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Balkan Report: December 10, 2004

10 December 2004, Volume 8, Number 43

SERBIA'S PRESIDENT SENDS MIXED MESSAGE IN BOSNIA. Serbian President Boris Tadic sought to reinforce his image as his country's most forward-looking and realistic leader during a recent trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina. But in addition to well-publicized conciliatory remarks directed towards a broad public, he made some statements to a Banja Luka daily that might raise eyebrows outside Serbia and the Republika Srpska.

Since his election in June, Tadic has established himself abroad as the most acceptable dialogue partner since Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was assassinated in March 2003. Tadic regularly stresses 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. At the same time, he argues that this in no way means that Serbs must renounce their traditions or national goals.

Unlike many Serbian leaders, he has paid particular attention to his and his country's image in the United States, which he visited soon after taking office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 July 2004). He noted that it is in Serbia's "national interest" to cooperate militarily with that country because it is the world's leading military power and an essential partner in reforming Belgrade's military. In a recent interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, he noted 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, which insists on full cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and respect for international standards (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 November 2004).

In that same interview, he made additional observations that seemed unprecedented coming from a Serbian leader. 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." This remark in particular caught the attention of many observers who feel that the central problem facing contemporary Serbian political culture is a widespread rejection of modernity.

Furthermore, Tadic 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.

Many people at home and abroad were thus not surprised when Tadic broke yet more ground on a visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina from 6-8 December. He said in Sarajevo on the first day of his trip that he "apologizes to all against whom a crime was committed in the name of the Serbian people." He argued that "not the Serbian people, but individual criminals" carried out war crimes during the 1992-95 conflict. Tadic added that "the same crimes were also carried out against our [Serbian] people [by Muslims and Croats], and in that sense we all owe each other an apology. If someone has to take the first step, well, here I am."

This was the first such apology offered by a Serbian leader to the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, although not to those of Croatia. Tadic's statement nonetheless went too far for some of his critics back home. Some of them argued that the issue of reconciliation is too complex and controversial to be dealt with by a single statement by one official, while others charged that the problem is between Bosnia's three ethnic groups and need not concern officials of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 15 September 2003, and 7 December 2004).

But prior to his arrival in Bosnia, Tadic gave an interview to the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" of 6 December that seemed aimed at a Bosnian Serb public nursing a sense of grievance against its old enemies and the outside world. He told the daily that war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is entitled to a military pension, a statement that many Bosnian Muslims and Croats as well as foreigners would not agree with ( But Tadic argued that "Mladic receives a pension like all officers of the army of the Republika Srpska [because] a pension is an acquired right, and according to our laws that right does not lapse. One continues to receive one's pension even when in jail."

Asked whether this means that Mladic receives his pension in Belgrade, the president replied: "He doesn't collect it, but someone does in his name, probably his son or some other member of his family." Tadic reiterated that "according to the laws of this country and all countries in the world...the right to a pension does not lapse because someone is prosecuted for a war crime or even if he is convicted of a war crime. Even if Ratko Mladic were convicted of a war crime, members of his family would have the right to receive his pension."

If that view seemed a bit less than forward-looking outside some Serbian circles, so might a suggestion Tadic made about how to cooperate better with the Hague-based tribunal. He proposed that Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro set up a joint intelligence organization to "exchange information and actively work together, [even though] that is difficult to imagine today. For successful cooperation with the Hague tribunal, it is necessary for the police networks of all countries in the region to work together, including the international security institutions in Kosovo and Metohija and in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Even if one takes into account that most regional security bodies have links of some sort to Interpol, NATO, or other broader organizations, and even if initial moves toward regional military cooperation have already begun, talk of setting up a regional security body seems unlikely to go down well in some places (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 18 November and 2 December 2004). This is particularly true for Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova, where many would also question Serbian motives in "cooperating" on war crimes issues.

It is true that some informal links between some intelligence bodies in the region probably exist, particularly among individuals who worked together in the former Yugoslav system prior to 1991. But the idea of setting up a regional intelligence organization does not seem to be one whose time has yet come, particularly if proposed by the leader of the republic that dominated the security system in former Yugoslavia and of the ethnic group that accounts for the largest number of indicted war criminals. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER-DESIGNATE FACES CREDIBILITY PROBLEM. With Prime Minister-designate Vlado Buckovski struggling to form a cabinet acceptable to all coalition partners and a possible threat to the capital's security, a year full of trouble draws to an end in Macedonia.

Months of controversy over the government's plans to decentralize and streamline the state administration were followed by a referendum on the redistricting plans in early November. The referendum strengthened the government's position in that not enough voters turned out to scrap its decentralization and redistricting plans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 November 2004).

Hopes ran high that the political paralysis caused by the debate about the redistricting plans was over. Then Prime Minister Hari Kostov resigned, charging the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) with corruption and nepotism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004).

Kostov's accusations seriously damaged the reputation of Transport and Communications Minister Agron Buxhaku of the BDI. When President Branko Crvenkovski nominated Defense Minister Buckovski as Kostov's successor, the prime minister-designate quickly sought to replace Buxhaku.

However, the BDI and its chairman, Ali Ahmeti, stood firmly behind Buxhaku, arguing that no evidence has been provided by Kostov for Buxhaku's alleged involvement in several corruption affairs that hit the Transport and Communications Ministry (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2004).

To overcome the stalemate in the coalition talks about his government, Buckovski even offered to replace two more ministers, provided the BDI withdrew Buxhaku. Like Buxhaku, Culture Minister Blagoj Stefanovski of Buckovski's own party, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), and Economy Minister Stevce Jakimovski of the Liberal Democrats (LDP) faced corruption allegations.

Whatever the outcome of the talks between Buckovski and the BDI, one thing seems clear: the credibility of Buckovski's coalition government and his pledge to make the fight against corruption a priority have already been compromised.

Further damage to the governing coalition's credibility -- even before it took office -- was caused another development. There have been persistent but unconfirmed media reports for several weeks that an armed group of ethnic Albanians is patrolling the village of Kondovo on the western outskirts of Skopje.

But the BDI on the one hand and the SDSM and other parties disagree as to whether the armed group exists at all. Buckovski made it clear in an interview with RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 28 November that he does not regard the group as a threat to the country's stability, thus indirectly confirming its existence. He added, however, that "the existence of armed individuals or groups must not be tolerated for too long a period."

At the same time, Ahmeti called the group an "inflated media balloon" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). One week later, on 6 December, Ahmeti went to Kondovo together with Menduh Thaci, who is the deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). Buckovski had asked both Albanian leaders to help resolve the problem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2004).

After three hours of talks, Ahmeti said, "The meeting was attended by the villagers of Kondovo and some young men, who came forward with their demands, first of all regarding their treatment by the state authorities." Ahmeti added that the situation in Kondovo was aggravated by the media reports. Thaci, for his part, said it must now be determined what the government can do about Kondovo, adding that political problems must be resolved by political parties.

During the meeting, the villagers reportedly complained about the way the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement is being implemented. They also reportedly demanded that the government respect the amnesty proclaimed for former members of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), which launched an insurgency against Macedonian authorities in early 2001. At that time, Ahmeti was the UCK's political leader.

Apparently, the BDI has decided to deny the existence of an armed group in Kondovo, despite further media reports detailing its possible size. On 8 December, for example, "Utrinski vesnik" cited sources from the EU's police mission that there are more than 300 armed men in Kondovo.

For the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the visit by Ahmeti and Thaci to Kondovo was unacceptable. The VMRO-DPMNE even demanded that the parliament's Defense Committee discuss the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004).

Moreover, some members of the governing coalition -- such as Andrej Zernovski of the LDP -- are running out of patience. Zernovski suggested on 7 December that firm measures must be taken to resolve the Kondovo problem.

The presence of glaring differences within the governing coalition regarding Kondovo and the bleak picture painted by some of the opposition and the media suggest that the government is already in its first crisis of confidence. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

BOGOLJUB KARIC: A SERBIAN 'OLIGARCH.' Perhaps the closest Serbian equivalent of the Russian oligarchs is Bogoljub Karic, 50, whose media holdings center on the popular BK Television channel and the Mobtel mobile-telephone company. The latter is Serbia's largest, and his share in it is believed to be worth 500 million euros ($663.4 million) alone.

Karic's family comes from Peja in Kosova, where they ran a small manufacturing enterprise and engaged in numerous other activities, including performing as professional musicians. The Karices were one of several talented and ambitious Serbian families from Kosova that made contact with Slobodan Milosevic at the start of his political career in the mid-1980s and developed their business empire as part of his extended entourage during the free-wheeling years of his reign.

Karic at one point used his international business contacts to persuade Chinese and Russian publishers to put out translations of books by Mira Markovic, the wife of Milosevic. Karic served briefly as a member of the Serbian cabinet in the 1990s, but attempts to link him to some of the regime's war crimes have not been proven.

Karic is still going strong four years after Milosevic's ouster in October 2000. The businessman financially supports numerous conservative or nationalist causes but is believed to be primarily motivated by a desire to create the best climate for his extensive business interests, rather than by any specific ideology. He also sponsors the private BK University and the Karic Foundation.

After the 30 December 2003 Serbian parliamentary elections, Karic's name increasingly appeared in the media in a distinctly political context. An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Belgrade on 19 January that among those seen at the offices of Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia during the coalition talks was Karic. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 24 December that Karic was among those well-heeled individuals who allegedly bought influence in the previous Serbian legislature, which ultimately led to the downfall of the last government as party discipline collapsed because individual legislators had been "bought."

Karic entered politics in his own right later in 2004, when he made an impressive third place showing in the 13 June first round of the Serbian presidential race. He won 18 percent of the vote, even though he himself had expected to do no better than 5 or 6 percent. 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 from other parties are still under Karic's influence.

Many Serbs say that Karic's main purpose in actively entering politics was not just to consolidate his already considerable influence but to better conduct his feud with Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic of the G-17 Plus political party. Dinkic wants Karic's BK Group to pay 35 million euros in an "extra-profit tax" on profits made during Milosevic's tenure from the late 1980s until October 2000.

This past summer, Dinkic accused Karic of using BK Television to foment strikes and spread discontent with the government. Shortly before, during the campaign for the June election, BK Television helped promote Karic's campaign, but was not hysterically partisan. Instead, BK Television relied on subtle editing of news items, sound bites, and video clips to present the boss in a favorable light and cast doubt on the seriousness of his rivals.

Karic probably went into politics to protect and promote his business interests rather than to leave a legacy of public service. But he apparently intends to be a political force to be reckoned with. 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? Many think that the results of the June presidential elections point in that direction.

Karic certainly has the money and resources to set up a nationwide party organization for Snaga Srbije if he wants to. But several other examples from postcommunist Europe of wealthy businessmen going into politics suggest that he will find it necessary to make good quickly on his promises to raise the standard of living or be deserted by a disenchanted electorate. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Our current undetermined status is in fact an economic prison that has perpetuated conditions of unacceptable poverty." -- Kosova Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 1 December.

"Under the semblance of establishing democratic institutions, a man is elected with a serious record of crimes committed, in war and in peace, which can have a negative effect on the situation in Kosovo and the stability of the region." -- Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica criticizing Haradinaj's election as prime minister. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 4 December.

"America is a serious country. They watch whom they employ." -- Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic at a Belgrade press conference on 1 December, discussing an apparent road-rage incident in which a local employee of the U.S. Embassy had a car collision with a vehicle in President Tadic's motorcade. Quoted by dpa (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 December 2004).

"[The incident involving Tadic] is another confirmation that Serbia is a Balkan Colombia and a banana republic." -- Former Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, speaking in Belgrade on 1 December before it became clear that the incident was road rage and not an assassination attempt. Quoted by Reuters.

"Although NATO's role is changing today, its commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina's future development remains as solid and resolute as ever." -- NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, at the ceremony near Sarajevo on 2 December marking the end of NATO's SFOR mission and the launching of the EU's EUFOR. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"The political integration of the EU presents the greatest challenge to continuing U.S. influence in Europe since World War II." -- Jeffrey L. Cimbalo, in "Saving NATO From Europe" in the November-December issue of "Foreign Affairs."