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Balkan Report: February 20, 2004

20 February 2004, Volume 8, Number 7

KOSTUNICA'S FAUSTIAN PACT. Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) leader Vojislav Kostunica was asked by acting Serbian President Dragan Marsicanin on 20 February to become prime minister and form a minority government. The fact that his cabinet is likely to depend on the legislative support of Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) has generated anger and questions at home and abroad.

On 15 February, leaders of the DSS, the G-17 Plus party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and the New Serbia party agreed to form a minority government, which the SPS said it will support in the parliament. The cabinet is expected to be announced by the end of February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004).

G-17 Plus leader Miroljub Labus argued that having a minority government is preferable to holding new elections, adding that the government will survive if it does its work well.

New Serbia leader Velimir Ilic stressed that the politicians must stop squabbling and get to work. SPO leader Vuk Draskovic reportedly opposed forming a government with SPS support, but relented after finding himself isolated within his own party.

Ilic also said that the governing coalition "will make one more proposal to the Democratic Party [for it to back a minority government], and if they reject it, we have already secured the support of the Socialist Party."

Democratic Party Vice President Boris Tadic said that the 28 December election results would have been very different if voters had known they were endorsing a coalition government dependent on the SPS. Tadic stressed that the best thing for Serbia is a majority government. He subsequently turned down an offer from Ilic to keep his post as defense minister of Serbia and Montenegro, saying that the Democrats will be either in the government or in the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004).

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 13 February that Kostunica has blocked all attempts by his coalition partners to include the Democratic Party in the cabinet because of his long-standing feud with the Democrats' leadership. The daily noted that Kostunica is thereby continuing his rivalry with the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic long after Djindjic's assassination in March.

Reactions to Kostunica's Faustian pact were not slow in coming. Speaking to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service by telephone from Brussels on 16 February, the European Commission's spokesman for external relations, Diego de Ojeda, said that the EU will "have to wait for the deeds of the [new Serbian] order to be able to judge them, but clearly, beforehand, one can be slightly skeptical that this government formation, as it is shaping up, is the best one to bring Serbia closer to the European Union."

He stressed that Brussels expects "any country in the Balkans...willing to join the European Union in due course...including Serbia, to have full compliance and cooperation" with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" also noted that it is not clear what the SPS or the far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS) hope to achieve in the coming months because Western diplomats shun those two parties' leaders who, in turn, avoid the Western media. The SRS won the most votes in the last elections but could not convince any other party to form a coalition with it.

As for the SPS, many of its members seem anxious to obtain access to posts in state-run firms and other perks of power from which they have been cut off for over three years. Some SPS people may want to follow the example of their old nemesis, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which recently returned to the delights of office as a reinvented party that has broken with some of the less savory aspects of its past. But would the SPS ever make the supreme sacrifice necessary to follow the example of the HDZ, namely a public break with Milosevic?

In the meantime, attention is focused on Kostunica and his new legislative partners. As Deutsche Welle pointed out on 17 February, three issues are on the table.

First, what will be the future relationship between Belgrade and its diplomatic and economic supporters in the West? As de Ojeda suggested, the new government's actions will come under close scrutiny abroad. Kostunica may be gambling that he can take political risks because the EU and United States cannot afford to let Serbia become a failed state.

Kostunica and some of his friends abroad have already been telling the Western media again that the situation in Serbia could go from bad to worse if the West insists on Serbian cooperation with the war crimes tribunal. He and his sympathizers do not seem to consider seriously the alternative of dropping the SPS and cutting a deal with the Democrats, whose track record with The Hague is not bad by Serbian standards.

Second, what will be the future of Serbian relations with Montenegro? There is no love lost between Kostunica and the Podgorica leadership, which will probably try to convince its Western friends that it is folly to keep Montenegro in an artificial state in which the SPS will play a role.

Finally, there is the question of Kosova. Kostunica speaks as though he believes Belgrade's line that Kosova will remain part of Serbia, but many observers feel that this is just a ruse to use Kosova as a bargaining chip, perhaps for gains in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Whatever Kostunica and the SPS may have in mind, it is clear that alarm bells have gone off in Prishtina. Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told Reuters on 17 February that "it is tragic for Serbia itself and for the region when [the SPS] returns as a key factor to decide the future government."

He added, however, that "this is reality in Serbia right now and not a surprise for us," noting that "even Kostunica's party" acts as a brake on democracy in Kosova. "No one need tell us Kosovars what Serbia is capable of. The latest political events there prove to the international community that no union [between Serbia and Kosova] is possible," Rexhepi concluded.

Lest anyone misunderstand him, the prime minister added that "when we talk about the status of Kosova, I mean the independence of Kosova." Anything less would lead to "a unilateral referendum or declaration of independence. We wouldn't like to get to the point of taking unilateral decisions, but if it is needed, I'll support it all the way." (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA AND THE NATIONAL FLAG QUESTION. Macedonia's opposition ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) made a proposal on 9 February which highlights the emotions generated by the question of national symbols. The party suggested that the Albanian flag should be flown alongside the obligatory Macedonian flag outside the parliament in Skopje.

The junior coalition partner in the government -- the Liberal Democrats (LDP) -- immediately dismissed the opposition PPD's proposal. The LDP argued that, given the sensitivity of the issue, such a step would need to be based on a broad political consensus and passed into law through a large parliamentary majority.

So far, the two major ethnic Macedonian parties -- the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) -- have not reacted to the PPD's proposal.

Ermira Mehmeti of the governing ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI) refused to comment on the PPD's proposal, saying the government has put enacting a law on national symbols on its agenda.

In former Yugoslavia, the Albanian minority used the Albanian flag with its black double-headed eagle on a red background as a symbol of the Albanian people rather than of the Albanian state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001). It continues to be used as such in Kosova.

But for most ethnic Macedonians (and Serbs, too), the Albanian flag is the national flag of Albania. Thus, in the eyes of Macedonians and Serbs, any display of that flag symbolizes greater-Albanian nationalism and separatism. That is why Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is the outgoing government's point-man for Kosova and southern Serbia, said in June 2002 that the government will no longer allow the raising of the Albanian flag in the Bujanovac-Presevo-Medvedja region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2002).

In Macedonia in 1997, the mayors of the overwhelmingly Albanian-populated towns of Gostivar and Tetovo were even jailed for flying the Albanian flag from their town halls. The mayors were later released without having served their full prison terms, but the issue remained on the agenda of the Albanians.

During the 2001 interethnic conflict in Macedonia, international and local experts drafted a peace proposal that included a chapter on national symbols. Later, the proposal was included in the Ohrid peace accord, which ended the hostilities: "With respect to emblems, next to the emblem of the Republic of Macedonia, local authorities will be free to place on front of local public buildings emblems marking the identity of the community in the majority in the municipality, respecting international rules and usages" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July and 17 and 21 August 2001).

The question of national symbols is especially sensitive for many Macedonians. Unlike the Albanians, who widely agree on the double-headed eagle on the red background as their common national symbol, the Macedonians never had such a symbol until Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991. The coat of arms of the Macedonian republic within Yugoslavia showed -- apart from the usual communist insignia such as the red star -- a yellow sun rising behind a mountain range and a representation of Lake Ohrid in the foreground.

In looking for a symbol of Macedonian national identity and the independent state, the then-SDSM dominated government made the fateful decision to adopt the Star of Vergina for the Macedonian flag. This enraged the Greeks, as the star originated from the ancient tomb of Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great (see "RFE/RL East European Perspectives," 26 June 2002).

For most Greeks, ancient Macedonia belongs to Greece's historical heritage, and not to that of a more recently arrived Slav people. Furthermore, the use of the star and the name "Macedonia" for the country was interpreted in Greece as a claim on the northern Greek region of the same name. Consequently, the adoption of the Star of Vergina by a state calling itself Macedonia was almost a cause for war.

Greece accordingly refused to recognize the independent Macedonian state under its constitutional name, Republic of Macedonia, and even imposed an embargo on Macedonia. Under international pressure, Greece finally recognized its neighbor in 1995 under the term Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). But Macedonia had to drop the Star of Vergina from its flag, replacing it with a yellow star on a red background, which looks vaguely like a mirror image of Japan's military flag with its red rising sun on a white background.

However, neither the flag with the Star of Vergina nor the new flag bear symbols of the country's ethnic minorities. On 7 February, the Albanian-language daily "Fakti" demanded that the country's flag should include such symbols; if it did not, the author said, it could be interpreted as the majority's refusal to recognize the minorities. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIAN-ITALIAN FENCE IS GONE, BUT DIVISIONS REMAIN. World media reported the dismantling on 12 February of what was widely referred to as the last Cold War remnant of the Iron Curtain -- the wire fence separating Gorizia, Italy, from Nova Gorica, Slovenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 February 2003). Unlike the Berlin Wall, however, this barrier was built by the West. Italy and Yugoslavia shared the task of demarcating the 1947 border, and the Gorizia section was constructed by Italy.

Nova Gorica arose as the socialist response to "losing" the city of Gorizia. Except for the Secession-style train station, the rest of the town was awarded to Italy in 1947.

The adjoining Slovenian countryside thereby lost its economic center, and the decision was made to build a "new" Gorica. Youth brigades were mobilized to prepare the terrain, and in 1948 the cornerstone of the first apartment block was laid. The new town could not hope to match Gorizia's historical heritage, but it was planned with an emphasis on public parks and -- perhaps optimistically -- dubbed the "city of flowers" in tourist literature.

Many Yugoslavs long felt somewhat chagrined by the idea that they lived behind the Iron Curtain. Following the 1948 Tito-Stalin split, Yugoslavs were relatively free to travel to neighboring Austria and Italy, but were denied access to communist countries such as Hungary and Romania. Perhaps this feeling was best expressed in the 1982 song "Za zelezno zaveso" ("Behind the Iron Curtain") by the Slovenian punk band Pankrti, who satirized the image of subsisting on a diet of beets cultivated by old women working the fields.

On 10 February this year, Italy introduced a new nationwide holiday commemorating the Italian "victims of the sinkholes" and the expulsions from Istria, Rijeka, and Dalmatia. The post-World War II killings of Italians in northwestern Yugoslavia and the exodus of 200,000 to 350,000 Italians from the same area have probably sown Italy's greatest distrust of its eastern neighbor (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 October 2003). The bodies of many victims were thrown into Karst sinkholes, known locally as "fojbe" -- a word that has become synonymous with the atrocities.

Historians generally estimate the number of victims at 3,000 to 5,000 and characterize the killings as ideologically-motivated. On 10 February, however, Piero Fassino, the national secretary of the Democrats of the Left (DS), stated that the events were the result of ethnic hatred directed against Italians and that the number of Italian victims numbered as many as 15,000, "Delo" reported on 12 February.

Four years ago, the weekly "Mladina" released its own variation of the computer game "Tetris," called "Fojbe 2000" ( Intended as an ironic commentary on the ongoing division over the postwar killings in Slovenia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003), players can choose whether to throw communist Partisan or Domobranci (anticommunist Home Guard) soldiers into a Karst sinkhole.

"Mladina" reported on 16 February that Italy's right-wing National Alliance (AN) used the new holiday as an opportunity to distribute flyers at the Slovenian embassy in Rome. The flyers depict a graphic from the "Mladina" game and are titled "Shame! The Slovenes are making fun of the sinkhole victims."

Slovenes have responded to Italian accusations with their own memories of repression. The 1919-1943 Italian occupation of what is now western Slovenia was a time of forced assimilation during which Slavic names were even chiseled from tombstones and replaced with Italianized forms. Gorizia remembers the Italian capitulation of 8 September 1943 as marking the beginning of German occupation, but for those now living in Nova Gorica it signaled the end of a quarter century of oppression and the start of an uprising against the Nazis.

Slovenes have also traditionally charged that the Slovenian minority in Italy faces strong assimilation pressures. It thus came as a rude awakening in Slovenia when that country's Italian-minority deputy, Roberto Battelli, resigned from the presidential commission for nationalities on 31 December, complaining that Slovenia's Italian minority is disappearing under pressure to assimilate, "Delo" reported on 5 January.

Slovenian-Italian relations are dogged not only by such perennial issues but also by small scandals that regularly sour relations. Recent years have seen debates over a bilingual plaque commemorating deportations to concentration camps, vandalism to a statue of Slovenian poet Srecko Kosovel in Trieste, Slovenian demands for the return of looted paintings from Rome, and Italy's refusal to withdraw a $57 million deposit that Slovenia paid as its share of Yugoslav compensation under the 1983 Rome Treaty (Italy argues that the compensation is not paid in full until Croatia pays its part, which it hasn't, and Rome won't withdraw the money from the account because doing so would theoretically release Slovenia from its obligation).

Now that the fence between the two towns has been dismantled, yet another argument has arisen over who should rightfully receive the boundary stone that was embedded in the fence. The Italians have the better claim, according to a 16 February article in "Delo." As Carlo Colella of the Military Geographical Service in Florence has pointed out, this barrier was built by Italian labor at the expense of the Italian state. (Donald F. Reindl,

ARMENIANS DEPLOY TO KOSOVA. The Armenian army platoon that recently left for Kosova has been inspected and made welcome by a U.S. general who commands a multinational peacekeeping contingent there, a U.S. military spokesman said on 17 February.

The 34 Armenian servicemen have been incorporated into a Greek peacekeeping battalion which, in turn, is part of the Multinational Brigade East (MNB East) of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). The U.S.-dominated brigade is led by Brigadier General Jerry Beck and also comprises troops from Poland, Ukraine, and Lithuania.

According to Beck's spokesman, Major Chris Cole, the Armenians, who are on their country's first-ever military mission abroad, left a good impression on the U.S. commander. "On Saturday night we had a social event that the Greeks hold every two months and had an opportunity to meet the Armenian platoon," Cole told RFE/RL from the MNB East headquarters in Ferizaj, eastern Kosova.

"They seemed a very professional, very disciplined unit," he said. "They were very happy to be here, and on behalf of General Beck we certainly welcomed them into our task force. We really look forward to working with them."

The Armenian troops have been trained and equipped by the Greek military and will also receive a daily allowance from the latter during their Kosova duty. They are due to be rotated every six months. (Harry Tamrazian)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "France and Germany have lost 95 per cent of their moral authority. They are not so much a motor now as a brake." -- Unnamed EU diplomat from a smaller member state, quoted by George Parker in the "Financial Times" on 16 February. He was referring to a recent report by the European Commission to the effect that France and Germany head a list of countries that have failed to pass the laws needed to complete the EU's single market.

"Quelle surprise." -- An unnamed European Commission official, commenting on the same point, in ibid.

"Some of the strongest proponents of European [defense] autonomy have been least active in the field. The number of Belgian troops deployed on NATO and peacekeeping missions last year was markedly smaller than the number from Finland, Denmark, or Norway." -- Lord William Walker in the "Financial Times" of 16 February.

"The [ongoing] gradual changes will not satisfy U.S. demands, or enthuse European federalists. Yet experience over the past five years has accustomed European states to long-range peacekeeping operations and has begun to transform European defense co-operation, inside and outside NATO. Another five years of external crises, U.S. criticisms, budgetary constraints, and co-operative compromises may integrate European defense much further." -- ibid.

"Romania's leadership...[is] quick to point out that navigating between the ambitions of superpowers is a Balkan art form that has been shaped by centuries of practice." -- John Florescu in "The Boston Globe" of 16 February.

"There are no final solutions in processes of nation formation." -- Krzysztof Lecki of the University of Silesia, commenting on the rejection by the European Court of Human Rights of an appeal against the Polish authorities' refusal to register a Union of People of Silesian Nationality (quoted by PAP on 17 February).