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Balkan Report: February 29, 2000

29 February 2000, Volume 4, Number 17

Surroi Wants Concepts. The Lucerne-based Kosovar Albanian weekly "Zeri" published an interview with political commentator and publisher Veton Surroi on 26 February. He urges the international community to speed up the process of building democratic institutions in Kosova, which will eventually lead to independence.

Asked how he sees Kosova one year after the Rambouillet conference--in which he participated--Surroi answered: "I believe that the difference [between now and then] is historic in quality. One year ago we were at the negotiations in Rambouillet and we were occupied by Serbia. Now we have been liberated from Serbia and we have the possibility to develop [our] society. That hope kept [our participation] in Rambouillet alive. And it kept the negotiating process on our side alive, because we saw that through these negotiations we would win not independence, but the right to create independence through our own institutions."

Asked whether the building of these institutions has begun, Surroi replied: "Unfortunately not, and there is an immense delay in that direction. We have lost valuable time in the past months, trying to get all parties and political forces to [agree on the creation of a common] political system. The truth is that in Kosova there is no political system. There is a vacuum and not only in politics. There is a vacuum also in security, in the administration, and in the economy. We are the only country in Europe today that I can think of that is ruled by the self-constraint of its citizens rather than by the rule of law."

Surroi expressed doubts that the rival political groups in Kosova will be able to agree on a set of common positions that they can present to the international community: "I am somewhat pessimistic...because the political forces that have emerged so far have been unable to present a joint concept and program. Thus I get the impression that the current situation will force the political actors--the individuals and also the political parties--to come up with visions that have been missing so far. And they will have to make these visions public."

Asked whether he believes that the failure to settle on a permanent status of Kosova is a reason for clashes such as those in Mitrovica, Surroi stressed: "I would not link the status [question] to Mitrovica. Mitrovica is the result of many factors. One of them is that at a time of major changes, when the Serbian forces left Kosova and NATO arrived, a partition was allowed to take place. Secondly, it is the result of the general confusion in the treatment of minorities, which means that all citizens suffer amid insecurity. Thirdly, it is a result of the manipulation of the situation by Milosevic, who is attempting to maintain a point of confrontation with the Albanians and with the international community."

Surroi also talked about his assessment of the role of the international community in Kosova over the past eight months: "International representatives must be divided into different categories. We have the KFOR forces, which by and large have done a very good job. But they have not fulfilled all their duties in creating a safe environment. Secondly, we have the UN administration, which is led by a man who is trying with all his heart and mind to make a change for the better. But for either subjective reasons or because he is the representative of the UN, he suffers from a permanent lack of concepts. If the trend continues of a UN administration lacking concepts and money, and if the administration does not address the substantial problems of Kosova, then I must say that my assessment of that administration will be negative." (Fabian Schmidt)

Canak's Vision. Nenad Canak, who heads Vojvodina's League of Social Democrats, said in Vienna on 27 February that in Serbia "a revolution will begin in the bread lines," which is an allusion to the widespread poverty in that country. (Many observers have suggested that Milosevic's reign is likely to end "in a Romanian fashion"--meaning in a palace coup accompanied by street violence--rather than through an election.)

The previous day in Subotica, delegates from Canak's party approved a document entitled "Vojvodina--a Republic." The text calls for a reorganization of Serbia into a federation of six "units": Vojvodina, Belgrade, Sumadija, Southeastern Serbia, Sandzak, and Kosova. Canak told the gathering that decentralization and democratization of Serbia is necessary to prevent the country from eventually disintegrating into several independent states, "Danas" reported. (Patrick Moore)

Bildt: Balkan Peace Requires Change In Belgrade. Carl Bildt, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy to the Balkans, told the Security Council on 28 February that regional peace efforts are at best a "holding operation" as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power.

Bildt stressed that there can be no peace settlement without Serbia, but that the international community cannot legally negotiate with a regime headed by indicted war criminals, Reuters reported. "We must actively seek change, we must meet the provocations that are there and will come further, and we must actively try to prevent existing tensions from boiling over into open conflict.... As long as there is no change of regime in Belgrade, [Serbia and Montenegro] are set on a somewhat slow but very steady collision course," Bildt added.

Referring to the Balkans in general, Bildt argued that "the conflict is between those who favor, or at least accept, integration within their societies as well as between them, and those who favor, often in the name of extreme nationalism, disintegration within their societies and between the nations."

Bildt is a Swedish political figure who is a former high representative of the international community in Bosnia. He wrote about his experiences in the Balkans in his book "Peace Journey." (Patrick Moore)

Enter The UCPMB. "The Guardian's" Jonathan Steele reported on 28 February that a new branch of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) has emerged in southwestern Serbia. It is called the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) and has already begun operating in the border area. Its aim is to provoke the Serbian forces through armed incidents and bring about NATO intervention in Serbia itself.

U.S. forces are taking no chances and have already built a small base near the border village of Dobrosin to keep an eye on things. A spokesman said that "if atrocities occur in the area, we will go in and take action. We're working on what the definition of an atrocity is." Meanwhile, ethnic Albanian fighters and civilians pass back and forth across what seems to be a very porous border.

The UCPMB's ideological underpinning is that the region is really "eastern Kosova," which was annexed to Serbia at the end of World War II. Its activities have already provoked repressive measures from the Serbian authorities. Steele quoted a local man as saying that this does not cause particular problems for Albanians in Presevo, where the population "is 95 percent Albanian. In Bujanovac where the Serbs are 40 percent, it is much tougher for the Albanians," he added. Stay tuned. (Patrick Moore)

Montenegrin Minister Slams Milosemedia. Economics Minister Vojin Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 28 February that Belgrade's Tanjug news agency produces disinformation on behalf of hard-line allies of Milosevic. "Tanjug information amounts to disinformation, at least when it refers to Montenegro and most probably also when it refers to Serbia and Serbian citizens. That is why there are other agencies and when you read their news services, you realize that Tanjug is completely in the service of policies and a branch office of [Mira Markovic's] United Yugoslav Left, [Vojislav] Seselj's Radicals, and the [Montenegrin] Socialist People's Party [of Momo Bulatovic]. No one takes it seriously any more," Montena-fax news agency reported. He added that nobody in Montenegro takes Milosevic's printed media seriously, either. Djukanovic charged that "Politika" and the tabloid "Ekspres politika" are "used by the Serbian authorities to destabilize the Montenegrin economy and its political environment." He feels that "it is really unbelievable how ["Politika"] twists facts and everything else it writes about." He wondered how the daily's correspondent in Montenegro has the nerve to mix freely with people whom he slanders in his articles. (Patrick Moore)

Herzegovinian Peace Delegation. A group of intellectuals from Herzegovina has formed a committee of intellectuals, businessmen, and clerics to act as a liaison between the Croats of Herzegovina and the new authorities in Croatia. In particular, the new committee plans to "acquaint President Stipe Mesic with the problems currently facing the Croats in Herzegovina and elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina," "Vecernji list" reported on 29 February.

Tellingly, the committee does not include individuals "who have been compromised, either under the communist or the democratic systems." This alludes to the fact that the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)--which held power in Croatia from 1990 until last month--enjoyed rock-solid support in Herzegovina. The Herzegovinians have long been known as particularly tough Croatian nationalists. The late Defense Minister Gojko Susak and other Herzegovinian businessmen abroad bankrolled the HDZ's early electoral successes and were rewarded with government jobs and membership in the party's insider circle. Herzegovinians still play a role in the HDZ disproportional to their numbers in the overall population.

Accordingly, they have few friends in the new government and ample reason to be concerned about their political futures. The late President Franjo Tudjman and the HDZ saw to it that Herzegovinians could have Croatian citizenship and vote in Croatian elections--in which they always delivered to the HDZ a solid bloc of votes.

The new government may well do something to change that status as part of its commitment to "respect the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina" and the Dayton peace accords. The authorities have already made it clear that Zagreb will no longer provide unlimited subsidies to the rugged mountainous region.

Such moves are popular in Croatia proper. Many people there regard the Herzegovinians as arrogant bumpkins who need to be cut down to size. Anti-Herzegovinian rhetoric by the opposition went down well with many voters during the recent parliamentary and presidential campaigns.

Relations between the Herzegovinians and Mesic in particular will need work. He broke with Tudjman and the HDZ over the question of the 1993-1994 war with the Muslims, which was supported by most Herzegovinians. During the election campaign, Mesic boasted that he had not been to Herzegovina or curried the favor of voters there. In the final round of voting, Herzegovinian leaders made no secret of their preference for Mesic's opponent, Drazen Budisa. In short, the new committee will have its work cut out for it. (Patrick Moore)

It Takes All Kinds. Over the past ten or so years, many young men in Serbia have gone to great lengths to avoid serving in Milosevic's army. Not a few of them have paid a high price for their desire to avoid fighting on behalf of a well-fed elite in senseless wars.

The Frankfurt-based daily "Vesti" of 28 February carries a story of a young man with a somewhat different attitude toward the draft. Mirko Romic was born into a Krajina Serbian family in Frankfurt in 1976. He still lives in Germany, safe and far from the reach of the Serbian police.

But he has volunteered to serve in the Yugoslav Army. The article details a large, traditional induction party thrown by his family and friends at Offenbach's Jugoslavija cultural center, complete with an energetic performance of the national dance, the kolo.

There are happy photos of young Romic, his girlfriend, his family, and his friends. Your editor can just imagine the faces of his own Serbian friends in Berlin, Munich, or Prague--some of whom made great efforts to avoid the Yugoslav draft--as they read that article. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "They lost four wars in the last eight years. I don't know what they think they're doing, but whatever it is, it's not going to work." -- U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, of the Belgrade regime actions in Mitrovica and southern Serbia, on 23 February.

"Not even a bird can cross." -- "Vesti" on 29 February, about the Yugoslav Army's blocking of the road linking Bozaj in Montenegro with Hani i Hotit in Albania.

And from Montenegrin Justice Minister Dragan Soc to RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegle on 28 February, about the frontier blockade:

"It is nothing unexpected. It is one of Milosevic's possible games in which he wants to exert pressure on Montenegro. It is something that was expected. We are hoping that this 'war of nerves' which has been going on for one year between civil and military authorities in Montenegro will remain just a 'war of nerves' and we shall maintain internal peace. It is very important."

Sealing the border is "not logical, but Milosevic's policy had nothing to do with healthy, reasonable logic. It's a political act that has the goal of radicalizing the situation in Montenegro to ignite a new crisis, to help him seize power here."

"I expect the Montenegrin government to maintain its activities as it has until now. We've always had more patience than Milosevic and we oppose all radicalization in Montenegro and we want peace for our citizens. We will defend ourselves from attempts to unleash an internal conflict in Montenegro. That's our primary goal. We have experience in playing this game, and we don't see any reason for getting nervous."