21 February 2003, Volume 7, Number 6
BULGARIA UNDER PRESSURE OVER IRAQ CRISIS. The friction between the United States and some of its European allies over how to deal with Iraq has put NATO hopefuls from Eastern Europe in a bind. These countries want to please Washington but also do not want to upset some of NATO's key European members that oppose the tough U.S. stance on Iraq. Two of these countries, France and Germany, also happen to be among the pillars of the European Union, the bloc to which most Eastern European states aspire. Recent comments by a French official on Bulgaria's position on Iraq show what a fine line the Eastern Europeans have to tread.
Several days prior to the EU summit held on 17 February, Francois Rivasseau, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, had the following to say in an interview with Bulgaria's private NET radio station: "If Bulgaria or other Eastern European countries give the impression that it is more important for them to cooperate with the United States than with Europe, namely with France or Germany, it is possible that -- not governments, but public opinion, which has not had its say on [the East Europeans] joining Europe -- that people will ask whether the Eastern Europeans' place is in Europe. That [perhaps] they'd better join the U.S. instead of Europe. At that point, there will be a choice. Everyone must realize that."
Whether that was the intent or not, Rivasseau's remarks sounded like a veiled warning that Bulgaria's support for the tough U.S. position on Iraq could prove damaging to its drive for membership in the European Union.
Bulgarian officials were quick to dismiss any such concerns. France's ambassador to Bulgaria, Jean-Loup Kuhn-Delforge, also downplayed the controversial remarks. Speaking to RFE/RL on 13 February, he reiterated that France continues to support Bulgaria's drive for EU membership, but he also called for what he described as "European solidarity" (see the quote from President Jacques Chirac, below).
Ljubomir Todorov, a Bulgarian Foreign Ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL that he does not see differences in principle between Bulgaria's position toward Iraq and the positions of other European countries: "The official position of the Republic of Bulgaria on the Iraq crisis has not changed, and the focus in [that position] is that no military action should be taken until all peaceful means -- political, as well as diplomatic -- have been exhausted."
Bulgaria is a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Todorov described the recent French-German proposal for tripling the number of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq as interesting but at the same time cautioned that new initiatives should not interfere with implementation of existing UN resolutions for Iraq to disarm. "We find that an interesting [proposal], and it corresponds with the Bulgarian position for the maximum efficiency of the inspections. At the same time, we believe that a [new] initiative should not sideline the whole thinking behind [UN] Resolution 1441," Todorov said.
Todorov rejected Western media reports that Bulgaria and other Eastern Europeans have had to take sides amid recent tensions between NATO allies. He said that he sees no future fallout from whatever displeasure Bulgaria and other NATO aspirants may be causing in "Old Europe." "'Old Europe and 'New Europe,' the U.S., and the EU include nations sharing the same values, the same vision, the same attitudes in principle. If there are nuances, they are a normal part, a normal component, of the democratic debate between free and sovereign nations," Todorov said.
Joining the EU and NATO have long been Bulgaria's two top foreign-policy priorities. One of those goals is already within reach after NATO last year invited Bulgaria to join, along with six other candidates. Bulgarian membership in the EU is still far down the road, in 2007 at the earliest.
Responding to a request from Washington, Bulgaria has formally opened its airspace and a military air base in the south of the country to the United States in support of preparations for a possible war against Iraq.
Bulgaria says it will also send soldiers trained in countering the effects of chemical, biological, or nuclear warfare to countries neighboring Iraq in the event of a U.S.-led war.
This report was written by RFE/RL's Julia Geshakova with contributions from RFE/RL's Sofia Bureau.
KOSOVAR LEADER CALLS FOR MILITARY STRIKE ON IRAQ. Veton Surroi, Kosova's best-known journalist and a highly respected political figure, wrote in the "International Herald Tribune" of 11 February that the current Western debate on Iraq reminds him of the discussion regarding Kosova at the start of 1999.
Surroi argues that, "though peace was given a chance through European-sponsored negotiations, [President Slobodan] Milosevic only used those talks to entrench his position in Kosova. In the end, it was only the bombing of Serbia that stopped genocide of Kosovars and ultimately allowed the return of almost a million refugees to their homes." He added that, "since Saddam is of the same ilk as Milosevic, we know something about them both: Only falling bombs will shake them from their hold on power.... I know from my experience in Kosova that the day after comes far earlier than you expected. The [Iraqi] opposition must be prepared to take up the cause for which the battle was won."
Surroi concluded that "the world ought to recall how the war for Kosova unfolded and how Europe's unfounded fears never materialized. One should remember from the case of Milosevic that it takes military might to topple tyrants, after everything else has failed." (Patrick Moore)
BOSNIAN PROTEST AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ. Led by some local young artists and filmmakers, several hundred people demonstrated on 14 February in central Sarajevo against a war in Iraq, "Oslobodjenje" reported. Pacifism runs strong among Bosnia's Muslims in the wake of the 1992-95 conflict, and some of the participants in the protest were war invalids.
In addition, reports and commentaries can be regularly found in the Sarajevo media expressing the view that the United States wants to wage an "imperialist" war in pursuit of oil. Several reports in the 15 February issue of "Preporod," which is the weekly of the Islamic Community, suggested that U.S. policy is mistrustful of Islam in general.
The Sarajevo media and the Islamic Community have a tradition of solidarity with the Arab world dating back to communist times. Belgrade often used Yugoslav Muslims as a bridge to the Middle East in keeping with Yugoslavia's leading role in the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries. (Patrick Moore)
CROATIA BACKPEDALING ON SUPPORT OF UNITED STATES. The governments of Slovenia and Croatia are seeking to distance themselves from the pro-U.S. declaration of the "Vilnius 10" group of countries, which their respective foreign ministers signed recently, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 18 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 12, and 13 February 2003). Both governments fear that strong support for the United States could lead to unspecified "problems with the EU," as well as with large antiwar segments of public opinion, the daily added.
In Croatia, several leading governing and opposition politicians sought recently to make political capital by allying themselves with the antiwar movement. Drazen Budisa, who heads the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS), called the recent antiwar protests a "positive development" that shows the isolation of the United States.
On 18 February, the authorities issued a statement endorsing the EU joint declaration, noting that the declaration says that the UN Security Council bears the chief responsibility for disarming Iraq. President Stipe Mesic, who is visiting Russia, told "Jutarnji List" of 19 February that he is not upset by French President Jacques Chirac's remarks (see below) and does not feel that they were directed at him personally. (Patrick Moore)
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT DECLINES COMMENT ON CHIRAC'S STATEMENT. Presidential spokesman Borjan Jovanovski said on 18 February that President Boris Trajkovski will not comment on Chirac's remark about the "childish" behavior of the "Vilnius 10" group, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Jovanovski described Chirac's statement as an "emotional outburst after hours of intensive work." The spokesman added that Trajkovski believes that the "misunderstandings" between the trans-Atlantic partners on the Iraq question will soon be overcome and will not affect the historical enlargement process of Euro-Atlantic institutions. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)
SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT STRUGGLES TO DEFINE STANCE ON IRAQ. The two scenes seemed contradictory: In Washington, several senators introduced a resolution praising Slovenia, along with 17 other countries, for supporting the U.S. position on Iraq; meanwhile, in Ljubljana, thousands gathered to condemn the U.S. position on Iraq.
The key sentence of the "Vilnius 10" statement signed by Slovenia is, "In the event of noncompliance with the terms of [UN Security Council Resolution 1441], we are prepared to contribute to an international coalition to enforce its provisions and the disarmament of Iraq." The statement calls for handling the matter through the UN by backing the U.S. demand for a second resolution authorizing force. "We call upon the UN Security Council to take the necessary and appropriate action in response to Iraq's continuing threat to international peace and security."
Criticism of Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel's endorsement of the "Vilnius 10" statement quickly mounted, from the eloquently vulgar cover of the weekly news magazine "Mladina" on 10 February (http://www.mladina.si/tednik/200306) to a petition demanding Slovenia's withdrawal from the statement.
Charges were raised that Rupel endorsed the statement on his own initiative, echoing events in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2003) and leading to a call from the opposition Slovenian Youth Party (SMS) and Slovenian Nationalist Party (SNS) for the minister to be called to account. The leading opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (SDS), declined to join in, effectively scuttling the plan.
"Delo" initially reported on 11 February that Prime Minister Anton Rop was informed of Rupel's action only the day after, when the United States was already expressing its thanks to Slovenia. But Rupel denied taking the action without prior consultation.
Public sentiment culminated in Ljubljana's 15 February march for peace, timed to coordinate with similar events held around the world. From the expected university crowd, to skinheads in their trademark jeans and black jackets, to retirees and middle-class professionals -- some pushing baby strollers -- turnout represented a broad cross section of Slovenian society. Police estimates placed the number marching through the old town carrying candles and torches at over 4,000.
A few blocks away, the police presence at the U.S. Embassy was beefed up considerably. After the marchers circled back to Congress Square, a "considerable number" decided to register their sentiments directly at the embassy but were blocked by barricades, "Delo" reported on 17 February.
Central to the Slovenian government's recent political actions are concerns over NATO membership. On the one hand, it must take care not to alienate the public and erode the already tenuous support for NATO membership ahead of the 23 March referendum (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 February 2003). On the other hand, it is also aware that the support of the U.S. Senate is required for admission. As the website of the anti-NATO 23 December Movement (http://www.23december-drustvo.si/) points out, Rupel took the only action possible as foreign minister to further the government's program.
No less worrisome to the government is the fear that support for the U.S. position on Iraq could anger key EU members, particularly France, ahead of the signing of the accession treaty on 16 April. In this context, reports that the government is distancing itself from the "Vilnius 10" statement (see above) come as little surprise.
Slovenia is struggling not to find itself grouped among one bloc of countries or another. On 9 February, President Janez Drnovsek stated that "Slovenia need not define itself within the Vilnius group. We have our own position. It may be very similar, but we can express it ourselves," "Delo" reported on 11 February.
Others are less sure. In an interview in "Delo" on 14 February, the political cartoonist Franco Juri stated that Slovenia has found itself in the weakest-possible grouping of European states: those that lack their own foreign-policy profile. (Donald F. Reindl, firstname.lastname@example.org)
MACEDONIA'S LEADERS REVIEW PEACE PLAN AND SECURITY. The signatories of the Ohrid peace accord of August 2001 met on 14 February at the invitation of President Boris Trajkovski to discuss its implementation. Trajkovski chaired the session, which was also attended by Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Finance Minister Petar Gosev, Minister for Local Self-government Aleksandar Gestakovski, Deputy Prime Minister Musa Xhaferi of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), and several opposition politicians. Among the representatives of the international community were U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Lawrence Butler and the EU's special envoy to Macedonia, Alexis Bruhns. One of the initiators of the peace deal, Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) Chairman Arben Xhaferi, nonetheless boycotted the talks.
During the two-hour meeting, the participants reviewed the government's implementation plan, as well as an additional project aimed at decentralizing the state administration in favor of local bodies (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001). Presidential spokesman Borjan Jovanovski said after the meeting that decentralization will be carried out in stages, beginning with less important administrative functions like culture or sports. Financial decentralization will take place only after consultations with the International Monetary Fund.
Another important issue discussed at the meeting was the equal representation of minorities within state institutions at republican and local levels. It was agreed that the government bodies dealing with the issue will present a concrete plan by March.
The major result of the consultations was that the government will seek more international financial support for implementing the peace accord. The participants decided to ask the international community to deliver some $20 million of what was promised at the donors conference in March 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2002).
But why did PDSH leader Xhaferi boycott the session? He later told a press conference in Tetovo that he wanted to protest the slow implementation of the peace agreement, adding that the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union of Integration (BDI) has failed to represent the Albanian minority's interests in the government. He recalled that the Ohrid peace agreement was based on three factors: the dissolution of the National Liberation Army (UCK), an amnesty for former rebels, and the equal representation of the ethnic communities in the administration. He argued that only the first point has been implemented.
Xhaferi said his party will continue to support the peace process but added that if there is no progress on implementation, the party will resort to other means of protest, ranging from demonstrations to the possible withdrawal of his signature from the Ohrid peace accord.
In a separate meeting the same day, Chief of General Staff General Metodi Stamboliski presented his annual report to Trajkovski, who is also commander in chief. Crvenkovski and Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski were also present when Stamboliski said the security situation is relatively stable, even if some armed groups are present in the border regions.
After that meeting, Trajkovski told reporters: "I do not believe that Macedonian citizens need fear an escalation of violence. Both the army and the Interior Ministry are in control of the situation and are prepared to take all necessary measures, together with the international community."
He was apparently referring to consultations Buckovski held in Prishtina with Michael Steiner, the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), and with KFOR Commander Lieutenant General Fabio Mini on 13 February. Buckovski, Steiner, and Mini discussed improving cooperation regarding border security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003).
Trajkovski thus implicitly refuted speculation in the Serbian and Macedonian media that ethnic Albanian extremists, such as the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH), are planning a "spring offensive" in Macedonia or in southern Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). Trajkovski also indicated that he does not agree with Serbian politicians such as Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic who told Radio Belgrade on 16 February that former Kosovar UCK leaders plan violent disturbances in spring (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2003).
Trajkovski apparently also tried to calm an increasingly nervous public that might be remembering 2002, when the media and some members of the then-nationalist government repeatedly warned of an imminent "spring offensive" by radical Albanian groups, while the international community ruled out such a possibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 25 February 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). The president might well be concerned that as in 2002, those who spread such disinformation want to harm the peace process. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, email@example.com)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I think they have behaved with a certain frivolity, because entering the EU requires a modicum of consideration for the others, a modicum of consultation. If on encountering the first difficulty, we start asserting our own view without regard for others that are part of the integrated whole that we wish to join, then it is irresponsible behavior [by people with a poor upbringing]. In conclusion, I think the candidates have missed a good opportunity to keep silent." -- French President Jacques Chirac, at a press conference at the close of the Brussels EU summit on 17 February to which the new members and candidates were not invited. Quoted by RFE/RL. He was referring to the Central and East European signatories of two letters of support for the U.S. position on Iraq.
"One East European diplomat said Chirac had spoken in a tone that not even the Soviet Union would have used with its Warsaw Pact clients during its 40-year dominance of the region." -- Report by Reuters Warsaw correspondent Sean Maguire on 18 February.
"I don't think that President Chirac's words could have any long-term consequences, either for the ratification process of Bulgaria's NATO membership, or, I hope, for Bulgaria's EU integration. This is because [Chirac's statement] reflects only a temporary picture of a situation on a very dramatic issue. But this issue has a time limit. Soon it will be resolved, and by the year 2007 when we expect to become a full EU member, I think this episode will be completely forgotten." -- Stanimir Ilchev, chairman of the Bulgarian parliament's Foreign, Defense, and Security Affairs Committee. Quoted by RFE/RL on 18 February
"Dear Mr. Chirac: I think it's escaped your notice that we are not your colony. What [do you have to say] about Britain, Italy, Spain, and Portugal?" -- Unidentified Slovak in a posting on the Internet. Quoted by RFE/RL on 18 February.
"As long as the journalists in Serbia earn a lot less than the politicians, the situation in the media will not improve" regarding ending political influence and bias in the media. -- Yugoslav Information Minister Slobodan Orlic, quoted by Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" in Kragujevac on 16 February.