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Balkan Report: September 3, 2004

3 September 2004, Volume 8, Number 32

MACEDONIAN LEADERS TALK TO THE MEDIA. As political tensions continue to rise, three of Macedonia's most influential politicians recently decided to grant interviews to the media. While President Branko Crvenkovski talked to RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 29 August, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski answered questions from the daily "Dnevnik" of 28 August. That same day, "Utrinski vesnik" published an interview with Ali Ahmeti, who chairs the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI).

Since his election as president in April, Crvenkovski has been widely regarded as the gray eminence in Macedonian politics. Although he has little formal power and resigned as chairman of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), he still wields great authority within his own party. Buckovski, for his part, is one of Crvenkovski's possible successors as SDSM chairman.

Unlike Crvenkovski and Buckovski, Ahmeti does not hold any government position. As former leader of the Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), which staged an uprising in early 2001, he is considered the most influential Albanian politician in Macedonia.

The interviews with Crvenkovski, Buckovski, and Ahmeti focused on the referendum against the government's redistricting plans as well as on relations among the coalition partners.

Ethnic Macedonian opposition parties succeeded in gathering the necessary 150,000 signatures for the referendum, and legal experts have made it clear that the parliament has no alternative but to call the referendum.

Crvenkovski stressed that a referendum is one of the most democratic ways for citizens to express their will, adding that, "from this point of view, it may not be bad that the citizens have the opportunity to express their opinion on such an important question [as the redistricting plans]." However, Crvenkovski also criticized the organizers of the referendum drive for offering only "catastrophic scenarios" instead of sound arguments.

The president said he supports the redistricting plans, arguing that a failed referendum will not lead to partition and a successful one will not produce a "new civil war."

Crvenkovski thereby alluded to a recent statement by Ahmeti, whom some Macedonian media quoted as saying that a successful referendum drive might lead to a civil war. In his interview with "Utrinski vesnik," Ahmeti said his statement to the Prishtina daily "Bota Sot" was misquoted. "This was not meant as a threat. I tried to express my concern about any step backward that could endanger the future of Macedonia," Ahmeti said.

But the BDI chairman warned of the dangers posed by referendums backed by only one ethnic group. "We have to convince [all] citizens that this is our country [too]. Initiatives for referendums must be supported by all citizens. We have to explain that referendums supported by one nationality alone can cause conflicts," Ahmeti said. "However good an initiative may be, if it is started by Albanians [alone] it will cause dissatisfaction among the Macedonians, and vice versa."

The big question now is how the governing parties will deal with the referendum that will be held in late October or early November.

Crvenkovski stressed that he opposes it because it will not help Macedonia in its quest for NATO and EU membership. But he refrained from telling voters what to do. "I believe in the...maturity and responsibility of our citizens and am convinced that they [will] make the right decision," Crvenkovski said, adding that Macedonia is up to the challenge.

Buckovski, for his part, was more outspoken, and not only on the referendum. For him, the referendum is the democratic way "to channel the negative energy that resulted from the [discussion about the] Law on Territorial Organization." According to Buckovski, this negative energy also stems from the government's failure to address pressing issues such as the economic and social situation. "The way this [governing] coalition behaved gave the impression that [its only task was to] implement the [2001 Ohrid peace agreement]," Buckovski said, blaming Ahmeti's party for the situation.

But Buckovski also made it clear that the SDSM is considering boycotting the referendum and thereby causing it to fail because a successful referendum would mean the end of the Ohrid agreement. For the referendum to be valid more than half of all registered voters must take part. And only if a majority of participants vote against the redistricting plans will the opposition succeed. "We all know that it will be a devilishly difficult trick to meet the threshold if the Albanians and the SDSM do not take part in the referendum," Buckovski said. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

MILOSEVIC LAUNCHES HIS DEFENSE. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic opened his long-delayed defense case on 31 August at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague by calling the accusations against him "unscrupulous lies." Milosevic -- who faces life in jail if found guilty -- is charged with 66 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the 1990s conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosova. Milosevic has also been charged with genocide and complicity in genocide for the war in Bosnia that left some 200,000 people dead.

In his opening defense statement, Milosevic, the first head of state to stand trial before an international tribunal, denounced the accusations against him as a "distortion of history."

"Accusations brought against me are unscrupulous, manipulated lies, crippling of the law, a defeat of morals, and a completely irresponsible distortion of history. Everything has been turned upside down in order to protect from responsibility those who are truly responsible for the tragic events," he said.

Milosevic, who is acting as his own lawyer, said the international community was "the main force for the destruction" of Yugoslavia. "There is a fundamental historical fact that one should proceed from [the beginning] when seeking to understand what led to everything that happened in Yugoslavia from 1991 until today, and that is the violent destruction of a European state, Yugoslavia, which originated from the statehood of Serbia, the only ally of the democratic world in that part of the world over the past two centuries," he said.

Milosevic also blamed NATO for the conflict in Kosova, where more than 10,000 people died and about 800,000 ethnic Albanians were expelled in 1998 and 1999.

Milosevic told the court that he needs more than the 150 days given to him to cross-examine the approximately 1,000 witnesses he has said he intends to call to the stand. Milosevic also demanded two days to present the outlines of his defense case, instead of the four hours given to him. But Judge Patrick Robinson ordered Milosevic to proceed, noting the defense case has repeatedly been delayed.

From its beginning in February 2002, the trial has been marked by numerous interruptions and postponements caused by Milosevic's precarious state of health. The trial has been adjourned 14 times in total, with the defense case alone being postponed five times since April, when doctors determined that Milosevic's blood pressure was dangerously high.

On 6 July, after the fifth delay in the opening of the defense case, Robinson said the trial needed a "radical review" in light of Milosevic's health.

The prosecution has urged the court to appoint a defense lawyer to act for Milosevic. They accuse him of "hijacking the trial to his agenda while stopping just short of obstructionism."

But lawyers Steven Kay and Gillian Higgins, appointed to ensure Milosevic gets a fair trial, have warned that it would only add more stress if he were forced to take on a defense lawyer against his will.

Jim Landale, a tribunal spokesman, told journalists on 31 August that the court must balance the rights of the accused against the interests of justice. "The judges have to decide what the appropriate next step is in the future conduct of the trial. Whether it's appropriate at this juncture to decide to impose defense counsel on Mr. Milosevic in some form, or to decide that his interests and his assertion that he wants to represent himself override that. So the judges will be having to balance his rights, the rights of the accused, against the interests of justice," Landale said.

Some critics say the trial delays are only harming the pursuit of justice in aftermath of the Balkan wars. But other analysts argue that, although the trial is complex and difficult, it is progressing fairly and efficiently.

Bogdan Ivanisevic, a researcher for the NGO Human Rights Watch, said both the highest professional standards and the rights of the accused must be observed. "The success or failure of the trial can be measured by the extent to which the judges and the prosecutors are acting independently and are upholding professional standards and the extent to which the rights of the accused are respected.," he said. "That's what a criminal trial is about, and the Milosevic trial is not an exception."

Ivanisevic said the tribunal's main task -- to provide justice for the victims and their families in the former Yugoslavia -- is being accomplished "slowly but surely."

Although he defends himself in the courtroom, Milosevic is assisted by a team of lawyers who prepare interviews with potential witnesses and help him study thousands of pages of documents filed by prosecutors. The first defense witness will be called on 7 September, but the court has not revealed who it will be. (Eugen Tomiuc)

RFE/RL REPORTS ON U.S. AND ORIGINS OF BOSNIAN WAR (Part 1). RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service recently began broadcasting a series of documentary programs on U.S. policy toward the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and the subsequent war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which lasted from 1992-95. The program aims to examine the major U.S. foreign-policy concerns with regard to these events and accounting for the eventual U.S. involvement in the war in Bosnia.

It addresses struggles of the administrations of Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton to fashion a coherent Bosnian policy. The program also examines the factors that prompted the Clinton administration's decision in August 1995 to intervene by bombing Serbian positions in order to end the war.

The project is a result of extensive research, as well as series of interviews with U.S. policy-makers, diplomats, military personnel, and experts. The interviews include Anthony Lake, former national security adviser to Clinton; James Baker and George Shultz, former U.S. secretaries of state, Jim O'Brien and Charles Redman, former presidential envoys to the Balkans; Ivo H. Daalder, former member of the National Security Council; Lord David Owen, international mediator for former Yugoslavia; Victor Jackovich, wartime U.S. ambassador to Bosnia; Roy Gutman, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the Bosnian Serbs' detention camps; and many others.

The author is RFE/RL broadcaster Vlado Azinovic, who recently completed his Ph.D. at the American University in London on U.S. policy towards the war in former Yugoslavia. In the coming weeks, "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will present installments from the broadcast series.

The perceptions of individual U.S. diplomats and statesmen played a key role in policy formulation. U. S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia John D. Scanlon -- who once called Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic "a good man" and said that "even though one might see much to complain about, he got Yugoslav politics off dead-center" -- was not the only U.S. diplomat whose judgments of the developing crisis in Yugoslavia might have been clouded by his own personal impressions of the country, and particularly its armed forces which played a pivotal role in defying the Soviets during the Cold War, said Ron Nietzke, former deputy chief of mission in the U.S. Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia.

"The key officials who were at important positions in the first Bush administration were Brent Scowcroft, his national security adviser, and Larry Eagleburger as deputy secretary of state, then acting secretary of state, and finally for a brief period secretary of state. I believe that from their experience in Serbia and Belgrade, they were greatly impressed with the historical myth that had grown around the exploits of the Partisans in the Second World War, as well as the strength and size of the Yugoslav forces during the Cold War period. Personally, I believe that they consistently overestimated both the will and the fighting capacity of the Yugoslav Army," Nietzke said.

Although there was a concern in U.S. government circles that the breakup of Yugoslavia would be resolved through widespread violence, particularly in Bosnia, the belief was that, although such violence was not acceptable from a humanitarian perspective, it did not pose a challenge to vital U.S. interests. There was also a belief that Europe was not only willing but perhaps able to take care of the conflict, former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said.

"The Yugoslav problem did not present a vital national security interest to the United States [in 1991]. The Gulf War, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Madrid peace conference [on the Middle East], and everything else that America was involved in and leading was far more important to America's national interests than yet another conflict in the Balkans. And furthermore, the European Community [the forerunner to the EU] wanted the leadership of this effort because they were of the view that America was leading everywhere else and they wanted to take care of this problem that was occurring on Europe's doorstep. Europe wanted to lead, and we quite readily gave them the lead, but they did not do much with it," Baker said.

The level of expertise on Yugoslavia in the Bush administration was almost unprecedented. Yet, the key officials decided to keep Washington on the sidelines and pursue what they believed were the more important international issues, veteran U.S. Balkan diplomat Louis Sell said.

"The problem with Yugoslavia was not lack of knowledge. It was pretty clear what was going on, it was lack of will to engage. For over a year prior to the outbreak of civil war, U.S. Ambassador [to Yugoslavia] Warren Zimmerman...[repeatedly] urged Secretary Baker to visit Yugoslavia and get engaged in the Yugoslav problem. Unfortunately, high-level attention was elsewhere," Sell said.

Preoccupied with the Gulf War and concern over the future of the Soviet Union, the United States did not deploy its diplomatic big guns until June 1991, just days before the long-announced secession of Slovenia and Croatia and the outbreak of war.

Baker flew to Belgrade for a one-day marathon of meetings with the leaders of federal Yugoslavia and the various republics. He held 11 separate meetings in a single day: one with each of the republic's presidents, and a series with the federal government. In a recent RFE/RL interview, Baker said that his visit to Yugoslavia was prompted by the rapidly deteriorating situation.

"We thought it was the least we could do. Furthermore, we were asked to do so by all 32 nations of the CSCE [Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the forerunner to the OSCE]. We were asked to take the message to Belgrade, to meet with all the republic leaders and tell them that the countries of the CSCE expected them to observe the obligations under the Helsinki accords and if they were going to break up, to do it through negotiations and peacefully rather than through the use of force," Baker said.

The content of Baker's meetings remains a matter of great historical controversy. His message was entirely consistent with what the United States had been saying both publicly and privately all year. He urged the Croatian and Slovenian leaders to reconsider their decisions to secede. If they would not back down, he urged them to delay secession and to negotiate it with the Yugoslav federal government.

An unnamed U.S. diplomat with Baker said the Serbs took his comments as a green light for sending the federal army to prevent Slovenia's secession, while all the Croats and Slovenes heard was calls to democratize. The war broke out in a week.

While acknowledging that his Belgrade discussions had "not changed the situation very much," Baker himself vehemently rejected the possibility that his favoring of the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia or anything else he did or did not say might have ignited the conflict.

"That's pure bullshit! You can take it from me and you can quote me! The U.S. backed the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia and so were all 32 countries of the CSCE. That was the policy that I was sent to Belgrade to articulate. That we supported the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia, unless she wanted to break up peacefully and not through the use of force. There was no change of policy until the EC [European Community] at the instigation of Germany, Austria, and some others insisted on recognizing Slovenia and Croatia, " Baker said.

The failure of the United States to arrest the trend toward breakup and violence could hardly be attributable to the messages conveyed during the talks in Belgrade. The failure lay more likely in the fact that the United States did not, and probably could not, credibly threaten force to back up its objectives, according to U.S. diplomat Ron Nietzke.

"George Bush senior had his mind made up early in the crisis, and Secretary of State Baker famously summed it up in his remark: 'We don't have a dog in that fight.' Bush and Baker were thus determined from the outset that we would not become involved militarily. While Eagleburger and Scowcroft, and at lower level Tom Niles in the Department of State, all old Yugoslav hands, were worried about the situation, they were never sufficiently concerned to put their careers and jobs on the line, and argue strongly against Bush and Baker that we do something", Nietzke said.

The old mindset on Yugoslavia was still prevailing in Washington while the country was disintegrating, said Victor Jackovich, the first U.S. ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"Our policy at the time was in favor of territorial integrity of a democratic Yugoslavia, not the one that would be ruled by a dictatorship. We expected the country to benefit from the same political and democratic reforms as other countries of East-Central Europe. We even thought that, as a moderate and liberal socialist country, Yugoslavia would be on the forefront of these changes. But it did not happen. Our policy was still favoring the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia because the people in Washington did not acknowledge the strength of national movements that were emerging there in the late 1980s. They did not believe that the political elite among the Croats, Slovenians, and [Bosnian Muslims] had popular support for their call for independence from Yugoslavia. The Bush administration officials thought these movements to be fragile and weak for they did not have control over their respective republics. I remember lengthy discussions in Washington over whether or not should we recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina at all. It was only after the strength and determination of these movements became clearly visible from Washington and after we witnessed the irreversible destruction of the old Yugoslav institutions that we decided to recognize them, and very, very slowly offer our support," Jackovich said. (compiled by Patrick Moore from text by Vlado Azinovic)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Violence against European journalists in Iraq can only aggravate the position of European Muslims." -- Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, who heads Bosnia's Islamic Community, on the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq. Quoted by Hina in Sarajevo on 31 August.

"The present crisis in Iraq and in the Near East in general cannot be resolved by force but only through patient dialogue, in which all participants fully respect one another." -- Ceric in ibid.