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Balkan Report: March 23, 1999


23 March 1999, Volume 3, Number 11

After the Bombs Fall. Top Western officials continue to make public statements to warn Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that NATO's "patience is at an end" and that "time is running out" for him to sign the Rambouillet accords. It is not clear whether there will actually be air strikes, or whether the current huffing-and-puffing will come to nothing, as has often been the case in recent months.

It is even less clear whether any NATO member states are prepared to send in ground troops if Serbian forces continue what appears to be a massive ethnic-cleansing operation in Kosova itself. The Serbian forces seem, in fact, to be taunting the West, as a Serbian soldier near Skenderaj suggested when he recently told reporters: "See what we're doing? When are the Americans coming?"

Questions also remain as to what might happen were Serbian authority in Kosova actually to collapse and the Kosovars to take charge of their own fate. The Kosovar leadership has generally shown a remarkable degree of unity in public, but there is no guarantee that such discipline will continue once the immediate threat of a common enemy is removed. There are well-known rivalries both within the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) and within the civilian leadership, as well as between the guerrillas and the politicians.

One can, moreover, well imagine peacetime scenarios in which at least some of these rivalries come to the surface in perhaps violent form. Such developments, which are rooted in traditional Balkan political cultures, could prevent a modern European political life from emerging. The polarization and even violence present in Albanian and Montenegrin politics suggest that the transition from post-communist to European norms is not proving easy in that part of the Balkans.

But the Kosovars have friends who will try to help them maintain unity of purpose. By signing the Rambouillet accords recently in Paris, the Kosovars ensured that they will have the political support of the U.S. and other key Western powers as long as they adhere to the agreement. There is always a danger of a colonial-type "dependency syndrome" developing in Kosova -- as has happened to some extent in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- if a postwar foreign civilian and military presence becomes preeminent in the affairs of the province. At the moment, however, that is the least of the Kosovars' worries. The Kosovar leaders are instead bracing themselves for the new Serbian offensive and congratulating themselves on having cemented their new political bond to the Western powers.

Members of the Kosovar delegation at Rambouillet recently told "Balkan Report," moreover, that the Albanian government provided constant and vital psychological support for the Kosovar negotiators during the peace talks. There is every reason to expect that Tirana will continue to be a reliable friend to the Kosovars.

This is primarily because Albania is anxious for peace, stability, and democracy to come to Kosova, so that those same phenomena might better develop within Albania itself. Tirana's overall concerns, in fact, reflect those that can be found throughout much of the Balkans. One frequently hears from Bulgarians, Romanians, Albanians, and Macedonians that Western countries have become so concerned with Bosnia and Kosova that they often neglect the rest of the post-communist Balkans and appear to lack a sound strategy to help the region shake the complex legacy of communism.

People in the countries bordering the crisis regions of the former Yugoslavia often express bitterness that the international community has not sufficiently compensated them for the economic sacrifices they made while war-time sanctions were in force on Serbia and Montenegro. Romania's and Bulgaria's prospects for joining NATO and the EU, moreover, appear dim at best, while there is little serious talk anywhere that Macedonia or Albania might join either organization at any time in the foreseeable future. More than one observer has openly asked whether the countries of the post-communist Balkans might not in fact be condemned to a state of indefinite limbo between their communist past and the European future to which they aspire.

It is of course true that many of the problems facing the countries of the region are largely of their own making. The Balkan countries themselves often raise artificial barriers -- such as stringent visa requirements -- that prevent a free exchange of people and ideas within the region. The educated elites in each of the countries of the region have almost always looked toward major international capitals for their foreign cultural, political, and economic links rather than to their neighbors. And crime remains endemic across much of the peninsula.

Turning to the individual countries, the Romanian political elite seems to be ever given to in-fighting, and the threat of extremism remains permanently on the horizon. Bulgarian politicians generally enjoy criticizing those in power but do not always become model public servants when they themselves take office. Perhaps the new coalition government in Macedonia will succeed in breaking the hold of corruption and cronyism on political life and the economy. If it does not, Macedonia may find itself locked into the traditional Balkan political pattern in which the "ins" and the "outs" take turns in office and help themselves to the rights and privileges of power.

Croatia's Ambassador Seeks an Answer from NATO. Croatia is yet another country from the region that feels neglected. Miomir Zuzul, Croatia's ambassador to the United States, told a recent RFE/RL briefing audience in Washington that NATO has yet to respond to Croatia's formal request to join the alliance's Partnership for Peace (PFP) program. Zuzul said that since the formation of PFP, the criteria for joining the program have become "less and less clear," which is hindering the country's efforts to achieve European integration.

Describing his country's plans to join both NATO and the EU, Zuzul said that in the recent past Croatia appeared to be "a hostage of the problem of Bosnia-Herzegovina" and now runs the risk of becoming "a hostage of the problem in Kosovo" as well. At the same time, he argued, "no other nation in Europe has more actively contributed and participated" in NATO operations than Croatia. Croatia has allowed NATO forces under the "SFOR mission in Bosnia to use Croatian territory with fewer restrictions than NATO member states themselves."

Zuzul said that Croatia's efforts at European integration are also not properly evaluated because Croatia is "a part of Europe which is not well defined," and popular terms such as "the Balkans," "the west Balkans" or even "the south Balkans" are not accurate when describing the countries of the former Yugoslavia. "There is only one Balkan peninsula" said Zuzul, and within the region "each and every country should be treated individually" as it faces its own set of unique challenges and problems.

On the question of human rights and democratic standards, the Croatian ambassador said that twenty minority groups live in Croatia and enjoy the same rights as ethnic Croats. He noted that 50,000 ethnic Serbs who were uprooted during the recent war have returned to Croatia. There is also a conscious effort by Croatia to encourage the diaspora to return, because during the 20th century there were "several big waves of emigration -- one of the most recent in the 1960s when over 250,000 Croats" left. Zuzul said that there are 2.5 million Americans of Croatian ancestry and many of them are actively engaged in helping Croatia.

The Other Side of the Coin? Unnamed employees or former employees of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal told "The New York Times" of March 21 that the court has prepared a 150-page study of Croatia's Operation Storm in the Krajina region in the late summer of 1995. The study reportedly concludes that "during, and in the 100 days following the military offensive, at least 150 Serb civilians were summarily executed, and many hundreds disappeared." The report adds that Generals Mirko Norac, Ante Gotovina, and Ivan Cermak may be indicted in the future for their involvement in "ethnic cleansing." Court spokesmen told the daily that the tribunal is investigating the source of the leak.

Quotations of the Week: "If we and our allies do not have the will to act, there will be more massacres. In dealing with aggressors in the Balkans, hesitation is a license to kill. But action and resolve can stop armies and save lives." -- U.S. President Bill Clinton, in Washington on March 19.

"NATO Gives Serbs a Final Warning" -- headline in the "International Herald Tribune," March 18.

"I think that [the signing] will make clear for all to see that the Kosovo Albanians have made the courageous decision to choose peace even while their people are being attacked and killed on the ground today, and that the Serbs are refusing to make a decision for peace." -- State Department spokesman James Rubin on March 18.

"Today the whole of Kosova is at war. This fighting that follows our signing of the final agreement obliges the international community and NATO to intervene against this fascist and barbaric machine." -- the UCK's Jakup Krasniqi in Tirana on March 20.

"If Belgrade doesn't reverse course, the Serbs alone will be responsible for the consequences." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

"We have signed an agreement to bring peace to Kosova. We hope that the force of the international community will make Yugoslavia sign. We say: the violence must stop." -- Kosovar chief delegate Hashim Thaci.

"See what we're doing? When are the Americans coming?" -- Grinning Serbian soldier in battle dress in the Skenderaj region, to Reuters' Kurt Schork on March 21.

"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against travel to Serbia-Montenegro and strongly urges U.S. citizens to depart the country due to the possibility of military intervention by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization." -- State Department statement.

"Che sera, sera." -- Serbian President Milan Milutinovic.

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