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Balkan Report: June 18, 2004

18 June 2004, Volume 8, Number 21

UNCERTAINTY CLOUDS SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE. Serbia's runoff presidential election on 27 June seems set to involve much more than just filling a largely symbolic post. Issues on the table range from Serbia's relations with the West to the future of the government.

The final official results of the 13 June first round of voting show that Tomislav Nikolic of Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) won 30.6 percent of the vote among a field of 15 candidates, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. His opponent in the 27 June runoff will be reformist candidate Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party, who took 27.3 percent of the vote in an election widely seen as a barometer of Serbian political sentiment.

Making his political debut, business kingpin Bogoljub Karic received 18.2 percent of the ballots cast, while Dragan Marsicanin of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the governing coalition took 13.3 percent. Many observers consider Marsicanin's showing as disappointing as Karic's was impressive.

Under recent legislation, the ballot is valid even though the turnout was only 47.7 percent of all registered voters.

An unnamed European diplomat told Reuters in Belgrade on 14 June that Nikolic probably has peaked, but that "Tadic is a rising star" who might well win in the second round, picking up the majority of the votes from the defeated candidates.

But several observers have suggested that the low turnout for the first round demonstrates continuing widespread voter apathy, particularly among the young. Many analysts added that the impressive showing by Karic, who promised to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, indicates that poor voters in particular are concerned with economic issues and dissatisfied with the ability of the political establishment to improve the economy.

It is not clear whether Nikolic's showing reveals primarily the continuing popularity of nationalism or a deep general alienation from the governing parties. He is nonetheless expected to pick up some second round support from Karic voters disgusted with the political establishment.

In any event, London's "The Independent" reported on 14 June that "some fear a victory for Mr. Nikolic could have a catastrophic impact on Serbia's economy, driving away foreign investors and stalling desperately needed aid from Western financial institutions." Tadic noted that "the world is watching.... We cannot solve our problems without foreign help," the daily added. Meanwhile in Luxembourg, EU foreign ministers called on Serbian voters to "say no to the past" and back Tadic.

Referring to Nikolic, London's "The Times" observed on 14 June that "the man they call 'the gravedigger' looked as if he would start burying Serbia's hopes of European integration last night." The daily believes that "while the rest of Europe unites, much of Serbia continues to wallow in a Balkan vortex of nationalist pride, maudlin self-pity, and stubborn refusal to understand how the world has moved on since the collapse in October 2000" of the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Meanwhile, Serbian political leaders have begun preparing for the second round. Officials of the governing G-17 Plus political party said in Belgrade on 14 June that they will support Tadic. G-17 Plus leader and Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said after talks with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the DSS that it will be clear after the runoff whether the government will remain in power or call new elections.

Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic, who is deputy leader of G-17 Plus, said that a Nikolic victory "will push Serbia back into the 1990s" and frighten off the international financial institutions and foreign investors whose support Serbia needs, "The Independent" reported.

The governing Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and its leader Vuk Draskovic called on "all democratic forces" to back Tadic, the Belgrade daily "Danas" reported. Tadic, for his part, told RFE/RL that among his immediate tasks is to start "very constructive" talks with Karic.

But the big question mark is Kostunica, whose DSS is the largest party in the coalition. As of the morning of 16 June he had not made any endorsement, although he had met with both Nikolic and Tadic.

Kostunica's reasons for hesitating are not difficult to fathom, because none of the choices he faces is pleasant. It is highly unlikely that he would endorse any candidate from the SRS, but were he to back Nikolic, Kostunica would most probably face international isolation and the loss of his smaller coalition partners. Withholding any endorsement would widely be seen as a failure to join with other "reformers" against the SRS and hence be regarded as tantamount to an endorsement of Nikolic.

The main obstacle preventing Kostunica from joining Labus and Draskovic in endorsing Tadic is the bitter rivalry between the Democratic Party and the DSS. Political expediency may yet prompt Kostunica to swallow his pride and back Tadic, but this is not a foregone conclusion.

In any event, the second round could just be the start of Kostunica's troubles. Nikolic, Labus, and Marsicanin have all suggested that new general elections might or will be in order after the second round. In that case, the prime minister would find himself entering a campaign in the wake of Marsicanin's humiliating showing in the first round. Were the DSS also to finish a parliamentary election behind not only the SRS and the Democrats but also Karic as well, Kostunica's days as party leader might be numbered.

If Kostunica is able to avoid an early general election, he will be under strong pressure at home and abroad to bring the Democrats into the government, particularly if Tadic wins the presidency. The Democrats could then be expected to drive a much harder bargain than they did at the beginning of the year, when Kostunica opted instead for a minority government with the parliamentary support of Milosevic's Socialists.

By forming a broad-based coalition of parties largely untainted by association with the Milosevic regime, Kostunica would at least ensure for himself the good will of Serbia's foreign sources of economic and political support, who had hoped for a "reformist" coalition after the December 2003 elections. But there is also another possibility, namely that Kostunica will extract himself at some point from a no-win situation by resigning. This would enable him to build up his strength from the political sidelines while others are left with the thankless task of governing an impoverished, crime-ridden country that lags well behind most of its neighbors in Euro-Atlantic integration. Quitting might seem out of character for Kostunica, but rumors of his resignation were so widespread in Belgrade on 15 June that the government felt compelled to issue a press release denying them. (Patrick Moore)

WHY SHOULD YOU JOIN A POLITICAL PARTY IN MACEDONIA? In an article published in the Skopje daily "Vreme" on 2 June, Ivan Blazevski uttered a truth that many Macedonian citizens have long known -- that the motivation for many, if not most, people to join political parties is neither the party program nor the party leaders, but rather more mundane matters.

In some western societies such as Germany, government officials often owe their careers to their involvement in political parties. However, in a society so deeply affected by an ongoing economic crisis and widespread unemployment as Macedonia's, party membership is often the only way to get any job at all.

As an example, Blazevski presented a 43-year-old man from Kumanovo in northern Macedonia who recently decided to join a party. "The ideology of my party does not matter at all to me, what matters is to have a job," "Vreme" quoted the prospective party member, who lost his last job two years ago, as saying.

According to some studies, as few as 20 percent of all political party members joined for ideological reasons. This is apparently facilitated by the fact that the parties' political agendas often have little in common with the dire realities of everyday political life.

An instructor at Skopje University's Law School, Tanja Karakamiseva, told "Vreme" that it seems to be much easier to identify oneself with a certain ideology than to put that ideology into practice by involving oneself in politics. Karakamiseva believes that neither the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) nor the opposition VMRO-DPMNE follows its own program, in defense of which practice the VMRO cites unspecified "national interests."

Challenging the SDSM's claim that it is a "civic," or not ethnically or religiously based party, and the VMRO-DPMNE's statute, according to which it is a "national" party, the unemployed man from Kumanovo asked: "What kind of civic and national parties? The only ideology in the parties is money. You cannot live on ideology!"

Etem Aziri, an ethnic Albanian professor at Skopje's Institute for Social, Legal, and Political Studies, shares the view that there is a big difference between what the parties say they are and what they actually do. But he also points to an interesting finding of his studies. Members of the large ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about one-quarter of the population, apparently still join political parties for ideological reasons rather than material ones. Aziri added that this is due to the fact that the Albanians still feel unequal compared to the ethnic Macedonian majority.

In the Macedonian case, it is easy to see why parties are perceived as guarantors of employment. Following every change of government, members of the ruling party (or parties, if a coalition wins the elections), are granted positions in the state administration and state-run enterprises (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 May 2001 and 22 November 2002). In return, those officials who achieved their positions through party membership under a previous government might lose their jobs.

As for the ideology gap in politics, this is not a problem unique to Macedonia. Many other democracies show similar developments: voters lose their interest in politics and stay home on election day, partly because the parties seem unable to formulate alternatives and appear indistinguishable from each other.

And as in many other cases, the Macedonian media certainly contributed their share to the lack of serious political discourse. There were calls for the appointment of a "weather minister" to force the highly politicized media to report about the torrential rains that led to floods in large parts of the country, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 9 June.

Another problem is the ubiquitous conspiracy theories. A fine example of how such theories work was provided in the June issue of the monthly "Forum" by Vladimir Jovanovski. Summing up the events following the April presidential elections, Jovanovski said the lifting of the immunity of former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski in connection with the slaying of seven immigrants in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004) and other startling announcements by newly appointed Prime Minister Hari Kostov served to cover up bigger things.

According to this theory, Kostov (together with newly elected President Branko Crvenkovski) did not simply want to deflect attention from the alleged irregularities that occurred during the presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April and 21 May 2004). Nor did the turmoil serve to conceal only the "fact" that the new government has gained full control of all financial institutions in the country when it appointed former Finance Minister Petar Gosev as the National Bank's new governor. No, the flood of breaking news was allegedly also aimed at hiding the fact that Kostov is the first Macedonian prime minister since 1953 who is not an ethnic Macedonian. Kostov, who himself never said much about his ethnic background, is a member of the well-integrated Vlach minority. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

BOSNIAN TOURISM, ANYONE? Bosnia-Herzegovina has launched a bid to improve its tattered image and try to attract foreign tourists. It hopes to mirror the success of neighboring Croatia, but Bosnia's pitch is hardly aimed at the beachcombing set. Instead, it is seeking adventurers who want to experience its exotic mix of cultures and natural beauty -- and who are perhaps unfazed by the notion of a few stray landmines.

For most people, the words "Bosnia-Herzegovina" conjure up a clear mental picture. And it's not a positive one.

The Bosnian wars that destroyed the former Yugoslavia may have ended in 1995. Yet weeping in Sarajevo's outdoor market -- whose bombing in 1994 killed 64 people -- is just one of many brutal images that persist of a conflict in which more than 200,000 people perished.

But Bosnian and United Nations officials in Sarajevo, the country's still charming and culturally diverse capital, have launched a new campaign to change that image.

Recently, Bosnian officials together with Paddy Ashdown, the UN high representative to Bosnia, toured major capitals in Europe to kick off a public relations campaign aimed at persuading tourists there's more to see in the former Yugoslavia than the islands of Croatia.

Kerry Sullivan, a spokesman for Ashdown, spoke to RFE/RL from Sarajevo: "We know very well that although Bosnia-Herzegovina has moved on decisively from the tragedy of the early 1990s, many people in Europe still view the country through the prism of old newsreel footage of the war," Sullivan said. "And in fact, the reality is very, very different. So the basic object of this tour was to get people in other parts of Europe to think of Bosnia-Herzegovina differently."

The U.S. State Department would appear to disagree. It recently renewed a travel warning to Bosnia, saying that occasional political violence, some 500,000 land mines, and unexploded ordnance remain a risk to visitors. It also cited a rise in crime in Sarajevo and other cities.

But all that is exaggerated, according to Mirza Hajric, the head of an agency working to attract foreign investors to Bosnia. For Hajric, Bosnia should be thought of as an exciting place -- rich in natural beauty and cultural diversity that together spell one word: "Balkan."

Hajric's agency is working to repair the tourism infrastructure that was damaged during the war. This includes hotels and ski lifts in the Bjelasnica-Igman Mountains, which hosted several competitions during the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Hajric said despite the need for repairs, there's plenty of great skiing to be had in Bosnia.

"Coming for one week to Sarajevo, which is [a half-hour] drive to any of the three Olympic mountains, sounds like good fun because you can, in the evening, enjoy the life of [large] European capital. And then, [the next day], half-an-hour drive from there, you can have wonderful skiing on really exciting terrain," Haric said.

Terrain, in fact, is a big part of Bosnia's marketing pitch. Which is ironic, considering that the country is unlikely to be considered fully land-mine-safe until sometime next year, according to the UN.

Hajric said Bosnia realizes it won't attract the kind of tourists that to head to the beaches of neighboring Croatia, which now earns up to $9 billion a year from tourism following a long lull after the wars. Instead, Hajric said Bosnia has a twofold strategy, aimed at both bringing back tourists who visited before the wars and attracting a younger generation of adventurers keen on discovering a still-mysterious land. He said Bosnia is perfect for activities like mountain biking, trekking, and paragliding.

The UN's Sullivan added that Bosnia's mix of Eastern and Western cultures is unique in Europe, and a major reason for a visit. "For hundreds of years, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been a model for the rest of Europe in living together in harmony. And their culture reflects that, where you have one of the great fault lines in European civilization and history, both in terms of music and literature. And also in terms of cuisine and day-to-day culture," Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, one of the country's oldest attractions, the bridge at Mostar, has finally been rebuilt after being destroyed in the war. Completed in 1566, the bridge linked the city's Croatian and Muslim districts for 400 years before being felled by tank rounds in 1993. The bridge is set to officially reopen in July in a ceremony to be attended by heads of state from 50 nations. Hajric hopes the bridge will not only attract visitors, but also become a symbol of peace and reconciliation.

To be sure, Bosnia's image makeover won't happen overnight. But Hajric said once visitors get a taste of Bosnia -- whether in the mountain villages or the cafes of Sarajevo -- they're bound to start coming back. (Jeffrey Donovan)

VISITING BOSNIA: SOME VOICES FROM THE PAST. Bosnian tourism has long exerted a certain fascination for many writers, probably more because of its potential rather than because of the actual state of affairs.

When the Croatian tourist industry took off in the 1960s, some Bosnians grumbled that the assassination of Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 had given Sarajevo an enduring bad reputation, frightening off the tourists. At the time of the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, one jittery Bosnian security official told reporters: "One more well-publicized political assassination in this town and there goes tourism for another 50 years."

Such remarks sound quaint or tragic today. It might nonetheless be interesting to quote some earlier tourist literature on Bosnia.

Herbert Taub's "Fuehrer durch das Koenigreich der Serben, Kroaten, und Slowenen" ("Guide to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes") was published by the Volkswirtschaftlicher Verlag in Zurich in 1928. He exudes optimism for "the beautiful landscapes of the area, in which Orient and Occident extend a hand to each other." And more: "In the near future, Bosnia and Herzegovina will become ideal tourist destinations. Probably nowhere else is so rich in natural beauty...and in such variety. In addition, there is the interesting ethnographic makeup."

Taub goes on to describe travel conditions that will perhaps raise smiles from those who knew Bosnia even before the recent conflict. "The traveler now finds all necessary comforts on the main routes, and even away from these, good food and accommodations [can be had], even if [higher standards of] comfort are replaced by the legendary Slavic hospitality."

A more recent guidebook is Gojko Jokic's "Bosnia-Herzegovina, A Tourist Guide," published by Turisticka stampa in Belgrade in 1969. Jokic notes presciently that " she was never completely conquered, Bosnia-Herzegovina has not yet been completely discovered.... This country has her bitter truths buried in her bare rocks, under her shady centennial woods. But she has always believed in life.... Here one finds that eternal, that limitless stubbornness which has always been triumphant."

He goes on to note that "this country...has absorbed all those contrasts of the East, that oriental part of the world, and reconciled them with whatever came from the West. Thus these contrasts exist together in [Bosnia's] expanses and times.... It is not perchance that the pages of this guidebook speak mostly of the old area of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina of today is like an open book standing before every visitor who comes to see her. One only has to travel and convince oneself of her openheartedness, her hospitality, good roads, and modern hotels. Welcome to Bosnia-Herzegovina!"

But some of Jokic's purely touristic descriptions have an eerie quality for today's reader with the hindsight of the 1992-95 conflict. These passages are from his entry for Srebrenica: "The first records about this place date as far back as 1376, although it was known as an important silver and lead mine under the name of Domavia as early as Roman times.... Because of the mine, Srebrenica was the target of many armies. According to some historical records, the place was captured five times by the Serbian army, four times by Bosnian noblemen, three times by the Turks, and once by Austria-Hungary.... In the surroundings of Srebrenica there are several [mineral] springs, the Crni Guber being the most popular of all."

And then there is the entry for Pale: "The place of Pale is a health resort situated between the Romanija and Jahorina Mountains, 820 meters above sea level. The people of Sarajevo find it a very attractive excursion place."

But some observations remain timeless, such as this one about Sarajevo: "After lunch in one of the restaurants preparing Bosnian delicacies, it is best to go and visit the old quarters of Sarajevo, situated above the Old Market Place [Bascarsija].... [These neighborhoods] have preserved all the vividness of the old oriental quarters. The end of the day you should spend on one of the many coffeehouse terraces, having a sip of Bosnian brandy." (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I want to make friends in the world for Serbia, not enemies." -- Serbian Radical Party candidate for the Serbian presidency Tomislav Nikolic, casting his ballot on 13 June. Quoted by Reuters.

"Those whom I can convince have already been convinced in this round. I think that will be enough to score the victory in the second round as well. I have to keep my voters, and there is no reason I shouldn't, while those who based their voting body on hatred towards me will not be able to continue doing so because I wish for a completely new Serbia, a Serbia without conflicts." -- Nikolic, quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 14 June.

"I think that the [potential] of [the pro-reform] group of voters is extremely strong and that the chance of my victory in the second round is very high." -- Serbian reformist presidential candidate Boris Tadic, in ibid.

"Germany and France are going hand in hand on this European way, this European road.... Germany and France share the same vision of the Europe of tomorrow. We want to create a Europe that is more balanced and stronger and able to make decisions." -- French President Jacques Chirac, following his meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Aachen on 14 June. Quoted by "The Irish Times."

"France has an ambitious vision of this agency's role." -- French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier at a news conference in Luxembourg, referring to the new European Defense Agency. Quoted by Reuters on 14 June.