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Balkan Report: August 2, 2002

2 August 2002, Volume 6, Number 28

BORDER INCIDENT BETWEEN YUGOSLAVIA AND CROATIA. Croatian news media have described it as the most serious incident since the end of four and a half years of hostilities between Croatia and Yugoslavia in 1995.

The governor of Vukovar-Srijem County and several mayors from Croatian and Yugoslav Danube River towns were among the more than 20 adults and four children aboard at least four boats when a Yugoslav naval vessel unleashed several rounds of machine-gun fire into the water on 28 June. The boats were headed to the Danube's disputed island, Sarengradska Ada (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 July 2002).

When a Croatian border-patrol boat approached the area of the incident, it, too, came under machine-gun fire from the Yugoslav patrol boat.

The Croatian and Yugoslav dignitaries intended to visit the island as a confidence-building measure to see pasture grounds that have been off-limits to citizens of Croatia since 1991. However, judging by Yugoslav statements after the incident, someone neglected to inform the Yugoslav military through the correct channels in advance of the outing.

What made this incident different from previous border disputes was the speed with which Yugoslav and Croatian leaders met in a bid to resolve their differences. Within hours of the shooting, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic had apologized by telephone to Croatia's prime minister, Ivica Racan.

Racan, however, told Croat TV viewers that that was insufficient, and he demanded a public apology: "We will want a very precise explanation of what happened."

Later the same day -- just six hours after the shooting -- Racan met with Svilanovic at a Danube bridge border crossing near Sarengrad, but he was still angry. In his words: "Shooting near civilians, even if it was shooting in the air or in the water, is simply unacceptable." He said shooting at civilians is "detrimental to good neighborly relations" and called on Yugoslavia to give Croatia the results of its investigation into the incident.

In Racan's words, "People from both sides of the Danube have to live in peace and cooperate in [their own] mutual interest."

Meanwhile, Croatia's Foreign Ministry summoned the Yugoslav ambassador in Zagreb to receive a harsh protest note, but Ambassador Milan Simurdic refused to accept it until his government's investigation determines precisely what happened.

Nevertheless, his boss, Svilanovic, expressed regret over the incident, laying the blame on poor communication. He said that, apparently, not all police and military units were aware of the local authorities' plans to visit the island. "I said I was sorry because we want all Croatian citizens in Yugoslavia and Serbian citizens in Croatia to feel secure. A good intention turned out badly."

Svilanovic insisted that the soldiers had only fired warning shots in the air. He reiterated that no one had been hurt and said he hopes the incident will not mar relations between Yugoslavia and Croatia.

Svilanovic did blame residents of the village of Sarengrad on the Croatian mainland, however. He said the residents failed to get the necessary permits to visit the island.

Meanwhile, the presidents of Yugoslavia and Croatia -- Vojislav Kostunica and Stipe Mesic -- spoke by telephone. Kostunica said he will do everything in his power to prevent a repetition of the incident and insisted it was an isolated case that should not affect bilateral relations.

According to the Croatian Foreign Ministry's statement on the incident, the men were separated from the women and children on the boats and forced to board the Yugoslav vessel. All the passengers were taken to the nearby Serbian town of Backa Palanka. Ironically, one of the men on board was the mayor of Backa Palanka, Zvezdan Kisic. After several hours of questioning, the Yugoslav authorities released everyone.

As one of the passengers -- the local Croatian governor of Vukovar-Srijem County, Nikola Safer -- put it: "The first half hour was really ugly. One child even fainted. But afterward, the Yugoslavs were fair." He noted that this "is just an ordinary island, an area the Sarengraders used before the war as pasture for cattle. [The incident] was very unpleasant, especially the first 15 minutes when we had to keep our hands up. It was quite enough."

In the first months of the war between Croatia and Yugoslavia in 1991, Yugoslav forces occupied Sarengrad in Croatia's multiethnic eastern Slavonia region. They subsequently besieged and conquered the nearby town of Vukovar but failed to take the regional capital, Osijek.

Under the terms of the 1995 Erdut agreement, Yugoslavia withdrew from the area in January 1998 in an operation supervised by the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But Yugoslavia held on to Sarengradska Ada, which extends more than 1,800 hectares and which was prime grazing land for cows, pigs, and horses.

Yugoslav maps now show the island as part of Yugoslavia, and residents of the riverside village of Sarengrad are barred from using the island. An informal agreement between the then-presidents of the two countries, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, placed the frontier at the midpoint of the river. According to that calculation, the island lies 800 meters inside Yugoslavia.

A formal border agreement between Yugoslavia and Croatia does not exist. (Jolyon Naegele)

MACEDONIA BEFORE THE ELECTIONS: HOPES AND REALITIES. With the 15 September parliamentary elections less than six weeks away, Macedonian society has been looking at both the past and the future with mixed feelings.

While the political parties prepare for the election campaign, form coalitions, and set up their lists of candidates, the media have been seeking to describe the mood of the broader public, of intellectuals, and of the lawmakers in the outgoing parliament.

The major ethnic Macedonian political parties -- the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) -- have hammered out their pre-election coalitions.

Apart from their "traditional" coalition partners in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the SDSM managed to win over the parties of most of the smaller ethnic minorities -- the Serbs, Turks, Roma, Vlachs, and Bosnian Muslims -- and form them into the Together for Macedonia coalition. At the same time, the SDSM leadership ruled out further cooperation with its former coalition partner, the Socialist Party (SPM).

The SDSM's major political opponent, the VMRO-DPMNE, renewed its pre-election coalition with the small Liberal Party (LP) under the motto "Chin up!" [Glava gore!]. The VMRO-DPMNE leadership said it will not form a coalition with "every registered party in Macedonia." It nonetheless added that it is open to cooperation with other parties -- most likely with its current coalition partner, New Democracy. That party's best-known figure is Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule.

Attempts by the ethnic Albanian parties to form their own pre-election coalition have so far been unsuccessful. The Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) failed in its proposal to form a coalition with the small National Democratic Party (PDK) and the recently founded Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) because of the opposition of the BDI leadership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 July 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002).

The ruling Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), the largest ethnic Albanian political party, did not seek a coalition partner among the other ethnic Albanian parties. The PDSH leadership, however, remains ready to continue its cooperation with the VMRO-DPMNE.

The success of the SDSM in finding coalition partners is perhaps due to its standing in the polls. On 19 July, the socialist weekly "Start" noted the results of a poll financed by the International Republican Institute (IRI). According to "Start," the SDSM ranks first among all parties on a nationwide level. It would garner 25 percent of the votes, while the VMRO-DPMNE would get only 9 percent, followed surprisingly by the LDP with 4 percent.

Another surprise is that the new BDI -- led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti -- has every chance of garnering most of the ethnic Albanian votes. On a nationwide level, it would mean that the BDI would get some 9 percent of the votes, while the PDSH would take only 5 percent, the PPD 3 percent, and the PDK only 1 percent.

Under these circumstances, it is clear that the anticommunist coalition of VMRO-DPMNE, LP, and PDSH is unlikely to have a working majority in the next parliament, and the Socialist-dominated Together for Macedonia coalition will most probably form the next government.

Though the SDSM leadership has announced that it will invite an ethnic Albanian party into the government, it is not yet clear which party that will be. This is because the BDI at present does not seem acceptable to the Social Democrats, and the old coalition partners in the PPD seem to be too weak.

Regardless of the outcome of the elections, the new parliament will face a number of challenges. On the one hand, it will be obliged to implement the Ohrid peace agreement and bring Macedonian legislation into line with European standards. On the other hand, many people will expect the parliament to be more responsive to their needs as they see them.

A survey of current legislators and of intellectuals carried out by the weekly "Puls" shows that the two groups have widely differing views of the work done by the current parliament and the tasks awaiting its successor.

Both the lawmakers and the intellectuals hope the new parliament will work for the creation of a civil society according to European standards. But one gets the impression that they are talking about completely different things. For the parliamentarians, this means the formal adoption of laws, while the intellectuals are concerned about the results -- the normal functioning of state institutions, or the fight against corruption.

It thus may be that the biggest challenge for the next parliament and government alike will be to reestablish a dialogue between the governing and the governed. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA'S INVISIBLE MINORITY GROUP(S). At the University of Ljubljana this past spring, my third-year students tried to work out an outline for an essay on minority groups in Slovenia. They started by listing the first groups that came to mind: Italians, Hungarians, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians, and Roma (Gypsies). Considering that each of these -- with the exception of the Bosnian Muslims at 1.36 percent -- numbers less than 0.5 percent of Slovenia's population, they felt they were doing fairly well, until I pointed out that they had omitted the first-, second-, and fifth-most-numerous minority groups: Croats, Serbs, and Montenegrins.

Awareness of the Hungarians and Italians (ranking fourth and eighth, respectively, in the 1991 census) is explained by their relatively high profile: signs in officially bilingual areas and constitutionally guaranteed protections accentuate their presence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 March 2002).

Bosnian Muslims (ranked third) likely stand out because of intense media focus on their plight as refugees, both in Slovenia and elsewhere. Everyone knows at least one or two Albanians (ranked seventh), as they have become entrenched in Slovenia as confection-shop owners and greengrocers. And, as most everywhere, the Roma (ranked ninth) attract more attention than they probably deserve or wish.

In contrast, the Croats, Serbs, and Montenegrins go relatively unnoticed in Slovenian society. Together with the Bosnian Muslims, their language background -- if one may still refer to a Serbo-Croatian language -- enables them to switch to Slovenian fairly easily, should they care to do so. If not, they are nonetheless easily understood. Their hair, eyes, and skin do not distinguish them from the range of features encountered among Slovenes.

Also, aside from the small historical settlement of Serbs and Croats in Bela Krajina and concentrations in industrial centers such as Jesenice and Ljubljana, these groups have no strong association with any particular region of Slovenia. All of these factors make it relatively simple for Serbo-Croatian speakers to pass unnoticed in Slovenia, or even to assimilate.

It is problematic, however, to speak of a Serbo-Croatian-speaking minority in Slovenia, inasmuch as the members of this group do not have a sense of collective identity. The Serbs and Croats have considered themselves separate peoples since the beginning of their recorded histories. And whatever their earlier histories, the Montenegrins and Bosnian Muslims were officially proclaimed separate peoples in Tito's Yugoslavia and were accordingly counted separately in censuses -- even though the Muslims had to wait until the 1971 census to be treated as fully equal to the Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians, and Montenegrins.

Today, the old debate continues as to whether the Montenegrins are a separate people or a special branch of the Serbian nation, but Bosnian Muslims are very unlikely to identify themselves as either Serbs or Croats.

In addition, the category of Yugoslav nationality -- generally claimed by children of mixed marriages or by those who, for whatever reason, choose not to identify with a particular nationality -- has been around since the 1953 Yugoslav census.

Even in the "best case" scenario in the 1991 census -- that is, artificially combining all of the Croats, Serbs, Muslims, Montenegrins, and Yugoslavs -- the number of Serbo-Croatian speakers in Slovenia officially stands at a relatively modest 143,980 people, or 7.3 percent of the population of Slovenia. This fails to meet even the low 10 percent threshold that Slovenia has asked of Austria for according Slovenian ethnic communities there the right to bilingual signs.

Although the ex-Yugoslav minorities easily outnumber the Italian and Hungarian minorities in Slovenia, the constitutional rights of these latter two groups are based on the controversial principle that they alone represent indigenous minorities.

Nonetheless, the individually small numbers and the fragmentation of the Serbo-Croatian-speaking population make it difficult to implement culturally oriented services for these groups. Today it is difficult to imagine a Slovenian library setting aside a section for Serbo-Croatian literature without it being branded an anachronism -- but even more difficult to envision parallel sections for Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian, and even Montenegrin literature. Although this does not excuse alleged discrimination against minority groups (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 May 2002), it does provide some insight into inaction.

On 8 June, the daily "Delo" published an apprehensive article addressing the issue of voting rights for resident aliens in Slovenia. In the elections scheduled for this fall, foreigners with permanent residency in Slovenia will be entitled not only to vote for mayors and members of their municipal councils but also to run for the latter position. Estimates are that some 18,000 resident aliens will qualify to vote or run for office this November.

Illustrating the article was a drawing by Adriano Janezic. It takes some effort to determine that the distorted figure, casting a ballot with a thick-lipped leer, is human. Between its boar-tusk nose ornament, the tattoos on its bared chest, its loincloth, and the spear in its left hand, the message is clear: This is a foreigner, not one of us.

The "Delo" article ends by reassuring readers that it is unlikely that all the foreigners will exercise their right to vote, and even less likely that they will run for office. Moreover, legislation does not permit foreigners to join Slovenian political parties if they are not citizens of an EU state -- and, without party backing, such foreigners are unlikely to secure enough votes for election.

This year at the polls, Slovenes may not even realize that they are standing next to foreigners at the ballot boxes. The foreigners most likely to be encountered -- Croats, Serbs, and Bosnian Muslims -- are unlikely to bring along their spears and loincloths. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The prisoner's wish to reintegrate himself into society, his determination not to re-offend, his good physical and mental health, his irreproachable conduct in detention, his attachment to his family, and the possibility of exercising a profession again suggest that release will open up promising prospects for Milojica Kos." -- Hague tribunal President Claude Jorda on freeing Omarska concentration camp guard Kos on 31 July. Quoted by Reuters in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2002).

"Now it's clear who is the government and who is the opposition." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in Vienna on 31 July. Quoted by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2002).