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Balkan Report: May 9, 2003


9 May 2003, Volume 7, Number 14

SERBIA: THIS TIME FOR REAL? The crackdown following the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic led to the wholesale arrest of more than 10,000 suspected criminals and the filing of charges against about 3,200 of them (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). But it still remains to be seen whether Serbia has indeed broken with its recent past.

When the collection of reformist politicians led by Djindjic and Vojislav Kostunica ousted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic on 5 October 2000, Belgrade's new leaders stressed that a sad era had ended and democracy had arrived. Their political allies in Bratislava, Ljubljana, Budapest, and elsewhere sang the new leaders' praises to the media and urged that Serbia henceforth be treated as a completely normal country.

This raised eyebrows in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, and Kosova, where many feared that enraptured EU supporters of the new Belgrade leadership would move Serbia to the head of the Balkan line for Euro-Atlantic integration without checking closely whether Belgrade had met the same criteria as were required of the others. Croatian President Stipe Mesic was particularly outspoken in warning the international community not to embrace the new Serbian leadership without carefully looking into their pasts and not to lower Western standards for democracy, human rights, and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000).

The Djindjic murder made it clear that such skepticism had been more than justified, and that Serbia's post-Milosevic leaders had been sitting beside an open sewer the whole time. Observers had widely assumed that Kostunica and Djindjic cut deals in 2000 with the army and police establishments, respectively, but few knew for sure how much of the old structures really remained in tact.

Many critics of the post-Milosevic leadership took note of the nationalist sympathies that lie behind the remarks by Kostunica and others against The Hague, as well as his warnings that forced cooperation with the tribunal would have unforeseen consequences at home.

Few outsiders, however, knew with certainty that war criminals were the lynchpin in the structure involving politics, business, organized crime, and the security forces.

But the murder of the prime minister was a call to action. Djindjic was not particularly popular during his lifetime, but in death he became the embodiment of the forces trying to make a break with the past. The public demanded an end to a situation in which the head of government could be gunned down in the capital. For their parts, the politicians now knew that none of them were safe as long as the criminal structures remained in place. In short, there was a mood favoring real change.

And so it seemed to be. In the weeks leading up to the end of the state of emergency on 22 April, government and police officials regularly gave figures to the media on arrests of suspected criminals and details of the charges against them the way that communist officials used to report on fulfilling "the plan." The murder of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic was finally cleared up, and officials assured the public that it was only a matter of time before many other killings of prominent people were resolved.

Apparent changes in external policy were also evident. Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic and Defense Minister Boris Tadic both made clear that they understood the link between cooperation with The Hague and joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which seemed to acquire a special urgency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 April 2003).

Indicted war criminals such as former Major Veselin Sljivancanin and Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic are still at large, but at least the mood of the government seems to have turned against them. Secretary of State Collin Powell visited Belgrade to encourage reforms, and President George W. Bush made some military aid available (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2003).

It is not clear, however, whether the changes will prove thorough-going or permanent. Policy towards Kosova, for example, remains nationalistic. Some of the authorities show a tendency to treat the media in a fashion reminiscent of times past (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2003).

Of course it is true that Serbia has no monopoly on authoritarianism, crime, and corruption in the post-communist Balkans, nor is it alone among the former Yugoslav republics in having war criminals in high places.

But these phenomenon acquired a special, pervasive quality in Milosevic's Serbia. As Radio B-92's Veran Matic told Peter Green for "The New York Times" of 5 May, "everything was in one house. Politics was criminalized, and crime was politicized. [Zeljko Raznatovic] 'Arkan' was a criminal, a war criminal -- and president of a political party, a member of the parliament, and the owner of the biggest music star in the country. They determined the values of Serbian society."

Such a situation will not be transformed quickly, even by arresting thousands of alleged criminals. Questions remain, moreover, as to whether the crackdown is not so much a battle between the forces of law and lawlessness as between one tainted faction against another.

Skepticism about the changes in Serbia was in order in the months after the fall of Milosevic. This is still true today. (Patrick Moore)

POVERTY AND PROSPERITY IN SLOVENIA. Ask most Slovenes how things are going, and they are likely to say that times are tough. Unemployment is a nagging problem, job security is not what it used to be, and the price of everything is rising.

The UN's Human Development Report (available at http://hdr.undp.org/reports/global/2002/en) consistently ranks Slovenia favorably in terms of both human development (29th last year, between Portugal and Malta) and poverty. Yet, according to the report, Slovenes assess their own quality of life as low, even below the world average. What accounts for this?

Formerly the most prosperous republic in Yugoslavia, Slovenia is now classed as a country in transition trying to meet EU criteria. Furthermore, it generally falls below the EU average -- never mind that the EU countries are among the most prosperous in the world and that the gap is closing quickly (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 April 2003).

Internal factors also contribute to the perception. Income disparity has greatly increased over the past decade, a 30 April article in "Delo" observes. The highest declared annual gross personal income in Slovenia in 2002 was 159 million tolars ($761,000). In contrast, 10 percent of all workers fall short of 110,000 tolars ($526) per month -- a 150-fold difference, the paper notes. Some 65 percent earn less than the median wage of 241,000 tolars ($1,153), and only 1.4 percent surpass 800,000 tolars ($3,828).

The president of the National Assembly, Borut Pahor, took May Day as an opportunity to declare that income disparity must not be allowed to increase further, "Delo" reported on 4 May. Nonetheless, politicians' monthly salaries not only significantly exceed the national average, but also increased by an average of 75,000 tolars ($359) this year. Those specifically mentioned included Prime Minister Anton Rop (at 1.436 million tolars, or $6,871), Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel (1.293 million tolars, or $6,187), and Pahor himself (1.348 million tolars, or $6,450).

Poverty is also a persistent problem. Slovenia's poverty rate is officially 13.9 percent, set at a cut-off level of less than 54,700 tolars ($262) per month. By this measure, some 100,000 Slovenian households -- representing low-paid workers, the unemployed, and the elderly -- are officially poor.

Those over 65 are the poorest of all, at rates of 48.4 percent for single elderly persons and 25.7 percent for elderly couples. An unemployment rate of 25 percent among those under 26 years of age also creates a high poverty rate among young adults.

The government adopted a special program to counter poverty in 2000. At the time, the poverty rate had stood at 13.8 percent from 1997 to 1999, down from 14.9 percent in 1996. Although the rate has not fallen since, even this represents some success: poverty has not increased, and is comparable to or less than EU levels.

Poverty varies by region as well, generally increasing as one moves east. The Mura River Basin area is the least developed of Slovenia's 12 statistical regions, according to a 24 December 2002 report on regional development in "Delo." Even though central Slovenia (including the capital, Ljubljana) consistently ranks highest, one need not go far to find the poor there, either. One of the most visible signs is the substandard low-cost housing -- former construction barracks -- now inhabited by the poor near the city's central cemetery and in the marshland south of town.

Of particular concern is the number of children living in poor households, estimated at 72,000, or one-fourth of all Slovenian children. If the poverty margin were set only about $10 per month higher, the 30 April "Delo" article continued, this would include up to half of all children.

Although a matter of concern, the plight of the poor is not critical, especially by global standards. Every month 60,000 poor persons receive 40,000 tolars ($191) in government assistance and, "Delo" pointed out on 30 April, many of these still live in their parents' households. Nonetheless, they face disadvantages in access to private medical care, employment opportunities, and other housing options.

Three weeks ago, Slovenes received bright orange and yellow flyers in their mailboxes urging them to make a donation to the Union of Friends of Slovenian Youth. The purpose of the fund drive is not to provide clothing, food, or medicine to needy children -- instead, it is to send 1,000 children to the seaside. "There are many children among us," the flyer says, "who, because of limited means, would otherwise have to spend their summers at home."

"It's a strange sort of poverty," remarked my cousin Marica, who turns 80 next year. "I never saw the sea until I was an adult." Admittedly, Marica does not leave the farm for much these days, either, but she has the wisdom of eight decades and experience under three previous regimes to give her perspective. Happy is the land, indeed, where deprivation involves a summer vacation spent at home. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

DOGS AND THE YUGOSLAV POST OFFICE'S SWAN SONG. Stamps promoting the humane treatment of animals have been around for decades. They usually depict happy, well-groomed creatures that are as photogenic as one could imagine.

On 31 January, in one of its last acts before Yugoslavia became the new state of Serbia and Montenegro, the Yugoslav Post Office issued a set of four stamps and illustrated labels to publicize prevention of cruelty to dogs (Michel catalogue numbers 3103-3106).

But the stamps do not show pampered puppies with ribbons in their fur. The animals depicted are the abandoned dogs and their progeny that are painfully familiar sights in many post-communist Balkan urban landscapes.

It is to be hoped that the stamps will help call attention both at home and abroad to the plight of the dogs -- and to the problems that the animals sometimes pose to the community around them.

And who knows -- might this be the start of an era of Balkan "reality philately," which could include pensioners picking trash bins, war invalids begging, and child prostitutes soliciting foreign visitors? (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The Albanian people look forward to continued partnership with the United States as one of their main goals for the future." -- Secretary of State Colin Powell. Quoted by dpa in Tirana on 2 May.

"The Polish people have been good friends to the United States and, more importantly, good friends to the people of Iraq, willing to join a coalition that liberated the people of Iraq." -- Powell to Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. Quoted by RFE/RL in Washington on 6 May.

"There is no denying that at the human level in the United States, there was a deep sense of disappointment and hurt" at German behavior in recent months. -- U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick in Berlin. Quoted by dpa on 2 March.

"It wasn't just opposition or disagreement, but an active effort to undermine the United States and organize efforts against us." -- Zoellick, quoted by Reuters.

"When the chips are down, we'd like to be able to count on our friends, and it's difficult when our friends are against us.... I can remember when Germany needed friends in 1989." -- Zoellick, in ibid. (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002).

"I think we can clear things up in five minutes. We will say we had a dispute about Iraq; let's forget the dispute and return to a normal situation." -- German Defense Minister Peter Struck, on the eve of his visit to Washington, regarding his expectations for his meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Quoted by dpa on 4 May.

"The current fashionable European anti-Americanism, the ridiculing of the American way of life and culture, and the European inability to conduct an open and risky discussion is a frustrating phenomenon." -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus, quoted by CTK in Munich on 2 May.

Czechs know that "a major part of [EU] decisions will be made without them and without the participation of their democratically elected representatives in the parliament and the government." -- Klaus, in ibid.

"Reference was made to the meeting [on 29 April] in Belgium where four of the nations of the [EU] have come together and created some sort of a plan to develop some sort of a headquarters. But what we need is not more headquarters. What we need is more capability and fleshing out the structure and the forces that are there with the equipment that they need." -- Powell, quoted in "The Daily Telegraph" from Washington on 30 April.

"Our long-standing trans-Atlantic relationship can no longer be taken for granted..... We must now ensure that this partnership is reshaped and adapted to the current global reality." -- Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou in his talking points for the EU foreign ministers' meeting on Rhodes. Quoted by AP on 3 May.

"Shades of Hitler, shades of Stalin

Yes sir, no sir, three bags full.

If you want to gain your freedom

Give up all the euro-bull...."

-- From the winning entry of a Brussels-based British expatriate parody contest for the lyrics to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," the EU anthem. Quoted in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 7 May.

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