18 April 2003, Volume 7, Number 11
QUESTIONS OF RESPONSIBILITY. Probably not even the most devoted students of Balkan affairs were able to concentrate solely on matters such as the Serbian crime crackdown, the Macedonian pardon scandal, and the Kosova status debate these past few weeks. But as one listened to the voices of many of the people interviewed by the media in Cairo, Beirut, and elsewhere, one could note some striking parallels to certain aspects of Balkan political culture, namely the penchant for blaming others for problems rather than taking responsibility oneself.
Nor is this the only parallel. Some time ago, "RFE/RL Balkan Report" published a commentary by one of RFE/RL's Iraqi journalists on the fondness in the Middle East for conspiracy theories, and why this is so (see "Sound Familiar?" in "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 October 2001). Much of what the Iraqi said could be applied to almost any country in the Balkans, such as the tendency to blame "dark forces" at home or abroad for things that one cannot easily explain or that one would prefer not to admit.
The corollary of such conspiracy theories -- in which others appear all-powerful and always win -- is that one cannot be held responsible for one's problems. But according to an Associated Press story published in the "International Herald Tribune" on 12 April, the routing of Iraqi forces by the U.S.-British coalition, and the apparent welcome given to at least some of the coalition troops by the local population have prompted some introspection on "the Arab street."
To be sure, the article included remarks by some die-hards who called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak an "American agent" for not openly defying Washington and London, or who urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "set fire to the land."
But the tone for the article was set by Egyptian sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who argued that "we were never candid enough to stop blaming the outside [world] for our ills and failures." By the same token, Saudi columnist Anas Zahid noted, "If we don't [look at] ourselves and discuss our shortcomings...[then] nobody can do anything for us." He added: "We are responsible for all that is happening to us. The problem is in us and not imposed on us."
Egyptian columnist Ahmad Abbas Saleh suggested that unnamed Arab leaders had contributed to a general rot within their own societies, saying that those leaders "fail to recognize that they killed in their citizens, from whom they supposedly derive their legitimacy, the best of their virtues -- even the love of their country."
Of the leaders themselves, President Mubarak himself simply noted that Saddam Hussein's defeat "presents us with so many lessons for the region," but did not elaborate.
These problems of political culture are by no means limited to the Middle East and the Balkans. Many observers of Latin America, such as the late Venezuelan writer Carlos Rangel, have long argued that one reason that region has fallen behind its northern neighbors in overall development is because of a political culture that eschews taking responsibility for one's own problems.
Three of Rangel's admirers wrote in their "Manual of the Perfect Latin American Idiot" that the region's backwardness is rooted largely in the acceptance of simplistic belief systems -- such as Marxism or Liberation Theology -- that provide ready answers to every question (Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner, and Alvaro Vargas Llosa, "Manual del perfecto idiota latinoamericano" [Barcelona: Plaza & Janes, 2001], 394 pages). The authors argue that such popular, facile theories hold that others are responsible for the region's problems and are widely accepted without any serious intellectual examination.
Such belief systems are reinforced by widely held -- and similarly largely unchallenged -- myths, such as that of Latin America as a heroic martyr under the oppression of Yankee imperialism. The authors also reproduce a series of quotes to show where such attitudes can lead, such as the observation by a former president of Peru that his country has only two types of problems: those that cannot be solved, and those that will take care of themselves.
Again, much of this rings familiar to students of the Balkans, particularly so in the case of Serbia. That impoverished and crime-ridden society is barely emerging psychologically from the era of President Slobodan Milosevic, when "half-baked ideas moved around the intellectual desert that had been created by the regime" and where "resentment against the West [still] remains," as Stevan K. Pavlowitch noted in "Serbia: The History of an Idea" (New York: New York University Press, 2002, pp. 232-233).
Today's Serbia has many problems to deal with, but it largely remains in blame and denial where responsibility for the destruction of former Yugoslavia and the ensuing wars is concerned (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 1 December 2000 and 22 February 2002). Pavlowitch argues that sooner or later, society will have to take a hard look at itself, adding that "lies and illusions cause long-term damage, whereas knowledge and acceptance of the truth, however much it may hurt, makes easier the matter of choosing between the different possibilities offered by reality."
Some lonely voices have already called on fellow Serbs to examine the question of responsibility (see the interview with Belgrade human rights lawyer Srdja Popovic in "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 8, 15, and 22 February 2001, and that with historian Latinka Perovic in "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 12, 19, and 26 July 2001).
One might add that if the ongoing investigation of the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic leads to a ruthless uprooting of criminal structures and lays bare the connections between politics, business, the security forces, and the underworld, Serbia could be well on its way to confronting its past -- and facing tough questions about responsibility for its current state of affairs, and how to change it. (Patrick Moore)
MACEDONIA: AFTERSHOCKS OF A WIRE-TAPPING SCANDAL. In February 2001, then-opposition leader Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) presented to parliament evidence that the Interior Ministry had tapped the telephones of some 190 politicians and journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2001). That revelation resulted in the resignation of then-Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE).
Dimovska was replaced by hard-liner Ljube Boskovski in May 2001, but returned to the VMRO-DPMNE-led government as a deputy prime minister and head of the National Crisis Center in December 2001 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 May 2001 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2001). However, after only two months, she stepped down from her positions in January 2002, accusing Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Boskovski of having ignored her advice on security issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 January 2002).
Dimovska later also gave up her positions within the VMRO-DPMNE, where she belongs to the same group of moderates as President Boris Trajkovski. According to some observers, it was Dimovska who lobbied for Trajkovski to become the party's presidential candidate in the 1999 elections. Trajkovski had been Georgievski's foreign policy adviser before he became a deputy foreign minister in Georgievski's cabinet. Trajkovski thus owed political debts to both Dimovska and Georgievski.
But while Trajkovski broke with the hawkish Georgievski during the 2001 interethnic conflict, his relations with Dimovska remained intact. On 25 February 2002, shortly after her resignation from her cabinet positions, Trajkovski appointed Dimovska as director of the Intelligence Agency. And he used his constitutional right to pardon her on 7 April 2003, when she was about to face trial in connection with the wire-tapping scandal that had ended her career as interior minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 April 2003).
Given the close relations between Trajkovski and Dimovska, it is no wonder that the pardon came in for sharp criticism. Prime Minister Crvenkovski, who had triggered the scandal when he was in the opposition, accused Trajkovski of being responsible for the bugging. Some media commentators like Branko Geroski of the daily "Dnevnik" demanded that Trajkovski resign.
The Association of Journalists in Macedonia (ZNM) initiated a protest by calling on the public to press "thousands" of criminal charges against Dimovska. Legal experts discussed whether Trajkovski had the right -- legally or morally -- to pardon Dimovska. And on 14 April, a parliamentary majority formally asked Trajkovski to explain his reasons for and the circumstances of the pardon. Parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski of the SDSM called on Trajkovski to withdraw the pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2003).
But neither Dimovska nor Trajkovski accepted the accusations leveled against them. In response to the criticisms, both Dimovska and Trajkovski on 11 April began talking of alleged connections between organized-crime structures in Serbia and unspecified Macedonian politicians. Dimovska said, "Certain structures in Macedonia are obviously frightened about the possible outcome of investigations of the [Serbian] 'Zemun clan' and of ties between some Macedonians, [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic, and [Serbian Radical Party leader] Vojislav Seselj." She warned that information about these links has already been forwarded to unnamed foreign intelligence services.
The same day, Trajkovski said he hopes that the resurgence of the bugging scandal does not serve to deflect public attention from pressing economic problems. He added that if the governing SDSM is really committed to cleaning up all criminal cases from the past, independent of when they took place, then it should also investigate the TAT pyramid investment scheme that went bust in 1997 -- when the SDSM was in power. Trajkovski added that the government should also take into consideration new information about the connection between Macedonian and Serbian organized-crime structures.
Although he did not mention Dimovska's specific and Trajkovski's less specific charges, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic seemed to substantiate them on 14 April when he spoke of extensive criminal connections between Serbia and Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003).
At present, it is not clear whether the government is genuinely interested in investigating the wire-tapping affair, or whether the scandal is part of a campaign against political opponents. Whatever the outcome of this affair might be, it is clear that neither Trajkovski nor Dimovska will stand a chance to run for the leadership of the VMRO-DPMNE at the party congress slated for late May. This suits the hard-liners within the party around Georgievski and Boskovski. But it also suits the governing SDSM, which can simply let the scandal run its course. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, email@example.com)
SLOVENIA MEASURES ITSELF AGAINST EU AND CANDIDATE COUNTRIES. The signing of the European Union Accession Treaty in Athens on 16 April by Slovenia and nine other candidate countries marked another milestone in the eastward expansion of the EU. No less significant was the 9 April vote in the European Parliament that overwhelmingly endorsed entry for all 10 candidate countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003).
The 22 votes cast against Slovenia (compared to 522 in favor) at the European Parliament did not dampen the mood. A 10 April article in "Delo" noted that the 22 parliamentarians voting against Slovenia -- a motley smattering of communists, socialists, and nationalists -- also voted against all the other candidate countries. While Slovenia shared honors with Hungary and Latvia in receiving the greatest number of positive votes, even the 489 votes for the country with the weakest support, the Czech Republic, far surpassed the required absolute majority of 314.
The European Parliament's rapporteur for Slovenia, Demetrio Volcic, cited Slovenia as a model of success for the countries of the Balkans. However, despite consistently strong backing for Slovenia among EU officials, this enthusiasm is not shared by the public in EU countries, "Delo" noted on 10 April. The 31 March inaugural issue of the new English-language "Slovenia Times" also addressed the problem of Slovenia's enduring lack of popularity in the "Eurobarometer" public opinion surveys conducted in EU member states.
Among the French, 59 percent of the public opposes Slovenian EU entry, while Turkey -- which is not even scheduled to enter the EU -- ranks seven percentage points higher than Slovenia in British public opinion. Nonetheless, this is not a matter of great concern, as the low numbers are felt to be a reflection of simple ignorance and the foreign publics' gut-level reactions to the unknown. In any case, Volcic noted, Slovenia is already practically part of the EU, having implemented some 80 percent of the EU's acquis communautaire.
Along with this steady approach to the EU, Slovenes are eager to compare themselves to others, both within the EU and without. Comparative economic figures have particular appeal, and are brandished whenever the Western media make broad generalizations about "poor Eastern European" countries entering the bloc. Per capita income, the unemployment rate, and the minimum wage have received particular attention lately.
It is hard to find an educated Slovene who does not know -- or can refrain from telling you -- that Slovenia's per capita income exceeds that of the EU's poorest members, Greece and Portugal. This fact was cited once again in the 10 April "Delo" article. Slovenia's per capita GNP has climbed steadily in relation to the EU average ever since it presented its application for EU membership on 10 June 1996 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 October, 2002).
Unemployment is a notoriously difficult statistic to quantify, and there exists no uniform, international definition of what constitutes unemployed status. A 27 November article in "Delo" expressed incredulity that a recent study by the International Labor Organization defined employment as working more than one hour per week, even in return for nonmonetary compensation such as lunch. Further, national unemployment figures refer to the number of officially registered unemployed, making international comparison very difficult.
The officially unemployed have consistently numbered between 11 and 12 percent of the workforce, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. Using different criteria, international studies place the rate around 6 percent, lower than the EU average of 7.5 percent, a 13 April article in "Delo" reported. Slovenia also compares favorably among EU candidate countries, where the highest unemployment -- approaching 20 percent -- is found in Slovakia and Poland.
Of greater concern are the demographics of Slovenian unemployment. Looking beyond sheer percentages, one finds a relatively high degree of long-term unemployment and unemployment among young people.
Minimum monthly wages also came under scrutiny (Europeans generally cite monthly rather than annual salaries). Here, too, comparisons are hard to draw. An 11 April article in "Delo" notes that six EU member states and one candidate country (Cyprus) do not even have a legally defined minimum wage, and that in many countries minimum-wage laws apply only to certain sectors of the economy.
Among candidate countries, Slovenia ranks second highest with a net monthly minimum wage of 103,643 tolars ($480), after Malta's $575. This is marginally better than Portugal's minimum wage of $447, but falls far short of Luxembourg's $1,472. The average monthly minimum wage in EU countries, the article notes, exceeds $925.
Strikingly, the minimum wage in Turkey ($203) is higher than in four countries that will enter the EU this round: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia. Hungary ranked third among countries entering the EU at $228, while Bulgaria placed last among all candidate countries at $60.
Whatever else Slovenia's economists do in the remaining 12 months before EU membership, one can be sure they will continue to keep an eye on how their country measures up. (Donald F. Reindl, firstname.lastname@example.org)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "We went into Yugoslavia in 1999. That nation no longer exists. Moreover, there is neither war nor any threat of war in the region. And when troops have nothing to do, their morale falls -- that applies to the military of any nation." -- Unnamed Russian military experts on reasons for the upcoming withdrawal of Russian forces from Kosova and Bosnia. Quoted in "Izvestiya" of 11 April.
"Russian peacekeeping units will be pulled out from the Balkans within approximately two months. There are no longer any military tasks in that region, and they are unlikely to appear in the near future." -- Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff Army General Anatolii Kvashnin. Quoted by Interfax on 10 April at a briefing at the Defense Ministry.
"The decision [to withdraw Russian forces] was made long ago, and now its implementation has begun. To my mind, our peacekeepers have accomplished their mission: there is no more military threat on the territory of Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Kosovo.... The use of the armed forces as policemen is wrong and inexpedient....
"The presence of Russian servicemen in the Balkans has been limited only to tactical interaction. The NATO-at-20 decision that we will take part in [evaluating] the situation, making decisions, and holding joint operations with the NATO contingent was not fulfilled." -- Head of the Russian Federation Council delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Viktor Ozerov. Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 10 April.