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Balkan Report: June 30, 2000

30 June 2000, Volume 4, Number 49

The Apology. An apology has sent shock-waves around much of the former Yugoslavia. It may not have solved all the problems between Montenegro and Croatia, but it certainly has generated much discussion.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Montenegrin counterpart Milo Djukanovic discussed "practical issues" including economic cooperation and cross-border traffic in Cavtat near Dubrovnik on 24 June. But Djukanovic also said: "I'd like to express in my name and behalf of sincerest apologies to all citizens of Croatia and especially of Dubrovnik...for all the pain and suffering and material losses inflicted by Montenegrins" during the Belgrade-led campaign against Croatia in 1991 and 1992.

He added that "Montenegro has paid a dear price [for its participation in the conflict.] We have paid in the lives of our people, the severance of traditional good ties between Croatia and Montenegro, and our banishment from the international community."

Djukanovic, in fact, was Montenegrin prime minister when Yugoslav forces shelled Dubrovnik and often tipsy Montenegrin reservists and other forces pillaged Cavtat, Dubrovnik airport's duty-free shop, and several other places in the area. "Vesti" published a 1992 photo of then-Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic and Djukanovic together with their troops in the rain. One Serbian observer commented tongue-in-cheek that the Djukanovic in the picture "must have been the double" of the current Montenegrin leader.

His remarks in Cavtat were not Djukanovic's first expression of good intentions toward Croatia. In 1999, he thanked the Zagreb leadership for allowing him to fly in and out of Dubrovnik on his travels to promote Montenegro's case before the international community.

Returning to his latest remarks, most leading Croatian politicians reacted positively to Djukanovic's apology, "Jutarnji list" reported on 26 June. Most political leaders added, however, that Djukanovic's remarks were prompted by the pragmatic need to improve relations with Zagreb and that the question of Montenegrin responsibility for the 1991 conflict remains open.

Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic said that Podgorica will now have to follow up on Djukanovic's words with concrete deeds. Opposition leader Vladimir Seks noted that Djukanovic did not offer to pay for war damages or to assist the Hague tribunal in investigating and indicting Montenegrins who committed atrocities during the conflict. (Djukanovic subsequently told the weekly "Nacional" that Montenegro will pay damages "if necessary" but did not elaborate.)

But there was little or no sympathy for Djukanovic in Serbia, even from most of the opposition. So far, neither Milosevic nor his top aides have made any public statements on Djukanovic's remarks, but Belgrade's state-run Tanjug news agency quickly and sharply criticized the Montenegrin leader. Tanjug charged that Djukanovic "practically praised Mesic for his secessionist policies...which led to the tragic events in former Yugoslavia." The news agency added that Mesic had demanded as precondition for the meeting that the Montenegrin apologize "for something that never existed--the alleged aggression against Croatia." (Mesic was slated to be the rotating chairman of the former Yugoslav collective presidency in 1991, but then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his allies--including Montenegro--prevented Mesic from taking office.)

The state-run Belgrade daily "Politika" on 26 June also criticized Djukanovic. The daily wrote that he has given in to "blackmail" and "soiled the reputation of the proud Montenegrins by dropping to his knees before...Mesic...[and the ] Ustashe." (Mesic is an outspoken anti-fascist.)

Velizar Nikcevic, who heads the pro-Milosevic Serbian People's Party in Montenegro, charged that Djukanovic's "gesture is a continuation of the policy of servility, treachery, hate, and provoking conflicts among his own people.... The Montenegrin regime is entering the last phase of treason," Reuters reported.

But that was not all--even the opposition was generally critical of the Montenegrin leader. The Democratic Party's Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 24 June that Djukanovic "during the war not only implemented but literally created the policy of Montenegro and Yugoslavia, but he is now representing himself differently.... He came to power by manipulating the deepest national and patriotic sentiments. Now he is denying all that and is starting a new ruse."

In a slightly more sympathetic vein, Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic said that Djukanovic "must have had his reasons [for apologizing]...probably related to interests of Montenegro." Batic added that it is Djukanovic's right as president to make such an apology if he so chooses.

But Predrag Simic, who is foreign policy spokesman for Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement, hailed the apology as "not a move of a politician, but of a statesman who wants the past to become part of history, to take a new direction." Simic added that the apology "opens the question of the cause and the purpose of the war" for the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro. These remarks are striking, not only because they differ from most of the public statements by Serbian political figures but also because they differ greatly from some of Simic's earlier remarks about Djukanovic.

It seems that public apologies from important figures have become something of a phenomenon--albeit a sometimes controversial one--in recent times. Perhaps the most successful in terms of his credibility among his intended audience has been Pope John Paul II--and this on more than one occasion.

Elsewhere, some Western politicians have provoked mixed reactions by apologizing for things that happened long before they were born, and in some cases in places where their own ancestors were not living at the time. Perhaps the least successful in apologizing have been Japanese leaders, because, as a recent commentary in the "Far Eastern Economic Review" pointed out, their intended audiences generally regard the apologies as incomplete and insincere.

In any event, it appears that many Croats are inclined at least to give Djukanovic the benefit of the doubt regarding his remarks and are willing to continue a dialogue. But his words alone will not be enough. It is difficult to see how he will be able to avoid some form of investigation into Montenegro's role in 1991-1992, with the possibility that some of the leaders and tipsy looters may face a day in court. That is clear from the announcement by Croatian Justice Minister Stjepan Ivanisevic on 27 June that his government wants the Hague-based tribunal to launch an investigation of the Dubrovnik campaign. (Patrick Moore)

Multiethnic Living In Kosova (Part I). One year ago last week, the Yugoslav Army and Serbian police and paramilitaries evacuated Kosova, and NATO-led peacekeeping forces entered the province. Nearly 1 million forcibly-exiled Kosovar Albanians returned home to a devastated land, while the majority of Kosova's Serbian community fled the province out of fear of retribution. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele visited the ethnically-mixed village of Binaq in southern Kosova to see how residents are faring one year later.

Binaq is a deceptively idyllic village nestled in the foothills of the Black Mountains of southeastern Kosova, an assortment of old Serbian farm houses, newer Albanian houses, a modern Roman Catholic church, and an older Serbian Orthodox church. The nearest mosque is a short walk down the road in the larger village of Kabash. The tall minarets of other mosques in hillside hamlets glisten further up the slopes.

At present, Binaq is home to some 850 Albanian Catholics, a few Muslim families, and about 150 Serbs--only about one-third of the number of Serbs in the village before the Belgrade regime capitulated to NATO one year ago. The rest of the Serbs have since fled to Serbia.

Although Catholics are a tiny minority in Kosova as a whole, they make up the majority of the Albanian population in Binaq, Kabash, and the district center, Viti. Most of these Catholics are known as "Karadak"--Turkish for Black Mountain--and although their forebears were forced by Ottoman Turkey to accept Islam, they secretly maintained their Roman Catholicism.

June 13 was Saint Anthony's Day, the patron saint of the local Roman Catholic church. Several hundred Catholic Albanians--some of the women dressed in Turkish-style pantaloons--were gathered in sweltering heat for an open-air mass.

As a chorus of villagers sings in Latin, KFOR reconnaissance helicopters clatter overhead. U.S. KFOR foot patrols amble through the village, chatting with children, as the congregation recites the Lord's Prayer in Albanian.

In mid-June, there were several shootings just over the hills on the Macedonian side of the border. But down in Binaq, the tensions are of a different sort. They are between Albanian and Serbian neighbors.

The village priest, Don Lush Gjergji, says coexistence is possible as long as it is based on three points: international protection for all ethnic groups, demilitarization and disarmament, and the local tradition of good multiethnic relations: "So now, this is not the time for war or fighting, but rather it is a time to struggle for values and virtues. The time has come to go forward by increasing [emphasis on] these values and to defeat evil."

Don Lush Gjergji adds that "there must either be freedom for all or freedom for none." He says the post-war period is difficult for everyone. "First of all we have to conserve what has been built over the centuries, so that nothing is destroyed. We have to condemn evil in the direction whence it came and we must seek and build for the common good, because life, truth, justice, peace, love, forgiveness are neither Serbian nor Albanian but universal [values]."

The Catholic priest says he cooperates well with the Orthodox priest and the Muslim imam. He says that after the Yugoslav Army (VJ) withdrew one year ago, he told his Serbian Orthodox colleague that if anyone were to threaten him, he would always have a place to stay in the Catholic priest's home. "Now, the security of Serbs is threatened. As long as even one citizen of Kosova is threatened, I personally feel threatened. Because, as a Catholic cleric, as a writer, as an intellectual, I am on the side of the little people, the persecuted, the devastated."

As Don Lush Gjergji puts it, "the international community did not come here to pit Albanians against Serbs, but for the good of everyone." He says he feels he represents everyone in the community, not just the Albanian Catholics, adding: "as long as there is no love between us we are all orphans, regardless of whether they killed us or we killed them, because every killing is self-destruction." (Part II will appear on 4 July 2000.) (Jolyon Naegele

Quotations Of The Week. These are all taken from the Security Council debate of 23 June. Thanks to RFE/RL's UN correspondent, Bob McMahon.

"There's no room in this debate, Mr. President, for a representative of this regime, which continues its repressive tactics at home and its policies of nationalistic extremism abroad." -- U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke

"It is impossible to deny that the [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] de facto remains a party to every track of the peace process in the Balkans." -- Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko (in English)

"Gagging people's mouths is not the best way to discuss acute international problems." -- Russian Ambassador Sergei Lavrov

"There is still far more of the rule of the thugs than the rule of the law. And although the local Kosovo Albanian leadership has condemned acts of violence, there is still a climate of tolerance of the terror that we must never accept." -- UN Special envoy Carl Bildt

Serbia and Montenegro "are today on a slow but steady course towards a collision. This might not be imminent but the trends are very clearly there. I believe it is of key importance that we all give support to the elected authorities in Montenegro in their efforts to pave the way for the new deal they seek." -- Bildt again.