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Balkan Report: December 3, 1999

3 December 1999, Volume 3, Number 51

THE END OF A NATION? After two years of negotiations, one of the most prominent women in Serbia's postwar history recently gave one of her rare interviews to RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg. Latinka Perovic believes that Serbia has some deep-seated and fundamental problems that must be dealt with in earnest if the Serbian nation is to survive at all.

Now a historian, Perovic was a prominent leader of the liberal wing of the League of Communists of Serbia, which Tito purged in 1972 in favor of conservative former Partisans. Many observers feel that this marked the end of the last serious attempt at the reform of the Serbian party from within. Perovic subsequently retired from politics and public life.

She argues that never in the past 200 years of modern history have the Serbs been in such a bad state of affairs as today. But any discussion in Serbia of their plight consists solely of assigning blame rather than of solid analysis. Serbian culture has lost its "critical space" for dispassionate discussion of key issues, she maintains. (A recent book on contemporary Serbian political culture calls this the "destruction of alternatives.")

And the picture that has formed over the past 10 years is bleak, indeed, Perovic continues. A parasitical mentality has emerged that has replaced the discipline necessary for productive work in industry and elsewhere. Entire segments of society have disappeared, and it has become a joke to even speak of a working or middle class.

Perhaps more importantly, key institutions that took Serbs a century and a half to develop have been destroyed, she argues. These include the school, legal, and health systems; scholarly life; and "the world of books." These and related institutions are the mark of a civilized people, but in Serbia they have collapsed. Indeed, it is possible to say that the entire "social organism" of the Serbian nation has been injured, and that this damage could prove irreversible. Perovic added that "history is filled with the graveyards of peoples that have perished."

Asked about the responsibility of the intellectuals for what has happened, Perovic stressed that to speak of any social group as a monolith is a legacy of totalitarian thinking and hence a concept she prefers to avoid. Instead, she asks why it was that people ignored those Serbian intellectuals who saw in recent years where things were heading.

As to the destruction of Yugoslavia, it is an ongoing process that is not yet completed. There were several concepts behind the original idea of a united Yugoslavia. One view saw it as a means to enable all peoples in a multiethnic region to develop and prosper without threatening each other. This concept proved utopian. A second view regarded Yugoslavia as a form of Serbian empire in which one people would dominate and the others would be second-class citizens. This is the concept that eventually won out. But the main trend in the history of the twentieth century has been the destruction of empires, so this Serbian one, too, was bound to collapse. The question remains open as to whether the Serbs will manage to honestly assess what has happened to them and their country and save themselves in the process. (Patrick Moore)

SERBIAN MAYORS WANT CONCRETE HELP. "They came for help but only got applause." This is how the Frankfurt-based Serbian daily "Vesti" on 30 November described the experience of Mayor Velimir Ilic of Cacak and his colleague from Kraljevo, Zvonko Obradovic, at a major international conference in Paris on the Balkans. Many other Serbian opposition politicians, independent journalists, and representatives of NGO's know the experience only too well.

Ilic nonetheless appealed to the international community to help opposition-run Serbian municipalities "solve practical problems." Obradovic stressed that Kraljevo had serious difficulties even before the recent conflict, "with 21,000 pensioners and 12,000 unemployed. And the situation gets worse every day." He argued that his government faces additional difficulties because of the obstructionist policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic toward opposition-run municipalities. Obradovic concluded that "we cannot solve our problems by ourselves." (Patrick Moore)

WHICH MEDIA ARE MOST POPULAR IN KOSOVA? The independent Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" ran the results of an opinion poll about the media in Kosova on 30 November. It shows that Kosovars prefer newspapers to electronic media and favor publications that advocate moderate policies.

The poll among 1,000 ethnic Albanians was conducted by the Sofia-based private media and market research institute Balkan British Social Surveys (BBSS) Gallup International in the course of October. The poll asked the respondents which media they use "often," "rarely," or "never." The survey shows that the main source of information for most Kosovars is newspapers, followed by radio. Television is only in third place, which presents a marked contrast to Serbia or Croatia, where state-run television is the main source of news. The prominence of newspapers in Kosova indicates that, unlike in neighboring Albania, the Kosovar dailies have managed to maintain a good network of newspaper vendors, including the selling of newspapers by grocery vendors.

A majority of 58.1 percent of the respondents said that they read "Koha Ditore" often, 21.1 percent read it rarely, and 18.8 percent never. The second most important daily is "Rilindja," which is closely linked to the shadow state of the moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova. Some 36.6 percent of the respondents read it regularly, 29.8 percent rarely, and 33.6 percent never. The figures for another independent daily, "Kosova Sot," are just slightly lower, with a 36.3 percent regular readership and 31.2 percent less frequent readership. This is followed by "Bota Sot," which emerged recently to become the leading daily in the western diaspora. It is noted for its frequently polemical articles criticizing the Tirana government. Far behind follow the two minor papers "Dardania" and "Dukagjini," with only 4.1 and 1.5 percent regular readership, respectively. The main weekly in Kosova is the magazine "Zeri," which also has a edition in Lucerne, Switzerland.

The survey shows that papers promoting democratic debate--such as "Koha Ditore"--or those that were strong supporters of non-violent resistance in the past--such as "Rilindja"--still enjoy readers' trust. This also could indicate that among the majority of the population there is support for a moderate policy and a desire to overcome ethnic hatred. If so, the latest poll would also confirm a trend indicated already in an earlier opinion poll of BBSS Gallup International. Then, in early September, only 29 percent of the respondents said that they consider the UCK-backed provisional government of Hashim Thaci as legitimate. Even though the pro-Rugova shadow-state government of Bujar Bukoshi had the support of only eight percent of the population, most of the respondents made clear that they understand the realities on the ground, saying that the only legitimate government in Kosova is the UN Mission (UNMIK).

But the readership is not only guided by the democratic credentials of the newspapers, as a report in London's "The Independent" of 30 November points out. When gunmen tried to murder local Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic in Prishtina last month, "Koha Ditore" put his picture on page one. A journalist of the daily later said that "on that day alone, we lost 5,000 readers--just because we put his picture on the front.... Our readers wouldn't buy our paper because they saw Trajkovic's photograph."

Many Kosovars, however, appreciate internationally sponsored journalism, as the figures for radio listenership show. There are several foreign stations among the top six broadcasters mostly listened to by the Kosovar population. Among 20 radio stations listed in the questionnaire, respondents said they mostly listened to Radio Deutsche Welle, followed by the local private station Radio 21, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (which broadcasts only one hour per day), Radio Tirana, and an internationally sponsored local station called Radio Free Kosova.

Among 12 television stations mentioned in the questionnaire, most respondents said that they usually view the broadcasts prepared by a Kosovar team of journalists at the offices of Albanian Radio and Television in Tirana. The new UNMIK-sponsored Radio and Television of Kosova comes in second place, followed by international television stations such as BBC World, VOA television, and CNN International. Most of the viewers (75.4 percent) said that they use television more for obtaining news and information rather than for entertainment. The poll also found that only 60.9 percent of the families have a television set, but a comparably high number, 55.6 percent, own a satellite dish. Only 0.4 percent of the Kosovars have access to the internet. (Fabian Schmidt)

Fabian Schmidt is a Research Analyst for the former Yugoslavia and Albania at the Suedost-Institut, Munich.

PRESS-GANGED IN KOSOVA. Two ethnic Albanian brothers recently described to AFP how Serbian forces dragooned Kosovar males as forced laborers during the recent conflict. The several hundred Albanians were forced to wear Yugoslav army uniforms, which they regarded as a "great humiliation," especially when columns of Kosovar refugees passed by. The conscripts were forced to dig trenches and dugouts, including luxury versions with carpeted floors.

Referring to their lives now, the brothers said that their fellow Kosovars do not regard them as traitors because they knew that the men "had no choice." Observers note that such understanding has not always been forthcoming from Kosovar males for those Kosovar women who also had "no choice" but to become rape victims of Serbian forces. (Patrick Moore)

BALKAN CONSPIRACY THEORIES. The state-run Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" ran an article on 1 December in which it alleged that the U.S. government--including the State Department and CIA--work through NGO's to influence or even topple foreign governments. It seems likely that this classic Balkan conspiracy theory--complete with diagrams and charts--is designed to smear the Croatian opposition in the runup to the 3 January elections.

In Croatia, many opposition groups, NGO's, and independent media receive aid and advice from U.S.-based NGO's. Relations between Washington and Zagreb have been strained for some time over Croatian policies on human rights and democracy.

Meanwhile, the State Department has firmly rejected "Vjesnik's" latest contribution to the treasure-trove of Balkan conspiracy theories. The independent Zagreb daily "Jutarnji list" wrote on 2 December that the HDZ launched its accusations to divert attention from its own corruption and to tar the opposition with the charge of being in the pay of foreigners. An unnamed foreign diplomat told the daily that the charges are part of the HDZ's election campaign.

Yet another Balkan red herring emerged in Belgrade the previous week. This involved charges that France planned to use a small group of Serbian mercenaries to kill Milosevic. Both the regime and independent media have wasted much time and energy evaluating the authenticity of that rumor. The upshot is that the regime succeeded in diverting some people's attention from the problems that it has brought upon Serbia itself. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Kosovo's politicians gave their word to the world that they will create a tolerant and democratic state. I don't see any signs of that." -- Veteran British politician Paddy Ashdown, in Prishtina on 30 November. Quoted by AP.

"I am preparing a great film portrait of the greatest Croatian visionary--Franjo Tudjman." -- Obrad Kosovac, editor-in-chief of Croatian Television, to "Jutarnji list" on 1 December.

"Aggressive, morbid, and necrophiliac." -- Croatian Justice Minister Zvonimir Separovic, commenting on 2 December on a remark by a Hague court official who expressed hope for improved cooperation between Croatia and the tribunal after Tudjman's death.

Wolfgang Petritsch's sacking of 22 Muslim, Croatian, and Serbian nationalist officials is "another in a series of anti-democratic, anti-civilized...Nazi-type decisions that aim to destroy all [Bosnian] banning their patriotic parties and removing people who stand up against" the international community. -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, quoted by AP on 30 November.