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Balkan Report: July 12, 2002

12 July 2002, Volume 6, Number 25

SENDING A MESSAGE TO THE BALKANS. Transatlantic tensions over the International Criminal Court (ICC) have led to renewed doubts in the Balkans about Washington's commitment to the region. The U.S. has taken steps to set the record straight.

The dispute between the U.S. and its Western allies over the ICC came to a head on 30 June, when U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte vetoed a normally routine extension of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia in a Security Council vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 2, 3, and 8 July 2002). One American diplomat called the veto a "wakeup call" to its allies to show Washington's displeasure over the rules governing the ICC.

The U.S. wants its troops engaged in peacekeeping operations abroad to be exempted from prosecution before the court if frivolous or politically motivated lawsuits arise. On 20 June, the "International Herald Tribune" reported that "the United States' leading European allies, who have opposed U.S. efforts to limit the powers of the new international war crimes tribunal, quietly obtained written assurances [in January] that their troops serving as peacekeepers in Afghanistan would be immune from arrest or surrender to the court." Washington insists on similar, blanket assurances for its forces.

The U.S. has found itself isolated by and large, but not completely. Unconfirmed press reports have suggested growing sympathy for the U.S. position in the British government, although London remains formally committed to the EU policy in support of the ICC.

The German government also supports the EU stand. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who is widely regarded as a firm backer of the alliance with the U.S., recently called Washington's policy a "step backward toward unilateralism," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 9 July. But former NATO commander and General Klaus Naumann has expressed sympathy for the U.S. view, and the Frankfurt daily wrote on 3 July that he is not the only German military man to hold that opinion.

The same newspaper reported on 8 July, moreover, that the opposition CDU-CSU has called on the government to be more understanding of America's special circumstances and responsibilities as the world's only superpower. In fact, the dispute over the ICC seems to be slowly emerging as an issue in the run-up to the 22 September parliamentary elections as the CDU-CSU seeks to portray itself as the best defender of Germany's trans-Atlantic alliance.

But it is in the Balkans that the polemics between Washington and Brussels have had the most unsettling impact, especially after the veto of the extension of the Bosnian mission. Beriz Belkic, who heads the Bosnian joint Presidency, said that if the UN-led international police force's (IPTF) mandate ends now, then the EU will need to take over that mandate soon and not on 1 January 2003 as scheduled. Bosnian Foreign Ministry spokesman Amer Kapetanovic was more pessimistic and argued that an end to the UN mission would mean that "all the progress made so far will be endangered. The U.S. needs to help us to finally stand on our own two feet."

Washington was quick to point out that the decision to veto the resolution on the Bosnian mission was not directed against Bosnia or its people. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a 1 July telephone call to Zlatko Lagumdzija -- his Bosnian counterpart -- that "we will not leave unfinished what we started here."

U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond said in Sarajevo that same day: "I understand the concern here in Bosnia over the veto that the U.S. acted to impose on the UN Security Council. I want to assure the people of Bosnia that this veto is not directed at them or at the peace process here in Bosnia. However, let me be clear on this point as President [George W.] Bush was clear only a few days ago. Our strategic commitment to the Balkans and to Bosnia remains rock solid. U.S. troops will remain in Bosnia."

In subsequent days, Bond repeated his views in conversations with Bosnian officials and the media. He told the Bosnian Serb "Nezavisne novine" of 10 July that one should not exaggerate the differences between the U.S. and EU. He stressed that both Washington and Brussels remain committed to a peaceful, progressive Bosnia integrated into European institutions.

Concerns nonetheless remain in a region given to suspicion of foreign powers and to conspiracy theories. Serbia is not usually a place where one would expect to hear calls for the U.S. not to abandon the Balkans, but Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said on 2 July that any U.S. withdrawal would destabilize the region. He added that those voting in the Security Council would do well to think about what effect a U.S. departure from the Balkans would have, especially on Bosnia and Kosova. Svilanovic noted that an American departure would leave the EU alone to ensure stability (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 May 2002). (Patrick Moore)

LOOMING CHURCH SPLIT OUTRAGES MACEDONIAN FAITHFUL. Macedonian nationhood is based on two key elements -- the Macedonian language and adherence to the Macedonian Orthodox Church. But the existence of a Macedonian nation and even the official name of the Balkan state is constantly contested by some of its neighbors.

The official name of Macedonia -- Republic of Macedonia -- is contested by its southern neighbor, Greece. Macedonia's eastern neighbor -- Bulgaria -- does not recognize the existence of the Macedonian language. And the independence of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) is questioned by the Serbian Orthodox Church. (It might be noted that this list of problematic neighbors does not include Albania.)

For the Serbian Orthodox Church and the other Orthodox churches, the MPC is schismatic, and that is why they do not recognize it as autonomous and autocephalous. The "schism" occurred in 1967, when the Macedonian Church declared itself independent from the Serbian Church. The nucleus of the autocephalous MPC was the Archbishopric of Ohrid, which was restored that same year with the help of Tito's League of Communists -- presumably in an effort to reduce Serbian influence in Macedonia.

The price for the MPC's autocephaly was international isolation. In order to resolve this problem, the church's Holy Synod -- the convention of the bishops -- made several attempts to negotiate a solution with the Serbian Orthodox Church. The latest of these negotiations took place in May 2002 in the southern Serbian city of Nis.

On 17 May, the delegations signed the so-called Nis agreement, which was to serve as a basis for further negotiations about the MPC's future status. The agreement envisioned the MPC being renamed the "Autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid," giving up its independence, and placing itself under the canonical jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Within the Holy Synod, the agreement was not undisputed. The three bishops who negotiated the pact faced the opposition of the majority of their colleagues, who considered it the beginning of the end of the MPC's autocephaly. Meanwhile, as the bishops discussed the text, public pressure not to accept the agreement mounted, and on 6 June, the Holy Synod decided not to approve it (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 7 June 2002).

But there was one bishop, Jovan of Veles and Povardarje, who did not participate in the Synod's session as he was in Greece at the time. On 7 June, he announced that he will implement the Nis agreement. "As long as the Orthodox Church does not begin to communicate with the other Orthodox churches, we will remain a schismatic church.... As long as we do not [join the community of Orthodox] churches, we will [continue to] 'play' church," Bishop Jovan said.

Jovan's first statement went almost unnoticed by the public. However, when on 21 June he announced that he has put his bishopric under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the public reaction was almost hysterical. Newspapers published articles about Bishop Jovan's alleged corruption and his abuse of office. Because he received his religious education in Belgrade and in Greece, he was referred to as a "Srboman" or "Grkoman" -- someone who commits treason because of his loyalties to Serbia or Greece.

On 25 June, believers from Jovan's bishopric and from other parts of the country staged massive street protests against him. The protesters demanded that Jovan be stripped of all his functions and excommunicated from the Macedonian Orthodox Church. According to them, only the Macedonian people can decide on the future status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. They also demanded that the Holy Synod repair the split in the church caused by Bishop Jovan's statements.

Bishop Jovan's course of action made it obvious that the Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church is in a dilemma, and the bishop is well aware of that. "At this moment, I and the Holy Synod are under immense pressure. I am [under pressure from] some elements of the nation who are ready even for a lynching. The Synod is in a doubly unpleasant situation. If it says that [I am] right, it will face strong opposition from [those] people who attack me. If it says that [I am] wrong, it has to declare war on the whole Orthodox world," Bishop Jovan said.

And replying to those who accused him of high treason, he added: "Some accuse me of treason...but as a bishop of the Holy Church I cannot place national interests before religious...interests. Not that the church does not know or recognize the nation, but that the nation always has to take second place."

The Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church subsequently stripped Jovan of his church functions and ordered him to retire to a monastery, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Skopje on 6 July. Jovan responded by saying that he does not recognize the Macedonian Church's decision or its jurisdiction over him.

Irinej, who is the Serbian Orthodox bishop of Nis, said that the Macedonian Synod's treatment of Jovan shows that further talks with the Macedonian Orthodox Church are pointless. But this is unlikely to be the end of the matter. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIAN HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTION AT FULL THROTTLE. Visitors driving into Slovenia are greeted by a sign at the border that reads: "Please be patient. Slovenia is constructing motorways." With crews working round-the-clock shifts seven days a week on many of these projects, one cannot help but notice the activity. Many drivers in Slovenia found their travel time considerably shortened at the end of June, with the opening of two new sections on the "avtocesta," or superhighway, between Ljubljana and Maribor.

Although the length of the two sections totals only 14.7 kilometers, it eliminates the infamous bottleneck at the village of Trojane on the old local highway. The additions bring the total length of avtocesta in Slovenia to 232.5 kilometers. The cost of the two sections -- some $170 million -- reflects the technical difficulties of road construction in mountainous terrain.

Construction of the 5,711 meters of tunnel at Trojane presented particular technical demands. According to the Slovenian national highway company, DARS, the roof surface of the tunnel is only 25 meters thick and numerous buildings, some centuries old, lie directly above the tunnel. Slovenia's geological diversity also challenges engineers. Some tunnels, such as that at Kastelec, on the edge of the Karst region, are being bored through solid limestone and present no particular difficulty. Others, such as those planned to run north into the wine-rich Vipava Valley, will pass through crumbling slopes composed of flysch, where water penetration is a potential problem.

Tunnels have, in fact, quite a history in Slovenia. One of its most visually striking tunnels was hacked out through the Dolzan Gorge in 1895 by Baron Julius Born to connect his estate at Puterhof to the town of Trzic. This 19-century engineering feat replaced the precariously suspended "Devil's Bridge" and a smaller tunnel dating from 1759. Today, the rough walls of the single-lane passage and its chiseled-out windows vividly evoke words such as "hewn" and "living rock."

An even more ambitious project was envisioned by the Slovenian polymath Johann Weichard von Valvasor, who devised a plan in 1679 to construct a tunnel through the alpine Ljubelj Pass, reckoning that he could eliminate two kilometers of travel across rugged mountainous terrain on the route to Klagenfurt, Austria. Unfortunately, Valvasor related in 1689, the plan fell through because an outbreak of plague in Vienna greatly curtailed the funding for such projects. Valvasor's vision was eventually realized in 1943 -- but at the expense of the labor of prisoners of war, housed in branches of the Nazis' Mauthausen concentration camp.

Much of the impetus for today's construction comes from the tourist industry, which has only recently recovered to pre-1991 levels. Tourists shied away from Slovenia for a decade, confusing it with conflict zones further south in former Yugoslavia. The tourists have now returned, and the economic importance of tourism looks set to increase.

On 7 and 8 July, the daily "Delo" reported that, despite pessimistic predictions, overnight accommodations are up 4 to 10 percent over last year in the seaside Piran municipality, and as much as 64 percent at campgrounds and private rooms in the nearby Portoroz area. Hoteliers in Portoroz, however, have seen a drop in business as budget-conscious tourists take advantage of cheaper accommodations.

With this increase, an expert council has recommended that the government budget an additional $9 million to promote tourism -- particularly in undiscovered regions such as the birch-forested countryside of Bela Krajina, the sun-warmed Kolpa River, and the brilliant turquoise-blue Soca River. Deserving as these destinations are, they are also comparatively difficult to access on relatively small roads and narrow bridges -- although some of their charm lies therein as well.

Additional motivation for construction is provided by Pan-European Transport Corridors V (Venice-Kyiv) and X (Salzburg-Thessaloniki), which were adopted in 1994 and 1997, respectively. The realization of these corridors will mean high-speed highway connections with all of Slovenia's neighbors: Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Italy.

Meanwhile, work continues on Slovenia's avtocesta network, due to be completed in 2005. Some additional 25 kilometers of double-pipe tunnels are planned or already under way. As necessary as superhighways are for a modern transport infrastructure, it is reassuring to see occasional efforts to harmonize these projects with local culture. For example, the sound barriers on the avtocesta heading northwest from Ljubljana are designed to recall the traditional kozolec, or hay rack, found in much of Slovenia.

Slovenia's road-building endeavors also have their critics. Aside from the usual complaints about cost, many Slovenes worry that the new roads will be too effective, whisking tourists away to Croatia's Dalmatian coast without the need for even a fill-up, let alone an overnight stay.

Ironically, less-than-ideal road conditions have also served as a handy indicator of tourist volume. "Delo" reported on 8 July that the main tourist season was off to a "good start on the roads" by citing a 6-kilometer line of cars and a 90-minute wait on the local highway at the Rabuiese/Skofije border crossing from Italy. Perhaps those drivers with air conditioning will also be able to appreciate this positive economic indicator. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The narrow view of legitimate politics held by [High Representative Paddy] Ashdown and his office risks reducing Bosnian politicians to the role of administrators of international policy decrees.... The international community is calling for a Bosnian political class that is apolitical and which therefore is disconnected from Bosnian society.

"Politicians who have little representational legitimacy are unlikely to build bridges within society and lack the capacity to resolve conflicts. If there is any lesson from six years of international rule over Bosnia, it is that high-handed intervention in the political sphere has done little to help overcome insecurities and divisions, while undermining collective political bodies in which Serb, Croat, and Muslim representatives can negotiate solutions." -- David Chandler in "The Guardian," 9 July 2002.

"We should have learned that the worst of options is to ignore the need to face the situation as it is. We should no longer believe that an Oslo-type avoidance of the final issues solves the problems. It could lead to tensions building up, and new explosions suddenly ripping everything apart.

"Washington and increasingly also Moscow have turned their attention away from the Balkans and are starting to look at the European Union to give policy leadership in the region. But the EU still shies away from any serious attempt to tackle the core issues of the region. It clings to the illusion that an Oslo formula that didn't work in the Middle East for some reason will work in the Balkans.

"I don't think it will. Instead of the wound healing, there is a serious risk of the infection spreading. Three years after the end of the Kosovo war, it is thus high time that we dare to address the issue of the Kosovo peace. We can't have another peace failure." -- Former High Representative and Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt in the "International Herald Tribune" of 10 July.