Accessibility links

Balkan Report: January 17, 2003

17 January 2003, Volume 7, Number 2

The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 31 January.

THE EU TAKES A FRESH LOOK AT THE BALKANS. The countries of the western Balkans all seek rapid integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. The European Union seems on the way to realizing that it must offer them serious prospects of membership, much as NATO already has.

On 14 January, the "Frankfurter Rundschau" published an interview with Christoph Zoepel, who is one of the leading Balkan policy experts within Germany's governing Social Democratic Party (SPD). He warned the EU not to be "arrogant" toward the countries of the western Balkans -- Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia -- nor to leave them outside that organization. To neglect the five countries would be a great "historic mistake," he added.

Zoepel thinks that one way to defuse tensions surrounding such delicate issues as the status of Kosova would be to hold out the prospect of a common European citizenship to Serbs and Albanians alike. To give weight to his argument, he suggested that Belgium would have split up long ago along ethnic lines if it were not for that country's membership in the EU. (And he might have also recalled the positive role that European integration played in Western Europe as a whole in the decades since World War II, particularly in terms of Franco-German reconciliation.)

The Social Democratic legislator also noted that people throughout the Balkans are enthusiastic about joining the EU, adding that he has not met a single serious politician there who is opposed to membership. Zoepel recalled that Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova once told him that an independent Kosova could do without its own foreign minister and leave that job to the EU. Zoepel added that he has not seen such eagerness to delegate prerogatives to Brussels anywhere else.

Bringing the countries of the western Balkans into the EU, he continued, amounts to nothing more than implementing a decision that was, in effect, made already in 1981 when the then-European Community voted to admit Greece. Zoepel stresses that the decision in favor of Greece meant that Brussels accepted in principle that "everything to the northwest of Athens" would some day belong to the EU.

That decision is well on its way to being realized by holding out prospects of admission in 2007 to Romania and Bulgaria, he continued. What Zoepel now misses is a readiness to engage the other five countries of the region and to give them realistic possibilities for membership.

He noted that there are several obstacles to doing so. One is simple ethnic prejudice, particularly against peoples of Islamic heritage, such as the Bosnian Muslims and many Albanians. This prejudice is more intense than that against, for example, Poles or Czechs, and ignores the fact that Albania is a highly secular country, much more so than Turkey.

When asked whether the five should be admitted as a single group, Zoepel suggested that Croatia is further along toward meeting the EU's criteria for membership than are the others and could proceed ahead of them. But the other four, in his view, are so "interdependent" when it comes to ethnic and religious disputes that it would not be practical or wise to separate them on the road to membership.

Zoepel noted that Macedonia has met the criteria for membership that the EU leaders set down at their recent Copenhagen summit -- but only formally. Albania is a democracy and has a market economy but has problems bringing its institutions into line with European standards. Bosnia and Yugoslavia suffer from what he called "unresolved status questions."

But the SPD legislator does not feel that the EU should wait for the five countries to meet its standards before engaging them. On the contrary: He argued that they can develop modern market economies only when they have a clear perspective for EU membership. And that, Zoepel concluded, could be a reality in 10 years.

Indeed, many people in the western Balkans concluded by the end of 2002 that the EU had little time for them. NATO did not invite any of them to join the alliance at its Prague summit in November. But NATO at least held out some prospects for membership in the next round of expansion for Partnership for Peace members Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002).

Bosnia and Yugoslavia are not so far along the road to NATO, but the Bosnians at least know that setting up a common defense ministry is the main obstacle keeping them from membership in Partnership for Peace. The authorities in Belgrade, for their part, are fully aware that membership for them depends on cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, establishing transparent civilian control over the military, and purging the officer corps of possible war criminals.

The EU has been less forthcoming with criteria and timetables than NATO, to the point that many in the Balkans have concluded that the five countries will be kept indefinitely in limbo (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 December 2002).

This could be particularly problematic in the cases of Bosnia and Yugoslavia, which are the furthest from meeting EU and NATO criteria. The danger there is that these two countries could become centers of organized crime, smuggling, and corruption in such a way as to become a sort of "black hole" in the midst of the EU.

Croatia could pose a problem of a different sort. As the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on 28 December, many Croats fear that they have been lumped together with four countries less advanced along the road to meeting EU standards than they are. Those Croats feel that their country has been sacrificed like a pawn in a chess game to plans by some powerful forces in Brussels to re-create a regional Balkan association based in Belgrade -- and kept outside the door of full membership in the EU. If such perceptions continue and become widespread, the EU could discover someday that it has unwittingly helped anti-European, nationalist politicians on the right to come to power in Zagreb.

But matters are looking up for those in the western Balkans who want to join the EU. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported from Brussels on 11 January that a recent EU study has shown that Albania, Kosova, and Yugoslavia have made great economic progress since the Kosova conflict ended in 1999. One might suggest that any such progress looks impressive because these countries were so badly off that they had nowhere to go but up. Nonetheless, the fact that an EU report made such a conclusion suggests that Brussels may be moving away from the message it only recently sent even to Croatia: Don't call us, we'll call you (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November and 20 December 2002).

Indeed, there seems to be movement in the EU toward encouraging the countries of the western Balkans without lowering Brussels' standards. The catalyst appears to be the Greek EU presidency, which began at the start of 2003. From 13 to 15 January, Foreign Minister George Papandreou made a whirlwind tour of the five countries, where his message was largely positive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, 14, and 15 January 2003). For example, he let Croatia know that its hopes of catching up with Romania and Bulgaria and joining the EU in 2007 are realistic. He also reassured Albania that stabilization-and-association talks will begin soon.

Even EU Commission President Romano Prodi has been upbeat on the Balkans recently, saying that the bloc's "doors are open" to the countries of the region.

Meanwhile, the Greek EU presidency can be expected to provide the leadership for its neighbors that many had wished that Greece -- as the only Balkan country belonging to both the EU and NATO -- would provide as soon as communism collapsed in the region over a decade ago. The Greek presidency will be followed by that of Italy for the second half of 2003, and Albania in particular is expecting good things from its powerful neighbor.

Questions, of course, remain. The biggest issue is perhaps whether Yugoslavia and Bosnia can put their houses in sufficient order to meet even minimum EU standards, particularly where the roles of mafia structures in politics, business, and the military are concerned.

Second, the EU will have to take great care not to let those two countries fall so far behind the others that Bosnia and Yugoslavia become isolated. At the same time, Brussels cannot afford to lower its standards for the two, lest Croatia and other hopefuls feel that they have become the victims of a policy of double standards and some sinister Western plot to reestablish Belgrade as the dominant regional center.

Third, all five countries have their homework to do in meeting EU criteria for membership. Politicians in some of them could start by showing more responsibility by rejecting the culture of boycotting parliaments and other institutions that is endemic in much of the region.

Fourth, the status question will have to be addressed sooner rather than later where Kosova is concerned, and probably Montenegro as well. The EU should respect the decisions of the majority of the voters who live there and not try to impose solutions from outside. Zoepel's suggestion regarding the prospect of a common EU citizenship should not be overlooked.

Finally, everyone concerned should be realistic about their expectations. People in the region are deluding themselves if they expect that EU membership will automatically bring them Dutch living standards and a massive infusion of money without efforts and sacrifice on their part.

It will in any event be interesting to see how the EU evolves once its expansion into Eastern Europe and the Balkans is complete. Will it become an increasingly bloated bureaucracy in which important issues can be settled by a telephone call between the French president and German chancellor, or will it develop into a more transparent and democratic community of which all its citizens can be proud? (Patrick Moore)

WHAT ABOUT THE BALKAN STABILITY PACT? It all started on a cloudy summer day in July 1999. NATO-led troops were on high alert in Sarajevo, and the air above the Bosnian capital was vibrating to the beat of helicopter blades.

In the city's Olympic sports stadium, world leaders were gathering to sign the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe. Behind them, on a hillside, lay the graves of some of those killed during the harrowing siege of the Bosnian capital.

Hailed as historic, the pact was designed to create an international effort to channel expertise and money to the Balkans, and through economic and social development to lessen the risk of further ethnic conflicts there. It was thus intended as a clearing house and does not fund projects of its own or deal with military security matters.

But almost four years later, little is heard of the stability-pact organization, and most people are at a loss to assess its achievements. One such person is Mark Wheeler, the director in Sarajevo of the Bosnia project of the International Crisis Group. As he put it: "I just don't know. I'm aware of the fact that there is some controversy over whether the stability pact is marginally useful or utterly useless."

Wheeler said the profile of the stability-pact organization is so low that it is difficult to know if it is fulfilling "any particular useful function."

With opinions as devastating as that to face, life cannot be easy for the staff of the pact. Similar, if less radical, views are held by Gjerji Buxhuku, director of the Institute for Effective Policy Making in the Albanian capital, Tirana. "I don't know, but I think that maybe up till now [in Albania], the stability pact has failed," Buxhuku said. He went on to say that the organization has been too slow to get projects started.

In Brussels, analyst Gergana Noutcheva of the Centre for European Policy Studies added to the criticism, but she also offered a measure of praise. She noted that the initial fanfare when the stability pact was created led to unrealistic expectations, which could not be met.

She said the pact lies in the shadow of the big player in the region, the European Union. "All [the Balkan countries] want is to get into the EU, and the EU is the strong actor in the region. The pact is just an auxiliary. And you know many people believe the whole [pact] project should be scrapped because there is no need for it," Noutcheva said.

Noutcheva noted that one of the criticisms aimed at the stability pact is that it does not have a real budget of its own but instead acts as a sort of forum for donor coordination or as a framework for dialogue. "All it can do is organize donor conferences and try to serve as an intermediary between donors and set certain priorities," Noutcheva said.

But she acknowledged that it has done well in putting in place a series of free-trade agreements among the Balkan countries. And she said the head of the stability-pact organization, Erhard Busek, and his predecessor Bodo Hombach have good standing internationally and have been able to develop and maintain useful political contacts in the recipient countries.

Busek himself naturally sees the general picture differently. To the charge that the stability pact and its work are almost invisible, he replied: "Visibility is not the main thing, stability is. It is not a visibility pact, it is a stability pact, and if you are looking at the situation in Southeast Europe, I think we have by comparison a very stable situation, if you think back to two or three yeas ago."

Giving some statistics, he said the pact is currently handling 46 projects, many of them infrastructure projects, with a total expenditure of some 2.6 billion euros ($2.76 billion). Other projects range across headings such as supporting human rights and the development of democracy, education, and justice.

Busek gave concrete examples of the pact's infrastructure program. "It is the cleaning up of the River Danube at Novi Sad and the rebuilding of the bridge there. It is building another bridge between Vidin and Calafat in Bulgaria and Romania. It is the highway between Bucharest and Cerna Voda, in the direction of the Black Sea. It is [modernizing] the airport of Sofia. It is the [improvement of the] port of Durres in Albania. It is some improvement of railway stations and improvements to electricity lines," Busek said.

The last heading, electricity lines, perhaps explains why the stability pact's work is not well-known by the public. It involves work of little general interest, such as the creation of a regional electricity market and the upgrading of power lines.

Busek said it is always easy to criticize but that it takes time to get major projects started. He said the pact is now tightening and consolidating its efforts. And he added that the pact sees itself as preparing its recipient states for eventual EU membership and enhancing regional cooperation.

Busek noted that the stability pact is also participating in preparations for the EU's Balkan summit to be held in Thessaloniki, Greece, in June, at the end of the Greek EU presidency.

He pointed out that this summit will seek to set out a road map for EU membership by agreeing on assistance to help the Balkan countries reach that goal. (Breffni O'Rourke)

MACEDONIA'S ALBANIANS RETURN TO THE ARMY. Ideally in multiethnic states, the ethnic composition of the army conscripts should mirror the ethnic and demographic characteristics of the overall population. In Macedonia, the number of ethnic Albanian recruits reporting for military service has varied widely over the past 10 years. In times of unproblematic interethnic relations, their share increased. It decreased, however, when tension between the ethnic Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority was high. To a certain extent, the situation in neighboring Kosova has also influenced the ratio between Macedonian and Albanian conscripts.

The Albanian minority's demographic characteristics differ from those of the ethnic Macedonian majority population. With its high birthrate and high rate of mortality, the community is relatively young. About one-quarter of country's population consists of Albanians. One can therefore assume that the Albanian draftees should account for about one-third of each new group of recruits. However, Albanians have rarely reported for military service in such high numbers.

On 20 July 2002, the daily "Vest" published an article saying that in the early 1990s, when Macedonia became independent from Yugoslavia, the number of Albanian conscripts was very low. Army sources told "Vest" that this figure later increased when ethnic Albanian political parties began to participate in the government. As a result, the share of Albanian conscripts sometimes reached about 30 percent.

The armed conflict in 2001 between the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian Army, however, put an end to this trend. There were no figures available for the initial impact of the conflict, but in July 2002 -- one year after the signing of the Ohrid peace agreement -- Albanian youths accounted for only 4.2 percent of those willing to serve in the army, according to the bimonthly "Forum" of 22 November. "Vest" stated on 20 July that about 120 ethnic Turks and 100 Roma honored their call-up orders that month, but it is hard to assess whether these figures mirror the Turkish and Rom minorities' real share of the population.

One should not, however, focus on the minorities alone. According to "Forum," it was not only the Albanians who failed to report for military service but also many Macedonians. In January 2002, only 35 percent of all recruits obeyed their call-up orders. In April, this share was 36 percent, and in July 37 percent. Political tensions, fueled by the election campaign prior to the parliamentary elections on 15 September 2002, could explain these low figures.

The situation changed when the next batch of conscripts started its military service in October 2002. More than 90 percent of the conscripts honored their call-up notices. The share of the ethnic Albanian recruits reached almost 10 percent. The political situation had stabilized at that time, and the parliamentary elections led to a change of government. Most Albanians were confident that the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), a party formed by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, would form a government together with the Social Democratic Union (SDSM). Along with several confidence-building measures by the army, these expectations seem to have contributed to an increasing belief that things were getting better.

The low number of Albanians generally willing to serve their military tour of duty is also reflected in the low share of ethnic Albanian officers in the army, who were often discriminated against, as "Forum" points out. Ethnic Albanian officers have been promoted less often than their Macedonian colleagues and have often been stationed in barracks far away from their homes.

General Zijadin Tushi, one of the few high-ranking ethnic Albanian officers, told "Forum" that only 2.5 percent of the army's officers and noncommissioned officers are ethnic Albanians. Tushi noted that the General Staff plans to raise the proportion of Albanian officers to 4.5 percent by the end of 2002 but added that "the country's political structures must help implement the plan."

The small number of ethnic Albanian officers is unlikely to increase quickly, however, since few Albanian cadets attend Skopje's Military Academy. General Metodija Stamboliski, the army's chief of General Staff, recently announced that the army plans to raise the proportion of Albanian servicemen to 23 percent of the total by 2004. This goal seems rather ambitious, given that many reforms within the state institutions and the army are being held up by people with "old-fashioned views," according to General Tushi. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Your success story can become a success story for every other country." -- Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, quoted by Reuters in Zagreb on 14 January.

"[The Greek presidency hopes to] show to Europe and to the rest of the world that we intend to build strong, stable, and democratic Balkans within the EU." -- Papandreou, quoted by the Macedonian MIA news agency in Skopje on 13 January.