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Balkan Report: January 9, 2004

9 January 2004, Volume 8, Number 1

SERBIA'S UNCERTAIN FUTURE. Serbia's electorate has clearly registered its unhappiness with the record of the fractious Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, which has governed since the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. The future, however, seems to offer little hope for anything but an even shakier coalition.

The Serbian Election Commission announced on 30 December 2003 that Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) won the most seats in the 250-member legislature in the 28 December 2003 Serbian parliamentary elections. The SRS will have 82 seats, followed by former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) with 53. The SRS took just over 27 percent of the vote, which is 10 percent more than its closest rival.

The Democratic Party (DS) of the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic will have 37 representatives in the new parliament, followed by Miroljub Labus's G-17 Plus party with 34. A coalition of Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and Velimir Ilic's New Serbia (NS) party will have 22 seats, as will Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).

Both Seselj and Milosevic are in custody in The Hague, where they face trial for alleged war crimes. Tomislav Nikolic leads the SRS in Seselj's absence, and Ivica Dacic plays a similar role for Milosevic in the SPS (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003).

But many experts agree that the outcome of the vote was not the result of a resurgence of nationalism, since the parties loyal to the Milosevic regime actually won fewer votes in 2003 than in 2000, RFE/RL reported on 8 January. Kostunica blamed foreign pressures on Belgrade to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal for the SRS's strong showing, but his argument does not seem convincing, since "the war crimes not a priority in our society," as leading Belgrade human rights activist Natasa Kandic put it.

The real problem was that the DOS failed to live up to many Serbs' hopes for a better standard of living in a society governed honestly with the rule of law. In this context, the fact that about 40 percent of the electorate did not bother to vote seems particularly telling. For this reason alone, it seems unlikely that holding yet another round of elections -- as some have suggested -- would solve anything.

But whatever motivated individual Serbs to do what they did on 28 December 2003, the point now is that the next government is likely to be a fractious coalition of one sort or another. Kostunica has proposed an all-party coalition that would concentrate on drafting a new constitution. Most other parties -- and the Western countries that Serbia counts on for support -- nonetheless reject this. The EU and United States have, moreover, made it clear that they do not want a government that includes parties headed by indicted war criminals.

The SRS has called for a coalition involving it and the DSS alone, but the DSS says only that it has not ruled out any option. The international community has specifically warned Kostunica against accepting the SRS's offer.

A government of the DSS, DS, G-17 Plus, and the SPO-NS coalition would have a working majority, but it would amount to adding the mercurial Draskovic to the DOS's mixture of strong personalities that proved so volatile in the past. And perhaps typically for Balkan politics, it is often the compatibility of personalities rather than of programs that makes or breaks coalitions.

Perhaps in recognition of this, the DS has offered to support a minority government of the DSS, G-17 Plus, and the SPO-NS coalition without joining the cabinet itself. Some observers have suggested that the DS could insist that it keep its seats in the joint government of Serbia and Montenegro as its price for such support.

Whatever Serbian coalition emerges, its stability at home and attractiveness to the international community seem open to doubt. This problem is compounded by differences over economic policy, in which the DSS stresses poverty relief while the G-17 Plus and DS use the rhetoric of reform. If the next government is to raise its voters' standard of living, it will need to attract serious foreign investment, and that will require a strong dose of reforms.

A government led by Kostunica, moreover, might prove less amenable than was the last Serbian government where cooperation with The Hague-based tribunal is concerned. If his performance as Yugoslav president is any indication of what the future may hold, he is likely to offer a combination of foot dragging and criticism that will serve to test the patience not only of the tribunal, but of the international community as a whole.

Kostunica and other members of the next government may also be as prone as were many in the last cabinet to engage in tough talk about Kosova as a way of distracting voters' attention from the government's failures to improve the standard of living (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15, 22, and 29 August, and 17 October 2003).

In so doing, the government would give the minority Serbs of Kosova the false hope that their future will be decided in Belgrade rather than in Prishtina. And above all, such assertiveness by Serbia would make Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority nervous about the future and thereby undermine regional security and stability (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003).

Meanwhile, the government and voters of Montenegro will be watching and waiting to see what the changes in Serbia will mean for them. If Serbia proves ungovernable, or if a coalition headed by the SRS should somehow come to power, calls for Montenegrin independence seem certain to grow louder and more numerous.

Finally, it remains to be seen how effective the last DOS government was in cleaning up crime and corruption in the wake of the 12 March 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Many Serbs remain convinced that criminal structures remain in place, with close links to the worlds of politics, business, and the security forces (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). On 30 December 2003, the British-based "Financial Times" wrote that "Serbia still remains a desperately unstable and unpredictable place." For now at least, that seems like a safe conclusion. (Patrick Moore)

MIXED PERCEPTIONS OF THE MACEDONIAN PEACE ACCORD. In his new year's address, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski said that implementing the August 2001 Ohrid peace accord, which ended an interethnic conflict that had lasted for months, is one of the government's primary tasks for 2004. But more than two years after the leaders of the main political parties struck the internationally brokered peace deal, Macedonia's main ethnic groups -- the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority -- continue to espouse very different perceptions of the agreement and its implementation (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001).

This becomes clear from an article published in the Albanian-language weekly "Lobi" on 26 December 2003. The article sums up the results of an opinion poll carried out in October 2003 by the Gostivar-based NGO Association for Democratic Initiative (ADI). The poll shows that the Ohrid peace agreement may have ended the "hot" phase of the interethnic conflict. But it also confirms the results of previous opinion polls indicating that Albanians and Macedonians have differing views regarding the peace agreement.

The poll was carried out among Macedonians and Albanians in the capital Skopje, the town of Gostivar in western Macedonia (which has a 60 percent Albanian majority), and the overwhelmingly Macedonian town of Prilep in central Macedonia.

The first result presented in the article was that more than 47 percent of the respondents from both ethnic groups said they have not even read the Ohrid peace agreement. Given the importance of the agreement and its far-reaching consequences for the country's future -- ranging from the changes in the administrative structure, the constitutional and legal framework, to changes in the use of official languages, to mention just a few -- this result seems quite alarming. The ADI therefore calls on the international community to start a broad information campaign to enhance public awareness.

The demand for such information seems to exist both among the Albanians and the Macedonians, albeit to different extents. Whereas about 73 percent of the Albanians would like to be better informed about the provisions of the agreement, only 62 percent of the Macedonians seek such information.

This lower interest among the Macedonians can be easily explained. Because the Albanians were granted additional rights under the Ohrid agreement, many Macedonians are resentful of the peace deal. For this part of the Macedonian majority, the peace accord was a capitulation. They believe that the international community unjustly took the side of the Albanian insurgents.

The Macedonians' perception of the international community as being responsible for the Ohrid agreement also explains why such a large share of the Macedonian respondents (69 percent) believes that the international community has the greatest interest in the implementation of the peace deal.

At the same time, only 29 percent of the Macedonians think that the Albanians have the greatest interest in the implementation. The Albanians, for their part, believe that the Macedonians are not interested in the agreement and its implementation. Like the Macedonians, the Albanians are of the opinion that the international community and related organizations are most interested.

At first glance, both Macedonians and Albanians seem to agree that it is the government and the parliament that are delaying the implementation of the peace deal. But when one takes a closer look at the results, it turns out that 44 percent of the Macedonians blame the parliament for the delay, while 47 percent of the Albanians blame the government.

On the whole, the Macedonians show a negative attitude toward the agreement. Only 29 percent answered that the agreement improves stability in the country, but more than 53 percent said that the agreement does not improve stability. As could be expected, for 70 percent of the Albanian respondents, the agreement has had a positive effect on stability, while only 10 percent say it has not.

The results as such are not surprising, but they should remind the government, the parliament, and, to a lesser extent, the international community, that more work is needed to implement the Ohrid pact. Given that legislation specified in the last elements of the agreement -- such as the decentralization of the state administration -- still has to be passed by the parliament, the government would be better advised if it engaged in a broad information campaign sooner rather than later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October, 13 November, and 12, 18, 19, and 23 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003).

As long as the public remains uninformed, opponents of the peace accord have an easy game in denouncing the peace agreement. An information campaign also could help overcome the deeply rooted distrust among the Macedonians and Albanians. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA SCHEDULES REFERENDUM ON 'THE ERASED.' In one of its last decisions of 2003, Slovenia's National Assembly voted on 30 December 2003 to approve a nationwide referendum on the bill restoring the residency status of non-Slovenes "erased" from the country's population records in 1992 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 October 2003). Due to emigration and additional legislation, the 30,000 people affected by the decision 12 years ago number only 4,000 today, but the issue has become increasingly politicized.

In 2002, Slovenia's Constitutional Court ruled the cancellation of residency status illegal and ordered that it be restored retroactively. The court did not specify how the matter should be resolved, and in late 2003 -- over the objections of opposition parties -- the parliament approved controversial blanket legislation to implement the court ruling.

The opposition raised two major objections to the bill. The first is that the bill does not apply on a case-by-case basis. Opponents argue that many of the "erased" simply left Slovenia when it declared independence, only to return after living conditions elsewhere in former Yugoslavia deteriorated. Individuals, they say, should be required to prove continuous residence in Slovenia and that they did not take up arms against Slovenia in 1991.

The second major concern is that the bill includes no limits on compensation that could be claimed for lost pensions, withheld insurance, and other damages. The head of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), Janez Jansa, estimates the cost to Slovenia could be as much as 20 billion tolars ($100 million), while Zmago Jelincic of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS) suggested 850 billion tolars in a "Vecer" article on 28 October 2003.

Although estimates vary, it is certain that the state will face lawsuits. As "Delo" journalist Franc Milosic commented in his 8 November 2003 opinion column, "clearly they will sue and demand compensation -- they would be stupid not to."

The 37-5 National Assembly decision approving the referendum was passed with support from a broad spectrum of conservative parties, including the SDS, New Slovenia (NSi), the SNS, and all 10 representatives from the coalition-member Slovenian People's Party (SLS). The five opposing votes came from the majority Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) and left-wing United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD). The fact that 30 representatives abstained from voting demonstrates the deep reluctance of liberal politicians to be publicly associated with the bill, despite their parties' positions.

Opponents of the referendum claim that it is pointless because Slovenia must reinstate the status of the erased whatever the outcome. However, proponents argue that it will force the government to take account of public opinion and prepare a new bill to implement the court's decision.

As is usual in Slovenia, many also object to the cost of direct democracy, arguing that the move will simply promote intolerance at a cost of 600 million tolars for organizing the referendum. Saso Pece of the SNS countered that 600 million tolars is a good investment to avoid crippling compensation claims, and laid the responsibility for the referendum at the feet of the coalition for not taking into account the demands of the opposition.

In comments in "Delo" on 31 December 2003, Jansa stated that the erasure had violated nobody's rights, as only those who speculated against Slovenia's future by not applying for citizenship were affected. If some applicants were unaware of the law, Jansa argued, the state is not at fault because it provided them with the opportunity to regulate their status.

The argument is sound in theory, but overlooks the bureaucratic obstacles that these individuals faced. The government institution that regulates affairs for resident aliens, the Office for Foreigners, has the reputation of being openly hostile to non-Slovenes and routinely makes capricious demands for documents. The obstacles to obtaining papers from war-torn Bosnia may have prevented many from having their cases fairly processed.

Both sides of the political spectrum have sought to gain political leverage from the affair. Because many of the erased are Bosnian Muslims, the left has branded the right's opposition as racist. In mid-December, Human Rights Ombudsman Matjaz Hanzek compared calls for the referendum to Nazi policies -- provoking the head of the NSi, Andrej Bajuk, to demand Hanzek's resignation. The left-wing news magazine "Mladina" has also entered the political circus, with weekly caricatures of politicians sporting Hitler moustaches and swastikas.

The right argues that the government is attempting to buy future voters at the expense of the taxpayer, and dismisses the talk of justice and human rights as hypocritical opportunism. Leveling accusations at the ZLSD, the successor to Slovenia's former League of Communists, Jansa asked where the justice is for the tens of thousands "erased" by the communists after World War II -- the "optanti" who fled to Italy and the expelled citizens of German nationality (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 March 2002, and 31 October 2003)

Slovenia's referendum is scheduled for 15 February. Whatever the outcome, opinions are likely to remain bitterly divided. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The dream of every politician is to win elections. That brings certain responsibilities. But I'm prepared, together with the [Serbian] Radical Party, to take over that responsibility." -- SRS leader Tomislav Nikolic, quoted by RFE/RL in Belgrade on 28 December 2003.

"Serbian law allows my brother to become a [parliamentary] deputy, but the final say belongs to Slobodan [Milosevic] and his party [Socialist Party of Serbia]." -- Former Yugoslav Ambassador to Russia Borislav Milosevic, quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 5 January.

"In the light of the recent setbacks for pro-European parties and democratic reformers in the western Balkans, Washington and the EU should be reviewing their plans for this region. Only the combination of American hard power, in the form of air strikes and robust occupation, and European soft power, in the form of economic aid and the promise of ultimate EU membership, were enough to stabilize the region in the late 1990s. For the future, one needs to test carefully the thesis that Europe's efforts alone can keep the peace." -- James Dobbins in the "Financial Times" on 6 January.

"The conflict last month in Brussels was essentially a conflict over the different emphasis put on European and national interests. For Germany and France, integration of the EU comes first. Above all the Poles, who only regained their sovereignty 13 years ago, find it difficult to give a part of this sovereignty to the EU..." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, quoted in "Der Spiegel" on 5 January.

"If [EU] political union cannot be realized in a group of 25 or more, then a smaller group can press ahead, with the intention of others following. Two things must not come to pass: a mini-Europe cut off from the rest [of the continent] and which identifies itself in its opposition to the U.S.A., or a relapse into a politically undemanding free-trade zone." -- EU Commissioner Guenther Verheugen, quoted in "Focus" on 5 January.