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Balkan Report: June 25, 2004


25 June 2004, Volume 8, Number 22

WHICH DIRECTION FOR THE BALKANS? The possibility of eventual EU membership has had a tonic effect on promoting reforms in the formerly communist countries in the Balkans. For now, at any rate, it remains the best option for them.

After the fall of communism in Europe, most of the ex-communist states sooner or later decided that their futures lay with Euro-Atlantic integration, or membership in the EU and NATO. Membership in the Atlantic alliance was seen as the best guarantee of security, particularly by those countries that had known precious little of it throughout their histories.

EU membership was a more complex option, which had at least three incentives going for it. First, it psychologically ended the post-1945 division of Europe, allowing the formerly poor communist cousins to join the rich-man's club. Second, it had the practical political and economic advantage of enabling the Eastern Europeans to sit down at the table where decisions affecting their futures would be made. Third, EU membership promised a cornucopia of subsidies, aid projects, and other tangible benefits that would soon be enjoyed by much of the population, who were now also voters.

Had one asked in the mid-1980s which communist country would be the most likely candidate for membership of what was then known as the European Community, the answer certainly would have been Yugoslavia. Today, after former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic destroyed his own country's economy and institutions, forced the other republics to submit to his will or leave the federation, and launched wars against Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosova, the picture looks quite different.

Slovenia has joined both NATO and the EU. Croatia is in their respective waiting rooms. And Macedonia -- together with Albania -- at least has a road map for NATO membership. But Albania and all former Yugoslav republics (except Slovenia) now lag behind Romania and Bulgaria in Euro-Atlantic integration, something that would have been unthinkable two decades ago (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June and 22 November 2002, 27 June 2003, and 16 and 30 January and 28 May 2004).

Albania and the former Yugoslav republics (except Slovenia) have now been dubbed "the western Balkans," a phrase -- like "Euro-Atlantic integration" itself -- that does not exactly roll off the tongue. Indeed, at least one European foreign ministry uses the term "eastern Adriatic" because it supposedly has more positive connotations.

But whatever term is used, it will sound uncomfortable because the situation in which those countries find themselves is uncomfortable. Although Croatia has clearly turned a corner, the others have not. Corruption, crime, shaky political cultures and structures, economies that have barely emerged from communism, and a host of associated problems characterize most if not all of them.

Some observers feel that Serbia -- with up to 10 million people and a central geographic location -- could become a failed state, with all that implies for the security and economies of the entire region and beyond (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July and 8 August 2003). Montenegro's government seeks independent statehood to rid itself of the Serbian albatross, but the EU has strong-armed Podgorica into a forced marriage with Belgrade that neither of the two states really seems to want.

Until Kosova's status is settled -- and that can realistically mean only independence based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule -- it remains a time bomb waiting to explode, as the March violence indicated (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April 2004). As for Bosnia, some observers question whether it is or will ever be a state in the generally accepted sense of the word.

Albania and Macedonia both seem to enjoy domestic peace after some postcommunist turbulence, but they have a long way to go before they can be considered serious candidates for EU membership. Some observers wonder if they, Bosnia, and Kosova should not be watched particularly carefully because, like Serbia, they could end up as failed states.

These and other scenarios, bleak and rosy alike, were discussed on 17 and 18 June at a Berlin conference sponsored by the German Foreign Ministry, the Bertelsmann Foundation, and the Munich-based Center for Applied Policy Research, titled "Rethinking the Balkans." The off-the-record discussions included a number of regional, German, and other EU political and media figures, as well as policy analysts. As seems to be the case at such Balkan conferences in Germany these days, there were few Americans present, and the trans-Atlantic dimension was not discussed, for whatever reason.

This may be at least in part because the conference was focused on EU enlargement as a European project. The general conclusion was that enlargement is the only way forward, both for the countries of the western Balkans and for the EU itself. But many specific points and recommendations emerged as well, and a discussion of these will feature in a coming issue of "Balkan Report." (Patrick Moore)

CROATIA'S LEADERS TALK TO RFE/RL ABOUT EU MEMBERSHIP. On 18 June, the EU formally gave Croatia membership candidate status with negotiations set to begin in early 2005. This was welcome news in Croatia because both the current center-right government and its center-left predecessor had made obtaining EU membership their top overall priority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2004).

Later on 18 June, several of Croatia's top leaders talked to the broadcasters of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service about the news from Brussels and the road ahead.

President Stipe Mesic said that "membership in the European Union is the most important strategic goal of the Republic of Croatia.... [and of] all of us, all citizens regardless of their political allegiance. The [EU's decision] is clearly recognition of all that we have achieved so far in order to make ourselves acceptable to a united Europe."

But Mesic stressed that there is still much to do, adding that "what we have done so far...was not always easy" because some people did not understand what was at stake and others did not want to understand. "What we have before us will not be easier than what we have already done," Mesic noted.

Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was particularly happy because his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) had managed to convince the EU in less than six months that it is indeed a reformed party and not the narrowly nationalistic one led for a decade by the late President Franjo Tudjman (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003). Sanader told RFE/RL that "if we speak in the language of the stock market, then [Croatia's] stocks rose appreciably today. Croatia received its [recognition] as a stable country, a country that has a stable democracy and a stable market economy. This in turn will strengthen our economy. At the same time, I think that this was a big success for my government."

Zlatko Tomcic, whose Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) supports the government in the parliament, said that it is not important whether Croatia joins the EU in 2007, 2008, or 2009. He stressed that the country will not only become part of a huge market but will also join with those countries with which it truly shares common values of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.

Foreign Minister and veteran diplomat Miomir Zuzul noted that the membership negotiations might last a long time, or at least as long as it takes to find the right compromises. "It is not in the interest of either the EU or the European Commission to talk for 10 years because that would be expensive" and a waste of time, he added. But once the talks begin, Croatia's goal should not be to obtain membership as quickly as possible but to do so on the best terms it can get in keeping with its own interests.

Zuzul's predecessor as foreign minister, Tonino Picula, stressed that Croatia has a tough time ahead of it because it has to deal with an expanded EU of 25 members, including its sometimes problematic neighbors, Italy and Slovenia. Picula added that Rome and Ljubljana can be expected to defend their own national interests while presenting their cases in "European" terms. Croatian diplomacy will require skill and perseverance to succeed, he concluded. (Patrick Moore)

POLITICAL SPARRING TAKES TO THE STREETS IN SLOVENIA. Since 1991, the renaming of socialist-era streets and squares in Slovenia has continued at a steady trickle, much like the country's gentle transition from communism to capitalism. Long gone are the days when every town had its obligatory "Tito Street" or "Tito Square," although anomalies such as Izola's "Lenin Street" still linger. Throughout Slovenia, however, many public places still bear less internationally recognizable references to the communist past, including the communist-led Liberation Front (OF), socialist work brigades, and Tito's Partisan heroes.

Renaming Ljubljana's "Tito Street" was easy -- it simply reverted to its centuries-old name "Vienna Street." The same solution applied for renaming a downtown street honoring Mosa Pijade (1890-1957) -- a communist bureaucrat, prison companion of Tito, and translator of Marx. Restoring the name "Railway Street" brought back a name with roots in the mid-19th century.

Attention was recently drawn again to such name changes with the announcement in late May that a downtown Ljubljana street named for Pope John Paul II will be restored to its previous name, "Zrinjski Street." The successful proposal was put forward in the Ljubljana city council by the United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD) -- the heir to Slovenia's Communist Party.

A "Delo" article of 27 May notes that the game of renaming the street began in 1997, when conservative city council member Michael Jarc and the center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) backed a successful resolution on a name-change to commemorate a papal visit to Slovenia. Actually, the game is even older: the original "Elizabeth Street" was renamed "Zrinjski" in interwar Yugoslavia to honor a Croatian noble family -- and to promote the kingdom's official policy of Yugoslavism, in which Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes were encouraged to regard each other's heroes as their own. (Hungarians also claim the noble family as Zrinyi, but that is another story.)

Although the 1997 change honoring the pope was ideologically contested, it was not an entirely incongruous choice. The street is the site of St. Joseph's Church, which was nationalized by the communists and converted into a film studio that produced a string of socialist-era movies.

A 31 May article in the left-wing weekly "Mladina" applauded the decision to remove the reference to the pope, noting with satisfaction that 95 percent of the street's residents had opposed the 1997 change. However, such popular disapproval of renamings does not necessarily reflect political preferences. A "Delo" article of 14 March noted that dozens of towns in neighboring Hungary still have major streets named for Lenin, Marx, and the prewar communist leader Bela Kun -- but there is unanimous resistance to changing the names. Hungary's backlogged administrative system means the expense and time needed to change addresses on official documents is simply too daunting.

Ironically, the epicenter of Ljubljana's own cumbersome administrative system for issuing such documents is itself located on a street with a name that rankles many: Macek Street. Ivan Macek (1908-1993) headed the Slovenian Department for People's Defense (OZNA) -- the secret-police organization responsible for the murder of up to 200,000 people in Slovenia after World War II (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 April 2002).

Although communist-era street names remain pervasive, more often the figures behind the names are obscure. For example, a study of the street names of Ljubljana's Crnuce neighborhood (available at: http://rhv.rutka.net/ulice.html) reveals that nearly one-third have some sort of communist origin -- although the minor party activists they honor are largely forgotten today. Vlado Jama is an educated retiree who has lived in Ljubljana's Sentvid suburb all his life, a stone's throw from Joze Jama Street. When asked about the nearby street, he responded, "I've got no idea who he was -- some communist. My father was a Joze Jama, but not that one."

Simultaneous with the renaming of Ljubljana's Zrinjski Street, the council also approved the naming of a city street after Joze Pucnik (1932-2003), a communist-era dissident and cofounder of the SDS. In what was viewed as a contest between an exiled writer and a reformed communist, Pucnik won 41 percent of the vote in a 1990 runoff election that saw Milan Kucan elected the first president of independent Slovenia.

The decision will provide some small satisfaction for the SDS, which has been campaigning to rename a street and square in the former communist showpiece town of Nova Gorica (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2004). The two sites are currently named after leading communist heroes Boris Kidric (1912-1953) and Edvard Kardelj (1910-1979).

So far, though, the SDS proposal to christen the sites "Pucnik Square" and "Reconciliation Street" has encountered stiff local opposition. Slovenia's westernmost region is sometimes referred to as "red" Primorska because of the local enthusiasm for communism due to its role in liberating the area after nearly three decades of oppressive Italian rule. The ZLSD also opposes the name changes, insisting that the current names are part of the cultural heritage.

The names printed on street signs may seem like a trivial concern. However, it is at such mundane levels that progress and resistance are manifested in the transition from communism to democracy. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu).

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I consider unfortunate the adoption of the draft European constitution a mere couple of days after voters in the European Union countries gave a clear signal that the mandate of the authors of this document has been weakened." -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus, quoted by CTK in Prague on 19 June.

"Good, old Europe...in peace.... And I stress this three times over." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Brussels on the proposed EU constitution. Quoted by Inforadio Berlin-Brandenburg on 19 June.

"I do not want to formulate preconditions, but it can hardly be imagined that the [next] Commission president will come from a country not represented in the core areas of EU bodies and its institutions." -- Schroeder's spokesman Bela Anda, quoted by CNN in Berlin on 21 June. This would effectively rule out any candidate from Britain, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, and Malta.

"The constitutional treaty makes it clear that Europe is, and I quote, 'not a superstate, not a federal state, but a group of nations'.... This treaty makes it plain -- again, for the first time in a European treaty -- that the European Union has only the competences conferred in it by members states and states expressly -- also for the first time -- that member states can withdraw from Europe should they want to." -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Quoted by RFE/RL in London on 21 June.

"It was so excellent that I cannot make any comparison." -- European Commission President Romano Prodi on the merits of the Irish presidency. Quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 18 June.

"I am an old-fashioned politician. I think that he who does after an election what he announced before should not be treated as the village idiot." -- Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, confirming his previously announced intention not to be Prodi's successor. Quoted by ibid.

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