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Balkan Report: February 22, 2002

22 February 2002, Volume 6, Number 10

SERBIAN ANALYSTS: SERBS A LONG WAY FROM RECONCILIATION WITH THEIR PAST. Television stations across Serbia have been broadcasting former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's trial at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Milosevic says the indictments against him for genocide and crimes against humanity are built on Western propaganda directed against the Serbian nation. Milosevic's successor as Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, has also denounced the trial as hypocrisy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, 14, 15, and 19 February 2002).

From government buildings to coffeehouses, Serbs from every walk of life have been watching live broadcasts of the trial. Indeed, Milosevic's opening statements -- in which he attacked the legitimacy of the war crimes tribunal, NATO, and the policies of Western countries -- often seemed to be directed more at his supporters back home, as Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic noted. As Milosevic put it: "There are some people who still haven't realized the truth today, that the war on the territory of the former Yugoslavia is the result of the will and the interest of others -- the great Western powers."

Many analysts says Milosevic's defense strategy -- to deny responsibility for any war crimes and to shift the blame for Yugoslavia's bloody breakup onto the West -- resonates with many Serbs.

Natasa Novakovic is a legal expert at the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights for Serbia in Belgrade. Novakovic has been promoting a re-examination of the recent past among Serbs. She says many still believe that Serbs had nothing to do with the war crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova. "[Reconciliation with the past] is one of the biggest challenges. And unfortunately, the situation is not that good. This trial has shown that very explicitly. There are a lot of negative reactions to this trial in Serbia. Milosevic used a lot of popular tactics. He tried to attack The Hague tribunal, or NATO forces, or Western countries, which is a tactic that [resonates] with the domestic public in Serbia."

Novakovic says Milosevic, at the trial, is using similar rhetoric to that which he used during his 13 years in power. She says many Serbs still do not realize they are being manipulated.

According to a recent poll, less than half the population of Serbia believes the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica, Bosnia, even took place. The charge of genocide against Milosevic is based in part on those murders, in which Bosnian Serb troops reportedly slaughtered some 7,000 Muslim men and boys. Last year, angry Serbs protested at a local television station when it aired an acclaimed foreign documentary on the topic.

The same poll found that half of all Serbs could not name a single war crime allegedly committed by Serbian forces in Croatia, Bosnia, or Kosova, but that they could name at least three crimes allegedly committed against Serb civilians by other forces.

The poll also found that many Serbs still consider former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic -- the two wartime leaders now most wanted by the tribunal -- as the two "greatest defenders of the Serb nation."

Novakovic says domestic outrage over the charges against Milosevic shows that Serbs are still seeking refuge in blame and denial: "Even now, they don't want to see what happened. In a way, this is [yet] another crime. Not to say that the crime [has been] committed by [the] Serbian people [as a whole]. But it is crime to close their eyes again in [the face] of all of this [tragedy] that happened on this territory -- and not only the territory of Serbia, but especially in Bosnia and Croatia. This is something we have to deal with if we want to [have a] clear or positive future. That's for sure."

Yet Serbian citizens have few to lead them in an active examination of the past. For now, the Serbian media, although broadcasting the trial, remain hesitant to analyze the veracity of Milosevic's arguments.

On the political front, Serbs see the man who ousted Milosevic -- President Kostunica -- openly denouncing the trial as a "hypocrisy" based on "strange nonsense." Serbian Prime Minister Djindjic, who sent Milosevic to The Hague last year, has said little on the trial so far.

In part, Novakovic says, this reluctance stems from the simple fear of losing power in Serbia. "It is political suicide for political parties at this moment to speak openly of war crimes and things that happened in the past. Especially because Milosevic is on television every day. He is [still] part of the story."

Many analysts say one of the best examples of the government's unwillingness to lead a proper examination of the past is its failure to properly investigate the discovery of Albanian bodies in mass graves near Belgrade. The find last year rocked Serbian public opinion. For the first time, the evidence of war crimes was literally in Serbia's backyard. But since the discovery, almost no progress has been made in the investigation, which is still being classified as a criminal case, as opposed to a war-related one.

Vladimir Goati, a political scientist at the University of Belgrade, says the lack of progress made in the investigation only highlights why Milosevic must be tried at The Hague and not in a Yugoslav court, as many Serbs have demanded.

Goati says the Yugoslav judiciary is neither able nor ready to try war crimes cases, and he believes there is no political support for this type of examination. "People do not like to be informed of unpleasant information.... In Serbia, for more than a decade, the official media under Mr. Milosevic tried to avoid these issues. And after that, after the change and fall of [Milosevic's] regime more than a year and a half ago, the media have tried to inform much more than in the previous days, but [still] not so much. Many people still don't know. Many people are [only] aware that something bad has happened."

Goati nonetheless remains hopeful the Milosevic trial will prompt Serbs to think about their past. He says the duration of the trial -- which is expected to last at least two years -- will provide ample opportunity for Serbs to look at the evidence and testimony in a new way. "The dynamic of these [proceedings] will attract public opinion. There will be different, new information, new data [presented to the public]. Until now, Serbian citizens [have learned] very little about the recent history of Serbia and Yugoslavia. When I speak about recent history, I mean the 1990s."

Although the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has said repeatedly that Milosevic alone is on trial, and not the Serbian people, analysts like Novakovic say that Serbs must acknowledge that they, too, share the blame. "We have to meet the past and to face it. Milosevic and his companions will be responsible for the individual crimes they committed. But then again, the Serbian people voted for him [repeatedly during] the past 10 years. So we have to ask [ourselves] for the first time: Was this is our choice -- to support all this that happened in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosova? This [question] is just the first step. But I think we have a long way to go to before we can ask even that." (Alexandra Poolos)

WHO WILL BE THE FATHER OF CROATIA'S 'MOTHER ROAD'? At the end of January, Croatia's jobless rate topped 23 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2002). Prime Minister Ivica Racan acknowledged that his government has been unable to win the fight against joblessness so far (see Deutsche Welle "Monitor," 8 February 2002). In the wake of the ongoing economic difficulties, the construction of the highway Zagreb-Split may play a decisive role in the political survival of Racan and his center-left coalition.

On 11 October, Racan's government decided to speed up construction of the highway, which will connect the northern parts of the country with coastal Croatia. Racan stated that the highway, on which one can reach the Adriatic from the capital in three hours, will be ready in June 2005. The costs of the project amount to more than $1.3 billion.

An overall modernization of Croatian roads -- which includes the building of the Zagreb-Split highway -- is indeed necessary, because last year's tourist season showed that the infrastructure has enormous problems in coping with the masses of tourist cars invading in the summer. It would be an advantage for the whole tourist and transport industry if the sea could be reached much more quickly and on a modern highway.

The most important challenge in this project is the protection of the Gacka Valley and its ecosystem. The Gacka River provides drinking water for the otherwise arid Dalmatian hinterland. Its source is situated near the famous Plitvice Lakes, and an ecological catastrophe in the region would destroy Croatia's most important resource, which is the relatively clean environment.

Another vital aspect of the highway project is to provide contracts and work for domestic companies. That would be an economic stimulus that Racan could use to his political advantage.

In fact, there is a symbolic and political dimension to the entire project. The horseshoe-shaped country has hitherto lacked a truly modern highway connecting the capital with the coast. In socialist times, anyone traveling the route took more humble roads that crossed in and out of Bosnia. Especially since independence in 1991, part of the national agenda has included the construction of a serious highway.

The government of the late President Franjo Tudjman never succeeded in realizing the project, partly because much of the route was held by Serb rebels from 1991 to 1995. If Racan makes good where Tudjman failed, he will not only give the economy a much-needed boost but make his mark in national history as well. There are some doubts whether Racan will ever be called the "Father of the Croatian Mother Road," but he certainly seems prepared to try.

He will need to act quickly. Elections are due in 2004, and the highway will have to be at least half finished by then if he hopes to make political capital out of it. Only in this way can Racan and his Social Democrats launch a slogan like "Let's finish the historic highway" for the election campaign, which will start in 2003, if not before.

Another hint that Racan is running out of time and losing support in his coalition of five parties is the fact that former party Chairman Drazen Budisa was elected chairman of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS) again at the beginning of February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 11 February 2002). Budisa has long criticized the government, even though the HSLS sits in the cabinet. He is likely to be even more difficult and mercurial in the coming months and has made no secret of his hopes to oust the Social Democrats from power. Once described as "the man who always finishes second," Budisa aims to head a center-right coalition with himself as prime minister. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer and a consultant for strategic business communication based in Munich.

PROTESTS IN MOLDOVA AS RUSSIA OBJECTS. Editor's note: Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, many analysts believed that Moscow regarded its loss of Moldova -- its direct land link to the Balkans -- as only temporary. Its central strategy was to prevent Moldova's reunification with Romania, which would have seriously complicated Moldova's eventual return to Russian control. Moscow has been successful in that strategy, which it pursued via several avenues. These include some ostensible support for Moldovan statehood as a less dangerous alternative to reunification with Romania.

Since the election of a communist government in 2001, the vice has begun to tighten on Moldova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 January 2002). One leading Moldovan politician recently told your editor that the West is mistaken in concentrating its attention on the western Balkans. The real threat to peace and stability in the region, he argued, is on the other side of the peninsula.

RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele recently took a look at the latest protests against Russification in Moldova. Here is his report:

Members of Moldova's opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) have called for 50,000 people to join a rally on 24 February to try to force the resignation of the president, parliament, and government and to demand early parliamentary elections as the ruling Communists mark a year in power.

The call came as large crowds gathered in Chisinau on 19 February for the latest rally in a two-month campaign against the government and its Russification policies. The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately protested what it termed "anti-Russian acts aimed at the Embassy of Russia in the Republic of Moldova."

The protests began as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully past the government and parliament to the Russian Embassy, as they have done almost daily since early January. Later, as they passed by secret police headquarters and then the Russian Embassy, they chanted, "We don't want a Bolshevik president!" and, "We don't want any more communists or KGB!" as well as, "Down with the occupiers!"

The demonstrators' demands, which initially were limited to ending mandatory Russian classes for schoolchildren and pro-Russian history textbooks, are now expanding. For the first time, they have demanded the resignations and new elections.

Analysts in Chisinau warn that the social and political situation in the country could destabilize if social issues overtake dissatisfaction with Russian elements in education as the main topic of the students' protests.

Moldova is the only former Soviet republic where voters have returned hard-line Marxist-Leninist communists to power.

Protests also spread on 19 February to Moldova's second-largest city, Balti, in the north of the country, where some 200 students demonstrated in solidarity with the striking students in the capital.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin says the demonstrations are illegal but that he will not permit the use of force by law-enforcement agencies, mainly because of the large numbers of young people involved. As a result, he says, police are being deployed to prevent children from being injured. Some protest organizers have publicly welcomed the police presence.

Nevertheless, authorities in Balti, where Russian-speakers are in the majority, banned a demonstration planned for 20 February after tolerating the modest protest the previous day.

The Communists returned to power in Moldova one year ago on a platform of economic improvements and union with Russia and Belarus, neither of which share a common border with Moldova. So far, the Communists have failed to revitalize Moldova's poverty-stricken economy, Europe's weakest.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 19 February issued a statement accusing the demonstrators in Chisinau of "anti-Russian acts aimed at the Embassy of Russia in the Republic of Moldova." The statement said such activities do not contribute to civic accord in Moldova's multi-ethnic society. It said the organizers and their backers must understand that they risk unleashing yet another conflict in southeastern Europe.

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement expressed support for Moldova's leadership and credited it with taking steps toward economic transformation and improving the standard of living.

However, PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov responded to the Russian statement by accusing Moscow of "interference in the internal affairs of the Republic of Moldova" and alleging that the Russian declaration had what he called an "imperialist spirit."

Although Moldovan authorities did not immediately respond, Romanian authorities reiterated their belief that whatever happens in Moldova is an internal matter of that country. But this, like Russia's other recent moves in Moldova -- such as backing down from its declared intention to withdraw all its forces from Transdniester -- may well strengthen Bucharest's hand in persuading NATO to accept Romania in the next wave of expansion (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 February 2002). (Jolyon Naegele)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "No Serbian politician, not even Mr. Djindjic, could ever call for Kosovo's independence tomorrow. But he does say, more boldly than most Serbs, that 'all options' should be considered, with due regard for the overriding aim of getting all of the Balkans one day into the EU. 'We must find a solution mainly by finding our place in Europe, not by seeking historical rights or national interests.' This new Serbian leader talks the language of Germany in the 21st century, not the 19th or any other." -- London's "The Economist" of 14 February.

"We never even dreamed of this. Neither did he." -- Kosovar Albanians in a cafe, watching the Milosevic trial on TV. Quoted by the "Los Angeles Times" on 19 February.

"My personal aim is for the European countries in NATO and the European Union to have a military capacity that better reflects their political and economic might." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Quoted by RFE/RL in Brussels on 19 February (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002).

"We still need the United States to help to move, to command, and to provision a major operation. The Europeans cannot feel proud of that, and there are some occasions when they should feel, frankly, downright ashamed.... It sounds pretty feeble for this great economic superpower that is the European Union today for its countries to say [to the United States]: 'We'd like to offer you a thousand troops but will you please come and collect us?' And that is sadly the reality." -- Ibid.

"The gap between American forces on one hand and European and Canadian forces on the other will simply be unbridgeable, and for Washington the choice could eventually be: act alone or don't act at all. And that is not a choice for either Americans or Europeans alike." -- Ibid.

"The Europeans keep going on about the new defense and security policy. It is they who notch up their own expectations about their power and influence. Let them produce the goods." -- Unnamed U.S. military officer, quoted in the "Financial Times" on 21 February.

"The Europeans need new capabilities. That's the bottom line. Once that is met then we can talk about a new relationship between the Europeans and the Americans. The ball is in the court of the Europeans if they really want to end the old divisions of labor. Until then, they should lower their expectations." -- Klaus Becher, security expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, quoted in ibid.