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Balkan Report: February 22, 2000

22 February 2000, Volume 4, Number 15

A Tale Of Two Centuries. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer recently told Deutsche Welle that Southeastern Europe is witnessing a clash between the concepts of the 19th century and those of the 21st. By this he meant the juxtaposition of aggressive nationalism with trends toward European integration and democratization.

He did not have to look very far to find the contrast. At the end of the previous week, the region was host to two gatherings, each of which illustrated one of the two trends.

The anachronistic, nationalist strain was represented at the congress of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). There the man who lost wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova thrilled his audience with nationalist rhetoric of the kind that brought him to power in the last years of the 1980s. He stressed that "we have no opposition, but rather contemporary janissaries. These latter-day turncoats ("poturice") are at the service of foreign masters."

To be sure, foreign guests were present--from the Muslim world. These included delegations from Iraq and Libya. Milosevic's ally and fellow nationalist, Vojislav Seselj, said in a joint statement with the Libyans that "Orthodox and Arab countries need to join forces to create a common strategy against American hegemonism. Europe must free itself from American influence so that its peoples and states can live in peace, harmony, and religious tolerance."

The other trend was represented by the inauguration of Croatian President Stipe Mesic in Zagreb. In a series of parliamentary and presidential votes since the beginning of the year, Croats made a clean break with the legacy of the late President Franjo Tudjman and their other nationalist rulers of the past decade. The new government and president are committed to Euro-Atlantic integration, democratization, the rule of law, respect for the independence and sovereignty of Bosnia, and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The break with the previous era was not only unmistakable, but it came at breathtaking speed.

To see the change, one needed only to contrast the nature of the foreign presence at Tudjman's funeral in December with that at Mesic's inauguration. Only one head of state--Turkey's Suleyman Demirel--came to pay his last respects to Tudjman; most countries sent their ambassador. To greet Mesic, 72 foreign visitors arrived to form what "Jutarnji list" called the "largest group of foreign representatives in Croatian history." The dignitaries included 12 heads of state from Central and Southeastern Europe, as well as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. Albright later had dinner with Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan.

She and Fischer discussed the situation in Serbia with several Serbian opposition leaders, including Zoran Djindjic and Vladan Batic. Albright and Fischer made a clear point to the Serbs: the Croats had shown what the opposition could do if it united and ousted the nationalists. Now it is the Serbs' turn, and a bright future awaits them if they, too, rise to the occasion.

The Serbian opposition leaders were not quite sure about the analogy. They argued that the Milosevic regime is a lot tougher and nastier than the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) was. Nonetheless, the Americans and other Westerners came away with the impression that they had given the Serbs something to think about.

In any event, Mesic produced a surprise two days later that again underscored the new leadership's break with the HDZ era. Mesic told Vojvodina opposition leader Nenad Canak that he will publish the records of the meetings and agreements between Milosevic and Tudjman. It is not clear when the texts will be published. The two presidents are widely believed to have reached several agreements in the course of the 1990s on the partition of Bosnia. Theirs was what Fischer meant by the spirit of the 19th century. Mesic and his colleagues are already showing that their orientation is toward the 21st. (Patrick Moore)

Serbian Parties Appeal To Sandzak. Leaders of the opposition Democratic Party, Social Democracy, and New Democracy appealed to Muslims and Serbs in Sandzak not to heed or spread rumors about a "coming armed conflict" in the region (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2000). The three opposition parties stressed that the Belgrade regime wants to spread fear and insecurity in Sandzak so that it can better manipulate the people there, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. (Patrick Moore)

Why Is Clark In Macedonia? NATO's Supreme Commander in Europe, General Wesley Clark, said on a "routine consultation" visit to Skopje on 20 February that he came "to assure your leaders of NATO's continuing intent that there will be peace, stability, and progress in this region. I came here to thank the government for its continued support for the KFOR mission," AP reported.

His visit followed one by NATO Secretary-General George Robertson (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2000). "Vesti" reported from Skopje on 21 February that the Atlantic alliance wants to be sure of the support of the Macedonian authorities in the event of a conflict in Montenegro or of escalating tensions in Kosova. Should a new conflict come to the region, NATO would again require transit rights across Macedonian territory and air space, as well as military bases in Macedonia, "Vesti" added.

Robertson said in Brussels after returning from the Balkans that the Atlantic alliance is closely monitoring a troop buildup in areas of southern Serbia near Kosova, where ethnic Albanians have recently reported an increase of tension. This includes the Bujanovac-Presevo-Medvedja region.

Robertson said on 21 February: "There is clearly rising tension in the southern part of Serbia and large numbers of additional Yugoslav troops have moved into the area.... I would warn anybody who seeks to be provocative in that part of the world, on whatever side of the divide they may be, that again we will not tolerate action being taken. Clearly there are flashpoints in Kosovo and the surrounding areas. We monitor them on a daily basis and we take what robust and contingency action is required," Reuters reported.

One wonders, however, what kind of "robust" action the authorities in Belgrade might be planning themselves. Belligerent rhetoric against real and imagined domestic and foreign foes continues to be part of the regime's daily diet for its subjects. As so often in the past, a time will come when the regime will have to put some of this talk into action lest it lose any remaining credibility. Might Milosevic might now be planning some "tough" action against ethnic Albanian villagers to remove some of the tarnish from his nationalist credentials? (Patrick Moore)

Canadian Diplomats Spar Over Government Role in Kosova. Canada's former ambassador to Belgrade says the Canadian government was involved in "war crimes" by participating in the NATO bombing in Serbia. But Canada's current ambassador says the air campaign was necessary to prevent mass murder.

The contradictory testimony by the two diplomats surprised the Parliamentary committee that has been holding hearings about the NATO bombing campaign and the current situation in Kosova. Bill Graham, chairman of the House of Commons standing committee on foreign affairs and international trade, said after the meeting that "even when we've had previous ambassadors, there has not been that degree of [difference of] opinion."

Former ambassador to Belgrade James Bissett said bombs are not dropped for humanitarian reasons. He charged that NATO used Serbia's oppression of the Albanian majority in Kosova to, in his words, maintain the integrity of NATO on the eve of its 50th birthday and to show the world there was a reason for NATO's existence.

However, the current envoy to Belgrade, Raphael Girard, vigorously defended the NATO action. He said that without NATO intervention Serbian forces would have cleansed Kosova of its ethnic Albanian population.

He said: "I have no doubt that had NATO failed to act, we would have witnessed an episode of ethnic cleansing on the same scale or even greater than that which eventually took place last year."

Bissett has been waging a solitary campaign against Canadian foreign policy in the former Yugoslavia ever since the bombing began last March. Last month, while in Belgrade for a conference, he was refused entry to the Canadian embassy when he tried to visit former colleagues.

He told the committee that "it is a comfort to know that although I was not allowed to speak to anyone in the Canadian embassy in Belgrade during a recent visit there, I am free to speak to members of the Canadian Parliament."

Girard responded by saying that the Canadian government barred Bissett from the embassy because it was afraid that "the regime of Slobodan Milosevic would use Bissett for propaganda purposes."

Canada is one of NATO's 19 member states. It was also one of the founding members of the military alliance in 1949. At present, Ambassador Girard is in Ottawa because of Canada's opposition to the Milosevic regime. (RFE/RL Ottawa correspondent Carol MacIvor)

Albright Calls On Albanians To Change Ways. Secretary of State Albright told the parliament in Tirana on 19 February that Albania's future lies in a democratic, united Europe. She urged her listeners to shun violence, corruption, and the absence of the rule of law. She added: "We look ahead to a new and brighter future for Southeast Europe. We look to Albania to help lead the way.... We support your efforts to build a professional and accountable police, an efficient and effective customs service, and an impartial judiciary," AP reported. "The old ways of doing business are no longer acceptable," she added on her first visit as secretary of state to the Albanian capital.

Prime Minister Ilir Meta then told a news conference that charges that Tirana seeks a greater Albania come from nationalistic Serbs anxious to distract foreign attention from their own plans for a greater Serbia. Meta stressed: "I want to confirm once again that we work for a European Albania and for Southeast Europe to be integrated in the EU and NATO," Reuters reported. (Patrick Moore)

What's In A Name? A Belgrade street now bears a sign that indicates all of the previous changes in its name. "Vesti" commented on 18 February that the plaque reads like a political barometer. The names and their dates of use are:

Dva bela goluba (1872-1896); Svetogorska (1896-1922); Bitoljska (1922-1930); Zorza Klemensoa (1930-1943); Svetogorska (1943-1946); Lole Ribara (1946-1997); Svetogorska (1997-present). One wonders what the current city fathers have against doves or pigeons.

One also wonders why it took the Germans two years to change the name of French Premier Georges Clemenceau. The Soviets were usually much more "efficient" about such matters in areas they occupied. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "No hothead from Belgrade is going to push NATO out of Kosovo. There may be quite a lot of stupid people in Belgrade, but I don't think that there are people stupid enough to think that they can come back into Kosovo again." -- Lord Robertson, in Tirana on 18 February. Quoted by AP.

"The bravest people in the world." -- Milosevic to his Socialist Party congress in Belgrade on 17 February, quoted by "Politika."

"...the ruined country that has been turned into a concentration camp isolated in Europe." -- Opposition Serbian Renewal Movement statement on the eve of Milosevic's congress, 16 February. Quoted by AP.

"They [the opposition parties] are standing behind something that has always been called treason." -- Socialist Party General-Secretary Gorica Gajevic.

"Dishonest, traitor, and vassal." -- Belgrade Socialist leader and former Milosevic spokesman Ivica Dacic, on the opposition.

"The key to a peaceful resolution and a successful exit from the region for U.S. forces and the forces of NATO is democratization in Yugoslavia and Milosevic's appearance at the international criminal tribunal in The Hague. Until he is taken to trial, until democracy is taken into Serbia, we're not going to see a resolution of the problem." -- General Wesley Clark, in Washington on 17 February, quoted by Reuters.

"Croatia's example sends a simple message to Serbs: There is a better future and a democratic Serbia can be part of it." -- Secretary Albright in the "International Herald Tribune," 18 February 2000.