Accessibility links

Balkan Report: September 23, 2005

23 September 2005, Volume 9, Number 26

'THE 11TH HOUR' FOR BOSNIAN SERBS. International representative Paddy Ashdown said in a statement in Sarajevo on 22 September that the Bosnian Serb leadership must rethink its opposition to police reform or face "consequences that come with isolation," his website reported. He made it clear that this is a final warning before he takes unspecified steps that will affect ordinary Bosnian Serbs as well as their leaders.

He stressed that that the Bosnian Serbs' governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) is to blame for blocking the EU-sponsored police reform, as a result of which Bosnia-Herzegovina will not be able to start negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Brussels in 2005. Ashdown argued that police reform poses no danger to Bosnian Serbs. He stressed, however, that the isolation they risk by adhering to the SDS's present course means "fewer jobs, more poverty, no chance of visa-free travel, and no question of joining the rest of the region on the road to Europe."

Ashdown said that Belgrade and Podgorica want European integration for themselves and are unlikely to help the Republika Srpska out of a bind it has created for itself. He warned Bosnian Serbs that they must choose "Belarus or Brussels," isolation or integration. He concluded by saying that the Republika Srpska's "government now has an urgent choice to make -- this is the 11th hour -- police restructuring that meets EU principles, or to condemn their people to isolation and to suffer the consequences. The choice is theirs, and theirs alone. It needs to be made now. I hope they make the right choice."

Failure to reform the police along nonethnic administrative lines is the main obstacle to Bosnia's integration into the EU. The Bosnian Serbs consider the proposed a police reform unconstitutional and a threat to the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska because the proposed police administrative boundaries will cross entity lines and deny each entity control of its own security forces. Among each of the three ethnic groups in Bosnia, a legacy of the 1992-95 conflict is a close interrelationship between the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and often organized crime.

Ashdown has previously hinted at taking unspecified steps against the SDS. Some observers suggested that he might ban the party at some point, but others have noted that Bosnians before and after communist rule generally cast their ballots along ethnic lines and that one could expect a banned SDS to reemerge under a new name.

In any event, in the days running up to Ashdown's 22 September statement, speculation was rife in the Bosnian media that he would announce major steps, possibly including the banning of the SDS or the sacking of Borislav Paravac (SDS), who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency, on corruption charges. All Ashdown said in that respect in his statement, however, was: "There has been much speculation about what I will announce today and in the coming weeks, some of it accurate, some of it less accurate. I will not dwell on that aspect today." The media, however, will certainly raise the issue of why he used his 22 September appearance to issue one more warning rather than announce the long-expected draconian measures.

Ashdown's latest statement reveals once again the basic paradox in the international community's role in Bosnia under the 1995 Dayton agreement. On the one hand, the foreigners are there to promote the growth of Western democratic institutions and practices. On the other hand, they sometimes find themselves forced to rule by fiat in a country where voters elect nationalist officials who generally cannot agree with nationalists from other groups and who often refuse to modify their behavior in response to appeals from Brussels, Washington, and other international centers.

It has thus been left to the high representative over the years to make such basic decisions as the selection of national symbols or car license plates, and to sack errant nationalist officials or threaten more serious steps, as his latest statement seems to indicate.

He has zeroed in on probably the two most important issues affecting the majority of former Yugoslavs, namely poverty and isolation. Most people over 30 remember a time when their country was relatively prosperous and their passport alone in Europe was good for visa-free travel to both East and West. It is against these standards that most people in the region measure their present fate. (Patrick Moore)

HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS VATICAN SHIELDING TOP CROATIAN WAR CRIMES FUGITIVE. Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, told London's "Daily Telegraph" of 20 September that she believes that leading fugitive indictee and former Croatian General Ante Gotovina is hiding in an undisclosed Franciscan monastery in Croatia. She also charged that the Roman Catholic Church is refusing to cooperate on the matter.

The daily noted that she has "been 'extremely disappointed' to encounter a wall of silence from the Vatican. Frustrated by months of secret but fruitless appeals to leading Vatican officials, including a direct appeal to Pope Benedict XVI, Mrs. Del Ponte has decided to make the matter public." The pope has yet to reply to her written request that he intervene in the matter, she noted. The paper quoted her as saying that she has "information [Gotovina] is hiding in a Franciscan monastery, and so the [Roman] Catholic Church is protecting him. I have taken this up with the Vatican, and the Vatican refuses totally to co-operate with us."

She thinks that the Vatican could "pinpoint in a few days" in which monastery of about 80 in Croatia Gotovina is allegedly hiding if it wanted to do so. The daily added that "Del Ponte traveled to Rome [in July] to share her intelligence with the Vatican's 'foreign minister,' Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo. He refused to help, telling her the Vatican was not a state and thus had 'no international obligations' to help the UN to hunt war criminals."

Del Ponte stressed that her hosts "said they have no intelligence, [but] I don't believe that. I think that the Catholic Church has the most advanced intelligence services." She added: "Mgr. Lajolo said to me: 'Let me know in which monastery Gotovina is hiding.' I said, if I knew, I would not be here in Rome." Del Ponte pointed out that she is "doubly disappointed" by the Vatican because she is a Roman Catholic.

She also asked the Holy See for a repudiation of a recent statement by Mile Bogovic, the bishop of Gospic and Senj, denouncing the tribunal as a "political court" seeking to blacken Croatia's past. Bogovic also called Gotovina "a symbol of victory" because of his role in the August 1995 Croatian military campaign known as Storm that ended the Serbian insurgency in the Dalmatian hinterland that threatened Bogovic's diocese.

If Del Ponte does identify the alleged monastery, it will be interesting to see exactly where it is. The Franciscans in western Herzegovina -- outside Croatia's frontiers -- have a particular and centuries-old reputation for Croatian nationalism and independence of both the Zagreb-based church hierarchy and the Vatican itself. Those Franciscans are often local men with a strong identity with their flock and a tradition of self-assurance. If Gotovina is indeed hiding with Franciscans in western Herzegovina or in neighboring areas of Croatia, it might pose a challenge for the Holy See and the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia as well as for the tribunal.

Gotovina has been on the run since 2001, when the tribunal charged him with crimes against humanity for alleged atrocities committed against Serbian civilians during Storm. The Croatian authorities have said repeatedly that Gotovina is not in their country. President Stipe Mesic, who made a point after taking office in 2000 of weakening the role of nationalists and militant war veterans groups in political life, argues with certainty that Gotovina is not in Croatia. The media there note that the former general once served in the French Foreign Legion and allegedly has a French passport as well as an international network of contacts as a result. Mesic and other Croatian leaders have therefore suggested that anyone looking for Gotovina might better try Paraguay or some other distant country rather than Croatia.

The United States is offering a reward of over $5 million for Gotovina. Croatia's application to join the EU is currently on hold pending his arrest and extradition. Since all mainstream Croatian political parties regard EU admission as a top priority, the Gotovina case is taken particularly seriously in Zagreb (see below and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 June, 1 July, and16 September 2005). (Patrick Moore)

WESTERN BALKANS: IS THERE LIFE OUTSIDE THE EU? Signs are growing that the EU and some western Balkan countries are losing their attraction for each other. This could prove a blessing in disguise if the Balkan states take advantage of the opportunity to challenge old dogmas and explore new alternatives.

One truism of postcommunist Europe is that all the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans will sooner or later join the EU and NATO. This has proven valid for much of the region, but not for what has become known as the western Balkans, namely Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Croatia's plans for EU membership by 2007 are on hold because of Zagreb's failure to arrest and extradite fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina, while the other countries have always been considered relative long shots to join that body (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 and 20 June 2005).

Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia had hopes of joining NATO reasonably soon, but U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Kurt Volker said in Brussels on 8 September that NATO should hold off on any further expansion until at least 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002, and 27 May and 23 July 2004).

The EU has a particular attraction for the countries of the region for three reasons. First, membership in the bloc means a seat at the table where decisions affecting all of Europe are made. Second, joining the EU symbolizes the end of the continent's division and the inclusion of former communist countries in the "rich man's club." And third, as poorer members of a wealthy organization, the western Balkan states can look forward to a cornucopia of subsidies, as well as opportunities for fairly unfettered study, travel, and work. In short, even if NATO membership will some day provide for these countries' security requirements, joining the EU is still regarded in the region as an essential part of its rite of passage into the modern and democratic world.

For Brussels, integrating the western Balkans means that there will be no "black hole" in the middle of the EU -- especially after Bulgaria and Romania join -- in which organized crime could flourish. By offering the prospect of membership, the EU has a powerful lever to influence precisely the kind of changes -- called "reforms" -- that it wants to see implemented.

But on 29 May, French voters rejected the proposed EU constitution by a clear majority, and Dutch voters did the same by an even larger margin three days later. In both cases, objections to further enlargement of the EU after the admission of 10 new members in 2004 played at least some role in the vote. Consequently, many people in countries hoping to join that body began to fear that their chances of obtaining membership within a reasonable time frame had become slimmer as a result.

And even if some people in the Balkans failed to get the message that something has changed in Western Europe, it was clear to the political class in the older EU member states that further enlargement is not likely in the near future. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who comes from Finland, repeatedly stressed that the EU must meet its commitments to candidates. But it was clear that he would have his hands full in getting Brussels to stay on track with Romania and Bulgaria. Croatia would be even more problematic, with or without Gotovina, and there seemed to be little enthusiasm for fully integrating the other countries of the western Balkans, even though they are fairly small states that probably would not require too much money or effort to bring into the EU.

Balkan reactions to the new developments were not slow in coming. Sensing that the EU had lost its leverage and might not be able to offer serious membership prospects in the foreseeable future, the Bosnian Serb government and parliament repeatedly refused to approve EU-backed proposals for police reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August, and 14 September 2005). Banja Luka's failure to do so by 15 September meant that Bosnia has no chance of starting Stabilization and Association talks in 2005 and possibly in 2006.

In Croatia, the EU increasingly came to be seen as a bully because of the Gotovina affair, which resulted in a decline of popular support for EU membership. By late August, only 39 percent of Croats were in favor of joining the bloc -- in contrast to strong majorities in previous years -- and only 12 percent expected membership negotiations to start by the end of 2005, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Deutsche Welle noted other poll results showing that 57 percent of Croats oppose EU membership and only 34 percent support it.

Euroskepticism was also fueled by reports in the Croatian media that tarnished the bloc's image as the land of milk and honey. Croats began to pay more attention to the high unemployment rates in some EU member states, the inflationary problems that followed the introduction of the euro currency, the acrimonious dispute over the proposed EU constitution, and charges by some prominent figures like Czech President Vaclav Klaus that the EU is an undemocratic and bureaucratic super-state that rides roughshod over the sovereignty of newly independent nation-states.

RFE/RL recently reported interviews with ordinary Croats who said things about membership like "it's all the same to me." Others argued that the EU countries "need us more than we need them, but still we can't get on without them." One Zagreb resident said bluntly, "I've lived for 25 years in the EU, and it's better that we don't join." Another Croat told Deutsche Welle that EU membership is Croatia's only hope for getting real legislative reform, while someone else said that "we can live without the EU. We're a rich country. We just need to work."

The question then arises: if Brussels is unlikely to offer the western Balkans a serious "European perspective" within a clear time frame and if some people in those countries are becoming less enamored of the EU, might it not be time for them to reexamine old beliefs about the necessary postcommunist rite of passage and look for alternatives? How else might the countries of the region modernize their economies and expand their markets? Might it not be to their advantage to concentrate first on developing straightforward free-trade arrangements that would not involve compromising what for most of them is newly won sovereignty in favor of a distant and unelected bureaucracy?

Some Euroskeptics have long argued that the EU is cumbersome, inflexible, nontransparent, and dominated by Paris and Berlin. Might some other parts of Europe now find themselves faced with an opportunity to develop alternative ideas to the EU model that are simpler, more democratic, and hence more likely to produce clear results and win popular support? (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The positions of Greece and the Russian Federation on very many international problems coincide. We are very thankful to Greece for this constructive position which your country takes with regard to the development of the relations between Russia and the European Union. In this sense, Greece is a serious partner for us. We rely on such a position in the future, especially because our bilateral cooperation is beneficial to the whole of the European Union....

"If we carry out projects, let's say, in the field of energy, we can get Russian gas through Greece to the third countries, in South and even West Europe." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on 8 September at a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis in Thessaloniki. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"While there is still a valid arrest warrant, it is impossible for Markovic to come to the hearing. If she entered this territory, she would be arrested." -- Lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic, regarding the nonappearance in court of his client Mira Markovic, the wife of Slobodan Milosevic. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 15 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2005).

"Her opposition to Turkey didn't do her any good." -- Turkish daily "Milliyet" on 19 September, referring to the less-than-successful candidacy of Angela Merkel for the German chancellorship. Merkel opposes full membership for Turkey in the EU. Many regard her stance as an attempt to play on German fears of a massive migration of Turks to Western Europe if Turkey is admitted to the EU.