Accessibility links

Balkan Report: November 12, 2004

12 November 2004, Volume 8, Number 40

SERBIA'S PRESIDENT CALLS FOR REALISM. Serbian President Boris Tadic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade recently that his country must observe its international obligations and meet the expectations of the most developed countries if it wants to escape its chronic poverty and improve its standard of living. He added that this in no way means that Serbs must renounce their traditions or national goals (see

Tadic argued that the government must cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal because Serbia's own laws oblige it to do so. "This country has a law stating that all who have been indicted for war crimes by the Hague tribunal must be arrested and extradited" to that body, he noted.

It is, moreover, in Serbia's own interest to do so. "Non-cooperation with the Hague tribunal will hold us up from achieving [international] integration for political and security purposes as well as the economic development of our society. Without economic development and without political and security integration, we cannot resolve the problem of Kosovo and Metohija, or that of [the joint state of] Serbia and Montenegro, or any other vital question facing our country.... That is the point," he stressed.

In a similar vein, Tadic argued that Serbia's pursuit of EU membership is aimed at achieving concrete goals, namely economic benefits and a standard of living "similar to that of the most developed countries.... And until we gain EU membership...we must work toward that goal."

He noted, moreover, that there is no alternative to joining the EU. Tadic warned that those Serbian politicians who say that Serbia does not need EU membership are seeking to manipulate uninformed voters. He added that there is no political future for such anti-EU doctrines. Tadic also stressed that some EU states have ethnic and human rights problems similar to Serbia's, and pointed out that these issues are more easily dealt with once a country is inside the EU and has achieved a certain level of prosperity.

Referring to the joint state with Montenegro, which was set up in 2002-03 under strong EU pressure, Tadic said that Montenegro's "demand for a redefinition of relations [between the two republics] is fully legitimate." On the other hand, he added, each state has its own interests to pursue, and Serbia's interest lies in European integration. To that end, Serbs -- and Montenegrins -- should respect the EU's wishes that the joint state be preserved as the best vehicle for achieving European integration. "Montenegro will not be able to become a member of the EU ahead of Serbia [as some of its pro-independence leaders suggest], because that is a matter for the EU to decide," and Brussels' position is clear.

Turning to Serbia's relations with the United States during the second administration of President George W. Bush, Tadic charged that it is a "tragic fact" that most Serbian "politicians, citizens, and even experts" do not have a good understanding of the United States, its institutions, or its decision-making processes. He stressed that Serbia cannot expect any special treatment from Washington. This, Tadic argued, is because "America does not retreat from its demands or principles, and that means cooperation with the Hague tribunal and observing international standards...which are European standards and part of the Western civilization in which we live because we want to share in the economic benefits of that civilization."

Tadic noted that many of Serbia's difficulties in reaching its goals are of its own making. "Many people involved in politics in Serbia...demonstrate on a daily basis that they understand absolutely nothing about how the modern world functions." Furthermore, he called his countrymen's attention to the progress that Croatia has made in recent years in breaking with its own nationalist past, a development that he "greatly respects." He argued that all the former Yugoslav republics can improve their economies and standards of living by working together more closely.

But what about Serbia's own specific traditions and political goals? Tadic noted that he himself has no difficulty in reconciling his Western political orientation with his cultural roots in the East and his Serbian Orthodox faith. He pointed out that Greece has long been a member of the EU and obtained more than $130 billion in economic assistance from Brussels over the years while preserving its strong national and religious identity.

Turning to Kosova, Tadic said that Serbs are deluding themselves if they think the clock can be turned back to the years before 1999. At the same time, he stressed that "Kosovo must not become independent" because that would "destabilize one part of the Balkans and Southeastern Europe on a long-term basis." The Serbian president argued that the only solution for the province is through European integration, which "is not an empty phrase" but the only serious option for the future. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA AFTER THE FAILURE OF THE REFERENDUM. In the late evening hours of 7 November, Macedonian State Election Commission (DIK) spokesman Zoran Tanevski announced the preliminary results of that day's referendum to scrap the government's redistricting plans. Tanevski said that, based on 95 percent of the results, voter turnout was just over 26 percent, thus failing to meet the requirement that more than 50 percent of registered voters participate for the referendum to be valid.

The preliminary results suggest that the World Macedonian Congress (SMK) -- a nationalist lobby organization -- and the Macedonian conservative opposition parties did not succeed in convincing enough voters to participate in the referendum to veto the government's plans to reduce the number of administrative districts (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 August and 4, 8, and 22 October 2004).

Both the SMK and the opposition parties argued that the new territorial organization would change the ethnic composition of some districts in favor of the country's large ethnic Albanian majority, which makes up almost one-quarter of the total population. The opponents of the government plans exploited the fears among many ethnic Macedonians that the new district borders are tantamount to partitioning the country along ethnic lines.

It was clear that the arguments of the SMK and the opposition parties were aimed at the Macedonian majority only. At the same time, the use of such arguments also served to raise fears among the Albanian minority that the referendum sought to hamper, if not stop, the implementation of important provisions of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, which granted greater rights to the Albanians.

It was thus to be expected that almost all Albanian voters followed the calls of the major ethnic Albanian parties to boycott the referendum. In the western Macedonian districts of Debar and Tetovo, which have overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian populations, voter turnout was 0.8 percent and 5.3 percent, respectively.

At the same time, voter turnout was surprisingly low in those administrative districts where the ethnic composition will change when the new Law on Territorial Organization is implemented. In Struga, for example, which was the scene of violent clashes between opponents of the new territorial organization and the police in August, voter turnout was only slightly higher (29 percent) than the country's average (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004).

Given that recent opinion polls suggested that most citizens were willing to support the referendum, it is not yet clear why the vote failed to attract voters (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 October 2004).

It is likely that a number of factors contributed to the referendum's failure. First of all, it was easier for the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats, and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) to call for a boycott of the referendum than for the opposition parties to mobilize their electorate and get them to the polls.

Secondly, the governing coalition's main argument was that a successful referendum would mean a serious stumbling block for the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement. This, it said, would lead to considerable delays for the country's ambitions to join NATO and the EU. In this, the governing coalition received strong support from the international community. Representatives of the United States, the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and NATO repeatedly called on the Macedonian public not to participate in the referendum.

Although opinion polls suggested that many Macedonians regarded such warnings as interference in internal affairs, the persistence of such appeals might have played a role in persuading many people not to vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October and 1 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 October 2004). At the same time, the organizers of the referendum apparently failed to find convincing arguments to show why they were right and the international community wrong.

The impact of a third potential factor is extremely difficult to assess. On 4 November, the United States officially announced that it will recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, thus giving up the practice of using the term Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), under which that country is recognized by the UN and the EU under Greek pressure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July and 1, 3, and 5 November 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003).

The reactions to the referendum results were predictable. While the governing parties and the international community welcomed them, the opposition parties tried to downplay their defeat. SMK Chairman Todor Petrov, meanwhile, predictably announced that his organization will challenge the results.

The outcome of the referendum is hardly a victory for the governing coalition. The fact that more than one-quarter of all registered voters went to the polls to express their discontent with government policies should serve as a warning to the authorities and prompt them to quickly carry out reforms -- especially in the economic sector. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "For nine full years, Republika Srpska has utterly failed to abide by those provisions [on cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal] -- not just in part, but totally. For nine full years, the authorities of Republika Srpska have failed to cooperate even in the smallest degree in the detention of Radovan Karadzic or Ratko Mladic. For nine full years you have failed to arrest a single war criminal." -- High Representative Paddy Ashdown before the Bosnian Serb parliament in Banja Luka on 2 November. Quoted on

"A great day for Macedonia." -- Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski on 4 November, referring to the U.S. decision to recognize his country under its constitutional name as the Republic of Macedonia. Quoted by MIA news agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2004).

"This unilateral decision will have many negative side effects." -- Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis on the same issue. Quoted by "The New York Times" on 5 November.

"This was another sly, behind-the-back American blow." -- Greek Socialist parliamentarian Fillipos Petsalnikos, quoted in ibid.

"The challenge for America is to reconcile consultation with vast power. The question for Europe is whether it views Atlantic relations as a partnership or as part of an international system of multipolarity very similar to pre-World War I Europe, in which major power centers engaged in shifting coalitions to maximize their advantage from case to case. That system broke down in the early 20th century; its 21st-century version is likely to be even less successful." -- Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, writing in "Newsweek" of 8 November.