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Reports Archive

Balkan Report: October 4, 2002

4 October 2002, Volume  6, Number  36

THE SERBIAN VOTE AND MONTENEGRO. The outcome of the first round of the Serbian presidential elections on 29 September is significant -- both for the future relationship between the Serbian president and the Serbian government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, as well as for the future relationship between Serbia with Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September and 1 October 2002).

Leaders of the two republics which make up rump Yugoslavia agreed earlier this year under strong pressure from the EU and the United States to a new common state -- Serbia-Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 May 2002). Early parliamentary elections in Montenegro are scheduled for 20 October and may well be influenced by the outcome in Serbia.

Podgorica political analyst Nebojsa Medojevic, who heads the independent Center for Transformation, says those who voted for Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica do not support the kind of sweeping economic reforms that the Serbian republic government favors: "We can state that the Djindjic cabinet's reforms were supported by only 27 percent of voters [-- those who voted for Miroljub Labus]. So we can speak of a deficit of legitimacy [for the government] and the danger that the citizens have lost faith in the reformist elite. There is a very thin line between this and citizens losing trust in reforms, which has happened in many states in transition, including Montenegro in 1997."

Medojevic says this "strengthening of right-wing parties in Serbia reduces support for reform. It could be very dangerous in terms of regional security and all forms of European integration, which can now slowly turn us into an international protectorate."

Podgorica political analyst Miodrag Vlahovic, the director of the Center for Regional and Security Studies, a local NGO, says the outcome of the weekend vote is relatively insignificant for Montenegro. More significant, he says, is the relatively low voter turnout in Serbia of only 56 percent -- and the lower support for Kostunica and Labus than had been expected.

Vlahovic argued that "a very problematic possibility for Serbia has arisen that in the second round of the elections, not even 50 percent [of registered voters] plus one vote will be cast -- [the minimum required for the vote to be valid] -- which would raise the possibility of the elections having to be repeated."

Vlahovic describes the relatively strong support for ultranationalist Vojislav Seselj as a result of the wars of the past 11 years on the territories of the former Yugoslavia. He says a part of Serbian society still harbors what he terms "ultra-right nationalist chauvinist" views. But he notes that this is not a new development in Serbia.

Seselj is expected to throw his support behind Kostunica, who will have a clear, nationally oriented, and nationalist center-right profile, Vlahovic says. This will provide "moral support" to those forces in Montenegro which want the republic to be in a common state with Serbia under any circumstances.

Vlahovic notes that a reason for the recent postponement of the Montenegrin parliamentary elections from 6 October to 20 October was the hope of some Montenegrin politicians that a victory by Kostunica would benefit like-minded parties in Montenegro.

As Vlahovic puts it, "On the whole, the idea of Montenegro being equal with Serbia in a loose common union is still unacceptable for the dominant forces in Serbia." He adds, "If we look at the results of all the candidates and the projections [for the next round], I see that Montenegro has very few allies in Serbia who would treat it as an equal subject, who'd be willing to enter into a loose common union with Montenegro in which Montenegro would be secure in its national cultural identity and integrity."

Vlahovic says that the outcome is unacceptable for Djindjic. It is an indication that there are those who are either opposed to reforms and democratization, or who pay only lip service to democratization and reforms. Vlahovic adds that this has always been the case in Serbia. As a result, there will continue to be an open struggle and antagonism between the Kostunica and Djindjic camps.

The main Montenegrin opposition party, the pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party, says Kostunica's victory is an affirmation of the Montenegrin opposition's ideals.

But Miodrag Vukovic, an aide to Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic of the Democratic Party of Socialists, says a positive effect of the elections is that "the Serb nationalists have shown their cards."

Miodrag Ilickovic, deputy chairman of the ruling coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, says the victory of "nationalist and xenophobic policies in the elections" highlights the danger of instability. "Everything which Europe wanted from Belgrade in order to stabilize the Balkans -- regulating relations with Kosovo, the status of the Republika Srpska, relations with Montenegro, and cooperation with The Hague war crimes tribunal -- can turn to its disadvantage" if this has prompted voters to elect nationalists.

The head of the pro-government three-party Albanian minority coalition in the Montenegrin parliament, Ferhat Dinosha, told RFE/RL that the continued strength of nationalist forces in Serbia means that Montenegro will have to try to find its own road toward "regional, European, and trans-Atlantic integration," and toward becoming a fully fledged internationally recognized "subject."

Dinosha argues: "Montenegro can go into integration only as a subject, not as a part of a federation or confederation with Serbia. This is because except for 'verbal democracy' [freedom of speech], there is nothing new in Belgrade as far as Montenegro...[or] Kosova are concerned. [Kostunica and Seselj] speak differently, but they think the same way that [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic used to think about issues" affecting Montenegro and Kosova.

Dinosha predicts the outcome of the Serbian presidential elections will strengthen "pro-Montenegrin" -- that is, pro-sovereignty -- forces in the 20 October parliamentary elections. This is because it is now clear that Montenegro has no place in a joint state with Serbia. According to Dinosha, "Montenegrins should think more about Podgorica than about Belgrade." (Jolyon Naegele)


MACEDONIAN HARD-LINERS: DOWN BUT NOT OUT. Macedonia's outgoing Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) has often been regarded as a stereotype Balkan politician -- nationalistic, opportunistic, and unpredictable. But hours after the polls closed for the 15 September parliamentary elections, he conceded defeat in what he called the "fairest and most democratic elections since Macedonia's independence" in 1991. He also congratulated the victorious Social Democratic Union (SDSM), led by former Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2002).

Georgievski thus surprised both domestic and international observers, who had feared that the VMRO-DPMNE or other parties would use any possible excuse to challenge the legitimacy of the elections.

But such fears soon proved to be well founded.

Among the first to cry "fraud" was Amdi Bajram, the leader of Union of the Roma in Macedonia (SRM). On 17 September, he held up a package of ballots, which he described as fraudulent, and hurled them down the stairs of the National Assembly.

One week later, on 24 September, Bajram announced that he plans to file a lawsuit against the Macedonian government with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. However, a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that armed SRM members not only tried to intimidate voters through their massive presence, but also stole ballots at the polling stations in Suto Orizari, Skopje's largest Romany neighborhood (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2002).

Also on 17 September, the Interior Ministry of leading hard-liner Ljube Boskovski (VMRO-DPMNE) launched its own challenge to the election results. A group of 30 policemen stormed the printing house in Prilep that printed the ballots and did so without a proper search warrant. Police officers then demanded documents and information about the paper on which the ballots were printed.

The purpose of this police raid became clear one day later. On 18 September, Boskovski and Marjan Gjorcev, the party's campaign manager, as well as a number of officials from the Interior Ministry turned up at the Election Commission (DIK). They asked for additional information about the ballot paper itself and about the 488,000 faulty ballots that the Prilep printers had burned on 5 September. Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observers were present both at the destruction of the faulty ballot papers and during Boskovski's visit to the DIK.

DIK Chairwoman Mirjana Lazarova-Trajkovska later justified the burning of misprinted ballots. She explained that it was carried out hastily because the elections were just around the corner. "If we had waited with the burning until after the elections, there would have been even greater room for speculation. That is why the [OSCE election] observers suggested [to do it before the elections]," Lazarova-Trajkovska said.

Then, on 19 September, Boskovski told a press conference that he will demand a chemical analysis of the paper and ink that were used to print the ballots. He also charged that pens with disappearing ink were provided in the ballot booths, presumably to facilitate subsequent fraud. Boskovski claimed that the printing house burned the ballots illegally and said that he will file a lawsuit against the DIK with the Supreme Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 September 2002).

The way in which Boskovski and the VMRO-DPMNE people questioned the DIK members on 18 September prompted a group of journalists and NGO representatives to sue Boskovski for conspiring to influence the DIK's decisions.

In the meantime, both the DIK and the Supreme Court have turned down most of the complaints regarding alleged irregularities during the election process. What will happen with the lawsuit against the DIK filed by Boskovski is not yet clear, but there are indications that the courts will turn it down.

At present, it seems clear that Boskovski's attempt to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election results did not find any echo. This could be mainly due to Boskovski himself. In the past, he repeatedly threatened to sue or arrest political opponents such as presidential advisor Ljubomir Frckovski or former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti -- but failed to implement those threats.

It remains to be seen whether the VMRO-DPMNE's other strategy -- that of undermining popular support for the new government -- will be more successful. Despite large deficits in the state budget, the VMRO-DPMNE reportedly employed large numbers of its followers in the state administration and state-owned companies before the elections. For the future SDSM-led government, the dismissal of these people -- many of whom may lack the necessary qualifications for the jobs -- will prove its first test. And for the VMRO-DPMNE, it will be a chance to accuse the SDSM of vindictiveness. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)


SLOVENIAN: ALIVE AND WELL. A 26 September lecture on "language death" by British linguist David Crystal in Ljubljana provided food for thought for those in the audience. After describing a drama by Harold Pinter in which a valley tribe negates the language of a weaker mountain tribe, for effect Crystal invited the audience to imagine that "you Slovenes are in the position of this mountain people."

Judging from the Slovenian press, many have already considered this very idea. Nearly every week, one finds at least one article making reference to some threat, past or present, to the Slovenian language.

A 30 September article in the daily "Delo" reported on the 80th anniversary of the village of Libelice's joining Yugoslavia. Contrary to the wishes of its inhabitants, it had initially been awarded to Austria in the 1920 plebiscite (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 November 2001). The parish priest, Anton Vogrinec, repeatedly urged his fellow villagers not to give up, warning that they would surely die out under Austrian rule.

The same issue of "Delo" carried an article on the efforts of Slovenes in Italy to secure language protection in education and public life, with the specter of forced Italianization in the background. Similarly, Anglicization was raised as one of several threats to the Slovenian language in an academy declaration adopted this April (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 April 2002).

Admittedly, the Slovenian-speaking area has gradually eroded over the centuries. From linguistic territory that once stretched far north into the Alps of central Austria, west to the Friulian Plain of northeast Italy, and east into Pannonia toward Hungary's Lake Balaton, today's speech area extends only modestly beyond the borders of the present state. Even so, the number of speakers of proto-Slovenian in the sixth or seventh century probably amounted to only a couple of hundred thousand. The size and vitality of a language does not, after all, depend on the area of the territory across which it is dispersed.

In fact, data show that the number of speakers of Slovenian has increased steadily ever since censuses began to be carried out in the Slovenian lands. According to the "Statistical Yearbook of the Republic of Slovenia," estimates place the population of what is now Slovenia at 1.10 million in 1857. By the turn of the century, this number had grown to 1.27 million, reaching 1.44 million at the time of the first postwar census in 1948. The estimated 2002 figure for Slovenia has climbed to 1.95 million, according to a report in "Delo" on 15 June. Although this appears to represent a loss of nearly 18,000 since 1991, the difference results from the 1991 census's inclusion of Slovenes working abroad. According to a 14 July article in "Delo," the psychologically significant number of 2 million should be attained in 2010.

Granted, the population of the country does not necessarily correspond to the number of speakers of the chief language of the country. Indeed, the percentage of residents of Slovenia claiming Slovenian ethnic identity fell from 96.52 percent in 1953 to 87.84 percent in 1991. Nonetheless, their actual number also increased during the same period -- from 1.42 million to 1.73 million. This increase of 300,000 speakers over a 38-year period is further augmented by the fact that very substantial numbers of Slovenia's other ethnic groups are also native speakers of Slovenian, bilingual or otherwise. With Slovenes and their descendants living abroad, the total number of speakers of Slovenian today is estimated at 2.2 million.

The UNESCO "Red Book on Endangered Languages" lists 73 European languages whose status runs the gamut from "nearly extinct" to "endangered" (see http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/europe_index.html). An additional 10 languages are designated "potentially endangered." Slovenian does not fall into any of these categories. As far as anyone can see, it is robust and has a steadily growing number of native speakers. In comparison to any of the languages in the "Red Book," Slovenian finds itself in an enviable position.

One of the endangered languages on the UNESCO list is Lower Sorbian, a small Slavic language spoken in eastern Germany, in the area around the town of Cottbus. At a linguistics conference held in Cottbus from 22-26 September, Dr. Gunter Spiess summed up the situation thus: "We have approximately 7,000 speakers of Lower Sorbian today, the majority of them over 60 years old. Every week, two or three of them die." Despite government funding for revitalization programs, advanced technical resources, and print and electronic media, Lower Sorbian is slipping away -- destined, perhaps, not to survive the 21st century.

Where, then, does the idea that Slovenian is under siege come from? The gradual territorial reduction of the Slovenian speech area has been mistakenly tied to a corresponding reduction in the number of speakers. The diminutive size of the current state gives rise to the erroneous notion that Slovenes also constitute one of the smallest ethnic groups in Europe. Finally, declining birth rates and an increasing percentage of non-Slovenes contributes to the idea that the language is threatened within the state itself.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel noted in a speech at the "Voice of Europe" forum in Yverdon-Les-Bains, Switzerland on 7 September that Slovenia is "one of Europe's smallest nations" and that, among other things, language is an "unassailable element" that must be protected. The foreign minister supports both EU and NATO membership for Slovenia, but some within Slovenian society would seek isolation as a protective shield for language and other values.

Ironically, it may well be Slovenia's engagement with the international community that will help secure the position of the language. EU candidature alone has already created substantial support for Slovenian translation both in the country and abroad (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 April 2002). (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu).


QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I plead guilty." -- Former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic, quoted by AP in The Hague on 2 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 October 2002).

"I'm sure that military honor would never have permitted [Generals Ratko Mladic and Radislav Krstic] to execute innocent civilians [in Srebrenica in 1995]. Radovan Karadzic later swore to me he knew nothing about it." -- Former President Slobodan Milosevic, quoted by AP in The Hague on 27 September.

"I feel like a winner, because my results are impressive." -- Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj. Quoted by AP in Belgrade on 30 September.


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