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Balkan Report: June 26, 2001

26 June 2001, Volume 5, Number 45

SERBIA: DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH. The Yugoslav government issued a decree on 23 June to permit the extradition of its citizens. But a long time could still pass before former President Slobodan Milosevic goes to The Hague, if indeed he ever does.

Milosevic's lawyers lodged an appeal with the Yugoslav Constitutional Court in Belgrade on 25 June challenging the legality of the Yugoslav government's decree permitting the extradition of Yugoslav citizens. Milosevic's chief lawyer, Toma Fila, said: "This was a political decision and it renders the law helpless against such bullying methods," AP reported. The legal battle could last several weeks.

The decree was issued after weeks of inconclusive wrangling between the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition and its Montenegrin allies in the Socialist People's Party (SNP), which was formerly part of Milosevic's governing coalition. The SNP refused to withdraw its opposition to the DOS's proposed law to permit extradition. Some observers thought that the seemingly endless discussions reminded them less of real-life drama and more of a well-scripted kabuki play intended primarily for a foreign audience.

In the end, the government issued the decree in the hope of convincing the U.S. and other Western governments that it is seeking to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal in time for the EU's 29 June donors conference (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 May 2001). The decree proved necessary because the U.S. in particular did not consider the wrangling over the extradition law to be sufficient progress toward real cooperation with The Hague.

It is not clear if the decree will convince Washington that Belgrade is indeed deserving of support. The NGO Human Rights Watch issued a statement recently in which it called for postponing the conference on the grounds that Serbia's record in cooperating with the tribunal is abysmal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2001). Some observers, moreover, have found it incongruous that President Vojislav Kostunica, who has repeatedly made it clear that he has no love for America and that the U.S. should leave the Balkans, should have gone to Washington recently to ask for money.

In Washington, a State Department spokeswoman told Reuters after Belgrade issued its decree that "no decision has been made with regard to the donors' conference, but we welcome any steps that the Yugoslav government takes with regards to cooperation with the international war crimes tribunal."

It still remains to be seen how far Belgrade will go in cooperating with the court. It is clear that at least some of the leadership would dearly like to be rid of Milosevic, especially if extraditing him would lead to a flow of Western money. Polls suggest, moreover, that recent Serbian police revelations about the discovery of mass graves of Milosevic's Kosovar victims have helped turn Serbian public opinion in favor of extradition. It would thus seem politically safe for many Serbian politicians to support sending Milosevic to The Hague.

But others are less likely to jump aboard the bandwagon. Many Serbs agree with Kostunica that the tribunal is an "anti-Serbian instrument of American foreign policy" that must be given only grudging cooperation, if any. Such individuals might not be unhappy to see the court procedures over extradition drag on indefinitely, or even to see the Constitutional Court invalidate the decree -- long after the donors conference is over.

There are bigger issues at stake here than the legal niceties involved in putting one disgraced dictator on a plane bound for the Netherlands. And such larger matters may be the real reason for the foot-dragging in Belgrade. (Croatian President Stipe Mesic has called Kostunica's legal arguments against cooperating with The Hague "words for children.")

If Milosevic goes on trial abroad, substantial issues regarding his rule are sure to get an airing in the international media. Questions will be raised about his role not only in starting and losing four wars but also in the destruction of former Yugoslavia. The international media are likely to examine what kind of Serbian political culture could put and keep a man like that in power for well over a decade. The media will also examine a political culture that has failed to break with wartime "heroes" like Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic, or the late Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan."

There may thus be more than just constitutional reasons for Belgrade's kabuki-like pace in dealing with the issue of war criminals and their extradition. But sooner or later, Serbia will have to re-examine its past and its political culture. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote recently that countries in transition do best when they break with the past sooner rather than later. The daily added that Serbia will serve its own best interests by quickly ridding itself of narcissism and of the view that Serbs are always the victims. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA: CEASE-FIRE INTERRUPTED -- AND RENEWED. On 22 June, Macedonian armed forces ended a truce when they launched an attack on the village of Aracinovo outside Skopje. After three days of heavy shelling, Javier Solana, EU representative for foreign and security policy, succeeded in convincing President Boris Trajkovski to "interrupt" the Aracinovo offensive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001).

Solana's visit came at a time when hopes of finding a political solution to the Macedonian crisis seemed to have vanished completely. Shortly before the armed forces attacked Aracinovo, Trajkovski announced that the peace talks had stalled.

The president blamed that deadlock on the Albanian side, accusing Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) of having raised demands that were totally unacceptable to the Macedonian side. These demands included introducing the post of deputy president, which would be filled by an ethnic Albanian. In that the deputy president would have the right to veto important decisions, the demand that such a position be created thus constitutes part of a larger agenda to introduce a consensus democracy and a bi-national state.

Trajkovski's answer to these new demands was twofold. First, he sought to pursue the military option, which was presumably a concession to the hard-liners within his party -- the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). Secondly, the president finally decided to invite the smaller ethnic minorities -- the Serbs, the Vlachs, the Turks, and the Roma -- to participate in the political dialogue.

In various interviews with the Skopje weekly "Utrinski vesnik" on 23 June, representatives of the minorities expressed their satisfaction with this step, which in their view was overdue. But while generally supporting Trajkovski's line, the minority parties clearly disagree among themselves on several issues like constitutional changes or language questions.

The Macedonian press showed scant surprise at the interruption of the peace talks. In the pro-government daily "Nova Makedonija," Aleksandra M. Mitevska wrote on 22 June that the Albanian politicians had finally come forward with their real aims, which in her view is a scenario that resembles the outcome of the previous Yugoslav wars: Macedonia will be federalized and carved up into cantons similar to Bosnia.

Even though the situation looks quite gloomy, Mitevska is of the opinion that the politicians could resume the peace talks despite all their differences. Her hopes are mainly based on the fact that the international community has intervened each time the dialogue broke down in the past.

Other journalists also discounted the danger that a full-fledged civil war could break out if the peace talks failed. Saso Colakovski wrote in the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" on 22 June that Macedonian society has an opportunity to demonstrate the maturity of its political culture because the Albanian rebels (and politicians) have been taken down a peg and lack support among the Albanian population.

The comments in the independent Skopje daily "Dnevnik" generally sound less optimistic. On 23 June, Mersel Bilali, a member of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), still claimed that there might be a chance for a constructive dialogue about changing the constitution. But Macedonian commentators have a different view.

In his 25 June article "Strategic Blockades of Dialogue," Branko Gjorgjevski compared the village of Aracinovo with the wartime "capital" of the Bosnian Serbs, Pale. Writing at a time when the security forces and guerrillas were still fighting, he said: "The development of the 'new phase' of dialogue [between Albanian and Macedonian politicians] will depend on whose flag flutters over Aracinovo.... If Aracinovo falls, NATO troops will only disarm the members of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and will not confirm ethnic borders in which Aracinovo would have the role of some kind of 'Macedonian Pale.'"

Judging from the comments in the Macedonian press, the leaders of the main Albanian parties in Macedonia -- Arben Xhaferi of the PDSH and Imer Imeri of the PPD -- have now lost the confidence of their Macedonian counterparts. Instead of being regarded as moderates, they are now seen as playing a double game. On the one hand, they promote a political dialogue with the Macedonian politicians, while on the other hand they secretly support the Albanian extremists' positions and demands.

This is something of which the more radical parts of Macedonian society have long accused the Albanian political leaders. In this view, the Albanian leaders came forward with their latest "maximum" demands only after the Macedonian politicians had offered changes in the constitutional and legal status of the Albanian minority -- which Xhaferi and Imeri had allegedly construed as a sign of weakness.

It is not yet clear how the results of Solana's latest mission will be perceived by the Macedonian majority. On the one hand, Skopje's acceptance of the cease-fire and the tough words from the EU suggest that the Macedonian position has become weaker. But on the other hand, Solana quite clearly stated that he condemns Xhaferi's demands as going too far. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

BOSNIAN FLOODS UNDERSCORE DANGER FROM MINES. Many of the countries that played host to the wars of the late 20th century continue to be plagued by tens of thousands of unexploded land mines of varying sizes and descriptions. Cambodia and Afghanistan readily come to mind in this respect, and Bosnia is the biggest problem area in Europe.

Despite several serious de-mining efforts made since the Dayton peace agreements were signed at the end of 1995, the mines remain omnipresent. By all estimates, they will continue to be a safety hazard for decades to come, especially in former front-line areas.

This past week served as a reminder about the continuing danger posed by mines. Torrential rains battered large sections of north-central Bosnia, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes and leaving tens of millions of dollars worth of damage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2001). The rains loosened thousands of mines, sending them onto roads and fields but also into the rivers Bosna and Spreca along the former front lines.

The affected areas of Bosnia and Serbia are now digging out and rebuilding after some of the worst rainfall in decades. But mines remain beneath the surface, posing dangers for generations to come. (Patrick Moore)

FIRST FOREIGN TOURIST GROUP VISITS VUKOVAR. Your editor remembers his first guidebook to the former Yugoslavia, which he used as a student during the 1973-1974 academic year. The entry on Slavonia said diplomatically that the region is "more of economic than of touristic importance."

Be that as it may, tourists are now returning to Vukovar, the Croatian city on the Danube that was destroyed by Serbian forces in 1991 and became perhaps the most famous symbol of the war for most Croats.

Some 100 Germans arrived on the cruise ship "Ukrajina" from Passau on 22 June, Hina reported. This is the first group of organized tourists to arrive on the Danube since the Erdut agreement ended the war in Slavonia in 1995. More tourists are expected in the course of the summer, with three more ships due by the end of June. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The notion of European leadership is an oxymoron.... Only the U.S. has the stature and the credibility to foster a solution. In the current case in Macedonia, I believe that without very decisive American involvement, there will be no solution." -- Former Reagan administration defense official Richard Perle, quoted in the "Financial Times" on 22 June.

"Security forces showed unprecedented fierceness [in their 22 June offensive]. The action will continue and we hope to end it triumphantly." -- Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, quoted by dpa in Skopje on 22 June.