Accessibility links

Balkan Report: December 6, 2002

6 December 2002, Volume 6, Number 45

SQUARING THE CIRCLE IN THE BALKANS. Most countries of Southeastern Europe are proceeding on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration. The problem is what to do about those that are not.

The 21-22 November NATO summit in Prague brought Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia invitations for membership in the Atlantic alliance (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2002). At the same time, Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia firmly established themselves as the Ohrid-Adriatic group of candidates for membership in the next round of NATO expansion, whenever that may be (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002).

Slovenia, moreover, is slated for European Union membership in the upcoming round of that body's expansion. For its part, Croatia has made contact with Bulgaria and Romania about coordinating their efforts aimed at seeking EU membership in a subsequent round.

This leaves Bosnia-Herzegovina and Yugoslavia outside the pattern of integration. Bosnia's problem is relatively straightforward: Until it forms a single defense ministry, NATO is unwilling even to consider it for the Partnership for Peace program, let alone membership. The EU, for its part, has noted that Bosnia is still far from being ready to conclude a stabilization and association agreement, let alone be a candidate for membership.

Yugoslavia's situation is similar to Bosnia's as far as the EU is concerned, in that both countries lag well behind their neighbors. Belgrade had hoped to qualify for Partnership for Peace at the Prague summit, but these hopes were dashed by continuing NATO concern about Yugoslavia's failure to reform its military and place it under transparent civilian control, as well as Belgrade's reluctance to arrest and extradite numerous alleged war criminals to The Hague. Moreover, any hopes Yugoslavia may have held on to for a breakthrough in Prague were put to rest by fresh U.S. and British concerns over Belgrade's possible continuing arms sales to Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October and 8 and 29 November 2002).

It thus appears that Bosnia and Yugoslavia are on the fringes of the process of Euro-Atlantic integration due primarily to problems of their own making. Neither the EU nor NATO has shown any willingness to lower its standards to help them catch up. Nor is either organization likely to do so, lest it send the unintended message to other candidates that standards are flexible and can be adjusted or ignored. This is particularly the case where cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague is concerned.

But the region as a whole has several important problems, and both Bosnia and Yugoslavia are caught up in them. These include poverty, unemployment, and organized crime. While many economic issues will be affected primarily by national policies, regional cooperation will be essential for thoroughgoing and long-term solutions. Organized crime, moreover, can only be dealt with on an international level, since the various mafias in the region have long proven willing and able to cooperate with each other, even during the conflicts of the 1990s.

During their recent visit to RFE/RL headquarters in Prague, Albanian President Albert Moisiu, Croatian President Stipe Mesic, and Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski stressed the importance of international cooperation to solve common problems. Mesic in particular pointed to European integration rather than just regional efforts as the key.

Western policy makers will be dealing in the coming months with the problem of how to bring Yugoslavia and Bosnia into regional efforts to solve regional problems, though both countries lag behind their neighbors in meeting many of the important criteria for Euro-Atlantic integration.

To the extent that the leaderships in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Banja Luka are willing to cooperate, it is to be hoped that they will find encouragement and a warm welcome. In any event, Western policy makers will need to square the circle of maintaining clear EU and NATO standards without allowing an impoverished and lawless gray zone to emerge in the Balkans outside the framework of Euro-Atlantic integration. (Patrick Moore)

DRNOVSEK ELECTED PRESIDENT OF SLOVENIA. "I was prepared for both possibilities," Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek said, clearly pleased with his victory in the 1 December runoff elections for president. Drnovsek's opponent, Barbara Brezigar, mounted a strong challenge by winning 43.49 percent of the votes. Drnovsek nonetheless received the majority of votes in all eight of Slovenia's large voting units, ranging from 59.49 percent in Dolenjska/Zasavje to 51.52 percent in Gorenjska.

Drnovsek found victory harder to achieve than did Milan Kucan in the 1992 and 1997 presidential elections, in which the latter handily surpassed the 50 percent of votes necessary for election in the first round. Despite Brezigar's loss, she achieved a great deal as well, Marko Pecauer wrote in an opinion essay in the 2 December edition of "Delo." Brezigar showed that the center-right has an important role to play and that voters view center-right parties as viable alternatives to the ruling coalition. Indeed, Pecauer continued, Brezigar's showing strengthened the credibility of the electoral process.

For many, Drnovsek's victory came as recognition of his success in steering Slovenia toward EU and NATO membership over the past decade. Others were less pleased. Janez Jansa, president of the conservative Social Democratic Party (SDS), characterized Drnovsek's victory as a "strengthening of the power monopoly held by Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS)." In a statement in "Delo" on 2 December, Jansa said this monopoly encompasses not only the government and parliament but also the Bank of Slovenia, the Constitutional Court, much of the media, and other institutions.

Turnout for the second round of elections was relatively high, at 64 percent, although this was 8 percent lower than in the first round three weeks earlier. The only noteworthy incident occurred when authorities discovered a pistol on a 35-year-old voter from the village of Idrsko, near the Italian border, and took him into custody.

Drnovsek tendered his resignation as prime minister to the president of the National Assembly, Borut Pahor, on 2 December. The LDS will nominate Anton Rop, Slovenia's current minister of finance, to replace Drnovsek as prime minister. The 2000 agreement creating the current coalition reserved the post of prime minister for the LDS in the event of Drnovsek's resignation. Rop is expected to easily secure the necessary 46 votes in the National Assembly to win the position.

The United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD), Slovenian People's Party (SLS), and Democratic Party of Retired Persons (DeSUS) have all voiced their support for Rop in principle, while the Slovenian National Party (SNS) has indicated that it considers Rop a good choice.

The opposition SDS and New Slovenia (NSi) oppose Rop's appointment, while the Slovenian Youth Party (SMS) has not yet discussed the issue. Andrej Bajuk, the president of NSi, faulted Rop for not taking advantage of opportunities to introduce greater transparency into public finances, the online Slovenian news site reported on 3 December.

The new government under Rop's leadership should be in place by 20 December and will be based on the current LDS, ZLSD, SLS, and DeSUS coalition. The new prime minister will submit to the National Assembly a list of candidates to head the various ministries, although it remains to be seen whether there will be any changes to the current ministerial positions beyond that of minister of finance.

In the mayoral races, the greatest victors this year were independent candidates, who won 61 of the 193 positions. These were followed by winners from the SLS (46), LDS (29), SDS (18), ZLSD (14), NSi (4), and SNS (1). The extra-parliamentary National Labor Party (NSD) and Alliance for Primorska (ZZP) took one post each, while 18 candidates won with multiparty support (18), "Delo" reported on 3 December.

The biggest upset in the second round of mayoral elections was Danica Simsic's victory over the incumbent mayor of Ljubljana, Vika Potocnik. Simsic won 55.42 percent of the votes, securing four of Slovenia's 11 urban municipalities for the ZLSD: Ljubljana, Maribor, Nova Gorica, and Velenje. However, the ZLSD lost the mayoralty of Koper after 10 years of control.

Amid all the fanfare, the cost of the elections has also been a concern for some. Estimates cited in "Delo" on 13 November indicated the cost of the first round of presidential elections to be some 500 million tolars ($2.2 million), and the first round of local elections 800 million tolars ($3.4 million). The cost of the second round of presidential elections alone was set at 400 million tolars ($1.4 million).

Before the first round of voting, not a few voters indicated that they would vote for Drnovsek to avoid the expense of a runoff election. Slovenes are reputed to be thrifty but -- at roughly $1.08 per voter -- such a stance seems excessively frugal. Nonetheless, this serves as a reminder that the will to maintain healthy democracies comes with a price tag. (Donald F. Reindl,

STRIKE WAVE THREATENS STABILITY IN MACEDONIA. When the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) formed a coalition government in October, it was widely regarded as a further step toward reconciling the ethnically divided country. However, the ethnic division between the Macedonian majority and the large Albanian minority is not Macedonia's only problem. Widespread corruption, organized crime, and an economic crisis with one of Europe's highest unemployment rates endanger the country's stability.

There are many reasons for the high unemployment rate. As long as Macedonia was part of former Yugoslavia, trade with the other republics ensured that production from the mining, chemical, and textile industries had a market. The country also served as an important transit route between Central Europe and the Aegean port of Salonica in Greece.

Macedonia's independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 had a negative impact on the landlocked country's economy. Dislocation meant that it was cut off from its former partners in Yugoslavia. Moreover, Macedonia was also internationally isolated when Greece imposed an embargo on the country in February 1994. The embargo was lifted in November 1995, but not before it had done considerable damage.

There are also internal reasons for the economic crisis. Privatization of the state-owned companies was long delayed, and some of the companies that have not been sold still depend on state subsidies to offset their losses. These loss-making enterprises include mines and textile companies and also the Nova Makedonija publishing house with its newspapers "Nova Makedonija" and "Vecer."

In April and May 2002, the workers of loss-making enterprises and the powerful Union of Trade Unions in Macedonia (SSM) staged protests against the government of then-Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. Their main demand was that the government amend the laws dealing with employment and unemployment insurance. They also urged the government to revitalize the loss-making enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April and 13 May 2002). Public-sector workers joined their protesting colleagues on 20 May when they staged a nationwide general strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2002).

The Georgievski government could do little to meet those demands. In accordance with an International Monetary Fund-sponsored economic-recovery plan, the government was under pressure not to exceed its budget. The current SDSM-led government has similar budgetary problems.

But the Social Democrat-led government has closer ties with the trade unions than its predecessor did. Before the elections, the SSM had called on its members to vote for the SDSM. During the coalition talks, the SSM demanded a say in the nomination of ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2002).

Nonetheless, the government now faces another strike wave organized by the SSM. The Skopje daily "Vest" reported on 26 November that about 8,000 workers from 16 companies were striking throughout the country. The most spectacular strike was the hunger strike of some 300 miners in the Sasa lead-and-zinc mine.

But strikes are also under way in the Zletovo lead-and-zinc mine, in a number of textile factories, in the food industry, and in the Nova Makedonija publishing house. The last group to join the strike movement were the workers of the state-owned Macedonian Railways, who stopped work on 28 November, blocking all national and international railroads.

The companies that are affected by the strikes are either state-owned or ones in which the state holds a majority of the shares. Some companies were recently privatized, such as Nova Makedonija. The striking workers in all these companies demand that the government pay back wages. The government first refused but then yielded to the demand (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November, and 3 and 4 December 2002).

The SSM also hopes that the strikes will convince the government to sign a so-called social contract. The contract will regulate the government's role in the state-owned companies and includes a number of laws dealing with insurance questions.

It was proposed by the SSM three months ago, as SSM leader Vanco Muratovski pointed out. According to him, the government has deliberately delayed the signing of the contract. He warned that "every government has to have good relations with the trade unions if it wants to have social peace." Muratovski added that the new government has obstructed matters from the outset and could wind up with union problems as bad as those that Georgievski faced.

Muratovski made it clear that the SSM's patience will soon end. He said that "if the contract is not signed between 15 and 20 December, we will call for a big general strike." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK: "This exhausting, humiliating, and shameful trial has undermined [former President Slobodan] Milosevic's health. He is in need of urgent and lengthy treatment. In The Hague, he is being denied proper medical treatment, and we would like Russian doctors to take charge of him." -- Borisav Milosevic, Slobodan's brother and former Yugoslav ambassador to Russia, to Interfax news agency in Moscow on 26 November.