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Balkan Report: September 26, 2006

September 26, 2006, Volume 10, Number 9

KOSOVA MOVES TOWARD A SOLUTION. UN envoy for Kosova Martti Ahtisaari won the support of the major powers on September 20 to resolve the Kosova status question by the end of 2006, after it became obvious that attempts to reach a mediated settlement were getting nowhere. The solution will essentially be an imposed one, with none of the parties directly affected having a veto.

Ahtisaari's move is the latest in a series of diplomatic events that began to take shape in the summer of 2005 in response to the ethnically motivated unrest in Kosova in the spring of 2004. In mid-2005, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at the recommendation of Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, recognized that failure to resolve the question of Kosova's status would most likely lead to even more violence. The two men realized that the time had come to end the province's political limbo and proceed toward a settlement. This position was strongly supported by Washington, in particular. Following the latest developments at the UN, Ahtisaari is now expected to have his proposal ready by late October or some time in November.

In view of the demand by the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority for independence, which they have expressed through all their political parties, the most likely outcome appears to be independence, albeit with strong international guarantees for the Serbs and other ethnic minorities (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," December 17, 2004, November 11 and December 9, 2005, and May 30 and June 27, 2006). Serbia has long been put on notice by the international community that it will not be allowed to veto any settlement.

Ahtisaari, moreover, has followed the lead of Denmark's Soren Jessen-Petersen, who recently left Kosova as head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), in criticizing the Belgrade politicians for barring Kosova's Serbian minority from taking part in the province's elected institutions, and hence from a assuming a direct role in determining their own future. At the UN on September 20, the six-member Contact Group dealing with Kosova -- the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia -- also slammed what it called Belgrade's "obstruction." The six noted that they "reaffirmed their commitment that all possible efforts be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006." Off the record, some Western diplomats said that they fear a "meltdown" in Kosova by the spring of 2007 unless the status question is resolved by the end of 2006.

The Belgrade politicians, who have expected to face early elections for well over a year, have been speaking in increasingly desperate tones about Kosova and its role in the Balkan political balance. Those leaders are reluctant to say or do anything that voters might interpret as showing "weakness" regarding Kosova. They thus waste time and energy over Kosova, which some of them privately admit is "lost" anyway, that could be put to use in dealing with Serbia's real problems, which are crime, poverty, corruption, and a democracy deficit. Some observers go one step further and suggest that the politicians deliberately talk tough and draw voters' attention to the Kosova issue in order to divert their gaze away from the those same politicians' poor track record in improving the daily lot of ordinary Serbs.

In any event, it is clear that there will be no more serious proposals from Belgrade before Serbia goes to the polls than President Boris Tadic's vague calls for a "creative solution" in dealing with Kosova. It was probably this realization that was instrumental in Ahtisaari's decision to go to the UN for authorization to act.

For their parts, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic -- both of whom fare poorly in Serbian public opinion polls -- have stressed in public statements that Russia will use its Security Council veto to block any settlement that Moscow finds unacceptable.

Russia's role and its definition of what is acceptable are, however, unclear. Under the tsars and the communists alike, its foreign policy in the Balkans was always dictated by its own interests rooted in realpolitik, not by any abstract loyalties to any peoples or states in the region. For a century and a half, it alternated its support as it wished between rivals Serbia and Bulgaria -- both of which are Slavic and Orthodox -- in regard to Macedonia and ultimately in regard to their respective claims to be the dominant power in the region.

Recent statements by President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and other Russian officials suggest that Moscow's main concern with Kosova today is as leverage to pursue Russian interests in what are known as the "frozen conflicts" in the former Soviet Union. The men in the Kremlin argue that if Kosova can become independent, then why cannot Transdniester, for example?

This view leaves out one very important fact, namely that under the 1974 Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions, Kosova had rights almost equivalent to those of the six federal Yugoslav republics, all of which are now independent. The same cannot be said of Transdniester.

What is clear, however, is that Moscow will use the Kosova issue as a bargaining chip for promoting its own interests. These lie very close to its own borders, Russia's growing business interests in Serbia notwithstanding. Despite Kostunica's fulsome praise for the support of Russia and Putin over Kosova, this reality is probably not lost on him or his colleagues in Belgrade. (Patrick Moore)

STIPE MESIC AND TITO'S GHOST IN HAVANA. When the news came in mid-September that the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) had begun its summit in Havana, the reaction of many people was "is that organization still around?" Indeed, the end of the Cold War in 1989-91 and the dissolution of two antagonistic blocs seemed to mark the end of any need for a moment whose purpose was to navigate between those blocs and exploit their antagonisms for its members' own interests.

But apparently the NAM still has some life in it. Some leaders of developing countries still welcome it as a forum to make themselves heard and possibly capture a headline or two. For international pariahs like Belarus, Burma, or Zimbabwe, it is one of the few organizations from which they have not been ousted or in which they have not been censured. For would-be great powers like India, Argentina, or South Africa, the movement provides an opportunity for them to be very big fish in an international pond.

It was Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who coined the term "nonalignment" in a 1954 speech in Colombo in what was then called Ceylon. The movement itself was founded at a conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in the following year, as a result of the efforts of Nehru, Indonesia's President Sukarno, Yugoslavia's Josip Broz Tito, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Kwame Nkrumah of what would soon become Ghana. For Tito, it provided a stage and ideological underpinning for a foreign policy in search of direction since Stalin expelled him from the "socialist camp" in 1948 for refusing to take orders.

For decades, the NAM and its dignitaries regularly graced the socialist Yugoslav media. In 1956, Tito played host to Nasser and Nehru on the island of Brioni, now better known by its Croatian name Brijuni. At least until recently, some rooms filled with stuffed leather chairs, heavy dark wooden furniture, and solid crystal ashtrays could be seen there, in his villa along Lake Bled, or at Tito's other retreats, all of which recalled the days when he basked in his role as a leader of Nonalignment.

Yugoslavia's role in the movement brought it advantages in trade and international exposure. For some people, it meant an opportunity to travel to and work or study in distant lands. Although Yugoslav communism was generally antagonistic toward all religions, some Islamic religious leaders were now given an opportunity to represent their country in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world, and some relished their new role.

But with the collapse of communism and breakup of Yugoslavia, the NAM seemed as much an anachronism to many former Yugoslavs as their old flag. Some might view it with nostalgia, but it was clearly history. Eyes were now focused on joining the EU and regaining an important privilege that Yugoslavs had once enjoyed in socialist times but no longer did, namely visa-free travel throughout Europe.

It thus came as a bit of a surprise to many in former Yugoslavia that the NAM recently held a summit in Havana to be attended by representatives of no fewer than 118 countries, several of which were from Europe. But among the European members, only two heads of state were present. These were Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic.

It is no secret that Mesic has moved somewhat to the left in recent years. But it came as a bit of a jolt to many Croats that he would go to a gathering where no EU or NATO head of state would be present, but instead would probably see Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

Indeed, Mesic's appearance there sparked discussions in the Croatian media. Many commentators, including his political rivals from the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), suggested that Croatia could have been represented equally well by a deputy minister or other low-ranking official. There was also the question as to whether Croatia needed to be present in Havana at all at a time when Zagreb's main foreign-policy concern is that its prospects for EU membership seem to be on indefinite hold (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," June 27 and August 29, 2006).

Mesic, however, maintained that he had two important reasons for going to Cuba. One was to promote trade, including with faraway countries with which Croatian firms had good relations dating back to socialist times. The second was to drum up support for Zagreb's bid for a nonpermanent seat in the UN Security Council in 2008.

Some commentators were not convinced and told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on September 18 that the countries represented in Havana are not the ones that Croatia needs in its quest for EU membership. One expert pointed out, moreover, that UN member states support Security Council seat candidates according to the recommendations of regional blocs, so that it is vital for Croatia to line up European and not African or Asian backing. Other commentators pointed out that there were no obvious economic benefits derived from Mesic's presence at the summit. Only a representative of Mesic's Croatian People's Party (HNS) seemed confident that there was something to be gained by calling attention to Zagreb's historical links to nonalignment and pursuing business links in the developing world. (Patrick Moore)

NOTABLE QUOTATION: "We could talk for another 10 years and not change anything." -- UN envoy Albert Rohan at Kosova talks in Vienna. Quoted by RFE/RL on September 15.