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Balkan Report: October 8, 2004


8 October 2004, Volume 8, Number 37

ELECTIONS RAISE QUESTIONS IN BOSNIA, SERBIA, AND SLOVENIA. Voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Slovenia went to the polls recently. The results tended to reaffirm some developing trends, not all of which may be to the liking of their Western partners.

Bosnia-Herzegovina held local elections for the mayors and town councils in 142 municipalities on 2 October. This was the first ballot since the 1992-95 conflict to be funded and organized by Bosnians themselves, and also the first in which mayors were directly elected.

Initial reports suggest that of the 122 municipalities where tallies are largely complete, 99 will likely be controlled by one or another of the three ruling nationalist parties, which were also the parties in power during the 1992-95 conflict: the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), or the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ).

The only opposition gains were made by moderate former Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), which won in about 20 municipalities, including Banja Luka and the former SDS stronghold of Trebinje in eastern Herzegovina.

Many commentators attributed the nationalists' successes to the low 45.5 percent turnout, which is at least partly the result of voter apathy, particularly among younger voters in urban areas.

Complete results are expected in about one month because of the large number of absentee ballots yet to be counted. High Representative Paddy Ashdown said that "what is important now is that politicians put campaigning behind them, return to work, and concentrate on the necessary reforms...in order to give this country a future in Europe and NATO."

It is nonetheless worth noting that the continuing political domination by the nationalists is precisely what has been holding Bosnia back from Euro-Atlantic integration, particularly the reluctance of SDS officials in the Republika Srpska to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and bring indictees to justice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004).

The three nationalist parties govern within the constitutional system set down in the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. A paradoxical consequence of their political power used in pursuit of their own respective, often mutually exclusive, agendas is that an all-powerful, unelected foreign high representative sometimes overrules and even ousts duly elected nationalist officials. They have no right of appeal against his decisions, which are ostensibly made in the name of Western democratic values and the Dayton agreement.

Some observers consider this system the only one that is practical, given the antagonisms between the three respective nationalist parties and their corresponding agendas.

But at least three other -- equally controversial -- options are widely discussed inside and outside Bosnia. One is to abolish the high representative's post and leave the Bosnians to determine their own fate, which probably means continued nationalist rule without any outside arbiter.

The second possibility is to throw out the Dayton agreement and hold a new constitutional convention, which would presumably be dominated by the nationalists.

The third option is to partition the country between Serbia and Croatia, leaving a Muslim rump mini-state. This solution might please Serbian and Croatian nationalists but would likely leave most Muslims feeling very insecure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003 and 23 January 2004). Does the nationalist victory in the latest local elections offer any hope out of this seeming impasse?

The day after Bosnians went to the polls in a local election, citizens of Serbia did the same. And as in Bosnia, this was the first time in decades that mayors were elected directly.

Serbian voters reaffirmed trends that emerged in the 13 and 27 June Serbian presidential vote and in the first round of local elections on 19 September, in which President Boris Tadic's reformist Democratic Party and Tomislav Nikolic's hard-line Serbian Radical Party (SRS) emerged as the two strongest political forces in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July, and 8, 20, and 27 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004).

Amid a low turnout of just under 23 percent, incomplete official or unofficial returns suggested that the Democrats won in Belgrade and 23 other municipalities, while the Radicals were ahead in Novi Sad and 18 other localities. In Belgrade, Democrat Nenad Bogdanovic beat the Radicals' Aleksandar Vucic by just a few percentage points. In Novi Sad, Radical Maja Gojkovic won by just 695 votes over Democrat Borislav Novakovic, who conceded defeat even before election officials announced the results.

Although drawing conclusions about national political trends on the basis of local elections is risky in any country, many commentators began on election night to discuss the future of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government. His cabinet includes neither the Radicals, who are the strongest single party in the parliament, nor the Democrats, whose leader Tadic tops recent public opinion polls. "Cohabitation" between him and Kostunica is often uneasy at best, and the rivalry between the Democrats and Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) runs deep. Polls suggest, moreover, that the smaller parties in Kostunica's cabinet might not win enough votes to return to the parliament if new general elections were held soon.

Furthermore, there is the wild card represented by wealthy businessman Bogoljub Karic, who made an impressive third-place showing in the 13 June first round of the Serbian presidential race. Karic's newly founded Snaga Srbije movement -- a name by analogy with Forza Italia -- is not itself represented in the parliament yet, but it is an open secret that many legislators are under Karic's influence.

Might Serbia -- which has seen several parties rise and fall over the past decade and a half -- now be heading for a two-party system centered on reformist and hard-line camps, with Karic's party occupying some sort of kingmaker role? Will the voters eventually turn their backs on the Democrats and Radicals if either or both of them some day prove ineffective in government, as the voters have done with other parties in recent years? Does the low turnout in this election reflect voter fatigue after a series of polls, or does it suggest a more profound alienation from the political process? And does the low turnout in Bosnia reflect a similar pattern?

Finally, on 3 October Slovenian voters chose a new parliament with a 60 percent turnout. While the precise arithmetic for determining the next coalition government must await final returns on 13 October and a possible recount, it is clear that the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) of former Defense Minister Janez Jansa won a clear victory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 October 2004).

The most immediate question is whether he will be able to put together a working majority in the 90-seat parliament with the help of the center-right New Slovenia party (NSi) and the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) alone, or whether he will have to find a fourth partner as well.

If he does need a fourth partner, a likely possibility is the far-right Slovenian National Party (SNS). What might the other members of the EU and NATO say about working with a government that includes the SNS? Might such a Slovenian government face the same sort of EU sanctions as the Austrians did when the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) of Joerg Haider entered the cabinet not so long ago?

Furthermore, the Croatian media reacted with alarm to news of a center-right victory, since Jansa and his conservative potential coalition partners have ruled out any compromise with Croatia in their long-standing border dispute. The outgoing center-left Prime Minister Anton Rop recently threatened to block Croatia's EU membership application over the border issue but retracted his comments under pressure from Brussels. Will Jansa prove as agreeable to Brussels' wishes as was Rop (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 October 2004)? (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA RECEIVES EU'S PREPAREDNESS QUESTIONNAIRE. One of his last official missions took outgoing European Commission President Romani Prodi to Skopje on 1 October. The Macedonian government eagerly awaited his visit, since he was to bring with him the European Commission's questionnaire on the country's preparedness for EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2004). Achieving EU and NATO membership is the chief foreign policy priority of the Macedonian government.

In a speech before many of Macedonia's most prominent people, including President Branko Crvenkovski and Prime Minister Hari Kostov, Prodi said that "we expect to receive replies to an impressive number of questions on political, economic, and technical issues, which will allow the commission...to formulate its opinion [as to whether] the country is ready to undertake the rights and obligations of membership [in] the EU," according to a press release by Prodi's office (see http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/commissioners/prodi/index_en.htm). Prodi stressed that replying to the questionnaire is not an exam, but rather a dialogue between Brussels and Skopje.

Prodi said Macedonian membership in the EU is part of that body's plans to eventually include all Balkan states as members. "Macedonia's success [in] its aspirations towards European integration will be meaningful not only for the country itself, but also for the EU and for the whole region," Prodi said.

During his one-day visit, he also spoke about the current political situation in Macedonia, most notably the political paralysis caused by the upcoming referendum against the government's controversial plans to reduce the number of administrative districts and to decentralize and streamline the state administration (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 July and 3, 11, and 17 September 2004).

For that reason, many pundits paid special attention to the last paragraphs of Prodi's speech. "You need to continue supporting and implementing the Framework Agreement [also known as the 2001 Ohrid peace accord], strengthen interethnic relations, and build confidence across ethnic and other divides," Prodi said, alluding to the government's decentralization efforts that are part of the implementation of the peace agreement. Prodi added that Macedonia must pursue "reforms in the judiciary and...police, fight corruption, and pursue economic reforms reducing the bureaucratic burden and guaranteeing a level playing field for business so as to attract foreign investments."

The decentralization problem was also on the agenda of another high-ranking Western diplomat, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman, who also visited Skopje on 1 October as part of his tour of the Balkan countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 1 October 2004). After meeting Crvenkovski, Grossman said that the presentation of the European Commission's questionnaire marked a "very significant day for Macedonia," stressing that the United States backs Macedonia's bid for EU and NATO membership. Like Prodi, Grossman called for the full implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement.

The decentralization and redistricting plans dominated Prodi's talks with leading opposition politicians who support the referendum. Nikola Gruevski, who chairs the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), said after his meeting with Prodi that it is "unacceptable that certain diplomats dub those who support the referendum as opponents of the EU, NATO, and the Framework Agreement." Western diplomats have repeatedly warned that a successful referendum would be a stumbling block on Macedonia's path to EU and NATO integration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 27 September 2004).

A few days after Prodi's visit, Gruevski criticized a comment by Michael Sahlin for the Institute for War and Peace's "Balkan Crisis Report" (see http://www.iwpr.net/index.pl?archive/bcr3/bcr3_200410_518_7_eng.txt) as foreign interference in Macedonian affairs. Sahlin, who is the EU's special representative in Skopje, wrote that the referendum means taking a "step [back] from EU membership." Sahlin argued: "Firstly, the referendum, if successful, may result in a serious setback for Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic ambitions. All capitals in the Euro-Atlantic area will have to wonder whether Macedonia can and will move towards modernity and Europeanization. Secondly, the [accompanying] political confusion may mean that serious problems with the economy cannot be tackled. Thirdly, reforms of other fundamental areas, including the judiciary, may be put on hold. And finally, there is real risk that the overall security situation might again become more uncertain."

Gruevski said that unlike Sahlin, many Macedonian intellectuals believe that the referendum proves that Macedonia's orientation is European and democratic. Gruevski added that, in the end, the referendum will lead to a better version of the decentralization and redistricting plans.

The visits of Prodi and Grossman thus involved mixed signals for Macedonia: on the one hand, the promise of EU (and NATO) membership, on the other hand strong warnings against the referendum on the government's redistricting plans. However, given that there is no compromise in sight over the redistricting issue between the governing coalition and the opposition, it remains to be seen whether this kind of carrot-and-stick policy will help Macedonia overcome its current political paralysis. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

HAGUE PROSECUTOR DEFENDS LONG TRIAL FOR FORMER SERBIAN LEADER. Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, told a conference organized by Berlin's Aspen Institute on 30 September that she rejects charges made by unnamed critics that the trial of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is taking too long, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 September 2004). The Serbian government extradited him to The Hague on 28 June 2001, and his trial began early the following year.

Del Ponte said in Berlin that "a fair trial needs time," especially because the charges against him cover a period of 10 years. She stressed that she faces serious problems in piecing together evidence because of noncooperation by unnamed governments and witnesses.

There will be no reconciliation between the peoples of former Yugoslavia unless their elected officials cooperate with the tribunal in bringing "powerful people" to justice, she added. Del Ponte argued that the days when such kingpins as Milosevic are able to act "with impunity" are over. (Patrick Moore)

INTERNATIONAL MEDIATOR SAYS NO QUICK FIX FOR BOSNIA. Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the outgoing international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told German public ZDF television on 28 September that the overall situation in Bosnia is calm but that it will take a change of generations before the effects of the 1992-95 conflict will truly begin to ease and disappear.

Comparing Bosnia with Germany after World War II, Schwarz-Schilling, who is a former German government minister, said that Germany had an easier time in making its transition to democracy because the Allies had already swept the Nazis from power. In Bosnia, he noted, many people involved in the wartime nationalist ethnic cleansing campaigns still hold important positions, and do so as a deliberate consequence of the Dayton peace agreement.

Looking back to his own past 10 years as international mediator, Schwarz-Schilling said that time has come for the Bosnians to take control of their own affairs. He added, however, that he will return to Bosnia "perhaps a few more times" in the coming year on unspecified troubleshooting missions at the request of the Bosnian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003, and 24 June and 23 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003). (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "My government and I remain fully committed and guarantee you transparent, efficient, and standard procedures." -- Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano to U.S. potential investors in New York on 27 September. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"I believe it is in Europe's interest to support Turkey in its intention -- which is unique in the region -- to combine nonfundamentalist Islam with the values of the European Enlightenment, which is an addition to stability for Turkey but also for Europe." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Berlin on 3 October. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"Turkey's membership in the European Union means a reconciliation of civilizations within the European Union." -- Erdogan, quoted in ibid.

"Once a country applies to join the EU, it becomes our slave." -- Unnamed "Brussels official joking" to "The Economist" of 25 September.

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