Accessibility links

Balkan Report: January 25, 2002

25 January 2002, Volume 6, Number 6

Effective immediately, "Balkan Report" will appear weekly, every Friday.

SERBIA'S ROAD TO UDMURTIA. Despite periodic upbeat statements from Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his aides that Belgrade is succeeding in talking its way back to international prominence and respectability, the hard truth remains that Serbia is an economic basket case with few customers for its rust-bucket industries.

But one partner has been found, according to an ITAR-TASS report from Izhevsk on 23 January: "Authorities of Russia's constituent republic of Udmurtia and the Yugoslav state enterprise Yugoimport-SDPR have signed an agreement on cooperation in the field of weaponry and military technologies. A delegation of Yugoimport-SDPR's top managers made a three-day visit to Udmurtia at the invitation of its president, Aleksandr Volkov. The guests have been taken to all the major industrial facilities in the republic, many of which export their produce via the Russian state foreign trade company Rosoboronexport, the country's largest exporter of weaponry." The two sides signed a 12-month cooperation agreement. No details are available.

It seems remarkable that a government that already owes Russia millions of dollars should now be sending military officials on what looks like a shopping trip. Udmurtia is a cradle of the Russian arms industry dating back to Catherine the Great, and in Soviet times it was a center of missile construction. Much of that arms industry collapsed following the demise of the Soviet Union. Given the current levels of poverty and backwardness in Serbia after years of dictatorship and four lost wars, it might seem that Belgrade would have other priorities than procuring arms from distant Udmurtia for an already bloated military.

Some observers argue that the problem is that the Kostunica leadership has not realized that there has been a fundamental change in the region since the fall of communism. According to this view, the government is behaving as though this were 1975 and trying to talk its way back to a position of international influence as though it were Tito's Yugoslavia being courted by all sides in the Cold War. Such behavior ignores fundamental changes in the world in recent years and does Serbia no service.

The government will eventually have to realize -- as its counterparts in Ljubljana and Zagreb have already done -- that small, NATO-compatible militaries are the way of the future for the countries of the region. Forward-looking countries there seek Euro-Atlantic integration and do not have much time for 19th-century power games. The Belgrade government should not be surprised if its neighbors -- and its own citizens -- wonder openly as to why Serbia needs more weapons when it is already awash with them.

More importantly, Serbia will need to confront sooner or later those elements in its political culture that led to the rise and rule of Milosevic and to his four wars. Until that happens, there will be no lasting peace or stability in the region, much as German de-Nazification was essential for European peace and stability after World War II (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001 and 8 January 2002). As long as Kostunica continues to refer to "imposed sanctions" and "NATO aggression" -- and the Serbian policies that led to those Western responses as "misunderstandings" -- prospects do not look good.

Last but certainly not least, it's worth recalling that ordinary Serbs seem more concerned with their own standard of living than with visions of national grandeur, for which they have already paid a very heavy price. The wrath of average people helped put the present leadership in power, and renewed popular anger could well lead to further changes if citizens do not see their standards of living improve -- and soon. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER STEPS DOWN. In a surprising move, Dosta Dimovska on 18 January resigned as deputy prime minister, minister without portfolio, and chair of the government coordination body for crisis management. She also stepped down from her leading positions within the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). Dimovska was deputy party chair, chair of the cadre commission, and member of the party executive committee.

Dimovska held her government positions since November 2001, when the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) left the so-called "government of national unity." Since 1998, she had been deputy prime minister as well as interior minister in previous governments led by VMRO-DPMNE leader and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.

Observers believe that Dimovska's resignation is directly connected with an interview Georgievski gave to the private station TV Sitel on 17 January. In the interview, he slammed the police redeployment as mere "cosmetics" and "theater," MIA reported. He once again predicted renewed attacks by ethnic Albanian rebels, which could take place in the cities of Skopje, Kumanovo, and Tetovo, he argued.

In an open letter to Georgievski, Dimovska said her resignation was "irrevocable." The main reason for her move was her sense of growing isolation not only within the government, but also within the party. As chair of the crisis committee, Dimovska was in charge of the redeployment of police forces into the territories previously held by the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). The reentry of the ethnically mixed police patrols is well behind schedule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 16, and 18 January 2002).

Recently, newspapers have reported that there is a split in the government over the redeployment. While Dimovska and President Boris Trajkovski have called for more flexibility, Georgievski and hawkish Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski demand a more robust approach (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 18 January 2002).

Dimovska wrote in her letter to Georgievski: "When I took over the position [as chair of the coordination body], you promised that I would have full support to carry out my duties, but unfortunately I have to state that during the past one and a half months you did not call me a single time to give me orders or comment on the work of the coordination body. Unfortunately, I had to learn about your proposals and comments solely through the media."

She also complained about rumors within the VMRO-DPMNE: " the corridors, or yesterday via TV Sitel, there have been remarks that I belong to some group...'party,' or 'association' [within the party], just because I [maintain contacts with] independent intellectuals [or] professors, who think differently than you or I. At the same time, I am said to be close to President Trajkovski, and that this was directly against you personally.... In the present environment -- without any communication or confidence but with ample doubts and slander -- there are no basic conditions to continue our cooperation in the party leadership."

Members of her own party did not want to comment publicly on Dimovska's resignation as long as there was no official party line. But newspaper comments suggest that for many members, Dimovska's move came as a surprise. Some observers believe that she has been something of a gray eminence within the VMRO-DPMNE. During the past 11 years, she was regarded as a close ally of Georgievski and as a political mentor of Trajkovski.

For the opposition SDSM, Dimovska's move hardly comes as a surprise. Gjorgji Spasov, an SDSM spokesman, said: "The resignation of Dosta Dimovska is a bold move, which definitely shows that Ljubco Georgievski and Ljube Boskovski are politically isolated in Macedonia. Their policy is the policy of Slobodan Milosevic. In this spirit, the prime minister [Georgievski] pits the whole world and the Albanians against Macedonia, [and sets himself] up against the whole political opposition and [even] his friends who do not share his views," the daily "Dnevnik" reported on 19 January.

Oliver Romevski, who is the spokesman of the "real" VMRO -- a small party of VMRO-DPMNE defectors -- believes that Dimovska could no longer stand the pressure within a party divided into two rival camps.

Georgievski's coalition partners of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) were surprised by Dimovska's resignation. "Her move surprised us all. Dimovska was a moderating influence within the government and tried to work constructively on all problems. She promoted the optimistic view that things in Macedonia can be fixed, and that was a good approach," PPD Deputy Chairman Abdulhadi Vejseli said.

Arben Xhaferi, who is chairman of the coalition-member Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), declined to comment on Dimovska's decision: "These are internal disputes within the VMRO-DPMNE, and I do not want to comment on them. Such internal party differences influence the overall political situation, but I believe that [the VMRO-DPMNE] will find the strength to overcome them," "Dnevnik" quoted him as saying.

One may conclude that even if Dimovska's resignation does not immediately affect government policy, it shows that hardliners Georgievski and Boskovski have worked to isolate the moderates within both the government and the VMRO-DPMNE. Georgievski's prediction of "spring clashes" between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian security forces might just turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIAN SYMBOLS REEXAMINED. Amateur vexillologists and heraldists have been busy in Slovenia lately, crafting new designs for the state flag and coat of arms. The furor stems from the third planned revision of the 1991 state constitution, previously amended in 1997 and 2000.

The Constitutional Commission received nine proposals for constitutional changes by the 31 December 2001 deadline. Jozef Skolc, a parliamentary deputy from Prime Minister Drnovsek's Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) party, advanced a proposal endorsed by over two-thirds of the National Assembly's 90 deputies to remove Article 6 from the constitution. Article 6 defines the coat of arms, flag, and national anthem. Skolc proposes defining these national emblems through other legislation instead of in the constitution. This is the case in Denmark, Switzerland, and certain other European states.

Some Slovenes seized upon the proposal as an opportunity to suggest changes to the symbols, particularly the flag. Except for its coat of arms, the Slovenian white-blue-red tricolor is identical to the Russian flag and the Slovak flag (without its coat of arms). To make matters even more confusing, the Slovenian and Slovak coats of arms are strikingly similar, each with a three-crested mountain at its base. This has added to difficulties for the geographically challenged, who perpetually confuse these two low-profile central European successor states.

Taking advantage of the situation, a number of weeks ago the weekly magazine "Mladina" invited readers to submit proposals for a new flag. For the 7 January issue, the magazine chose a striking blue and yellow design as its favorite (available at Some have criticized the design, however, as looking like either a stock market graph or an EKG that has flatlined.

Other proposals included additions to the current flag, blue and yellow motifs based on the coat of arms of the Duchy of Carniola, and designs incorporating the Carinthian black panther.

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of the latter motif is Zmago Jelincic, head of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS). The panther is strongly associated with the medieval Carinthian state -- felt by some to be the cradle of Slovenian nationhood -- and its image has appeared on artifacts in the region of Carinthia since ancient times.

However, the SNS has also lent some support to a blue-yellow motif combining the coats of arms of the various historical regions of Slovenia. The party displays these crests superimposed over the image of "greater Slovenia" on its website (available at In any case, the SNS would like to see a change in the coat of arms, which derives from the Partisan Liberation Front (OF) symbol, dating from 1942.

"Mladina" pointed out that newly independent states face the difficult choice between a new, "designer" flag and a "historical" flag, based on a model or symbols from the past. Among the Yugoslav successor states, the most recent versions of the flags of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia exemplify the designer option. However, the previous Macedonian flag, which employed the historical 16-pointed star of Vergina in a less abstract form, met bitter opposition from Greece. Similarly, some have faulted the Croatian flag for incorporating the centuries-old red and white checkered shield because the fascist Independent State of Croatia (NDH) used it as a symbol during World War II -- but so did the communist Socialist Republic of Croatia in its coat of arms. In Serbia, a lively debate over national symbols continues, centering on whether it is appropriate for a republic to have a crown on its coat of arms and which traditional song should become the national anthem.

Slovenia's choice of symbols in other areas has not been without controversy during the past decade of independence. On 8 October 1991, the Bank of Slovenia issued the first tolars -- a monochrome series of payment notes with the same name as the colorful banknotes used today -- to replace the rapidly crumbling Yugoslav dinar. Banknotes prominently featured an image of the ducal stone -- the inverted pedestal of a Roman column used in the Slavic enthronement ceremony of the dukes of medieval Carinthia.

But the stone is now located in the state museum in Klagenfurt, Austria. On the same day as the bank notes were issued, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) governor of Carinthia, Christof Zernatto, issued a protest over the use of the symbol. The then-deputy governor, Joerg Haider, took the opportunity to characterize the use of the symbol as a hostile act against Carinthia and Austria.

Slovenes grudgingly heeded Austrian complaints, and the new series of notes and coins features personalities and animals unequivocally indigenous to the territory within the present-day state borders.

And controversies continue over the latest suggestions regarding state symbols. In a quote published in the daily "Delo" on 13 January, the former chairman of the National Assembly and current president of the Slovenian Pan-European movement, Dr. France Bucar, poured cold water on a number of ideas. The proposal to change Article 6, he pointed out, "does not propose changing the current symbols for new ones, as this would be not only ineffective, but simply silly."

In the end, pragmatism appears likely to win out. The heraldist Bozo Otorepec, who participated in the selection of the current flag, echoed the opinion of the majority of Slovenes when interviewed for the "Mladina" article: any change at this point, he said, would simply be too expensive. (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana,

'UNITED AGAINST SCHISMATICS.' This is how "Vesti" of 23 January described the unity of views in Moscow between Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle and his Russian Orthodox counterpart and host, Aleksii. The two men criticized the continued existence of "schismatic" churches in Macedonia, Montenegro, and Ukraine.

Pavle noted that Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II has verbally asked on several occasions to visit Serbia. Pavle said that the decision is not up to him but to the Assembly, or Sabor, of the Serbian Orthodox Church, adding that the Sabor has let the pope know verbally that the time is not yet right for him to come. The patriarch said that the Orthodox Church "cannot agree" to John Paul visiting Serbia as a religious leader, as opposed to in his capacity as head of the Vatican City State. Pavle did not elaborate. Most Catholics in Serbia are members of ethnic minorities and live in Vojvodina, which was part of the Habsburg monarchy until its collapse at the end of World War I. (Patrick Moore)

CONCERNS ABOUT THE SERBIAN MEDIA. The removal of Milosevic from power in the fall of 2000 has led to changes that have often imperfect at best. In the cases of the army and police, for example, old structures are by and large still in place, but with loyalties shifted to Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica or Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, respectively.

Changes in the media, too, have not been all they might have been. Those who hoped that the Belgrade daily "Politika" might try to regain its former reputation as one of the best dailies in Eastern Europe were disappointed. Instead, it has gone from being the mouthpiece of Milosevic to being the same for Kostunica.

And there are criticisms that could be made of the media in general. One is that they remain focused to a large extent on personalities and individuals rather than on themes, issues, and analysis. If Serbian political culture is ever to break out of the mold of personality-based -- as opposed to program-based -- political parties, the media will need to set the stage.

Another problem is the lack of investigative journalism. Milosevic's Serbia was a kleptocracy if there ever was one, and many of the subsequent leaders have not been free of scandal or at least of rumors of wrongdoing. Several political murders were committed under Milosevic that are very well known at home and abroad. But journalists have for the most part failed to go after these stories as many of their Western counterparts might have done.

Gordana Susa, who heads the Independent Society of Serbian Journalists (NUNS), recently pointed out that the post-Milosevic authorities have not implemented promises to change media legislation. She stressed that such reforms are needed as part of an overall process to bring Serbian legislation in line with European standards. Appearing with Susa at a Belgrade conference were Tamara Sretanovic and Vesna Sladojevic, who said that pressures by local political authorities cost them their jobs at TV Kragujevac and Novi Sad's Apolo TV, respectively. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I hope that those elected [to the Kosova parliament] will use their mandates wisely and will reach out to one another, in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance and constructive compromise." -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Quoted by AP in New York on 17 January.

"Before the war, I never entered a mosque. Now I still drink just like before, but at least I go to the mosque to pray." -- Truck driver Enes Drakovac, quoted in Sarajevo by the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 3 January.

"The Serbian people do have something to repent for and ask to be forgiven, but there are obvious reasons why the Albanians, Europe, and America should repent as well." -- Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 21 January.

"I have accepted to be an adviser of President Milosevic because I believe the legal comedy which is being prepared in The Hague is a challenge against all men of law in the world." -- French lawyer Jacques Verges, quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 22 January. He has previously defended former Gestapo-chief Klaus Barbie and terrorist Carlos the Jackal.