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Balkan Report: January 7, 2000

7 January 2000, Volume 4, Number 2

Ring Out The Old, Ring In The New. Your editor put to bed the last 1999 issue of "Balkan Report" with every intention of resisting the temptation to subsequently offer any retrospective treatment of the past or look into the future. Such is not to be.

Circumstances have been altered by the appearance of two provocative articles, one in the Sarajevo Muslim daily "Avaz" and the other in the left-of-center Tirana paper "Koha Jone." The "Avaz" piece named the medieval ruler Ban Kulin (reigned 1180-1204) as Bosnia's Man of the Millennium and Alija Izetbegovic as its Man of the Century. Kulin Ban's reign is well entrenched in Bosnian folklore as an era of milk and honey.

The Albanian daily's readers selected Enver Hoxha as Man of the Century. Two places behind him came current Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano in a poll that says more about the polarized nature of today's Albanian politics than about any objective view of modern Albanian history.

This led some of us to raise the question of who might best be named Person of the Millennium or Person of the Century for the region covered in "Balkan Report." We decided to apply a criterion used by "Time" magazine in its ratings, namely to select the person or persons who had the most impact, not the nicest individual or the person whom one wants one's children to use as a role model.

For the Person of the Millennium, "Balkan Report" again took a cue from an occasional practice of "Time" and selected an abstract or collective person rather than a concrete one. The award goes to The Ottoman Turk, who did more to shape the Balkans in the course of the past millennium than did anyone else. Virtually every aspect of Balkan civilization--from Turkish coffee to peasant mistrust of government and the city--bears his imprint. It is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the region without his legacy.

Moving closer to the present, "Balkan Report" names Josip Broz Tito as its Person of the Century. For better or for worse, he and his policies shaped the destinies of the peoples of the former Yugoslavia for more than half a century. In so doing, he attempted to solve the problems that had plagued those peoples in the decades leading up to World War II. Many of Enver Hoxha's paranoid nationalist policies were or began as a direct response to Tito's wider Balkan ambitions. And had Tito been less concerned with his personal power and more about the welfare of his country, he might have stepped down at, perhaps, some point in the 1960s and let some incipient democratic trends take their course. This, however, was not the case.

As Person of the Year, we chose Hashim Thaci of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Few people had heard of him before the Rambouillet Conference in early 1999, but he and his organization came to embody the resistance of the Kosovar Albanians to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's genocidal policies expressed in Operation Horseshoe.

Thaci and the UCK also came to eclipse Ibrahim Rugova and the moderate Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) as the most influential forces in the province; the slogan emerged among the Kosovars that "we are all UCK." It is true that the fragmentation of political authority inside Kosova in the second half of the year did much to tarnish Thaci's image and restore that of Rugova. And as journalist Veton Surroi put it, "we are all UCK" came to mean that the UCK belonged to everybody and not just to a small group of leaders. But the fact remains that Thaci and the UCK dominated the troubled province's political life in 1999.

If it is sometimes difficult to select key trends from the past, it is obviously even more risky to predict the ones that might dominate the future. One safe prediction is probably that Croatian politics will look rather different at the end of the year 2000 than they did at the beginning. It is doubtful that the HDZ can remain a powerful and unified party, even if Mate Granic wins the presidency for it and the new opposition-led government proves fractious and less than competent (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 1, 2000).

A second easy prediction is that Milosevic's time of reckoning with Montenegro is not far off. The Djukanovic leadership is as street-wise as is Milosevic and unlikely to make the sort of imprudent or unwise mistakes that some other former Yugoslav leaders have made over the past ten years. Furthermore, the international community has lost any illusions it may have entertained about Milosevic and can be expected to support Djukanovic if the indicted war criminal pushes him too far. In other words, this time we are unlikely to see senior diplomats and failed politicians jetting to the region to admonish "the warring parties" against pursuing their "ancient hatreds."

More problematic areas include Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, and Kosova, not to mention Serbia itself. In Macedonia, the key issue will be promoting a democratic society and overcoming ethnic divisions. In Albania, the main problem is ending the political polarization and promoting a sound democratic political culture. In both countries, economic development and attracting foreign investment will be central issues, as will be integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Both Tirana and Skopje feel that the international community is indebted to them for their cooperation during the 1999 Kosova conflict, and both hope for more than a little good will.

Bosnia and Kosova are the two Balkan wards of that same international community. Many observers argue that Bosnia has become something of a basket case and an example for Kosova of how not to do things (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," Nos. 54 and 56, 1999). The international community's Wolfgang Petritsch said in his New Year's letter to the people of Bosnia that they can no longer "muddle along" and rest on real or imagined laurels. "Things must change if Bosnia-Herzegovina does not want to become Europe's abandoned backyard." He called for "radical change" to replace the fatalism and complacency that he finds evident there.

His counterpart in Kosova--Bernard Kouchner-- warned that more money and effort must be forthcoming if his UNMIK is to succeed. Meanwhile, inter-ethnic relations remain difficult in Bosnia and on the verge of open warfare in Kosova. It would be a brave observer who would predict a serious improvement in the overall situation in either case.

Some would argue that it would be equally bold to predict the ouster of Milosevic by Serbia's fractious opposition. British historian Noel Malcolm recently suggested that the most likely scenario would be a "palace coup" by high Belgrade officials. According to this theory, the only persons with the power to get rid of the indicted war criminal and his immediate entourage are other elements in the regime who now recognize that Milosevic has become an impossible burden for them and for Serbia alike. It may be assumed, however, that the international community would accept such a government only as an interim "Badoglio" one to make the transition from dictatorship to democracy, on the model of the Italian one after the fall of Mussolini.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has repeatedly stressed that sanctions--and Belgrade's pariah status--will be lifted only after Serbia has held democratic elections. So far, she has been able to overcome grumbling from some EU capitals and the argument by the Serbian opposition that sanctions only help the regime. (Patrick Moore)

Circle The Wagons. And what does official Belgrade think is in store in the coming year? Yugoslav Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic told a news conference on 25 December that his country's wicked foes have more tricks in store for it, and that Belgrade has prepared a media blitz in response. Among its weapons will be a daily news bulletin in English.

Vucic continued: "The next year will be even more difficult than this one. We have no illusions because we know who our enemies are and we know how those who conducted military aggression against our country will continue to exert pressure....

"As a country we have been exposed throughout this year to permanent information torture from the Western media and their local branches... After the war, the pressure has continued. It may be a signal for an attempted new aggression or a political occupation of the country....

"What is the aim of the West? Their media will focus on Montenegro, preparing ground for fresh political pressure on Yugoslavia. And except for two local media, no electronic media in Montenegro would oppose this occupation.

"The Hague tribunal is another topic for the Western media. But the Serbian government has prepared a web site where it will unveil the truth on the crimes of the Hague tribunal. The Serbian government will fight this propaganda and disseminate the truth about the tribunal," Reuters quoted him as saying. (Patrick Moore)

Gays Join Milosevic's Enemies List. Homosexuals -- particularly those belonging to their own human rights organizations -- have now joined the independent media, NGOs, opposition politicians, and others as officially certified enemies of the Belgrade regime.

Dejan Nebrigic, who headed the gay and lesbian rights association Arkadija, was found strangled last week in his apartment, Reuters reported on 6 January. Several days earlier, a spokesman for Arkadija told "Danas" that he does not think that Nebrigic was the victim of a hate crime but rather of a personal dispute.

Investigating Judge Nedeljko Martinovic, for his part, has not commented on the crime. But he told the Milosevic-run tabloid "Politika Ekspres" that the dead man is part of a foreign plot to undermine the Serbian state. "Our information is that Nebrigic founded a movement of homosexuals who had access to various funds from abroad. That movement was, in effect, a 'gateway' for all kinds of sects conducting a special war against our country," he added. He did not elaborate.

Reuters noted that Arkadija does not just campaign for gay rights in Serbia--which like most of the Balkans is a difficult place for homosexuals. The organization is also part of the Belgrade Peace Movement, which has protested against Milosevic's wars that destroyed the former Yugoslavia.

Lepa Mladjenovic, a member of Arkadija and head of Serbia's only shelter for victims of domestic violence, told the news agency that the judge's comments came as no surprise. "The regime sees all non-government organizations and opposition parties as NATO mercenaries or CIA agents," she stressed. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. The 20th century has witnessed "wars and an ocean of spilled Serbian blood.... There are many wars, much bloodshed, and so little peace--which we used for preparing new clashes.... The Serbian [Orthodox] Church and Serbian people paid a high price for state and ideological adventurism of the 20th century.... Christ will ask us not about times we lived in but how we treated our kith and kin." -- Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, in a message to the Russian Orthodox Church for Orthodox Christmas, on 6 January. Quoted by Itar-Tass.

"We expect changes, radical changes, and we expect them soon." -- 31-year old engineer Robert Brkic, who voted for the victorious opposition coalition in the Croatian election. Quoted by Reuters on 4 January.

"We have had enough of criminals. Croatia is finally going into Europe, because--you know--it belongs there, not in the Balkans." -- Middle-aged Croat.

"It's a pity, this is a return to Yugoslavia." -- Despondent HDZ voter.