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Balkan Report: August 29, 2003

29 August 2003, Volume 7, Number 28

BOSNIA LAUNCHES INTEGRATED EDUCATION. On 1 September, pupils and students in Bosnia-Herzegovina begin a new school year. In contrast to recent years, their schools will now be part of a single unified system. At least in theory.

Education officials of the Croat-Muslim federation, the Republika Srpska, the cantonal governments, and the Brcko district government signed an OSCE-sponsored agreement in Sarajevo on 8 August to replace the three ethnically-based education systems with a unified one (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 26, and 27 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April and 6 June 2003).

This step is part of a broader educational reform project headed by OSCE Ambassador Robert Beecroft aimed at ending the costly duplication of administrative structures. Until now -- in some mixed Muslim and Croat areas in particular -- separate, parallel systems existed in one and the same school building, with pupils of different ethnic groups using the same computer facilities or other specialized equipment at different times of the day. Under the reform, 52 mixed Croat and Muslim schools will now operate from the same budget and presumably share administrations and facilities.

Immense problems nonetheless remain. Many nationalist politicians, administrators, and teachers have already made it clear that they will obstruct the changes, which threaten the jobs of some of them. To avoid such disruptions, there will always be the costly temptation to engage in featherbedding. This could materialize in Tito-era Yugoslav style by appointing "deputies" of one ethnic group to an official of a different ethnicity who actually does the work in question.

The necessary reform legislation is supposed to be passed within six months by the parliament of the Republika Srpska and by the legislatures of each canton in the Muslim-Croat federation, but it is clear that there will be numerous attempts at foot-dragging on that front, too.

At stake, of course, is the whole issue of the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a unified and multiethnic state (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 May 2003). The three nationalist parties won the 2002 elections and are in a good position to influence the course of events on the ground, despite the ability of the international community to use financial incentives and administrative sanctions to promote reforms. In particular, some Croatian officials belonging to the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) have argued that they need to maintain their own school system lest they become dominated by and assimilated into the much larger Muslim population.

The reforms, moreover, also envision an eventual transition from three distinct curricula and sets of school books to a single one. As it stands, three different systems are in use, with the Croatian and Serbian ones taken essentially from the education ministries of Croatia and Serbia, respectively.

In literature, history, and the social sciences, nationalist views are predominant in all three sets of textbooks. Children in the Republika Srpska learn that "our country is Serbia," for example, and each system presents its own interpretation of recent history that is in stark contrast to that of the other two.

Yet another problem is a unified language of instruction. Serbo-Croatian is a single language with recognizable dialect differences based primarily on geography, not on ethnicity. The Serbs and Croats of Bosnia speak more like their Muslim neighbors than like their cousins in Serbia or Croatia. But since 1991 at the latest, the principle has been accepted among nationalists across former Yugoslavia that each people must have its own language, just as each must have its own flag.

For the Slovenes, Macedonians, and Albanians, this was no problem. But in the Serbo-Croatian-speaking areas, nationalists have sought to accentuate real or imagined differences to create separate Croatian, Bosnian, and Serbian "languages," and use the resulting often artificial formulations and grammatical structures in their respective textbooks. (Were this principle applied to English, French, German, or Spanish, they would each have to be split into probably hundreds or thousands of "languages.")

The results of post-Yugoslav linguistic political correctness have often been unintentionally amusing or even hilarious, such as when former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic -- whose normal speech reflects her Sarajevo origins -- used to appear on television affecting the Serbian of Belgrade. This is roughly the equivalent of Hilary Rodham Clinton speaking on television with the accent of her husband. But the Serbian, Muslim, and Croatian nationalists -- who do not use interpreters among themselves -- can be expected to obstruct reforms by invoking the principle of linguistic identity.

Last but not least is the matter of the pupils and students themselves, who still attend ethnically segregated classes. One reason social segregation has also been generally effective in recent years is that peer pressure -- encouraged by parents and teachers -- has often proven highly intolerant of friendships or romances across the ethnic divides. Young people of one ethnic group often complain bitterly of taunting and even physical abuse when they try to attend a school dominated by a different ethnic group.

This will have to change if the reforms -- and Bosnia-Herzegovina as a unified, multi-ethnic state -- are to succeed. Programs and competitions might be encouraged in sports, music, the arts, and natural sciences where talent can potentially play a decisive role over ethnicity.

But this will only come to pass if parents and their children want it to. If they do not, then some more profound questions about the future of Bosnia and other multiethnic Balkan states will need to be honestly addressed. (Patrick Moore)

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S DEFENSE MINISTER WARNS AGAINST PLAYING WITH FIRE. In apparent contradiction to recent remarks by General Branko Krga, who heads Serbia and Montenegro's General Staff, Defense Minister Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 25 August that the 1999 Kumanovo agreement between Belgrade and NATO and the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 do not provide for the return of Serbian forces to Kosova to protect Serbian enclaves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 27 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, and 22 August 2003).

He noted that Serbian forces may at some point legally return to Kosova only to provide border security, protect religious monuments, maintain contact with KFOR, and clear minefields.

Tadic said that there are three other scenarios under which he could envisage Serbian security forces returning to Kosova. The first would require the approval of KFOR. The second would involve an armed conflict with KFOR, which would lead to death and destruction. Tadic stressed that "no normal person in this country should ever suggest such a thing." The final scenario would involve amending Resolution 1244.

The defense minister concluded that it is important to note that the issue of returning Serbian forces to Kosova is a sensitive one that should not be misused for political purposes. He warned that anyone raising the subject must do so with great care.

Tadic also mentioned that unspecified war crimes charges are being prepared against General Vladimir Lazarevic, a Kosova veteran who was recently sacked as deputy head of the Army's General Staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003).

The ethnic Albanian majority of Kosova has made it clear that Serbian forces are not welcome in the province, where they are associated with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal policies. The international community has generally recognized that any Serbian forces in Kosova would act as a magnet for ethnic Albanian extremist attacks.

But the question again arises: why has there been so much talk about Kosova in recent weeks in Serbia, talk that prompted Tadic to attempt to bring some political dreamers back to reality?

Nebojsa Medojevic, who heads the Center for Transition, told Belgrade's "Glas javnosti" recently that he is suspicious of the reasons for the attention paid lately by many Serbian and Montenegrin politicians to external relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003).

Medojevic suggested that what is afoot is "an old trick of Balkan politicians," who reverse priorities when they have no ready answer for the most important issues of the day. By distracting popular attention from crucial matters -- such as poverty, unemployment, corruption, and crime -- the politicians gain breathing space and room to maneuver. Medojevic added that he hopes that few people in Serbia will be taken in by such tricks. (Patrick Moore)

MORE MOVES TOWARDS DISARMAMENT IN MACEDONIA? For the second time in as many years, the international community is backing efforts to disarm Macedonian society. The task will not be easy, for a variety of reasons.

The objective of Operation Essential Harvest in the fall of 2001 was to disarm the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK). During this first operation, however, only a small portion of the arms in circulation were handed in, and it involved only the ethnic Albanian side in the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 August and 6, 7, 11, and 26 September 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 August and 19 September 2001).

The international community has now called on the government to carry out another weapons-collection operation, this time among the civilian population as a whole in a country with a deeply-rooted Balkan gun culture.

The planned six-week weapons collection operation, which is sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), was originally scheduled to begin on 1 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May and 14 July 2003). The international community sought a postponement, however, in order to improve preparations.

The UNDP had demanded that the process begin as late as March 2004 but in the end had to settle for a delay of only one month. "1 November is a solid date [for beginning disarmament]," Interior Minister Hari Kostov said. "It gives us enough time for an intensive media campaign.... And its end [on 15 December] coincides with the end of the EU military mission's mandate." UNDP representatives had warned that winter conditions might seriously impede the operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003).

The disarmament will be coordinated by a government body headed by Gezim Ostreni, who is a former commander of the UCK. When the coordinating body presented the disarmament program in July, Ostreni said there will be no extension of the deadline to hand in illegally held arms.

Consequently, immediately after the expiration of the 15 December deadline, stricter legal regulations and more severe punishment for illegal arms possession will come into force. "The operation must not have a political character, that is, one [ethnic] group [must not] use the state to disarm the other," Ostreni cautioned, referring to the limited success of Operation Essential Harvest in the fall of 2001.

But recent developments suggest that the arms collection might well have a political character, albeit not of the sort that Ostreni had in mind. And there are indications that the project might fail completely.

On 18 August, the government ruled that all former government officials, party members, and other persons in public life -- such as artists, journalists, or even bishops -- who were rewarded with pistols and other firearms for their services by the Interior Ministry must return the guns within 15 days.

The governing Social Democratic-led (SDSM) coalition thus sought to undo a practice widespread under the previous government headed by Ljubco Georgievski of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). According to various newspaper reports, then-Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski handed out pistols to all government members, and Georgievski alone owned several firearms by the end of his tenure.

All in all, the Interior Ministry issued more than 500 decrees for such rewards in 2002 alone, which had cost the state some $280,000.

What followed was an absurd summer theater. Some VMRO-DPMNE members like former Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska argued that the pistols they were granted were worth much less than reported. Then the VMRO-DPMNE leadership proposed a deal, saying that its functionaries would turn in their guns if the Interior Ministry agrees to build three police stations in the former crisis regions.

In the end, the whole campaign for disarming former government officials and other VMRO-DPMNE followers backfired on the government. As it turned out, granting guns was common not only under Georgievski's government, but also under previous administrations. And these governments were headed by incumbent Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the SDSM, who himself was rewarded with two pistols.

No wonder that some critics such as Branko Geroski of the daily "Dnevnik" have accused the government of double standards. And Mersel Bilali, an ethnic Albanian former lawmaker, asked in the same paper whether government officials will now also return the apartments and cars they have received from the state.

Such critical remarks aside, the government campaign to disarm former officials might jeopardize the whole weapons-collection operation. Recent statements like former Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov's comment that "as long as [former rebel leader] Ali Ahmeti does not disarm, I will not hand in my guns, either," mirror the widespread reluctance to break with a deeply-rooted Balkan tradition of gun ownership. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENES AND CROATS WATCH THE BORDER BETWEEN THEM GROW. Slovenia's Zamost border crossing into Croatia lies in one of the most inaccessible corners of the country, where the Kolpa River emerges from the rugged wilderness of Croatia's Gorski Kotar region. An acquaintance who grew up there likened the environment to the Wild West, with its own rules.

Like the people, the roads there also have a mind of their own. An armchair tourist, tracing out routes in his atlas, is soon struck by an unexpected punch line: you can't get there from here. Sure, there are roads, but they plunge headlong across state borders, apparently without the blessing of border stations.

Drivers who press on westward from the Petrina border crossing, instead of heading south towards Rijeka, find themselves on one of the most pleasant country roads in Slovenia -- a narrow, meandering path hugging the course of the Kolpa, overhung by willows with steep banks rising on either side. Suddenly, just past the village of Osilnica, the road disappears into Croatia at Zamost.

Of course the locals can get there from here and back again -- the secret is a network of 42 "maloobmejni," or "local" border crossings, implemented on 1 April this year to regulate the border in low-traffic areas. Farmers and other locals can obtain a pass to legally cross at such points.

The new regulations are not to everyone's taste, however. On 24 August, "Delo" reported that the Zamost crossing was one of the first to be beefed up to reflect its new status. Formerly a single hut open 24 hours a day, two new buildings now stand on either side, and those arriving after 11:00 p.m. find the road closed until 5:00 a.m. the next day. It can take up to an hour to fill out the obligatory form for every person in the vehicle.

Local businesses have also felt the crunch. "The state is always experimenting on our region first," complains Srecko Gabric, owner of the local Krempa Hotel. "Because of the unnecessary bureaucracy and fees charged for crossing the border, business has fallen off drastically." The Kovac family of Osilnica began building a new hotel last year, only to see the number of Croatian guests fall off by 40 percent and their Saturday night wedding parties nearly disappear.

The reason behind all the change is Slovenia's rush to upgrade its southern border system in line with the EU's rigorous "Schengen" standards. Even though Slovenia borders four countries, the Croatian border -- at 670 km -- is roughly equivalent in length to the borders with Italy, Austria, and Hungary combined.

In a massive redeployment of personnel and equipment, 1,387 more police will be stationed along the southern border, including 500 redundant customs officers retrained as police. By 2006, the scheduled year for dismantling Slovenia's northern borders, the southern border will be guarded by 3,000 police. For a while, the creation of a special gendarme border force was discussed. This has now been ruled out, although the Slovenian military may yet play an unspecified role in monitoring the border.

Marko Pogorevc, Slovenia's general director of police, put things in perspective in his 13 August comments in "Delo." People living along the border, he said, will experience a fivefold concentration in the number of police compared to those in the interior of the country. On the other hand, he added, the density will only be half compared to what Poland and Hungary will be establishing on their Schengen borders.

The bill for introducing the new system will be stiff. Estimates include $130 million for new buildings, $150 million for vehicles and equipment, and $55 million annually for salaries and other costs. The EU will help subsidize the project because all EU members will rely on the efficiency of the new border regime.

For those living in the region, the new restrictions will bring disruptions to hallowed customs. On 3 June, the tabloid "Novice" featured an article about the inhabitants of seven Croatian border villages who have buried their dead in the Slovenian village of Jelsane for over five centuries. Although the custom is still permitted, the cross-border funeral processions must now be announced to the police one day in advance, and the hearse must travel two hours ahead of the procession to allow police the opportunity to conduct a search. The villagers admit that smugglers have take advantage of the custom in the past.

Other locals readily admit that they prefer to cross the border illegally to work their fields. "If we go through [the official crossing], it adds 10 kilometers to the trip," protested one. "Besides, in the summer it's a big mess, full of tourists headed to Rijeka and Dalmatia.... These borders are a big nuisance."

"Good fences make good neighbors," observes a character in Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall." Perhaps so, but some of these neighbors are finding the new walls difficult to get accustomed to. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "For the European Union, our trans-Atlantic ties are a pillar of peace and stability. The U.S. is our most important partner. But this trans-Atlantic bridge will only be firm if the European pillar is strong and able to cooperate with its trans-Atlantic partner." -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, quoted by RFE/RL in Prague on 26 August.

"I have a lot of fun in Gostivar." -- Macedonian singer Karolina Goceva. Quoted in the "Gostivar Voice," number 28.