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Balkan Report: December 9, 2005

9 December 2005, Volume 9, Number 31

After about 17 years of providing regular analytical coverage of Yugoslavia and its successor states, Patrick Moore is moving on to assume similar tasks for RFE/RL's reporting on Russian affairs. "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will continue to be published on a monthly basis, and the next issue will appear in late January.

FORMER YUGOSLAVIA: THE UNCERTAIN JOURNEY AHEAD. Most of the Yugoslav successor states will enter 2006 with a long road ahead of them toward their goal of Euro-Atlantic integration. Whether and when they will complete that journey is anything but certain.

In the late 1980s, the following joke made the rounds in former Yugoslavia: Question -- How many countries will there be in Europe in 2010?Answer -- Nine: Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and Vojvodina.

Almost 20 years later, that joke has a sharper bite than it did during the twilight months of socialist Yugoslavia. Of course, Slovenia is a member of both the EU and NATO, and hence has attained the principal goals of Euro-Atlantic integration. Croatia's attempt to follow suit is still dogged by its failure to arrest and extradite fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina, but few observers doubt that Zagreb's representatives will sit as full members in both Brussels-based organizations well before the end of the decade. However, even if there is little or no serious discussion of independence for Vojvodina, the rest of the joke seems to have come true with a vengeance.

In fact, the dissolution of former Yugoslavia is still continuing. Despite pressure from the European Union on behalf of maintaining a joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, it seems likely that that polity will become looser still or split up entirely by the end of 2006. The Montenegrin authorities have floated trial balloons about continuing some sort of union of two "independent states," probably in case Podgorica cannot win its long-planned referendum on independence -- but it is not clear whether the voters of Serbia as well as of Montenegro will be prepared to accept yet another experiment in dubious if innovative statecraft.

The root of the problem is that there has never been a consensus among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. In addition, there is a large and vocal Montenegrin population living and working in Serbia with a clear interest in maintaining a joint state. The process of dissolution nonetheless seems to have reached a point where Belgrade and Podgorica have long ceased to work together as an effective political entity -- they have not shared even a common currency for years.

The situation in Kosova is both more complex and more clear-cut. It is more complex in that, unlike regarding Montenegro, Belgrade politicians determinedly maintain Serbia's claim to the place in their public rhetoric. This is because elections are widely expected in 2006, and nationalism centering on the emotional issue of Kosova still wins votes. The rhetoric remains strident even if some of those same leaders are willing to express other views in private. Furthermore, should Serbia eventually lose its remaining formal sovereignty over Kosova, it will still seek to stay involved in the province because of the Serbian minority and cultural monuments there, to say nothing of Kosova's mining industry.

The Kosova situation is paradoxically also more clear-cut than that of Montenegro because it is evident that the ethnic Albanians make up about 90 percent of the population and have no doubt that their goal is independence. Some Serbian politicians, such as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, have tried to discredit the Kosovars' demand for independence based on self-determination and majority rule by spreading the idea that the Kosovars are incapable of running their own affairs. Such politicians argue that an independent Kosova would "destabilize" the Balkans by somehow opening a Pandora's box of region-wide nationalist passions and providing a haven for organized crime, as if rabid nationalists and various mafias were not already alive and well throughout much of the rest of former Yugoslavia, including Serbia.

In any event, it seems likely that some form of final status talks for Kosova will begin in early 2006 under the leadership of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The outcome will probably be independence but with a strong international presence to monitor minority-related issues and provide sufficient security to allay Serbian fears of Albanian pogroms and Albanian fears of a return of Serbian forces. In the eyes of the majority, the important thing is that the independence be seen as real and bring an end to the international rule that is widely regarded as colonial and wasteful.

Concrete possibilities for entering the EU and NATO will be as politically and psychologically important for Kosova as they are throughout the rest of former Yugoslavia (and Albania). In November, Bosnia-Herzegovina became the last country in the region to get the green light from the EU for talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which is the first serious step toward EU membership. None of the countries in the region (except Croatia) has any real prospect of actually joining the Brussels-based bloc at any time in the foreseeable future, and Bosnia's own chief negotiator says his country faces a "transition period" to full membership of about 10 years. But the Bosnian case recently demonstrated what had previously been shown elsewhere, namely that a serious prospect of SAA talks and progress toward full membership is a powerful tool for promoting reforms. In Macedonia, too, the allure of the two Brussels-based organizations has helped keep the internal peace settlement of 2001 more or less on course, despite some occasional politically inspired bumps in the road.

In fact, Euro-Atlantic integration enjoys widespread political support throughout the region, except in some ultranationalist circles, such as in Serbia. This consensus is the result of the general belief that integration means membership in the "rich man's club," a seat at tables where important decisions are made, and plentiful subsidies. It also means the prospect of foreign investment and the visa-free travel throughout Europe that older ex-Yugoslavs remember from the last decades of socialist Yugoslavia. Indeed, for many ordinary people, jobs and travel are the main reasons to look towards Brussels.

But the prospect of Euro-Atlantic integration is not an instant remedy for all problems. The acquiescence of the Bosnian Serbs in military and police reform in 2005 was grudging and incomplete. Despite much pressure from outside and support from among the Muslims in particular, Bosnia is still a long way from parting with its dysfunctional 1995 Dayton agreement constitution in favor of a more streamlined and centralized state. Both the United States and EU nonetheless hope to have constitutional reforms in place in the spring of 2006 so that they will be in effect for the October elections.

It is far from certain, however, that such changes will win approval in Bosnia. This is primarily because the Serbs suspect that any tampering with Dayton will consign them to the status of a minority in a Muslim-dominated state. It might be worth recalling that a common factor in the Croatian, Bosnian, and Kosova conflicts in the 1990s was the refusal of local Serbs to accept that they could live as a minority in a state dominated by another ethnic group, and the cynical manipulation of those fears by the Belgrade leadership under Serbian and later Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Moreover, the foreigners themselves play a role in Bosnia that many think is a big part of the problem. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has virtually unlimited powers and is not subject to any control by elected Bosnian officials. More than once the high representative has found himself in the position of overruling or sacking elected officials -- who happen to be nationalists -- in the name of promoting democratic values.

This paradoxical situation of imposing democracy by fiat has led to a lively debate in recent years about reforming the Dayton system, in the course of which four models emerged. One calls for strengthening the OHR on the grounds that it is the only institution that is capable of breaking the structures that emerged in wartime. The second advocates phasing out the OHR in the name of promoting democracy. The third approach would throw out Dayton and call a new constitutional convention, even if it were dominated by the nationalists. The fourth model is the most radical, in that it calls for declaring the Bosnian state a failure and partitioning it between Serbia and Croatia, with the Muslims left with a rump mini-state or the option of joining one of the neighbors. The recent moves by the United States and EU toward constitutional streamlining in Bosnia were intended as a way out of this impasse but still do not clarify all the questions surrounding the OHR.

Another issue confronting Bosnia and also Serbia on their respective roads to Euro-Atlantic integration is the apparent continuing presence on their territories of major fugitive war crimes indictees. Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic is believed to spend his time in the Republika Srpska and adjoining areas of Montenegro, while his former military commander, ex-General Ratko Mladic, is probably in Serbia. Neither man could remain on the loose without an extensive support network, and both probably enjoy some form of protection from people in positions of authority. In the case of Mladic in particular, it is widely believed that Army support has helped ensure his survival. Croatia's General Gotovina, too, has presumably continued to escape justice only with the help of old-boy networks, perhaps ones dating back to his prewar days in the French Foreign Legion.

A further problem bedeviling nearly all the countries of the western Balkans to one extent or another involves structures linking the worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and organized crime. These are probably most evident in Bosnia, where they took root during the 1992-95 war, and in Serbia, where they were part and parcel of Milosevic's rule from the late 1980s until 2000. The assassination of pro-reform Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in March 2003, which has not yet been fully explained, served notice as to how serious the problem of clandestine structures remains, as do other periodic acts of violence against journalists and other public personalities in Serbia and Montenegro.

It remains to be seen how seriously the EU and NATO will ultimately take such matters into consideration in judging the western Balkans' prospects for Euro-Atlantic integration. The two Brussels-based organizations have already accepted as members some other postcommunist states that underwent dubious privatization processes in the 1990s or have questionable links between some individuals in politics, business, and former Soviet security networks. Observers in former Yugoslavia also point out that few countries in North America or Western Europe are themselves immune from serious scandals. In the end, what will ultimately determine the pace of Euro-Atlantic integration in most of former Yugoslavia and Albania is a combination of the willingness of those countries to undertake reforms themselves, and the desire of the EU and NATO not to have a "black hole" develop on the eastern side of the Adriatic that could attract the attention of terrorists and become an even greater hotbed of organized crime and human trafficking. What the time frame for this integrative process will prove to be is anyone's guess. (Patrick Moore)

KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER SAYS INDEPENDENCE IS NOT FOR BARGAINING. Interview with Kosova's prime minister, Bajram Kosumi, by Arbana Vidishiqi of the Kosova Subunit of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service.

RFE/RL: Mr. Prime Minister, the negotiation group held its third meeting since its formation. Don't you think this group should work harder, at a time when international factors have intensified their efforts to prepare the beginning of status talks?

Kosumi: Well, the group took an important step. We have agreed to establish a political group, which will be close to Kosova's delegation on all vital issues. This political group will be represented by leaders from the political parties, capable of proposing to Kosova's delegation basic lines of politics and preserving the principles of political programs, which will result in documents for Kosova's final status. We have also agreed that in all of these groups, representatives of other ethnic communities, groups, and political parties should be represented and take an active role. This is the first important step. This group will also very soon propose to Kosova's delegation the platform for status talks, which will then be approved in Kosova's parliament. So, everything has started to move, these important decisions have been made by Kosova's delegation and now everyone is working with all possible energy to prepare Kosova for the status talks.

RFE/RL: The international community has basically two requests for Kosova's institutions: a unified Kosovar political spectrum and the creation of better living conditions for the Serbian minority. Specifically, what is Kosova's government offering Kosova's Serbs?

Kosumi: Our offer for Kosova's Serbs, as for all other important issues in the Kosova process, is based on European principles established during the last century, on which European democratic societies function to this day. This means, full equality for all the citizens of Kosova, regardless of their color, race, religion, or language. We've always said Kosova is a state of Kosovar citizens, including those who belong to other ethnic communities, and not only Albanians. Also, an independent Kosova will be able to give constitutional guarantees for preserving the cultural and ethnic values and identities of all minority ethnic groups. This is the basics that differentiate Kosova's concept -- for solving these issues -- from Belgrade's medieval concept, which is on the table for more than 20 years now, the concept of ethnic boundaries, ethnic enclaves and corridors. This concept has ignited wars in former Yugoslavia and inflicted a lot of damage on Western civilization.

RFE/RL: One of the main challenges you will probably face during the negotiating process is the situation in the city of Mitrovica, in northern Kosova. Do you have a plan for this city, which remains divided [into Albanian and Serbian parts] even six years after the war?

Kosumi: I think it is clear by now to everyone that there is only one way of solving some of the issues in the north of Kosova. This plan is the reintegration of this part of Kosova in all of the structures of society and governance. There can be no other plan, no other solution. This has been confirmed by Contact Group as well, during its meeting in April and the 2 November meeting in Washington, by saying there can be no changes or territorial partition within Kosova. Still, we need to prepare the details of a reintegration plan for that part of Kosova. Kosova is in any case too small for any kind of partition. Serbs in that part of Kosova will enjoy all the rights according to all international conventions, including the Copenhagen documents [EU criteria on the treatment of ethnic minorities], but the Serbs need to be a part of an integral place called Kosova.

RFE/RL: The negotiations are expected to be led by [former Finnish President] Martti Ahtisaari, as the UN special envoy for the status talks. What exactly do you expect from Mr. Ahtisaari and from the whole process of negotiation for that matter?

Kosumi: For me, there are three main issues in all this process and of course I expect Mr. Ahtisaari and the Contact Group to lead this process in the right direction. One: Kosova's citizens must enjoy their own right to have their own state, to create their own democracy, economic prosperity, and to create their own future. This is a basic postulate of every initiative, every negotiation, and every move in this direction. Two: a governing mechanism should be created in Kosova as a state which would be functional and enable us to guard against any kind of impact and against the creation of mechanisms which would maybe hamper the functioning of the state of Kosova its development and prosperity. Something similar to this happened in Bosnia. Three: this state of Kosova will positively affect and create peace and stability with all neighboring countries, including Serbia, and will definitely help in establishing peace and stability in the region.

RFE/RL: Lately, concern has been raised by certain circles over the possibility of destabilization during the negotiating process. Do you share these concerns?

Kosumi: As long as there are forces that do not want Kosova's status to be resolved, they will tend to destabilize the process. We have to be prepared to expect such things, they will happen. It is the responsibility of Mr. Ahtisaari and Contact Group members, but also of politicians in Kosova, to face these difficulties. Whatever they might be, whatever the obstructions, whatever the crisis, be they prolonged talks, clinical death of the negotiations, or actions by extremist groups, the forces interested in resolving Kosova's status are much stronger and bigger than those groups, political groups that tend to hamper the process. We have to be decisive, once the process has begun, we should finish it up fairly quickly, in order to avoid any problems or destabilization, we have to complete it successfully.

RFE/RL: One of the options mentioned as a possible result of the status talks is "conditional independence." Does the government of Kosova see this option as a compromise, for which there has been some talk lately?

Kosumi: No. I don't believe we should make compromises and bargain for Kosova's independence. Kosova should be independent, like all other countries in the region and should have as much sovereignty as those countries. We can go a step further and reach an agreement with NATO or Brussels to get some further help in fields where we need help, support and share our responsibilities together. In the security sector, we need an extensive NATO presence in Kosova. In other fields, we also need advice, support, supervision of the process, but not its administration. We will administrate the process, we will have full authority in this direction and we will not be conditioned, in a negative sense of the word, with anything, because that would obstruct Kosova's economic development in the future.

RFE/RL: Finally, you have been named to the position of prime minister under difficult circumstances, compared to your predecessors. Do you agree?

Kosumi: I believe so. My coming to this post, the circumstances, the dynamics, the important phase in Kosova's history when its status is being decided, have made more difficult, even more complicated, the job of Kosova's prime minister. Anyone in my place would have had [to cope with] the same dynamics and the same difficulties. But, at the same time, allow me to say that it's an honor, not only for me as prime minister, but for all the people of Kosova, for all these generations to live through this most historic time for Kosova. Around 3 million Kosovar citizens are the authors of a creation that will live for centuries and will bring joy to others for centuries.

THE DEMISE OF THE GERMAN BALKAN RESTAURANT. The virtual disappearance of the once ubiquitous Balkan restaurants from the German urban scene reflects changes in West European tastes and travel habits but also in perceptions of what was once a highly regarded part of Europe.

Everybody knew them. They had names like Split, White City of Zagreb, Dubrovnik, or Mostar that conjured up images of a recent or planned Yugoslav vacation in the minds of passersby in most every German city and town in the 1970s and 1980s. Some had less common names like Lika or Morava, which provided a clue to the owner's home region.

Still other establishments prompted one Berlin professor to remind his students that "the Balkan studies expert is always on duty" and pay attention to the hidden message in the restaurant's name or decorations regarding the politics of the place. Students would then carefully notice details in a Croatian restaurant, like a picture of World War II pro-Axis Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic on the wall, or the particular variation of the Croatian checkerboard coat-of-arms associated with his regime to deduce that the owners were Ustasha sympathizers or veterans. If a restaurant was called St. George the Knight, a student of World War II Croatian military formations could guess that the owners were of the same background as the people with the Pavelic picture.

These were some of the Yugoslav, or Balkan, restaurants that once numbered in the thousands across Germany but now have become few and far between. Some were family or neighborhood restaurants run by political emigres or economic Gastarbeiter seeking a better life. Others were larger or downtown operations, sometimes with business links to companies in Maribor, Skopje, or somewhere else back home. Some of those became virtual institutions, such as Munich's Slovenian-owned Opatija am Koenigsplatz or West Berlin's Novo Skopje, both of which existed for decades and were known for their open-fire charcoal grills and excellent fare.

They served up a variety of dishes from around former Yugoslavia, usually from the Serbo-Croatian-speaking areas, with a sprinkling of traditional steak and schnitzel dishes to attract German customers whose older neighborhood eateries had now become Yugoslav, which often meant Croatian. The universal staple was grilled ground-meat sausages, or cevapcici, and their close relative, the pljeskavica patty. These dishes could either be the owner's way of getting rid of scraps, or a lovingly seasoned meal of the finest quality. Other universals were grilled meat skewers known as raznjici, a spicy stew called muckalica, or, especially in winter, stuffed cabbages known as sarma. The Novo Skopje and other Macedonian establishments paid particular attention to grilled meats, including the standard mixed grill called mesana skara.

The Yugoslav restaurants also introduced their guests to salty sheep cheese, sharp ajvar salad -- which is essentially a paste made from cooked peppers -- and a panoply of spirits starting with the slivovitz beloved of Serbs and the loza that flows from Croatia on down to a host of wines, including a dry Herzegovinian white called Zilavka or the reds of Kosova. The wines and spirits were usually served in a specially shaped glass decanter that bore the name of a well-known Slovenian importer. The meals were then rounded off with a Turkish coffee served in the traditional fashion (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 October 2004).

These restaurants generally did a good business and enabled many an immigrant to raise and educate children, support a family back home, or start a larger business, especially in former Yugoslavia itself after the collapse of communism.

The heyday of the Balkan restaurants coincided with the boom in German tourism to Yugoslavia in the late 1960s and 1970s. Later, however, their image began to change. Trendy and wealthier Germans increasingly went further afield during their vacations, and Yugoslav holidays became associated in many people's mind by the 1980s with budget travelers and the elderly. One by one, the Balkan restaurants made way for Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, or Chinese restaurants, much as the Yugoslavs themselves had once taken over from traditional German pubs.

With the collapse of communism, some restaurants nonetheless made a political mark for themselves. When the communist rulers in Croatia tried to prevent the generally conservative Gastarbeiter from casting their ballots in the first free election in 1990 by requiring them to return to Croatia if they wanted to vote, one Munich restaurant put its premises at the disposal of Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) for a day for election meetings. The result was that hundreds of Croats in Bavaria chartered planes and busses to go home for election day and vote for the HDZ. President Tudjman then rewarded them by allowing them to cast their subsequent ballots in several German cities, including Munich.

Soon after Croatia declared independence in June 1991, the often faded travel posters with inscriptions like "Plitvice Lakes - Yugoslavia" came down from the walls in the Croatian-owned restaurants and were replaced by glossy new ones for similar tourist sites, now identified as "Croatia." Signs and menus were similarly purged of words like Balkan, Yugoslav, or Serbian. The Slovenian-owned Opatija took down its small Yugoslav flag from a display case, leaving the German one alone in a stand clearly designed for two flags.

In some restaurants, the response to changed political circumstances went beyond the cosmetic. In one such establishment, Herzegovinian and Dalmatian Croats met regularly in a side room, speaking in muffled tones. After some weeks, a large van appeared outside, and the staff and their Croatian friends were visibly nervous. The van then left, only to return a few days later. When that happened, the relief of all Croats present was palpable.

It did not take long to conclude that a gun-running operation was in progress. This was noticed not only by some of the regular customers, but also by the German authorities. One evening, about a dozen or so middle-aged men arrived at the restaurant, either in pairs or one-by-one. They sat apart from each other, at different tables. All spoke German, but they let it be noticed that they were hanging on every Serbo-Croatian word spoken among the staff and the Croats in the side room. They also let it be noticed that each had a full and bulging holster somewhere under his sweater or jacket. The point was taken, and the van returned no more.

Other restaurants engaged in politics in a less sinister fashion. In Berlin, the Novo Skopje was well-known as the salon of Ljubco Georgievski's party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). Georgievski himself could sometimes be spotted in a booth at the back on one of his private visits to Germany. When Georgievski's party was in power, the relations between the restaurant and consulate were open and close.

After the wars of the 1990s broke out, however, the restaurant closures also began in earnest. There were many reasons for this, starting with a rise in city rents and in beer-sales quotas that had already begun in the 1980s (most pubs in Germany are owned by breweries, which rent to concessionaires, who are obliged to sell a certain quantity of beer). Some restauranteurs got around this problem by moving to smaller communities with lower operating costs, like the man who hosted the HDZ meeting eventually did.

After the wars made anything Yugoslav or Balkan generally unappetizing to Germans, many of these restaurants reinvented or renamed themselves as international, Mediterranean, or fish establishments. But others simply closed, and the owners either retired in Germany or went back home, especially to Croatia, and began a new life with their savings. When discussing the demise of the Yugoslav restaurants, one Bosnian journalist at Deutsche Welle commented, "Can you blame the German customers for staying away from our places after all the violence they saw on their TV screens?"

In Munich's Schwabing district, for example, there were probably well over a dozen Balkan restaurants in 1980. Fifteen years later, there were two or three. They struggled to stay afloat thanks primarily to older German regular customers, fellow Croats or Kosovars, and Balkan-studies people of various nationalities. Despite generally attentive service, pleasant decor, and meticulously clean settings, the remaining Balkan restaurants generally seemed to do less business than most of the neighboring Greek, Italian, or sushi establishments.

The disappearance of the Yugoslav restaurants that have survived seems to be a matter of time, and many of the proprietors are fatalistic. Some, however, are confident, such as the waiters at one Dalmatian establishment in central Bonn, who point out that they have a good location and a solid base of regular customers, many of whom came from other Croatian restaurants that are now closed.

Nonetheless, some of the venerable institutions are now gone. Within the past few years, the Novo Skopje made way for the wrecking ball as its building and the one next to it were leveled to provide space for yet another steel-and-glass Berlin office building. The Opatija has become a pricey drinks bar (as have many other former Yugoslav establishments), and with it disappeared its huge mural showing folk dancers from all parts of Yugoslavia performing traditional dances. Neighborhood restaurants like Berlin's Morava that have been around for decades have closed to make way for trendy bars.

One of Munich's few remaining classic Balkan restaurants is the Zaja family's Zadar in Schwabing. The guests seem to become fewer with time, despite the hospitality of the Zajas and their efforts to adapt to changing tastes. When leaving the Zadar, it almost seems prudent to study one's surroundings carefully, having what might be a last look at the huge wall painting of Split harbor, which was done 30 years ago by a man who learned to paint from a Roman Catholic priest in the 1950s, when both men were Tito's political prisoners. It will probably come as no surprise some day to find that the Zadar has become a Thai snack bar and that the painting of Split has gone the way of the Opatija's mural. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "[The international community] should say no to the ultimatums of Albanian extremists, that the remaining Serbs and the international military and police will be targets of terror if Kosovo is not given the status of an independent state. Crime as the foundation of a state, a state as the reward for crime -- such an ultimatum is a blow to the moral and legal foundations of Europe." -- Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, at the OSCE meeting in Ljubljana on 5 December. Quoted by Reuters.

"Maybe this [Dayton Bosnia] setup is not perfect.... For me, the perfect situation would have been the survival of the former Yugoslavia. Nonetheless, it is clear that [Dayton] Bosnia can somehow function. The last thing this country needs is the drawing up of new maps." -- Former Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, arguing against a major constitutional revision for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Quoted by Reuters in Aleksandrovac on 2 December.

"If the EU does not come to the Balkans, the Balkans will come to the EU." -- Unnamed former Serbian minister, quoted in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 6 December. He was arguing that Brussels cannot leave part of the continent as a "black hole" without endangering its own security.