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Balkan Report: October 11, 2002

11 October 2002, Volume 6, Number 37

DOES THE SERBIAN PRESIDENCY MATTER? A familiar scenario appears increasingly likely as the second round of the Serbian presidential elections on 13 October draws nearer: a turnout of less than 50 percent, resulting in new elections in December.

This is reminiscent of the last Serbian presidential elections in 1997, when a low turn-out prevented ultra-nationalist Vojislav Seselj of the Radical Party from being elected, even though he defeated his opponent from Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party. While not gathering enough votes to be a contender in the second round this time, Seselj has called for a boycott, which might prove decisive in preventing the vote from being valid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2002).

Turnout in the first round on 29 September was a bare 56 percent, which means that a great many voters who stayed at home in the first round will have to go to the polls this time to compensate for supporters of nationalist candidates who observe the boycott.

The 9 October televised presidential debate -- a first in Serbia -- might have been the only opportunity to motivate voters after a lackluster electoral campaign. There is widespread disenchantment among the electorate with the economic situation and the feuding between Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.

Some Serbian media have speculated that in fact Djindjic has been banking on the presidential elections being invalid in order to delay the expected cohabitation with Kostunica. Djindjic will, however, most likely be the loser if the second round is invalid. Kostunica is likely to win over Miroljub Labus in any case, thus boosting Kostunica's credibility when the balloting is repeated.

Defeat in the second round will make Labus -- even in the event that the vote is invalid due to a low turnout -- a lame duck candidate and unlikely to run again in a re-run. Djindjic's popularity is too low for him to stand in for Labus, and no other candidate from Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS) or its allies seems likely at the moment to have sufficient support to pose a serious challenge to Kostunica.

In such a situation, it is possible that Seselj would face Kostunica in a December vote instead of a reformist. In any event, a Kostunica victory seems likely, leading to a period of cohabitation between him and a cabinet and parliament controlled by Djindjic.

What would Kostunica as president mean for Serbia? He would probably continue his policy of hesitant cooperation with international organizations and reluctance either to face up to the past or to engage in rapid and painful economic and social reforms.

The Serbian presidency is not a strong one, but its powers have rarely been used to the full, thereby leaving room for a new president to develop the institution as he sees fit.

The presidency was tailored to suit Milosevic, who relied on extra-institutional means -- such as control of the media and the use of security forces -- against political opposition. The constitution itself was never followed to the letter. In any event, it defined minimal powers rather than limits.

After Milosevic changed offices to the federal level in 1997, the Serbian presidency diminished drastically in political stature. The only requirement for his successor, Milan Milutinovic, was to obey his boss rather than use his powers.

The contradiction between the presidential powers as set down by law and the office's lack of political stature in practice was further accentuated after the fall of Milosevic in 2000, when Milutinovic became the only institutional holdover of the previous regime. The indicted war criminal subsequently scaled back his involvement in public life and exercised few of his powers.

Although the current system can be described as semipresidential, the president's powers are fewer than in France, for example. The president may propose a candidate for prime minister (after consulting with the strongest party in parliament) and can veto legislation passed by the parliament. The parliament can, however, override the veto. The president is thus only able to delay legislation, rather than block it outright.

A crucial question is the power of the president to dissolve the parliament, which Kostunica demanded during the election campaign. But the constitution permits the president to do so only on the recommendation of the government.

In addition to its formal powers, however, the presidential office is likely to carry considerable weight in Serbia for three reasons. First, the federal presidency -- according to any new arrangement between Serbia and Montenegro -- is likely to be a weak office if it is preserved at all. The chief executive will probably be indirectly elected and possibly be a political figure from Montenegro in order to secure Montenegrin support for the new union.

Second, the instability of the party system and the strong division between the Djindjic and Kostunica camps suggest that the prime minister of Serbia is likely to be less secure than the president of Serbia, who will be in power for four years.

Third, the authoritarianism in the country's political culture works to the advantage of the president, as has been the case with Kostunica so far. He has been able to build up his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) to be second only to Djindjic's DS in terms of organization and first in polls largely due to the advantage of incumbency.

Nevertheless, the power of the president should not be overestimated. The regional trend in Southeastern Europe points towards a more ceremonial presidency, as has been the case in Slovenia, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania. Only Croatia and to some degree Bosnia have stronger presidential systems. The inability of the Serbian president to influence the reform agenda, except indirectly through his political party, might allow the presidential system in Serbia evolve in this direction.

Recently, the director of the Serbian election monitoring NGO CeSiD, Slobodanka Nedovic, noted that "although Serbia has a presidential system, the [track record] of current Serbian President Milan Milutinovic shows that Serbia can function without a president quite well." (Florian Bieber is senior non-resident research associate at the European Centre for Minority Issues.

MACEDONIA'S NEW GOVERNMENT UNDER CONSTRUCTION. The first session of the new Macedonian parliament that took place on 3 October was overshadowed by a number of unforeseen developments. The fact that many ethnic Albanian deputies did not show up led to heated discussions regarding their loyalty to state institutions. Moreover, technical problems created by the speaker contributed to what was described as a "tense atmosphere" during the session.

The first problems appeared already at the beginning of the session. Outgoing speaker Stojan Andov, who led the session as chairman by virtue of his seniority, provoked the anger of the ethnic Albanian deputies. According to the new parliamentary rules, Albanians can now address the legislature in their mother tongue. But Andov had not ensured that interpreters were present or that the necessary technical equipment had been installed. The session had to be interrupted while those problems were dealt with.

The first task of the parliament was the verification of the mandates. Only 119 out of a total of 120 mandates were confirmed; one remained undetermined as elections were to be repeated at two polling stations because of irregularities.

But not all of the elected deputies showed up for the first session. Three leading members of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- BDI Chairman Ali Ahmeti, former National Liberation Army (UCK) commander Gezim Ostreni, and Fazli Veliu -- did not attend the first session because of "other engagements."

The two deputies of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and the only deputy of the National Democratic Party (PDK) did not appear for unspecified reasons. The parliamentary group of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) boycotted the first session outright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 October 2002).

PDSH Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci later said his party will remain absent until conditions are ensured for the participation of all former members of the UCK, including some PDSH deputies. Despite an amnesty bill passed in March 2002, many former rebels still fear arrest.

The nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) of outgoing Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski interpreted the boycott and the absence of Ahmeti as an indication that leading ethnic Albanian politicians are not loyal to the Macedonian state and its institutions.

During the first session, the parliament elected 40-year-old economist Nikola Popovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) as its new speaker. Popovski has led the party's parliamentary group for the past four years. His election came as a surprise, as many observers believed he would take over the Interior Ministry or some other important position in the future cabinet.

Following the first parliamentary session, President Boris Trajkovski formally asked SDSM Chairman Branko Crvenkovski on 7 October to form a government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). Crvenkovski, a 40-year-old electrical engineer, headed the Macedonian government between 1992 and 1998.

Coalition talks between the SDSM and the BDI are already under way. In a first statement after his nomination, Crvenkovski said the two parties have agreed on a basic platform for the future government. At the same time, he ruled out meeting with Ahmeti, who will not hold any cabinet post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002).

At present, the deputy chairs of the SDSM, BDI, and Liberal Democrats (LDP) are holding coalition talks. There has been much speculation about the distribution of the cabinet posts, but at present all that seems clear is that Petar Gosev of the LDP will take over the Finance Ministry, while Ilinka Mitreva of the SDSM is likely to become Foreign Minister again.

Under a proposal by the SDSM, the BDI would get those ministries that are currently held by the PDSH -- the ministries of justice, local self-government, economy, and labor and social affairs. In addition, the BDI was offered the positions of a deputy prime minister as well as a deputy speaker of the parliament.

The BDI accepted SDSM's offer with one reservation, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 9 October. Instead of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the party was more interested in taking over the Ministry of Transport and Communications.

Whatever the outcome of the coalition talks may be, one thing is clear: based on the provisions of the Ohrid peace agreement that ended last year's conflict, Macedonia's ethnic Albanians will gain a more important role in all areas of public life. Now the SDSM has to prove that it is willing and able to accept this new balance of power. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO SAYS WASHINGTON WILL NOT ABANDON ALBANIA. Washington's ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, said in Tirana on 8 October that Washington will continue to cooperate closely with Albania, even if that country is not asked to join NATO during the next wave of expansion, set to be announced at a summit in Prague next month, RFE/RL reported.

Burns said: "I explained to President [Alfred] Moisiu and Prime Minister [Fatos] Nano and the other leaders that the United States...[President George W. Bush] yet made a decision as to which of the countries we will support [for NATO membership at the November Prague summit]. And so, no matter what decision is made at the Prague summit, our commitment to work with Albania continues. And in that sense, as I said before, Prague is not an end, it's a point along the way in an individual country's relationship with NATO."

The ambassador is on a tour of NATO applicant countries ahead of the summit. Albania is among 10 countries hoping to receive an invitation to join. The other countries are Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia are not considered to be under serious consideration for NATO membership in this round.

While in Tirana, Burns hailed the reform progress already made by the Albanian armed forces. A 10-year modernization program has been drafted in cooperation with the U.S. Defense Department, which will also observe its implementation.

Burns said: "An example of that progress [Albania has made in reforms] is demonstrated by the fact that in December of this year, NATO's Partnership for Peace cell in Tirana will be able to close up its shop because, in effect, Albania has graduated from this program. It has fulfilled all the requirements, and we'll move on to other cooperative ventures together."

But Burns -- a former U.S. ambassador to Greece -- was also critical, stressing that the Balkan states have common problems to address. He noted that "we also raised issues where we believe that further progress can be made. As we have done in Romania and Bulgaria and Macedonia, which we visited in the last three days now, we raised the issue of corruption, which remains a major challenge for the government and society. We discussed the need for greater measures concerning border security, and particularly its impact on the drug trade, the narcotics trade, and trafficking in women and children. And, of course, we raised the issue of the need to deal with the massive piles of weaponry and ammunition that remain in this country."

The ambassador praised the support Albania has given to the international antiterrorist campaign, noting the participation of Albanian commandos in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 August 2002). (Alban Bala)

THE BITTERSWEET PRICE OF SUCCESS IN SLOVENIA. When Slovenians opted for independence in their 23 December 1990 plebiscite, a common complaint against the Yugoslav federal structure was that Slovenia was being economically exploited.

Alongside important social, cultural, and political differences distinguishing Slovenia from other ex-Yugoslav republics, economics is equally important in understanding why Slovenians chose independence. As early as September 1989, Slovenia's leadership supported constitutional amendments in Slovenia giving it discretionary power over its GDP. In 1990, Slovenia was producing 20 percent of Yugoslavia's GDP and accounted for 29 percent of exports and 25 percent of imports -- with only 8 percent of the country's population.

Ostensibly, contributions to the federal pot were earmarked for less-developed regions, such as Kosova and Macedonia, but the money never made it all the way south. Instead, Slovenes charged, Belgrade siphoned off funds to build what was variously considered the fourth or fifth largest army in Europe. By 1990, the Yugoslav Armed Forces (JNA) possessed a formidable arsenal that was later unleashed against the republics that had funded them. In the end, independence brought not only political, but economic liberation as well.

It came as a shock, then, when Slovenes learned in September that the 2004-2006 EU draft budget would have the country contributing 300 million euro ($296 million) more than it would receive in subsidies and development aid. Cyprus and Malta were also designated net contributors, and the Czech Republic simply broke even.

A 13 September story in "Delo" bore the pointed headline "Brussels as Belgrade," observing that Euro-skeptics might feel reminded of Slovenia's net contributions to the federal Yugoslav budget -- except that Slovenia will have even less of a voice in an expanded European Union than it did in Yugoslavia.

Nonetheless, Slovenes hope for the adoption of recent proposals that no new EU member state immediately pay out more than it receives. Guenter Verheugen, the EU enlargement commissioner, stated on 11 September that the effect would otherwise be "politically and psychologically unacceptable," "Delo" reported on 13 September. Janez Potocnik, Slovenia's chief negotiator with the EU, says compensatory payments to Slovenia could offset the difference. Mojmir Mrak, the leader of an expert group for financial aspects of Slovenian accession to the EU, feels that a lump-sum payment could be negotiated, "Delo" reported on 14 September.

Special terms were granted for payments by Greece, Spain, and Portugal when they became EU members, as well as for contributions from Austria, Finland, and Sweden in the last round of expansion.

Today's EU, however, finds itself in an economic climate threatened by recession, with public financing shortfalls in many states that have long been net contributors. For that reason, Brussels may prove to be a more difficult negotiating partner for new members than in the past.

Significant unknowns also remain. "Delo" reported on 15 September that Slovenia's actual contribution could grow to 405 million euro ($400 million).

According to statistics from Eurostat, the EU statistical office, Slovenia's 2001 per capita GDP was 16,000 purchasing power standards (PPS) -- an artificial currency unit used for international comparisons. This is not only the second highest among all candidate countries (after Cyprus at PPS 18,500), but over twice the PPS 7,600 average of the 13 EU candidate countries.

When Slovenia presented its application for EU membership on 10 June 1996, its per capita GDP equaled 59 percent of the EU average. A 1998 World Bank report predicted Slovenia would achieve 75 percent of the EU average by 2003. According to the 2001 Eurostat report (available at, Slovenia's per capita GDP was 69 percent -- exceeding that of Greece and equivalent to Portugal's. In contrast, the average per capita GDP among the 10 leading EU candidate countries (i.e., excluding Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey) was 45 percent of the EU average.

In the end, then, Slovenia is a "victim" of its own success. The admission of 10 new states, all with per capita GDPs below the EU average, will in turn pull the new EU average below that of Slovenia. Nonetheless, the burden is not as great as it seems. The entire 2004-2006 budget difference boils down to $51 annually per Slovene.

The EU report titled "Towards an Enlarged Union" appeared 9 October, formally endorsing the admission of Slovenia and nine other states. The so-called "Expansion Summit" will take place in Copenhagen on 12-13 December, while Denmark holds the rotating EU presidency. The actual signing of accession agreements is set for spring 2003 in Athens, during Greece's presidency. EU entry itself is slated for mid-2004.

With 54 percent in favor of EU membership in the latest poll, held in September, Slovenia appears largely undaunted in its determination for integration. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Miroljub Labus is a spy, a criminal, a Mafioso, and traitor. Miroljub Labus is a candidate of the mafia. Miroljub Labus is the personal candidate of Zoran Djindjic." -- Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj. Quoted by RFE/RL on 4 October.

"Not a single politician has ever succeeded here by smiling." -- Serbian polling expert Srdjan Bogosavljevic. Quoted by ibid.

"I don't care if they're nationalists, nonnationalists, or who they are. What we need to see now is effective government, quickly formed, so that we can get on with the people's work." -- High Representative Paddy Ashdown, commenting on the winners of the 5 October Bosnian general elections. Quoted in the "Financial Times" of 8 October.

"Many member states see the EU as a Christian club. The cost of admitting Turkey would also be enormous." -- Unnamed official of the EU Commission, on U.S. pressure for the EU to begin serious membership talks with Turkey. Quoted in the "Financial Times" of 8 October.