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Balkan Report: October 14, 2005


14 October 2005, Volume 9, Number 28

NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 11 November.

IS BOSNIA FINALLY ON THE WAY TO THE EU? The Bosnian Serb legislature has finally removed the last serious obstacle to Bosnia-Herzegovina's building formal ties to the EU. Problems and ambiguities nonetheless remain, and the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.

The parliament of the Republika Srpska voted 55 to five, with 15 abstentions, on 5 October to accept the EU's proposed police reform package, thereby removing the last major obstacle to Bosnia-Herzegovina's integration with the Brussels-based bloc. The Bosnian Serbs have repeatedly rejected the proposal but seem to have had a change of heart after the EU's recent decision to launch admission talks with Zagreb and stabilization and association (SAA) negotiations with Belgrade, which leaves Bosnia as the only country in the region without a formal relationship to the EU or prospect of membership.

The Croat-Muslim federation has endorsed the police reform, which will reorganize the police and their administrative boundaries along nonethnic lines and without regard for entity boundaries. Many Bosnian Serbs consider this unconstitutional. Foreign and non-Serb critics of Banja Luka say that the Bosnian Serbs want to keep control over their police because those security forces are the bedrock of support for political, business, and possibly criminal structures.

Following the Bosnian Serbs' decision on police reform, the U.S. State Department said in a statement that Banja Luka's move is the "most significant step towards Euro-Atlantic integration taken by [Bosnia-Herzegovina] since the signing of the Dayton peace accords 10 years ago."

The European Commission called the decision a "crucial step" toward the start of SAA talks between the EU and Bosnia, but did not say when those negotiations could start. EU diplomats in Sarajevo nonetheless hinted that a recommendation on talks could come from Brussels before the end of 2005. A spokesman for High Representative Paddy Ashdown hailed the parliament's move, adding that "within five years, Bosnia will have a single integrated police service at the state level, and local police areas which will cross the inter-entity border line in the limited areas where it is technically necessary."

Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic was quick to take credit for the parliamentary vote, saying that his entity can no longer be called a "factor...obstructing Bosnia's path to Europe." But Milan Lazic of the Serbian Radical Party argued that the police reform "is a prelude to the abolition of the Republika Srpska, the Republika Srpska police, and all elements of statehood that we have in Dayton." At the time the peace agreement was concluded 10 years ago, then-President Biljana Plavsic and other Bosnian Serb leaders presented it to their voters as a confirmation of statehood for the Republika Srpska.

The parliamentary vote may still not mean smooth sailing for police reform or Bosnia's integration with the EU, however. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service said in a commentary that the country's leaders already missed the boat for SAA talks earlier in the week by not passing reform legislation before then. By this is meant not only a decision on police reform by the parliament in Banja Luka, but also a vote by the central legislature on public broadcasting (see below) and on military reform, even though the latter was already considered a done deal before both measures were approved on 6 October.

As a result, Bosnia will remain in a gray zone in terms of its relations with the EU for the immediate future, unlike all the other countries of the region. Above all, ordinary Bosnian citizens will not be able to enjoy the visa-free travel they want, at least not in the medium term, and foreign investors could well remain hesitant about coming to Bosnia.

Nor is delay the only potential problem for bringing Bosnia closer to the EU. RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service quoted Cavic as saying that the EU has accepted his proposal included in the new legislation that an "expert commission" from various levels of government in Bosnia decide by 30 September 2006 on the boundaries of the new police districts and other concrete aspects of the reform. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Pero Bukejlovic said that the devil will lie precisely in such details as far as the Bosnian Serbs are concerned.

Indeed, the devil generally does lie in the details where negotiating in the Balkans is concerned, and the Bosnian Serbs in particular have shown themselves to be adept at ferreting out the last possible advantage. This was noticeably the case in negotiations during the 1992-95 conflict, especially regarding what former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic called "the map" or "tidying up the map." In short, the upcoming "experts' commission" and its discussions on administrative boundaries might prove more problematic than at first meets the eye.

Meanwhile, the central parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina voted on 5 October to remove another important obstacle to SAS talks by approving a law on reforming public broadcasting (PBS). The Office of the High Representative said in a statement that the move constitutes "significant progress...on PBS reform," adding that "now the respective state and entity governments and parliaments must adopt harmonized legislation regulating one state and two entity broadcasters within the 60 days deadline defined by law." The main obstacle to PBS reform has been the Herzegovinian Croats, who want their own channel in the "Croatian language."

Serbo-Croatian is a single language with dialect differences based on geography rather than ethnicity. Nationalists of each respective group have nonetheless sought to cultivate real or manufactured differences between the dialects. As the smallest of Bosnia's three main ethnic groups, many Croats fear a loss of control over their lives unless they have a legal entity of their own instead of being included in a federation with the Muslims. (Patrick Moore)

SLOVENIAN MEDIA LAW APPROVED BY HAIR'S BREADTH. Slovenia held its most tightly contested referendum ever on 25 September, when the public passed judgment on a new state broadcasting law that the parliament adopted in July. The referendum passed by only 50.23 percent with a turnout of just under 31 percent. At stake was the management structure of Slovenia's state television and radio company (RTV), with opponents warning that the new law would politicize programming.

Television broadcasting began in Slovenia in 1957, but RTV traces its history back to 1928, when Radio Ljubljana first went on the air. In addition to Slovenian-language programming, RTV also offers regional broadcasts for Slovenia's officially recognized (albeit relatively small) Italian and Hungarian minorities (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 August 2002). Like other media, RTV has also entered the electronic age with its own news website at rtvslo.si.

RTV is managed by a council and supervisory board responsible for the usual administrative tasks of staffing and budgets. They also determine fees and programming content, which was the main issue in the public discussions before the referendum. The new law expands and modifies the compositions of both governing bodies.

Under the previous law dating from 1994, five council members were appointed directly by parliament, reflecting the makeup of the governing coalition. Various ethnic and cultural groups, as well as RTV employees themselves, appointed an additional 20 council members. The new law expands the council to a 29-member programming board by increasing the appointments by religious communities from one to two, adding an additional two appointments from other civil society organizations, and adding one appointment from the Slovenian Academy of Science and Arts. The radio and TV director and various editors will now report to the general director instead of the council.

The supervisory board has been expanded from seven (five government appointees plus two employee appointees) to 11 members by reducing the number of government appointees to four, but adding five appointees from all political parties. The introduction of a parliamentary channel is also envisaged, and the changes are expected to take effect in November.

Like other state or "public" media throughout Europe, RTV is partially funded through an obligatory "licensing fee" -- about 2,600 tolars ($14) per month -- paid by everyone who owns a television or radio. Appealing to voters' pocketbooks, opponents of the law claimed that the changes would result in increased monthly fees, but this was denied by the law's proponents.

In many ways, the referendum had little to do with RTV, but represented a broader debate on reform and transition in Slovenia. A conservative government headed by Janez Jansa of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) was installed in December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 October 2004). With this came pledges to implement social and legislative reform after more than a decade of rule by various left-oriented coalitions, most recently dominated by the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) party and its ally the United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD) -- the successor to the former Communist Party and recently renamed the Social Democrats.

The pace of this reform has been excruciatingly slow. With no time to draft a new law, a Tax Code of Byzantine complexity sponsored by the previous government came into effect in January 2005 despite unanimous objections from accountants and the self-employed. Promises to reduce Slovenia's bloated civil service have largely come to naught because of socialist-era protections built into labor laws. When efforts to promote free trade, economic liberalization, privatization, and decentralization stalled in the face of institutional obstacles, economic guru Mico Mrkaic resigned in July from the Strategic Council for Economic Development that Jansa had established. As a member of the SDS privately conceded, the coalition has the will to implement reforms, but is unable to push them through institutions that remain staffed by LDS-era appointees.

Prereferendum debate on both sides of the issue was exaggerated. Parliamentarian Branko Grims (SDS) urged Slovenes to "vote yes, so that our children will grow up in a democratic world." The head of the conservative New Slovenia (NSi) women's union, Lidija Drobnic, charged that only former communists were given airtime on the issue. However, the charges are not without basis -- in 2004, RTV abruptly cancelled the airing of a documentary on the post-World War II killings orchestrated by the communists (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 November 2001).

A week before the vote, the cover of the leftist magazine "Mladina" featured a crucified caricature of RTV's icon, a boy playing a flute. Postreferendum commentary in "Mladina" claimed that the culturally ignorant rural population had won over the objections of the more sophisticated urban population and declared that the government was trying to lead a revolution -- ignoring the fact that the voters confirmed a decision made by their elected representatives.

Inasmuch as referendums also represent a survey of public confidence, Slovenia's government will not cheer the outcome of this vote, but will certainly greet it with a sigh of relief. (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer based in Ljubljana [donald.reindl@guest.arnes.si])

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Politically speaking, this is our definitive break with the Balkans." -- Istrian regional politician Damir Kajn, on the EU's decision to start admission talks with Croatia. Quoted by RFE/RL in Zagreb on 3 October.

"We can say that after a long night, there's a new dawn now for the western Balkans." -- EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn on the same topic. Quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 4 October.

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