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Balkan Report: December 1, 2000

1 December 2000, Volume 4, Number 84

The 'End Of History' In The Balkans? Scarcely a week or even a few days go by as of late without some Western politician or group of politicians waxing eloquent about Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his allies from the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS). The Westerners routinely hail the fall of dictatorship in Serbia and birth of democracy there. Some observers even suggest that Serbia and the Balkans have ceased to be an international trouble spot, and that the West can best deal with them through "soft" institutions such as the EU's Balkan Stability Pact rather than through NATO or the UN. Some in the U.S. have added that Washington can safely consign the region to the care of Brussels and concentrate on its own interests in other parts of the globe (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 October 2000).

Such statements by usually tough and street-wise Western politicians have led many in Croatia, Albania, Kosova, and Bosnia--among others--to shake their heads in disbelief. There are two reasons for this. First is the perception that the Westerners are suddenly falling all over themselves to give large sums of money and other aid to Serbia, perhaps at the expense of neighboring countries that tried hard to be helpful to the international community during the 1999 Kosova crisis and at other times (see the cover story of the Zagreb weekly "Globus," 13 October 2000).

The second--and more profound--reason is that the Serbs are widely seen in the region as being welcomed into international institutions and into the international community's good books without having had to meet the painstaking prerequisites for democracy, market reforms, human rights, and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal that some of its neighbors have. Croatian President Stipe Mesic, for one, has frequently tried to remind the Westerners that the changes in Serbia have only just begun, and that one should not be so generous or trusting until one better knows with whom and what one is actually dealing.

In fact, all that is certain is that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has been replaced by a man with strong nationalist credentials, who is surrounded by many of the same members of the fractious opposition who failed over the course of years to unite and overthrow the dictator. To be sure, Kostunica also has a refreshing devotion to the rule of law and to the peaceful settlement of political disputes. His allies, for their part, appear to have sunk their differences for the good of their country--at least for the present.

But the state apparatus and, above all, the means of coercion are still largely in the hands of the people who ran them under Milosevic. General Nebojsa Pavkovic in the General Staff and security chief Rade Markovic are but two of many cases in point. There is no guarantee that the opposition will have the strength and unity of purpose to dislodge them, even if the DOS trounces the former ruling parties in the 23 December Serbian elections.

In fact, problems for the DOS may really begin only once those elections are over. If the DOS does marginalize its opponents, it will not only have the satisfaction of victory but also the duty of exercising responsibility in governing. For the Bulgarian Union of Democratic Forces and some other anti-communist movements in Eastern Europe in earlier years, ousting the communists proved to be a poisoned chalice. This was because the opposition was then obliged to go beyond its usual litany of criticizing and complaining and start drafting and implementing constructive programs. Some seasoned anti-communists were unable to make the transition from opposition to governing--and politicians from the former regime eventually returned to power.

If the politicians and parties represented in the DOS revert to large-scale public infighting, and start seeking tacit or not-so-tacit alliances with their former enemies against their current allies, a post-Milosevic Serbia could prove to be a political free-for-all. In time, perhaps a "strong man" figure from the old regime--even Milosevic himself--could present himself to the electorate as the "serious man" whom the country needs to restore order and discipline. This scenario would be a long way from the glowing hopes expressed for Kostunica and the DOS in their recent meetings with Western politicians.

For now, it is clear that Milosevic has been replaced at the top with Not-Milosevic and a group of politicians nominally committed to democracy, the rule of law, and resolving disputes by peaceful means. The DOS leadership is open to "Europe," especially when that means an end to international isolation and the start of generous aid programs.

But that is it. As the presidents of Croatia and Albania have both said more than once and in public, neither the new Serbian leadership nor Serbian society as a whole has begun a "catharsis" of the emotions and beliefs that at one point led to the rise of Milosevic and ultimately to four disastrous wars (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 31 October 2000). Nor do most Serbs even seem to sense any need to look deeply into themselves and at their political culture.

In any event, Serbia has experienced a change for the better that is at least skin-deep. But the history of the region suggests that, at present, it would be unwise to conclude anything more than that. (Patrick Moore)

Tense Times In Presevo. The Yugoslav military and armed ethnic Albanian insurgents have agreed on a cease-fire along southern Serbia's border with Kosova. Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic says the KFOR-brokered deal should provide time to find a diplomatic solution. But RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Bujanovac in Serbia's Presevo Valley that the Yugoslav military is still deploying forces for a face-off, and that local residents fear the worst. Here is his report.

Despite the latest cease-fire between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents in Serbia's Presevo Valley, tensions in the ethnically mixed border town of Bujanovac are running high (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 November 2000).

A long column of several hundred Serbian interior ministry troops--known by the acronym MUP--in armored personnel carriers, transport trucks, and shiny all-terrain vehicles can be seen making its way through the town toward the buffer zone with Kosova, less than 10 kilometers away.

A separate column of Yugoslav army vehicles loaded with soldiers is moving slowly down the highway toward the ethnic Albanian-majority town of Presevo, where both the army and MUP forces have set up bases. Meanwhile, two U.S.-KFOR Apache helicopters hover above the administrative boundary between Kosova and Serbia, observing the military activity.

Just on the edge of the largest ethnic Albanian village in the area, Veliki Trnovac, a special so-called "red-beret" Interior Ministry unit has set up camp. Police are controlling all traffic in and out of the village, which is home to some 10,000 Albanians.

Residents say some 500 inhabitants have fled in recent days out of fear of a Yugoslav army ultimatum earlier this week to resort to force if ethnic Albanian fighters do not leave the area. The rebels belong to a group calling itself the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB)--three towns in southern Serbia.

Large numbers of Albanian men gather along Veliki Trnovac's main street, waiting and worrying about the MUP troops' next move. Few are willing to talk to reporters, and no one is willing to give his name. One elderly man told our correspondent: "Yesterday (Monday, 27 November), we went to Bujanovac to buy milk--me, my grandchild, my young friend, and his children. [The police] stopped us and asked where we were going. We said. 'We are going to get milk.' They said: 'Go back and you'll see how people are going to die in [Veliki] Trnovac. Just wait until seven o'clock, when the ultimatum expires, and everyone is going to die.' So we returned and here we are standing around, encircled on all sides."

Another elderly man said he feared the police would reduce the village "to ashes" once the ultimatum expired.

The police and Interior Ministry troops suspect that Veliki Trnovac is being used as a base for the insurgents. This is something the villagers deny. They say the rebels are in the densely forested hills toward the boundary with Kosova.

Officials with the NATO-led Kosova Peacekeeping Force, or KFOR, said on 27 November that the Yugoslav ultimatum had been postponed indefinitely following talks in Vienna between U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic.

The latest cease-fire agreement came after clashes last week between the Yugoslav military and armed ethnic Albanians who are members of the liberation army. Four Serbian policemen died in the fighting. The insurgents want the largely ethnic Albanian Presevo Valley to be linked with Kosova.

The MUP now says it is in full control of the area except for six villages, where the insurgents--estimated by the ministry to number 800--are in control. KFOR says there are far fewer insurgents. The situation is said to be stabilizing since Belgrade suspended its ultimatum to use force.

MUP forces occupied another village, Lucane, without incident on 29 November. UCPMB spokesman said that Albanian fighters used "restraint," but claimed that the Serbs violated the terms of the cease-fire by entering Lucane.

The tense atmosphere is reminiscent of Kosova during the 1990s. But nearly eight weeks after the fall of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, it is unclear how long his democratic successor, Vojislav Kostunica, will be able to resist calls from local Serbian residents for a crackdown.

Kostunica visited Bujanovac on the evening of 27 November to assure Serbs living there that he will not let the Presevo Valley fall to the rebels. But, he said, he will not permit a repetition of the fighting between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Belgrade's forces in Kosova in 1998 and 1999, either.

Kostunica's visit was followed on 29 November by an inspection of forces by the Yugoslav Army chief of staff and former commander of Yugoslav forces in Kosova, General Nebojsa Pavkovic. Pavkovic's line was tougher than the president's. He said that "something" has to be done with what he called "Albanian terrorists," who have set fires in the security zone and who have definitely been receiving support from Kosova.

The mayor of Bujanovac, Stojanca Arsic, later told reporters that the deployment of forces is necessary to prevent any further expansion of rebel-controlled territory: We have seen "the arrival here of the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, and his team, together with the commander of the Yugoslav Army and representatives of the Interior Ministry. We also have a line that is a guarantee that the clashes and attacks cannot spread inland [from the security zone along the boundary with Kosova. All this shows] that there is total security for all citizens--Serbs, Albanians, and Roma."

The fighting and threats by the Yugoslav military have prompted some emigration from the area, although there are no reliable figures on how many people have left.

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic on 28 November denied UN figures that 3,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, have already departed. Bujanovac's regional police chief, Colonel Novica Zdravkovic, calls the UN figure "disinformation." He says anyone who has left the area should return. "If in the past few days some family members here--Albanians, Serbs--have left this territory, let me use this opportunity to call on these people to return freely to their homes. We in this area guarantee peace, security, and normal protection of property and persons."

Colonel Zdravkovic's chat with reporters appears to be part of the Serbian Interior Ministry's new look. Zdravkovic showed up dressed in a tailored sports jacket rather than a police uniform. He says his men at the boundary with Kosova are under orders to behave professionally. Similarly, when RFE/RL reporters crossed from Kosova into Serbia, Serbian police were polite and even apologetic for the one-hour delay in obtaining permission to proceed into the Presevo Valley.

UNHCR monitors positioned along Kosova's boundary with Serbia and on Macedonia's border with Yugoslavia have counted some 3,000 Albanians and Serbs fleeing the Presevo Valley since the weekend. But the counting process is far from exact.

One monitor told RFE/RL that she estimates a car with a family has an average of seven occupants. But the monitors do not stop vehicles to ask whether occupants are fleeing or merely going to visit relatives.

KFOR troops do ask families whether they are fleeing and compare notes at the end of the day with the monitors. But one UNHCR monitor says families are shy and do not confirm they are fleeing until they are well inside Kosova. And while UNHCR says last week's violence appears to be the main cause of the increased traffic, state holidays in Kosova on 28 November and in Serbia on 29-30 November may have been a contributing factor.

In any case, the outgoing cars and taxis are filled with families, and those vehicles heading back into Serbia generally contain mostly men. The UNHCR says these men have accompanied their wives and children to safety in Kosova and are merely returning home. (Jolyon Naegele)

Sharp Reactions To Killing Of Kosovar Politician. Political parties and writers throughout Kosova have strongly condemned the murder of Xhemail Mustafa, a senior politician of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) on 23 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000).

Mustafa was one of the founders of the LDK and remained an advisor to former shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova. The writer and journalist also played an instrumental role in shaping the policy of the Kosovars' peaceful resistance campaign between 1991 and 1998.

Rugova, speaking in Monaco on 24 November, described Mustafa as "an outstanding intellectual, great journalist, and 'father' for all Albanians," "Koha Ditore" reported. Rugova hinted that the police should look for the killers in the ranks of any of the three main parties opposed to him: the Liberal Party of Kosova (PLK), the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), or in the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), which changed its name recently from the Party for Democratic Progress.

All three parties have their base of support among former fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Rugova called the killers "people who do not want liberty, a future, and prosperity for Kosova."

But the three parties also were quick to denounce the killing. Ahmet Isufi, who is the secretary-general of the AAK, called the killing "a crime that will undermine political life in Kosova." PDK speaker Fatmir Limaj stressed that "the murder...damages [domestic] peace in Kosova." Most of the smaller parties in Kosova joined in the chorus.

Shkelzen Maliqi, who is a Prishtina correspondent of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, stressed in an commentary for "Koha Ditore" on 26 November that his former colleague "was a quiet man...and he was not a politician with ambitions. He had no fancy cars and bodyguards. Instead, he was modest and did not impose himself on others, just like someone who was serving the [Kosovar cause] as an advisor to Rugova--more as a professional than as a politician." Maliqi also describes Mustafa as a pragmatist who did not follow Rugova blindly and therefore did not belong to the closest influential circles around him.

Maliqi thus supposes that the murder of Mustafa was not primarily an attack against Rugova. Instead, Maliqi writes, "the purpose of the attack was to spread fear among all those who write, against those who fulfill their duties, and relax in the evening with a clear conscience. This does not require [one to hire] a bodyguard, even though you know that expressing yourself freely is not without danger." (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "The EU did not have a sufficient capacity for a joint foreign policy to adequately respond to the complexities of the [former Yugoslav interethnic] conflicts. actor outside Europe became involved and cut with a sword the Gordian knot of interethnic conflicts on the territory of the former Yugoslavia--and greatly made matters more complicated."--Kostunica at the 24 November Zagreb Balkan summit. Quoted in "Vesti."

"The recent elections here show that there is an underlying, huge desire for peace on the part of the majority of the people. But there is still a minority prepared to use violence and to increase violence."--NATO's Lord Robertson in Prishtina on 30 November. Quoted by RFE/RL's South Slavic Service.