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Balkan Report: September 19, 2000

19 September 2000, Volume 4, Number 69

Croatian Bishop Bogovic: Tense Times In Lika. The Croatian region of Lika could easily become a hot spot again. Tensions between Croats and returning Serbs have begun to emerge, and it is not clear where things may lead. The local Roman Catholic bishop, for his part, has some definite views on the matter.

Between 1991 and 1995, the region near the Bihac pocket in northwestern Bosnia was a front area between Croatian territory under the control of the Zagreb authorities and that held by rebel Serbs. The region witnessed the now-familiar pattern of atrocities and revenge. First, the Serbs "ethnically cleansed" the rugged area of Croats. Then in 1995, the Croatian army routed Serbian forces. Some of those Serbs--too old or sick to flee--were killed. Recently, Serbian civilians who managed to leave together with the rebel troops have very slowly begun to return to their homes in Lika and the Dalmatian hinterland.

With memories of the war years still fresh, many Croats in the region fear that the Serbian minority could start a rebellion once again at some point in the future. In short, they do not trust the returning Serbs.

This summer, Croatian right-wingers set up a memorial for Jure Francetic in the town of Slunj. Francetic, who was born in Lika, was an Ustasha officer in World War II. Returning Serbs see the memorial as a warning to them to get out and stay out.

But extremists have apparently not limited their actions to erecting memorials. On 28 August, an explosion in Gospic killed Milan Levar, an ethnic Croat and war crimes witness. Levar, who helped organize the 1991 defense of Gospic against Serbian rebels, testified in 1997 in The Hague against Croatian ex-soldiers regarding their war crimes against Serbian civilians. His testimony and that of a colleague marked the first instance of Croats testifying against Croats in conjunction with wartime atrocities.

Some weeks before his killing, Levar said that he and his family have been harassed and threatened by right-wingers and extremist war veterans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2000). It is not clear why the authorities in the Interior Ministry did not honor his request for protection at that time. President Stipe Mesic--among others--wants to know why.

War memories, unemployment in the underdeveloped region, personal and political disappointments, a hardcore nationalist view of history, and the question of the returning Serbs seem to have created an explosive mixture. Against this background, it may be of interest to note what one well-known local analyst of interethnic relations thinks of the latest developments. He is Mile Bogovic, the Catholic bishop of Lika, which Pope John Paul II elevated to the status of a diocese on 25 May.

With the founding of this bishopric, Lika got back a Roman Catholic identity that it lost in the 16th century when the Ottomans conquered parts of the territory. The Turks were defeated some 160 years later, but there was no chance to build up a united regional Catholic diocese in what had become a region settled by a considerable number of people of the Orthodox faith.

Bishop Bogovic himself was born in 1939 in the village of Cerovac in the Slunj district. The July issue of the regional magazine "Vila Velebita" mentions numerous books and articles that he has written on the topic of Serb-Croat relations, Croatian Glagolitic culture, and the history of the bishopric of Senj, which has been integrated into the new Gospic-Senj bishopric.

Bishop Bogovic sees the Serbian population of Lika as an integral part of Croatian society--"they are no strangers," he said. He told the weekly "Globus" of 11 August that the Christian faith can be a basis for cooperation and understanding. He even argued that Orthodoxy and Catholicism do not differ so much in content as in questions of organization. Bogovic believes that the Catholic Church is part of civil society and must respect the Serbian people.

In his view it would be ideal if a Serb from Croatia could proudly say that he is a Serb without provoking an adverse reaction from his ethnic Croat fellow citizens. But Bogovic is aware of reality, too. Nationalism has been so strong in recent years that it often makes cooperation impossible. Bogovic recalled, for example, that during the conflict he met with Orthodox clergy in the town of Freising near Munich. The Orthodox priests spoke exclusively of the Ustasha crimes in World War II and were unable to talk about the present and the future, he claims. They refused to condemn the idea of Greater Serbia.

Bogovic noted that the tendency of many Serbs to see all Croats as Ustasha is part of a pattern of political culture that was very present in communist Yugoslavia. (This, in turn, provided many of the ideological foundations on which Milosevic was able to build in his rise to power in the second half of the 1980s.) But this must not become an excuse for collective discrimination against the Croatian Serbs, Bogovic added. Instead, he appealed to Croats and Serbs alike to overcome the limitations of nationalism.

The bishop supports the return of the Serbs provided they accept that they are citizens of Croatia and not of any other state or para-state. He says that mutual tolerance is "minimal" at present, but calls on both sides to seek progress.

Above all, he noted that the churches should not deal with politics, which is a transient phenomenon. The mission of both churches is spiritual and eternal, Bogovic argued.

In the same issue of "Globus," Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic discussed his recent visit to Serbia. He said that Serbs and Croats should seek reconciliation on the model of that between Germans and French after 1945. The archbishop noted that he and Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle share common visions and values, and appealed to Catholics and Orthodox alike to put these ideals into practice. Bozanic argued that the Serbian Orthodox Church has a fundamental responsibility for ensuring the freedom of worship for Catholics in Serbia, and that the Roman Catholic Church has a similar duty toward the Orthodox in Croatia. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer and junior consultant for business communication based in Munich.

Scandal Over Albanian Construction Company. Prefect of Tirana Taulant Dedja told "Shekulli" of 14 September that the Egyptian-owned company Hawai has built five apartment blocks in Tirana and Durres without having received building permits. The buildings have between seven and 15 stories each, but lack essential technical and legal documentation. According to police officials, the company possessed only a decision by the municipal urban planning department defining the land on which the buildings stand as an area reserved for construction. Illegal construction is rampant in Albania (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July 2000).

Dedja said that his office discovered irregularities during a routine check and subsequently turned the case over to the anti-corruption agency--State Control--and to the building police, who then investigated the activities of the company. Dedja threatened legal action both against Hawai and against officials from the Tirana building police, who turned a blind eye to the construction in the past.

Meanwhile, police have stopped the construction of two other buildings by the same company, one of which has seven stories finished.

Dedja stressed: "I am sure that this is not the only such case and that there are many such speculators. They believe that our country offers favorable conditions for dubious projects. I think that in such cases the law must strike back with full force�. I demand from the building police that they use all legal means to stop such practices, including bringing charges [against the guilty]."

Blendi Marika, a construction inspector, said that the company put the lives of its 136 workers in danger by employing them on an illegal construction site and by failing to provide proper equipment. He said that the scaffoldings found on the construction sites were unsuitable and badly constructed. In at least one case, sacks of sand were used as a counterweight to hold in place wooden planks on which workers were standing. There were also staircases without railings.

There have been about two accidents per year, one of which was fatal, according to Marika. The worker died after falling from the 10th floor of a building in Durres. In another case, a worker fell from the seventh floor and suffered severe injuries. The inspector added that considering the working conditions, it is surprising that the number of accidents was not much higher. What made the situation worse was that the company employed some workers without social or health insurance.

During a first raid in April, the inspectors found 80 undocumented workers, but that did not prevent Hawai from continuing its practices. During a second check in August, the inspectors found a construction site with 136 undocumented workers, both Albanian and foreign citizens. Often they were operating machinery that they were not trained to use.

The building police fined the company twice, but Hawai did not pay either of the fines, which currently amount to about $150,000. (Fabian Schmidt)

Anti-Greek Rhetoric Before Albanian Elections. Petro Koci, a Socialist Party secretary, said in Himara on 13 September that "we should have an Albanian patriot as the [city's] mayor to reverse the trend of having Greek-speaking mayors there," "Albanian Daily News" reported.

Traditionally, Himara is a stronghold of the Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ), which represents the Greek minority in southern Albania and which has formed coalitions with both the Socialist Party (PS) and its rival--the Democratic Party (PD)--in the past.

Koci suggested, however, that the Socialists and Democrats should join forces against the PBDNJ candidate Vasil Bollano. Even though both PD and PS officials said that they expect to win the elections there, PD representatives have already pledged to support an ethnic Albanian Socialist in the second round of voting against Bollano, should the PD lose in the first round.

On a local election campaign poster, the Socialists use the slogan: "Himara has always been and will be Albanian." The head of the PBDNJ, Vasil Melo, referred to the nationalist rhetoric as "rubbish." (Fabian Schmidt)

Greek Medical Treatment For More Albanians. Albanian Health Minister Leonard Solis told the "Albanian Daily News" of 15 September that Greece has increased its quota for patients from Albania from 300 to 500. He made the remarks after a meeting in Tirana with his Greek counterpart, Alekos Papadopoulos.

The Greek and Albanian health authorities will give priority to patients with kidney problems, who depend on dialysis for their survival, and to other emergency cases. The agreement will last until 2003. In the meantime, Greece offered to increase its assistance to refurbish the hospital in Gjirokastra and to equip it with dialysis machines.

The only current dialysis treatment center in Albania is at the main hospital in Tirana. This forces patients to make regular journeys across the country under bad road conditions and in busses that are often crowded. The Health Ministry is currently building two more dialysis centers in Elbasan and Shkodra, however.

Recently, Greece has sent back Albanian patients from the hospital in Ioannina to Tirana, leading to an overcrowding of the hospital there. Most Albanians cannot afford dialysis treatment themselves. (Fabian Schmidt)

Incident On The Macedonian-Albanian Border. Anyone who has crossed into Macedonia from Albania in an Albanian vehicle knows about the suspiciousness and jumpiness of Macedonian security forces. Last week, they detained an Albanian border officer after he crossed on foot into Macedonia--to relieve his bladder in a thicket of trees. He said that there were no trees on the Albanian side, and that modesty prevented him from resorting to other alternatives. He was released soon after questioning, Reuters reported from Tirana. (Patrick Moore)

Slovenian Election Websites. "Dnevnik" of 15 September reported on the plans of many broadcasters to add special election coverage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2000). It also lists the following websites:,, and (Patrick Moore)

Controversy Surrounds Croatian School Reform... The Croatian Education Ministry has prepared a comprehensive reform program that it says will provide "vision" and long-overdue changes. Critics charge that it is unrealistic. They note that the provision for an additional two years of schooling would mean hiring 2,000 more teachers, but that the ministry is currently unable to staff all its schools. Teachers of English and German are in particularly short supply, "Vjesnik" reported on 10 September. (Patrick Moore)

...And Croatia's Most Controversial Politician. Vladimir Seks, who is the senior member of the Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) faction in the parliament, created quite a stir with a recent interview in "Slobodna Dalmacija," in which he charged that "a wave of political violence and killings" threaten the country. He said that pro-government forces are running a hate campaign against the HDZ and its supporters through the weeklies "Nacional" and "Globus." Seks argued that this "could easily lead to real killings and politically-motivated violence if the spiritual terrorism continues."

Many Croats took these remarks as a threat. Maja Freundlich, who is the HDZ's deputy chair, denied that this is what Seks meant.

President Stipe Mesic was not amused, "Jutarnji list" reported on 10 September. Mesic charged that Seks let war criminals run free in his former capacity as a public prosecutor. The president argued that nobody is persecuting the HDZ but only extremists, one of whom is Seks. Mesic warned that Seks may yet face his day in court.

It might also be noted that what ostensibly prompted Seks' remarks was the recent killing of war crimes witness Milan Levar. Levar's killers are widely believed to be extremist veterans who support either the HDZ or right-wing fringe parties. (Patrick Moore)

An Instant Diplomatic Career. Flunked your U.S. Foreign Service Exam? The German Foreign Ministry won't have you, even though you speak six languages? Never fear. A recipe for a diplomatic career is at hand--from Croatia.

"Jutarnji list" reported on 10 September that Zorislav Preksavec will be the new "cultural adviser at the Croatian Embassy in Ljubljana," which does not exactly sound like a hardship post. He graduated from Zagreb University in 1988 with a degree in political science, but that does not appear to be what landed him the plum job.

Preksavec has been a rock musician throughout his career. He most recently played bass guitar with Parni valjak, which, incidentally, gave concerts for the two largest parties now in the government during last winter's election campaign.

The new diplomat denied any link between his appointment in Ljubljana and his electioneering. He argued that the entire band should have been given jobs if that were the case. He also denied any connection between his diplomatic appointment and those of Miroslav Skoro and Djani Marsan. They are also pop singers--who gave concerts for the SDP and HSLS during last winter's election campaign. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "Milosevic is prone to provoking conflicts. I am not afraid, but I am concerned. It is not wise to provoke a fifth war in the Balkans. It takes two for peace in Yugoslavia, but one is enough to start the war. If Milosevic persists in his intention to start a war, we have no choice but to defend ourselves successfully." -- Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic on Montenegrin Television. Quoted by Reuters on 13 September.

"Those opinion polls [showing Vojislav Kostunica trouncing Milosevic] are part of the great swindle that is again going to be performed against this country.... Kostunica obviously is not going to win" in the 24 September presidential vote. -- Serbian Deputy Information Minister Miodrag Popovic, quoted by Reuters on 14 September.

"I think what is important here is that the opposition in Serbia continue to work very hard for these elections, which, unfortunately, we are concerned that Milosevic will steal. I think it is important therefore for the international community and for the Serbian people to be vigilant throughout the whole process, especially the counting process, so they can expose what happened and reject the results if the election is stolen." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, at the UN on 14 September. Quoted by AP.