Accessibility links

Balkan Report: May 30, 2003


30 May 2003, Volume 7, Number 16

KUCAN AND MILOSEVIC: A TALE OF TWO EX-PRESIDENTS. Until recently, those flying into Ljubljana could still see a graphic reminder of the war that broke out 12 years ago when Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. To prevent federal (JNA) military aircraft from using the airport, passenger jets were parked across the runway. One aircraft -- its side charred in the fighting -- was later parked near a grove of trees as a memorial. The gesture was all the more eloquent because it replaced a display of old fighter jets.

Time moves on, and the veteran aircraft was eventually repainted with its original colors from the 1960s, evoking a happier chapter of the past. A plaque outside the terminal commemorates the attack on the airport, but the war has clearly been consigned to history.

When former Slovenian President Milan Kucan testified against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague recently, the face-off between these two key figures rekindled memories of this history (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003).

The first armed clashes in what has become known as the "10 Day War" began when Slovenian forces shot down two JNA helicopters over Ljubljana on 27 June 1991. The federal authorities reasoned that they could prevail by escalating the conflict, which eventually killed 13 and wounded 112 Slovenes, against 39 killed and 163 wounded on the federal side. Federal attacks on civilian targets hardened Slovenian opposition, while media attention brought international pressure against Belgrade to cease hostilities.

Indecision and the lack of a real will to fight led to the defeat of the federal forces. Many conscripted soldiers had no interest in the conflict, and by the end Slovenian forces had taken over 3,000 prisoners. In an attempt to galvanize their troops, some federal commanders told their men that they were fighting invading Austrians. In one notable incident, a demoralized federal barracks surrendered after its sewage connections had been cut for several days.

As the later conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova escalated, one of the more bizarre theories to emerge was that Slovenia was responsible for the atrocities wrought by other ethnic groups upon one another. By selfishly leaving Yugoslavia, the theory went, Slovenia incited other republics to secede, triggering the state's bloody dismemberment.

In fact, opting out of a Yugoslavia relentlessly driven toward destruction by a power-hungry Milosevic and the Serbian nationalism he manipulated was the only act of self-preservation available to the Slovenes (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February 2003). Attempts to engage in dialogue collapsed when the Slovenian delegation led by Kucan walked out of the Emergency 14th Congress of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (SKJ) in 1990. The Serbian-controlled majority first categorically rejected all Slovenian proposals for reform, and then jeered the delegation as it left the congress.

In his testimony against Milosevic on 21 May, Kucan rebutted charges that Slovenia had chosen war. Kucan stressed that Slovenia had "threatened no one, but asserted its right to self-determination in a legal and legitimate manner," "Delo" reported on 25 May. Nor, said Kucan, had Slovenia encroached on the territory of any other former Yugoslav republic.

Kucan also denied Milosevic's charges that Slovenia had exacerbated tensions in Kosova, supplied arms to terrorists, or violated the human rights of wounded and captured Yugoslav soldiers. Most Slovenian politicians voiced approval of Kucan's statements, although Janez Jansa -- the leader of the conservative opposition Social Democratic Party (SDS) and a key figure in the 1991 conflict -- felt that the ex-president was overly defensive. "Slovenia does not stand accused before The Hague tribunal, and Kucan was not there as a defendant, although Milosevic tried to put him in that position," the former defense minister was quoted as saying in "Delo" on 25 May.

Although it was small by most standards, Slovenes generally recall the conflict with solemnity. Ljubljana's Museum of Modern History devotes a room to the "10 Day War," including graphic video segments. Around the country are small reminders, from welded tank-stoppers now overgrown with grass along strategic roads to memorial stones marking the sites where events were played out.

"Delo" reported on 25 May that local officials laid a wreath on Ljubljanska Ulica in the town of Pekre, near Maribor. It was here that the JNA encircled the 710th Training Center of the Slovenian Defense Forces on 23 May 1991, in its first military action. During the standoff, a federal armored vehicle struck and killed 53-year-old Josef Simcik, considered the first victim of the conflict.

At the ceremony the mayor of Pekre, Boris Sovic, stated that Kucan's testimony showed who had been to blame. "Slovenia challenged no one to a war," Sovic said, "but when it was forced upon us, we accepted this war and took a decisive stand against those that would block our independence." Interior Minister Rado Bohinc added that Pekre foreshadowed events to come and demonstrated that reasonable dialogue with the JNA had become impossible.

The fates of the two ex-leaders -- one enjoying retirement after a decade of service, the other being prosecuted as a war criminal -- underscore the very different paths that they and their voters chose to follow. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS A NEW LEADER. The opposition nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) elected a new chairman at its 12th party congress held in Ohrid on 24-25 May. Thirty-three-year-old Deputy Chairman Nikola Gruevski, a banker and former finance minister, will succeed former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who resigned from the party chairmanship after 13 years in office. Gruevski was supported by 220 of the 289 delegates, while his only competitor, former Agriculture Minister and Deputy Party Chairman Marjan Gjorcev, gathered only 69 votes.

Georgievski, who became the party's honorary chairman, had openly supported Gruevski's candidacy. With his resignation, Georgievski hopes to help the party regain the lost confidence of both the voters and the international community.

In an article for the daily "Dnevnik" of 25 April, Georgievski summed up the reasons for his retirement from the party chairmanship. He wrote that he led the party into three successive election defeats (in the 1999 presidential, the 2000 local, and the 2002 parliamentary elections); that he wants to avert a flare-up of the internal strife in the VMRO-DPMNE that has led to defections and divisions during the past decade; and that the Macedonian media are biased against him. He feels that by leaving the scene, he can give the media the opportunity to concentrate their criticism on the Social Democrat-led government.

He added that he disagrees with the internationally brokered Ohrid peace accord and that the international community has declared him -- along with hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski -- the least acceptable politician in the country. Georgievski assumes that the international community will hardly support any government led by him or Boskovski. That is why he wants to make way for a party leader who is more acceptable to the international community (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February, 4 and 25 April 2003).

In an analysis published on 9 May -- before the party congress -- Vladimir Jovanovski of the bi-monthly "Forum" wrote that apart from their ages, the most striking difference between the two candidates for Georgievski's succession -- Gruevski and Gjorcev -- was their differing approaches to economics.

While Gjorcev favors more state intervention in the economy, Gruevski clearly prefers liberal market economics. The two competitors for the flamboyant Georgievski's post are relatively lackluster, but, unlike Georgievski, are known as moderates. When Gruevski left his job at Macedonia's Balkanska banka to become Europe's youngest minister, he was only 28 years old. During his term as finance minister, he was untouched by the corruption scandals that shattered Georgievski's coalition government. Gruevski has led the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and he seems to have gained some international recognition for his work. But in the end, it was certainly Georgievski's open support for the young politician that was decisive for the party delegates' decision to make Gruevski their new leader.

Gjorcev, on the other hand, belongs to the older generation within the VMRO-DPMNE. The 49-year-old economist worked at various companies in the food industry before he became mayor of the Kisela voda district in Skopje in 1996. Gjorcev was the most prominent moderate in the VMRO-DPMNE, and he was said to be one of the rare figures within that party who had excellent contacts with its main political rivals, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM).

As a party chairman, he would have been as acceptable for the international community as Gruevski. But he obviously lacked support within his party. With his election defeat, Gjorcev also left the party's inner leadership and was not re-elected deputy chairman.

The big question remains whether the newly elected Gruevski can modernize the party, which -- as is true of many other political parties in the region -- was formed around a single leader. Some observers believe that the VMRO-DPMNE can survive without the integrating figure of Georgievski only if Gruevski manages to turn the classical Balkan-style nationalist party into a modern, western-style conservative party based on a coherent program. (The same is often said of the post-Tudjman Croatian Democratic Community, or HDZ.)

It is, however, hard to assess whether the vast majority of party members are ready to follow this path. But since Gruevski convinced the electorate of his capabilities as finance minister, he may succeed in convincing the party members of the necessity of an ideological U-turn as well.

From an ideological point of view, Gruevski himself should not have any problems moving away from the party's nationalist position, as he did not belong to the hard-line camp.

But the key issue here might be psychological. If Gruevski manages to step out of Georgievski's shadow, then he might be successful. But if Georgievski continues to pull the strings and Gruevski does his bidding, then the party will most likely remain in the opposition for a long time to come. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

MIXED REACTIONS IN ROMANIA AND BULGARIA TO THE GREEK EU PRESIDENCY. Most Southeast European countries had hoped the Greek presidency of the European Union, which ends at the end of June, would boost their EU membership bids. Media reports in EU laggards Romania and Bulgaria have signaled that more support had been expected from Greece, the only Balkan EU member.

But officials in those countries have refrained from expressing open disappointment with Athens. And some analysts say Greece did play a positive role in supporting the Balkan countries' efforts toward European integration -- the rest depending upon each country's ability to fulfill EU membership criteria (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 August 2002, 17 January, and 25 April 2003).

Greece's tenure has occurred while the EU is in the process of completing the largest expansion in its history by accepting 10 new members in 2004 -- most of them former communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe.

Greece had set as one of the goals of its presidency the smooth advancement of the enlargement process and support for the efforts of its Balkan neighbors toward EU integration. Romania and Bulgaria had been looking toward Greece's help in their efforts to fulfill admission criteria and become EU members by 2007.

Although no official from those two countries has openly complained about insufficient support from Greece, Romanian and Bulgarian media have criticized the Greek presidency for failing to cite the names of their countries in the final document of the EU's Athens summit in March, which sealed the admission agreements with the other 10 candidates.

Romanian journalist and political analyst Bogdan Chirieac told RFE/RL: "There is a feeling of frustration, caused by the March [EU] summit [in Greece], where the [EU] admission agreements were signed for the first 10 candidates. There is a feeling of frustration never expressed by the [Romanian] authorities, but expressed extensively by the media, that Romania and Bulgaria were not mentioned in the summit's final document. Bucharest officials have tried to explain this away, because it is not in their own interest to admit it that they suffered a failure there. But I think it is very important that the Greek presidency was not able to support two states close to Greece, from the same region."

Bulgaria is more advanced in reforms and in EU negotiations than Romania, having closed 23 out of 31 "chapters" of the EU's common body of laws, compared to Romania's 17 chapters.

Bucharest concluded one chapter this year. But Sofia has so far not closed any more chapters during the Greek presidency, a fact which has not escaped the attention of the Bulgarian media, as journalist Petio Petkov explains: "What politicians did not say was said by the Bulgarian media. The media noticed that during this period [of the Greek EU presidency] Bulgaria stalled, and no new chapter was closed during negotiations. Bulgarian EU Integration Minister Meglena Kuneva announced the very day Athens took over the EU rotating presidency that Sofia is ready to close negotiations on three chapters. Her statement apparently had no effect, no new chapter having been closed so far."

Greece -- not among Europe's economic or political powerhouses -- was at the helm of the 15-member bloc at the height of the Iraq crisis, which was marked by acute disagreements between the United States and EU heavyweights France and Germany over the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Romania and Bulgaria were firm supporters of the United States during the Iraq crisis, which prompted a strong warning from French President Jacques Chirac and his defense minister, who said their pro-U.S. stance could jeopardize their EU integration (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February, 4 and 25 April, and 2 May 2003).

EU enlargement analyst Heather Grabbe of the Brussels-based Center for European Reform says the lack of progress in negotiations could have various causes: "The slowness of the negotiations is not just Greece's fault. Greece held the presidency, so it set the pace for negotiations; but ultimately it's up to getting the other member states involved, too. This has been a very difficult period for getting member states to make progress on anything very much to do with foreign policy because of the great crisis over Iraq. "Now I've heard all kinds of rumors that negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania -- particularly Bulgaria -- have gone slower because of member states who were angry with [Romania and] Bulgaria's support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq -- their rhetorical support -- and there were some attempts to punish them for this. I don't know how much truth is in these rumors, but those kinds of political disturbances can have an impact on the momentum of negotiations. So I think you can't blame just Athens for that outcome," Grabbe says.

Journalist Bogdan Chirieac says Romanians felt particularly unhappy after Greek media published an opinion poll that showed a majority of Greece's 11 million people did not want Romania in the EU because of its support for the U.S. war in Iraq.

But analyst Grabbe says Greece deserves praise for keeping the Balkans in the limelight during a very difficult time. She says that consciousness-raising regarding the Balkans has been a central aspect of the Greek presidency.

She also mentions the positive response the EU and its Greek presidency gave to Croatia's EU application for membership earlier this year: "Well, Greece has tried to keep the Balkans on the agenda and may be very frustrated because it tried to make the Balkans a centerpiece of the foreign policy part of their agenda. But obviously that agenda got rather hijacked by the Iraq crisis. So it's not surprising that things have gone rather more quietly than they would have liked. But it's also difficult to say exactly what more the EU could have offered. The EU is in no mood to offer accession to a lot more countries at the moment. They responded positively to Croatia's application for membership, which was a very important signal to the rest of the Balkans."

Bulgaria is in the process of shutting down its Kozloduy nuclear plant in compliance with EU regulations. Two of its reactors have already been switched off. Two more are due to be decommissioned in 2006, but Bulgaria wants additional inspections to demonstrate they should be kept in operation until after 2010.

But journalist Petkov says the Bulgarian media suspect Greece is blocking the inspection of the reactors by a commission of European experts.

However, enlargement analyst Grabbe says the Greek presidency has supported the two countries as much as it can. Grabbe says it is up to Romania and Bulgaria to work harder toward fulfilling the EU's admission criteria: "The Greek leadership, particularly the current government, has been very keen on promoting Romania and Bulgaria's accession to the EU. But they're not recognized as ready by the [European] Commission or by most of the other member states, so that obviously affects things. Remember that EU accession is not just a political decision by the union to say that it likes a country or that it wants to have friendly relations with a country."

Grabbe says Romania and Bulgaria, as well as Croatia, have to meet the admission criteria in order to be ready to join the EU. That, Grabbe concludes, involves a huge amount of preparation and, if a country has not done this, then it can not join. (Eugen Tomiuc)

GREECE RATIFIES MACEDONIA'S EU AGREEMENT -- TWO YEARS LATER. The Greek parliament voted on 27 May to ratify Macedonia's Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, which was concluded and signed in 2001, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The way is now clear for the parliament to ratify an additional 23, mainly bilateral, agreements with Macedonia. The legislature is expected to ratify soon Croatia's Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU.

Greece, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has called on other EU countries to help speed the integration of the western Balkan states into the Brussels-based bloc. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said on 24 May that the EU needs to give membership hopefuls "a new vision and accelerate progress towards membership," the London-based "Financial Times" reported.

Critics at home and abroad charge, however, that Athens has not always been quick to follow its own advice. They argue that, in any event, the EU must show more constancy in integrating new candidates, as well as in enforcing its own rules and standards. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I note that the U.S. is less and less interested in Europe. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, this trend was masked by events in Yugoslavia and the Balkans conflict. This is a very significant development, and I am not entirely happy about it. Nevertheless in the medium term, over the next 50 years or so, I foresee the trans-Atlantic link still being essential.... There will be crises in Europe, it has been built on crises. But Europe is moving forward, and those who try to stop this movement risk getting their fingers caught in the door." -- French President Jacques Chirac, quoted in the "Financial Times" of 26 May.

"Mr. Schroeder's earlier statements that so angered the White House might have remained a one-off episode. They did not, at first, signal a shift in German foreign policy. But they have hardened into such a shift in the months since. U.S. policy in NATO and over Iraq seems to have convinced the chancellor not only that his position was justified but also that, since the U.S. was treating NATO as a toolbox from which to pick and choose, Germany should no longer rely on it as the exclusive framework for its defense. Hence the commitment with France, Belgium, and Luxembourg to set up a European military headquarters capable of planning and implementing operations independently of NATO. In its 50-year history, the Federal Republic could always be counted on to give NATO priority over Europe in security matters. Not any more." -- Christoph Bertram, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. His article "Germany Will Not Become America's Vassal" appeared in the "Financial Times" of 28 May.

"I'm able to see some tendencies that are the possible beginnings of a development that would see the European Union and its defense initiative as a direct counterweight to the U.S. I think this would be tragic, that it would lead first to the marginalization of Europe in the world and to the weakening of the U.S. in the long term.... Europe and the U.S. must keep their ties of alliance, partnership, and friendship. It's not in our or anyone else's interests to build parallel structures or alternatives to what we've already achieved in NATO. A Europe that is becoming more integrated must not try to set up a counterweight against the U.S., but rather retain the closest possible ties that strengthen both sides. The trans-Atlantic partnership remains and must remain the fundamental strategic priority for Europe and the U.S." -- Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. Quoted by RFE/RL in Prague on 28 May.

XS
SM
MD
LG