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Balkan Report: May 3, 2002

3 May 2002, Volume 6, Number 18

MAKE IT OR BREAK IT. The EU is effectively in charge of the international community's efforts in former Yugoslavia. It now has to show whether it is up to the task.

The signs are unmistakable. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recently told visiting Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic that the U.S. supports the EU-sponsored agreement to keep Serbia and Montenegro together and expects Podgorica to comply (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2002). This policy is firmly in place despite widespread sympathy within the U.S. policy community for Montenegrin independence.

The U.S. has been paying many of Montenegro's bills in recent years, so Djukanovic is likely to take Powell's message to heart, even if part of that message is that the U.S. does not challenge the lead of the EU in former Yugoslavia.

For months, Brussels had been pressuring Podgorica to maintain a joint state lest Montenegrin independence somehow lead to the emergence of an independent Kosova and perhaps other political changes in the region. As Powell and Djukanovic talked, the EU's Javier Solana was cajoling pro-Belgrade Montenegrin politicians by telephone to make sure that they do nothing to jeopardize support for the agreement in Montenegro.

In London on 25 April, Paddy Ashdown said that he will officially take office as the international community's high representative in Bosnia on 27 May. Ashdown added that he will have two deputies, one German and the other French. This will be the first time since the Dayton peace agreement was signed at the end of 1995 that there has not been a U.S. deputy. (Nor will any of the EU's smaller members hold any of the top three offices.)

At some recent international conferences, representatives of the EU or its member states have proudly claimed that Brussels deserves the credit for the Macedonian political settlement reached in 2001. American participants smiled to themselves and did not challenge the speakers or mention the name of U.S. envoy James Pardew. When Macedonian parliament speaker Stojan Andov announced the date of the fall elections on 30 April, he did so after meeting with EU envoy Alain Le Roy.

These are but a few examples to illustrate the point that in the post-11 September world, the U.S. has yielded leadership in the Balkans to the EU. Nor is Washington the only one leaving the field to Brussels. Just as the Pentagon has made it clear that the U.S. will be reducing its presence in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova, similar messages have been coming from the Kremlin. Russian officials still issue periodic statements in support of the Serbian position in Kosova, but they are fewer and less strident than was the case just one year ago.

Indeed, even though Moscow maintained its role as a great power in the Balkans in the early 1990s -- when its power and prestige were collapsing elsewhere else -- it has now come to view southeastern Europe as an international political backwater. Its attention is now turned to its immediate south and to its central relationship with Washington and other major players. It has little time for what it sees as more marginal areas like the Balkans and has also closed once-strategic bases in Cuba and Vietnam.

The EU will thus have the field pretty much to itself, and its clients will no longer be able to play it off against Washington or Moscow. For the EU, this new responsibility could be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, Brussels has long sought to show that it can formulate a unified policy for its own backyard and execute that policy quickly and successfully (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). This is both a first step in an effort to become a major player on the international diplomatic scene and a final move to show that the bumbling that characterized the EC's policy during the 1991-1995 Yugoslav conflict is now history.

But the unified EU foreign and security policy faces a formidable challenge. In addition to keeping the Belgrade-Podgorica deal and internal Macedonian agreement on track, Brussels is effectively in charge of running the international protectorates in Bosnia and Kosova. A breakdown in the political order in any one of the four areas could lead to a major crisis, perhaps one requiring armed intervention.

Matters could become particularly tricky in Bosnia, where no major decision has been implemented since the end of the war except by the order of the high representative (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 April 2002).

Kosova -- under the leadership of Germany's Michael Steiner -- also faces a host of well-known problems. In Mitrovica, an organized group of Serbian toughs called the Bridge Watchers poses an immediate and serious armed challenge to the international community's authority. It is not clear what the relationship is between the Bridge Watchers and a Belgrade leadership that otherwise insists on the enforcement of law and order in Kosova. Most of the troops in Mitrovica are French, who are not particularly trusted by the Albanians.

To be sure, Washington is not abandoning the Balkans or any of its allies. The policy of "in together, out together" remains in place. The U.S. has shown that it is serious about making Yugoslavia respect its international obligations to cooperate with The Hague by using aid as leverage. America has special interests and skills regarding the fight against terrorism and organized crime in the Balkans.

And a continuing American presence will be necessary in the long run to reassure the Bosnian Muslims and the entire region's Albanians. Without that American presence, the Albanians in particular could become restive and the ultimate result could be destabilization.

But the EU has now taken the lead in the Balkans, with Washington's blessing. It is up to that body and its member states to show what they will do with the opportunity they have sought for so long. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA DECLARES TRADE WAR ON SERBIA. On 26 April, Macedonia stopped the import of a range of Serbian goods (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). Apart from Yugo cars, the Macedonian government prohibited the import of oil products, construction materials, cakes, and sweets.

According to Macedonian Economic Minister Besnik Fetai, the move was necessary because the Serbian side violated the free-trade agreement between the two countries signed on 7 March 2001. Serbia already banned the import of Macedonian oil products at the end of 2001.

The daily "Nova Makedonija" reported on 27 April that the Serbian authorities have barred Macedonian trucks loaded with chemical products from entering Serbia on their way to Croatia. Every transport of chemical products has to receive a special permit by the Serbian Energy and Mining Ministry.

The Macedonian government has meanwhile made several attempts to resolve the problem, but without success. Fetai believes that the ban on Serbian imports was a necessary countermeasure to remind Serbia of the provisions of the free-trade agreement.

"Despite our protests, they did not alter their stance and therefore they...violated the free trade agreement. We have enterprises that cannot export to Serbia and therefore had to stop production," the daily "Dnevnik" quoted Fetai as saying.

"Utrinski vesnik" recalled on 30 April that the issue of oil imports was raised in the mixed intergovernmental commission at the end of last year. The Serbian side then promised to lift the ban on oil imports from Macedonia as of 1 January, but has yet to do so.

According to the economics minister, Macedonia has a trade deficit with Serbia of some $46 million but a favorable trade balance with Kosova.

Despite the losses inflicted upon the Macedonian economy by the trade war with neighboring Serbia, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski remains confident about the country's economic development. In an interview with a local TV station, he said that he expects that Macedonia will overcome the economic crisis as long as the political situation remains stable. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

MACEDONIANS IN BULGARIA MEET WITHOUT INCIDENT. For the first time since the fall of communism in Bulgaria, members of the Macedonian minority gathered peacefully in the vicinity of the southern Bulgarian Rozhen monastery on 21 April, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The meeting marked the anniversary of the death in 1915 of a Macedonian national hero, Jane Sandanski.

As in previous years, the meeting was organized by the United Macedonian Organization -- Ilinden (OMO-Ilinden) and the United Macedonian Organization -- Ilinden-PIRIN (Party for Economic Development and Integration of the Population). Both organizations claim to represent the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria.

In previous years, police actions to prohibit or disperse the meetings of the Macedonian minority won Bulgaria a dubious place in the annual reports of human rights organizations such as Amnesty International.

Now, the situation seems to have changed. Not only did the Rozhen meeting take place undisturbed, but the third congress of OMO-Ilinden took place in Blagoevgrad over the weekend of 27-28 April without government interference. The convention elected a new chairman -- Boris Pavlov.

At the congress, the organization's leadership renewed its demands for constitutional changes in Bulgaria to allow the formation of political parties on an ethnic basis. Outgoing OMO-Ilinden chairman Jordan Kostadinov also reiterated the organization's demand to be allowed to register as a legal organization.

Ivan Singartiski, the chairman of the United Macedonian Organization -- Ilinden-PIRIN told journalists from "Utrinski vesnik" after the Rozhen meeting that the new policy of the Bulgarian government towards the Macedonian minority is the result of last year's ruling by the European Court of Human Rights. The court found that the Bulgarian state had violated the right of ethnic Macedonians to assemble.

But it might also be that the Bulgarian government was careful not to invite international criticism at a time crucial for the country's bid to join NATO and the EU. At the time of the Rozhen meeting, large Bulgarian delegations were in Washington and Brussels to present Bulgaria's case to the U.S. government and the North Atlantic Council. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA OBSERVES RESISTANCE DAY... Slovenia marked the 1941 founding of the Liberation Front of the Slovenian Nation (OFSN, or simply OF) through the commemoration of Resistance Day on 27 April. The OF, initially named the Anti-Imperialist Front, united the Slovenian Communist Party and other left-wing organizations in resistance against the Axis occupation of Slovenian territory.

Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel delivered a speech on 26 April at the Cankarjev Dom Congress Center in Ljubljana, concentrating on the pivotal springs of 1941, 1989, and 2002. In 1989 -- still under communist rule -- the newly-founded opposition parties issued the May Declaration, demanding a sovereign Slovenian state. In 2002, stated Rupel, "we Slovenes see our freedom in inclusion," referring to Slovenia's bid for membership in the NATO alliance. Rupel declared that this inclusion must be based on national consensus, reconciliation, respect, and cooperation.

For the first time, however, protests marred the holiday, the daily "Delo" reported on 28 April. A group of 50 demonstrators tried to enter the center's main hall to disrupt the event, but were prevented by police. When Rupel later left the hall, the protestors shouted anti-NATO slogans and waved placards with messages such as, "Rupnik 41 -- Rupel 02, we will resist again!" Leon Rupnik (1880-1946) was the leader of the Slovenian anti-Communist Domobranci (home guard) forces, which entered into an ill-fated alliance with the German army in World War II (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 November 2001). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs later labeled the linking of the protest with the holiday "misguided."

On the Italian border, 120 kilometers to the west, President Milan Kucan officiated at a ceremony on 27 April on the summit of Cerje, a low peak on the edge of the windswept Karst plateau. Kucan laid the cornerstone of a monument dedicated to the defense of Slovenia's western frontier.

This gives official sanction to a project promoted since 1995 by a group dedicated to the memory of the TIGR revolutionary organization. Founded during the interwar period, TIGR was dedicated to wresting Trieste, Istria, Gorizia, and Rijeka from Italian control, but the communists excluded it from the OF.

Most Slovenes, meanwhile, took advantage of the holiday to get an early start on their annual May Day vacation, as Slovenian radio advised motorists to expect delays on highways to the coast and Croatia. Slovenia celebrates both 1 and 2 May as a national holiday, and many simply take the entire week off.

The attitude of the public is perhaps best gauged by the results of a poll published in "Delo" on 28 April. Over 61 percent of respondents did not know the name of the 27 April holiday, and 62 percent had no plans to fly the national flag on any of the upcoming holidays. (Donald F. Reindl)

...AS GOVERNMENT SHORES UP SUPPORT FOR NATO. The daily "Delo" announced on 26 April that Slovenes can shortly expect to find a "Natopis" awaiting them in their mailboxes. The Natopis is the first in a series of government publications designed to bolster support for NATO membership among the population. The Slovenian government's efforts to win over skeptics echo recent attempts by the Lithuanian government along the same lines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2002).

The Natopis will address the most-frequently-asked questions about NATO, including the three key issues of enhanced security, long-term defense savings, and ending the military draft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002).

The publication comes on the heels of the government's toll-free "Natofon" hotline, launched earlier in April. On 21 April "Delo" reported that the Natofon had received its first 100 calls. The majority of calls asked about the costs of joining NATO, advantages and disadvantages of membership, if and when Slovenia will be invited, and if and when a referendum might be called on the issue.

Slovenia has seen a barrage of anti-NATO campaigning in certain media, led by the popular anti-establishment political magazine "Mladina." The 9 April issue of "Mladina" bore on its cover a NATO emblem transformed into a swastika, and the provocative publication has not shied away from making other direct comparisons between NATO and Nazism.

Recent opinion polls show that the broad public remains divided on the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). According to the latest monthly "Politbarometer" poll carried out by the public opinion research center at the Faculty of Social Studies in Ljubljana, 39.8 percent would support NATO membership in a referendum, while 36.9 percent would oppose it. If only those that indicated they would definitely participate are counted, support rises to 47 percent and opposition remains steady. Support for NATO membership stood at 62 percent when the first such poll was conducted in 1997. This declined to 55 percent after NATO's Madrid Summit in July that year, when Slovenia failed to be invited to join the alliance.

Many Slovenes are wondering when -- or if -- they might get a chance to vote in such a referendum. On Slovenian state radio on 24 April, President Milan Kucan said it made sense to hold a referendum only after an invitation is received at the Prague summit in November.

Other groups are less patient. The anti-NATO Youth Forum, an offspring of President Kucan's United List of Social Democrats, is circulating a petition to pressure lawmakers into adopting an act that would require a referendum be held before the Prague Summit. The four deputies of the Slovenian Youth Party have also introduced a bill in the National Assembly for such a referendum to be held on the last Sunday of October. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The United States and Europe now see each other as inward-looking, highly egotistical entities. Europe views the United States as wanting to run the world with other people's money. Americans characterize Europeans as pontificating free-riders who hide behind America's willingness to exercise leadership even when that is unpopular. Both need instead to start thinking in terms of cooperating and indeed coordinating consistently, both to minimize the problems they cause each other and to provide progressive leadership for the world." -- Commentary in "The Washington Post," 30 April.

"The burden for Yugoslavia's future rests mainly on the country's own leaders. But in spite of events in the Middle East and Afghanistan, the U.S. and the EU should not avoid their responsibilities in the Balkans. The considerable cost of political and economic engagement pales in comparison with the price of another war." -- The "Financial Times," 30 April.

"The independence of Kosovo is not a done deal. We still need a great deal of negotiation and a dialogue for solving our problems in the region. And it is not good that anybody should be nervous when hearing different opinions. That shows a lack of patience, energy, or democratic principles." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. Quoted by RFE/RL at the UN on 24 April.

"I plead not guilty." -- General Dragoljub Ojdanic. Quoted by RFE/RL in The Hague on 26 April.

"I did it to save women and children." -- Former Krajina leader Milan Martic, explaining why he ordered the 1995 shelling of Zagreb. Quoted by AP in Belgrade on 28 April.