27 June 2003, Volume 7, Number 20
NOTE TO READERS:
The next issue of "Balkan Report" will appear on 11 July.
EU MEMBERSHIP FOR WESTERN BALKAN STATES REMAINS 'OVER THERE, FAR AWAY.' One of the most famous Serbian patriotic songs is "Tamo, daleko," or "Over there, far away," which is a legacy of the Serbian forces that served on the Salonika Front during World War I. The message of the 21 June EU-Western Balkans summit at Porto Carras near Thessaloniki is that EU membership for Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro is also far off in the distance.
The summit "brought the countries of the western Balkans back to reality" from their inflated hopes of quick integration with the Brussels-based bloc, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service concluded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June 2002, and 30 May and 13 June 2003).
The participants issued an agenda saying that the eventual admission of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro is a high EU priority, but did not give the five countries the firm target dates and "road maps" for admission that they wanted. Open-ended statements by EU leaders that Europe will not be truly whole until all the Balkan states are integrated into the EU are nothing new.
The Porto Carras participants also issued a declaration stressing that the five countries must show commitment to common values of democracy, rule of law, and a market economy as part of their integration process. Shortly before the summit, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin published an article in several newspapers stressing that the five countries have much to do before they can be considered serious candidates for EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003).
European Commission President Romano Prodi said at Porto Carras that each of the five countries will be considered on its own merits and attain membership depending on how quickly it meets EU criteria. Several EU leaders, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, made it clear that all countries must meet all criteria and that none will be given "fast track" treatment for political reasons. The EU agreed only to increase aid to the five countries for 2004-06 by $237 million over a promised $5.4 billion.
This seems to have come as a rude awakening for at least some of the participants, who certainly had come to expect fast-track treatment, whether justifiably or not. Croatia and Macedonia are the only western Balkan countries to have concluded Stabilization and Association Agreements with the EU.
Most Balkan leaders made an effort to put on a good face after the summit, probably none more so than the Croats, who were arguably the most disappointed, since they had hoped to be given a firm target date of 2007 for admission. To please the EU, Zagreb had refused to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2003). Croatia risks losing $19 million in U.S. military aid as a result.
Croatian President Stipe Mesic told Hina after the meeting in Porto Carras that "the summit has justified our great expectations." Prime Minister Ivica Racan said that "it is difficult to set an exact [target] date for membership...whether it is 2007 or 2010." Foreign Minister Tonino Picula told RFE/RL that his country expects unspecified good things from the Italian EU Presidency from July to December 2003 because Italy is Croatia's largest trading partner. Hope springs eternal.
Macedonian leaders, however, generally did not hide their disappointment at not being given a deadline and a road map (see item below). The Skopje media suggested after the summit that Macedonia will soon sign an ICC agreement with the United States as a reflection of its unhappiness with the EU.
Critics in many countries charged that the EU's tough attitude could discourage Balkan reformers and play into the hands of precisely the corrupt and criminal elements that the EU is trying to combat. Bosnian leaders, as well as those of Serbia and Montenegro, had any hopes dashed of joining the EU in 2007 or soon thereafter, however unrealistic these hopes may have been (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May, and 2 and 19 June 2003).
High Representative Paddy Ashdown does not appear to have been among the Bosnian optimists. He said in Porto Carras that Bosnia must do more to fight crime if it expects to join the EU, adding that there will be "no compromise on standards." Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic stressed that the EU's pledge of additional funds is a good sign of its commitment to the countries of the region. He added that the EU has a point in saying that the five countries have a lot of work ahead of them.
For its part, the EU was able to chalk up one achievement that particularly pleased foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana. Representatives of Kosova and Serbia and Montenegro agreed in Porto Carras to hold talks in late July, albeit not on the exact date or agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report" 13 and 20 June 2003). But as always in the Balkans, the devil will most likely be in the details. The "Financial Times" reported on 23 June that the EU believes that membership for the western Balkan countries will become a realistic possibility only when all remaining border questions are cleared up, primarily that of Kosova.
But some of the five countries, however, do not appear to have placed all or most of their eggs in the EU's basket. Bosnia recently ratified an ICC agreement with the U.S., albeit somewhat grudgingly and primarily out of military necessity. In Tirana on 19 June, the Albanian parliament voted overwhelmingly to ratify an ICC pact with Washington, reaffirming Albania's staunchly pro-American reputation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 9 May, and 11 June 2003).
Former Foreign Minister Paskal Milo, who was one of the three legislators who abstained, said: "If we had waited [to vote until after the EU summit], the decision would have had the same value for the United States [as before]. Just when the EU summit is raising hopes for our future, we should have shown some more respect" for Brussels' wishes. (Patrick Moore)
MACEDONIA'S EU HOPES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS. In the days leading up to the 21 June EU-Western Balkans summit, the Macedonian media speculated at length over its possible outcome. After the summit, the reactions by the members of the Macedonian delegation were as divided as the opinions in the press before the meeting.
One of the editorials published in "Dnevnik" on 21 June was written by Mersel Bilali, who is a former lawmaker for the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD). Being critical in his outlook, Bilali said that the EU has designed a number of instruments not only to help resolve the problems of the Balkans and to speed up the development of the region, but also to curb the Balkan leaders' demands and expectations.
Bilali concluded that nothing spectacular should be expected from Porto Carras. But the summit could at least help to bridge the widely differing views of the Balkan leaders on the one hand and the EU on the other over the question of what should be achieved first: standards of democratization, human rights, and the rule of law -- as stressed by Brussels -- or the acceptance of the countries as EU membership candidates, which many Balkan politicians want.
A totally different approach was chosen by former government spokesman Antonio Milosovski in his commentary for the same issue of "Dnevnik." Adopting a similar view to that of his former boss, Ljubco Georgievski of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), Milosovski believes that Macedonia will remain outside the EU until it resolves three major issues: "Albanian extremism," the name dispute with EU-member Greece, and the future of foreign military missions on Macedonian territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March, 17 April, 31 May, and 6 June 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 June 2003).
In a commentary for RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters, Dobrinka Taskovska, a law professor at Skopje University, said on 18 June that the western Balkan states might get much less support from the EU than they expect. According to Taskovska, the share of EU assistance in the GDPs of Bulgaria and Romania, which are likely to enter the EU in 2007, is much higher than what the EU has offered the western Balkan countries. In her view, the share of EU funds in the western Balkan state budgets becomes even smaller when one bears in mind that, unlike other EU candidates, the former Yugoslav republics have to allocate large parts of what they are given for humanitarian aid and refugee return.
Just as the commentaries before the summit reflected a wide range of opinions, so the statements of Macedonian officials after the gathering were similarly diverse.
Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva did not hide her disappointment when she charged that Macedonia's expectations were not met. "I believe that we should act with the necessary realism," Mitreva said. She stressed that the integration of the western Balkans is high on the EU's agenda, but added: "We expected to achieve candidate status during the summit, but we did not...We expected to be given a timetable for the integration process, but this did not happen. We expected to gain access to EU funds, but this access has not yet been granted." Mitreva indicated that the government is considering submitting an official application for EU membership by the end of this year -- after a careful analysis of the summit's final document and its implications (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 23 June 2003).
President Boris Trajkovski tried to be more diplomatic. "One cannot say that [the summit] was a historical event or a turning point. However, for the first time since the Zagreb summit in [November] 2000, the Greek EU presidency has organized a forum for the countries of the western Balkans and the EU, which resulted in a concrete document, the final declaration of Thessaloniki," he added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2000 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 and 28 November and 1 December 2000).
Trajkovski concluded: "Now that we are facing a new enlargement process of the EU, we hope that nobody will ever again draw lines of division in the Balkans. In the future, the western Balkans will not remain on the margins of Europe."
Teuta Arifi, who heads the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told the press in Porto Carras on 21 June that one should consider the positive aspects of the summit. In her view, there should be more joint meetings between countries of the western Balkans and the EU. She feels that the most important result of the summit is the realization that the integration process can only be implemented through a joint effort. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, email@example.com)
NEW WAR GRAVE ACT BRINGS LITTLE PEACE IN SLOVENIA. Bells hold a special place in Slovenian culture. Church bells fall silent on Maundy Thursday, waiting to peal exuberantly on Easter morning. At many churches, bell ringers regularly climb the towers to hammer out melodies in the evenings.
Less formal bell-ringing is also popular. Those hiking into Slovenia from Austria's Remschenig Valley can pause in the forest at 1,334 meters to ring the bells at the church of St. Lenart, and trekkers enjoy a similar bell at the top of Trdinov Vrh on the Croatian border. A small bell also welcomes hikers to the summit of Smarna Gora, Ljubljana's most popular weekend destination.
Soon another sort of bell will peal across the Slovenian countryside -- over 150 of them, in fact. The newly passed War Graves Act will regulate and mark the many unmarked graves across the country dating from World War II and immediately thereafter (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 November 2001, and 5 April 2002).
The uniform monument to be established at the majority of the sites is a 2.5 meter high, 150 kilogram cylindrical bronze bell. The bells will be placed on a concrete base and suspended internally, so that passersby can set them in motion with the push of a hand. Each monument will cost 1 million Slovenian tolars ($5,000), "Delo" reported on 20 June.
Special memorials will be established at Teharje, near Celje, and in Kocevski Rog in the south of the country, "Delo" reported on 21 June. Thousands annually gather for commemorations at these two sites, which saw some of the most notorious postwar killings. The Teharje site has been designated a priority and will be turned into a memorial park, scheduled to open this October.
Each bell will also be labeled with a place name, the number of victims, their affiliation, and geographical coordinates. In addition, the act provides for one of three inscriptions: "Fell in War" (military wartime mass graves), "Died as Victims of War" (civilian wartime mass graves), and "Victims of War and Postwar Killings" (postwar mass graves).
It was these inscriptions -- particularly the last -- that provoked the greatest controversy and postponed passage of the act, which was submitted to the 90-member National Assembly over five years ago. The opposition conservative Social Democratic Party (SDS) and New Slovenia party (NSi) boycotted the assembly's 20 June session, but a quorum was nonetheless mustered to pass the act with 44 votes to three.
The original proposal had referred to "victims of the revolution," but the committee responsible for the matter changed this to the more oblique "postwar killings." This prompted the SDS and NSi to unsuccessfully propose amendments to the act, laying the blame more squarely on the former communist regime. Frustrated at the rejection of their proposals, the SDS and NSi members of the committee withdrew in protest on 4 June.
Criticism of the opposition came from several quarters. Saso Pece of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS), quoted in "Delo" on 8 June, characterized the behavior of the SDS and NSi as "base and irresponsible" and labeled the parties "degenerate." The head of the committee, Peter Kovacic Persin, suggested that the politicians should stop getting involved in ideological disputes and trying to use the past to score present-day political points.
Franci Rokavec, a delegate from the Slovenian People's Party (SLS), defended the opposition's efforts, saying that "the War Graves Act does not realistically characterize events during and after the Second World War, but serves to falsify historical events." France Cukjati, head of the SDS parliamentary group, was more blunt: "The War Graves Act cannot be based on lies and pretense. We have to call a spade a spade," he said, adding that "it is vital for our national conscience that we bring ourselves to say and write that the revolution also had its victims."
Those defending the new act express equally strong feelings. The 22 June article in "Delo" referred to the defeated amendments with special invective, characterizing them as "a final attempt by former pro-Hitler soldiers in Domobranci [Home Guard] uniforms...and their like-minded cohorts to revise history at the expense of the dead."
In a 20 December article in "Delo" last year, Kovacic Persin spoke of the need for reconciliation: "Reconciliation is not a legislated act demanding the ascertainment of guilt and its punishment. Guilt for the mass killings after the war lies on both sides -- on that which mobilized a portion of the Slovenian people for its ideological goals on the side of counterrevolution, as well as on those that, in the euphoria of their victory, trampled on the most fundamental tenets of military behavior and thereby tarnished the justified struggle for national liberation."
Despite the passage of the new act, the bitterness between the two sides persists. As a "Delo" article of 13 April observed, the controversy apparently will not rest until "the wartime generation that was divided against itself...is no longer." (Donald F. Reindl, firstname.lastname@example.org)
BOSNIAN RECONCILIATION IN MICROCOSM. Muhamed Bukva and Jovan Jovanovic were best friends before the 1992-95 Bosnian war but found themselves on opposite ends of the four-year conflict, which left a quarter of a million people either dead or missing. RFE/RL correspondent Alen Bajramovic spoke to the two friends about life today and what it was like to fight on different sides of the frontline.
The village of Miljanovici is 7 kilometers from the town of Gorazde, which was one of three UN-designated safe areas in eastern Bosnia. During the Bosnian war, Miljanovici found itself on the frontlines, first controlled by the Bosnian Serb army and then by forces from the mainly Muslim Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The first shells of the war delivered hate, dividing the village's inhabitants. Neighbors burned each other's houses down and destroyed property. For four years, friends sometimes only saw each other through the sight of a rifle.
Jovan Jovanovic was born in 1967 and spent his childhood in Miljanovici: "I had friends, meaning both [Muslims] and Serbs. Back then, nationality or religion wasn't important."
Muhamed Bukva, who was a school friend of Jovanovic's, is nostalgic about the years before the Bosnian war: "We visited each other on holidays. They visited us on Bajram. And so I had a lot of friends who were Serbs with whom I would hang out. Among them is one who I trusted most and who was my best friend from childhood -- my colleague Jovan Jovanovic. We went to school together, went to feasts in the evenings, visited bars and village fairs together."
When the war began, however, the two friends found themselves serving as soldiers but wearing different uniforms. They were on the opposite sides of the frontline.
Jovanovic recalls the first days of the war: "Everyone took sides. I went to the army with my people. Muhamed went to his. There were many difficult moments certainly, on both sides, because war brings no good to anyone. It brings only misery and suffering."
Both admit that when the guns were silent, they thought of one another. Bukva recalls that he was often hungry because humanitarian aid came rarely: "I was thinking whether my friend had something better than I did, and where he could possibly be. Is he here at all? Because no one could tell me if he was here or not. I kept asking and answering by myself -- is my friend here? Does he have anything to eat? Does he think that I have something to eat?"
Aware that each bullet fired could kill a friend on the other side, Jovanovic and Bukva try to answer the question of what would have happened if they had met by chance during the war.
Jovanovic: "What would have happened if I met my friend like this -- wearing a gun? I was armed, normally -- me as a soldier of the Army of the Republika Srpska and he as soldier of the federation army. And if two of us would meet in a situation, how would we react then? Would we shake hands? Give a hug? Give a kiss? Or we would maybe shoot at each other? I can speak for myself, but knowing him well, I believe he had the same opinion -- [that is,] we couldn't shoot each other, even though we were in war and everything that had happened. The period of our friendship, however, was longer than the period of war."
For his part, Bukva said: "Knowing pre-war life and that we were very, very good friends and neighbors, we would still come to the same conclusion -- [that is] put the guns down by a tree or on the ground, sit down, say hello and talk to each other, and afterward each of us would go back to his side."
Today, Jovanovic and Bukva are together again. Muslims and Serbs have returned to their burned-out villages. After four years of war, they now realize the only thing they achieved was poverty and destruction.
As Jovanovic said: "Those were the best years of our lives wasted in a period where we could have achieved something better for our future. Both of us are aware that neither of us is a cause nor a consequence of that war. We were only two grains of dust, which as people say, the wind would carry in one direction or another, so we couldn't predict or change anything. War is the biggest nonsense. I would probably never again put myself or anybody else in a position to kill or to get killed. With my current attitude, I think that I would probably pack my bags, and you know, put my rags -- if I had some -- in a bag and go somewhere where there is, you know, peace, where nobody thinks about war and where there is no war."
Now, former enemies are joining in Miljanovici to rebuild the houses. The residents of Miljanovici are celebrating Bajram and Christmas together again. They are socializing at feasts and village fairs. Their children play together and go to school. It is a tradition of forgiveness and reconciliation that many people find difficult to understand.
Jovanovic says he believes strongly in the idea that everyone in Bosnia can live in peace and sends this message: "We need to look straight to the future, to build a better future for us, our families, and our descendants -- and try to behave in order not to repeat in the future what has already happened, neither to us nor to our children." (A broadcast by Alen Bajramovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service)
A JOKE FROM BOSNIA. A radio broadcasting crew from a program for schoolchildren arrived in a village to ask the peasants to discuss their daily lives for the benefit of the young listeners.
One peasant stepped up to the mike and said: "We get up early, at about 4:30, and have a shot or two of slivovitz before taking the sheep out. While they're going about their business, we knock back another four or five shots..."
At this point the program director interrupts him: "Hey, are you for real? This is a kids' program. We want them to hear about how your lives are filled with culture, with books. Start over again."
So the peasant begins again. "We get up early, at "about 4:30, and read through one or two books before taking the sheep out. While they're going about their business, we sit back and read the whole time.
"Afterwards, at lunch, we take along a thick book so we can sleep better after the meal. Then my buddy Pero comes along and we read through three or four books before we go into the village for the evening.
"The entire village gets together in the library. There we all read and offer reviews and commentaries on what we have read. At 10 the librarian announces last call because we've already read through most of the books. At that point we go to my neighbor Niko's place, where he has his own printing shop."
(Translated by Patrick Moore. The joke is also a bitter commentary on the problems of rural communities following the postcommunist near-collapse of many traditional forms of rural employment, such as forestry, that enabled villagers to do more than tend sheep.)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "They [the countries of the western Balkans] must be financially supported, so that investments can be made in the economy, in the infrastructure. When this happens, all ethno-religious questions that have always tormented the Balkans will disappear." -- Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov. Quoted in Sofia on his webpage, http://www.president.bg, after his return from Porto Carras on 21 June.
"There is a theory that Serbia has been standing still for 150 years despite all the changes of regimes, ideologies, world powers, and world wars. When all is said and done, Serbia remains the same. And now, as everything [around us] moves ahead at a rapid pace, we are finding ourselves closer than ever to our past.... It is up to us alone whether we are to finally make progress." -- A commentary in Belgrade's "Nedeljni telegraf" of 24 June.