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Balkan Report: December 19, 2000


19 December 2000, Volume 4, Number 89

Getting What You Want. Someone once said that the only thing more frustrating than not getting what you want is actually getting it. For some Balkan opposition parties, this has certainly proven to be the case once they have achieved power (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000). Yugoslavia's new president and some politicians in Western Europe may soon find themselves in a similar situation as regards the international relations of the Balkans.

If the polls are to be believed, Vojislav Kostunica and his Democratic Opposition of Serbia coalition are likely to be shoo-ins in the 23 December Serbian elections. Whatever title he chooses to take for himself, Kostunica is likely to overshadow the other DOS leaders, including the loquacious Zoran Djindjic, who seems certain to head the next Serbian government.

Part of the reason for this is Kostunica's reputation as a man untainted by corruption or scandal. It is also due what Djindjic once called his transitional position between Serbia's nationalist past and its more progressive future. One should also add that nothing succeeds like success, and that, in many regions with a limited democratic tradition, most people seek to identify with the winner. This was reaffirmed in one recent Serbian poll, in which more than 60 percent of the respondents not only said they will vote for Kostunica on 23 December, but also claimed that they voted for him on 24 September.

In the short time he has been in the international limelight, Kostunica has shown evidence of an evolving public style. As one would expect from a legal-scholar-turned-politician, his words are carefully chosen to the point of sounding evasive, unlike the straight talk of Croatia's Stipe Mesic. Kostunica still cannot resist an occasional verbal swipe at the U.S. as the tyrannizer of Europe and the butcher of innocents in Vietnam, but even his anti-American remarks have been toned down in recent weeks. The Yugoslav leader, moreover, has retained a certain degree of freshness about him, in contrast to Montenegro's Milo Djukanovic or Kosova's Ibrahim Rugova, who seldom say anything new.

One other fairly consistent feature of Kostunica's speeches and interviews is a plucky optimism, at least where his country's international relations are concerned. He often makes the point that Belgrade has been quickly and virtually completely accepted back into the fold of the international community. He sometimes adds that he has had fewer problems with the foreigners than with the other members of DOS or with the Montenegrins. It is true that many of his Balkan neighbors still have strong doubts about his nationalist views and will not accord him full respectability until he agrees to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal (among other things). But it is indeed noticeable how quickly the international community has fondly embraced Not-Milosevic as the harbinger of the end of their Balkan troubles.

In addition to his self-confidence, Kostunica often shows some of the martyr complex long typical of the narcissistic Serbian political culture. He scarcely misses an opportunity to mention that the country has been subjected to "ten years of sanctions and bombings." But he seldom -- if ever -- hints that maybe, just maybe, Serbia deserved at least some of the punishment meted out to it by the West's democracies.

On the contrary, Kostunica happily notes that there is a large-scale "reconsideration" of past polices toward Serbia taking place in the West. The implication of his remarks is that folks abroad are seeing the wisdom and justice of the Serbian cause now that nasty old Milosevic is out of the way. Kostunica does not say on precisely what he bases this view, or what it is that his many Western well-wishers have told him that leads him to make these and similar remarks. But in "Vreme" on 14 December and elsewhere, he makes that point.

Of course, much of his emphasis is aimed at splitting "good" Europe away from "hegemonistic" America, much as Milosevic unsuccessfully tried to do. But Kostunica adds that this "rethinking" of past policies extends even to the U.S. -- about which he rarely, if ever, has anything positive to say. Instead, he stresses that American opinion is not a monolith, and that there is evidence of a reconsideration in the U.S.

More specifically, he has blamed many of his problems with Washington on the outgoing administration. The name of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright often comes up in this context. In "Vreme," he suggests that he avoided her recently in Vienna simply because she belongs to the past and that he would rather turn his attention to those in the U.S. and elsewhere who now turn a benign eye toward Serbia. To the point, he has praised what he understands the policies of President-elect George W. Bush to be, namely enabling European countries to handle their own affairs without an oppressive American presence. He has said the intervention and bombing in 1999 would never have taken place had the Republicans been in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000).

The policy represented by Albright was one of so-called "humanitarian intervention" in the face of Serbian repression and atrocities in Kosova in 1998 and 1999, which in turn had followed a decade of apartheid rule. Moreover, the U.S. administration felt it necessary to intervene first in Bosnia in 1995 and then in Kosova four years later after repeated failures by the European powers to put together a serious and coherent policy and then act on it. It seemed that only U.S. military and diplomatic muscle made Milosevic and his allies stop the killing.

Kostunica now hopes that such attention by Washington to Balkan affairs is about to become a thing of the past. He is joined in this outlook by some Euro-Gaullists in Western Europe. These include prominent politicians who say at least in private that they would like the new EU rapid reaction force and European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) to lead to the continent's "emancipation" from the American "hyperpower" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 October 2000).

To see that such views are not to be found only in France and some other perhaps predictable places, one need only look at former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's latest book, "Die Selbstbehauptung Europas" (The Self-Affirmation of Europe).* This is a belated polemical reply to his old rival Zbigniew Brzezinski's "The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives." In it, Schmidt calls NATO "useful," but makes it clear that "Europe's" future lies without the oppressive trans-Atlantic partner, its "pseudoculture," and its interests that somehow differ from those of Europe.

Those advocating such views in Belgrade, Berlin, or Brussels now feel that they may not have long to wait before they are indeed rid of what they regard as American domination. Incessant haggling in the EU over Commission seats in Brussels or fishing quotas does not deter them from the belief that the EU can indeed put together and act on a single defense and security policy. Like Schmidt, they do not seem deterred by the fact that European defense expenditures are by and large falling. When all is said and done, however, they may find that their new situation is more frustrating than the one they now want to leave behind. (Patrick Moore)

(*Helmut Schmidt, "Die Selbstbehauptung Europas," Stuttgart: DVA, 2000, 254 pages.)

Yugoslav Government Seeks Western Help Against Kosova Independence. Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic wants officials from the five permanent member countries of the UN Security Council, as well as from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Macedonia, to hold a series of conferences to determine the future political status of Kosova, of which they would then be the guarantors, the "Washington Post" reported on 18 December 2000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 December 2000).

He argues that independence for the province would "destabilize" the region, an argument that has been employed time and again by those who refuse to accept that Tito's Yugoslavia is continuing to dissolve (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 November 2000). Svilanovic told the daily that he realizes that holding such a conference "would amount to stacking the deck against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority." He nonetheless added that he hopes that unnamed "moderate" Albanians will agree to a deal with Belgrade. Moderate leaders Ibrahim Rugova and Veton Surroi have, however, said repeatedly that Kosovars see no future with Serbia and are interested only in independence. (Patrick Moore)

Srebrenica Five Years On, Part III. (Part I appeared on 8 December, Part II on 15 December. This is the final part of a report from Srebrenica by RFE/RL's correspondent Jolyon Naegele.)

In Sarajevo, the first deputy high representative of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, [U.S.] Ambassador Ralph Johnson, expresses frustration with what he says is the Srebrenica area's ineffective administration. "We got the very clear impression that some [of the] leadership on the [Muslim] side was discouraging [Muslim] refugees from going back to Srebrenica, just as the hard-line leadership on the Serbian side was trying to frustrate them from coming back. [Why?] Because -- in one of these really sad cases -- it is in the interest of the extremists on both sides to keep this division alive. That is, to keep alive the memory of Srebrenica as a place of historical horror and to discourage returns, each [side] for their own reasons."

Johnson describes the reconstruction of the municipality as very slow, in part because the area is what he describes as an "economic wasteland." He says some modest gains have been made, including the appointment of the town's first Muslim policeman since the end of the war -- perhaps the harbinger of a multi-ethnic police force. But returns of Muslims and Serbs are slow and few -- they are largely the town's pensioners -- considerably less numerous than returns to remote but self-sufficient communities in the hills near Srebrenica.

Johnson says that there have been no significant security breaches recently. But he notes that in July, just prior to the fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, some houses that had been prepared for returns were burned down. He also notes that Srebrenica was the scene of substantial voter fraud in the 11 November local elections. As a result, the OSCE has withdrawn a third of the mandates from the main Bosnian Serb party, the Serbian Democratic Party.

Johnson says: "The international community can't simply move in and change mind-sets [that is, local mentalities]. And so we have to keep pushing away, removing officials who are recalcitrant, uncooperative, trying to encourage donors to help provide building materials -- for example, for the reconstruction of houses -- and trying to evict or remove people who are illegal occupants or double occupants, get them out. You have to get a critical mass, [that is,] a number of apartments or houses vacated, so that minorities will have the confidence that they can go back. They're not going to go back in ones and twos. They're going to go back when there is a group that feels it can make itself secure by being there. So there's no magic solution to places like Srebrenica."

The outgoing mayor of Srebrenica is a Serb, Milisav Marijanovic. He says he and his municipal council are doing what they can to return the town to a semblance of normality. "For a variety of reasons, Srebrenica met the fate that it did in the course of the war and after the war. Personally, I feel that the people did not deserve this. But we can't escape what happened. Now we are working for the benefit of the people of Srebrenica, so they can start living something approximating a normal life."

On a note of hyperbole, the mayor says that Srebrenica is the only place in the Republika Srpska and possibly in all of Bosnia-Herzegovina where every building was damaged during the fighting -- and where, in the five years since the fighting ended, not a single new home has been built.

Marijanovic is critical of the international community for imposing a system of municipal government in which both Serbs and Muslims are represented -- the mayor is a Serb, his deputy is a Muslim, and so on down through the local government. All official documents must be signed by both a Muslim and a Serb representative. Mayor Marijanovic describes this system as ineffective. [Editor's note: this is strikingly similar to the system that Josip Broz Tito once put in place in Bosnia. Your editor asked a leading and harried Muslim official in 1973 what his seemingly unbusy colleague's job was, to which the Muslim replied: 'Serb.']

Srebrenica's chief of administration is a Muslim, Ibrahim Hadzijic. He returned from exile in Tuzla 18 months ago but still spends his weekends in Tuzla with his family.

Hadzijic says security in Srebrenica remains a problem, with freedom of movement not yet at the desired level. Hadzijic notes that multi-ethnic schools, police, and courts -- which he says should have been established by now -- cannot be set up unless full freedom of movement is assured. In addition, Hadzijic says, Bosnian Serb war criminals are still at large in Srebrenica. "Everyone probably knows who they are, but no one wants to say. Everyone knows. And everyone is afraid. Everyone is scared."

But Marijanovic, the mayor, denies any major war criminal is at large in the municipality. "As far as I know, [no]. None of those publicly indicted [for war crimes] are here. As for those indicted secretly, it's a hypothetical question whether someone is potentially indicted or not. And an indictment without proof does not mean someone is guilty."

In spite of reports of violence, Marijanovic insists that Srebrenica is among the most peaceful towns in Bosnia. (Jolyon Naegele)

Quotations Of The Week. "American involvement in the former Yugoslavia has served our national strategic interests by ensuring that the brutal actions of Slobodan Milosevic would not destabilize the security of Europe. Milosevic's removal from power is an opportunity for a new start for all the people of the region." -- U.S. President-elect George W. Bush, in an undated, open letter to "the Croatian-American Community." Published in the new Zagreb daily "Republika" on 18 December.

"We're not cutting and running." -- U.S. Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell, in Crawford, Texas, on 16 December. Quoted in the "Washington Post."

"I don't think that we're [at] anything like a war [in Presevo]. There are a small number of extremists, using the ground safety zone as a safe haven at the present moment, but tensions have been lowered, the cease-fire is by and large in place, and there is no overreaction on the Serb side of the boundary between Kosovo and Southern Serbia." -- NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson. Quoted in Brussels on 14 December by RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas.

"Nothing can be done here by force. It is better to avoid war and immediately start negotiations. You must be patient." -- Kostunica in a letter to Serbs in the Bujanovac area who had been blockading the Nis-Skopje road (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). Referring to the sponsorship of the protest by Milosevic backers, Kostunica criticized those who would use "the misfortune of others...to collect cheap political points ahead of the elections." Quoted by AP on 15 December.

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