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Balkan Report: October 22, 2004

22 October 2004, Volume 8, Number 39

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: THE DAYTON DEBATE REVISITED. Many people inside and outside Bosnia believe that the 1995 Dayton peace agreement has outlived its usefulness. There is, however, no consensus on what to put in its place, or on whether fundamental changes in Bosnia would have a negative impact on the rest of the Balkans.

The Dayton agreement unquestionably served its immediate purpose of ending the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina and preventing a resumption of hostilities. In the past few years, however, a debate has ensued both in Bosnia and abroad over the allegedly dysfunctional nature of the constitutional system set down in the treaty.

It provided for a loose central authority over two separate "entities," the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska. The federation is further divided into 10 cantons, which are more or less ethnically based. In addition to the two entities there is the internationally run district of Brcko, which was the one part of Bosnia that proved impossible for all concerned to agree on at the Dayton conference or even later.

Throughout Bosnia, political power at most all levels is carefully divided according to ethnic criteria. This nationally oriented approach is reinforced by the fact that most elected officials, at least since the 2002 general elections, come primarily, if not exclusively, from the three main nationalist parties. They are the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which was long linked to the name of the late President Alija Izetbegovic; the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), which was formerly headed by wartime leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic; and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which was an offshoot of the Croatian party of the same name, particularly until the death of President Franjo Tudjman in late 1999.

On top of this complex structure is the international community's unelected high representative, who has the right to legislate and remove elected officials at will without any right of appeal. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has a staff of several hundred local people and foreigners.

This elaborate system was obviously the result of tough negotiations that led to the end of the war. Since the return of peace, however, many critics say that the Dayton system is not only unique and a bit weird but also counterproductive. But there the broad agreement among the critics ends.

There are four basic models under discussion to replace Dayton, the differences between them depending on what one considers to be the root of the problem. The first model calls for strengthening the OHR on the grounds that this is the only way to effect change and break the power of the nationalists. Advocates of this approach tend to be among those forces inside and outside Bosnia strongly opposed to the nationalists. Those opposed to this model argue that it is inherently contradictory, seeking to impose democratic and European values by fiat and a colonialist administration.

The second model seeks to remedy such problems by first reducing and then eliminating the role of the OHR. Its proponents can be found primarily among the established politicians in Bosnia and some foreign NGOs. The problem with this approach is that it effectively acknowledges that power will rest with the elected nationalists, who will then be left to police themselves and clean up the crime and corruption in their own midst. It is true that precommunist Bosnian political parties tended to be ethnically based and that voters even then cast their ballots along ethnic lines. But the problem now is that many of the people entrenched in the nationalist power structures are responsible for ethnic cleansing, theft, and worse during the 1992-95 war.

The third model calls for scrapping the Dayton system and calling a new constitutional convention to map a fresh start. The difficulty here is that, like the second model, it will most likely leave power in the hands of the nationalists, assuming that they are able to agree among themselves on a new constitutional system.

But that is unlikely because their respective agendas are largely mutually exclusive. The SDA wants a strong central authority and Muslim dominance within the federation. The HDZ, for its part, would like to see the federation replaced with a Croat entity on equal footing with a Muslim entity and the Republika Srpska. The HDZ seeks to keep the central authority weak, as does the SDS. In fact, the SDS regards any attempt to limit the role of the Republika Srpska in favor of the central government as unacceptable. After all, the reason Bosnian Serb leaders accepted Dayton in the first place is that it enabled them to tell their followers that the agreement gave them a "sovereign" Republika Srpska.

All these views stand, moreover, in contrast to those of the minority nonnationalists, who tend to prefer replacing the current ethnically based system with a purely civic one.

A fourth model advocates the still more radical approach of partitioning Bosnia along ethnic lines on the grounds that Bosnia is unlikely to ever be a truly multiethnic society again in the foreseeable future. Some proponents of this model argue that there will, in fact, eventually be a partition, and that it is best for all concerned to get the matter over with sooner rather than later.

But critics say that partition would only solidify the results of ethnic cleansing and trigger a chain reaction elsewhere in the western Balkans toward ethnically based states, undermining in particular the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement in Macedonia. In Bosnia, the Muslims, as so often before, would find themselves the odd ones out, with some favoring gravitating toward Belgrade, others toward Zagreb. There would be concerns in Washington and elsewhere that unsavory Middle Eastern elements might turn a rump Muslim state into their beachhead in Europe.

It thus seems that there are at least a few flaws in each of the models posed as an alternative to Dayton. This has prompted some observers to suggest that it is perhaps best to stick to Dayton, warts and all, until a better system can be devised. But that might be more easily said than done.

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service recently broadcast a program in which it discussed possible revisions of Dayton and their likely impacts on the region.

The program quoted Sulejman Tihic (SDA), who is the Muslim member and chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as saying that he hopes for serious talks about revising Dayton as soon as 2005.

But Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic (SDS), Serbian President Boris Tadic, and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica all stressed their support for Dayton, warning that tampering with it could undermine regional stability. Some participants from Serbia and Kosova told RFE/RL that any constitutional changes in Bosnia could lead to calls for frontier or constitutional changes in Kosova, Montenegro, or elsewhere, perhaps with unpredictable consequences, including renewed violence.

Professor Rusmir Mahmutcehajic of Sarajevo denied that reform in Bosnia would trigger any regional "domino effect." He defended the position of many Bosnian nonnationalists by saying that time has come to stop thinking in ethnic terms and start thinking about the good of Bosnia as a whole. The present political situation, Mahmutcehajic argued, is the result of the war and must be changed.

He warned, however, that both Serbia and Croatia might not want to leave Bosnians of all ethnic groups in peace to manage their own affairs by themselves. But Mahmutcehajic suggested that Serbia and Croatia would best serve the interests of their own societies and the region by helping Bosnia to rebuild and to heal, much as "Germany has an obligation to work actively on behalf of the Jews, Israel, and others" it wronged in the 20th century. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S VOTERS LOOK SET TO SCRAP REDISTRICTING PLANS. Two recent Macedonian opinion polls indicate that a majority of voters will not only participate in the 7 November referendum on the controversial new Law on Territorial Organization but will also vote against the law. This would be a major blow to the government of Prime Minister Hari Kostov, who has repeatedly said he will resign if the referendum succeeds -- that is, if a majority of all registered voters participate and if more than 50 percent of those participating vote against the Law on Territorial Organization (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 July and 4 and 8 October 2004).

The first of the two opinion polls was commissioned by the government and carried out among 1,600 respondents by the Institute for Social, Political, and Legal Studies (ISPPI) between 18 and 25 September. In the second survey, the polling agency BRIMA-Gallup asked 1,000 people about their opinion on the referendum on 13-14 October.

According to the ISPPI poll, 53.4 percent of the respondents will cast their ballots in the referendum. This figure breaks down into 43.5 percent of all people (or 81 percent of those who plan to vote) who say they will vote against the new Law on Territorial Organization, while the remaining 9.9 percent said they will vote for it. In addition, 23.6 percent of all respondents said they will not participate in the referendum, while a further 23 percent said they are undecided whether to vote or not.

The BRIMA-Gallup poll suggested that the number of those willing to participate in the referendum is growing. Sixty-three percent of the respondents said they will vote, while the share of nonvoters also grew slightly to almost 27 percent. Correspondingly, the number of undecided voters decreased to about 10 percent. Of those willing to participate, a solid majority of more than 74 percent said they will vote against the redistricting plans, while just under 10 percent will vote for them.

As might be expected, both polls show that the referendum is supported mainly by ethnic Macedonians, while most ethnic Albanians oppose it. The BRIMA-Gallup polls shows that 85 percent of those willing to vote against the redistricting plans are Macedonians, while only 3 percent are Albanians and 12 percent are members of other nationalities such as Turks, Bosnian Muslims, Roma, or Serbs.

According to the ISPPI study, Macedonian opponents of the government's redistricting plans are not limited to backers of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, which is one of the organizers of the referendum. What must worry the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is the fact that a large share of their own followers also oppose the Law on Territorial Organization. At the same time, a majority of followers of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), as well as of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), support the government's redistricting plans.

The BRIMA-Gallup pollsters also asked the respondents what they believe to be the possible consequences of the referendum. Again, the results show different perceptions among Albanians and Macedonians. Whereas almost 60 percent of the Macedonian respondents said a successful referendum will positively influence the political situation, only 7 percent of the Albanians shared this view. Conversely, more than 60 percent of the Albanians, but only 15.4 percent of the Macedonians feared negative consequences if the measure wins.

Since representatives of the international community constantly warn of possible negative consequences for Macedonia's ambitions to join the EU and NATO if the referendum succeeds, it was interesting to see that over 55 percent of the respondents in the BRIMA-Gallup study regard such warnings as interference in Macedonia's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 September and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September 2004).

At the same time, a slight majority of 30 percent believes that Macedonia's international ambitions will suffer a setback if the new Law on Territorial Organization is rejected with the referendum. Twenty-seven percent of respondents, however, feel that the rejection will boost these ambitions, and 21 percent feel that the referendum will not have any impact on Macedonia's plans for NATO and EU membership.

It seems Hari Kostov's days as prime minister are numbered if the trends suggested by the pollsters do not change by 7 November. But it is unclear what the consequences of Kostov's resignation might be, if he indeed steps down. Perhaps all that would happen is that the governing coalition would pick a new prime minister. But even if early elections are called, it is unlikely that the deeply divided opposition could defeat the governing coalition (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

THE DEMISE OF TURKISH COFFEE? (This is a reissue of a "RFE/RL Newsline" End Note that originally appeared on 1 April 1998.)

Turkish coffee, once an integral part of daily life throughout the former Ottoman Empire, is rapidly disappearing from many tables across the region. The arrival of Italian espresso machines in recent years has begun to transform a key element of popular culture in countries ranging from the former Yugoslavia to the republics of the Transcaucasus.

One of the great culinary joys of visiting the Balkans for many foreign travelers has long been -- together with grilled and roasted meats, baked peppers, and salty sheep's cheese -- the once ubiquitous Turkish coffee. The drink is made by placing fine, powdered coffee into a brass or copper pot called a "dzezva" in Serbo-Croatian. Boiling water is added, and the mixture is boiled up. The technique is to allow the brew to boil, sink back down, and then boil again repeatedly. The product, which some say should take at least 15 minutes to prepare, is then poured from the dzezva into small round cups without handles, known in Serbo-Croat as "fildzani." It is served with a glass of water to offset the sweetness of the drink and to wash down the inevitable coffee grounds.

In Bosnia, some say there is an ethnic dimension to preparing the coffee. Serbs, like Albanians and Greeks, mix sugar into the ground coffee and cook the sugar as part of the brew. Croats prefer to add sugar at the table, as is the custom in drinking all kinds of coffee in Central Europe. Muslims, for their part, generally sip the coffee with a piece of Turkish delight, or "lokum," placed in their mouths.

However it is prepared, Turkish coffee has a social dimension that is unmistakably linked to the traditional, unhurried pace of life throughout the former Ottoman Empire. Serbs sometimes joke that the standard student breakfast consists of Turkish coffee, two cigarettes, and a copy of the thick Belgrade daily "Politika." Business throughout the Balkans is done and social ties cultivated over slowly sipped cups of the thick liquid that a Western writer once described as "black as night and sweet as sin."

All this, however, seems to be changing. Already in the 1970s, more expensive hotels and coffee shops in Croatia and Slovenia began phasing out Turkish coffee in favor of Italian espresso. The bulwark of traditional coffee culture in much of the former Yugoslavia remained the local coffee house, in which men in dark berets would sit amid clouds of smoke under the watchful gaze of a black-and-white photograph of Marshal Josip Broz Tito.

But such coffee houses are rapidly disappearing in favor of chic, modern establishments with Western-type furnishings. There are two reasons for the change. First, once a cafe owner has made the basic investment of buying an espresso machine, he or she faces a far less labor-intensive operation in serving up Italian coffee all day long than is the case in preparing its Turkish counterpart. Second, many people in the region -- especially those who are young and/or wish to project the image of being cosmopolitan or upwardly mobile -- regard drinking espresso as stylish and modern. Such people also regard sipping Turkish coffee as something for old men sitting under the Tito picture.

Consequently, throughout much of the Balkans, one must now go to a large restaurant, traditional coffee house, or private home to find a dzezva full of the steaming, potent black brew. One cafe owner in the Albanian town of Kruja tries to steer a middle path between coffee cultures by shooting boiling water from an Italian machine into each waiting dzezva and then continuing the Turkish coffee-brewing procedure in the traditional way.

But the pattern of change in coffee-drinking habits varies from place to place. It takes skill to find Turkish coffee in central Sofia, Bulgaria, where fildzani seem to have disappeared altogether in favor of cups with handles. Greeks, however, religiously continue to drink their traditional brew -- possibly more so per capita than their Turkish counterparts -- but have dubbed it "Greek coffee," at least since 1974, when Turkey intervened on Cyprus.

In Turkey, locally grown tea replaced highly taxed coffee decades ago as the beverage over which political and economic deals are negotiated. In 1997, the "Turkish Daily News" bewailed the fact that, on the occasions when Turks do still drink coffee, they increasingly choose the instantly soluble, rather than the traditionally brewed variety.

East of the Black Sea, "oriental coffee" is widely available in Tbilisi cafes. And the art of predicting the future by deciphering the coffee grounds is still practiced there. But the real last bastion of oriental coffee may well be Armenia, where it is offered at all official meetings and where a wide selection of traditional brass coffee mills is available at Yerevan's weekend flea market. (Patrick Moore, with Lowell Bezanis, Liz Fuller, and Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "We should reject any suggestion of inner or outer cores of Europe. The point of enlargement is unity not the creation of new divisions in place of those which we have erased. Together we are all founding members of a new Europe. Our future should be as one Europe where all are equal partners together." -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, quoted in the "Financial Times" on 15 October.

"I do believe it is essential that Europe and the United States work together. Any idea that we can build a coherent international agenda on a division between Europe and the U.S. is simply wrong." -- Blair in ibid.

"I am not optimistic. I think some open issues between [Croatia and Slovenia] are too difficult and have lasted too long to be able to be resolved overnight." -- Slovenian Prime Minister-designate Janez Jansa, quoted by Hina in Ljubljana on 18 October (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 October 2004).