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Balkan Report: January 23, 2004


23 January 2004, Volume 8, Number 3

UNFINISHED BUSINESS IN BOSNIA. Officials of The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia announced on 21 January that Momcilo Krajisnik, a former top-level Bosnian Serb official, will go on trial on 3 February for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide.

He will be the second leading Bosnian Serb official from the 1992-95 conflict to stand trial in The Hague, following former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, who was sentenced in February 2003 to 11 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 February 2003). Unlike Krajisnik and former Serbian leaders Slobodan Milosevic and Vojislav Seselj, Plavsic showed remorse and pleaded guilty to one of the charges against her.

But the two biggest Bosnian Serb indicted war criminals, Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, remain at large. The fact that the troops of the most powerful military alliance in history have been unable to catch either or both of them in the eight years since the conclusion of the Dayton agreement provokes cynicism among many Bosnian Muslims and Croats and fuels the conspiracy theories that are no stranger to that part of the world.

In fact, the skepticism seems to grow with each unsuccessful SFOR attempt to apprehend one or both of the indicted men, such as a recent effort by NATO-led troops in the Pale area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, 14, and 16 January 2004). It does not help matters in Bosnian eyes when SFOR officials claim that they "are getting closer than ever" to catching Karadzic -- as Captain David Sullivan told "The New York Times" of 15 January -- or when NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Sarajevo on 15 January that catching Karadzic is "the first responsibility of the authorities in this country."

But as "The Wall Street Journal Europe" noted on 16 January, "many excuses are made [for not catching Karadzic], none credible. The U.S. once feared upsetting Serbs, and the French protected them. As a dysfunctional Bosnia strained patience, NATO tried harder in the late 1990s, nabbing some smaller fish."

The daily went on to argue that "now some Western officials despair about a lack of interest. 'The level of effort just isn't where it used to be,' says a NATO military official. 'It's going to be pure luck if we get him.'

Certainly, America's special forces are busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Europeans should do more. Realistically, though, only the U.S. has the right assets on the ground to get Karadzic," the commentary continued.

The article concluded with the argument that "the U.S. used to claim its troops won't leave Bosnia until Karadzic sits safely in war crimes tribunal jail in The Hague. As NATO gets ready to hand over the peacekeeping mission to the EU probably at the end of the year, the U.S. risks breaking this promise unless NATO gets serious about catching the butcher of Sarajevo" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September and 3 October 2003).

Nor was this commentary by the Brussels-based daily the only pessimistic report on this subject in recent days. London's "The Times" of 20 January quoted unnamed British officials as saying that they fear that Karadzic may never be brought to justice unless NATO carries out a "serious intelligence-led effort" to catch him before the Atlantic alliance's mandate in Bosnia runs out later in 2004.

The officials dismissed SFOR's recent attempts to find Karadzic in the Pale area as a "public relations show." One unnamed source said that "at the moment, it is really only the Americans and the British taking part in the hunt.... The French, who in the past were accused of tipping off the Serbs about NATO operations, are still regarded with suspicion by other allies, and key intelligence on the manhunt is withheld from them."

Referring to the case of Mladic, an unnamed "Whitehall source" told the daily that "whatever government emerges in Belgrade, it is clear that it will be even harder than before to get them to co-operate in catching war criminals, like Mladic," whom officials of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal say is living in Serbia under official protection.

It is nonetheless important that key indicted individuals be arrested and brought to justice in order to take away the stigma of collective guilt and put the blame squarely on those individuals responsible for war crimes. This was the principle that served as the basis for the war crimes trials after World War II and remains equally valid for the conflicts in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. (Patrick Moore)

NEXT ROUND IN THE MACEDONIAN-SERBIAN CHURCH DISPUTE. The long-standing feud between the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Macedonian Orthodox Church entered a new round in early January, just before Orthodox Christmas, when the leaders of each Church decided that talks would do no good.

In their respective addresses to believers on 5 January both Patriarch Pavle, who leads the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), and Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) head Archbishop Gospodin Gospodin Stefan, signaled that renewed talks between the two churches do not make much sense, at least for the time being.

The church leaders' pessimistic view is mainly due to the failure to resolve the question as to whether the MPC is an autocephalous church of its own. Having gained what the SPC describes as a "far-reaching autonomy" in 1959, the MPC split from the SPC in 1967 without the consent of the Serbian Holy Synod. As a result, the MPC was never recognized by other Orthodox Churches.

Bilateral talks to resolve this question resulted in the so-called Nis accord of July 2002, which could have been a basis for further discussion had it not been rejected by the majority of Macedonian bishops. The main obstacle for the MPC's Holy Synod to accept the agreement was that the SPC insisted on the canonic unity of the two churches.

But one Macedonian bishop, Jovan of Veles, did not follow his colleagues and instead put his bishopric under the canonic jurisdiction of the Serbian Church. In response, the MPC's Holy Synod excommunicated Jovan. The SPC, in turn, named him Serbian exarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church for Macedonia in September 2002. Macedonian media call Jovan either by his former lay name, Zoran Vraniskovski, or simply "the schismatic" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002).

For his move Vraniskovski was not only outlawed by his church and the media, but also by the Macedonian authorities. After what the SPC described as a "manipulated trial" in October 2003, a court in Bitola found him guilty of "usurping an office" and sentenced him to one year in prison, suspended in favor of two-years' probation. His crime was that he had baptized a relative despite having been excommunicated from the MPC.

The churches, for their part, carried on trading accusations instead of seeking some kind of compromise. In May 2003, the SPC set up an autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid, naming Bishop Jovan as its head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003). In his 5 January address, Gospodin Stefan charged that by setting up this autonomous archbishopric, the SPC has greatly disturbed the "spiritual peace" of the Macedonian believers. He added that in such a situation the MPC will concentrate on its own "spiritual renewal" to strengthen it against further "challenges and evils."

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, for his part, the same day called on the "brothers and sisters in Macedonia" to unite around the newly founded Archbishopric of Ohrid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2004).

Only days later, on 11 January, police again detained Bishop Jovan and a group of clerics belonging to the SPC in Bitola. At first, the Interior Ministry declared that neighbors had called the police because the clerics had threatened them with weapons. But the same day a Bitola court officially charged Bishop Jovan with inciting national and religious hatred and intolerance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 15 January 2004).

In the meantime, Macedonian politicians also joined in the church dispute. Whereas Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski tried to remain neutral by expressing his hope that the feud will not affect Macedonia's relations with Serbia and Montenegro, President Boris Trajkovski -- himself a Protestant minister -- clearly took sides with the MPC. "The formation of a parallel Holy Synod for...Macedonia by the Serbian Orthodox Church is an attack not only on the Macedonian autocephalous Orthodox Church, but also a direct attack on the sovereignty of...Macedonia and on the national feelings of the Macedonian people," a joint statement by Trajkovski and Archbishop Gospodin Gospodin Stefan said in December.

In January, Trajkovski refused to intervene on Bishop Jovan's behalf when Patriarch Pavle asked him to do so. Currently, the opposition Internal Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), which sees itself in the tradition of European Christian Democratic parties, is preparing a parliamentary declaration in support of the MPC. Since the MPC is explicitly mentioned in the constitution along with four other religious communities, politicians may argue that they are not only defending the church, but also the constitution. But this constitutional provision also restricts religious freedom, human rights activist Mirjana Najcevska of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights noted in "Dnevnik" on 10 January.

It is not yet clear whether the governing Social Democrats will also endorse the declaration. The country's ethnic Albanians -- who are overwhelmingly Muslim -- and their parties have declined to get involved in the church dispute, as was to be expected. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

MONTENEGRO AND ITS ALBANIANS. A previously unknown group, the "Albanian National Army," has threatened to carry out attacks in Montenegro to counter what it says is discrimination against ethnic Albanians. The warning came in a statement posted on the Internet. It's not clear yet whether the message is a hoax, but RFE/RL reported on 14 January that it put the spotlight on interethnic relations.

The statement was signed by a "Commander Meti." The website gave no further information about the group. A day after the warning, it disappeared from the Internet.

Montenegrin authorities say they are looking into the message to determine if such a group actually exists. Ethnic Albanian leaders have dismissed the message, pointing to spelling errors in a text supposedly written by Albanians.

The National Army may be a fabrication, yet the question remains who could be playing such dangerous games in a region where interethnic tensions have played deadly havoc in the recent past.

Miodrag Vlahovic, a political analyst at the Center for Regional and Strategic Studies in Podgorica, cautions that one should not leap to conclusions. But he says there are a number of political forces and people, especially among supporters of closer ties with Serbia, who could be interested in the destabilization of Montenegro.

"I think we are facing a continuous attempt to prove that Montenegro cannot survive as an independent society, that it is not self-sustainable even in security terms, that Montenegro has a problem with minorities, that minorities per se are the problem, and that the Albanian minority is, or so they say, the problem of the Balkans," Vlahovic said.

Ethnic Albanians make up about 7 percent of Montenegro's population, according to a census conducted last year. Relations are seen as generally good, yet there are signs of some problems.

An ethnic Albanian group, Iliricum, recently called for setting up an ethnic Albanian region near the border with Albania and Kosova. It later suspended the initiative after it was rejected by Montenegro's two main Albanian parties.

Vlahovic says the situation of ethnic Albanians in Montenegro is much better than in neighboring Balkan states. "Albanians in Montenegro -- as a minority ethnic group, as a political factor, as a constituent part of our republic -- are in a profoundly different situation compared to the situation in Kosova, southern Serbia, or Macedonia," he said.

Vlahovic concedes, however, that there are problems, particularly in local administration. He says Montenegrin authorities have to sit down with legitimate Albanian representatives and openly discuss these.

Alex N. Grigor'ev, a regional expert at Princeton University in the United States, agrees that ethnic relations in Montenegro are better than in other countries in the region. But Grigor'ev is critical of any effort to create ethnic regions. Besides, he says, in such a small country, such regionalization would only be a waste of time. "What Montenegro needs is not regionalization but decentralization. It needs it not only for the areas where ethnic Albanians live but for all other communities and towns in Montenegro as well. And the government knows that," he said.

He said that, in his opinion, the country's longer-term interests, including joining the European Union, would be better served by improving living standards, employment, health, and education instead of seeking to create ethnic regions.

As he pointed out, individual countries -- not regions -- will be invited to join the EU based on their performance. "People always forget one important thing: that the European standard is not the political structures, regions or borders. It is not 'Greater Albania,' 'Greater Montenegro,' 'Greater Serbia,' or Kosovo that will join the European Union -- but only a 'good' Serbia, a 'good' Montenegro and so forth," Grigor'ev said.

In the past, he has said Montenegro is "the biggest reservoir" of interethnic goodwill in the region and that this should not be squandered. (Julia Geshakova)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "You have to have concerns when you have a major party in a neighboring country claiming half of your territory." -- Croatian Foreign Minister Miomir Zuzul, referring to the Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Quoted in "The Washington Times" of 21 January.

"We want to join Europe, but we are also very comfortable with the United States. We have never accepted the idea that you have to choose between the two." -- Zuzul, in ibid.

"RFE/RL: 'Could [the dissolution of Serbia and Montenegro] be dealt with the way the Czechs and Slovaks divided Czechoslovakia?'

Serbian historian Slavenko Terzic: 'Of course, it would be much easier if the Serbs were Czechs. But they are not. You must be aware what kinds of problems might arise between brothers.'" -- Excerpt from the latest issue of "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," issued on 23 January 2004.

"The American administration cannot stay too long in the eyes of its own public opinion on such bad terms with one of its oldest allies." -- French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie in the French National Assembly, following her return from Washington. Quoted in "The Washington Times" on 21 January.

"There's jealousy [in France toward the United States]. The United States became what France wanted to be, the universal country. When I criticize the French, I recognize the neurosis here." -- Former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. Quoted in the "International Herald Tribune" on 20 January.

"In some European capitals there's the idea that we'll be more integrated if we're a counterweight to America. My position on building Europe is that you should think of it as a counterpart. A European defense identity, yes. But a counterweight? Constructing America as an adversary? What's strategically intelligent in building an identity against the United States?" -- Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso. Quoted in ibid.

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