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Balkan Report: March 28, 2003

28 March 2003, Volume 7, Number 8

THE FATEFUL DEATH OF A PRIME MINISTER. The 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic dealt a serious blow to reform efforts in the Balkan states. It also endangers already fragile regional stability.

The crippled government bought itself time in the wake of the tragedy, declaring a state of emergency and thus keeping a lid on events in the short term. But its next task will be to do something that the self-styled anarchist-turned-democrat Djindjic could not: build a stable administration and institute the rule of law in Serbia.

Djindjic was born the son of a Yugoslav Army officer in Bosanski Samac, in present-day Bosnia, in 1952. He graduated in 1974 from the Philosophy Faculty of Belgrade University. As a student, he was arrested and sentenced to a one-year prison term for attempting to set up an autonomous student organization with fellow student leaders but was released after serving only two months. He then went to Germany, where he obtained his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Konstanz in 1979.

It was during work on his thesis on Marx that he changed his political views. "I came to Germany as a left-wing anarchist, and I returned as a conservative with a certain distance to all these theories," Djindjic said in an interview with Bavarian BR Alpha satellite television in February 2002.

Between 1979 and 1989, when he returned to Yugoslavia, he wrote a book on Hegel, worked at a scholarly institute in Vienna, and engaged in the export business. From 1990, Djindjic headed the executive committee of the Democratic Party (DS), which he and other dissident intellectuals and writers had founded one year earlier and whose chairmanship he would assume in 1994.

Djindjic was elected to the Serbian republican parliament in 1990, and in 1993 he entered the Yugoslav federal parliament. Alongside Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) and the Civil Alliance of Serbia, Djindjic participated in student protests in the winter of 1996-97. Djindjic became Belgrade's first noncommunist mayor in February 1997, but within just six months he was forced to resign after his former allies in the SPO withdrew their support.

Djindjic's international connections and his fluency in English and German made him an ideal complement to Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). When the popular Kostunica challenged Slobodan Milosevic for the Yugoslav presidency as the opposition candidate in September-October 2000, Djindjic managed Kostunica's campaign and curried international support for the coalition.

Kostunica won those elections, and the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition went on to win the Serbian parliamentary elections in December 2000. On 25 January 2001, the Serbian parliament elected Djindjic prime minister.

But the uneasy partnership between Djindjic and Kostunica would not last long; their political approaches were too disparate. Kostunica may best be described as a moderate nationalist (and therefore popular) who insisted that the government strictly abide by the Serbian Constitution and laws (as he understood them). The pragmatic Djindjic was, by his own admission, more of a "problem solver."

Djindjic's opponents found that his pragmatism often bordered on opportunism, for instance, when in the mid-1990s he sought to forge a coalition with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to overthrow Milosevic, or when he established contacts with Serbia's secret police to avoid bloodshed during the anti-Milosevic demonstrations in late 2000.

After a monthlong power struggle, the partnership fell apart in mid-2001 when Djindjic determined that Milosevic should be handed over to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Djindjic had come to realize that democratic and economic reforms in Serbia were possible only with the support of the United States and the European Union, which were pressing hard for Milosevic's handover. Kostunica, for his part, wanted to see Milosevic sentenced by a Serbian court.

Djindjic said in the BR Alpha interview that people spurned him because he was honest about the price Serbia would have to pay for European integration: cooperation with The Hague, observing financial discipline, introducing a market economy, and enforcing labor discipline. "I tell the people that this is like surgery. But we are military surgeons: We have to operate without anesthesia. The alternative would be to not operate," Djindjic said, adding that Kostunica promised reforms without being willing to pay for them.

The fact that the country currently has no president is a direct result of the antagonism between Djindjic and Kostunica. If Djindjic could not -- or did not wish to -- present a presidential candidate who was able to defeat Kostunica, he preferred to have no president at all. In the opinion of many observers, the nomination of an unattractive candidate was part of Djindjic's plan to render the vote invalid by keeping voter turnout under the required 50 percent.

Serbia doubtlessly lost its most important politician in Djindjic. On 18 March, parliament elected Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic as prime minister. Forty-two-year-old Zivkovic, who was a close political ally of Djindjic and a former mayor of the southern Serbian town of Nis, pledged to continue Djindjic's work.

But some observers doubt that the relatively lackluster Zivkovic will be able to replace the energetic and highly motivated Djindjic. The state of emergency that was declared within hours of Djindjic's assassination might help Zivkovic stabilize the situation for the moment. But the government must also accomplish something that Djindjic proved unable to do: to create a stable administration and establish the rule of law within this former pariah country. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

WHICH WAY FOR SERBIA? The assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic on 12 March prompted calls by some of his political allies for the international community to ease up on demands that Belgrade cooperate with The Hague. But some observers argue that this would be the worst course for the international community to follow.

The killing of Serbia's prime minister, allegedly by a mafia organization called the Zemun clan, has changed the Serbian political landscape dramatically. Many journalists quickly forgot that Djindjic was unpopular during his lifetime and wrote gushing commentaries referring to a man formerly regarded as Machiavellian, as a crusading reformer, or even as "Serbia's Kennedy."

But no matter. As Djindjic's allies and rivals sought to find their new political balance, the police detained hundreds of people, and the authorities retired 35 judges and sacked a public prosecutor over his ties to the mafia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 26 March 2003). A second prosecutor resigned. A tough state of emergency remains in effect indefinitely, despite concerns by some human rights groups that it could invite abuse and serve to muzzle any serious discussion of crime and corruption.

Many Serbs seem to feel, however, that the authorities are getting to the root of the problem. On 25 March, Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic announced the arrest of the reputed assassin and two fellow top officials of the elite Red Berets police unit. The government decided to dissolve that body the same day.

But mass dismissals have not been extended to other police units. Moreover, the key figures behind the assassination are still at large, and none of the previous high-profile killings allegedly carried out by the same gang have been solved. In fact, some observers felt that the well-publicized dragnet following Djindjic's killing might prove to be little more than an exercise worthy of the Keystone Kops -- as was the case with the official response to some previous political killings.

One of the reason for such skepticism is that the worlds of politics, business, organized crime, the military, and the police are thoroughly intertwined in much of the former Yugoslavia -- and nowhere more than in Serbia. During Djindjic's lifetime, rumors persisted about his alleged underworld connections, as well as about those of most other leading politicians.

According to some observers, many in the Serbian political establishment have no more interest in exposing those behind Djindjic's killing than they have had in solving the cases of former President Ivan Stambolic and others because of what such an investigation would turn up about themselves. Many Serbs feel that the record crowds that turned out for Djindjic's funeral on 15 March should be understood primarily as an expression of indignation with the huge role of crime in Serbian society rather than as a sign of personal affection for Djindjic, whose approval rating in public-opinion polls was rarely anywhere near the top of the list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003).

But some politicians feel that the problem lies elsewhere. Parliamentary speaker Natasa Micic, who also acts as Serbian president, said after Djindjic's death that the international community's pressure on Serbia -- and on Djindjic -- to cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal had somehow contributed to the killing. She appealed to the foreigners to better understand "our circumstances" and ease up on the pressure.

Some other politicians echoed her sentiments. Goran Svilanovic, who is foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro and that country's top liaison officer with the tribunal, made it clear to chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte that she should not come to Djindjic's funeral. Del Ponte indeed stayed away, saying that the Belgrade authorities had barred her from attending.

But not everyone feels that Serbia's problem is that the government has been too close to the tribunal. German journalist Reinhard Veser wrote in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 24 March that easing up on the pressure for Belgrade to work with The Hague would be the worst thing that the international community could do. He stressed that, on the contrary, it is necessary for Serbia to step up cooperation with the tribunal if the mafia structures involving politicians, businessmen, the police, the security forces, and organized crime are to be broken. War criminals and their supporters are part and parcel of these structures, and ruthless exposure of war criminals will help root out the mafias themselves.

Veser added that such structures are also to be found among the Bosnian Serbs, the Herzegovinian Croats, and the ethnic Albanians of former Yugoslavia. The stronger the mafias are in Belgrade, the more securely their counterparts elsewhere can operate with impunity. These structures all benefit from nationalist tensions, and even if their political views appear irreconcilable with each other, they all thrive in the same lawless environment.

For this reason, Veser concluded, the international community must keep up the pressure for Serbia to work with the tribunal as part of a broader struggle to promote rule of law and break the power of those who started and profited from the wars of the 1990s. And he argued that the "key to stability in the Balkans lies in Serbia, in good times and in bad."

Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact project, went one step further in remarks in Vienna on 21 March. He stressed that it is incumbent on Serbia itself to draw the necessary conclusions from Djindjic's assassination and to act quickly to put its own house in order in keeping with European legal norms and standards. (Patrick Moore)

SLOVENIAN GOVERNMENT GETS TWO-FOR-ONE DEAL ON REFERENDUM. A popular anecdote in Ljubljana relates how in 1926 the city fathers gave their approval for a monument to the 19th-century grammarian Franc Miklosic (1813-1891). Rather than spend money on a new monument, they commissioned sculptor Tine Kos to create a bust of Miklosic and then placed it atop a pedestal -- complete with eagles, a nymph, and palm branches -- that had formerly honored Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef I. The bust of the emperor was tucked away in the city museum's storeroom with the satisfaction of two jobs accomplished for the price of one: a new use for the defunct pedestal, and a memorial to Slovenia's greatest linguist.

The success of the 23 March dual referendum on joining NATO and the European Union likely gave today's leaders a similar sense of thrifty well-being. At an estimated cost of 500 million Slovenian tolars ($2.28 million) per national referendum, the scheme not only saved money also but delivered the desired results: an 89.61 percent endorsement of EU accession and, more crucially, a 66.05 percent vote in favor of joining the NATO alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003).

Slovenia's National Election Commission reported the preliminary results on 24 March and will announce the final results on 1 April, following the 28 March deadline for postal votes and a three-day appeals period. Some 60.31 percent of eligible voters participated in the referendum.

The turnout fell below the predicted 66 percent, with some blaming the beautiful weather for luring away voters. Others pointed to the World Ski Flying Championship at Planica, which drew 40,000 people to witness Finnish athlete Matti Hautemaki set a new world record of 231 meters. Nonetheless, participation was the highest in any referendum held to date in independent Slovenia.

Political analysts had speculated that any U.S.-led war against Iraq might sap the already flagging public support for joining NATO. The government had hoped to schedule the NATO referendum ahead of potential hostilities (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 February 2003). By contrast, launching the attack only days ahead of the referendum must have occasioned significant angst.

Reaction to the news that military action was under way in Iraq was swift, with protesters lighting candles in front of the U.S. Embassy on the morning of 20 March. By that afternoon, the street was cordoned off, with a row of mounted police facing down a sizeable crowd of antiwar protestors, anti-NATO activists, and the simply curious. However, the crowds dwindled away over the following days, and the barriers were removed with little ado on 24 March.

Slovenian leaders remained cautious in advance of the referendum, clearly eager not to alienate an already divided public. Asked on 19 March whether Slovenia was part of the military coalition against Iraq, President Janez Drnovsek responded, "Not to my knowledge," "Delo" reported on 20 March. At the same time, Drnovsek confirmed that Slovenia will participate in humanitarian assistance and postwar construction in Iraq. Prime Minister Anton Rop told journalists simply: "Our position is clear. We haven't put ourselves on any list and see no need to do so."

However, support for NATO grew even as the Iraq crisis mounted, and the newspapers predicted the NATO vote to pass by a modest 55 percent. The relatively robust 66 percent backing came as a surprise. Many cited the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic on 12 March as a contributing factor. The killing may have reminded Slovenes of continuing instability not so very far away. High-profile visits by NATO representatives, including Secretary-General George Robertson, likely also bolstered support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2003).

Psychologically, Slovenia has cleared a large hurdle in publicly endorsing both EU and NATO membership. This is especially so for the latter and will allay charges that the government strong-armed the country into an unwanted alliance. Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel in particular recently bore the brunt of public indignation for what some charged was overeagerly courting the United States to cement Washington's backing for Slovenian NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003).

Commenting on the referendum, Janez Jansa, who heads the opposition conservative Social Democratic Party (SDS), voiced his approval: "With these results, we have taken a full step forward in Slovenia, not a half measure," "Delo" reported on 24 March. Prime Minister Rop spoke of the "new space" and "new challenges" awaiting Slovenia, while President Drnovsek called the results the "crowning achievement of a decade of efforts," the government information office reported.

In a practical sense, little will change immediately. The EU accession treaty will be signed on 16 April, but actual EU membership -- including the visible effects of open borders and expanded employment opportunities abroad -- remains over a year away, scheduled for 1 May 2004. Full economic and monetary integration will likely take a few years longer. NATO accession similarly depends on ratification of the expansion by member states, with full membership also expected in May 2004. (Donald F. Reindl)

MACEDONIA AND THE WAR ON IRAQ. After consultations with U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Lawrence Butler on 13 and 14 March, the government agreed to grant overflight rights to U.S. aircraft, use of the Petrovec airport near Skopje, and use of military-training facilities at Krivolak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February and 17 March 2003).

With the decision, the government led by Social Democratic Union (SDSM) Chairman Branko Crvenkovski put an end to speculation over what its position on Iraq might be. Obviously, the SDSM, like other ethnic Macedonian political parties, had difficulties making up its mind between the two options: either with the U.S.-led coalition or with the French, German, and Russian opponents of a military intervention.

President Boris Trajkovski did not have any such reservations in supporting U.S. policy toward Iraq. When the government finally made up its mind to grant the U.S. military support, Trajkovski on 15 March called this decision "a little belated." He added that the government's previous hesitation could have landed Macedonia in the group of countries that oppose the U.S. position.

Trajkovski added that he decided to back the U.S. position well before the government did. He also criticized the government for not reaching a comprehensive agreement on "economic, security, and other kinds of support for Macedonian national interests."

For the government, this statement was "unnecessary" and an expression "of somebody's wounded vanity," as an unidentified source told "Utrinski vesnik" of 17 March. The cohabitation between Trajkovski, who was elected on a ticket of the now-opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), and the government has recently suffered from some misunderstandings over spheres of competence regarding defense and foreign policies. The government has responded to Trajkoski's criticism by chiding him for alleged inactivity in organizing the important 100th anniversary of the 1903 Ilinden uprising (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 August 2002).

For the governing ethnic Macedonian parties -- the SDSM and the Liberal Democrats (LDP) -- the uncertainty before the decision to back the United States posed other political problems as well. Their junior coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), had jumped on the regional ethnic Albanian bandwagon for supporting U.S. policies toward Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). BDI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti told "Press Online" on 21 March that her party is "on the side of the broad coalition of countries that condemn terrorism and supports efforts to stop the use of biological weapons."

Demush Bajrami of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) stressed that his party has long advocated a pro-U.S. policy and wants Macedonia to support the United States with troops and infrastructure. Opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) Chairman Abdurrahman Aliti also supported the U.S. position but added that not all political means had been used to resolve the crisis before the war began.

For many Albanians, it is not a problem that there was no second UN Security Council resolution. Rakip Doci, the spokesman of the small but radical opposition National Democratic Party (NDP), recalled that the United States did not have a Security Council mandate when it bombed Serbia in 1999. Comparing Saddam Hussein to Slobodan Milosevic, Doci said that dictatorial regimes can only be toppled by force. Many Kosovar leaders drew the same parallel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February and 24 March 2003).

A variety of views is to be found in press commentaries. There are critical articles, like Mirce Tomovski's commentary in the weekly "Puls" on 21 March. He argues that the U.S. and British decision to launch a war "turned the UN into an international theater where nobody applauds the plays." In Tomovski's view, the petty differences between the government and Trajkovski are a sign that it will take the country a long time to turn into a truly functioning state.

But there are positive voices as well. Dimitar Culev of the pro-SDSM daily "Utrinski vesnik" of 22 March lauded the government's decision to support the U.S. position. Culev expressed the hope that the move will not delay the arrival of the EU military mission, which is slated to replace the current NATO force at the end of March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). He admitted that short-term interests, such as possible payment of Iraqi debts to Macedonia or participation in postwar reconstruction, may have played a role in the government's decision.

But Culev believes that it was long-term trends in international relations that proved decisive for the government. He asked what sense it would have made to take the "side" of a divided Europe. That could have led to alienating both Washington and the SDSM's ethnic Albanian coalition partners, and hence to the possible renewal of ethnic conflict. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK: "At this time, when the attention of the United States and the international community is focused on the disarmament of Saddam's [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] regime, extremists in Macedonia should not fool themselves into thinking that they can take advantage of that and destabilize the region, because [the United States] is playing a significant role in the Balkans and will not withdraw from the region." -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Quoted by the Macedonian MIA news agency in Washington on 17 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2003).