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Balkan Report: January 12, 2000

12 January 2000, Volume 4, Number 3

Racan Sets Priorities. Croatian Prime Minister designate Ivica Racan has lost no time in giving numerous interviews in which he makes clear what his immediate tasks will be. Like his predecessors from the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), the Social Democrat stresses that his policies will serve national interests--but his understanding of those interests is very different from that of the HDZ.

As he often said during the campaign, Racan made it clear to the "Berliner Zeitung" of 7 January that his top priority is to straighten out the domestic economic mess (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 January 2000). He said that it will be necessary to find out exactly how bad the government's financial situation is, because he suspects that it is worse than the HDZ was willing to admit. Once that is clarified, everyone will be expected to do their part to set things right, which will mean pay cuts for virtually all state employees. Racan added that he will use "economic, tax, and fiscal" incentives to create new jobs and end a policy of state subsidies for loss-makers.

Turning to foreign relations, he stressed that he will defend national interests by ending Croatia's isolation. He will promote national sovereignty by ensuring that Croatia is represented in international bodies where the future will be decided. "Our sovereignty is our place at the table where decisions are made," he said.

Racan noted in particular that Zagreb must gain access to the EU. Croatian voters, he argued, showed in the 3 January legislative elections that they have a clear understanding of democracy even though the HDZ exercised control over the electronic media. This understanding of democracy will enable Croatia to gain membership in the EU more quickly than many may have thought possible, he continued.

Racan said--as virtually all Croatian politicians do--that his country will not form any new "Balkan or neo-Yugoslav" state unit with its neighbors. But unlike the HDZ, he stressed that Zagreb will be open to regional cooperation. The late President Franjo Tudjman always argued that Croatia is not a Balkan country and hence will have little to do with the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. The new prime minister, however, feels that "we are at one and the same time a Mediterranean, a Central European, and a Balkan country.... We will not try to 'escape' from this region."

What he did say about shedding Balkan ties was that he wants to "drive Balkan elements out of our political life." By this he presumably means ending the networks of corruption, back-room deals, and interest-peddling that characterized much of the HDZ's rule. That party acquired a reputation for massive economic corruption at home and a deep involvement with often criminal elements among the Croats of Herzegovina. Racan has repeatedly made it clear that those days are over.

He also addressed two additional issues that have clouded Zagreb's relations with Washington and Brussels: the return of Serbian refugees and Croatia's cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Racan stressed that the Serbs are welcome to come home but added that all other refugees must have that right, too. He specifically referred to Croats from eastern Slavonia and from Bosnia.

As to The Hague, he pledged to improve cooperation. Racan noted, moreover, that one reason for the problems between Zagreb and the court was that Croatia has not been a state based on the rule of law. The new prime minister pledged to change that and prosecute those Croats who have committed crimes. He added that "anyone who conceals crimes committed in our struggle for liberation thereby tarnishes the image of that struggle." (Patrick Moore)

Serbian Opposition Adopts Joint Program. Will the factious Serbian opposition prove able to sink its differences at least long enough to oust a regime headed by indicted war criminals and end Serbia's isolation? This is the key question now that the opposition has adopted a common platform.

Representatives of 17 opposition parties or coalitions agreed in Belgrade on 10 January to begin joint protests on 9 March and to demand that Serbian and Yugoslav elections be held on all levels by the end of April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2000). The opposition representatives called for an end to "state terror" and "repressive laws," including the 1998 media law, the private Beta news agency reported.

The signatories agreed to "cooperate in preparing for the elections, as well as during and after those elections." The opposition leaders added that they intend to "institutionalize" cooperation among themselves, although it is not clear what they mean by that. They demanded equality between Serbia and Montenegro and decentralization of political power at all levels. The signatories included representatives of Vojvodina, Sandzak, and Kosova's Serbian minority.

The opposition leaders also appealed to the foreign ministers of the EU, U.S., Russia, and China to fully implement Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosova and to allow "Serbian soldiers and police" to return there "in keeping with [existing] signed agreements." It is difficult to see what this will mean in practice, however. NATO clearly has no intention of allowing anything more than a token Serbian armed presence in the province in the long run and none at all in the immediate future.

The signatories also demand that KFOR protect "the state boundaries of Yugoslavia and Serbia with Albania and Macedonia" in Kosova. This means that the opposition wants peacekeepers to limit the influx of ethnic Albanians from across the frontier. The signatories further call on the international community to ensure full rights and local self-government for all minorities "in that Yugoslav and Serbian province." They demand an end to all lawlessness there and for the return of all refugees and displaced persons. KFOR and UNMIK, for their parts, would dearly like to do this, but they lack the manpower and resources to restore sufficient security to the area.

Kosova Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic nonetheless told the BBC's Serbian Service that he is pleased with the opposition's stand on Kosova. He stressed that it is important to the Serbs from Kosova to know that they are not forgotten, especially because the government has done little or nothing to help them. Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije also represented the Serbs of Kosova at the opposition meeting.

Returning to the documents, the opposition leaders appealed in their agreement for international aid for "about one million refugees in Serbia and Montenegro and for the more than two million [Yugoslav] citizens who live on the brink of starvation." The signatories asked for an immediate end to the ban on air flights and oil deliveries to Serbia. They appealed to the U.S. and EU to end all sanctions once Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agrees to hold elections.

The international community should also return Yugoslavia to full membership in the OSCE and thereby help thwart the "regime's [campaign] to satanize everything in Serbia that is European and democratic," the text continues. The opposition leaders added that Belgrade should resume full diplomatic relations with Washington, London, Paris, and Berlin. They also called for full membership for Serbia and Yugoslavia in the EU's Balkan stability program.

These are the main points of the agreement. It is the first such pact between the main opposition groups in more than two years, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Alliance for Change coalition leader Veran Batic hailed the move as a sign that the opposition is serious.

Evidence of political jockeying among leaders was nonetheless evident. For example, Democratic Party chairman Zoran Djindjic and the Serbian Civic League's Goran Svilanovic did not sign the documents personally, but Batic did so on their behalf, "Danas" reported. This reflects Djindjic's insistence that he will not subordinate himself to the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic, who hosted the meeting, the BBC's Serbian Service added.

Former General Momcilo Perisic said that he agreed with the documents but did not sign because they did not include his key demand for the immediate ouster of Milosevic. Draskovic and his party argue that it is politically unwise to make such a demand. Many in the opposition suspect, however, that Draskovic and his lieutenants--some of whom share the regime's nationalist, anti-Western, and especially anti-American views--may yet seek to do a deal with Milosevic.

The regime media, for their part, said that the opposition leaders also produced a "secret" document, in which they pledged loyalty to "their masters" in the West. This charge is but the latest in a bizarre series of accusations and Balkan conspiracy theories that the regime has put forward since losing Kosova in an effort to discredit its opponents and distract or confuse public opinion.

Whether the regime will succeed remains to be seen. A new poll published in the 8 January issue of "Vreme" indicates that 42 percent of Serbs are undecided among the political parties and that an additional 20 percent say they will not vote. (Patrick Moore)

Conspicuous By Their Absence. At the recent festivities in the Holy Land to mark Orthodox Christmas, religious and political leaders from across the Orthodox world were present. These included some individuals not hitherto known for even their formal piety, such as Belarus' President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

The Serbian Orthodox Church was represented by Patriarch Pavle. Also on hand were Crown Prince Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, and Yugoslav Ambassador Mirko Stefanovic.

Conspicuous by their absence were leaders from the Belgrade political elite. It is true that most of these individuals have no better track record when it comes to piety than does Lukashenka, but if he can be invited, why not Milosevic?

"Vesti" on 7 January reported that it has the answer. The daily writes that Yassir Arafat did indeed invite Milosevic, and that the Greek Orthodox Church sent an invitation to Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic. Israeli officials, however, made it known that the men would not be welcome, the report continues. Their reason is that Milosevic is an indicted war criminal, and that Bulatovic has long been closely linked to him. (Patrick Moore)

Poplasen Includes War Criminals For Medals. Nikola Poplasen, who is the hard-line president of the Republika Srpska ousted in 1999 by the international community and Bosnian Serb moderates, awarded medals on 8 January to several leading Serbian nationalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 1999). Poplasen, who refuses to recognize his ouster, made the awards to mark the Day of the Republic and a religious holiday, which fall on 9 January, Tanjug reported.

The Order of the Republika Srpska went to Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, and Bosnian Serb wartime commander General Ratko Mladic. Poplasen granted the Order of Karadjordje to Bosnian Serb Generals Radislav Krstic and Stanislav Galic. (Patrick Moore)

'Supernatural Powers' To The Rescue? "Vesti" reported on 5 January that the Serbian military "made use of" a group of clairvoyants and parapsychologists during the 1999 conflict with NATO. Known as "Group 69," the team of persons with unusual powers was intended to offset some of NATO's high-tech advantages over Serbia. It is not clear how many people were included in the group or what exactly it achieved.

Belgrade enlisted the support of such individuals in its conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia, the daily added. Moscow and Washington have also made use of clairvoyants at various times. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. The following are from unnamed Serbian respondents to a recent poll on television in Nis. The survey concluded that RTS (i.e. state-run television, aka "Milosevision") has much more influence than its limited number of viewers would suggest. Taken from "Danas" of 10 January:

"All stations basically lie."

"Private television works against the interests of the people and the state."

"RTS is for people who have an elementary school education at the most."

"RTS should lie less often to the people."

"They all make me sick."

"They should concern themselves with the people's problems and not with party propaganda."

"RTS is the worst. I don't believe them even when they report the sports results."

"All television stations go in for the party politics of their respective towns."

"I don't know what to say. What's necessary is to get rid of Milosevic."