2 July 2004, Volume 8, Number 23
TADIC WINS THE SERBIAN PRESIDENCY. A minority of Serbia's registered voters has given a slight victory to the presidential candidate favoring European integration over his ultranationalist opponent. It is perhaps too early to tell what long-term effect the vote will have on Serbian politics, if any.
Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party won the second round of the Serbian presidential elections on 27 June with 53.61 percent of the vote against 45.03 percent for Tomislav Nikolic of the the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), with a turnout of 48.5 percent, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported, citing unofficial returns (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 June 2004).
In central Serbia, Tadic won 52 percent to 46 percent, in Vojvodina 55 percent to 42 percent, and in Belgrade 59 percent to 39 percent. Nikolic won among the Serbs of Kosova with 70 percent to 29 percent. The Serbian presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but the vote was widely seen as a barometer of the political mood.
The ultranationalist Nikolic conceded defeat, pointing out, however, that he received more votes than his party did in the December parliamentary vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). He attributed Tadic's victory to votes from ethnic minorities, but it is not clear how he arrived at that conclusion. Repeating one of the Radicals' main campaign themes, Nikolic called for new general elections, which he pledged to win.
Tadic, who had the backing of the other major first-round candidates and of the EU, said that the election proves which "road Serbia wants to take.... Serbia wants to join the EU." He stressed that "these elections are very important in terms of new political values in Serbia. I'm a pro-European candidate, which means that I'm for new political values here." Nikolic had criticized Tadic's support from Brussels, saying that voters should pick someone with his base in Serbia, "not those who wander around the world."
Three points probably stand out regarding this election. First, caution is perhaps in order in drawing long-term political conclusions from the vote. After all, many observers displayed starry-eyed optimism about Serbia having "turned a corner" following the October 2000 fall of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But after the 28 March 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, it became clear how deeply the rot of the Milosevic era had penetrated Serbian institutions and society.
Second, this complex state of affairs will not be reversed with one election with a 48.5 percent turnout and a 45 percent vote for the SRS (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). Indeed, the most important statistic to emerge from this election might be not that nearly 54 percent of those casting their ballots voted for Tadic but that 51.5 percent of all registered voters stayed home. And Nikolic may not have been just boasting when he said that the Radicals can look forward to the general elections with optimism.
Third, the low turnout coupled with the high vote for Nikolic -- whose candidacy appealed to protest voters as well as to nationalists -- suggests that when evaluating Tadic's victory, it might be premature to suggest that "new political values" have triumphed. What seems clear is that apathy and discontent regarding a society marked by poverty, crime, and corruption remain deeply rooted among ordinary Serbs.
In other words, by choosing Tadic, many voters might not have been motivated so much by lofty "European values," but by a desire to improve their lot. Many might have sought to return Serbia to international respectability, obtain for it a seat at Euro-Atlantic decision-making tables, and, perhaps above all, receive an influx of funding and assistance. For many former Yugoslavs, the mention of "Europe" recalls the 1960s and 1970s, when the country grew prosperous through Western investments, tourist revenues, and remittances from relatives working abroad, especially in what was then West Germany. For Serbs especially, the contrast between the pleasant memories of those days and the grim realities of the present remains striking, not to say haunting.
In any event, the 27 June presidential runoff election will have some direct implications for Serbian politics, which will make themselves felt in the days and weeks ahead.
The most important is that Tadic's victory will most likely strengthen the hand of the opposition Democratic Party. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) heads a minority government with the parliamentary support of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).
Pressure is likely to build from inside Serbia and abroad for Kostunica to drop the SPS and cut a deal with the Democrats, who are his bitter rivals. It remains to be seen whether Kostunica and the Democrats will be any more successful in coming to a mutually agreeable arrangement than they were in January, despite much foreign pressure to do so.
There is also the matter of new elections. Kostunica's position has long been that Serbia needs a new constitution and new elections, but he might have lost some of his enthusiasm for the latter following the poor fourth-place showing by the DSS candidate, Dragan Marsicanin, in the 13 June first round of the presidential vote.
Conversely, the Democrats might now be eager for an early vote, which they tended to dismiss in the past. It is not clear, however, whether the results of the presidential vote will be mirrored in a general election, when voters might pay more attention to parties and their programs than to charismatic leaders.
For their part, Nikolic and the Radicals, who make up the largest single faction in the parliament, can be expected to press their demand for new elections. He told his supporters that their motto should be: "Radicals, heads high!"
In short, the Serbian presidential vote might have revealed little about long-term trends in Serbian politics except to show that political apathy and social and economic discontent remain significant. The vote nonetheless made it clear that a new chapter has begun in jockeying for coalition alliances and preparing for new elections. And as Tadic told his supporters, "Big difficulties await Serbia." (Patrick Moore)
MACEDONIAN DECENTRALIZATION TALKS DEADLOCKED. When new Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov took office recently, he said that one of his government's focuses will be on the plans to decentralize the state administration and to substantially reduce the number of administrative districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June 2004). It was hoped that parliament would pass the necessary legislation before its summer break.
However, talks between the major coalition partners -- the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- on the ambitious plans are deadlocked over a number of issues. At the same time, the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the Union of Local Self-Government Units (ZELS), as well as some legal experts complain that the talks on the redistricting plans lack transparency, warning that the decentralization efforts might fail altogether.
The government's plans envision a reduction of the number of administrative districts (opstini) from 123 to about 60. This would require that some districts merge with neighboring ones. With the decentralization of the state administration, the districts will be granted greater powers to plan their finances, health care, and educational institutions (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003).
As could be expected, not everyone was happy with the proposal. In December, a first round of talks on the new administrative borders failed. As a consequence, many districts decided to hold referendums on the redistricting plans, citing the 1985 European Charter of Local Self-Government.
Initially, the government refused to acknowledge the referendum results as binding. But in February, Minister for Local Self-Government Aleksandar Gestakovski announced that the government will take the results into account (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003, 7 and 8 January and 12 February 2004). As of June, some 40 referendums have been held, including one in Skopje.
Initially, the protests against the redistricting plans focused on legal, administrative, and financial issues rather than on the districts' ethnic composition. But now, the talks among the coalition partners are apparently deadlocked over the new administrative borders of districts with an ethnically mixed population.
The BDI demands that the borders of the districts Struga and Kicevo be redrawn so that ethnic Albanians make up more than 20 percent of the population. If this happens, both districts must introduce Albanian as the second official language in addition to Macedonian. This is because the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement specifies that if an ethnic group makes up at least 20 percent of the population in a given administrative unit, its language must become an official one.
The same problem seems to be holding up a solution in Skopje, which is divided into several municipalities. The BDI wants to redraw the municipalities' borders so that one or two of them must introduce Albanian as an official language -- with far-reaching (and expensive) consequences, because all communication between citizens and the administration as well as within the administration itself would have be to bilingual.
The discussion about the new districts in Skopje shows, moreover, that not only language but also national symbols and landmarks are involved. Thus any new Albanian district in northern Skopje would not include the church of Sveti Spas, where the remains of Goce Delcev, a Macedonian national hero, are buried.
The shift from administrative, legal, or financial issues to ethnic and national issues in the talks about decentralization makes it more difficult to find a lasting solution, Gordana Siljanovska -- a law professor at Skopje University -- told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 20 June. "When you talk about things like language, names, [or] symbols, then you are talking about things charged with passion," Siljanovska said, adding, "It is difficult to reach any agreement about things that involve emotions."
But Siljanovska also complained that the talks among politicians on decentralization are taking place behind closed doors, thereby excluding the people who will be directly affected. For Siljanovska, such closed talks delegitimize the government and the administrative reform as a whole.
The opposition VMRO-DPMNE, for its part, charges that the government is only "staging" the talks to avoid a lengthy (and public) discussion in parliament, and demands that all parties be included in the talks on the territorial reorganizations.
The mayors of Kicevo and Struga, for their part, have announced that they will not accept any changes to the borders of their districts. And the ZELS demanded that independent specialists as well as representatives of the local administrations be heard in the talks, warning that any solution drawn up by the governing parties alone could create instability in the country.
Given the complexity of the reform and its importance for the future of Macedonia, any quick solution without public support and against the will of the citizens could become a Pyrrhic victory for the government. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, email@example.com)
29 YEARS LATER: SERBIAN MAN HELPS REVEAL TRUTH BEHIND 'MISSING BABIES.' Stories about babies disappearing from delivery rooms under suspicious circumstances have been in the news for many decades in Serbia. More than 3,000 parents have said they do not believe medical reports officially listing those babies as being stillborn. They have persistently claimed their babies were stolen and sold on the black market to married couples without children.
Now, the truth is finally being revealed. Correspondent Branko Vuckovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reports. (This story was a finalist for RFE/RL's Division of Broadcasting Innovation & Excellence Award for reporting on social issues. It was originally broadcast on 27 February 2004.)
Milan Petrovic disappeared from a hospital delivery room 29 years ago.
"I was born on July 16, 1975, in Vrsac," he says. "I was an abandoned child, ending up in the center for abandoned children in Belgrade. From that moment on, I could not be traced. While my father was in the army, my mother got a telegram saying that I had died from pneumonia. I am officially among the living people from 25th of July 1979, when Gospava and Milorad Vasic from Budisava adopted me. At that time, I was baptized and got my social-security number. Then Gospava and Milorad got divorced. One year later, Gospava died, and I moved to Novi Sad, where I was living with Gospava's cousin. After that, I moved to Futog, where I was living with Milorad and his second wife. At that time, Milorad confessed that he was not my father; nor was Gospava my mother. Then I was returned to the home for abandoned children and stayed there for a while. Later I was sent to Irig and stayed with two different families there. After that, Perisa and Gorgina Petrovic from Kragujevac took me for good."
Milan considers himself very lucky to have landed with the Petrovic family. Finally, he had the opportunity to live a normal life like other children.
"I finished elementary school and high school and the two-year school for engineers in Kragujevac," he says. "In Veliko Krcmarevo, where I served in the army during the war, I met my wife, Zorica. We have two children, Stefan and Milica. We don't have a lot of money, but we are satisfied."
Milan describes how he finally managed to find his biological mother, Bosiljka Groza, and his biological sisters: "First, I met my sisters, Maja and Dijana. I was crying because I was so happy, knowing that I am not alone anymore, that I have two sisters. Two days later, we went to Vrsac, to our family home, and then I finally met my birth mother. Again, I was shocked, crying, and happy at the same time, not believing that I had just met my real family."
Milan's birth mother, Bosiljka Groza, is still recovering from the shock of meeting her son, after 29 years of not knowing where he was -- or even whether he was alive. "We talked about him all the time, and he lived in our hearts," she recounts. "I would always light a candle for him when I was going to the church."
Bosiljka remembers very well giving birth to Milan and what happened afterward: "I had to have a Caesarean section, so Milan was born two months early. He was a very big baby, and I saw him afterward. Then they moved him to Belgrade, to my surprise. I was in hospital for 13 days because of the C-section. Everything seemed suspicious to me, as if I had had some big operation, although it was only a C-section. Then they sent the telegram saying that my baby had died."
Bosiljka had doubts about what the doctors had told her regarding her child. She says it took a long time to convince her husband to believe it, too.
"My husband was in the army, and when he got out, I told him that I didn't believe in their version of the story at all," Bosiljka says. "He is an honest man, so he couldn't believe that somebody would steal a child, but I thought completely differently. And I still do. I will never forgive the doctors or the state for what they did to my son and me." Meeting his mother and sisters was a great shock for Milan, as it was for his adopted mother, who took him in when he was only 10.
"That was a great shock for me. It's as if somebody close to me just died. I was crying," Bosiljka says. "His sisters were also crying, and hugging the children and Milan's wife and me, too. I got sick then, and I still can't recover from it. Milan lived with us for almost 20 years! He went to school here, served in the army, celebrated his birthdays with us. He got married here, and I was the one who prepared the wedding. Then his children were born, and I was helping his wife all the time. I lived through all this and gave him everything I could, except I didn't give birth to him."
Everything affected Milan very deeply, so now his feelings are mixed.
"I feel somehow frustrated," he says. "DNA tests showed that the Grozas are, indeed, my parents, but I am still waiting for it to be confirmed by the authorities so they can give me back my real identity."
Milan Petrovic has now two families, and he cares for both of them equally. It will stay like this in the future, and he hopes that other children will never have to go through what he did: "No matter that I found my birth mother and sisters, I will not let Gorgina be set aside! We lived as a family for 20 years, and she raised me. From now on, we will all be one big family without any separation."
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "My hope is that Serbia will never again be led by a man who will spearhead the killing of our countrymen." -- Serbian President-elect Boris Tadic. Quoted by the "International Herald Tribune" from Belgrade on 29 June.
The Serbian presidential election offered a choice between "joining the European family or Belarus." -- EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, quoted by Reuters on 24 June
"The situation in the Balkans is far from normal, especially in Kosovo." -- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov, at a Moscow news conference on 25 June. Quoted by Interfax.
"He not only went too far, but he has gone into a domain which is not his own. He has nothing to say on this subject. It is as if I were to tell the United States how it should conduct its relations with Mexico." -- French President Jacques Chirac in Istanbul, on President George W. Bush's appeal to the EU in support of Turkish membership. Quoted in the "Financial Times" of 29 June.
"All those who think they have a reason to deny Turkey [EU] membership will have to rethink this, they'll really have to rethink this.... [The NATO summit] showed a modern, self-confident Turkey which is not in the least arrogant. They are on a good path which one could not have imagined even a few years ago." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at the close of the Istanbul NATO summit on 29 June. Quoted by dpa.