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Balkan Report: August 15, 2003

15 August 2003, Volume 7, Number 26

SUMMER THEATER, SERBIAN STYLE. Many leading Serbian politicians have been increasingly speaking out about Kosova lately. That they do so raises some questions about them, their electorate, and their country's future.

Summer is traditionally known in the journalistic profession as the "silly season," a time when the newspapers fill up with stories about the warm weather or about alleged sightings of the Loch Ness monster, Radovan Karadzic, or General Ratko Mladic. One reason for this is that the politicians who otherwise generate much of the news are on vacation.

But Serbia has proved something of an exception. Although elections may well not take place before 2004, many leading politicians have been speaking out about Kosova as though their political futures depended on it. And indeed they well might.

On 12 August, the Serbian cabinet approved a draft document on Kosova and sent it to the parliament for debate and a vote after the summer recess. The text stresses that Kosova is an "inseparable" part of Serbia, and criticizes the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) for failing to improve security, curb organized crime, or restore a multiethnic society.

The draft calls for the punishment of ethnic Albanians guilty of war crimes, protection for Serbian historical monuments, a role for Serbian security forces in protecting Serbs and other non-Albanians, and wide autonomy for Kosova as an autonomous province of Serbia, like Vojvodina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 13 and 20 June, and 1 August 2003).

The document was approved one day before Harri Holkeri, the newly appointed head of UNMIK, made his first visit to Kosova. Part of the reason for the timing of the draft probably was to present Holkeri with Serbia's opening gambit in what is likely to be its prolonged effort to regain influence in Kosova or build up political capital there in hopes of winning concessions in Bosnia or elsewhere on the diplomatic front.

The document also appears to be an attempt by the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition to shore up support among nationalist voters and divert popular attention from widespread poverty, corruption, and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 28 March, 9 May, 25 July, and 8 August 2003).

The DOS must compete for the reformist vote with the G-17 Plus political party of Miroljub Labus and Mladjan Dinkic, who has sought to expose corruption in the government. The governing coalition also wants to attract nationalist voters who might otherwise cast a ballot for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. He rarely misses an opportunity to speak out on Kosova and has been picking up support in recent polls.

And then there is the approximately 10 percent of the electorate loyal to the parties that backed former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- who himself rose to power in the second half of the 1980s by exploiting the Kosova issue. These parties include die-hard nationalists who are unlikely to switch votes to anyone appearing "soft" on Kosova.

Hence the politicians have been attempting to play the Kosova card. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 12 August that Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko's recent comments on Kosova constituted "flagrant interference in the internal affairs" of Serbia. Majko said in Tirana on 9 August that he will stay away from an upcoming Balkan security conference in Montenegro in protest against the draft Serbian constitution that refers to Kosova as part of Serbia.

Meanwhile, Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi called the reference to Kosova in the draft constitution a "provocation." Outspoken Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's pointman for Kosova, replied that Rexhepi's remarks "prove" that some Kosovar politicians do not want a dialogue with Serbia and are looking for "excuses" to avoid one -- although nobody in Belgrade or Prishtina seems particularly interested in the "dialogue," which is a pet project of the EU (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003).

In recent days, Kostunica has spoken out several times on Kosova and warned against "premature" talks between Belgrade and Prishtina.

Elsewhere, the Serbian Orthodox Church published a "Memorandum" reasserting the view that Kosova is the "Jerusalem of the Serbian nation." This is especially interesting if one recalls surveys conducted before the 1999 Kosova conflict, which showed that only about a quarter of all Serbs had ever cared enough about Kosova to go there as tourists.

Across the border from Kosova in the Presevo valley, there have been curious developments in recent days, too. The shadowy Albanian National Army (ANA) said in a statement on its website on 12 August that it is responsible for the recent mortar attack on a Serbian army installation near Dobrosin in southern Serbia, which has a large ethnic Albanian population. Dobrosin figured prominently during the 1999-2001 tensions in the Presevo valley region.

Meanwhile, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic said on 12 August that 15 gunmen opened fire on a Serbian patrol on a road running from southern Serbia to Podujeva in Kosova. He called the attack "a very aggressive attack, an escalation."

There has been no independent confirmation of the incident, and local ethnic Albanian leaders say they know of no ANA activity in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). Nonetheless, Serbia and Montenegro's Supreme Defense Council met on 14 August to discuss the situation in Presevo and Kosova, where unidentified gunmen killed two Serbian teenagers the previous day.

Bosnia has also attracted the attention of some politicians. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said in Belgrade on 12 August that his government insists that Bosnia withdraw its lawsuit for genocide against Serbia in The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Batic warned that if Bosnia does not do so, his government will present the ICJ with "voluminous evidence" of genocide against Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict. Belgrade demands that Bosnia and Croatia drop genocide suits against it in return for Serbia's dropping similar charges against eight NATO-member states stemming from the 1999 war to stop the Serbian crackdown in Kosova. Bosnian Muslim leader Sulejman Tihic rebuffed Batic, saying that Bosnia will not enter into any political "deals" involving matters in which justice is at stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003).

As columnist Helle Dale wrote in "The Washington Times" on 6 August, Serbia's leaders do not appear to have learned anything from their defeats in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova in the way that the Germans learned from theirs in 1945. Belgrade, she notes, is moving energetically to regain its position in the Balkan power constellation.

But Nexhat Daci, who is the speaker of Kosova's parliament, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 12 August that the future of Kosova does not depend on Belgrade but rather on the people who live in the province. He stressed that the democratic institutions of Kosova have enough to do in implementing European standards and seeking European integration without engaging in sterile political debates with Belgrade.

The new Serbian draft statement is, in fact, likely to be totally unacceptable to the more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority in Kosova, which wants nothing to do with Belgrade. On 13 August, Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Rexhepi, and speaker Daci predictably rejected the declaration, stressing that the Kosovars want "independence and sovereignty." All ethnic Albanian political parties demand independence for the province. But that seems quite irrelevant to the Serbian politicians on the stump. (Patrick Moore)

SLOVENIAN-CROATIAN TENSIONS RESURFACE IN THE ADRIATIC. The announcement on 1 August by the Croatian Agriculture Ministry of plans to establish an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic Sea this fall has rekindled animosity between Slovenia and Croatia.

Arguments over rights to the sea reached fever pitch in the summer of 2002, centering on fishing rights in the Bay of Piran and Slovenian access to international waters (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May, 23 and 30 August, and 13 September 2002).

At that time, Slovenes were indignant that Croatia favored a demarcation of territorial waters denying Slovenia access to international waters by several kilometers. Croatia has upped the ante this year: if agreement can be reached with Italy on mutual declaration of an EEZ, Slovenian vessels will have to sail 500 kilometers to reach international waters off the shores of Montenegro and Albania. The Slovenian news site has published a map of the plan (available at:

Croatia is portraying its move as an attempt to protect the sea, and says that factory ships flying Panamanian, Japanese, and Chinese flags are depleting fish stocks, "Delo" reported on 5 August. Four days later, Croatian President Stipe Mesic said that the EEZ will also protect the Adriatic against ecological catastrophes such as oil spills.

Some in Croatia clearly have little patience with Slovenia's objections. In comments in a "Delo" article on 7 August, the head of Croatia's Government Fisheries Office, Ivan Katavic, stated that Slovenia's predicament is unambiguous. Just as Croatia is clearly cut off from the Alps, says Katavic, Slovenia is cut off from international waters. As such, Slovenia is officially classified as a "geographically disadvantaged state."

Others are even more blunt. In comments in "Delo" on 8 August, Croatian Assistant Foreign Minister Darko Bekic dismissed the concerns, saying "Slovenia is hypersensitive and nervous now because of the hot weather and the slow season for news."

Part Five of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (available at: deals with the declaration of EEZs. Under the convention, a coastal state is able to assert its exclusive right to manage all natural resources in a band up to 200 nautical miles from its shore -- from the fish in the water to mineral deposits beneath the sea floor.

Contrary to fears voiced by some, Slovenia would still be guaranteed the right to freedom of navigation and overflight. However, Slovenia's fishing privileges -- if any -- would be determined by Croatia. In addition to quotas, Croatia could impose licensing fees, station observers on Slovenian vessels, and force them to dock in Croatian ports.

The convention calls upon states to act with "due regard" to the rights of other states and "cooperate" with them, as well as to take into account traditional fishing areas used by foreign nationals. However, it does not set forth concrete provisions for doing so.

Slovenian politicians have been unanimous in condemning the Croatian plan, and have cast doubts on its feasibility. Brussels is unlikely to look favorably on unilateral proclamation of the first EEZ in the Mediterranean area, they say.

In comments in "Delo" on 7 August, Roman Jakic of the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) party said that he feels the issue is partly pre-election maneuvering by the Croatian government. The Croatian government may be looking to garner votes in Dalmatia, which is economically dependent on the Adriatic.

Andrej Vizjak of the conservative opposition Social Democratic Party (SDS) characterized the initiative as emblematic of the poor relations between the two countries, while Zmago Jelincic of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS) said the dispute underscores the need for an international conference on a post-Yugoslav "division" of the Adriatic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August 2003).

The issue has boiled over into domestic politics as well. Parliamentary representative Joze Jerovsek (SDS) took advantage of the opportunity to criticize the government for not protecting Slovenian interests. Perhaps more embarrassing for Prime Minister Anton Rop (LDS) is the fact that -- like thousands of his fellow countrymen -- he had been spending his summer vacation in Croatia.

"Delo" reported on 9 August that Jerovsek called on Rop to break off his vacation on the Dalmatian island of Pag and return to Slovenia in protest. Rop has indeed returned home early, but denied that his decision is connected with the dispute with Croatia, "Delo" reported on 12 August. In comments published the same day, Rop called for cooperation, stating, "I believe we can be good neighbors and good partners in the European Union," citing Slovenia's support for Croatian accession to the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003).

Whatever the true motives are behind Croatia's interest in establishing an EEZ, the Slovenian assessment is clear. The headline for the weekly news roundup in the 10 August edition of "Delo" simply reads, "Croatians Want The Adriatic Sea For Themselves." (Donald F. Reindl,

GERMAN WAZ GROUP BUYS UP MACEDONIAN-LANGUAGE DAILIES. In a largely expected move, the German WAZ media group announced on 28 July that it has purchased the majority of shares in the three major Macedonian-language dailies: "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest." The papers, which have a total of 350 employees and a combined circulation of some 120,000 copies, will be part of the newly founded company Media Print Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2003). It will be headed by Srgjan Kerim, who is not only the country's former foreign minister, but also its former ambassador to Germany and the United Nations.

WAZ's plans to buy up the newspapers have been an open secret in Macedonia for months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). Therefore, neither the announcement of the purchase nor that of the persons involved came as a surprise. They are Kerim and Bodo Hombach, who is a former coordinator of the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact and now one of WAZ's four managing directors.

With the acquisition of these newspapers, the German media giant has gained a near-monopoly in the market for Macedonian-language dailies. The remaining papers -- the state-run "Nova Makedonija" and the tabloid "Vecer" from the same company, as well as the private "Makedonija denes" -- are fighting for their economic survival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002).

In recent years, WAZ managed to gain a strong position in the media market of some neighboring countries, such as Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania. In Bulgaria, where it owns the dailies "Trud" and "24 Chasa," the German media group reportedly holds one-third of the print media market and about one-half of the advertising market. In Croatia, the situation is similar (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 24 June 2003).

With his experience with Balkan ways and the region's fondness for conspiracy theories, Hombach probably expected that such a powerful position in the Macedonian media market would set off all manner of speculation about the group's possible agendas. It therefore came as no surprise that in the press release announcing the purchase of three dailies, the WAZ group also stated that it was among the first European media houses to sign the OSCE Principles for Guaranteeing Editorial Independence (see

As if this were not enough, Hombach gave an interview to Deutsche Welle's Macedonian Service on 1 August, in which he stressed that his company will "provide space" for journalists who seek to cover politics critically. He added that the WAZ group is a sound alternative for journalists who want to work freely without economic and political pressures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003).

But the reports about Hombach's interview that appeared in "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" on 4 August seemed to confirm fears that WAZ's monopoly position could limit the diversity of information -- the two texts were almost identical.

Critics include Ljubomir Frckovski, a former interior and foreign minister and presidential adviser. In "Dnevnik" on 5 August, he commented ironically that it was good that somebody gave the "free journalists" of "free newspapers" the same text and even the same photograph.

But Frckovski would not have been Frckovski had he not also outlined his own conspiracy theory regarding WAZ's policies. According to him, an unnamed rich honorary chairman of an unspecified opposition party in Macedonia (a not-so-subtle reference to former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski) recently gave money to a Greek businessman. By using a Greek middleman, Georgievski allegedly hopes to gain influence over the papers that have been acquired by the German media group. Frckovski is known for his concerns regarding growing Greek influence in Macedonia and the possible political comeback of his old rival, Georgievski.

Hombach, for his part, obviously knew about these rumors at the time of his interview. He denied that any Greeks have tried to buy shares of the newly founded Media Print Macedonia. "These are grotesque inventions," Hombach told Deutsche Welle. "As a matter of fact, [we are holding] talks about the possibility of the WAZ group buying shares in the [Greek] Lambrakis publishing house, not the other way round. And that has nothing to do with our engagement in other countries."

An unnamed commentator for the Albanian-language Macedonian weekly "Lobi" of 8 August pointed to other problematic aspects of WAZ's latest acquisition. The lack of clear antimonopoly legislation enabled the Germans to gain a monopoly position. The author also charges that Kerim, who will head this monopoly, has some political accounts to settle in Macedonia.

Be that as it may, Hombach and Kerim will need to show a critical public that they are serious about their pledges to respect editorial independence. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "An army that until yesterday stood accused of war crimes will now become a guardian of peace in crisis areas across the world." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic on his recent offer of peacekeepers for Iraq or Liberia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 8 August 2003).

"Making its first official statement on the majority Albanian province since the 1999 conflict, Serbia said it wants to retake control of Kosovo but promised the Albanians 'substantial autonomy.' The Serbs claim that the United Nations and NATO, who are in charge there, have failed to establish a 'democratic and multiethnic society.'

"Whoa, there. Any decisions on Kosovo's future won't be made in Belgrade or Pristina, the region's capital, but by the UN Security Council. The government in Belgrade needlessly raised tensions and suspicions in a region where the wounds are only starting to heal. And the Serbs aren't exactly renowned for their commitment to 'multiethnic society'....

"The blame for the uncertainty goes to America and Europe, who've for four years hemmed and hawed about stating the obvious: Kosovo won't be going back under Belgrade's control. Most Serbs privately acknowledge this fact, too. Instead of trying to preserve artificial borders, the Western allies can do far more good by aggressively guiding these countries to independence as well as to closer integration with the EU. A clear-sighted approach on their part will best avoid any future misunderstandings." -- "The Wall Street Journal Europe," on 14 August, commenting on the Serbian government's declaration on Kosova (see article above).