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Balkan Report: August 26, 2005

26 August 2005, Volume 9, Number 24

SERBIA: THE MORE THINGS CHANGE... Controversy has emerged in Serbia over the government's apparent political deal with former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and over some remarks by a government minister against independent journalists.

The Serbian government's recent decisions to drop criminal charges against Milosevic's son Marko and lift an international arrest warrant against Milosevic's wife Mira Markovic have prompted many Serbs to wonder whether the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica is restoring the former dictator's legacy. The widely held assumption is that the minority government has done a deal with Milosevic and the SPS to ensure continuing SPS support for the government in the parliament.

Many of the politicians who have governed Serbia since Milosevic's ouster on 5 October 2000 claim that that date marked the beginning of a truly new era, but the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March 2003 showed that the old structures linking the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and organized crime remain a force to be reckoned with (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003).

In early 2004, Kostunica balked at dropping his differences with his rivals in the Democratic Party to form a broad-based reformist coalition and preferred instead to set up a minority government dependent on the legislative backing of the SPS (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2004).

In June of that year, the reformist Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party beat the hard-line Serbian Radical Party's (SRS) Tomislav Nikolic for the presidency in a hotly contested runoff vote. But the Radicals' strong showing in that election and in subsequent opinion polls made it clear that a large portion of the Serbian public still supports the SRS nationalist agenda and its culture of blame and denial regarding Serbian responsibility for and involvement in the conflicts and war crimes of the 1990s (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 June and 2 July 2004 and 10 June and 1 July 2005).

Kostunica's minority government has tottered along for a year and a half, but most observers have assumed that he will dissolve it at some point and call new elections at a politically opportune moment, perhaps still in 2005. Most politicians have accordingly begun staking out their positions for the expected campaign. Tadic, for example, who seeks to cast himself as a moderate before foreign publics, has maintained good nationalist credentials at home by paying a demonstrative and controversial visit to Serbian enclaves in Kosova on 13-14 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 February 2005). He has, furthermore, not criticized the growing political role of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), to which Kostunica has traditionally been close.

In the wake of the government's apparent deal with Milosevic and the SPS, some Serbs have expressed concern with the direction in which they sense their country is heading, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 16 August. Serbia and Montenegro's former Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic told AP that leading Belgrade politicians are pursuing a "new nationalism" and seeking to turn Serbia into a "regional hegemonist" at the expense of good relations with its neighbors. Veran Matic, who heads the independent broadcaster B92, argued that "the situation is even more complicated than under Milosevic. The world now views the government as democratic, but all key pillars of Milosevic's regime are being rehabilitated." Some observers also called attention to the political role of the SPC and some of its leading clerics, although they were not part of the Milosevic system.

During the week of 15 August, things began to get ugly. Serbian Minister for Capital Investments Velimir Ilic, who is no stranger to controversy over his public behavior toward journalists, emerged at the center of a new controversy regarding the Milosevic deal and his role in it, London's "Financial Times" reported from Belgrade on 18 August. Ilic acknowledged that he had spoken to Pozarevac political activist Zoran Milovanovic, who had previously charged Marko Milosevic with threatening to attack him with a chainsaw (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2005). Ilic said that he told Milovanovic that it would be "human and Christian" of him to revise his testimony. As a result of Milovanovic's change of heart, a local court dropped the charges against the younger Milosevic, who has reportedly been hiding in Russia for several years to avoid arrest and trial back home.

When Ana Veljkovic, a journalist for B92 questioned Ilic on 15 August about his involvement in the deal, he called her "sick" and "in need of psychiatric help," warning her not to "get in our way." Ilic's press adviser, Petar Lazovic, then told Veljkovic that he would "kill" B92's director, Matic. Lazovic later denied making the threat, but Matic announced on 17 August that he would file criminal charges against Lazovic.

Matic's move seems likely to keep public attention centered on the government's alleged abuse of its powers on behalf of the Milosevic family for political reasons. On 16 August, Ilic made his position clear and said on television that Matic and his associates are "robbers" and "anti-Serb" propagandists who have received money from U.S. and EU nongovernmental groups and other foundations. The "Financial Times" noted that "if government ministers are privately furious that the B92 director has decided to file a lawsuit, they also have Ilic to blame for drawing sustained attention to the dispute." (Patrick Moore)

NATO AIMS TO MERGE RIVAL ARMIES INTO A SINGLE BOSNIAN FORCE. NATO's top general in Bosnia-Herzegovina was in Brussels recently to brief the alliance on sweeping defense reforms drawn up under his command earlier this year. The reforms outlined by U.S. General Stephen Schook would create a single army for Bosnia under one chain of command and financed from a unified budget. The change would represent a radical departure from the 1995 Dayton peace accord, which left Bosnia's Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian communities with their own militaries. The three communities must now approve the proposed reforms, which if implemented could bring Bosnia closer to eventually joining NATO.

After handing over Bosnian peacekeeping operations to the European Union in 2004, NATO is now hoping to claim credit for groundbreaking defense reforms in the Balkan country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004 and 24 January 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). Schook told journalists in Brussels on 17 August that he believes the Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim communities of Bosnia will soon accept a NATO-engineered blueprint to fuse their forces into a single army.

He said that if implemented, the reforms could represent a "fundamental shift" away from the division of the country into three parts cemented in the 1995 Dayton peace accord. Instead, Schook said, if the blueprint handed over to Bosnia's constituent communities in July works, Bosnia's army could soon for the first time be wholly owned by the state.

"I'm extremely optimistic that we'll have significant reform in defense that catapults us from the dictates of Dayton into a single military force palatable to NATO, [under] one command -- one chain of command -- ethnic representation and a single budget," Schook said.

The reforms should introduce what Schook described as a regimental system, borrowing heavily on the experience of Britain and Canada. The U.S. general said a division of the army into regiments -- while having no direct effect on the way it functions -- will allow the "entities" that make up Bosnia to preserve their military traditions and history. Regiments are fighting forces of about 3,000 soldiers.

Schook said NATO advisers also kept a close eye on the alliance's own requirements while drawing up the new legislation. He said that while any membership decisions are a matter for the governments of NATO allies, the reforms, if properly implemented, will put Bosnia "on the path" toward NATO membership.

The reforms will abolish conscription and should result in the creation of a professional army numbering 9,000-10,000 men. They will also do away with the huge reserve force standing currently at some 40,000 men. In its place, a small professional reserve will be established whose size may not exceed more than half that of the new army.

Schook said the reform plans are the result of a "laborious process" led jointly by NATO and the Bosnian Defense Ministry. The main vehicle for them has been the Defense Reform Commission set up in January. The commission comprises representatives from the ruling parties in the Republika Srpska, as well as the Croat-Muslim federation. Schook said that fact ensures that the green light from the commission means there exist "at least the beginnings" of a political agreement among all parties prior to debates in constituent national assemblies.

These debates will be vital. All of Bosnia's constituent entities must adjust their constitutions to allow for the replacement of their ethnically divided forces by a single Bosnian army. Schook indicated on 17 August that a vote in Republika Srpska's parliament in the last week of August will be crucial. On 30 May, the legislature rejected an important NATO-sponsored police reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May and 1 June 2005). This time, Schook said, he believes the reforms have the support of all major players.

"In our coordination with the [Bosnian Serb parliament], in our coordination with the Ministry of Defense of [the] Republika Srpska, in our coordination with President [Dragan] Cavic of the Republika Srpska, I can [categorically say] that I am very optimistic that this will pass through the RSNA," Schook said. "I am also very optimistic that even the opposition parties to the ruling government in the [parliament] will support this legislation."

Schook noted that practical considerations have played an important role in generating goodwill toward the reforms. He said budgetary concerns were a major driving force, as the present system is considered unaffordable by all sides.

He said the reforms could significantly contribute to security both inside and outside Bosnia. "This [reform] is significant for many reasons," Schook said. "The first reason I would give to you is it creates a sense of security within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Why? Well, if you don't have the entity armies and you now created a state army, that's a different set of security conditions than what existed [previously]. And our latest polling shows up to 40 percent [of the inhabitants of Bosnia-Herzegovina] are concerned about security still. Number two: It further stabilizes the region, it has an impact on neighboring countries of Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Schook said he hopes that the reform will "pull" in its wake other reforms geared toward strengthening Bosnian society and its governance. (Ahto Lobjakas)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Even illegitimate children have to be rocked in the cradle." -- Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) Metropolitan Amfilohije, in an allusion to the Montenegrin national identity and the "need" for the SPC to meet the religious needs of all people in Montenegro. Quoted by RFE/RL in Podgorica on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 August 2005).

"Amfilohije insinuates that Montenegrins and Montenegro are illegitimate children that one must rock in the cradle and play nanny to." -- Montenegrin Orthodox Church (CPC) Metropolitan Mihailo. Quoted by RFE/RL in Cetinje on 20 August.