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Balkan Report: January 5, 2001

5 January 2001, Volume 5, Number 1

HARD-HEADED DETENTE. This is a phrase coined by the late President Richard M. Nixon to describe the Moscow policy he recommended to his successors. At a time of changes in both Belgrade and Washington, Nixon's phrase might also be considered in thinking about future U.S. policy toward Serbia.

Serbia's governing political elite feels it is on a roll. Montenegro remains a big problem, and the economy is a shambles. But foreigners have been lining up to extend early recognition to the new Yugoslav government -- which is not recognized by Montenegro -- before Belgrade has proven its credentials on the key issues of war crimes, war guilt, and attitudes toward its neighbors. Not only have the foreigners given away potential points of political leverage without getting anything much in return, but they have been generous with their checkbooks as well.

Kostunica himself has said that he was surprised at the speed with which Belgrade has been welcomed back to the international community. Confident of his good fortune, he has also spoken of negotiating the return of Kosova to Belgrade's control despite the fact that the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority there wants nothing to do with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 December 2000). Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic thinks that Kosova can be recovered after five years of internationally administered "confidence-building" (see below). Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic has called for the return of Kosova with international guarantees "over the heads" of the Albanian majority. Belgrade pundits write articles describing how Serbian diplomacy can tame the foreigners and win their support for what Djindjic calls a "reversal of alliances" that will line up the support of the international community behind Belgrade.

This is heady stuff. Some observers find it strange that certain individuals in Serbia expend so much energy on the chimera of Kosova at a time when Serbia has so many other problems to worry about. Do those Serbian politicians and writers really think that they can work out an agreement with representatives of some 2 million angry Albanians after the events of the past decade? Or that Belgrade can reestablish its colonial rule over a hostile population with the blessings of the EU and the U.S.?

But while the new government has pledged itself to undoing the authoritarianism, corruption, lawlessness, and economic Stalinism of the Milosevic years, it has shown no real sign of breaking with the narcissistic, self-pitying nationalism that fueled Milosevic's rise to power and four wars against his neighbors (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2000). Indeed, many of those Serbs who became angry with Milosevic's regional policies were unhappy not because he started wars, but because he lost them.

More recently, there has been much speculation in the Serbian press that U.S.-Yugoslav relations are on the threshold of a new era of mutual understanding. Some writers argue that President-elect George W. Bush will withdraw U.S. troops from the Balkans and repudiate the "interventionist" policy of President Bill Clinton. The gist of this train of thought is that Washington will seek good ties to Belgrade on the basis of Realpolitik without paying much attention to the other policies that the Serbian leadership is conducting.

Those commentaries often overlook the fact that, as governor of Texas, Bush supported NATO intervention in Kosova, a fact that he recalled during his presidential campaign. Several members of his policy team have indicated that he will review U.S. military commitments abroad but not take any rash steps to curtail them.

Other Serbian commentaries suggest that there is unlikely to be any great shift in U.S. policy toward the Balkans, which is linked to broader, long-standing U.S. strategies in Europe. Such writers point out that Washington does not act unilaterally there but as part of NATO and generally in tandem with its EU and other allies.

One likely point of continuity in Western policy will be the demand that Milosevic and other indicted war criminals be sent to The Hague. It remains to be seen, however, whether all Western governments will press Belgrade on this, especially since they have lost much potential leverage through early recognition. Some have already hinted that they are in no hurry to push Belgrade on the extradition of Milosevic.

Whatever its specific policies toward Serbia may prove to be, Washington is probably well advised to work closely with Brussels and let the EU take the lead. First, many European leaders feel that, despite the fact that the U.S. was forced to take the initiative to end the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosova, time has come for the EU to show that it can manage many of the continent's problems itself. The Bush policy team has already indicated that the U.S. would like its European allies to take more responsibility on the continent. Serbia might be one good place to start.

This is also because of a second reason, namely that certain cultural differences that mitigate against particularly warm ties between the U.S. and Serbia. There is a deeply rooted anti-Americanism among many Serbs, particularly -- but not only -- among intellectuals. It largely stems from traditional small-power resentment against those who are stronger and larger. Added to this is a spicy dash of the Balkan quality known as "inat," or spiteful defiance. The hostility is not always rational and it antedates Milosevic. It will not go away easily, if at all.

There is also a near-religious devotion among many Serbs to Russia, despite the fact that in practice Moscow has often been anything but Belgrade's friend. This popular Serbian attitude toward Russia should be noted in Washington, because for many Serbs it is automatically bound up with their image of the U.S. There is a tendency in Serbia (and elsewhere in the Balkans) to see the hand of the great powers everywhere in the region's affairs. Commentators speculate on "dark forces" at work and on "geopolitics." Given this cultural predilection to regard the Balkans as a devil's workshop of the powers, there is a knee-jerk reaction among many Serbs to view the U.S. as "the enemy of my Russian friend."

Dealing with this mind-set is a problem that Washington does not need. It is probably best left to the EU, especially since many people in Serbia often look to Germany and some other EU states as the Land of Milk and Honey to be respected and emulated.

Washington will nonetheless need to make the political point that it is involved in the region and is part of a broader effort at promoting security, prosperity, and democracy. Should it fail to do so, there is likely to be real uneasiness in some parts of the peninsula, particularly in Kosova, Albania, and Croatia. While pursuing a policy of hard-headed detente with the untried new leaders in Belgrade, the U.S. should not forget that it has friends and allies in the Balkans who look to it for leadership and support. (Patrick Moore)

DJINDJIC HAS 'NO OBJECTIONS' TO MILOSEVIC EXILE... Djindjic told "Der Spiegel's" Renate Flottau for the 1 January issue that General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who commanded Milosevic's forces in Kosova in 1999 and now heads the General Staff, was a loyal Milosevic supporter who must now be removed from his post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). Djindjic denied much-touted rumors that Pavkovic had secretly helped the opposition during the October protests, saying that the general proved harmless because he simply had no support in the army for his pro-Milosevic stand. Djindjic added, however, that Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who served Milosevic loyally for years, "is not dangerous [for the new government]. He has even shown himself to be very cooperative."

Asked about reports that former "Politika" Editor-in-Chief Dragan Hadzi Antic has gone to Cuba to prepare asylum for the Milosevic family there, Djindjic said that he has no objections to Milosevic going into exile. "Why not? We don't need to hold onto him at any price. That is not our priority. Milosevic is not under constant surveillance." (Patrick Moore)

...WARNS KFOR, ALBANIANS. Djindjic also told "Der Spiegel" that "we will give KFOR a maximum of 20 days to stabilize the border area. If there are any signs of an Albanian offensive, our police will intervene." He did not say what Serbian forces will do if the 20-day "stabilization" deadline is not met. Djindjic claimed that the Albanians' goal is to cut the land route linking Serbia with Macedonian and Greece. Turning to Kosova, he argued that the international protectorate must continue for "at least another five years." During this time, Serbia will seek to build confidence with the Albanians. Djindjic stressed that "we will show the ethnic Albanians that cooperation with Serbia is in their own interest. But if they make an enemy of Serbia, they might as well jump in the Adriatic to get to the West. Their only route to the West passes through Serbia." Djindjic added that he hopes that the international community will "change sides" on the Kosova question in response to democratic changes in Serbia. (Patrick Moore)

SERBIA FACES ENERGY CRUNCH. Serbia is now undergoing one of the worst energy crises in its history. The reasons for the power crisis are multiple, and they are natural as well as man-made.

Serbia has experienced insufficient rainfall for the past nine months, which has lowered water levels on the Danube, Drina, and Sava rivers. Low water levels not only hamper hydropower output, but also affect production at thermal electric plants, where water is needed for cooling systems.

For more than 10 years before, Serbia undertook only minimal investment in energy infrastructure. It also provided cheap, subsidized electric power to its citizens, which hardly encouraged them to cut back consumption. Seventy-eight days of NATO air strikes that targeted Serbia's energy grid also took their toll in 1999.

Serbia now has to contend as well with Russia's displeasure over its unpaid energy bills. In addition, the new leaders have recently ended Milosevic's practice of illicitly tapping into the electric power supplies of neighboring countries by abusing the regional electricity grid.

All this has produced one of the worst energy crises in the republic's history, and the public is very angry. On 27 December, crowds blocked streets and tram lines in Belgrade to protest the random six-to-10-hour blackouts the authorities have instituted. The next day, two electricity-generating units at a key power plant remained off-line for repairs, causing further blackouts and large traffic jams in Belgrade when traffic lights failed.

Some Serbs have resorted to the anti-Milosevic protest tactic of 1997 -- banging pots and pans. Serbia's Interior Minister Bozo Prelevic has appealed to them to hold their protests in places, where as he put it, "the dignity and human rights of other people would not be endangered."

Serbia's Minister of Mining and Energy Srboljub Antic says the list of priority facilities -- including hospitals, waterworks, heating plants, and food processing plants -- qualifying for a steady supply of electricity will now be further limited. But he notes the blackouts will be spread out evenly.

The energy crisis comes as preparations are being made to form Serbia's first non-communist government since World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2001).

Official results of the 23 December Serbian parliamentary elections were announced four days later, giving Kostunica's coalition of 18 parties -- the Democratic Opposition of Serbia, or DOS -- almost 65 percent of the vote and 176 seats in the 250-member parliament. That is more than the two-thirds majority required to make constitutional changes.

Milosevic's Socialist Party got 14 percent and 37 seats, Vojislav Seselj's ultra-nationalist Radical Party won 9 percent of the vote and 23 seats, and another ultra-nationalist group, Arkan's Serbian Unity Party, won 5 percent and 14 seats.

Neither the neo-communist Party of the United Yugoslav Left, led by Milosevic's wife Mirjana Markovic, nor Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Party managed to pass the 5 percent hurdle required to gain a seat in parliament. Voter turn-out was 58 percent.

Djindjic said on 27 December that the new government will focus on the economy. Djindjic told businessmen at the Serbian Chamber of Commerce: "We want to be a medium-sized developed country, not a country with cheap manpower which will want to attract foreign capital at any cost, including 'dirty' technology. We do not want to be a working-class suburb of Europe."

Serbia must quickly resolve its future relationship with Montenegro. If the junior Yugoslav republic opts for separation, Kostunica will be out of a job as federal president, much as Mikhail Gorbachev was when the Soviet Union disbanded nine years ago. So, if Montenegro does go its own way, some Serb politicians expect Kostunica to run for president of the Serbian republic. Kostunica says this does not concern him for the moment.

Djindjic says further negotiations on Montenegro's status -- separation or integration in a new federation -- depend on what Montenegro itself decides (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2001). "If they opt for a new federation, we assume that there will not be a split. It's got to be clear. We don't want to interfere in Montenegro's internal affairs. According to Montenegro's constitution, separation is a very complicated procedure. We expect the constitutional procedure to be respected."

Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic visited Belgrade last week for the first time in two years. Djukanovic persuaded Kostunica to purge the Yugoslav military command that Milosevic had deployed in Montenegro -- especially General Milorad Obradovic, who commands the Yugoslav Second Army based in Montenegro, and Navy commander Admiral Milan Zec. Kostunica also agreed to disband a military police battalion deployed in Montenegro.

Subsequent public sparring between Belgrade and Podgorica over Montenegro's proposal for revamping the relationship between Serbia and Montenegro nonetheless indicates that Montenegro remains Kostunica's chief problem. (Jolyon Naegele)

'COMMON PROBLEMS.' Macedonia's President Boris Trajkovski met with Kostunica in Belgrade on 29 December to send a "clear political message that stability in the Balkans depends to a good extent on Yugoslav-Macedonian cooperation," Kostunica told AP. He added that the two governments "will work together on resolving many common problems and issues." He did not elaborate. Referring to tensions in the Presevo valley, Trajkovski denounced "extremist forces that want to jeopardize peace in the region."

Macedonia's population is just over one-fifth ethnic Albanian. There is little love lost between them and the ethnic Macedonian majority, many of whom supported the Serbian crackdown in Kosova in 1998 and 1999. Most observers agree, however, that Macedonia's main hope for surviving as a country is to become a state of all its citizens rather than a collection of introspective ethnic communities. (Patrick Moore)

BALKAN INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES ON INTERNET. The Bulgarian Investment Agency on 2 January announced that foreign investment opportunities for 11 countries in southeastern Europe have been posted on the Internet, AFP reported. Funded by the Balkan Stability Pact, the site contains macro-economic data and details of investment projects for Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. (Michael Shafir)

ALL BOZOS ON THIS BUS? Bozo Prelevic, who is one of Serbia's three interior ministers, told Beta news agency in Belgrade on 2 January that KFOR troops have arrested Muhamet Xhemaili, who is a leader of the ethnic Albanian Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB). Prelevic said Xhemaili was detained at a KFOR checkpoint on southwest Serbia's administrative border with Kosova. He recently threatened to fight NATO as well as Serbian forces if NATO troops cross the border without a prior agreement with the UCPMB (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 December 2000).

But Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is the government's point man for Presevo, denied that Xhemaili had been arrested, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. AFP journalists said that they saw the guerrilla leader moving about freely in the zone.

The confusion appears to be the result of a case of mistaken identities. The arrested man is a theology student who also functions as the local imam -- and has the same name as the guerrilla leader.

In addition, Prevelic claimed that a Mr. Kadriu -- whom he identified as the village council chief of Lucane and who recently met with Djindjic -- has disappeared. But local Albanians said that the man in question has been seen in his village. They added that Kadriu is not the head of the local council. Covic also denied that Kadriu has gone missing. (Patrick Moore)

GANGSTER KILLS POLICE OFFICIAL IN ALBANIA. A man identified by local police as a "gangster" shot and killed Ilir Ngresi, who was a senior police official, in Vlora on 30 December, dpa reported. Interior Minister Ilir Gjoni told a press conference in Tirana that "whoever shoots at a police officer, shoots at the state... The law will be merciless with them." Ngresi was a former police chief in Berat. This was the third attempt on his life.

More than 200 police have been killed since anarchy broke out in early 1997, AP reported. On 30 December, the government released figures showing that the number of crimes in the year 2000 was 30 percent fewer than in the previous year. (Patrick Moore)

CROATIA'S MESIC MARKS NEW YEAR'S IN SOUP KITCHEN. President Stipe Mesic took his New Year's lunch with homeless people at the soup kitchen run by the priests at Zagreb's St. Francis Church, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In his New Year's message, Mesic said that he cannot promise that the economic situation will improve but argued that the government must try. He stressed that the economy is the main problem confronting Croatia in 2001. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Many things in this country are not working properly." -- The international community's high representative in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, speaking in Sarajevo on 21 December. Quoted by AP.

"Why should we treat them as enemies forever?" -- KFOR commander General Carlo Cabigiosu, referring to the Serbs. He was speaking to Reuters in Prishtina on 21 December.

"It is the first time that the international community has given verbal and, in the last few days, practical support to what Yugoslav authorities are doing [in the Presevo area]. Until recently, only ethnic Albanians were able to get understanding from the international community." -- Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic, speaking to RFE/RL's South Slavic Service by telephone, on 3 January.

"Of course, the main reasons for the crisis are in the policies of the former government [of Yugoslavia] and of the regime, and, of course, not only in that area." -- Zivkovic.

"Very soon, we will see that the terrorists will pull back or will be removed from that territory in some other way, and then the security zone will be redefined. This means that the territory will be redefined and the regime in the security zone will be redefined as well." -- Zivkovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2000).