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Balkan Report: April 18, 2000

18 April 2000, Volume 4, Number 28

Croatia: Getting Priorities Straight. Real politics have come to Croatia this year. No more leaden statements by officials of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) alternating with pathetic cries from a seemingly helpless opposition. The HDZ has split and its remaining leaders feud in public. It is true that HDZ-backed newspapers like "Vecernji list," "Slobodna Dalmacija," and "Vjesnik" have lost their government insider's edge and furthermore face an uncertain future. But the independent "Jutarnji list" and the independent weeklies make for exciting reading as HDZ leaders fight each other and scandals from the previous 10 years emerge on an almost daily basis.

But that is not the only excitement in the Croatian press these days. Something else that crops up almost every day are verbal pot-shots exchanged between President Stipe Mesic and members of the government, usually Prime Minister Ivica Racan or Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic. It is to be expected that the two sides do not see eye-to-eye about the issues surrounding the reduction of the president's constitutional powers. Opinion polls, moreover, suggest that most voters are pleased with both the president and the government, and that they find the ongoing tension between them normal and healthy. In fact, Mesic is the country's most popular politician, and right behind him comes Racan.

But one area of seemingly constant sparring is more an embarrassment than anything else, namely how they deal with The Ghost of Franjo Tudjman. This does not refer to the question of cutting the president's constitutional powers. The issue is the pains to which politicians go to show themselves as breaking with Tudjman's fondness for official pomp and circumstance.

If Tudjman's strutting about flanked by young men in "historical" comic-opera uniforms was unintentionally funny, the same might be said of the current sparring over the legacy of government-by-show. Specifically, "issues" have arisen regarding the home of the president and other officials, and the proper protocol to be shown at airports.

Last month, Mesic was furious that the government offered him a "luxury villa" as his official residence. He refused the house, calling the offer a ploy to make him look extravagant in the eyes of average Croats. It appears that many people were indeed angry that their president would live in the lap of luxury, but a look at the photos of the home suggested that it was anything but of international presidential quality. Your editor knows any number of U.S. professors or German businessmen who live in much more comfortable or spacious surroundings, and the list need not stop there.

In the end, Mesic did not take the house. (Whether the building's pre-1941 owners will get it back is another matter.) For good measure, it might be noted that the prime minister lives in an ordinary flat, with guards outside his apartment block on a parking lot shared by several other modern buildings.

This self-enforced modesty recalls tales of the blue-blooded former British Labour minister who shunned his aristocratic title and allegedly painted rust spots on his car to give himself a more close-to-the-people image. But not all modesty is a matter of personal choice. Mesic and Granic openly sparred in the press over the degree of protocol to be shown to the president when he leaves on or returns from an official visit, such as the one Mesic made to Bosnia-Herzegovina in March. Mesic argued that his demands are far from Tudjman's pomp and in keeping with the practices of such democracies as Slovenia and Bulgaria. He felt that the Racan government virtually ignored his visit and that such behavior amounted to an insult.

But Granic was not to be budged in his role as the defender of modesty in government. He recently sought not to have to ride in the same car from the airport as a visiting Thai princess, in contradiction to protocol. Questions of protocol also arose over the issue of the presence of a military band--de rigeur under Tudjman--to greet her. In the end, Racan and the government went along with internationally accepted standards of protocol in receiving the visiting dignitary. But this is unlikely to be the end of the matter.

Croatia certainly has more substantial problems than the legacy of pomp and circumstance. It will take a while before a truly functioning democracy takes root, including the establishment of really independent media. The government certainly cannot afford to forget that a main reason that it attracted voter support in January was popular anger over the HDZ's corruption and misuse of the privatization process, but this will take long years to set right. Issues of housing, unemployment, and the cost of living require immediate attention, although here, too, there are no easy answers. Perhaps more profoundly, there is a general social malaise and ethical vacuum that one finds in many post-communist societies. How these aspects of life will be brought up to "European norms" is anybody's guess.

In short, Croatia has its tasks more than cut out for it. The example of Slovakia shows that even a determined opposition with its own agenda can squabble and falter after it comes to power, making a return of the old regime a very real possibility. In such circumstances, one does not know whether to laugh or cry when Croatia's top elected officials fight publicly over issues such as the size of the president's work room or the color of a carpet at an airport. (Patrick Moore)

Is Southeastern Europe On Its Way Towards European Integration? Over the last 10 years, the Western approach towards the Balkans has changed dramatically from ignorance through involvement to advocating integration. It now remains to be seen whether the EU will follow through on bringing Southeastern Europe into the structures increasingly integrating the rest of the continent.

In the early 1990s, most Western countries failed to appreciate that Yugoslavia was going through a process of disintegration. The Western fear of setting a precedent for the further disintegration of the former Soviet Union or other post-communist countries came to shape public opinion--and above all the views of many leaders--more than the developments on the ground. The result was that many Western governments failed to grasp what was going on in the Balkans and on that they let their policies be heavily swayed by domestic concerns.

It took the EU (then EC) over half a year after Slobodan Milosevic launched his wars in Slovenia and Croatia--and a major refugee crisis--to understand that Yugoslavia had ceased to exist, and to recognize the independence of most of its former republics. But it took different countries different lengths of time to draw the consequences from the disintegration process and from the wars.

After the shelling of Vukovar and Dubrovnik in 1991, German and Austrian public opinion tended to be more friendly to Croatia and Slovenia, partly because of the relatively widespread perception that Belgrade had started the war. Another factor was the appearance of hundreds of thousands of refugees on the Germans' and Austrians' doorsteps, as well as the long-standing contacts to the former Yugoslavia--thanks to a large Yugoslav immigrant community and to Yugoslavia's earlier popularity as a holiday destination--provided a strong feeling of proximity and involvement.

But in other countries, such as Britain and France, it took a change of the political generation and a change of government to appreciate that the core problem of the Balkan wars was Milosevic's lust for power. The change of attitude was triggered by months of horrific television images and press reports of the siege of Sarajevo and by the frustration from being unable to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide.

After four years of fruitless negotiations under international mediation, hundreds of broken ceasefires, and a hostage crisis involving Serbs taking UN troops prisoner, the 1995 Dayton agreement marked a turning point in the international approach. It showed that when dealing with tough-minded Balkan politicians, a credible threat of force can make them more reasonable.

Since Europe at the time was unable to conceive or carry out such a policy and its own mediation efforts had failed, the U.S. was crucial in bringing the Europeans together behind a common strategy. The deployment of a NATO-led international peacekeeping force that was able to enforce peace marked the end of the Bosnian war.

The post-conflict situation proved to be a still more complex matter. Even though the international community gave large amounts of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance to Bosnia, the country now faces a deep economic crisis, triggered by protectionist policies, communist economic legacies, and by an overwhelmingly non-transparent and often corrupt bureaucracy.

The negotiation process leading to the February 1999 Rambouillet talks and the subsequent Kosovo war clearly marked the change of western policies towards the region. Albeit under U.S. leadership, the European countries united behind a common goal and strategy in a comparably short time. After the war, Europe took charge of the largest part of the reconstruction and institution-building effort.

Furthermore, the Kosova war gave the essential impulse for a new regional approach on the part of the EU, aiming at integrating all of Southeastern Europe. And the EU's envoy on foreign and security policy, Javier Solana, is in charge of shaping that policy.

To date, however, Solana has not been able to present great results. The EU's main mechanism for the region is the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe under the chair of Bodo Hombach. But the Stability Pact has no resources of its own; it merely keeps the region on the EU's agenda. It also can serve as a clearing house to promote cross-border cooperation and infrastructure development. The key impulse for integration must come, however, through the Stabilization and Association agreements that the EU is currently negotiating. With the exception of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova, all states in the region are involved in the process of concluding such agreements.

The negotiations with Macedonia are likely to conclude by the end of this year. Talks with Croatia have just begun, and the country will have to introduce austerity measures to get the process going. Albania has some possibilities, and two weeks ago presented a status report on its internal reforms to the EU. If local elections scheduled for October proceed peacefully, it is likely that Albania will start negotiations by the end of the year. For Bosnia no such agreement is in sight, because the leaderships of the two entities have failed to agree on the joint implementation of reforms.

Unlike many Central European and Baltic countries, these new candidates will draw up action plans jointly with the EU. Thus the countries will have clearer guidelines as to where the reforms must be going and what they have to implement. For its part, the EU will apply "conditionality" to the integration process, which means that the process comes to a halt if the candidates fail to deliver on their promises. But the arrangement gives the candidates some security in not being left alone or lacking guidelines for their policies.

But not only the candidates will have to deliver on their promises--the EU must make good on its commitment to integrating them. Even though the EU supports regional and cross-border cooperation, many candidates will paradoxically have to give up free-trade agreements that are not in line with EU standards. (The agreements between the Czech Republic and Slovakia are a case in point.) Indeed, the EU wants the candidates to apply the "acquis communitaire"--the set of rules and standards for EU integration--among themselves already before integration.

The idea is that regional cooperation between candidates should not cause problems during their subsequent EU integration. But many such bilateral agreements--especially where free trade in agricultural products is concerned--are in contradiction to protectionist EU policies. A first step in a more open direction, however, is the willingness of the EU to unilaterally open its markets to industrial products from these countries. The most important is probably textile production, which makes up about 45 percent of Macedonia's exports, for example.

In the end, the sincerity of the EU's approach to the economically fragile states of Southeastern Europe will be measured in how far it opens its markets and gives policy guidelines in a spirit of sincere and open partnership. (Fabian Schmidt)

New Generators For Krsko. Slovenia's Krsko nuclear facility--the only nuclear power plant in the former Yugoslavia--was shut down on 16 April for about one month. During that period, new steam generators will be installed at a cost of $40 million. The equipment is built by Germany's Siemens and France's Framatome. Krsko spokesmen said that the plant will now be one of the safest in Europe, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 April 2000). (Patrick Moore)

Macedonian President Wants Tighter Border Controls. Boris Trajkovski told U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright by telephone on 14 April that NATO should strengthen border patrols to prevent "terrorist groups" from making trouble near the frontier between Macedonia and Kosova. He stressed that Macedonia will enforce security if NATO does not, AP reported. His message follows a recent incident in which unknown Kosovars detained four Macedonian soldiers, apparently to hold them hostage for the release of a controversial Kosovar from a Macedonian jail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2000). (Patrick Moore)

Macedonia To Denationalize Property. Macedonia's parliament voted on 14 April to return property expropriated by the Communists over 50 years ago. Speaker Savo Klimovski said that "with this act, we have taken the first important step in establishing the sacred right to private property." The move will cost the government of the impoverished republic some $735 million, Reuters reported. Among the first beneficiaries will be the Orthodox and Islamic religious communities. (Patrick Moore)

Weapons, Garbage Collected In Kosova. Austrian and U.S. peacekeepers collected unexpectedly large quantities of weapons and ammunition in two separate actions on 14 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. The Austrians detained two ethnic Albanians in the incident.

In Prishtina the following day, ethnic Albanian political leaders and representatives of the international community praised teams of volunteers who helped clean up mounds of garbage. Local hospital authorities have recently reported a rapid rise in cases of rodent-borne diseases related to the proliferation of garbage heaps. Observers have noted that the tendency of citizens to dispose of garbage haphazardly--long a problem in Albania--has increasingly become widespread in Kosova. (Patrick Moore)

Downer. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in Canberra on 14 April that his new ambassador in Belgrade acted correctly in presenting his credentials to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic the previous day. Downer added that Ambassador Charles Stuart made clear to his host Australia's concern about human rights, AP reported. It was the first time in months that Milosevic was called on by a Western diplomat.

The U.S., which criticized Canberra's move to name a new ambassador, had urged the Australians to fax the credentials to Milosevic instead of presenting them in person. Downer commented: "They asked us if we would fax the credentials. The Yugoslav authorities made it clear they wouldn't accept faxed credentials." (Patrick Moore)

Now We Know. Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who is well-known for his 1998 information law, said in Belgrade on 15 April that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is behind the separate killings of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" and Defense Minister Pavle Bulatovic in Belgrade earlier this year.

In a more serious vein, the international community's Wolfgang Petritsch told the Munich-based weekly "Focus" that he believes that General Ratko Mladic is in Belgrade. The former Bosnian Serb military commander and one of the most wanted war criminals was recently spotted in a Belgrade soccer stadium. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "Thanks for the arrests, but it's not enough. I'm asking for the arrest of all fugitives. How long is it going to take?" -- Carla Del Ponte to NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson at a news conference at the tribunal in The Hague. Reported by Reuters on 13 April.

"There are risks because these people are violent. The forces of SFOR and KFOR are willing to take those risks.... There is a lot of creativity involved." -- Robertson in his reply.