Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: March 26, 2005

26 March 2005, Volume 9, Number 9

BALKAN STATECRAFT: SQUARING A CIRCLE? Much uncertainty remains regarding the political future of the western Balkans, especially Serbia, Montenegro, Kosova, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, even though nearly six years have passed since the end of the Kosova conflict. Are creative solutions the answer, or might new variations on familiar themes be called for?

Serbian President Boris Tadic recently told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Skopje that problems between his country and Macedonia are largely "technical" in nature, adding that progress in defining the joint border would speed the European integration of both countries. The border issue, however, is anything but purely technical, since it is linked to the future political status of Kosova. The Kosovar Albanian leaders insist that Prishtina and not Belgrade must determine Kosova's frontiers with Macedonia and they therefore refuse to recognize an existing Serbian-Macedonian border agreement from the 1990s.

Indeed, Tadic made clear in his interview that an independent Kosova remains unacceptable to him (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 February 2005). Probably the main reason for his frequent reassertion in recent weeks of Serbia's claim to Kosova is that general elections are widely expected in Serbia later in 2005, and he wants to shore up his nationalist credentials against his rival, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

But unlike the sometimes caustic Kostunica, Tadic calls for Serbia to adopt a "constructive and realistic policy for Kosovo and Metohija" and rules out its return to direct rule from Belgrade as was the case under former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. (Metohija is a term favored by many Serbs because it alludes to former ownership of land by Serbian Orthodox monks.) But Tadic told RFE/RL that "for Serbia, the key is that Kosovo and Metohija cannot acquire the status of independence and sovereignty, with a seat in the United Nations, its own army, [and] a Ministry of Foreign Affairs, [all of] which would separate our people [in Kosova] from their mother country."

And therein probably lies the rub for much of the post-Yugoslav western Balkans, namely the refusal of some to accept postwar realities. One prominent British analyst told "Balkan Report" that the root cause of the Milosevic-era conflicts in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Kosova was not only Milosevic's ambitions but the refusal of local Serbs to accept that they could live as a minority in "somebody else's state."

In discussing the future of Kosova, Tadic told RFE/RL that he "respects the legitimate national interests of all who live in Kosovo, [including] the legitimate national interests of the Albanians who want the more independence in their relations with Belgrade, who want complete independence in their relations with Belgrade, but at the same time I respect the legitimate national interests of the Serbs who do not want independence from Belgrade. I am ready to do everything to find a legal framework that will satisfy both sides."

It is difficult to see what sort of solution this might entail, since it would involve reconciling opposites or squaring a circle. Members of Kosova's Serbian minority -- like the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia in the early 1990s -- want to remain in political union with Belgrade. Their neighbors, however, have long come to reject any link with Serbia after being subjected first to Serbian attempts at political domination and then to ethnic cleansing policies in the 1990s. All political parties representing Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority accordingly reject anything short of independence based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003).

A related but different set of problems pertains to Serbia's political ties to Montenegro, where popular opinion is nearly evenly split over whether to maintain a joint state with Serbia or restore the independence that Montenegro gave up in 1918 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). The root of the problem is that there has never been a clear consensus among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. Recent polls suggest that it is anybody's guess as to what the outcome of a referendum on independence would be. The current joint state came into being in early 2003 as a result of strong EU pressure, and wags have dubbed it "Solania" after EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, who was its primary architect.

Many politicians in Podgorica and Belgrade alike say that it does not work, but Tadic told RFE/RL that the joint state is capable of functioning and can continue to do so. He also believes that a majority of Montenegrins prefer to remain in political union with Serbia, a point that the Montenegrin leadership disputes.

But the difficult going encountered both by the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro and by the Bosnia-Herzegovina created by the 1995 Dayton peace agreements suggests that attempts to apply creative statecraft to the post-Yugoslav western Balkans have proved unworkable in the long run. Dayton certainly was decisive in establishing and consolidating peace almost 10 years ago, and one reason that that model remains in force is the lack of any obviously better alternative (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 October 2004). But even many of Dayton's staunchest supporters concede that its complex constitutional structure was not intended as a permanent arrangement.

Some observers argue that two other post-Yugoslav states, Slovenia and Croatia, have proved more successful as models. They are nation-based states with strong constitutional guarantees for minorities. Slovenia has succeeded in joining both the European Union and NATO, even if it recognizes only Hungarians and Italians -- but not the more numerous former Yugoslavs -- as full-fledged minorities. Croatia is on its way to joining both Euro-Atlantic organizations, even if it has yet to reintegrate its Serbs successfully or obtain their full confidence. Slovenia guarantees parliamentary representation for the Hungarians and Italians, as Croatia does for the Serbs; Serbia's minorities enjoy no such right. Those who favor this nation-state model suggest it could work in Kosova as well, provided it included special safeguards for the security as well as for the constitutional rights of the non-Albanian population.

Some Western politicians have sought to avoid answering tough questions about the political future of the western Balkans, preferring instead to speak in vague terms about a "European perspective" or "European future" for the region. Some such models include a new joint state of Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova -- which the Montenegrin and Kosovar leaderships alike reject -- within a "European framework." But such lofty talk is likely to produce only impatience and cynicism as the "European horizon" moves ahead into the distance in the absence of concrete, visible progress on the ground. The EU's recent decision to postpone start of the membership talks with Croatia, which was originally scheduled for 17 March, might well lead to an increase in Euroskepticism, and not just in Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 23 March 2005). (Patrick Moore)

FORMER MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER INDICTED FOR WAR CRIMES. The Macedonian government announced on 14 March that the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has indicted former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski for war crimes. Over the past months, ICTY prosecutors have repeatedly questioned witnesses in Macedonia in connection with the killing of 10 ethnic Albanian civilians during a police operation in the village of Ljuboten on 12 August 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 24 November 2004, 8 and 28 February, and 14, 15, and 17 March 2005).

Together with Boskovski, the tribunal also indicted Johan Tarculovski, who is a former police officer and bodyguard of late President Boris Trajkovski. Macedonian authorities reacted promptly to Tarculovski's indictment and extradited him on 16 March.

Boskovski is currently being held in pretrial detention in Croatia, where he is charged with murder in connection with the killing of six Pakistanis and one Indian outside Skopje in March 2002 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May and 20 August 2004, and 14 January 2005). He is a Croatian as well as a Macedonian citizen and had settled down to running a restaurant in Istria with his wife.

According to the indictment, Tarculovski formed a special police unit and prepared and carried out the attack on Ljuboten. Boskovski, for his part, faces charges of having had command responsibility for the police forces during the attack. He is also charged with the failure to investigate and punish the perpetrators.

The police operation in Ljuboten was the last major operation during the interethnic conflict between the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 August 2001). Early on 12 August, police forces allegedly led by Tarculovski launched an attack on Ljuboten. During a house-to-house search police rounded up ethnic Albanian villagers, beating and arresting the men. Some of the villagers were shot by police when they attempted to flee. Other villagers died of their injuries. Those who managed to escape were held at a police checkpoint, where men were separated and arrested. Police then transported the arrested Albanian men to several police stations in Skopje, where the Albanians were again seriously beaten and tortured between 12 and 15 August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August 2004 and

The tribunal's indictment leaves a strong impression that the police killed and tortured the villagers out of growing frustration against the internationally-brokered peace deal between the government forces and the UCK, which was signed one day after the attack on the village, on 13 August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001).

The feeling of being betrayed by the international community still persists among many ethnic Macedonians, as many reactions to the indictment of Boskovski and Tarculovski showed. As in neighboring Serbia, many Macedonian nationalists accuse the international community of persecuting only war crimes committed by Slavs (in this case Macedonians), while turning a blind eye to war crimes committed by Albanians.

During street protests in Boskovski's native Tetovo on 18 March, his supporters demanded that Hazbi Lika (a former UCK commander who is now a high-ranking official in the Interior Ministry) and other former UCK members also be indicted for war crimes and extradited to The Hague.

Former Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule wrote in the 19 March edition of "Dnevnik" that ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte should be indicted by the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) for abuse of office, since she allegedly discriminated "along national and religious lines, thus...disrupting the interethnic balance in...Macedonia." He charged that Del Ponte has, in effect, publicly insulted the Macedonian people as well as those citizens loyal to Macedonia who defended the constitution and the democratic order. Moreover, Casule said, Del Ponte also dealt a blow to democracy in Macedonia since she helped legalize the use of violence for political aims.

Other commentators too criticized the fact that the tribunal has so far indicted only Macedonians and not any local Albanians. "If crimes against humanity are prosecuted selectively, an even bigger crime is thereby committed," Katerina Blazevska -- the editor in chief of "Dnevnik" -- wrote. She asked who will be held responsible for the war crimes carried out by the UCK or the shadowy Albanian National Army. She recalled the kidnapping and killing of civilians, the torturing of several road workers, and the ambush of some Macedonian soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 August and 29 October 2001, and 19 June and 9 July 2002).

Branko Gerovski, a former editor in chief of "Dnevnik," took a different stance. For him, the indictment of Boskovski was enough and necessary to disclose the truth about the 2001 conflict. "The 'heroic drama' of 2001 was nothing but a shameful last-ditch...attempt by irresponsible politicians without any vision to outwit each other." Those events culminated in a change of ruling elites in an undemocratic fashion and based on ill-will, Gerovski wrote. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

RFE/RL INVESTIGATES SAUDI FINANCING OF ISLAMIC REVIVAL IN BOSNIA. Donors from Islamic countries, chiefly Saudi Arabia, have been sending money to Bosnia-Herzegovina to build mosques and restore the strength of Islam in the country. Drita Haziraj, a Sarajevo-based correspondent for RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, took a look at what is being done with the money, and found that it is facilitating the influx of a nontraditional, imported wave of Islamic culture into Bosnia. Haziraj's report on Saudi funding of an Islamic revival in Bosnia is here

Since the end of the war in 1995, more than 550 new mosques have been built in a country slightly smaller than West Virginia (51,129 square kilometers or 19,741 square miles) with a total population of 4 million, of whom perhaps less than half (40 percent) are Bosnian Muslims, followed by Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Roman Catholic Croats (15 percent). Haziraj interviewed clergy, community members and municipal officials for the program, which aired 11 February, and found much dissatisfaction with the new mosques. Some said there are better ways to use the funds than to build mosques, when nearly 40 percent of the workforce is unemployed and per capita annual income averages $1,800.

Others interviewed pointed out that the new mosques have little in common with traditional architecture. Amra Hadzimuhamedovic, an expert with the Sarajevo Center for Islamic Architecture, said that, unlike the new mosques, traditional Bosnian mosques were never monumental or externally decorated, but maintained interior splendor with outward modesty: "For centuries, the traditional Bosnian mosques were built in the valleys, as an integral part of the urban setting and a symbol of man's humility before God. The new mosques are being built on the highlands and symbolize the use of religion as an instrument of arrogance and domination," according to Hadzimuhamedovic.

Haziraj found that many experts and community members were of the opinion that well-intentioned financing of a spiritual revival of Bosnian Muslims is having the unexpected and undesirable effect of importing new architecture into Bosnia-Herzegovina, and with it new interpretations of Islam -- mainly Wahhabism. As a result, the Saudi-financed mosques are now threatening to undermine the very purpose for which they were built. (Vlado Azinovic)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Either they go to The Hague or we go to hell." -- Message in a new Bosnian Serb government video as part of the "Them or us" campaign aimed at convincing the public that it is in everyone's interest in Bosnia-Herzegovina that all war crimes indictees go to The Hague to face justice. Quoted by RFE/RL on 22 March.

"Ten years after Srebrenica, the call of justice doesn't fade away and must not fade away. This process will not end until [Radovan] Karadzic and [former General Ratko] Mladic and every other [war crimes] indictee is in custody. The sooner the day comes, the sooner Bosnia-Herzegovina will start to discard the chains of history." -- High Representative Paddy Ashdown. Quoted by dpa in New York on 23 March.

"I am very concerned that nobody in Europe is interested in the Balkans [today]. Attention is more concentrated on Ukraine, so the Balkans are forgotten.... Many people in Europe are trying to buy time [by delaying solutions in Serbia, Montenegro, Kosova, and Bosnia-Herzegovina], which I regard as a big mistake. The European and international communities must exercise systematic pressure on the states of the western Balkans to establish [their own lasting] stability because that is the most important condition for Euro-Atlantic integration." -- Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, to RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 16 March.