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Balkan Report: May 17, 2002

17 May 2002, Volume 6, Number 20

The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 31 May 2002.

SERBIA: FACING UP TO THE PAST. Sooner or later, Serbia will have to look into its recent past and the question of its responsibility for four Balkan wars. Some recent developments suggest that such introspection will not come easily.

On 28 April, U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, who is a Democrat from Delaware and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, addressed an Albanian-American civic group in New York. His speech covered many aspects of Balkan affairs and his recommendations for U.S. and international policies toward the region. He noted that the situation there remains "precarious" despite much progress in recent years.

Biden chided the EU for offering Belgrade a $160 million credit just after the U.S. suspended all economic assistance to Serbia over its failure to cooperate completely with The Hague. Macedonia, he continued, is "an explosion waiting to happen" because of extremists on both sides. The senator appealed to Albania to "clean up its corrupt political system" and called on Kosovars to show that they can "pass the test of running a real democracy with rights for all."

Turning to Serbia, Biden noted that President Vojislav Kostunica is "a hard-core Serbian nationalist, but he doesn't call all the shots. He's in a fierce political struggle with Prime Minister [Zoran] Djindjic, also a nationalist but not a fanatic -- and more importantly, an astute politician who recognizes that his country's future is with the West."

The senator noted that Serbia has made much progress since the overthrow of President Slobodan Milosevic on 5 October 2000, but stressed that Belgrade should meet four conditions before aid is restored.

The first is that it must cease "negative interference in Kosova's and Bosnia's political life." Second, Serbia "must fully comply with the international war crimes tribunal." Third, it must "end the de facto partition" of Mitrovica in northern Kosova. And fourth, "Kostunica and Djindjic must publicly own up to Serbia's behavior in the 1990s by apologizing for its genocidal campaign in Kosova, as well as in Croatia and Bosnia."

Biden argued that Serbia has partially met the first two conditions by apparently stopping funding for the Bosnian Serb military and issuing indictments for 23 war crimes suspects. But he added that "Belgrade continues to play a clever game in Kosova and has yet to go after the really big [General Ratko] Mladic." Moreover, as to "the third and fourth conditions, Belgrade has done nothing."

It was the senator's fourth point -- the apology -- that touched a raw nerve in Serbia and led to a public comment by Djindjic and a lively discussion in the press.

Briefly, many or most commentators from the mainstream press made the following points. Senator Biden is an important and influential figure, but it is Secretary of State Colin Powell who has set the conditions that Serbia must meet, and a public apology is not one of them. The U.S. has criticized many aspects of the policies of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, but no one in Washington has any interest in destabilizing DOS.

Milosevic and his cronies, the commentaries continued, are responsible for taking Serbia into war, but the people ousted them on 5 October 2000. In his public remarks on 10 May this year, Djindjic argued that there is no one from the Milosevic regime in power in Belgrade now, and so there is no reason for the present government to apologize for what that regime did.

Some writers added -- as have many Serbs over the past decade -- that all sides were to blame in the violent breakup of former Yugoslavia and that it is unfair to single out the Serbs for war guilt. Other writers ask why an apology is necessary at all, even if apologies for slavery and other historical injustices have become part of American political culture in recent years.

Some commentators acknowledge that Serbs should reexamine their past, but feel that it is too soon after the conflicts of the 1990s and the fall of Milosevic for Serbia to produce "a Willy Brandt" -- a leader who will apologize to the dictatorship's victims as the former West German chancellor apologized to those tormented by Hitler.

Indeed, some German Balkan experts have suggested in recent years that it is unlikely that the Serbs will be able to come to grips with their past and war guilt any quicker than the Germans did. These experts argue that Germany did not really face up to such issues until the West German student protests of 1968 and the soul-searching that accompanied and followed that period. One should not expect much more of the Serbs, the German Balkan experts add.

But at least many Germans recognized from 1945 on that their country had been defeated and that consequences had to be drawn. In today's Serbia, however, this does not always seem to be the case. One German suggested that Serbs today feel more like Germans did in the Weimar years rather than as Germans did after World War II.

Nonetheless, some progressive Serbian intellectuals have said that Serbian society must now recognize that it is necessary to face up to the past, to come out of blame and denial, and to have a "catharsis." Only then can Serbia rebuild not only its relations with its neighbors, but also its educational system and other institutions that were carefully built up over a the better part of two centuries but are now in shambles.

In short, Serbia will sooner or later find it necessary to remove what one intellectual has called the "mud" from its political culture and thinking. And while Germany may have needed a quarter of a century before it happened, Willy Brandt eventually did kneel in Warsaw. (Patrick Moore)

LAST-MINUTE DECISIONS IN MACEDONIA. "There is no reason at all to change the date of the parliamentary elections, which are slated for 15 September," parliament speaker Stojan Andov said on 8 May, after he held talks with U.S. envoy James Holmes. For some reason, Andov felt it necessary to add that the U.S. diplomat did not exert any pressure on Macedonia's leading parliamentarian.

During the meeting, Andov and Holmes discussed the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement of August 2001. In recent months, Macedonian politicians have done very little to make all the changes to the electoral law and other regulations as set down in the peace agreement. The delay in passing electoral legislation led many observers to fear that it would be difficult to hold free and fair elections, because several months will be needed once the legislation is passed if officials are to be properly trained and voters fully informed.

Holmes, for his part, said after his meeting with Andov that he does not expect any problems with the further implementation of the peace accord. He stressed that he does not expect any problems from anybody and that a compromise will be found, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 9 May.

During the days following the meeting between Andov and Holmes, leading representatives of the four major political parties -- the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- held intensive talks to get the electoral legislation moving.

On 11 May, the political leaders announced that they had reached a compromise on the electoral legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2002). Points at issue included the use of the Macedonian and Albanian languages in personal identity documents, as well as the question as to whether the country should be divided into six electoral districts or be treated as a single constituency.

In the meantime, Andov promised that the package of 16 priority laws will be adopted by the end of May. He said he will schedule a special parliamentary session on 29 May, thus wrapping things up by 31 May.

But the fact that the meetings under the auspices of President Boris Trajkovski were held in the presence of both Holmes and the EU's special envoy, Alain Le Roy, led to some comments from the media. Most observers pointed out that Holmes's and Le Roy's presence at the talks was yet another sign of the political immaturity of the Macedonian leadership.

In her editorial for "Dnevnik" of 10 May, Natali N. Sotirovska compared the Macedonian politicians to children who need constant supervision. Sotirovska added that given the current pace of implementing the Ohrid peace agreement -- only one law (that on local self-government) put into practice in the past nine months -- the parliament would need about nine years for the remaining 16 laws. And given the fact that some 100 other legal measures still await change or modification, the entire reform process will last some 50 years.

Other observers, like "Dnevnik's" Branko Gjorgjevski or the leader of the small Democratic Union (DS), Pavle Trajanov, spoke of Macedonia as an international protectorate. Gjorgjevski feared that the politicians' inability to make important decisions on matters where the basic points have already been laid down could eventually lead to the paralyzing of all state institutions. For him, this is in essence a "soft protectorate," which sooner or later may turn into an "international administration" similar to the ones in Bosnia or Kosova.

Trajanov, for his part, found harsher words. "The Democratic Union strongly protests the actions of President Boris Trajkovski, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, and SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski, who allow Macedonia to [be treated] like a protectorate of the EU and the United States," "Nova Makedonija" quotes Trajanov as saying.

But as long as the politicians in Skopje and Tetovo do not -- or do not want to -- see that sometimes tough decisions are necessary, the international community will most likely have to act for them. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS MINORITIES IN SLOVENIA. Although Slovenia lacks the ethnic diversity that can be found in some neighboring countries, it nonetheless has a noteworthy non-Slovenian population, many of whose members are not altogether happy with their current status. This is particularly the case with people from other former Yugoslav republics.

A two-day conference entitled "Modern National and Religious Groups in Slovenia: Between Assimilation and Cultural Pluralism" took place in Maribor, "Delo" reported on 10 May. The event was sponsored by the ISCOMET Network for Democracy, Human Rights, and the Protection of Persons Belonging to Ethnic and Religious Minorities in South Eastern Europe. The over 150 participants represented Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Croats, Kocevje Germans, Macedonians, Roma, and Serbs living in Slovenia. The meeting did not address the subject of Slovenia's two constitutionally protected ethnic groups: Hungarians and Italians (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 March 2002).

Martin Berishaj pointed out that Albanians have been successful in demands for an Albanian lectureship at the University of Ljubljana. However, he said, it is necessary to press the state to fulfill other legal obligations towards its minorities.

The coordinator of the Bosnian Muslims' Cultural Alliance, Fahir Gutic, emphasized a lack of infrastructure to support his people. He pointed out that Slovenia lacks a state office for their affairs, as well as language courses, radio and television broadcasts, and libraries in the "Bosnian" language. Gutic also faulted the absence of streets and squares named for Bosnian cultural figures. He charged that school texts associate Islam with violence and called for establishing official minority status for Bosnian Muslims.

Sime Ivanjko of the Croatian Cultural Society said many Croats remain reluctant to identify themselves as such. Croats have a centuries-old presence in parts of Slovenia and thus object to being labeled a "new" minority, in contrast to the Italians and Hungarians, who are considered "indigenous." The label "immigrant" carries negative connotations, says Ivanjko, while the designation "non-Slovene" is also unacceptable. Slovenia is home to several Croatian societies and two Slovenian-Croatian friendship associations.

Arsen Mitar, a representative of Slovenia's Roma, charged that nowhere else in Europe do so many people face bureaucratic obstacles to receiving their papers. When Slovenia became independent in 1991, he says, some Romany men with non-Slovene Yugoslav citizenship were living abroad. Now denied entry into Slovenia, they are forced to enter illegally to visit immediate family members.

The second day of the meeting focused on religious diversity. Mufti Osman Djogic explained how Slovenia's Muslims bought a house in Ljubljana in 1981 and established a meshihat -- a religious authority analogous to a synod. However, Djogic criticized the now 30-year delay in securing a building permit for an Islamic cultural center, blaming ideologically rooted administrative impediments. He also noted a lack of general knowledge about the needs of Slovenia's 30,000 Muslims. "On Malaysia Airlines, the carrier of an Islamic state," said Djogic, "you receive whiskey if you ask for it. On [Slovenia's] Adria Airways, if you ask for halal food, they look at you as if you come from another planet."

Trajce Andonov said that the greatest problem for the Macedonian Orthodox in Slovenia is that they have no "place" of their own. The Macedonian Orthodox Church was proclaimed autocephalous only in 1967 and is not recognized by any other Orthodox churches.

In contrast, the current Serbian Orthodox church in Ljubljana dates from 1935, and Serbian Orthodoxy in Slovenia dates back to the 17th century in the Bela Krajina area. But despite this long history, said the president of the Serbian Community society, Vesna Milic, it is not easy to officially identify oneself as a Serb in today's Slovenia.

The conference organizers plan to issue a set of proposals. These will include a call for Slovenia to implement EU directives on minorities, greater cooperation with the Yugoslav successor states, minority language and human rights education in schools, and greater focus on diversity in the Slovenian media.

Demands such as those raised at the conference do not find wide resonance in Slovenian society, however. Many are eager to preserve Slovenia's relative homogeneity, widely credited with shielding it from the ethnic conflicts that ravaged the other Yugoslav republics in recent years. Also widespread is the view that war refugees -- whose number grew to some 70,000 the mid-1990s -- have increasingly become economic refugees, leading to calls for their repatriation. And a cash-strapped budget prevents the full implementation of projects supporting the Slovenian cultural heritage, let alone that of other ethnic groups.

Perhaps more important, independence has also given Slovenes greater confidence in asserting themselves linguistically and culturally. Slovenes point out that other Yugoslavs often lived in Slovenia for decades, refusing to learn Slovenian -- while Slovenians were required to learn Serbo-Croatian as a second language in their schools. One legacy of this practice is the scant enthusiasm for fostering the languages and cultures of the former Yugoslavia in Slovenia today. (Donald F. Reindl is a free-lance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana,

HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, ROMANIAN-STYLE. "Balkan Report" has noted in the past how some governments -- most notably those in Belgrade or Skopje -- have tried to influence foreign journalists by bullying them (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 August 2001). The result of such efforts was generally precisely the opposite of what the governments in question wanted.

Romania now appears to be the latest to have alienated journalists by seeking to intimidate them. The developments apparently began when some unnamed international media people reported that Romania may not be well suited for access to NATO secrets because of the all-pervasive culture of secret police spying in its recent (and not only recent) history.

On 15 May, the "Financial Times" wrote that the Romanian Defense Ministry issued a statement saying that journalists should not be raising such issues. The statement "[reminded] them [journalists] that their life is short and health is too precious an asset to be endangered through starting debates that consume a lot of emotion and stress."

Some unnamed Western diplomats downplayed the statement, calling it a "joke." Others noted that Defense Minister Ioan Pascu -- who was once banned in communist times from entering the U.S. for "security reasons" -- is a former athlete who is sometimes given to brusque behavior. President Ion Iliescu, a former communist-era official himself, argued that there have been good relations between the Defense Ministry and the media. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said that the text was "misinterpreted."

But one unnamed Western official differed, saying that "it was tremendously cack-handed and defies belief. It helps those who are antireform, and it indicates a frame of mind that is worrying."

He might have added that it is especially disconcerting when one considers not only the pervasiveness of communist Romania's spy system, but also several still unexplained acts of violence committed during the Ceausescu years against dissidents in the West and several persons in Radio Free Europe's Romanian Service in Munich. (Patrick Moore)

THE PERFECT SOUVENIR? For those who feel they have too many rugs and Turkish coffee sets and are looking for novel souvenirs from the Balkans, some Italian tourists just might have the answer. "Vecernji list" reported on 8 May that Croatian police arrested and fined five Italian tourists who were attempting to take six landmines out of the country. The tourists said they found the mines while hiking in the Velebit range and thought they would make an exotic souvenir. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The UNMIK must understand that we [in the parliament] have the right to discuss the problems of Kosova, such as that of Mitrovica." -- Kole Berisha, the deputy chief of President Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), to Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service on 8 May.

"We can see no sense in the disintegration of the country populated by Serbs and Montenegrins, who are close to each other by the language, culture, and Orthodox religion, and actually [constitute] one and the same people." -- Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, quoted by ITAR-TASS at a parliamentarians' conference on terrorism in Zagreb on 10 May.

"Everyone said after the [recent] Belgrade agreement that [Montenegrin President] Milo [Djukanovic] was [politically] dead. I think people have begun to wake up and understand that the agreement was the best that could be got -- you can't buck the European Union." -- Unnamed Western analyst quoted by Reuters in Podgorica on 16 May, after the local elections.

"Importantly for the citizens of Kosovo, rationalization is a technical approach and not a change of mission. Make no mistake, these forces will be robust enough, tough enough, and flexible enough to maintain a safe and secure environment." -- French Lieutenant General Marcel Valentin, commander of KFOR, at a press conference in Prishtina on 13 May. Quoted by Reuters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002).