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Balkan Report: December 22, 2000

22 December 2000, Volume 4, Number 90

The Heart Of The Matter. In its haste to welcome Serbia back into the fold, the international community may be losing sight of two broader trends in the Balkans. Ignoring those processes could help foster renewed conflict in the region.

The kudos and accolades from the international community for Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and his allies in the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition are likely to reach new heights in the coming days and weeks if, as expected, the DOS sweeps all before it in the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections. The eager embrace of the DOS may prove embarrassing at some point if the coalition degenerates into in-fighting and has trouble getting its act together in governing (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000). But for now, the aid and praise continue, as if the defeat of the old regime on Saturday will ban the specter of aggressive nationalism from Serbia and make it a "normal country" once again.

Perhaps those who believe this should take a second look. In recent days, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic has raised the idea of an international conference that would secure foreign backing for keeping Kosova inside Yugoslavia despite the clearly stated wish of its 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority for independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2000). Kostunica himself has called for the revision of the 1999 Kumanovo agreements that ended the conflict in Kosova. He has, moreover, talked about the need the "cleanse" the demilitarized zone of "terrorists." His ally, Vladan Batic, has warned that Belgrade will "take things into its own hands and clean out the terrorists from every inch of its territory" if the foreigners do not do the job (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 December 2000).

These remarks recall some frequently heard during the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, and even those from Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj himself. Like the old regime, the new one seems to have difficulty in accepting that Serbia might expect to lose some territory after starting and losing four wars. Similarly, like Milosevic, some in the DOS feel uncomfortable with the idea that some Serbs just might find themselves in a state in which they are not the dominant nationality.

This was precisely the main issue on which Milosevic justified his war against Croatia in 1990-1991. In fact, what is going on now in Kosova and Montenegro is but a continuation of that process of the disintegration of old Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 November 2000). In the long run, any attempts to cajole the Montenegrins into not holding a referendum or not respecting its results, or any attempt at denying the Kosovars independence is as bound to fail as were the pitiful diplomatic efforts nearly a decade ago aimed at keeping Slovenia and Croatia in a federation dominated by Milosevic.

This is especially the case where Kosova is concerned. What is going on there is not just a continuation of the disintegration of Tito's state, but also an illustration of a second key process: Kosova is a European example of the post-1945 worldwide process of decolonization. From Bangladesh to Zimbabwe, the watchwords of this process have been self-determination and majority rule. The Kosovar Albanians want those for themselves, and have made this wish clear at the ballot box. They have also made it clear in many ways that Serbia has forfeited its claim to the province after 10 years of apartheid, followed by a brutal and bloody repression (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 December 2000). If the Kosovars' demands are ignored, one is likely to see a prolonged manifestation of "Albanian separatism and terrorism," the likes of which the Balkans have not seen before.

The Albanians, to be sure, must now show that they are ready for and deserving of independence. It will not do to replace one nationalist tyranny with another. Attacks on Serbs and other minorities must stop, as must the export of violence across the border. Kosova needs to become a state based on the rule of law and a state of all its citizens. That's a tall order, but it's never too soon to start.

This is the best insurance that borders will become increasingly unimportant and that the peoples of the region will truly become ready to take their place in Euro-Atlantic structures. In this context, one should not pay too much attention to Belgrade's red herring that independence for Kosova will lead to a breakup of Macedonia, the establishment of a greater Albania, and other horrors. The Albanians of Albania, Kosova, and Macedonia are fully aware of the profound cultural and political differences that divide them. Ibrahim Rugova recently told the Montenegrin daily "Pobjeda" specifically that he does not want all Albanians in one state. No major ethnic Albanian party in any Balkan country advocates a greater Albania as a serious political objective (in contrast to some greater Serbian parties). And one need not worry about the breakup of Macedonia so long as it truly becomes a state of all its people and based on rule of law. (Patrick Moore)

RFE/RL's 'Dialogue On A Powder KEG.' Many readers of "Balkan Report" are also familiar with "South Slavic Report." It is an English translation of selections from RFE/RL's South Slavic Service's program Radio Most (Bridge). Veteran Belgrade journalist Omer Karabeg started the program in 1994 as a weekly dialogue of participants from across the frontiers that now divide the former Yugoslavia. (The latest original Serbo-Croatian versions can be found on the Service's web site, as well as in several independent publications in the region.)

Over the years, Radio Most has dealt with a host of timely topics. One recurring subject has been the future of Kosova. Just recently, Belgrade's Medija centar and RFE/RL published a Serbo-Croatian collection of texts of these programs in a book entitled "Dijalog na buretu baruta: Srpsko-albanski dijalog, 1994-2000" (Dialogue on a Powder Keg: Serbian-Albanian Dialogue, 1994-2000). Mr. Karabeg went to Belgrade for its successful presentation.

The book includes 26 programs, the participants in which rarely agreed with each other on much, if anything. The first broadcast brought together Serbian nationalist ideologist Mihajlo Markovic as a representative of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia. He debated with the late Fehmi Agani of Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova. This was the first and last time that any leaders of those two parties ever held a public debate on Kosova, Mr. Karabeg notes.

The last broadcast in the book brought together Kosovar activist Ylber Hysa and former Serbian spokesman Father Sava Janjic. Their dialogue also appeared in English in "South Slavic Report" on 7 and 14 December. In it, the gap between the two sides on the question of independence becomes graphically clear.

The remaining 24 programs were aired in the course of the intervening months and years, including at the time of the 1999 crisis. One such dialogue was that between Kosovar leader Adem Demaci and local Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic. The book makes fascinating reading for anyone with a serious interest in the subject who does not mind coming face to face with exactly how wide the gap is, even between leading intellectuals and public figures. (Patrick Moore)

Mostar: A Tale Of Two Cities. Stone-masons last week carved the first stone block to be used in rebuilding the Old Bridge in Herzegovina's capital, Mostar, The bridge was destroyed by Croat forces in 1993. Mostar Mayor Safet Orucevic told reporters the stone-cutting was a "symbol of the beginning of coexistence, reconstruction, and reconciliation" of Muslims and Croats. But on a recent visit to Mostar, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele found those goals remain at best far off ideals in a city that remains shattered and divided long after the barricades have gone.

"The old poet is dead, Emina has also died, all that is left is the abandoned garden of jasmine."

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina; 14 December. That's a turn-of-the-century Mostar lament by Serbian writer Aleksa Santic about his Muslim love Emina, sung by Croat singer Ibrica Jusic.

A walk through the city's picturesque Old Town today reveals an extraordinary amount of devastation from the 1992 to 1995 war -- and a near total absence of the ethnic coexistence embodied in Jusic's song.

The fighting in Mostar broke out in April 1992 between Serbs on one side and Croats and Muslims on the other. A year later, fighting erupted between Croats and Muslims when Herzegovina's Croats established their own para-state, called "Herceg-Bosna," with its capital in Mostar.

Mostar's Old Town suffered countless rounds of shelling that tore apart its old bazaar and medieval fortress-like complexes on both sides of the Neretva river. But the most recognizable architectural monument of Ottoman Turkish rule in the Balkans -- the town's Old Bridge, built in 1556 for Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent -- survived the fighting for six months.

Finally, in November 1993, Bosnian Croat forces shelled the bridge in a deliberate -- and successful -- attempt to destroy it. The single, graceful limestone arch, spanning 29 meters across a gorge, disintegrated and crashed into the Neretva River.

Shortly after fighting ended in 1995, workers began to salvage blocks of stone from the river in preparation for rebuilding the bridge. Now, dozens of large chunks of rock lie on a raised platform on a sandbar just downstream from the bridge site, undergoing examination, identification and measuring for possible reuse. But there's still a gap where the bridge once stood.

Zijad Demirovic is director of the Institute for the Preservation of the Cultural, Historic, and Natural Heritage of Mostar.

He says it's better that the reconstruction of the bridge has not yet begun because that means more of the original stone can eventually be used in rebuilding the structure: "Five years after the end of the war, the reconstruction and revitalization of the whole Old Town is remarkable, better than we expected -- because in these five years none of the unique objects in the Old Town has been rebuilt, including the Old Bridge."

The international community has repeatedly expressed frustration with the lack of substantial progress in Mostar. Ambassador Ralph Johnson of the U.S. is the first deputy to the international community's high representative in Bosnia, Austria's Wolfgang Petritsch.

"Something like 400 million ECU [that is, euros] in EU assistance have gone into Mostar physically to reconstruct the place. Even though the bridge remains largely in the water, I think [that's] in part because of political divisions within the town rather than any lack of desire or support on the part of the international community to reconstruct it."

Demirovic, Mostar's cultural preservation chief, acknowledges the considerable financial support from abroad for reconstructing the bridge. But he insists that to maintain the bridge's intrinsic value as a part of the world heritage, maximum reliance must be made on using original materials and technologies. And that, he says, takes time as well as money. "When the Old Bridge was built, the preparations took seven years and it was erected in a single season. The [current] preparations for this bridge have already taken three or four years. It is far more complicated than building something all new. If we wanted to, we could get that built in just one year."

Demirovic says he expects the bridge to be reassembled within four years at a cost of about $8 million.

An expert team from UNESCO, with World Bank backing, is assisting in preparing the reconstruction. And the New York-based World Monuments Fund has set up an architectural studio in Mostar to work on a master plan for reconstructing the Old Town.

The Old Bridge and the Old Town are not Demirovic's only concerns. The town's postwar skyline is also a source of growing frustration. Only a few hundred meters from the bridge, on the Croatian side of the former front line, work is nearing completion on a Franciscan monastery's new clock tower to replace one damaged in the fighting.

The old clock tower was some 30 meters high. The new clock tower is 106 meters tall and dwarfs everything in Mostar except for the giant cross the Croats recently erected on a mountain-top overlooking the town. Demirovic says the tower is out of proportion to all other buildings in Mostar, but he is powerless to stop it as his jurisdiction does not encompass the Croat side of Mostar.

Ambassador Johnson suggests that the cross and recently reconstructed church buildings, mosques, and minarets represent very much a continuation of the war by other means. "The fact is that this is an area where all you have to do is look. As you stand above Mostar and look on the one hand at the cross, this enormous cross which has now been erected up on the hill and at the minarets in the city -- [many] of which have been reconstructed -- it [the cross] epitomizes part of the problem. That is, that there are still hard-liners on both sides who remember the violence of the conflict. In this case, obviously the worst of it was between Bosniaks [Muslims] and Croats, and the Serbs were sort of minor players in this episode. That's [all] taking a long time to eradicate."

A leading commentator in Mostar is Alija Behram, who is the general manager of state-owned Radio-Television Mostar. He suggests that rebuilding the Old Bridge and the Old Town is just of part of a large process of renewing Mostar's ethnic diversity. "Mostar won't be Mostar until the Old Bridge is completely rebuilt, with the complete reconstruction of its environs -- that means the old Town. Mostar won't be Mostar until the [Serbian] Orthodox Church synod returns, without which Mostar's diversity will remain weak. Mostar won't be Mostar until all those who want to return home are able to do so. You have thousands of people on the eastern [Muslim] side of town who are refugees in their own home town."

Behram calls Mostar today a paradigm for the situation throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina. He notes Mostar has two local governments, two universities, two police forces, two water-supply agencies, two electricity distributors, two chambers of commerce, and two municipal bus companies. (Jolyon Naegele)

Quotations Of The Week. "We face problems before our domestic public and even before history whether the Albanian terrorists will remain in zone or not. We cannot let them stay." -- Kostunica, quoted in "The New York Times" of 19 December.

Yugoslavia is "a federation of two republics and it will continue to function as such. Any interpretation that it consists of three units is contrary to reality." -- Kostunica in Nis on 20 December. He was responding to a suggestion by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Yugoslavia be reorganized as a state with three units: Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova.

"The new government does not have the right to make the old mistakes. It must be original." -- Belgrade "Danas" on 18 December as its quote of the day.

"There will be stability and peace once again in Kosova when it has its own elite that is responsible to no one outside the province. This is a leadership that includes experts from all fields in the economy and administration as well as from politics. This is an elite that, above all, does not define itself as Albanian or Serbian but rather as Kosovar." -- Balkan commentator and analyst Ruediger Rossig in Berlin's "Tageszeitung."