Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: April 25, 2000

25 April 2000, Volume 4, Number 30

Serbia After The Protest. The opposition has been congratulating itself on a successful mass demonstration. The question now is: where will Serbian politics go from here?

The feuding leaders of Serbian's opposition--most notably the Serbian Renewal Movement's Vuk Draskovic and the Democratic Party's Zoran Djindjic--managed to bury their hatchets for at least a few hours on 14 April to stage one of the largest demonstrations Belgrade has seen. Estimates in the independent and private media ranged up to 200,000 participants.

Shortly thereafter, the opposition began congratulating itself on a job well done, despite the fact that Draskovic was soon criticizing Djindjic in public, much to the delight of the regime media. For its part, the Belgrade independent daily "Danas" wrote of the "therapeutic effect" of the harmony that the opposition displayed at the rally.

Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" went perhaps a step further and spoke of a "pre-revolutionary situation." The paper pointed to the results of recent polls to conclude that a large segment of the population supports the opposition. Some 46 percent of the respondents would back a joint opposition slate, while only 19 percent would choose the regime. At the rally, the paper added, the majority of the citizens showed that they were tired not only of the regime but also of the divisions within the opposition. The protesters' message to their leaders was clear: unite and provide the leadership to channel the growing frustration across the country.

Whether the opposition will be willing and able to do so is anybody's guess. Your editor has the gut feeling that the long-term future (at any rate) belongs to the educated professionals of the G-17 group and the Alliance for Change.

Djindjic, by contrast, may prove to be a spent force. There remains, moreover, often precious little substantive difference between Draskovic's people and those of the regime, especially where nationalism and anti-Westernism are concerned. One German diplomat commented to "RFE/RL Balkan Report" that the common link between Draskovic and the regime is anti-modernism, which vents itself as anti-Americanism. In any event, Draskovic knows well how to play upon the confusion and ignorance of many voters. Like Djindjic, he has every intention of becoming Serbia's next leader.

The regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, for its part, still has teeth, although some observers feel that its behavior is increasingly that of a cornered animal. The wheels of repression continue to turn, and rarely do a day or two pass without news of one or another independent or private media outlet being hit with a stiff fine for violating the Kafkaesque 1998 media law. Similarly, Milan Protic and other opposition leaders face libel suits filed by Milosevic's followers.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, the United Yugoslav Left's Mira Markovic, and their respective minions regularly slam the opposition as traitors and NATO's boot-lickers. One would be inclined to laugh these hard-liners off as pathetic political dinosaurs--except for the fact that Serbia remains a country where political violence is not unknown.

Just three days before the latest protest, independent journalists and human rights activists held several commemorative meetings in Belgrade to mark the first anniversary of the killing of publisher Slavko Curuvija. At the site of the murder, friends and colleagues of Curuvija unveiled a memorial plaque, which reads that he was "killed for his tough and critical words" against the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whom he had once supported. A friend of Curuvija's said at the meeting that the late journalist "was not killed; he was executed," "Vesti" reported. Seselj, true to form, called Curuvija a "criminal," "Danas" noted. The authorities have remained silent on the killing.

Another unresolved mystery is the fire that swept some offices in Novi Sad on 6 April. These rooms were located on the upper floors of a modern office building. They just happened to house the editorial boards or bureaus of key independent media outlets: TV Duga, TV Melos, TV Montenegro, Radio 021, Radio Signal, and "Danas." The weekly "Vreme" recently concluded that unless the authorities produce a convincing explanation for the fire and do so soon, one may most likely assume that the MUP, or the Ministry of the Interior, knows more about the fire and its origins than it cares to admit.

The question remains as to where things are headed in Serbia. Even if the opposition manages to maintain a healthy degree of unity and parlay popular discontent into a real citizens' movement, it is difficult to see where such a movement can go. But former General Momcilo Perisic has called for further demonstrations across Serbia to serve as a "referendum" on the opposition's demand for early elections.

Under the present circumstances, one may not realistically expect that any elections could be free and fair. This is true both for the local vote that the regime wants in order to oust the opposition from their provincial strongholds, and for the general elections that the opposition seeks in order to "turn the rascals out."

In the fall of 1998, several independent Serbian journalists participated in a roundtable at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague. Someone asked one of the Serbs what he thought the political landscape would look like in six months. The journalist replied that nobody in Serbia knows what the situation will be in six days, let alone in six months. Those words seem to ring as true now as they did then. (Patrick Moore)

Where Is The EU's Stability Pact Heading? Ten months after most Southeast European countries, the EU member states, the G-7 countries, Russia, and numerous international organizations launched the EU-sponsored Stability Pact, the results are barely visible on the surface. But, largely unnoticed by the broader public, the pact's "working tables" have drawn up numerous projects for infrastructure development and other forms of crossborder cooperation. The pledges at a recent donors conference in Brussels were higher than expected (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 29 March 2000). It will now depend on the implementation of the projects and whether the NGOs and governments involved will spend the money wisely.

At a conference in Sofia on 17 and 18 April, participants discussed the possibilities of boosting various forms of cooperation throughout the region. The Stability Pact has become the primary forum for that process, and, having secured financial backing from international donors, it has helped key local people to identify financial resources for their projects.

Rory O' Sullivan, who is the World Bank's special representative for Southeastern European reconstruction, stressed that the Stability Pact has helped overcome a stand-off between the Balkan countries and the donors. So far, the donors have faced the dilemma of deciding whether they should demand changes in standards and institutions by the countries first, or whether they should give aid first to help in the adjustment and reform process. The Stability Pact reflects the understanding of Western and local actors that this cannot be a one-way process, but that a close interaction of donors, local politicians, and Western advisors is needed to achieve a mutually beneficial mix.

This also means that local politicians do not have to take extreme measures, especially in the economy, unless they have the tools to maintain basic social stability, while at the same time they receive substantial support to pursue their structural reforms. Sullivan also stressed that the Stability Pact has the means to offer a clear and predictable path along which the local governments know precisely what they have to do in pursuit of European integration (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 April 2000). He also argued that EU officials have understood that they must not keep moving the goal-posts for accession, but offer a clear and realistic perspective.

Donors have pledged the most money ($1.8 billion) for economic reconstruction, which is handled by Working Table 2 of the Stability Pact. They also pledged to give $260 million for democratic and institutional development, which Working Table 1 promotes, and $78 million for security and defense, handled by Working Table 3. It is clear, however, that economic reconstruction is at the center of the international effort.

The priorities of Working Table 2 include improving technical infrastructure, transportation, and telecommunications. Another priority is to link up the power grids and pipeline networks in the region to the joint pan-European systems. Furthermore, the Working Table puts an emphasis on the development of the private sector, which so far means primarily small-sized businesses. It thus aims to promote favorable investment conditions, the improvement of transparency, and a streamlining of government regulation. That table also focuses on environmental issues and the development of "human capital."

Working Table 1, which deals with democratization and human rights, has as its main focus protecting minorities, promoting effective administration, increasing the responsibilities of the local government, and creating ombudsman offices on different levels of administration. The table also seeks to promote pluralistic media, to develop education, and to assist democratization processes in Serbia by helping the opposition and other civic initiatives. For example, Serbian representatives at the conference suggested presenting a project to Working Table 1 for training of Serbian citizens in election monitoring and election supervision. The observers would be trained by local experts outside Serbia, but in the immediate regional neighborhood. The seminars could thus be held in nearby cities in Romania, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Hungary.

The priorities of Working Table 3 include projects for the social reintegration of former soldiers, the destruction of weapons, clearing mines, promoting civilian control over the army, strengthening justice, and combating crime. Additional priorities include setting up a regional system to combat natural and industrial disasters and an anti-corruption initiative, which will promote a transparent administrative and business environment.

The Stability Pact--it remains basically a clearing house--is trying to now link donors' pledges to concrete projects. Whether the local actors will receive support will obviously depend on the merits of their respective projects.

One participant raised doubts whether many projects will be wisely implemented. She argued that many of the projects presented to the respective tables are unlikely to receive the support of the donors in the first place, especially as far as projects by international organizations are concerned. She also said that only a comparatively low number of projects at Working Table 1 come from the region itself. These include a center for interethnic projects planned by Slovenia, studies about the rights of minorities in Croatia, and a minority project in Macedonia, as well as projects for city partnerships. But most other projects at that table were presented by the Council of Europe or OSCE and may well be funded with money seconded to the Pact by those organizations. Such projects would therefore be nothing new but rather an instance of old wine in new bottles.

Indeed, most local politicians have presented projects for Working Table 2 infrastructure development, which they see as a priority. But a participant also questioned whether the EU resources will provide them with quick results, due to the slow and complicated application- and financing procedures at the European Commission.

She acknowledged, however, that the main achievement of the Stability Pact so far is that the region has been "put on the map." She also stressed that the EU member states and countries in the region have stepped up cooperation as equal partners and hope to learn from previous mistakes and avoid duplication of effort. She concluded that the willingness to cooperate is there. (Fabian Schmidt)

Stirrings In Vojvodina. Opposition legislators left the provincial assembly in Novi Sad on 19 April after deputies from the government parties refused to consider opposition proposals for topics to be added to the legislative agenda. The topics included calling elections at all levels, holding a roundtable on election rules, ending repression against citizens, and setting up a parliamentary commission to investigate recent incidents in Zrenjanin, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2000).

Meanwhile, the provincial assembly accepted an annual report by its "Committee on the Media" that strongly criticized "Magyar Szo," the only Hungarian-language daily in the former Yugoslavia. The report specifically mentioned RFE/RL's Tibor Purger for "promoting the policies of the U.S. and NATO" in the paper.

In response, the assembly appointed new Boards of Directors for both the Forum Publishing House (the holding company to which "Magyar Szo" belongs) and "Magyar Szo" itself. The outside members of both boards are from Milosevic's Socialist Party alone--and many of them do not even speak Hungarian. (Patrick Moore and Tibor Purger)

Quotations Of The Week. If Kosova is forced to remain part of Yugoslavia, "there will be a new war. All of us, the people of Kosova, will take to the barricades.... All Albanians belong in a state. In Macedonia, there are 35 percent Albanians, also in Montenegro their number is increasing. We are a divided people." -- Democratic League of Kosova leader Ibrahim Rugova. Quoted by AFP on 14 April.

"Before [NATO's 1999] bombing, Albanians were not driven away on the basis of ethnic principle. In the summer and autumn of 1998, many were victims of the brutal war between the Yugoslav army and the Kosovo Liberation Army. The persecution was not persecution of the Albanian people but the prosecution of the opposition by an authoritarian regime. It is only after the beginning of bombing that brutal ethnic cleansing erupted." -- UN envoy and former Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jiri Dienstbier, apparently forgetting the history of Operation Horseshoe. Quoted by CTK on 20 April.

"Croatian courts should have tried the [Gospic] culprits long ago. Now the Hague tribunal is giving us a way out." -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic to Reuters on 20 April.