. The more liberal current has been epitomized lately by people such as President Boris Tadic or the G17 Plus party.

The exact balance of forces is difficult to assess, because Serbian polls are often misleading due to the large number of respondents who say "don't know" or refuse to give an opinion. One recent survey suggests that the Radicals would receive 36 percent of the votes if the elections were held now. The last parliamentary elections, which took place in December 2003, and the mid-2004 presidential elections indicate that this might represent the peak of the party's appeal. In other words, the SRS has a large and solid political base but little appeal beyond it. To form a government, it would need to build a coalition, which it proved unable to do in early 2004. There is no indication that it would be more successful now than it was then.

Nor is it clear that SRS voters are primarily motivated by concerns about Kosova. Some observers feel that the Radicals appeal not only to nationalists but also to voters who lost by the fall of the communist system and who fear change in general. The outcomes of the 2003 and 2004 elections suggest that there was a post-2000 shift in support to the SRS by people who had previously voted for Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and its smaller allies, which were also antimodern. There were certainly nationalists among such voters, but there were also old communists and many simple people who felt that they had slid into poverty and were getting poorer.

A second recent poll suggests that about 60 percent of respondents, especially those in Serbia proper, would "tolerate" an independent Kosova. This indicates that Serbia might be far from boiling over with nationalist passions over the province. It would also be in keeping with a fact, which has often been cited by RFE/RL's Serbian broadcasters, that only about 20 percent of Serbs have ever bothered to visit Kosova as tourists.

Some Serbian and foreign observers have suggested that perhaps the most effective way to appeal to Serbian voters would be to address their daily concerns of poverty, crime, corruption, and, ultimately, a democracy deficit, rather than to assume that their primary interest is Kosova. Kostunica and some other traditional-style politicians who talk much about Kosova have had six years since the fall of Milosevic to prove themselves, and some voters might be asking themselves what these leaders have actually done for ordinary Serbs. This could be an opportunity for liberal and progressive Serbs to put forward serious programs for dealing with the country's real problems. (Patrick Moore)

CROATIAN HUMAN TRAFFICKING VICTIM TALKS TO RFE/RL. Trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation is becoming increasingly widespread in countries undergoing transition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Zagreb recently. Many young women seeking better jobs and better lives find themselves against their will in secret brothels in Western countries. Such is the warning of nongovernmental women's unions in Croatia, where 45 victims of trafficking have been identified in the last four years. Unofficial numbers are many times greater.

"It happened abroad," says Martina, a 29-year-old trafficking victim from Zagreb. "I was sold for 3,500 euros [$4,400]. I was beaten, raped, forced against my will. They would put out cigarette butts on me and cut me with razors.

It was like a horror movie, she says. Martina was 19 years old at that time, trained as a cook. She lived in the suburbs of Zagreb and desired a better job and a better life. She met a young man who told her about his brother who had a restaurant in Italy, but who had a hard time finding good employees.

"He told me that if I really wanted to work I could come with him, but that if I did not intend to pursue work there I could be back in Croatia in three days," Martina said. "It sounded rather convincing. Given that my life had been miserable since I was born -- my father was an alcoholic and my mother ill -- I went there without a second thought.

"As soon as I arrived and as soon as he brought me to his apartment, everything started. He told me there was no work and that I had crossed the border in order to work as a prostitute, that he had paid a ton of money for me and that he will come for me in three days, and that I had to be ready by then," she continued. "I told him to get his mother ready instead, and then he hit me on the head with his fist. Since we were in the kitchen I turned around and struck him with a pot. Naturally, I was no match for him physically. He beat and raped me constantly for three days, to the point where I was lying in blood and urine while tied to a bed. He then brought two of his friends who raped me, put out cigarette butts on me, and cut me with razors."

Martina was locked in a Rome apartment for two months. Instead of working in a restaurant, she was beaten and raped daily until she was "broken" and had become a sexual slave. Then, she says, the man who bought her took her out to the street.

"That man was from Bosnia," she said. "We found in his apartment four passports and another girl from Croatia who was also a mother of three. That was a complete horror. They beat me endlessly. A girl of 16 from Albania almost bled to death in my arms because they had pushed a car antenna into her vagina. A girl from Bosnia was found dead. That is when I completely broke down."

She said she had been completely dulled, as if separated from her own body. Even when there was a chance of escape she remained a prostitute.

"There was no way for me to be freed from what had happened to me," Martina said. "I endured this for six years. I went to the street with prostitutes, not in order to work, but to see the people who come to them and who force them to do this. Then I would throw a bottle of gasoline on their car or puncture their tires. I didn't care what would happen. I did one or three customers -- I didn't care. I didn't look at those people."

Martina was a typical, vulnerable young woman without steady employment or family support. Nobody wondered about her disappearance. After all, even her own father beat her from a very young age. Sadly, that experience prepared her for what she endured in Rome.

"I rehearsed this since I was six," Martina said. "I recited 'The Pit,' a poem by Ivan Goran Kovacic, persistently to myself as my father beat me with roots from the vineyard or his military belt, as he would throw me against a wall or door, or kick me with his military boots. That was my defense. That is how I distanced myself. Although I would bleed, having been burnt all over with cigarette butts, I would distance myself from all that."

Today, Martina is 29 years old. She lives in Zagreb and has a 7-year-old son. She is still undergoing therapy.

"I started to work on a regular job in Zagreb," she said. "However, since I'm not psychologically strong I break down very easily. The owner once pinched me on my behind. I hit him with a frying pan and called his wife. I left. But one cup of coffee saved my life. I was already looking out the window and thinking about jumping."

Martina was offered that cup of coffee by activists from the Center for Sexual Rights/Women's Room and the Center for Women Victims of War (ROSA). For the first time in her life, she says, somebody approached her without scorn.

"If it weren't for them, I don't know how our life would have continued, the life of all of us who were tortured, mistreated, sold in different ways," she said. "We can reach a particular point on our own, and when we cannot go any further we all need a ferry, a crossing, a helping hand, somebody's smile."

Martina entered a program of psychological help and therapy provided by the nongovernmental women's union. She works from time to time cleaning apartments for the elderly.

"Now I'm cleaning grannies' apartments," she said. "I drink coffee with them and call them my well of wisdom. With their help, you can go back and remember some of the good roots of life. My life currently consists of women from the center and my son."

Still, Martina cannot forget what she endured.

"Even today, when I see gestures by some people, certain motions that remind me of that life, I immediately break down and want to jump at them," she said. "With the help of women from the center, I learned to control myself pretty well."

She claims the general public isn't even aware of the extent of trafficking in women in Croatia and the extent to which that business is blossoming, under the guise of legitimate activities.

"This business has been developed in Croatia precisely and efficiently," Martina said. "A woman with a university degree can end up in a miniskirt on the street just like a woman from the country. It doesn't matter whether it is a bar, a shop, an office, whatever. They keep their tentacled octopuses on every corner."

(Ankica Barbir Mladinovic, translated by Naida Skrbic)

NOTABLE QUOTATIONS: "There is no better place to repeat what every Serb surely knows. Kosovo has been and will always remain part of Serbia." -- Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, speaking in Gracanica on June 28. Quoted in "The New York Times."

"The Kosovo Serbs are constantly hearing statements from Belgrade that would give them every reason to fear for their future. We have had some statements by leading politicians saying it is clear that Serbs here have a choice between death or exodus. They are not the kinds of statements that you make if you want the Serbs to stay here." -- Outgoing UNMIK head Soren Jessen-Petersen, in Prishtina on June 28. Quoted in ibid.

"In 1999 Kosovo was prominent in international headlines with video images of conflict and convoys of thousands and thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees. Woman, children, and the elderly leaving the country on foot or in wagons drawn by tractors. This trial is going to be about the how and the why that human exodus from Kosovo took place, and about who was responsible for it." -- Prosecutor Thomas Hannis speaking on July 10 at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"We say that the evidence in this case will show that the six accused: Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Dragoljub Ojdanic, Nebojsa Pavkovic, Vladimir Lazarevic, and Sretan Lukic, were co-participants with Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian political, military, and police officials in a joint criminal enterprise." -- Hannis in ibid.

"Each time I'm [in Serbia], they say within a week or in 14 days they will catch [former General Ratko] Mladic and, recently, I had information that they were even going to deliver Mr. [Radovan] Karadzic. So, I said, 'that's all wonderful, but I'll believe it when I see it.'" -- Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, in Brussels on July 17. Quoted by RFE/RL.