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Balkan Report: January 16, 2004

16 January 2004, Volume 8, Number 2

CROATIA'S SANADER PRESSES FOR EU AND NATO MEMBERSHIP. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, in Brussels on 12 January, strongly suggested his country hopes to join the European Union together with Bulgaria and Romania in 2007. However, time is short and there are a number of serious obstacles to achieving that goal.

The new government is not afraid of challenges. Sanader's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) starts off with the difficult task of proving that the hard-line nationalism associated with its late founder and Croatia's former President Franjo Tudjman is now a thing of the past (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 December 2003).

Meanwhile, the government faces an uphill struggle trying to convince the international community it is doing everything it can to apprehend fugitive General Ante Gotovina, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Croatia's relations with neighboring Serbia and Slovenia leave a lot to be desired and there remain question marks over the country's efforts to accommodate the Serbian minority and allow refugees to return, although leaders of the minority are optimistic.

Yet Sanader told reporters in Brussels he is confident that Croatia will join the EU in just three years. "Our goal is to join the EU by 2007 if possible, which means [joining] the group of enlargement along with Romania and Bulgaria -- the second wave of enlargement," he said. "If we consider this [current] 'big bang' [of 10 countries acceding this year] the first wave of enlargement, [then] the second wave [is] Romania and Bulgaria. We would like to join them."

Sanader says he is aware of the magnitude of Croatia's ambition, but he nevertheless lays out a very brisk timetable. He says Croatia expects the European Commission to take no more than two to three months to rule favorably on Croatia's application for candidate status, submitted a year ago. Formal approval by EU member states should follow in June so that accession negotiations could start by early 2005.

Sanader said in Brussels that Croatia would need just two years for the talks, but dodged questions on where the standard 12-18-month ratification period would fit in.

European Commission President Romano Prodi noted after meeting Sanader that the Croatian prime minister had asked him for a date for the ruling on his country's candidacy. Prodi said he is unable to give a date as long as some member states continue blocking the Stabilization and Association Agreement with Croatia, and query whether Zagreb has indeed done its utmost to cooperate with the ICTY.

Prodi added he could not set a date "because we have this problem still open -- but there is a common engagement to do it as soon as possible, as soon as we have the ratification of the stabilization agreement by [the] U.K. and [the Netherlands]."

Sanader forcefully rejected suggestions that Croatia's cooperation with the war crimes tribunal is anything short of full. "As regards our cooperation with The Hague tribunal, we're fully committed to [it] -- there is no alternative to cooperation, and I'm quite confident and quite optimistic that we will cooperate very well with The Hague tribunal," he said.

He added his three-week-old government is already in contact with the tribunal and its chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte. Sanader also noted there have been no new indictments of suspected Croatian war criminals.

The Croatian prime minister was unwilling to discuss the case of General Gotovina, the No. 1 Croatian suspect on the ICTY list of those indicted.

Sanader said he does not see the delay in the ratification of the stabilization agreement as an insurmountable problem. He said Croatia would be "very happy" to clarify the issue with Britain and the Netherlands, adding that he expects the two to be satisfied with his government's progress on that front within "two months" of commission approval of Croatia's candidacy -- that is, just in time for the June Brussels summit to endorse it formally.

The prime minister also cited the success of his government in tackling other outstanding issues. He mentioned steps taken to facilitate the return of Serbian refugees, judicial reforms, evolving cooperation with Croatia's neighbors and, above all, the recently signed agreement of cooperation with national minorities. Under the agreement, he said, the Croatian government now has its first Serbian deputy minister.

Sanader did not have a clear response to questions about the lingering sea-border dispute with neighboring Slovenia, whose access to the Adriatic Sea is threatened by Croatia's plans to extend its territorial waters. Slovenia will become a full EU member state in May and the issue could seriously complicate Croatia's efforts to follow suit (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 12 December 2003).

On 12 January, Prodi made light of the problem, seeming to suggest that the prospect of EU membership for both countries is enough to overcome it. "I told Prime Minister Sanader the same [thing that] I told the Slovenian prime minister: 'Behave.' We cannot be mediators, we don't want to interfere [in] an internal problem, but we're very much interested that you have a friendly solution," Prodi said. "Because being some day, I hope very soon, members of the same union we don't want to have these problems -- clearly, these are problems of the past."

One day after meeting with top EU officials, Sanader discussed his government's plans to join the Atlantic alliance with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003 and 13 January 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 5 December 2003).

Sanader told reporters that "our ambition is to receive an invitation for membership as soon as possible," perhaps as early as the June NATO summit in Istanbul. "Croatia is ready to meet all the necessary criteria for membership in NATO," Sanader added.

Repeating his pledge made during the recent general election campaign, he stressed that his government will place more emphasis on obtaining NATO membership than its predecessor did. "This government will have NATO on its agenda at least once a month," he said.

De Hoop Scheffer announced that he will visit Croatia in the second half of May, calling the trip "a good start." Croatia must improve its record in instituting military reforms, cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, and protecting the rights of its Serbian minority before it can be admitted to NATO. (Ahto Lobjakas and Patrick Moore)

REFERENDUM BLUES FOR SLOVENIA'S GOVERNMENT. Slovenia's Constitutional Court voted on 9 January to freeze the decision to hold a referendum on the bill regulating the status of persons "erased" from the population records in 1992 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 January 2004). The decision was made at the request of 33 governing coalition members of parliament, who argue that the referendum is an unconstitutional vote on a human rights issue. Most observers believe that the center-left government fears a defeat in the referendum and seeks to postpone it, while conservative opposition politicians sense that they have found a popular issue to use against the government.

The court will first decide whether the 33 representatives' request is legitimate and, if so, will then examine the content of the proposed referendum. The court's decision is expected by 23 January. The government has welcomed the freeze as an opportunity to build a consensus, but the opposition charges that the court is reacting to political pressure, "Delo" reported on 10 January.

Following the decision to freeze the referendum, Slovenia's National Assembly scheduled sessions to discuss the issue. The first session on 12 January lasted seven hours. Analysis in "Delo" on 13 January suggests that the government is prepared to make changes to the content of the bill to exclude anyone who "does not deserve" permanent residency status. Such concessions may be in vain, however, because some opponents insist that the bill be scrapped entirely and the legislative process begun anew.

Feelings run particularly deep about whether former members of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) that fought against Slovenia in 1991 will benefit. As a student at Ljubljana's Faculty of Economics recently commented, "I don't want my country to reward someone who was shooting at my father 13 years ago."

At the 12 January parliamentary session, Janez Jansa -- the leader of the main opposition conservative party, the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) -- reiterated the opposition's demand that the bill exclude such persons, as well as limit the amount of compensation for lost pensions and other damages.

In a year that will see two important elections, the government is clearly worried about losing face in a referendum. Elections to the European Parliament will take place on 13 June, and national parliamentary elections will be held in October (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003).

Although Prime Minister Anton Rop's government is enjoying unprecedented popularity -- a December public opinion poll recorded a 53 percent approval rate -- the picture could change quickly. The defeat of a bill backed so heavily by the government could erode support for the centrist Liberal Democracy of Slovenia party (LDS) and the left-wing United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD).

Embarrassment at the polls could also further strain relations between the conservative Slovenian People's Party (SLS) and the other coalition parties. In voting on 30 December, all 10 parliamentary representatives from the SLS joined with the opposition to back the referendum.

Publicly, at least, the government is sticking to its guns, insisting that the referendum is senseless because the Constitutional Court's decision to reverse the erasure must be implemented in any case, because of the cost of organizing the vote, and because the referendum will allegedly promote intolerance. President Janez Drnovsek has also spoken out against the referendum.

Interior Minister Rado Bohinc recently announced that his ministry would begin issuing decisions on a case-by-case basis, retroactively restoring the status of individuals who had been erased. The minister gave no date for beginning the process. Jansa immediately threatened a recall motion against Bohinc as soon as the first decision is issued because Jansa will consider such decisions illegal.

Referendum opponents also warn that the EU will not look kindly on Slovenia's mistreatment of "the erased." A "Delo" article on 10 January by Ljubo Bavcon said that Slovenia cannot afford for the EU "to assess Slovenia's preparedness for entry based on the hostile and intolerant standpoint, rumors, and behavior of Jansa and his devotees."

Underlying the opposition's legal arguments are the emotional convictions that "the erased" have themselves to blame for their predicament, and that they are now seeking to unfairly profit from the scandal.

How is it possible that 4,000 persons were denied due process, they argue, when 26,000 managed to resolve their status through channels already offered? In response, an opposition politician recently showed me a copy of a 1992 letter in which the Interior Ministry summoned an individual for the fourth time to receive Slovenian citizenship. Because he did not respond to this final invitation, he now numbers among "the erased."

The specter of financial compensation was also raised at the 12 January parliamentary session by Bogdan Barovic of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS). Barovic stated that in Trbovlje, where he also serves as mayor, some of "the erased" are already inquiring about compensation forms, but are interested in little else, "Delo" reported on 13 January.

Hedging its bet, the opposition has raised one last troubling question. Having dismissed the legitimacy of the referendum in advance, what will the government do if the public supports its position? (Donald F. Reindl,

MACEDONIA'S EMIGRANTS -- AN UNDERESTIMATED FACTOR? Emigration is a phenomenon that affected all European states at various times and to various degrees in the 19th and 20th centuries. In most cases, emigrants left their homes for economic and social reasons.

At times, however, these emigration waves were politically motivated or even forced. Jews fled the Third Reich; Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria carried out population exchanges after World War I; Bulgaria expelled ethnic Turks twice, in 1950-51 and in 1989; and during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, in what was later euphemistically dubbed "ethnic cleansings," hundreds of thousands of Kosovars, Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs fled their homes.

Nobody knows exactly how many Macedonians have left their native villages, towns, and settlements during the past century or so in order to live permanently abroad. According to some estimates, up to 700,000 persons originating from what is today the Republic of Macedonia have chosen to live in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia, to name just their most important destinations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2003).

Since the early 20th century, workers from the regions of Bitola, Resen, and Demir Hisar have gone abroad for seasonal work as builders or farm workers. Later, their stays abroad became longer, thus turning into permanent emigration. After World War II, emigration gained new momentum, when West Germany experienced a labor shortage and invited workers from Southern Europe in the 1960s. As Verica Janeska pointed out in "Utrinski vesnik" of 8 January, the Yugoslav authorities at that time encouraged workers to emigrate in order to ease the pressures on the domestic labor market.

But there were ethnically motivated migrations as well. In 1953, Turkey and Yugoslavia signed an agreement allowing some 150,000 ethnic Turks, Albanians, and members of other Muslim minorities to leave for Turkey.

In spite of the ongoing emigration, the size of the Macedonian population remained relatively stable. Whereas in neighboring Bulgaria the population dropped from 9 million in 1992 to 8 million in 2001 due to emigration and low birthrates, the higher birthrates in Macedonia seem to have compensated for most of the losses caused by emigration (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003).

But Janeska suggests that the emigration of younger, skilled people has led to some deep demographic changes. A first effect is that the overall population is getting older. Secondly, people are also leaving regions previously unaffected by emigration, thus making it in issue throughout the country, not only in the traditional emigration centers.

It is not clear whether emigration has a positive effect on the economy, as the former Yugoslav authorities had hoped for. For Janevska, there is no reason to believe that sending unemployed people abroad would improve the employment situation at home. And the money sent home by the emigrants, which seems to have helped the economy in the past, is now drying up.

What really hampers the Macedonian economy, however, is the brain drain caused by the emigration of young, skilled workers and university graduates. Not only do only fewer qualified people tend to remain in the country, but the state also finances an expensive education system which is, in effect, producing academics for other countries (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 October 2001 and 18 July 2003).

As Zoran Matevski noted in "Utrinski vesnik" on 8 January, the Internet plays an important role for young graduates in finding well-paid employment abroad. Even those who do not find jobs immediately or are not hired by a foreign company while still at university want to emigrate. In the same issue of "Utrinski vesnik," Viktor Cvetanovski wrote that a recent opinion poll showed that up to 80 percent of graduate students plan to emigrate after receiving their diplomas.

Asked the reasons why they do not want to stay, many of them answered that finding employment in Macedonia in their field of specialization is almost impossible. They also dislike the fact that in order to find some kind of job, it is either necessary to be a member of a political party (in the best case the ruling one) or at least to have what Macedonians simply describe as "vrski" -- connections, that is relatives or friends in decision-making positions.

The biggest obstacle for many Macedonians is the fact that most European countries require visas for Macedonian passport holders. Some people like Cvetanovski (who is known for his anti-Bulgarian views) claim that people will do almost anything to get out of the country. "In order to leave Macedonia, thousands of young men and women even trample on the most sacred thing -- their national dignity -- by applying for Bulgarian passports, which meet the Schengen requirements," he writes with disgust.

The big question, however, remains whether any government can effectively stop people from seeking their fortune elsewhere, as Cvetanovski demands. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

KOSOVAR DAILY NAMES 'RFE/RL BALKAN REPORT' EDITOR 'PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR.' The leading Prishtina daily "Bota Sot" (The World Today) announced in its 12 January issue that it has named "RFE/RL Balkan Report" editor Patrick Moore as "personality of the year" for 2003. "Bota Sot," which is also the largest Albanian-language daily in the diaspora, cited Moore's commitment to "truth and freedom" as well as his analytical knowledge of the Balkans. The daily said that Moore has a peaceful vision for the region to turn it from a "powder keg into a wine barrel."

Moore is widely known in Kosova chiefly because of his weekly RFE/RL radio interviews with Melazim Koci, who heads RFE/RL's Kosova subunit. The interviews began in August 2000. The two men also did a live television interview on the top-rated political program of Kosova's public television (RTK) on 4 November. During that visit, Moore and Koci met with Kosova's foremost human rights activist, Adem Demaci, as well as with Kosova's three most important political leaders: President Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), and Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 November and 19 December 2003). (RFE/RL)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Why is defending one's own people a war crime?" -- Caption on black-and-white posters of Radovan Karadzic that appeared on walls in Bijeljina during the night of 12-13 January. Cited by RFE/RL.

"Despite considerable Western aid and some progress, notably in economic reform, the bottom line is that Serbia is a political swamp. It remains a nationalist and quasi-Mafia state, the product of a failure by reform elements to clean house and by Western countries to face facts. The latter largely avoided putting conditions on their aid and coddled the democratic forces, repeatedly citing extenuating circumstances for their failure to deliver and turning a blind eye to their corruption." -- Morton Abramowitz in "The Washington Post" of 7 January.

"While we, the presidents, go from summit to summit, our people go from abyss to abyss. These summits are social gatherings -- we fly, we say hello, we share one or two meals, we sign a paper, we have a photo taken, and that is all." -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, quoted in "The New York Times" on 13 January.