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Balkan Report: August 5, 1998

5 August 1998, Volume 2, Number 31

What Now, UCK? The events of the past few weeks suggest that the shadowy and perhaps fractious group of people who lead the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) have made some big miscalculations. Less than two months ago, it seemed that NATO intervention against the Serbian paramilitary police and Yugoslav military was days -- if not hours -- away. To be sure, occasionally one or another Western official still makes a statement to the effect that "intervention is still an option," but few observers believe that air strikes against the military machine of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will begin in the immediate future.

The UCK's first serious error was to attack Serbian civilians and try to create large "liberated zones," because with these actions it lost its main public relations advantage, namely the image of being the innocent victim and underdog. In late July, the UCK even tried to take on the better-equipped Serbian forces in a set-piece battle for the town of Rahovec. The guerrillas this time hopelessly overplayed their hand -- and the Serbs sent them and thousands of refugees running. Sensing that they had obtained the military and even political advantage, the Serbian forces kept up the momentum with fierce attacks and "ethnic cleansing" around Malisheva, Junik, Drenica, and other areas.

The number of refugees and displaced persons has now hit 180,000, but there is no serious talk in Western capitals of airstrikes. One UCK officer told the "Daily Telegraph" of August 3: "the U.S. and Europe have given the Serbs a free hand to destroy the UCK, but we will not be destroyed. This is our last chance. We must pay any price."

Meanwhile, the Serbs have made it clear that they can attack the UCK at will and drive them out of probably any given locality. It remains to be seen if the Serbian forces are strengthening their position in advance of possible peace talks, or if they actually intend to destroy the guerrillas militarily. Whatever the case, even if the UCK is forced back into the shadows, the Serbs will not easily be able to prevent it from resorting to classic hit-and-run guerrilla tactics. As some observers have suggested, the Kosovar conflict could be destined to follow the low-intensity model of the Turkish government's war against the Kurds.

Meanwhile, there is movement in Kosovar political circles. After much prodding from the U.S. and EU, shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova has agreed to dismantle his largely defunct "G-15" negotiating team and also to form a new coalition government. In this new body, the prime minister will not be one of his followers and will be acceptable to the UCK. Late last week, it appeared that this new shadow-state government and negotiating team would be announced shortly. But it now seems that the UCK cannot or will not sign on to the project. In the meantime, the killing and ethnic cleansing continue, and the diplomats shuttle back and forth between fruitless talks. "Deja-vu all over again."

New Media Body Starts Work. On August 1, the Media Commission began its efforts in Sarajevo to put Bosnia's broadcasting landscape into order and help reduce the residual influence of nationalists on the airwaves. The new body is sponsored by the EU and U.S. and will work to raise the level of professional standards in Bosnian journalism. The task will not be easy, because the nationalists long ago realized the importance of maintaining control over the media and are unlikely to relinquish it without resistance.

Problems that the Commission will have to face include reducing the number of small radio stations, which often compete for frequencies and force each other off the air in what has become a chaotic affair. Some nationalists rebroadcast hard-line programs from Serbia or Croatia, which, according to the Dayton agreement, are foreign countries.

The Commission was established recently by a decision of the international community's Carlos Westendorp, but it does not report to him or anyone else. It carries out its mandate by monitoring broadcasts, issuing licenses, and, if necessary, taking offenders off the air after issuing warnings.

Sports and Politics. The link between politics and sports was clearly evident in some remarks made in conjunction with the recent soccer World Cup in France. Perhaps most outspoken was that ardent life-long sportsman, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who told his country's players after they secured third-place in the championship that they would not have scored the victories they did without an independent and sovereign Croatian state. The Yugoslav authorities were perhaps not as loquacious as Tudjman, but they, too, tried to take some of the credit for the fact that the Yugoslav team made it to the World Cup.

RFE/RL's South Slavic Service's Radio Most (Bridge) subsequently invited one prominent sociologist from Serbia -- Srecko Mihajlovic -- and one from Croatia -- Drazen Lalic -- to comment. The Serbian scholar noted the applicability of a classic study on Adolf Hitler's use of the 1936 Olympics to mobilize public opinion in favor of the regime and distract attention from the regime's shortcomings. Mihajlovic also pointed to the ugly side of sports mixed with politics, such as when Herzegovinian Croat enthusiasm took on anti-Muslim tones.

Lalic largely agreed but argued that the championship celebrations in Zagreb were mainly free of negative nationalistic overtones. He added that, at any rate, the political feel-good factor that governments derive from sports victories is short-lived. Turning to the negative side of sports and politics, the Split-based sociologist noted that membership in the soccer club of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" closely overlaps with that of his paramilitary "Tigers."

Quote of the Week. A UCK guerrilla at a checkpoint, to British journalists leaving UCK-held territory: "If you value your life, leave now. All the best." (from "The Daily Telegraph, July 31, 1998)