Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: August 23, 2002

23 August 2002, Volume 6, Number 31

A BOTTLE OF GIN. A professor of history at Indiana University used to compare sending a certain unfocused graduate student into a bookstore to giving an alcoholic a bottle of gin. The recipient of the favor might have been happy at the time, but it was ultimately to his detriment, if not undoing.

In recent weeks, calls have been heard from the Western policy community on both sides of the Atlantic for Belgrade to be given a role in determining Kosova's final status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2002). The advocates of this idea present it as the best way to ensure regional stability and peace.

Unfortunately, bringing Belgrade back into a political role in Kosova is only likely to make matters worse. This is true both for what has been called by some Serbian intellectuals the de-Nazification of Serbia, as well as for the decolonization of Kosova (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 8, 15, and 21 February 2001, and 21 February 2002; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002).

If Serbia is to make the transition from an aggressive dictatorship with a political culture steeped in blame and denial to a modern European democracy, one of its first tasks is to focus on its internal problems of poverty, crime, corruption, and political instability.

That means that Serbia will need to forget about adventures involving the Serbs beyond its borders. At the same time, those Serbian populations in other parts of former Yugoslavia will have to get used to being minorities in what is essentially someone else's state, albeit with appropriate rights and guarantees.

This is not just an academic or constitutional issue. The refusal of the Serbs of Croatia to accept minority status in 1990 and 1991 provided President Slobodan Milosevic with the opportunity for his wars of conquest and destruction. The refusal of the Serbs of Kosova to similarly accept minority status led them to become a bedrock of support for Milosevic from the mid-1980s until the late 1990s. They ultimately abandoned him -- not because he started wars but because he lost them.

Milosevic's defeat in Kosova in 1999 opened the possibility for that province to proceed on the road traveled by so many other former colonies around the globe since 1945, namely the road to self-determination and majority rule.

The question now is whether the Albanian majority will be able to convince the international community that it is indeed able to manage its own affairs. That includes treating the Serbian and other minorities according to contemporary European standards. If the Albanians fail to do so, they will not deserve, or likely receive, the independence that all their political parties seek.

But this is a matter between the inhabitants of Kosova and the international community -- not for Serbia, which lost Kosova through a conflict of its own making and, in any event, has plenty of pressing internal tasks at hand.

Recent calls to involve Belgrade in Kosova's affairs served only to make Serbia's representative, Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, tougher and more outspoken in his public demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 21 August 2002). A commentary in the Belgrade daily "Glas javnosti" on 19 August also indicated that well-meaning efforts to placate Serbia by involving it in Kosova's affairs will meet with scant gratitude and achieve little except to whet nationalist appetites.

The international community has its hands full in the Balkans. It must manage protectorates in Bosnia and Kosova and prepare those two polities for a future in which they can oversee their own affairs as part of an integrated Europe. A delicate peace in Macedonia must be fostered and developed. The relationship between Serbia and Montenegro will need attention if those two countries are to develop into stable and prosperous democracies. The last thing one needs under the circumstances is to encourage the forces of Serbian nationalism. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN JUSTICE MINISTER DECRIES VOTER-LIST PADDING. In what observers described as an act of self-defense, Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) held a press conference on 17 August, during which he accused the Interior Ministry of padding the voters lists for the parliamentary elections slated for 15 September.

He argued that "3,500 [ethnic] Macedonians from Liqenas [in Albania] who recently were granted Macedonian citizenship have been included in the voters lists. In one electoral district [in downtown Skopje], the number of voters has increased enormously, and this is an attempt at electoral fraud."

The minister said that the additional voters were added to lists at the request of the Interior Ministry. "According to the protocol, the additional persons do not have a permanent residence in Macedonia. But it is not [legally] possible to include someone on the voters list who does not have a permanent residence," Mehmeti explained. Mehmeti noted that all of the 3,500 additional people on the voters lists were registered under the same address, that of the Interior Ministry.

Mehmeti also leveled accusations against the state Statistics Agency, which draws up the voters lists. "I decided to annul all decisions taken without my knowledge, and to announce new decisions, according to which these [additional] people will not be included in the voters lists," Mehmeti stated. He added that he has received threats from unspecified people in the Interior Ministry that he will be arrested -- or even worse.

Hawkish Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski had announced at the beginning of August that his ministry will issue Macedonian passports to members of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Albania. Already at that time, the opposition accused Boskovski of electioneering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002).

In a first reaction to Mehmeti's press conference, Boskovski threatened to arrest Mehmeti, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. "The justice minister has immunity, and we cannot arrest him now, but we hope to do so at the end of his mandate," Boskovski said.

Meanwhile, the Statistics Agency has announced that the Justice Ministry has removed from the voters lists all voters registered at the Interior Ministry address (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 August 2002). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

MACEDONIA'S RULING COALITION ENRAGED OVER CORRUPTION CHARGES. Many reports issued by nongovernmental organizations never receive any public attention. This is not the case with the latest report by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). The commotion is due to two factors: The study was published right at the beginning of campaigning for the 15 September parliamentary elections, and it addressed one of the most painful aspects of the country's public and political life. And, of course, some politicians' reactions to the report contributed considerably to its high profile.

Under the title "Macedonia's Public Secret: How Corruption Drags the Country Down," the report outlines the role of corruption in Macedonian politics. The study lists a number of the biggest corruption scandals and discusses how deeply rooted the phenomenon is, undermining state institutions and civil society alike. The ICG also calls for a tougher approach by the international community to combat the growing graft that could eventually lead to the country's disintegration.

Most Macedonians are familiar with the cases presented in the ICG report, as they have been covered in the media to some extent. But obviously the government, as the main source of corruption, was surprised by the timing of its publication. Interior Minister Boskovski's reaction showed that his party is not willing to lead a calm public discussion on the issue, perhaps because the report depicted his Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) as one of the major motors of corruption in Macedonia.

"Nova Makedonija" of 16 August quoted Boskovski as saying that "some quasi-groups...from outside put the issue of organized crime on the agenda again in order to ruin democracy in...Macedonia and create a climate of insecurity among [our] citizens. This is the notorious group of the notorious international intriguer, smuggler, and criminal Edward Joseph, who speaks out against the Macedonian government without arguments and directly meddles in Macedonia's internal affairs, offering nebulous untruths.... These groups have to be expelled from...Macedonia."

It seems obvious that the VMRO-DPMNE and its coalition partner, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), have no interest in seeing corruption become an issue in the campaign.

But in his speech to mark the official start of the campaign on 14 August, President Boris Trajkovski made it clear that he will support any government that takes firm measures against corruption and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002). Trajkovski belongs to a moderate wing of the VMRO-DPMNE. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

TENSIONS REMAIN HIGH IN THE DISPUTE OVER THE BAY OF PIRAN. The escalating spat between Slovenia and Croatia over their common border in the Bay of Piran (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002) sparked an incident on the morning of 18 August for Josko Joras, the Piran town councilor who has struggled to keep his border property from being ceded to Croatia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 August 2001 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002). According to Joras, 15 youths from the Croatian town of Umag took the Slovenian and EU flags from his house and put up a Croatian flag, shouting: "We'll kill you and your family. You can't steal our Croatian soil!"

According to a 19 August report in the Slovenian daily "Delo," Damir Berac, the leader of the group, said only six people were involved and they made no threats. "We're normal people," said Berac. "We went to change the flag. I don't know if we were on the roof. And I don't know what happened to the Slovenian flag." The Croatian daily "Vjesnik" the same day reported the youths' claim that they were defending Croatia's territorial integrity, which the government had failed to do in recent incidents in the Bay of Piran.

The previous two weeks had seen the repetition of a familiar scenario: Slovenia fishing vessels would cross the midline of the Bay of Piran, Croatian patrol boats intercepted them, Slovenian patrol boats came to their assistance, and then both police forces waited until the fishing vessels departed. On 8 August, however, the Slovenian P-111 patrol boat overheated, and the Slovenes are now resorting to an inflatable rubber boat.

Croatia maintains that Article 15 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes the midline of the Bay of Piran as the maritime border. In fact, Article 15 does not establish maritime borders, but limits states' rights to extend their borders: "Where the coasts of two states are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither of the two states is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the median line...."

The Slovenian side has been quick to cite the second part of the article, which nullifies the first provision if "necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances." (The full text of the convention is available at

One possible solution to the conflict is the adoption of the Agreement on Border Traffic and Cooperation (SOPS), or at least the clause of the agreement dealing with fishing rights. Under the agreement, 25 fishing vessels would be allowed to fish in the territorial waters of the other state. On 16 August, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan expressed hope that there would be no further incidents before 1 October, when the agreement could be implemented.

There has also been much speculation regarding supposed motives behind incidents in the bay. After the 5 August confrontation, the Croatian daily "Vecernji list" claimed Slovenian vessels had intentionally chosen the day because it was a Croatian national holiday, which marks the victory over Serbian rebels in 1995. The Croatian Party of (Historic) Rights (HSP) has asserted that the violations are a plot to challenge Croatian sovereignty.

On 16 August, "Delo" reported claims by Croatian fishermen that low fish yields fail to justify the fuel being expended by Slovenian vessels, and Slovenia must therefore be paying the fishermen to act as agents provocateurs. "Go ahead," cynically retorted one Piran fisherman to a "Delo" reporter, "Write that the state gives us 100,000 tolars [$435] just to put to sea."

Meanwhile, relations elsewhere along the border are much better. "Delo" reported on 16 August that 1,000 Slovenes and Croats along the Kolpa River -- the south-central border between the two states -- have held their sixth annual meeting. The meeting stressed good relations and understanding between the countries, and attendees included independent Croatia's first interior minister, Josip Boljkovac. The vice president of the Slovenian-Croatian Friendship Society, Joze Stegne, said, "We understand one another here and believe that we can be an example to others living on the border between Slovenia and Croatia."

At a press conference on 19 August, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel also emphasized the positive relations that existed between Slovenia and Croatia for most of the 20th century and called on the Croatian side to sign the SOPS. He cautioned that international arbitration, though an option, is no quick fix.

Zdravko Tomac, president of the Croatian Sabor's Foreign Affairs Committee, on 20 August branded the call to sign the agreement as pressure on Croatia, and said that the agreement was merely a phase in the negotiating process. "Croatia will robustly defend its territorial integrity," Tomac was quoted as saying in a 21 August article in "Delo."

Public opinion remains divided on possible solutions. In a poll published in "Vecernji List" on 18 August, 29 percent of Croatian respondents felt that Slovenia and Croatia should work out the issue between themselves, while 28 percent favored international arbitration. However, 8 percent voiced approval for sending Croatian naval vessels into the bay, and 22 percent felt that Slovenian vessels crossing the midline should be seized.

The two countries may have more immediate reasons to seek an amicable solution to their squabble. In a 13 August article in "Delo," Damir Kajin, a Slovenian parliamentarian from Istria, noted that "one day of exposure on CNN would damage both Slovenia and Croatia." A decade after independence, Slovenia and Croatia are still recovering from the popular misconception that they are unsafe, war-torn states. With both countries relying heavily on the tourist trade for their economies, neither should be eager to be associated with battles on the high seas. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "They've been coming here for the last two months. But now they say they came to stay longer. It's not nice to watch foreign troops in your country." -- Milko Todovic, Bosnian Serb villager in Celebici, during SFOR's latest hunt for Radovan Karadzic. Quoted by AP on 15 August.

"The population of Celebici can contribute to [a] change of tactic[s by SFOR]. You know exactly what I mean. Once you cut this knot, there will be no problems any more." -- Deputy commander for operations of the German battle group of SFOR, Lieutenant Colonel Juergen Uchtmann.


Gospe Sinjska
Ako si u stanju
Uzmi Stipu
A vrati nam Franju.

-- Lyric sung by Croatian nationalist pop singer Marko Perkovic Thompson at a Victory Day concert in Knin. Quoted by "Jutarnji list" on 7 August.