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Balkan Report: May 16, 2003

16 May 2003, Volume 7, Number 15

RETHINKING THE BALKANS. At a time when some long-accepted rules of the international order and in trans-Atlantic relations are being reexamined, one expert on Balkan affairs has called on the international community to take a fresh look at some of its basic operating assumptions in the Western Balkans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November and 6 December 2002, and 17 January 2003). One of his conclusions is that costly protectorates in both Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina are untenable in the long run, and that it is wise to address the issue sooner rather than later.

A. Ross Johnson, who is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a consultant with RFE/RL, has just published "An Assessment of the Decade of Western Peace-keeping and Nation-building in the Balkans" with the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center

He notes that considerable progress has been made in the former Yugoslav region over the past decade, but that stability is "uneasy" in Macedonia and that Kosova and Bosnia remain international protectorates. Johnson suggests that time has come to reexamine six basic assumptions on promoting stability and democracy lest continuing with more of the same leads to results very different from those desired by the international community.

First, he notes that facts have not borne out the long-standing assumption that time will permit a consensus to emerge throughout the region regarding the breakup of former Yugoslavia and the subsequent conflicts. Johnson calls for "much more confront the past and find common truth as a basis for regional reconciliation," focusing "primarily but not exclusively on Serbia" and the Bosnian Serbs.

The second assumption he challenges is that the work of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal will help contribute to development of a shared perspective on recent history. Johnson notes that sending some particularly nasty individuals to The Hague has prevented them from causing further trouble at home. He adds, however, that the tribunal has been costly and has provided some of those indicted with a forum to publicize their views. Moreover, Johnson argues that conducting the trials in The Hague and with foreign judges has "served as an excuse to duck local responsibility for dealing with war crimes and political disaster."

As an alternative, he suggests that international courts could be "linked" to local truth and reconciliation commissions in a process that would involve both foreign and local judges. This is in keeping with one of Johnson's underlying arguments, namely that time has come to let the people in the region assume an ever greater share of the responsibility for their own futures (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 April, and 2 and 9 May 2003).

A third point that Johnson raises is the assumption that "states can be 'built' from the outside and top down." He cites the immense costs of peacekeeping and of promoting political and economic development as unsustainable in the long run. Kosova and Bosnia have consumed most of this assistance, to the detriment of "support for democratic transition elsewhere, especially in Serbia."

"A fourth assumption is that international forces deployed in the Western Balkans can continue to be reduced incrementally and one day will be removed entirely." Johnson argues that "major structural and political change is required in [Macedonia, Bosnia, and Kosova] before international military forces can be withdrawn without inducing renewed instability. The mission of these forces will not be completed by inertia."

His fifth issue is the assumption that multiethnic societies can be restored. Johnson believes that this is "impractical in concept and counterproductive in implementation" where refugee returns are concerned. Again, he argues that attention has been misdirected and would better be spent on resettling and integrating refugees in their new homes, as was done with displaced and expelled Germans after World War II. He cites the Serbian refugees in Serbia as being in particular need of assistance.

The final assumption that Johnson examines is that borders are sacrosanct and that "current administrative units in Southeastern Europe must be maintained at any cost. The corollary is that larger units are better than smaller ones...and that any change in borders will make matters worse rather than better."

Johnson notes that many of the frontiers are arbitrary ones drawn by communist leaders for their own purposes at the end of World War II, including those of Kosova and Bosnia. He suggests that the worldwide trends toward self-determination and majority rule indicate that independence is the only realistic scenario for Kosova, and that the issue must be addressed sooner rather than later.

He considers Bosnia's future "more problematic" because it is a "pretend country of two and often three parts" based on the Dayton agreement imposed by foreigners and not developed by a Bosnian constituent assembly.

He offers two alternative models. One involves increased centralization of what he calls "key state functions" while devolving other functions to two entities, which should be less ethnically based than is the case at present. The other model is a partition, which, Johnson argues, might prove less politically dangerous now than in 1995 because nationalist parties have since been swept from power in both Croatia and Serbia.

Johnson also calls for a clearer roadmap for integrating the countries of the region into the EU as the best stimulus to peace and progress. At the same time, he stresses that the countries must increasingly stand on their own and shed the vestiges of being international protectorates.

His article is certain to provoke lively discussions on a number of points. Some critics will argue that local justice is not yet up to trying major war criminals, and that only The Hague can deal with someone like Milosevic. Other critics will challenge Johnson's views on refugee returns and the reconstruction of multiethnic societies.

As to borders, the EU in particular remains firmly wedded to the idea of the inviolability of existing frontiers -- to the point of forcing a union on Serbia and Montenegro in 2002. Despite a series of changes in leadership, Belgrade doggedly pursues the fiction that it has a future in Kosova, even though some Serbian leaders might say otherwise in private (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002).

Some observers, moreover, will ask how Bosnia might indeed be better and democratically reorganized short of partition. Others will say that partition is as impractical now as it was in 1995 because it would still create an nonviable Muslim rump state that would become a magnet for unsavory influences from the Middle East. Still other critics will ask whether it is in the interest of the United States to continue to support EU expansion into the "New Europe" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 August 2002).

These issues, like many others on the op-ed pages of the American and European press, are not likely to be resolved soon. But at a time when a number of long-accepted as fundamental assumptions in international relations are widely being reconsidered, it might be particularly prudent to examine the issues that Johnson's article raises. (Patrick Moore)

MONTENEGRO FINALLY GETS A PRESIDENT. For many, Filip Vujanovic's victory in the 11 May election was a foregone conclusion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 May 2003).

Vujanovic, who was nominated by Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), was the undisputed front-runner in December and February presidential ballots. But those elections, boycotted by the opposition pro-Belgrade bloc, were invalidated due to low voter turnout.

To avoid another failed election, the parliament scrapped the requirement that 50 percent of registered voters must turn out for the poll to be declared valid.

According to final official results announced on 13 May, Vujanovic received about 64.5 percent of the votes to win a five-year presidential term. Miodrag Zivkovic, the leader of the pro-independence opposition Liberal Alliance, came in second with roughly 33 percent of the vote. The third contender, independent Dragan Hajdukovic, received about 3 percent. Turnout was 48 percent of Montenegro's 458,000 eligible voters.

Speaking after initial, unofficial results were made public, Vujanovic pledged to work to bring Montenegro into the European fold: "I will be a president who will lead Montenegro towards Europe. I will lead it step by step in such a way that we will continue to cooperate with Europe to become members [of Europe] as soon as possible."

Vujanovic, a close ally of pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, becomes Montenegro's first president since Serbia and Montenegro earlier this year agreed to co-exist for three years in a loose union state that replaced rump Yugoslavia. Under Western pressure, Djukanovic shelved earlier plans for immediate independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February 2003).

Vujanovic has pledged that in three years he will call a referendum on independence -- after the new joint state has been given a chance to prove its viability.

Zivkovic and Hajdukovic -- the other two contenders -- also advocate independence. Vujanovic said the surprisingly strong backing for Liberal Zivkovic -- who had been expected to get only around 10 percent of the vote -- showed that support for Montenegro's "European future" is growing.

Zivkovic had previously sharply criticized the ruling coalition for signing the Western-brokered union agreement with Serbia. But seeking to broaden his electoral support among voters who traditionally support close ties with Serbia -- who had no candidate of their own in this election -- he instead focused on criticizing the government for its economic failures and alleged links to organized crime.

Zivkovic had sought to unite all "decent and honest" citizens to get rid of what he alleges is a corrupt government. Conceding defeat on 12 May, he said: "I expect that on the platform we put forward -- fighting for a decent Montenegro -- [all groups in] the opposition will find a common interest, and that on the platform we of the Liberal Alliance put forward, we will come to an understanding and move toward bringing down the regime."

Zivkovic also called for a rebuilding of a mid-1990s coalition between the Liberal Alliance and pro-Belgrade parties.

The pro-Belgrade opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP), the Serbian People's Party (SNS), and the People's Party (NS) failed to nominate a joint candidate for the 11 May ballot. In what looked like a last-minute attempt to put up at least the appearance of a fight, party leaders urged their supporters to back Zivkovic -- despite his pro-independence views. Some voters apparently heeded that advice.

Svetozar Jovicevic is a university professor and a member of the nongovernmental Group for Change. He told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that he does not expect the election to expedite independence, and he believes the issue will be solved through the evolution of relations between Montenegro and Serbia.

Jovicevic added that the president, whose prerogatives under the constitution are mostly representative, should play the role of an integrating factor. But in the light of party polarization, he doubts that will now be the case: "I do not expect, unfortunately, that Mr. Vujanovic can play the role of a president who with his initiative and personal authority could force both the government and the opposition to solve problems quickly."

With Vujanovic's win, Prime Minister Djukanovic's ruling coalition consolidated its dominant position on the political scene. Yet some analysts say the government needs opposition pressure in order to press ahead with lagging reforms and the fight against crime and corruption.

According to a late April opinion poll by the Podgorica-based Center for Democracy, more than 47 percent of respondents say they are disappointed with the government's performance -- a sign that tackling more pressing problems may have to take precedence over talk of independence. (Julia Geshakova and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service)

IN STEP WITH HISTORY IN SLOVENIA. Visitors to Ljubljana who venture beyond the city center eventually stumble across a signpost, plaque, or pillar marking a unique 33-km path. In fact, one cannot avoid it. The city is literally surrounded by what some call the longest avenue in the world -- a circular park comprising 4,700 trees, 260 benches, seven bridges, and other features.

The path marks the route of the barbed wire, bunkers, and guard posts that the Italian occupiers of the city constructed in 1942 to prevent the passage of information, people, and materials from the city to the Partisan movement. With 11 strictly controlled entrances and a perimeter manned by 1,700 soldiers and police, Ljubljana was essentially turned into the largest concentration camp in Europe. The Italian general in charge, Taddeo Orlando, boasted that not even a mouse could pass through the defenses.

Secret routes in and out nonetheless existed, and Ljubljana remained the center of resistance to Italian, and later German, occupation. The city was finally liberated on 9 May 1945 when units of the 29th Division and 7th Corps of the Partisan forces entered Ljubljana.

Every year thousands of Slovenes -- an estimated 18,000 this year -- take to the path during the days around 9 May to commemorate the war's end or, more often, simply to enjoy a stroll in the countryside. Like other mass walks in Slovenia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 January and 15 November 2002), the local enthusiasm for hiking preserves the custom even as its inspiration recedes into history.

The number of name changes seen by the event reflects the changing relationship of the Slovenian public towards this history. The first walk, in 1957, was called "Walk Along the Wire of Occupied Ljubljana." This was succeeded by "Walk on the Paths of Partisan Ljubljana: Path of Memories and Comradeship," "Walk on the Paths of Free Ljubljana," "Walk on the Path Around Ljubljana: Embrace Your City," and -- since 1991 -- simply "Ljubljana Walk."

The socialist-era maps of the city prominently marked the route, with the label "Path of Memories and Comradeship" in the center of the legend. Today's maps still show the route, but the modest label "marked path" has been demoted to a position behind the symbols for gas stations and parking garages.

The trouble is, nobody knows what to call the path anymore -- "comradeship" has lost its cachet. Nodding to the environment, city officials introduced the largely unrecognized name "Green Ring" a few years back. Most people simply refer to the "Path." Were it not for the barbed-wire pattern on the pillars and the small red stars winking from the signs, it would be easy to forget why it exists.

Throughout Slovenia, such reminders of the past are likely to persist for a long time. The Styrian mining town of Velenje -- formerly Titovo ("Tito's") Velenje -- has reverted to its precommunist name, but the 6.2-meter bronze statue of Josip Broz Tito remains. The locals would not have it any other way. It has become a symbol of the town, and Tito now gazes sternly at indifferent skateboarders practicing their moves in the central square.

In Slovenia's National Assembly, the main hall recently underwent a makeover to a warmer, more democratic round layout of seats, but the hallway artwork reflects preoccupations of bygone days. Sketches by Bozidar Jakac and France Mihelic -- two of Slovenia's greatest 20th century artists -- depict the apocalyptic, war-blasted landscapes of World War II, swaggering Nazi officers, and defiant Partisans. A mural in the antechamber hails the rise of the Soviet Union and features a barefoot peasant with a grenade squaring off against a tank.

The communist youth organizations are long gone, but children still attend activities within the oddly curving walls of Ljubljana's Pionirski Dom. From the air, the building's outline becomes ironic: it is an unfinished Greek theta, originally intended to house a seminary.

Other socialist-era monuments fare less well. Across from the National Assembly is the monument to the revolution. The tarnished mass of metal is regularly piled with empty beer cans and cigarette butts.

However, other events and memorials are now starting to mark the new and remember the old. The 25th of June (Nation Day) and 26 December (Independence Day) celebrate the birth of today's democratic Slovenia from its communist past. Across Slovenia, plaques are appearing at churches and mass graves to commemorate the noncommunist dead of World War II and Yugoslavia's postwar killings (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 November 2001, 5 April 2002).

As this public landscape changes, Slovenia's memory of 20th century events will alter as well. The black-and-white distinctions of the old regime will give way to another understanding of the past -- not "balanced," but different. There is no appropriate balance between terror and oppression, between competing totalitarianisms. What will inevitably emerge is a more complete perspective. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I am concerned when I hear...influential voices asking whether the United States would be better served by 'disaggregating' Europe." -- EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana. Quoted in "The Guardian" of 9 May.

"The old Atlantic alliance is crumbling. Germany's foreign policy is becoming more French, bent on rivalry and opposition to the U.S..... The center of gravity seems to be shifting, and 'New Europe' could help the U.S. in the future. It's important that Washington find ways to reward its friends. But after EU enlargement, the line between Old and New Europe is likely to blur. The EU has its own cards to play. And opposing America feels so good." -- Jeff Gedmin of the Aspen Institute Berlin, in "National Review" of 5 May.

"We expect them to make European choices." -- European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin, criticizing Albania for its recent agreement with the U.S. prohibiting the handing over of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 8 May.