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Balkan Report: December 5, 2003


5 December 2003, Volume 7, Number 39

CROATIAN VOTERS OUST THE GOVERNMENT. Croatian voters apparently returned the late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to power in the 23 November parliamentary elections. The ballot reflected a general disappointment with the sometimes fractious government of Social Democratic Prime Minister Ivica Racan and its failure to raise the standard of living, rather than a return to the nationalism of the early 1990s (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003).

Racan admitted defeat, saying in Zagreb on 25 November that his Social Democrats (SDP) clearly lost to the HDZ. "We congratulate the HDZ on its very good results," Racan said. "We expect them to take responsibility and form a new government as soon as possible," he added, noting that his government will continue in office in a caretaker capacity until HDZ leader Ivo Sanader forms a cabinet. Racan said that the SDP will then go into the opposition.

With a voter turnout of about 66 percent, final official returns on 3 December showed the HDZ the clear winner. It will have 66 seats in the new 152-member parliament, the SDP (with its coalition partners Libra, the Liberal Party [LS], and the Istrian Democratic Assembly [IDS]) 43, the Croatian People's Party (HNS) (with the regional Primorsko-goranski Alliance) 11, the Croatian Peasants Party (HSS) nine, the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) eight, the Croatian Pensioners' Party (HSU) three, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS)-Democratic Center (DC) coalition three, and one for the Croatian Democratic Peasants' Party (HDSS).

In addition, eight seats were reserved for representatives of ethnic minorities. Four additional seats were assigned to representatives of the diaspora, all of which were for HDZ. The final number of diaspora seats depended on precisely how many ballots were cast by Croats living outside Croatia. A 3 December statement by the election commission (DIP) described the turnout among the minorities and the diaspora as "poor," both objectively and in comparison with the 2000 elections.

But the results seemed unambiguous, in any case. Sanader said in Zagreb on 24 November that his government's priority will be raising the standard of living -- an apparent recognition of why the electorate ousted the Racan team. Sanader pledged to cut VAT from 22 percent to 20 percent, to seek admission to the EU by 2007 and to NATO by 2006, and to promote good relations with Croatia's neighbors.

He added that his pledge to promote integration with the EU and NATO clearly includes cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Sanader stressed throughout the campaign that the HDZ has broken with its nationalistic and authoritarian past. Observers note, however, that nationalist rhetoric often emerged at HDZ campaign rallies.

One question that quickly surfaced after the HDZ victory had become clear was whether Sanader will be able to form a government without the open or tacit support of the HSP. The EU and Croatia's neighbors are likely to be wary of a government that includes HSP members or depends on HSP votes in the parliament. That party is likely to insist on a tough line on cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal as part of any price for its support.

But HSP leader Anto Djapic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 2 December that his party will not support a government with its votes in the parliament if the cabinet does not include HSP ministers. The HDZ was reportedly reluctant to include HSP deputies in the cabinet lest it face international isolation as did the Austrian government when the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) first entered a cabinet.

Attention is currently focused on whether Sanader can put together a working legislative majority with other parties, especially the HSS, rather than with the HSP. Talks with HSS leader Zlatko Tomcic and other party officials began soon after the elections, but attempts to hammer out a joint program seem to have stalled because of allegedly irreconcilable differences over economic policies. Tomcic said on 1 December, however, that the HSS is willing to support a minority HDZ government in the parliament. It is not clear whether the HSS has definitively ended negotiations or is using a tactical ploy to extract better terms from the HDZ.

A truly tantalizing possibility would be the entry into the government of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS), which will have three legislative seats allotted to the Serbian minority. Before the election, party leader Milorad Pupovac suggested such a possibility, as did his colleague Vojislav Stanimirovic after the vote.

The SDSS subsequently backed off from its tentative offer, but as with the case of the HSS, it is too early to tell whether this is the last word or a negotiating tactic. The SDSS can afford to drive a hard bargain, because Sanader knows he will have an infinitely easier time convincing the EU, NATO, and other foreign partners that the HDZ has mended its nationalist ways if Serbs are in his cabinet.

Croatia's neighbors and partners generally reacted calmly to the news of the HDZ victory. Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 24 November that Croatia will soon have a stable government, recalling that Slovenia has worked with previous HDZ-led governments.

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told RFE/RL in Belgrade that cooperation between the two countries will continue regardless of who is in power in either of them.

In Sarajevo, Dragan Covic, who heads the Bosnian Presidency and is a member of the Bosnian branch of the HDZ, hailed the Croatian election results. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica that he congratulated Sanader and looks forward to continuing good bilateral cooperation.

In Brussels, an EU spokesman noted that the elections "took place in an orderly fashion," stressing, as did several top EU officials, that the Brussels-based bloc will judge the new government on the basis of its deeds and not its words. The EU did not fulfill the outgoing government's hopes of being promised admission by 2007. Brussels also alienated some Croats recently by appearing to suggest to voters that they should not vote for the HDZ or its allies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October and 14 November 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003).

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) observation that the elections were fully up to international standards.

And hope springs eternal. Vesna Pusic, who leads the left-of-center HNS, said on 25 November that she hopes that her party and the others in the Racan government will have a chance to form a new cabinet if the HDZ fails to put together a working legislative majority. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN JOURNALISM: INDEPENDENT, BUT NOT NEUTRAL. In a lengthy interview with the Skopje bimonthly "Forum" of 21 November, Erol Rizaov, the editor in chief of the daily "Utrinski vesnik," talked about politics, freedom of speech, journalistic independence, and the economic situation of the media in Macedonia.

As an ethnic Turk, 53-year-old Rizaov is one of the few prominent Macedonian journalists who speaks Macedonian, Albanian, and Turkish. He began his career with the main state-owned daily "Nova Makedonija," where he worked for about 25 years before he joined "Utrinski vesnik."

As a long-term employee, Rizaov commented on the demise of the Nova Makedonija publishing house, which went into liquidation in October after a long agony and some failed attempts at privatization (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 October 2003).

He believes that the efforts to privatize the publishing house came too late and lacked a good strategy. Rizaov criticized the decision to privatize the company among the employees. Instead, he feels that the management should have set up a holding consisting of the company's various departments, including its media outlets as well as the printing facilities and retail shops.

He also argued that the government of former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski launched "genocide" against the "Nova Makedonija" staff in 1998, when the management was replaced by persons close to Georgievski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). Had this not been the case, Rizaov believes, "Nova Makedonija" could have survived even though the newspaper market is tight. It was also under Georgievski's government that the final effort to privatize the publishing house failed (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002).

But economic difficulties were not a problem for "Nova Makedonija" alone. Its three major competitors -- the independent dailies "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest" -- had problems, too. Their lack of capital prevented them from investing in modern equipment such as new printing machines. That is what finally drove those three dailies into the arms of the German WAZ media group, which bought them up in July, Rizaov said (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 August 2003).

He also defended the German media giant against allegations that a monopoly might be created -- and abused -- in Macedonia, saying that WAZ was the first media group to ratify the OSCE's guidelines for editorial independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003). "[Backed by] WAZ, you can have high-quality printing, distribute your publications easily, and raise journalistic standards," Rizaov noted.

Such standards are currently very low in Macedonia, Rizaov conceded. He finds it rather strange that a small country of 2 million inhabitants has hundreds of radio and TV stations, and dozens of daily and weekly newspapers in all of its major languages. However, Rizaov said, this quantity is not reflected in a corresponding high degree of quality. "Poor quality, vulgarity, tastelessness, and primitivism abound," he complained (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 20 November and 4 December 2003).

Although he noted that there are some independent media, he added that in some cases independence is not necessarily linked to neutrality. "Macedonia has no neutral newspapers. All take...sides," Rizaov noted. He believes that there should be more neutral reporting, as it is not only important what is reported but also how it is reported. "We have independent, but not neutral journalism."

For him, a major problem in Macedonia is the persistence of ethnic stereotypes and prejudices in the media of the different ethnic groups. "If you know Turkish, Albanian, and Macedonian...and if you read the newspapers in those languages, you will see huge differences in the reports and analyses," Rizaov said.

In his view, journalistic standards in all media outlets could be raised if the national TV station, MTV, became a trailblazer for such standards. To do so, MTV would have to shed its business interests and adopt the BBC's journalistic standards. Such professionalism could serve as a positive example for the other media.

The government could also play a positive role in raising journalistic standards, Rizaov believes. In his opinion, the government should adopt laws that ensure public access to information. He criticized the government for instead adopting a draft change to the Penal Code, raising fines for libel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003).

The Association of Journalists of Macedonia (ZNM) wants the government to follow the Council of Europe's recommendation and remove libel and slander from the Penal Code altogether. In some postcommunist countries -- including Croatia, Serbia, Albania, and Macedonia -- critical journalists are often sued for libel or slander and given stiff fines, which the Council of Europe has identified as a major obstacle to the freedom of the media.

Recently, one of "Utrinski vesnik's" journalists, Sonja Kramarska, was successfully sued for libel by former parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov. Rizaov termed this a classic case of abuse of the courts, arguing that Kramarska was really fined for her use of irony. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

THE ONGOING SAGA OF THE SLOVENIAN MOSQUE. Another Bajram celebration has come and gone in Slovenia, marking the end of fasting for the traditional Muslim month of Ramadan. A feature article in the daily "Delo" on 30 November noted that 5,000 Muslim men from across the country participated in group prayers in Ljubljana, led by Mufti Osman Djogic.

Conservative guesses number Slovenia's Muslims at 48,000, but estimates range as high as 150,000. The "Delo" article gives a largely sympathetic and accessible portrayal of the Muslim community, and explains religious terms ranging from the basic -- such as "Hegira" and "hajj" -- to the less well-known, such as "namaz" (worship) and "zakat" (the alms tax).

Nonetheless, one is left with the troubling reminder that Slovenia's Muslims are still compelled to gather for their religious services in Ljubljana's Tivoli sports hall. This venue -- otherwise suited for rock concerts and basketball playoffs -- is a makeshift arrangement at best.

Ljubljana's Muslim community was first formally organized in 1967, and proposals to build a mosque were voiced in 1969. At the time, there were only 3,000 Muslims living in Ljubljana. Since then, Slovenia's Islamic community has grown to include 13 officially registered groups. However, no progress has been made in obtaining official permission to build a mosque, as first a site and then building permission must be approved (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 May 2002 and 11 April 2003).

Unlike so many building projects in Slovenia, funding is not a problem. In comments in "Delo" on 13 November, Djogic noted that money will be provided through contributions from Muslims in Slovenia and from Islamic states abroad.

The stalling over the mosque has become proverbial in Slovenia, and human rights groups and liberals have decried the delays through protests that have included the construction of paper-mache mosques. Even a mock website -- http://www.dzamija.si -- has been set up to illustrate the inordinate time the project is taking.

Nor has Ljubljana escaped criticism from abroad for dragging its heels on getting the mosque started. The 2002 U.S. "Country Report on Human Rights Practices" for Slovenia, released in March 2003, specifically cited the mosque issue (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 April 2003). More recently, a report by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles favorably assessed Slovenia's general record in human rights but mentioned the mosque impasse as a shortcoming in the protection of minorities, "Delo" reported on 10 November.

Initially, city planners had intended to locate the mosque near Zale -- Ljubljana's central cemetery, designed by the internationally recognized Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik (1872-1957), "Delo" reported on 13 November. However, this location was subsequently changed to one in southwest Ljubljana, an industrial area where the highway joins the loop around the city.

Locals immediately sought to block the plans, arguing that a nearby canal constitutes a flooding danger to the mosque. After this was dismissed by an environmental agency, small garden-plot owners charged that the construction site would encroach on their allotments. The latest objection, "Delo" reported on 29 November, comes from the local council, which cautions that their section of Ljubljana is more prone to earthquake damage than other parts of the city.

When it comes down to it, locals confess that what bothers them most is the that a mosque simply contradicts their idea of what is basically "Slovenian," and that building one would fundamentally change the Slovenian character of the landscape.

Here they have a point. If you pause on a forest path at, say, noon or 3 p.m., you can hear the canonical hours marked by the peal of bells from half a dozen surrounding village churches. Some people have the uncanny ability to identify the individual villages by the pitch of their bells. If the booming baritone voice of a muezzin were added to the mix, it could become a very different event, indeed.

However, Slovenia's religious character is hardly immutable. Only a few centuries ago, the country was mostly Protestant. Today, dozens of religious communities share space in this majority Catholic country. Yet another religious edifice certainly will not trigger wholesale Islamization.

The 19 August 2002 issue of the weekly "Mladina" carried an article by Ali H. Zerdin on the last mosque to stand in Slovenia -- a makeshift structure built in 1916 by Bosnian troops on the Austro-Italian front. At Rombon, 400 Bosnian troops fell in battle and lie buried in the village of Log pod Mangartom -- beneath Christian crosses. The mosque's minaret fell in 1918, and today only photos remain (see: http://www.mladina.si/tednik/200233/clanek/minaret/).

The 1 December issue of "Mladina" closed with an uncharacteristically serious photograph, showing thousands of Muslims crowded into the Tivoli sports hall. They stand with their prayer rugs arrayed across the hardwood floor of the basketball court, with netting obscuring the bleachers and the basketball hoops shoved to the side. The caption pointedly asks readers: "Would you perform your religious ceremony in a place like this?" (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Who will say that Iraq was better off when Saddam Hussein was strutting and killing or that the world was safer when he held power? Who doubts that Afghanistan is a more just society and less dangerous without Mullah Omar playing host to terrorists from around the world? And Europe, too, is plainly better off with Milosevic answering for his crimes instead of committing more." -- U.S. President George W. Bush, quoted by RFE/RL in London on 19 November.

"The victims of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, those who survived the rapists and the death squads, had few qualms when NATO applied force to help end those crimes. The women of Afghanistan, imprisoned in their homes and beaten in the streets and executed in public spectacles, did not reproach us for routing the Taliban. The inhabitants of Iraq's Ba'athist hell, with its lavish palaces and its torture chambers, with its massive statues and its mass graves, do not miss their fugitive dictator. They rejoiced at his fall." -- Ibid.

"Our concept of European defense is a concept which does not in any way come into contradiction with NATO, and I would like to make that clear. Neither the Germans nor the French wish to undertake any sort of initiative that would contradict NATO which, as the Prime Minister [Tony Blair] just said, is at the heart of our defense system." -- French President Jacques Chirac, quoted by RFE/RL in London on 24 November.

"We can say that the embryo of a European defense is under way and that it's an irreversible process." -- Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, quoted by "The Times" of London on 1 December, after Britain agreed to Franco-German plans for a EU military planning unit separate from NATO.

"I am sure you can appreciate how big a step forward this has been." -- Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, quoted in ibid.

"British officials admitted yesterday that there remained some doubts about French motivations." -- "The Times," 1 December.

"This is what France always wanted. This is the steady rise of the EU and the slow decline of NATO." -- Unnamed NATO "senior diplomat," quoted by the "Financial Times" in Brussels on 1 December.

"People will regard [the European military planning unit independent of NATO] as a Trojan horse. You start with [a staff of] 30 and end up with 300. It is a bridgehead to something much bigger." -- Unnamed NATO diplomat, quoted by the "Financial Times" in Brussels on 1 December.

"You cannot have democratic accountability in anything bigger than a nation-state." -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Quoted by "The Washington Times" on 25 November.

"The enemies of free societies today are those who want to burden us down again with layer upon layer of regulations. We had that in communist times. But now if you look at all the new rules and regulations of EU membership, layered bureaucracy is staging a comeback." -- ibid.

"Spite is not simply an emotional factor here, it's a political factor." -- Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 3 December.

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