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Balkan Report: May 15, 2001

15 May 2001, Volume 5, Number 35

THREE FOR THE EU. There are several highly important tasks awaiting Brussels' attention in the Balkans. Some observers regard this as an opportunity for the EU to show that it can deal with European problems effectively, without a pronounced American presence.

On 11 May, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova criticized the EU's Balkan Stability Pact for failing to prevent repeated crises in the region. She said in Veliko Turnovo that "Bulgaria's government has repeatedly expressed its concern that not all commitments that the Stability Pact made for the Balkans were kept, and the evidence for that is the destabilization of Macedonia."

The BTA report added that she and other Bulgarian officials have repeatedly charged that the Pact has moved too slowly from making speeches to implementing projects. "We expected that the Pact would provide European...guarantees, which would safeguard the Balkans. But we see a war threat close to our western border, and this worries us a lot."

This seems like a tall order. The Pact has indeed been widely criticized for being too slow, cumbersome, or unfocused, but it is a clearing house for economic and social development projects and nothing more. One could not have expected it to eliminate the poverty of Macedonia -- one of the former Yugoslavia's poorest republics -- and hence defuse many social tensions in the less than two years of its existence.

And the Pact certainly is not in the business of providing military security. That has been chiefly the business of NATO in this region. Any purely European armed force is largely still on the drawing board. If that idea moves toward fruition, it will do so in the context of shrinking defense budgets across most of the EU. In any event, it has nothing to do with the Stability Pact.

But there is certainly much for the EU and the Pact to do. Skender Gjinushi, who is the speaker of the Albanian parliament, said in Vienna on 10 May that he sees an important role for Brussels in promoting regional stability by giving Albania an association agreement with the EU. He stressed that Albania can remain a "pole of stability in the region" only if it has clear signals from the EU.

Indeed, many observers from inside and outside the region say that what the countries need most is a clear road map that will eventually lead them to an association agreement and ultimately to full EU membership. To leave the Balkan and other postcommunist countries in limbo will promote anything but security and stability in the region. This is a unique time in history, and the EU owes it to itself and the rest of the continent to seize the moment, as veteran commentator and pan-European activist Otto von Habsburg recently wrote in Budapest's "Der Neue Pester Lloyd."

A second task for the EU was outlined in a 9 May commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," which argues that Brussels can play a key role in nudging a reluctant Macedonian leadership into giving its large ethnic Albanian minority a fairer deal. This is because improving the constitutional and legal status of the Albanians and their language is the best, quick way to remove the grist from the mills of the guerrillas.

The daily dismisses two arguments put forward by the Macedonian leadership to avoid taking necessary action. The first is that the crisis is rooted in Kosova and not Macedonia, which amounts to denying responsibility for the problem. The second is that Macedonia is aspiring to becoming a state of its citizens and does not need specific guarantees for individual ethnic groups. The paper argues that this may be a noble long-term goal, but it is a long way from today's Balkan realities. The time for action is now.

The editorial says that Brussels should make it clear to Skopje that it should heed the EU's "suggestions" on interethnic relations if Macedonia wants integration with the Union. After all, it was Skopje that sought closer ties to Brussels, and not the other way around.

A third issue is Serbia. Many observers argue that it has become increasingly clear that the democratization and stabilization of Serbia will take a very long time (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 December 2000). It is also clear that the U.S. is in no hurry to shirk its responsibilities in the Balkans. As Secretary of State Colin Powell has often said, "we went in together, we will go out together."

But this does not necessarily mean that the U.S. has an important role to play in Serbia, these observers add. On the contrary, given the EU's wish to show that it can manage European problems by itself, and given the high degree of anti-Americanism in Serbia -- starting with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica -- it might be the least problematic route for all concerned if Brussels were to take the lead in organizing and providing Western assistance to Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001).

This could begin by making the upcoming donors conference for Serbia a largely European affair, proponents of this view continue. The Bush administration made it clear to Kostunica on his recent visit to the U.S. that American support for the conference is dependent on Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague, a view that Brussels does not readily share. And that cooperation is developing at a snail's pace, if at all (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, and 11 May 2001).

In addition, some Washington-based readers of "Balkan Report" wrote that they found it incongruous that Kostunica -- who makes no secret of his desire to see the U.S. out of the Balkans -- came to Washington to ask for money. He also called on the U.S. to shelve a principle enjoying strong bipartisan support -- cooperation with the war crimes tribunal -- in order to help his government.

Given these differing views and expectations, might not Western assistance to Serbia, starting with the donors conference, be an opportunity for the EU to take the lead? (Patrick Moore)

CROATIA'S DEFENSE MINISTER TAKES STOCK. The Republic of Croatia is well on its way to becoming integrated into the Atlantic alliance, but there are problems in financing the military system of the young democracy.

In May 2000, Croatia achieved its single greatest success in the military and security field by becoming part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. A year later, on 3 May, Defense Minister Jozo Rados visited the George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which he praised for its important role in facilitating Croatia's integration into a larger Europe. The ministry and the government send selected individuals to Garmisch to participate in multilateral training programs. This will help familiarize Croatian officers with NATO standards and the kind of skills that are vital for an army in a democratic environment.

Rados, who is a member of the governing Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS), told his audience about the development of the Croatian defense system in war and peace. As a new partner of the West, Croatia has a special significance because the southeast remains the most troubled region in Europe. As Rados pointed out, "the most recent problems are the self-proclamation of the 'Mostar autonomy' [by hard-liners in the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)] and the transfer of the conflict zone across the border between Kosovo and Macedonia."

Every single crisis weakens the economic and political situation of the region as a whole. Rados said that Croatia is not under direct threat of war and that Zagreb has no territorial claims on other countries. Despite all this, modern security cannot be built on the armed forces of one's home country alone. An international system of security is the only way to ensure stability. To this end, Croatia's military forces should be "a well-organized, democratically controlled institution capable of guaranteeing the security of the country and being integrated into international military alliances."

After Croatia declared independence from Milosevic's Yugoslavia in 1991, citizens and businesses had to help organize a defense against Belgrade's forces without international help. Initial attempts to develop a domestic arms industry failed. But during the course of the 1991-1995 war for independence (known in Croatia as the Homeland War), such an arms industry took shape. (One might add that money from the diaspora helped ensure an adequate if clandestine flow of arms from abroad.)

Another important element in this process was the Croats who worked in the logistical structures of the Yugoslav army before the former Yugoslavia collapsed. Rados said that "the nucleus of Croatia's own military production was formed by integrating these experts into specific civilian [industries]." These experts were able to organize systematic quality control for military production and identify which company could be counted on to produce what and when. It was obviously of crucial importance to identify civilian firms that could switch to military production on short notice.

During the period from 1995 onwards, less money went into defense and more went into social projects and postwar reconstruction. Croatia has thus probably reached the limit of what it can do by itself in developing its defense industry. Only international cooperation in that field can bring Croatia further on its way to NATO compatibility. Rados notes that progress has been made in technological development since the embargo was lifted, but adds that budgetary limitations will set limits for the further development of the military industry.

The stability and viability of Croatia's military production system are thus linked to the country's further integration into the West. But it is not a one-way street. Croatia gained important knowledge and experience regarding warfare in Southeastern Europe that can be very useful for NATO. Zagreb is an important partner in the geopolitical sense, too. The country has access to the sea as well as land borders with some less stable states in the region. Rados added that a democratic Croatia linked to the West is a factor for regional stability.

And then there were the things that he did not say. For example, Rados did not talk about recent tensions between President Stipe Mesic's office and himself over the control of the military establishment (see "Globus," 20 April 2001). But whatever happens, those issues will be dealt with in a democratic context. The same may be said for the question of compulsory military service, which is much in the news.

In any event, Croatia is on its way to Euro-Atlantic military integration, and the military-related issues facing the political leadership are very similar to those on the agenda in many more developed Western democracies. (Christian Buric is a freelance writer and a consultant for strategic business communication based in Munich:

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "This government was not formed because of overwhelming love. As a country we are in great danger and a face serious military threat, and this government can address that." -- Macedonian Social Democratic leader Branko Crvenkovski. Quoted by Reuters on 14 May.

"I'm sure that our prison is much better [than in the one in Belgrade], and so I invite Milosevic to come as soon as possible. He will have very good accommodation in our prison." -- Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte. Quoted by Reuters at the UN in New York on 10 May.

"Let's not forget that victims are waiting for justice to be done. And let's not forget that peace and stability in the Balkans will never be achieved if peace is not served. And so I am asking the international community, please arrest all fugitives." -- Ibid.