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Balkan Report: July 19, 2002

19 July 2002, Volume 6, Number 26

THE SARAJEVO SUMMIT AND THE 'LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR.' Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Yugoslav counterpart, Vojislav Kostunica, met without interpreters in Sarajevo on 15 July with the three members of the Bosnian joint Presidency: Beriz Belkic, Zivko Radisic, and Jozo Krizanovic, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2002).

The participants issued a joint declaration agreeing to respect international frontiers; implement the 1995 Dayton agreement; promote refugee return, European integration, and regional cooperation; combat terrorism and organized crime; and work towards bilateral agreements aimed at visa-free travel, free trade, and providing investment guarantees.

Mesic said later that the endorsement of current frontiers puts an end to dreams of a Greater Serbia or Greater Croatia. But Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service noted that the declaration represents the "lowest common denominator" on which the participants could agree.

The participants did not deal with some important long-standing, difficult issues in their joint declaration. Zdravko Grebo, who belongs to the Bosnian Committee for Regional Cooperation, said that Belkic did not demand an apology from Kostunica for Serbian aggression from 1992 to 1995 because Kostunica had insisted that no such demand be made as a precondition for his coming to Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2002).

Other topics that the participants avoided or side-stepped included the questions of dual citizenship and of Bosnia's use of Croatia's port at Ploce. Belkic said that the participants decided to deal with such issues "as is customary in Europe to deal with them." He did not elaborate.

The importance of this gathering thus seems symbolic at best, although some media reports sought to portray the summit as one of truly historic proportions. Part of the reason why the gathering was less than monumental is that real power does not lie with the presidency in any of the three countries.

But the main reason why the participants did not agree on much of substance is that the gulf between them remains wide. This includes the differences within the Bosnian Presidency itself.

Perhaps the most truly promising recent event for the future of the Balkans took place not in Sarajevo but in Novi Sad. Thousands of mainly young people from across the Balkans and beyond gathered there over the 12-14 July weekend for a music festival called Exit. Incidents were few, and there was much camaraderie and partying to bring people together. (Patrick Moore)

WHERE HAVE ALL THE SLOVENES GONE? Passing through the Croatian town of Gerovo, one might easily overlook a small but telling sign. Alongside the main road is a street sign that once read "skola," marking the nearby school. Now, however, the "k" has been obliterated -- changing the Croatian word into Slovenian and serving as a reminder that Slovenes live here as well.

Gerovo, only four kilometers from the Slovenian border, is one of the oldest towns in Croatia's mountainous Gorski Kotar region, just north of Rijeka. This is also one of the main regions in Croatia with a sizable Slovenian minority, along with Rijeka itself, northern Istria, and the Zagorje area northwest of Zagreb.

Following the release of results from Croatia's latest census (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2002), Croatia's handling of its Slovenian minority has come under increased scrutiny. The daily "Delo" reported on 23 June that these number 13,178, or 0.3 percent of Croatia's population. Attention abroad has generally focused on the dramatic decline of Croatia's Serbian population since the breakup of former Yugoslavia. But although numerically smaller, the proportional decline in the number of Slovenes was still considerable, as they numbered some 25,000 in the 1991 census.

In an article published on 8 July in "Delo," Boris Jez raises this issue and asks how 12,000 Slovenes managed to disappear. Did they simply die off? Did they turn into Croats? What has been done with them? Forty years ago, he points out, "Delo" raised the same questions regarding the continuing decline of Italy's Slovenian population.

Jez articulates a concern felt by many Slovenes -- that their already small numbers in neighboring countries are slowly eroding through a lack of sufficient protection for minority groups, or even because of hostile policies. In the meantime, the Slovenian government declines to press the issue in order to foster good relations with its neighbors. In particular, smooth relations with Italy and Austria are seen as the key to facilitating entry into the European Union. The question is whether these good relations are being bought at the expense of ethnic brethren abroad.

Slovenian critics of Croatia fault in particular the Croatian parliament's 1997 decision to remove Slovenes from the constitutionally defined list of indigenous minorities in Croatia. Many Slovenes, however, overlook the fact that Slovenia has never given its Croatian population official minority status -- even though they comprised the single largest group of non-Slovenes in Slovenia's 1991 census and boast a population of more than 53,000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 May 2002).

The fine distinction involved is that Slovenia categorizes the Croats in its midst as recent immigrants, but the Slovenes in Croatia as indigenous. But without reciprocal recognition, there is little incentive for Croatia to reinstate this status for the Slovenes within its borders.

The Slovenes of Gorski Kotar, like the Croats, have lived there for centuries. Under communism, their presence was politely downplayed in both politics and academia. Indicative of this trend is the well-known Logar-Rigler linguistic map of Slovenian dialects, first published in 1983. The map boldly splashes orange, pink, and yellow Slovenian dialect areas across the state borders into Italy, Austria, and Hungary, but stops cold at the Croatian border.

Gorski Kotar is not uniform in its distribution of Slovenes. Just up the road from Gerovo, heading north, lies the village of Smrecje. Stop in at the local bar, and the prominently displayed Croatian flags and coat-of-arms inside leave no doubt regarding the identity here. Yet, only a kilometer to the south lies the village of Mali Lug and the birthplace of Peter Klepec, a figure of legendary strength and prowess in the fight against the Turks -- and acclaimed by Slovenes as one of their major folk heroes.

All of this points to the fact that the border artificially divides an area of gradual transition, ethnic and otherwise, between Slovenia and Croatia. A glance at the map shows the local road network crazily lurching from one side of the border to the other, with little or no regard for officially designated border crossings. Indeed, there are Slovenian villages that can only be reached via Croatian roads, and vice-versa.

A clue to the fate of Croatia's Slovenes is provided by Jez himself. He points out that three-fourths of Croatia's "Istrian" nationality also dramatically disappeared between the two censuses. Neither ethnic cleansing nor a geriatric population played a role here.

As Jez points out, the ranks of those declaring themselves Istrians in 1991 swelled in negative reaction to Croatian nationalism, but the post-Tudjman era has reversed this trend. Any census relying on individuals' self-declaration of their ethnicity is vulnerable to these declarations potentially being colored by the political atmosphere of the day. This may have inflated the 1991 figures for Slovenes as well.

A variety of other factors may have also played a role. Considering emigration patterns from the countries of former Yugoslavia, including Croatia, it is reasonable to assume that some of Croatia's Slovenes have indeed left -- whether for Slovenia or other destinations. Others have, no doubt, assimilated during the past decade.

Finally, shortcomings in the census itself must be considered. According to a report in "Delo" on 15 June, the 2002 Slovenian census was missing 44,719 persons when compared to official registers. Indeed, Slovenes might also ask themselves what they have done with their "missing" population. (Donald F. Reindl)

FIGHTING POVERTY AND CORRUPTION IN ALBANIA. A recent UN survey shows that Albania, while making certain progress, is still firmly in the grip of poverty and corruption.

Official unemployment in the country is 14.4 percent and the real figure is likely to be even higher. One out of every three Albanians live in abject poverty, with half of this group earning less than a dollar a day.

Over half the population live in rural areas and are not allowed to register as unemployed even if they move to urban locations and fail to find work there. Nearly a third of Albanian families live in poor-quality housing. One out of every three children in Albania suffer from malnutrition. The illiteracy rate stands at 12 percent.

The survey, under the guidance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), was conducted by the Albanian Center of Economic Studies. Zef Preci, the center's director, says such statistics are the result of the emergence of new economic and social classes in postcommunist Albania: "I don't think it's any secret that a sort of financial oligarchy has been created in Albania, meaning that a small number of people have legally or illegally concentrated enormous wealth. This is due not to their skills, but to their connections abroad, their friends in high places, or the absence of appropriate legislation."

Preci added that the middle class is just beginning to emerge and cannot yet be compared with its counterpart "in countries with a developed market economy. I think this is one of the reasons why certain phenomena, like massive unemployment, are evident and the progress of poverty reduction is so slow. It's clear that creating stability and much-desired economic growth is largely dependent on the development of a middle class."

Migration estimates suggest that nearly 15 percent of the Albanian population lives abroad. According to data from the International Monetary Fund, such Albanian emigrants send home some $600 million a year -- a figure that amounts to 20 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

The problem of poverty is exacerbated by poor governance and widespread corruption. A World Bank survey describes Albania as providing a "startling picture of systemic corruption that hurts public welfare, taxes private sector activity, and is deeply institutionalized."

A recent corruption survey concluded that out of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania, and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, it is residents of Albania who are subjected to the greatest pressure from public officials to provide bribes and other forms of illegal compensation. Moreover, the survey adds, the problem is so deeply ingrained that most Albanians have come to look upon corruption as an effective means of solving private problems.

Kalman Mizsei heads the UNDP's Europe and Commonwealth of Independent States bureau. He says that compared to other countries in his target region, Albania's situation is not so dire: "Nobody says that you have a perfect democracy, but you do have a democracy. Nobody says that you have a perfect market economy, but you do have the beginnings of a market economy. In Central Asia, we have a grave deficit of pluralistic democratic societies, and in that light, in that comparison, it's even more striking how much better many countries in the Balkans, including Albania, perform these days."

Mizsei says despite the gloomy statistics that currently make up Albania's economic profile, there is cause for optimism in the Balkans overall: "It seems to me that the Balkans, after having had a very painful and costly decade of national conflicts, are now entering a period which will be characterized by an increasing alignment with the European Union, and also by increasing internal cooperation of the Balkan nations. And I do hope that within Europe, in this decade, the Balkans will be the most dynamic region."

Mizsei's ambitions for Albania are slightly more modest. Laid out in a document called the Albanian Response to the Millennium Development Goals, the UNDP and the Albanian government propose concrete development aims to be achieved over the next 15 years.

First among the proposals is to halve the number of people living on less than a dollar a day, as well as those suffering from hunger. The plan also aims to guarantee at least primary education for all Albanians and promote gender equality. Infant and maternal mortality rates have also been targeted as areas of concern, as has the spread of HIV/AIDS and the rise in human trafficking.

Other Millennium Development Goals include pressing the government to acknowledge and fight the spread of organized crime in the country. The systematic discrimination against minority groups like Roma is also targeted for improvement, as is the fight against drugs. Albania currently has no national strategy for stemming drug trafficking and drug use, despite indications that cannabis cultivation has become a standard form of livelihood in many rural areas. (Alban Bala)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "I do not wish to plead to any of these charges and counts. I am guilty because I am a Serb and because I defended my people." -- Radovan Stankovic quoted by Reuters in The Hague on 12 July. He allegedly ran a brothel in the Foca area in 1992 in which Serbian soldiers raped Muslim women and girls as young as 12 years of age.

"The Bosnian side called on its neighbors not to support divisions of institutions and systems needed for the normal functioning of the state. Above all, I mean communications, the energy system, education, the intelligence services, the army, and so on. Bosnia needs to have unified systems." -- Beriz Belkic, head of the Bosnian joint Presidency. Quoted by RFE/RL at the Sarajevo summit on 15 July.