Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: January 21, 2000

21 January 2000, Volume 4, Number 6

Croatia Votes On Monday. Croatian voters go to the polls on 24 January to choose a successor to the late President Franjo Tudjman. The two leading candidates--Stipe Mesic and Drazen Budisa--are both from the ranks of the opposition, which won the 3 January parliamentary elections. The question is what effect the presidential vote will have on the new government.

Monday's election is likely to be only the first round of balloting in the race to fill Croatia's highest office. If no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the votes this time, a second round will come two weeks later.

The stakes are high because the constitution--which many observers believe was written for the autocratic Tudjman--gives the president at least 24 crucial powers (see "Jutarnji list," 10 November 1999). These include key decision-making functions in military and security policy.

All mainstream political parties agree that those powers must be curtailed or reassigned to the government or other bodies. No party wants another imperial Tudjman presidency. In order to stress that his era has ended, the leading candidates have said that they do not intend even to live in the official residence Tudjman used. But the job still remains the highest in the country and will doubtless play a key role even after its powers are scaled back.

The outcome of the presidential election is unlikely to make much difference in terms of policies on this or other issues, since there is a broad agreement among the two leading candidates as to what has to be done. These priorities include improving the economy and standard of living, speeding up privatization, attracting foreign investment, and accelerating Croatia's entry into Euro-Atlantic institutions (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 11 January 2000). Brussels and Washington are particularly interested that the new government institute democratic reforms, enable Serbian refugees to come home, respect the independence and sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and cooperate with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

Both leading candidates have promised quick action on Euro-Atlantic issues. This is largely because it will be easier to attain clear foreign policy goals than to restructure a faulty economy that served the interests of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which ruled since 1990 amid charges of corruption and cronyism.

But, then, what is the center of attention in this election if not policy? The issue is what the outcome of the vote will mean for the power relationship between the large, two-party coalition led by Prime Minister-designate Ivica Racan and Budisa, and its smaller four-party ally, which backs Mesic. The two coalitions teamed up to defeat the HDZ in the parliamentary vote and have since agreed in broad terms on power-sharing in the new cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2000).

But rivalries still persist between them. Racan and Budisa maintain that the coalitions must share power between them on the basis of the relative number of votes they received in the parliamentary elections. Racan has told reporters that this interpretation is embodied in the power-sharing agreement. The smaller coalition, however, would still like to control more seats than the size of its electorate would warrant, and it would prefer that the cabinet reach decisions by consensus rather than by majority vote.

Racan is likely to carry the day on both issues if Budisa holds the presidency. If Mesic becomes president, however, the smaller coalition may feel emboldened to challenge Racan on these and other issues. Mesic may also use some of his presidential powers to pressure Racan to be more mindful of his smaller partner's interests.

A second problem involves the relations within the two-party coalition if Budisa loses the presidency. Should that happen, the Social Democrats will still have the prime minister's job, but there will be no corresponding "plum" for the Social Liberals. Is it possible that Budisa's party might seek compensation from Racan for Budisa's loss by demanding additional cabinet seats or even demand that the prime minister's position rotate between the two coalition partners?

Nor are these the only issues likely to come to a head as a result of the presidential election. The HDZ will have to face serious questions regarding its own future if, as expected, Foreign Minister Mate Granic--the HDZ's candidate--comes in third behind Mesic and Budisa in the first round (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 November 1999). The once formidable party has already begun to implode at breathtaking speed, and its chief faction leaders regularly exchange insults in public. Granic himself quit his party offices in disgust and in a desperate attempt to rid himself of the albatross of his party. But he continued to slip in the polls, which led him to tell reporters that he would have been better off had he run as an independent.

It was only a few weeks ago that Granic was leading Budisa in the polls, with Mesic trailing in third place. Mesic is best known abroad as the Croat whom Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic blocked from assuming the rotating Yugoslav presidency in 1991, and many Croats, too, regarded him as a man of the past. But by now the feuding within the HDZ appears to have destroyed the candidacy of the otherwise popular foreign minister, putting Granic out of the running and apparently skyrocketing Mesic into a new career.

Meanwhile, the dapper and outgoing Mesic has been marketing himself well against the bookish Budisa. His message is simple and apparently quite effective: a vote for Mesic is a vote to ensure that no one party (or coalition) will again control all the top positions of power. (Patrick Moore)

General Reinhardt Wants Results. KFOR commander General Klaus Reinhardt is not too impressed with the Balkan Stability Pact's chief, Bodo Hombach. When asked in Berlin about the man widely regarded as a political appointee with little knowledge of the region, Reinhardt replied: "Hombach? I don't know him. I've never seen him." Vienna's "Die Presse" added on 19 January that the general has met with 286 visitors during his tenure as NATO commander in Kosova, but that Hombach was never among them (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 January 2000). The daily also suggested that powerful people in the Stability Pact's organization are preventing a top job going to Austria's Erhard Busek, who is an expert in Balkan affairs. Busek lost out for the leading post last year after German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder insisted that the job go to Hombach.

General Reinhardt said in Hamburg on 19 January that the international community has failed to deliver on promises of money and manpower to help develop Kosova. He pointed out that the UN civilian administration's entire budget there in 1999--DM 125 million--was equivalent to only 25 percent of what NATO spent on an average single day to bomb Serbia during its air campaign.

The general argued that top UN officials must provide more support to set up a legal system and police force in Kosova. He pointed out that progress is slow, and that "the people [in Kosova] have had enough of promises," AP reported. Reinhardt reminded his listeners that "it is not enough to send a few civil servants [to Kosova] and say to them: 'do it.'" There must be effective follow-up, he stressed. (Patrick Moore)

Wolfgang Petritsch Seeks Vision. The international community's high representative in Bosnia believes that things are progressing there, but not fast enough. He said in Sarajevo on 19 January that "I definitely do not agree that [the 1995] Dayton [peace agreement] is failing. We have made a lot of progress," Reuters reported. Petritsch expressed hope that the new local elections law will enable moderate parties and candidates to break the near monopoly of the nationalist parties. He nonetheless added that "we should not expect miracles" in the April elections.

Petritsch continues to fear that the international community is losing interest in Bosnia. He blamed this attitude in part on the slow progress in implementing Dayton.

Turning to Serbian affairs, Petritsch regrets that the opposition "in many ways lacks the vision necessary to get Yugoslavia out of this deep crisis.... at the center of which is Milosevic." The diplomat feels that the recent assassination of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan" was but one aspect of this deeper problem (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 January 2000).

At the same time, the Austrian Balkan expert--who is himself a member of his country's Slovenian minority--urged the Montenegrin leadership not to call a referendum for independence. The key point, he stressed, is that the leadership has only half of the ethnic Montenegrin population behind it. The rest identify with Serbia and support Milosevic and his local ally, Momir Bulatovic. Consequently, Petritsch continues, "there is a huge potential for civil war" that would be exacerbated by a referendum.

Milosevic's biggest enemy remains democratization, which is why he opposed the Rambouillet accord for Kosova in 1999. Change will come to Serbia and Montenegro, Petritsch concluded, but only through democracy. But for that to come about, the opposition must demonstrate more vision than it has so far. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "Our unity cannot be destroyed now. We're past the point when the regime could plant discord and try to break us apart.... Sanctions are a collective punishment, they mean equalizing Serbian people with the regime.... We will see [what the 24 January EU ministers' meeting will bring]. If the sanctions are not lifted, the world either does not understand the situation or does not want to help change the regime that causes them no harm and enormous suffering to us." -- Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic, quoted by AP after the opposition meeting in Belgrade on 19 January.

"I know there are many revisionists around today who are trying to minimize the suffering and the brutality inflicted by the Serb armed forces and paramilitaries in order to question NATO's justification for its intervention. But I do not doubt for a moment that we have enough proof of what was happening in Kosovo to fully justify the decision to use force, and I also believe that as more evidence and facts come to light we will be further vindicated." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 20 January.