10 October 2003, Volume 7, Number 34
BUSEK TALKS TO RFE/RL. Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, recently spoke with Dragan Stavljanin of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service about the situation in Serbia three years after the fall of President Slobodan Milosevic (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, and 8 August 2003, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 9 October 2003).
The Stability Pact is a clearing house for a wide variety of aid development projects. Busek is a senior Austrian political figure with long years of experience in Balkan affairs.
RFE/RL: October 5 is the third anniversary of the toppling of Slobodan Milosevic in the famous upheaval, during which about 1 million people took to the streets of Belgrade. The ouster of the "Balkan butcher," as the former Yugoslav president has often been labeled, has had far-reaching consequences for the Serbian population, as well as for the troubled Balkan region as a whole. In the aftermath of these events, Serbia has been trying to implement sweeping reforms aimed at bringing it closer to the international community and to heal the festering wounds from the past.
What do you see as the main achievement in these three years, and what as the key failure?
BUSEK: I think that the main achievement was the reintegration of Yugoslavia, now Serbia and Montenegro, into the family of the international community, especially its orientation towards Europe. In my opinion there has been a lot of achievements during this time. Even though the assassination of [Serbian Prime Minister] Zoran Djindjic [posed] a big danger, it proved that the way to democracy is irreversible.
There has been some economic improvement as well. The conditions were created for the integration of Serbia and Montenegro into the Stability Pact and other efforts of the EU and -- this is certainly very important -- within the region.
In Southeastern Europe, Serbia and Montenegro [plays] a very important role. It is quite clear that it is not possible to achieve everything that is necessary within a period of three years. The [absence of a] Serbian constitution and the uncertainty as to when [general] elections will be held...are among the main problems now. Hopefully the dialog that has started between Belgrade and Pristina will bring some results, but I do not expect [any] before the Serbian elections.... We still have problems [in Serbia] concerning the court system, as well as an "old-boys" network, organized crime, and so on. But both the government and the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe are trying to do everything possible to better the situation.
RFE/RL: We have currently witnessed an internal political rift in Serbia, and there is still a lot of poverty as well. Do you think that Serbia has significantly distanced itself from its nationalistic past after the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic, having in mind the recent events in the Balkans?
BUSEK: It is difficult to answer this question. I think that there are people in Serbia who [have distanced themselves] from the things you have mentioned, as well as those who still keep their old opinions and convictions.
But in general, I may say that what you mostly encounter here is an open European mood. I think it differs [from place to place between] the capital city and other places.... But a lot of things have changed for the better. I am very optimistic in general, but I know that you cannot expect miracles from one day to the next.
RFE/RL: You often meet with high-ranking Serbian officials. Do you see them genuinely dedicated to the principle of bringing the country into the European mainstream or do you find them a little cautious in the process of implementing sweeping reforms, which include austerity measures with massive layoffs of workers, and which could thus endanger their position?
BUSEK: Here I have to say that I [meet both] those who are in the government and also opposition leaders, for example former President [Vojislav] Kostunica and [opposition leader Miroljub] Labus [of the G-17 Plus political party]. I think that all of them are mostly orientated, with slight differences, towards Europe and the EU.
I have had a lot of possibilities to talk with people from other parties as well and also have a lot of contacts among artists and intellectuals. In general, I think that there is a very positive mood.
There are, of course, certain reservations concerning the things that have not yet been done, but you cannot change the leadership of the country completely from one day to the next.
RFE/RL: The international community provides significant assistance and aid to Serbia. However, Ms. Helle Dale of the Washington Heritage Foundation said that [Serbian] Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic and [Serbia and Montenegro's] Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic seemed to suggest during their recent visit to the United States that the failure of Serbia to integrate successfully with various international organizations "can be blamed primarily on Washington and Brussels." The [Serbian leaders] were "particularly indignant that they have not received the international aid they expected," Ms. Dale pointed out.
Do you think that there are still too many conditions on the part of the international community in its approach to Serbia, which could undermine the position of the current authorities and play into the hands of the nationalists?
BUSEK: I do not share this opinion of the prime minister and the foreign minister. I don't find it very helpful.
A huge amount of money has been invested in Serbia and Montenegro per capita within a comparatively short time, and I can testify that sometimes [it cannot always be put to the best use]. It is quite clear that with money you cannot do everything. You also need some changes...in the court system, in the way the administration is [conducted].
I often talk with those who are investing and who are eager to invest, and I get a lot of reports on existing difficulties. I don't want to blame the government for this, because I think it is a question of transformation. But at the same time, it is not really helpful to always keep saying that there is not enough money, there is not enough money, there is not enough money.
We must not forget that there is still a lot of corruption, a lot of money is lying around, and we are fully aware that there is still organized crime in connection with some clans and mafia bosses. Therefore, there is a need for reforms.
There has been a "conditionality" concerning the rules of the EU, and it is quite necessary [for prospective member states to meet those conditions]. All the countries of the region have to fulfill them, as well as [meet the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's] conditions concerning war criminals.... This does not apply only to Serbia and Montenegro; it applies also to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
RFE/RL: Prospects for the reforms are partially burdened by the ongoing Kosovo dispute, as well as by many [problems] in the functioning of the loose union of Serbia and Montenegro, brokered by the EU last year.
Many issues will be addressed during the upcoming dialogue on Kosovo, such as energy and transport issues, refugee return, the fate of missing persons, the fight against organized crime, etc. You, as the head of the Stability Pact, have offered assistance. What kind of assistance?
BUSEK: Yes, we have offered assistance concerning the dialogue on Kosovo, and I [have been active] between Belgrade and Pristina to clear up the so-called technical questions.
As you have correctly mentioned, it is not only a problem of organized crime, transportation, and electricity. I think it is also a question of free trade and, of course, displaced persons.
I think that these issues must be cleared up as quickly as possible, so that we can proceed to the political questions, which, for sure, can only be [dealt with] after the elections in Serbia.
We can offer our know-how -- which...will be very useful for [Harri] Holkeri and the UNMIK administration in Kosovo, as well as for the Serbian government and the government of the union [of Serbia and Montenegro].
RFE/RL: What exactly can be achieved on this technical level, in terms of issues such as transport, energy, refugee return, or fighting organized crime? What can be realistically expected within the next few months or within the next year?
BUSEK: These problems have to be solved, because otherwise Kosovo will remain a black hole. This is certainly bad for Kosovo itself, but it is also generally bad for Serbia, because there will be no stability [until the matter is settled].
Regarding the issue of transportation, we need regulations concerning license plates and traffic [links]. The border management question is also of extreme importance, including the border with Macedonia.
UNMIK must be integrated into [regional] free-trade agreements because the stable situation that must be created as a precondition for refugee return and [expanding] economic opportunities is connected with the question of free trade.
And in the case of electricity, I think we need the integration of the KEC [Kosovo Electricity Company] into [the existing regional system], which will be later integrated into the EU.
RFE/RL: Although the central issue of Kosovo's status won't be discussed at this stage, some Kosovo Albanians, such as the prominent figure Adem Demaci, warn that this dialogue will actually mark, as he said, the "recolonization" of Kosovo by Serbia.
BUSEK: I think it depends on the outcome of the negotiations. It is not very helpful to discuss [this subject] before that. Let's wait, let's start the negotiations, let's see the results. I think that is more important.
RFE/RL: There is definitely a conflict of interest between the much bigger Serbia, with its different economic structure, and small Montenegro. Serbia insists on high protective tariffs, while Montenegro wants to lower them.
BUSEK: The most important thing concerning Serbia and Montenegro is the implementation of the constitution. We are in daily contact with the [joint] government and with the two governments of the republics. [Much remains to be settled.]
The implementation of the free-trade agreements is currently being discussed -- Montenegro had some wishes for annexes first, and now Serbia is creating some difficulties. I think these things are hindering the process and endangering the [prospects for launching] a feasibility study for an...[EU] Agreement on Stabilization and Association, which...[would be] very important for Serbia and Montenegro.
RFE/RL: Some Montenegrin officials have suggested that the EU seeks to gradually strengthen the loose union of Serbia and Montenegro, which is not stipulated by the Belgrade agreement [that established the joint state]. What do you think about these claims?
BUSEK: Here we have to look at every position in detail. Of course, there are certain problems, because the one country uses the euro while the other is keeping the dinar; they have different custom systems, and so on. They have to discuss all of these issues, and compromise is necessary everywhere.... It is much better if they try to solve those problems by themselves.
RFE/RL: But as you have already said, they couldn't agree on the harmonization of tariffs, particularly as far as agricultural products are concerned. How can this issue be dealt with, and will the feasibility studies consequently be postponed for a while?
BUSEK: I think it depends on the two partners. I [should not have] to decide this; why do they have a government then? If they have different tariffs, there is a danger that business will [gravitate] to the part of the union where the tariffs are lower. That is logical. And this [constitutes] a kind of official smuggling, which is not very helpful.
RFE/RL: What do you think will be their approach in three years when the Belgrade agreement expires?
BUSEK: I think it is premature to make a judgment on this. It will depend on the partners [themselves].
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT LOSES SUPPORT. About one year after it took office, Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski's Social Democratic-led government faces a sharp decline in public support. A recent opinion poll sponsored by the International Republican Institute (IRI) shows that the public dissatisfaction with the government's work grew remarkably since the IRI's latest poll in June.
Although the official results of the report have not yet been published (and probably never will), Macedonian media reported on the unofficial results. The government reacted casually to these reports, hinting that a minor cabinet reshuffle was imminent anyway.
The number of the respondents who are dissatisfied with the government's work reportedly grew from 40 percent in June to 60 percent in September. This increase is mirrored by the growing disappointment with the election results, which went up from 42 percent to 53 percent. If elections were to be held now, the governing Social Democrats would garner 20 percent of the votes -- 3 percent fewer than in June. The largest opposition party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), would be get slightly more votes than in June, now reaching 10 percent. The largest share of the respondents, however, said they would not vote at all.
Although no exact figures are given by the media, it is clear that support for the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which is the junior coalition partner of the governing Social Democrats (SDSM), has sharply declined. At the same time there was a slight gain for the Liberal Democrats (LDP) headed by Skopje Mayor Risto Penov, who are the third major coalition partner.
In the category of the most-popular politicians, Penov also did well, jumping from negative ratings to the positive side, where he joins Parliamentary Speaker Nikola Popovski of the SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski. The ratings of Prime Minister Crvenkovski and his foreign minister, Ilinka Mitreva, went the opposite direction, now clearly on the negative side of the scale.
Among the country's ethnic Albanian politicians, Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) is now the most popular, replacing BDI Chairman Ali Ahmeti. Xhaferi recently launched a populist call for a territorial partition of Macedonia along ethnic lines.
Initial analyses of the government's declining popularity suggest that the population is increasingly losing its patience with the politicians. "Over the years, patience continues to melt away, especially among the young, who want to live now...and not in some promised future," ethnic Albanian publisher Kim Mehmeti told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters. He added that this might be the reason why almost all governments quickly lose support.
For Professor Jovan Donev of Skopje University, the reason for this is that the politicians do not deliver on their campaign promises. But he also acknowledges that the government's economic and administrative reforms contribute to public disappointment. "The reforms carried out by the government directly affect citizens' lives," RFE/RL's Macedonian Service quoted Donev as saying. "We are facing growing unemployment, and the standard of living does not improve. Interethnic relations and the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement also impact on [the situation], especially among the Albanians, because their expectations were much higher."
One might add that the recent negative trend in ratings for the BDI is also due to the way a recent government crisis was handled (see "RFE/RL/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 12 September 2003). Talks between the SDSM and the opposition ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) about possible cooperation almost certainly did not help the BDI regain voters' confidence (see "RFE/RL/RL Newsline," 1 October 2003).
Crvenkovski himself does not foresee any dramatic developments. He and other government members downplay the negative ratings as something normal. "We received a mandate for four years, and it is for four years that our agenda was designed," Crvenkovski said, adding that people will be pleased with the results of the government's work at the end of that period.
Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska nevertheless spoke about a planned government reshuffle in an interview with "Utrinski vesnik" of 4 October. She declined to say which ministers are to be replaced, but noted that all ministers are currently reporting on the results of their first year in office.
She also declined to answer whether Economy Minister Ilija Filipovski will be among those to be dismissed. He faces charges of nepotism because his brother was appointed director of the Skopje airport.
Nor did she say whether Education Minister Azis Pollozhani will be sacked. Pollozhani came in for criticism following student protests over some of his more controversial decisions (see "RFE/RL/RL Newsline," 7 October 2003, and "RFE/RL/RL Balkan Report," 26 September 2003). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Our troop numbers in Bosnia and Kosovo are relatively small, but their symbolic importance is great. Withdrawal would put the policies we embarked on four years ago at risk and send the wrong message to Afghanistan and Iraq: that Americans, impatient as always, do not finish the job." -- Former U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, speaking in Prishtina on 6 October. Quoted in "The New York Times" on 8 October.
"[Bosnia-Herzegovina] is Europe's problem, in Europe's backyard. It is scandalous that 50 years after the second Word War we still have to wait for Uncle Sam to come in and bail us out.... It is not in the nature of superpowers to give up the areas in which they have major influence. Even before Iraq I had my doubts. In effect, Washington has a veto on this process.... Europe has to look serious about this. It cannot come in on the cheap. It has to come in as an effective force capable of securing the peace. It has to do it with bayonets fixed and flags flying.... The Bosnians distrust Europe. They regard Europeans as the people who sat there and did nothing for four years while they were slaughtered. The Americans are the people who came in and saved them. That's unfair, unjust and unreasonable. But we do have a credibility problem." -- High Representative Paddy Ashdown, quoted in "The Guardian" of 8 October.
"Paddy Ashdown...needs to warn the Bosnians that the crutch of international aid will be pulled out someday and they must have factories producing the beer, soap, and toasters people will be willing to buy. The agreement that ended the war in which 200,000 were killed was forged in Dayton, Ohio. Americans patrolling in Tuzla help enforce the peace, and NATO nations provide the bulk of the troops and much of the foreign aid. It's a good example of international cooperation. A hard-and-fast deadline to remove troops and reduce aid wouldn't benefit the country now. But Bosnians should set their own timetable, and the end should be in sight -- sooner, rather than later." -- The "Los Angeles Times," 3 October.