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Balkan Report: September 24, 2004

24 September 2004, Volume 8, Number 35

CROATIA'S PRESIDENT GOES ONLINE WITH RFE/RL. In an online interview with users of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service website on 20 September, Croatian President Stipe Mesic dismissed the argument that possible independence for Kosova will lead to fragmentation of Croatia or other states in the region. Mesic argued that the Croatian authorities will "accept any legal and legitimate decision" on Kosova's final status, adding that his advice to other Balkan countries is to accept European standards and look toward the future rather than the past.

Asked who was the greater man, the late Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito or Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, Mesic replied that it is impossible to compare the two because they lived in different times and under different circumstances. Many Croats do, in fact, compare Tito and Tudjman because both were from Croatia, had a military background, were tough rulers, and engaged in their respective personality cults.

Mesic declined to take a stand as to who was at fault regarding the tensions in the 1990s between Tudjman and Bosnia-Herzegovina's President Alija Izetbegovic. Mesic argued that this is a matter for historians to decide since neither Tudjman nor Izetbegovic is alive and hence able to answer for himself.

Mesic's own relationship with Tudjman varied from close to stormy, and Mesic was one of several prominent moderate Croats who did not hide his disapproval of the 1993-94 Croatian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia. Many observers held Tudjman responsible for that conflict, since he seemed bent on partitioning Bosnia with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and establishing a greater Croatia.

Asked whether he, as the last president of the second or communist-era Yugoslavia, feels some responsibility for the demise of that state, Mesic replied that it was clear to him when he arrived in Belgrade in 1991 to try to take up the rotating chair of the eight-member Yugoslav presidency that federal Yugoslav institutions had ceased to function. The solution, he felt, was to reach a new political agreement. The presidency consisted of representatives of the six republics -- Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia -- plus the Serbian autonomous provinces of Kosova and Vojvodina, which enjoyed a legal status close to that of the republics under the 1974 constitution.

But, Mesic argued, Milosevic did not want such a compromise. Instead, Milosevic sought to break up Yugoslavia and create a greater Serbia, Mesic continued. In the course of carrying out his plan, Milosevic indulged in genocide and other war crimes, and for that he is now answering before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Mesic said.

In fact, Milosevic never gave Mesic the opportunity to lead the country to a compromise solution because the Serbian leader and his three allies on the presidency prevented the Croat from taking over the rotating chair.

Mesic was supported by the representatives of Slovenia, Bosnia, and Macedonia, all of which were to declare their independence in the following months when it became clear that Milosevic was interested in controlling the federation and would destroy it if he could not dominate it.

Turning to the past and future of a Yugoslav state, Mesic said that three states existed in the 20th century under the name Yugoslavia and all of them failed. He was referring to the interwar monarchy, Tito's communist creation that arose in the wake of World War II, and Milosevic's short-lived rump state that consisted only of Serbia and Montenegro. Mesic said he believes that the future of the former Yugoslav republics is to join the European Union, which some of them will do sooner, others later. (Patrick Moore)

CLERICS GET OUT THE VOTE FOR THE NATIONALIST PARTIES IN BOSNIA. A recent RFE/RL broadcast calls attention to the questionable political role of clerics in the run-up to the 2 October local elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, like most of former Yugoslavia, is a largely secular society as a result of decades of communist oppression of the Roman Catholic, Serbian Orthodox, and Muslim faiths. The clergy and religious organizations in particular were singled out for communist persecution, but even public manifestations of belief by private individuals were often subject to mockery or worse.

It is true that many nationalists stressed the religious aspect of their ethnic identity during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, and that more than a few individuals turned to religion to find a new orientation in response to the upheavals of those years. But power remains largely in the hands of the political, military, business, and even criminal elites that emerged before and during the conflict, and not of the clergy as such.

The Bosnian general elections of 5 October 2002 produced a clear victory for the three nationalist parties: the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). On 2 October this year, voters will go to the polls in local elections that may well see a reinforcement of that trend.

As a recent program by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service pointed out, many clerics are trying to influence the faithful to vote for the nationalists. As academic Muhamed Filipovic told RFE/RL, when any prominent cleric tells his flock to vote for the good or salvation of their respective ethnic group, it is clear that he means they should vote for their respective nationalist party and not for the Social Democrats or other nonnationalist slates.

Evidence of this behavior is not hard to find. Across Bosnia, one need only listen to what is being said to the faithful at the mosques regarding how and for whom to vote. In Konjevic Polje, an Orthodox church has been built on Muslim land, and the local clergy has been active in giving the area a distinctly Serbian stamp.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Vinko Puljic, who is also Bosnia's first-ever cardinal and reportedly a favorite of Pope John Paul II, openly called on the Pope to protect the Roman Catholic population, stressing that the Croats do not enjoy full equality with the Muslims and Serbs as they are supposed to under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. This just happens to be a favorite theme of the HDZ as well.

Filipovic says that these practices reflect a mind-set that believes that society should be organized on the basis of ethnically and hence religiously pure communities, each with its own clearly defined territory. He notes that such beliefs run counter to the Bosnian Constitution and that those who advocate them should be taken to court.

Srdjan Dizdarevic, who heads Bosnia's Helsinki Committee, argues that political involvement by clerics is nothing new and is a growing problem. He maintains that the close "symbiotic" links between the clerics and the nationalists threaten to undermine Bosnia as a secular state in which individual freedoms include strict protection of the right of all people to live their lives as they see fit.

Sociologist Salih Foco agrees, stressing that supposedly democratic elections won by nationalists are not really democratic. This is because the nationalists' victories are usually the result of pressure on voters to vote for the nationalists or be regarded as traitors to or enemies of their religion and ethnic group, he adds.

The Franciscan friar Fra Marko Orsolic, who heads the International Interreligious Center in Sarajevo, maintains that everyone, including the clergy, has the right to express political views in a democracy -- but not in a religious building. Clerics, like soldiers and police, have every right to take part in politics, but as individuals and not as representatives of their faith or institutions, he says.

But what can be done about clerics abusing their position for political ends? Fra Orsolic suggests that a joint watchdog committee be set up to include representatives of the clergy, political parties, and the state electoral bodies. Filipovic believes that High Representative Paddy Ashdown should emphasize that political life be firmly grounded in secularism and take appropriate action to that end. Filipovic stresses that only through a political culture free of overt clericalism and nationalism will Bosnia be truly able to take its place in Europe.

But in the run-up to the 2 October elections, the RFE/RL broadcast suggested, polarization is likely to become even more intense. This is because the parties will seek to win over the undecided voters, whom polls suggest make up more than 30 percent of the electorate in both the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation. (Patrick Moore)

THE MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION IN A QUANDARY. A group of just over 20 opposition lawmakers of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the Liberal Party, and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) moved a vote of no confidence on 15 September. Gjorgji Trendafilov of the VMRO-DPMNE said a no-confidence motion is the only way to raise some questions regarding the governing Social Democratic Union's (SDSM) poor record.

As might be expected, the governing coalition of the SDSM, Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) rejected the motion on 18 September by a large majority, 67 votes to 22 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2004).

The opposition's poor showing reflects a deeper internal struggle. The initiators of the no-confidence motion failed to get the backing of all lawmakers of their own party, the VMRO-DPMNE. But there are fault lines running through other opposition parties, such as the PDSH, as well.

The conservative VMRO-DPMNE still suffers from the long-standing feud between former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski on the one hand, and former Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski, who succeeded Georgievski as party chairman, on the other. The rift between Georgievski and Gruevski resulted in the foundation of a new party, the VMRO-Narodna, by Georgievski's followers in July (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June and 9 July 2004).

Some Macedonian media speculated that the no-confidence motion was masterminded by Georgievski to wrong-foot Gruevski, who had reportedly planned to move a no-confidence motion after the referendum against the government's redistricting plans, which is slated for 7 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July,13 and 27 August, and 3 and 11 and 17 September 2004). Gruevski's plan must now be postponed, as the constitution provides for a 90-day period between two no-confidence motions.

Whereas Georgievski has kept a low profile in the leadership struggle, Gruevski is trying to stay in the headlines. With his latest interviews and editorials, Gruevski attacked the government, mainly for its performance in the administrative reform and its economic policy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September 2004).

It is clear that the VMRO-DPMNE -- independent of who is its leader -- wants to return to power, which it lost in the parliamentary elections two years ago. But the big question is who will be its ethnic Albanian coalition partner.

In a long interview with the Bulgarian news agency Fokus, PDSH Chairman Arben Xhaferi said on 16 September that a successful referendum against the government's redistricting plans would inevitably result not only in early parliamentary elections, but also in new negotiations to revise the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement and establish some form of "soft" international protectorate over Macedonia. "Unlike the Macedonian politicians, I have a positive attitude towards this solution," Xhaferi said.

Regarding the VMRO-DPMNE, Xhaferi said his own party is now having difficulties finding a potential ethnic Macedonian coalition partner, since most parties have lost their clear ideological profile. "The VMRO has [given up] its [conservative] doctrine, has lost its essential nature as the VMRO, and turned into a DPMNE [Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity] only," Xhaferi said, adding that the loss of the VMRO's ideological underpinnings has led it to make "unpredictable political decisions." The original VMRO was a Macedonian national-liberation movement against the Ottoman Empire founded in the late 19th century.

Macedonian media interpreted Xhaferi's statements as a clear sign that he would prefer a VMRO led by Georgievski rather than by Gruevski, who wants to transform the VMRO-DPMNE into a European-style moderate conservative party.

Georgievski's followers, for their part, also say they would prefer to form a coalition with the PDSH. Vera Janevska, who leads the VMRO-Narodna, said the coalition of the VMRO-DPMNE and PDSH, which governed the country between 1998 and 2002, functioned much better than the current coalition government of the SDSM and BDI. "We, as the ideological successors of the VMRO-DPMNE [headed by Georgievski], are convinced that, working with the PDSH, we would find a much better approach to [redistricting] than the one forced upon us by the SDSM and the BDI," Janevska said.

Gruevski reportedly told VOA that the PDSH leans towards Georgievski's wing of the VMRO-DPMNE, adding that he expects a new Albanian party to emerge because the PDSH has lost support among ethnic Albanians.

However, it remains to be seen whether Xhaferi's PDSH will remain united. Xhaferi's recent appeal to his followers to support the referendum was not met with unanimous approval. PDSH Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci, who is often regarded as the party's gray eminence, told the media on the sidelines of a party convention in Tetovo on 17 September that the party will not call on its members to support the referendum. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Everyone is responsible in their state for preserving European values and democratic principles." -- Serbian President Boris Tadic, to his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Madl. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 14 September.

"I insist on everyone being on his own territory. That is my political stand under which Serbia, Montenegro, the Republika Srpska, and, God willing, the [former] Republic of Serbian Krajina [in Croatia], should all be in one state." -- Serbian Radical Party leader Tomislav Nikolic, in "Slobodna Bosna," quoted by Reuters from Sarajevo on 19 September.