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Balkan Report: December 12, 2003


12 December 2003, Volume 7, Number 40

INCORRIGIBLE SERBIA? Serbian voters seem set to oust the remnants of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition in general elections on 28 December. Much more is likely to be at stake than a simple rotation of postcommunist parties or coalitions into and out of the government.

On 8 December, no less a figure than Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic announced in Belgrade that his small Liberal Party will include on its election slate a police general indicted by the Hague-based tribunal for war crimes in Kosova, Sreten Lukic. For good measure, Mihajlovic added that he would have included on the list a second indicted war criminal, army General Vladimir Lazarevic, had the latter been in better health. This looks like a case of a small party having identified a promising tactic to attract enough votes to meet the 5 percent electoral threshold.

In fact, at least four slates will include or be led by indicted war criminals. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will head the list of his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). Vojislav Seselj's name will appear atop the slate of his ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS). And former army General Nebojsa Pavkovic will head the list of a small coalition. Milosevic and Seselj are already in The Hague, while Pavkovic, Lukic, and Lazarevic are still in Serbia.

In the recent failed Serbian presidential election, the SRS's Tomislav Nikolic finished first. One recent poll suggests that the Radicals will also take top place on 28 December with 23.1 percent of the vote, even though they seem unlikely to win enough seats to form a government. The once-mighty SPS, with which the SRS was long allied, might barely squeak into the parliament with 6.1 percent.

Following immediately behind the SRS in the poll is former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) with 22.5 percent of the vote. The DSS is anti-Milosevic but right-of-center and nationalist, having fallen out with most of the rest of the DOS not very long after the 5 October 2000 revolt that ousted the dictator. Kostunica has long been a sharp critic of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He said on 8 December that he sees no problem in indicted war criminals appearing on the ballot but has difficulties with the manner in which the current government cooperates with the tribunal.

Those parties that most convincingly claim the mantle of 5 October received less than 10 percent of the vote in the poll. The opposition G-17 Plus party of Miroljub Labus is at 9.8 percent, while 9.1 percent goes to the governing Democratic Party of Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic and his predecessor, Zoran Djindjic, who was assassinated on 12 March.

What seems in the cards for Serbia is not the kind of alternation in office of more-or-less democratically minded, postcommunist parties that has become typical of Poland, Hungary, and now Croatia, but something more sinister. Serbia seems headed for a change from politicians and parties that at least paid lip service to Western-oriented reforms to others that espouse defiant nationalism, even if the DSS is milder in that respect than the SRS or SPS.

The Radicals and Socialists are, moreover, unrepentant and unreformed parties from the past. The strength of the SRS in particular is disturbing when one recalls that it was a Serbia led and manipulated by canny politicians and intoxicated with nationalism that started -- and lost -- four wars during the 1990s, destroying the former Yugoslavia in the process.

One reason for the continued presence of the SRS and SPS on the political landscape is the fact that the political culture remains locked into blame and denial. Serbs are seen as the eternal victims of international Dark Forces, nationalist Croats, terrorist Albanians, fundamentalist Muslims, or whoever the bogey of the moment may be.

Belgrade human rights lawyer Srdja Popovic, who is a long-time critic of Serbian political culture, wrote recently that the resurgence of the SRS and the appearance of indicted war criminals on party slates show that the era of Djindjic and the DOS was merely an interlude in a transition from Milosevic to noncommunist extreme nationalist leadership.

Serbian political trends still reflect those in Croatia in that the voters are unhappy with a reformist government that failed to deliver on its promises to raise the standard of living. But the situation in Serbia stands in contrast to that in Croatia, where the late President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is now returning to power only by stressing social and economic issues and after toning down its nationalist rhetoric and purging its ranks of many people linked to the former regime.

In Serbia, however, nationalist rhetoric has become increasingly shrill in the run-up to the 28 December vote. Several leading politicians angrily rejected a recent call by Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), for Serbs to apologize to Kosovars as a step toward reconciliation.

Prime Minister Zivkovic himself suggested that Carla Del Ponte, who heads the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, is actively and deliberately supporting the SRS and SPS by undermining his government. Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic -- a Bosnian Muslim from Sandzak -- also said that the tribunal has hurt the government, adding that spiteful defiance (inat) "is not simply an emotional factor [in Serbia], it's a political factor."

More importantly, all the time and energy devoted by politicians to nationalist issues means there is that much less attention paid to the real concerns of ordinary Serbs: poverty, crime, and corruption. Many observers have wondered whether the politicians tend to avoid tackling burning social and economic issues because they have no answers, or because they profit in one way or another from the current situation.

In any event, Serbian voters will make their choice on 28 December, and the international community will decide how to react to it. That reaction will be closely watched in other parts of former Yugoslavia for any signs that the West is coddling Serbian nationalists or war criminals while talking tough to the Croats, Muslims, or Kosovars.

A resurgence of rightist nationalism in Serbia might also prompt some Western policymakers to reconsider the wisdom of having pressured Serbia and Montenegro in 2002 into a state union that neither the Montenegrin authorities nor an apparent majority of the Serbian public wanted.

Montenegrin parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic told Ljubljana's "Delo" of 5 December: "I am sure that Serbia is turning to the right again. It is again [moving towards] nationalism, territorial expansion, and war. Montenegro is disturbed by that." To say the least.

Some Kosovars stress that time has come for the international community to move toward independence for Kosova based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. These Kosovars argue that insecurity and fear of a possible return by Serbian forces to the province make all Kosovars nervous and provide fertile ground for extremism.

Other observers add that a clear message from the international community to Serbia that Milosevic definitely lost Kosova in 1999 and that the province's Serbian minority should look to Prishtina rather than Belgrade would help deny Serbian politicians the excuse to waste time and energy on the Kosova "issue." They might then have to concentrate on telling their voters what they propose to do about job creation, health care, living conditions, and education. (Patrick Moore)

SERBIA'S ROYAL RESTORATION. The Serbian Orthodox Church is calling for the restoration of the monarchy in Serbia, nearly six decades after it was abolished by the communists (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 January 2001). The idea is not new, but this time it comes on the eve of crucial parliamentary elections. Does the monarchy have any substantial support in Serbia -- or is the move just a ploy to attract disillusioned voters ahead of the 28 December poll?

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, says restoring the constitutional monarchy is the best solution for Serbia's many problems. In a letter to Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic dated 29 November, Pavle said the communists' ban on the monarchy in 1945 was the result of "unprecedented tyranny" and should be revoked.

Karadjordjevic seemed only too happy to agree. The English-born son of the last Yugoslav king said restoring the monarchy is the "right thing to do" and would be "in the interest of the people." It was the first time the prince, who moved back to Belgrade following the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has publicly called for a restoration.

"Serbia must not delay its return to the world, [to] Europe [and] to the future. The price of that delay is now being paid by all Serbian citizens. Serbia as a constitutional and legitimate monarchy will make all of its citizens proud once again and will provide respect for Serbia both at home and abroad," Karadjordjevic said.

The idea of restoring the constitutional monarchy was last raised seriously in 1999, when it was backed by then-opposition parties and enjoyed the support of some 7 percent-15 percent of the population. The Center for Marketing Research polling institute says that figure is unlikely to have changed significantly, but a poll taken by state television earlier this week shows Serbs -- by a ratio of more than 3-to-1 -- embracing the monarchy.

The idea has found less-than-enthusiastic backing among political parties, however. So far, only the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), led by Vuk Draskovic, has voiced its support. "The monarchy is not a retrograde decision at all," Draskovic said. "It is a decision for the future. Everything great and successful that we Serbs, since the times of the Karadjordjevic [dynasty] up to now, have achieved, we have achieved under the monarchy."

The SPO is running in the 28 December parliamentary election in coalition with another small party, New Serbia (NS). Draskovic says that if the coalition wins, it will restore the constitutional monarchy within a week, even without a referendum.

For now, though, there is hardly any chance of that happening. Analysts say the SPO has no chance of winning a majority and that it is simply trying to lure voters.

Dejan Anastasijevic, a political analyst for the independent "Vreme" weekly in Belgrade, told RFE/RL: "Mr. Draskovic wants to create for himself a niche within the Serbian political system. And as I said, since there are about 10 percent of voters who would favor monarchy, Mr. Draskovic has decided to fit into that niche in order to be able to get into parliament. His problem is that he is running a center-right party which has to compete with several other larger and stronger center-right parties, so he had to find something that would make him different from the others."

Representatives of pro-reform parties, both in the governing coalition and the opposition, say the issue of Serbia's constitutional system can be decided only in a referendum. Vladan Batic of the Christian Democrats (DHSS) and Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) have expressed sympathy for the monarchy in the past.

But since the idea apparently is not the order of the day, the more relevant question appears to be why it was launched at all -- and why did it cause such a stir?

Anastasijevic says this is not the first time the Orthodox Church has tried to meddle in politics in Serbia. "The church obviously stepped out of its spiritual role and went into politics, but that is not unusual in Serbia," he said. "The church has come up with political demands before, even in Milosevic's times, but usually they were largely ignored by the government."

Serbian political analyst Djordje Vukadinovic, editor in chief of the philosophical journal "New Political Thought," says the proposal to reinstall the constitutional monarchy now was not accidental -- despite the fact that many agree it would not solve Serbia's political crisis.

Relations between pro-reform parties are strained, and the reformist camp in Serbia was further weakened after an ultranationalist candidate won the most votes in last month's failed presidential election (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003). Analysts say the nationalist right cannot hope to win a majority in the 28 December poll but is almost certain to strengthen its position because of the disarray in the reformist camp.

The vote will be the first big challenge for reformist parties since they ousted Milosevic three years ago, and its outcome will determine the pace of future democratic reforms.

Vukadinovic says he expects the monarchy idea could be kept alive even after the election if the poll does not resolve the political crisis. "If it is not resolved, as I am afraid it will not be, then we could expect a fresh revival of these arguments, possibly in connection with a referendum that would have to decide on the future of Serbia, probably on [the future of the union state of] Serbia and Montenegro," he said, "because then how could we possibly have a union between two states, one of which is a monarchy and the other one a republic?"

The idea could also play into the hands of those who would like to see ties weakened between the two republics in the loose union state of Serbia and Montenegro. Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said on 1 December that, should Serbia decide to become a monarchy, the survival of the union state in its present form would become "impossible" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003). (Julia Geshakova, with Zoran Glavonjic of RFE/RL's Belgrade bureau)

MACEDONIAN CENSUS RESULTS SPARK CONTROVERSY. When the state Statistics Agency published the official results of the 2002 census, it set off a controversy among politicians and experts. This dispute reflects the deeply rooted fears and prejudices of the ethnic Macedonian majority, mainly because the results show that the large ethnic Albanian minority has continued to grow since the last census in 1994.

According to the agency, the country's overall population stood at 2,022,547, 64.18 percent of which were ethnic Macedonians, 25.17 percent ethnic Albanians, 3.85 percent ethnic Turks, 2.66 percent Roma, 1.78 percent Serbs, 0.84 percent Bosnian Muslims, 0.48 percent Vlachs, and 1.04 percent other ethnic groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2003).

The census results were eagerly awaited, especially by the Albanian minority. Under the Ohrid peace accord, which ended the 2001 interethnic conflict, greater rights -- especially pertaining to the use of minority languages and the representation of minorities in the state administration -- were granted to those ethnic minorities that make up more than 20 percent of the population. The 20 percent threshold applies to both the national and the municipal level (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001).

In their initial reactions, the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) hailed the census and its results. "This important...operation was carried out...successfully and professionally," RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters quoted SDSM spokesman Igor Ivanovski as saying.

The SDSM's junior coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI), reacted more cautiously. BDI Deputy Chairwoman Teuta Arifi recalled that the BDI was not yet in power when preparations for the census began. "In any case, we have the greatest confidence in the international community [which closely monitored the census], and our position will be in line with the position of the international community." Arifi added that the BDI will work to ensure that the proportional representation of Albanians in state institutions is in keeping with the census results.

The ethnic Macedonian opposition parties -- the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and the Liberal Party (LP) -- criticized the census results.

In a statement, VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski demanded the formation of an expert commission to investigate what he called the "shortcomings" and "weaknesses" of the census. Gruevski accused the government of being responsible for the "great lack of transparency in the State Census Commission." "The fact that the population grew by 76,000 -- up to 68,000 of whom are Albanians and only 2,000 Macedonians -- is contestable," Gruevski said. He added that this means that the Albanian minority has grown by 15 percent or 20 percent, while the Macedonian majority increased by only 0.15 percent.

Gruevski's criticism was also supported by Nikola Panov, who is a professor in the Geography Department of Skopje University. In a commentary for "Dnevnik" of 6 December, Panov called the results "virtual," as he believes the alleged growth of the Albanian minority to be highly inflated. Interestingly, both Gruevski and Panov dispute the fact that the birthrate among Albanians remains high, whereas the birthrate among Macedonians is falling.

What Gruevski did not take into account, however, is the new rules affecting this census. Instead of counting persons with Macedonian citizenship, as was the case in previous censuses, only persons who "usually live in Macedonia" were counted this time. People who have been living abroad for more than one year were not included in the overall numbers. This means that ethnic Albanians who have no Macedonian citizenship were counted, while Macedonian citizens living abroad permanently were not.

Panov as well as Professor Slave Risteski of the Economics Department at Skopje University believe that the higher figures for the Albanian minority are mainly due to immigration rather than to higher birthrates. Many of these immigrants who are relatives of ethnic Albanian Macedonian citizens come from Kosova, southern Serbia, or Albania.

Just as the nationalist Macedonian parties do not want to admit that the proportion of ethnic Macedonians in the population is shrinking, some ethnic Albanians cannot accept the fact that they make up only about 25 percent of the total. These disputes reflect similar controversies that emerged following earlier population counts.

Zahir Bekteshi of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) said the number of Albanians in Macedonia must be higher than 25 percent. He told "Fakti" that according to the PPD's analysis, the figure should be closer to 29 percent.

As things stand, the controversy about the results is likely to continue, as representatives of other ethnic communities, such as the Turkish and Serbian minorities, have also voiced concerns. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

SLOVENIA PREPARES FOR EU INTEGRATION. The new Schengen-style border crossing that opened recently at Obrezje on Slovenia's border with Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 2 December 2003) brought distinctly different reactions from the respective sides of the border. Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop praised the new system as one that will link EU and non-EU countries rather than divide them, "Delo" reported on 4 December.

Meanwhile, some Croatian politicians -- such as Damir Kajin of the Istrian Democratic Party (IDS) -- condemned the development as a new "Iron Curtain" that will isolate Southeastern Europe from the rest of the continent. Despite such grumbling from the south, however, Slovenia's leaders are increasingly turning their attention to the north and sizing up opportunities for positioning Slovenia within the EU.

Concerns over Slovenia's future contributed to a series of high-profile meetings called by President Janez Drnovsek over the past two months (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003). The first round in October focused on foreign policy and the position of Slovenia as a small state in the international community. The second meeting, held in late November, looked at identifying and preserving traditional values, while the third meeting on 10 December examined the roles of knowledge and science.

Despite all the talk in and around this so-called "convention on the future of Slovenia," the public remains largely oblivious to the discussions. A "Delo" poll published on 29 November revealed that only 9 percent of Slovenes considered themselves knowledgeable about the meetings, and over half said they knew nothing at all.

Individual political parties are now dealing with the selection of candidates to run in elections to the European Parliament (EP), slated for 13 June 2004. Slovenia's population of 2 million entitles it to seven representatives. Although campaigning will not begin until 15 May, the tickets are already being drawn up.

In some parties, obvious jockeying for positions is betraying internal rivalries. France But -- minister of agriculture and former head of the junior member of the governing coalition, the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) -- announced in August that he would step down from both positions in exchange for top ranking on the SLS EP slate. But's subsequent hesitation and a three-way race to succeed him as party president, however, gave the impression of a free-for-all (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003).

The largest opposition party, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), announced its lineup of seven candidates for the EP elections on 29 October. As expected, party Vice President Miha Brejc is heading the list, followed by Joze Jerovsek, a senior SDS deputy. Formal adoption of the list will take place in spring 2004, when the party will also make a final decision on whether or not to run a joint ticket with the New Slovenia (NSi) party.

Meanwhile, speculation is rife about whether the senior member of the governing coalition, the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS), may "invite" Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel to be on its list of EP candidates as a way of gently removing him from the domestic political scene.

Rupel has taken significant heat from the public over the past year, especially following the signing of the "Vilnius 10" statement expressing support for the U.S. position on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003). Moreover, there have been reports of friction between the minister and key coalition figures. Rupel's latest worries involve alleged misuse of his ministerial position to support a university training program for diplomats. However, Rop commented in "Delo" on 6 November that he supports Rupel and the work of the Foreign Ministry.

Plans to upgrade Slovenia's links with the EU suffered a setback in November, when a proposed second rail line from the port of Koper to Ljubljana failed to gain priority ranking for EU funding. Slovenia has been striving to win support for developing infrastructure along its section of the planned Trans-European Corridor V -- which will stretch from France to Ukraine -- in both rail and highway construction.

Slovenia particularly fears that the port of Koper may be sidelined in favor of Italy's facilities in Trieste. Accordingly, Transportation Minister Jakob Presecnik and Minister for European Affairs Janez Potocnik have been lobbying for development of the Koper-Divaca rail line as a link to the main Trieste-Ljubljana route. Slovenia will get a second chance for priority funding of the route at a summit slated for 12 and 13 December in Brussels, "Delo" reported on 6 December.

Slovenia is also looking to other current and future EU member states to find its own niche in the union. Parliamentarians are examining plans for coordinating lawmaking at the national and EU levels, and many are looking to Finland as a model for Slovenia. At the same time, Slovenia took advantage of visits by Czech and Slovak leaders in October to stress its commitment to the rights of small and medium-sized states in the expanded EU.

Whatever the ups and downs of Slovenia's accession experience, one thing is certain. Croatia will be watching with interest, hoping to imitate its neighbor's successes and avoid any mistakes in the next round of EU expansion. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Zagreb can serve as a counterweight to both Serbian revanchism and Bosnian Muslim extremism. Croatia needs to become the Israel of Southeastern Europe: a pivotal small, democratic ally that is a Western outpost in a volatile area of the world." -- A commentary in "The Washington Times," 4 December.

"Similar mutual acceptance of responsibility for what happened in Kosovo would do much to ease the tension in Kosovo and in Serbia.... There would be fewer obstacles in the way of reconciliation if Kosovo were not used as a nationalist chip in Serbia's domestic policy." -- UNMIK chief Harri Holkeri, quoted by RFE/RL in Belgrade on 1 December.

"Holkeri's statement, made at this time and in this tone, means that a part of the international community is convinced that the situation in Serbia is difficult enough, that democratic parties are totally divided and in conflict, and that the time has come to carry out someone's mean plan to complete the Albanization of Kosovo and Metohija. Because of the timing and the tone, Holkeri owes an apology to democratic Serbia." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, quoted by RFE/RL in response to Holkeri.

"The [German] chancellor and I...want a deal that is in line with the idea we have for the Europe of tomorrow and which conforms to the Europe that we built together." -- French President Jacques Chirac, with Germany's Gerhard Schroeder in Paris on 9 December. Quoted by the "International Herald Tribune."

"Each country must make a gesture towards the others. One cannot imagine that one or two countries can block progress for the rest." -- Chirac, quoted in the "Financial Times" of 10 December.

"We're not just going to be silent. The irritation we see in some European countries is caused by the fact that no one even thought that Poland should be treated as a partner. Unfortunately, there are still many people in the European Union who think about enlargement as a kind of grace offered to the poorer brothers in Europe." -- Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz to "The Guardian" of 4 December.

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