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Balkan Report: May 19, 2000

19 May 2000, Volume 4, Number 37

Milosevic's Desperate Crackdown. The regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has struck a major blow against the opposition media. The outcome is may be a full-blown dictatorship. But it also could well be the beginning of the end for Milosevic.

In the early hours of 17 May, masked Serbian police occupied the Belgrade offices of opposition Studio B Television, Radio B2-92, Radio Index, and the mass-circulation daily "Blic." Studio B now broadcasts regime news programs, while B2-92 has gone over to a mainly music diet.

Dragan Kojadinovic, who is a former director of the opposition television station run by Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that the takeover is "state-organized robbery, without any legal basis, without any justification.... They took over all our premises, a few hundred plainclothes policemen. [Our] security people at the scene say they literally brought busloads of police, who entered the building and broke into our offices.... Their aim is to completely eliminate all programs of Studio B. They neutralized Radio B2-92,...they are not letting our colleagues from 'Blic' enter their offices" in the same complex. As for the SPO, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" argued that the government takeover of Studio B is a "direct challenge" to Draskovic Veran Matic, who heads the association of private electronic media organizations (ANEM), told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service: "This is a complete prohibition of elementary freedom of speech in Serbia. These media outlets were, after all, the heart of our information sphere in Serbia today. The media landscape in Serbia will be permanently fragmented and damaged in the future if we don't start working again" and undo the damage.

Deputy Mayor of Belgrade Milan Bozic (SPO), who is also a member of Studio B's board of directors, told AP that the "regime has made a move with unforeseeable consequences. Whether this is the beginning of the regime's suicide or just a miscalculation, the next few days will show." Opposition Alliance for Change leader Vladan Batic stressed that the "government has imposed an informal state of emergency. This indicates the introduction of a state of [martial law]."

Goran Svilanovic, who heads the Civic Alliance, told Reuters on 18 May that the opposition plans to hold daily protests in several cities and towns. At least dozens of protesters were injured in clashes with police in Belgrade the previous evening when up to 30,000 people turned out in support of the opposition media. Matters came to a head when buoyant fans of the Crvena Zvezda soccer team sought to join the protest and clashed with police.

A declaration read out at the rally concluded that "this is the beginning of the end of the dictatorship" of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Svilanovic argued that Milosevic is trying to "turn Serbia into an [isolated, hard-line] Cuba in the middle of Europe." Elsewhere, the authorities shut down Radio Pancevo on 17 May while it was broadcasting coverage of the Belgrade protest.

Reaction from abroad to the media clampdown came quickly. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 17 May that Milosevic's latest actions "smack of desperate Bolshevik-style oppression." Boucher added that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will raise the possibility of unspecified "joint action" at a conference of NATO foreign ministers in Italy slated for later in May. In Vienna, OSCE Chair Benita Ferrero-Waldner and media coordinator Freimut Duve also condemned the moves against the non-state media. In Brussels, EU Commissioner Chris Patten said that he "deplores this cowardly crackdown on the independent Serbian media...carried out under cover of darkness by Milosevic's henchmen.... Milosevic will ultimately lose this battle." Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic called the clampdown an act of weakness, adding that Montenegro will not be intimidated by any of Milosevic's pressure tactics.

For many in the opposition, the rationale behind the crackdown is not hard to fathom. Several unnamed opposition leaders told AP that Milosevic is preparing to declare a state of emergency that will lead to a full-fledged dictatorship. Opposition leader Zarko Korac said the latest developments show "that the Serbian regime has opted for an open dictatorship. It is up to the citizens of Serbia to respond and say whether they want to live in such a society," he stressed.

And what did the authorities have to say for themselves? Prior to the nighttime raid, Serbian Deputy Prime Ministers Vojislav Seselj and Milovan Bojic signed a decree in which they said that the authorities have taken control of Studio B because it has allegedly "frequently called for the toppling of the constitutional order and for rebellion against a legally elected government." It is not clear whether the decree also referred to the other opposition media outlets located in the same office complex as Studio B. Perhaps more importantly, it is not clear if additional non-state media (besides Radio Pancevo) will also feel the wrath of the authorities.

The latest moves were well prepared in advance. On 16 May, the Borba publishing house, which is close to the regime, refused to print "Blic," "Danas" reported. The Forum and Glas publishing houses printed "Blic" instead. Democratic Alternative leader Nebojsa Covic said that the regime is preparing to declare a state of emergency by branding its opponents "fascists" and "traitors" in the wake of a mysterious killing in Novi Sad the previous weekend (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2000).

Elsewhere, on the eve of the clampdown leaders of the Milosevic's Socialists and of the United Yugoslav Left, which is run by his wife Mira Markovic, officially called on state bodies to "take measures" against "terrorist" opposition parties and the Otpor (Resistance) student movement, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In several cities and towns, police detained some 40 opposition activists, including 20 in Valjevo alone.

Ivan Stambolic, who is the estranged former political mentor of Milosevic, said in Nis that Serbia is now in a power vacuum, "Vesti" reported on 18 May. Milosevic no longer has the situation under control, and the opposition is not yet ready to take the reins of power. The only solution is to hold elections, Stambolic added. He said that Otpor "is a wonderful thing" because it is so amorphous. "There are no leaders, so you don't know whom to arrest or whom to corrupt." The more the regime tries to crush it, the more members and supporters it obtains, Stambolic argued. For Milosevic to attack such an organization is "his last line of defense...and he knows it," the Serbian leader's former mentor noted.

If the opposition leaders are right and the "healthy forces" underpinning the rule by the Milosevic family have their way, this could be just the beginning of a new, nastier stage in Milosevic's rule. As Korac suggested, it will be up to the people of Serbia to respond to it. (Patrick Moore)

Western-Type Think-Tanks For Croatia. Among the many new institutions that post-communist democracies need are independent, professional think tanks. Croatia may be about to acquire a set of its own.

The "Vecernji list" affair that came close to becoming Croatia's Watergate has revealed what type of advisors former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman had gathered in his inner circle of power. Published transcripts of a taped conversation between Tudjman and Ivic Pasalic--his chief domestic affairs aide and until recently a leading figure of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ)--revealed that the only thing they had in mind was keeping the HDZ in power--and this at almost any price. It seems that Tudjman and his top advisors treated "the law as something to be manipulated for their own purposes" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2000).

In Tudjman's Croatia, an institution for political consulting independent of the executive did not exist. In 1998, Marin Sopta, who then headed the Croatian Center for Strategic Studies, argued in an interview with the author of this article that his institute was comparable to an NGO-- although he was a prominent member of HDZ's right wing at the time. Through family ties, Sopta was linked to Gojko Susak, Croatia's former minister of defense who died in 1998. Moreover, like Susak, Sopta who is a Croat from Herzegovina who lived in Canada for a long time. There he (and restaurant-owner Susak) helped organize Tudjman's trips to that country in the late 1980s. This was the time when Tudjman started to promote his political ideas and when fund-raising for a project called the HDZ began. Therefore, contrary to his claims that his institute was an NGO, Sopta was closely connected to Tudjman, even on a personal level.

Undoubtedly, political consulting is closely tied to everyday politics. But if all aides are prominent personalities of the leading party, there is no way they can keep an objective distance from the sources of power. Slaven Letica, who was Tudjman's chief aide at the start of the decade and later one of his harshest critics, told the author that at the beginning of Tudjman's reign there were indeed some advisors in his inner circle who were not members of the HDZ. But Tudjman's autocratic character could not bear for too long independent intellectuals who disagreed with him. Consequently, later on there was almost no presidential advisor who was not a member of HDZ.

Even in the post-Tudjman era, the acrimonious struggle between President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan over the control of the intelligence services demonstrates that the recommendations of an independent think tank could prove helpful. But Ozren Zunec, who is a well-known analyst and scholar on the sociology of war and who wrote a book about the secret services in Western democracies, left Croatia's key intelligence service (HIS) because the much-heralded reform of the intelligence services was not implemented.

So what do people at the top think? Racan told "Vecernji list" of 24 April that Croatia needs a think tank comparable to the ones that exist in other countries. In Western democracies, think tank advisors do not act as the government�s spokespersons, but instead they do independent research in order to answer the government�s questions. Nothing less and nothing more. Racan envisions Zunec at the top of such an institution. But he also said that until now this kind of think tank is only an idea that needs to be worked out.

But although Croatia has undergone many difficulties in its current transition, the ideas for reforming the political consulting process seems be bearing fruit. President Mesic plans to create a new kind of Presidential Council (Predsjednicko vijece) (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 April 2000). He is about to set up this advisory body, which will differ from Tudjman's inflationary use of secretive advisory councils.

The new council will be smaller than the former one and have a permanent core structure that will work with ad-hoc committees. One of its top tasks will be analyzing the question as to how Croatia can catch up with the revolution in information technology. Goran Radman, who is the director of Microsoft Croatia, told "Vecernji list" on 13 May that Croatia has completely lost touch with developments in the information sciences in the last ten years. Not only the war and the deteriorating economic situation have caused a brain-drain of thousands of well-educated Croats, among them many computer specialists. Moreover, the old HDZ elite has been unsupportive of any developments in the area of the new technologies.

In socialist times, Croatia and Slovenia belonged to the more highly developed countries in Eastern Europe in the area of computer sciences. Subsequently, the geographically and demographically smaller Slovenia has made enormous progress in this field. Hungary is also much more advanced in computer sciences today than is Croatia. Besides preparing Croatia for entry into the EU and modernizing the military, Mesic�s Predsjednicko vijece will face the challenge of charting the path for Croatia to catch up in the field of information technology as well.

Even if Mesic has recognized the importance of a new kind of presidential advisory institution, Racan�s think tank idea seems to be innovative in the Croatian context, too. A combination of a Western-style think tank with Mesic�s ad-hoc committees, though, is also a possibility. Such a network would be more flexible if it managed to remain free of the political tensions between the six parties of the governing coalition. If it also manages to keep away party politics, it could become the basis of solid and professional in political consulting in Croatia. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer and copy editor based in Munich.

Albania's Berisha Charges Speaker Of Parliament With Killing Democratic Party Member. Democratic Party (PD) Chairman Sali Berisha gave a press conference in Tirana on 16 May, at which he accused Speaker of Parliament Skender Gjinushi with involvement in the killing of PD member Agim Hysenbelliu near Vlora on 14 May, "Koha Jone" reported.

Hysenbelliu was found dead at the Llogara Pass south of Vlora six hours after the end of a Democratic Party rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000). It was the first such gathering in the southern port city that Berisha addressed since the city plunged into lawlessness during riots of 1997.

Berisha told journalists that "the PD has all the [necessary] information [to prove] that Hysenbelliu was kidnapped by people [working for] the government in front of his house. We are in possession of a complete list of persons involved in this macabre crime, and the one mainly responsible for it is the chief criminal, Gjinushi." Berisha did not elaborate but pledged to publicize the list in the upcoming days.

Meanwhile, police officials in Vlora said that they are investigating Argent Grabova, who was a friend of the victim and former local PD leader, as the main suspect, "Albanian Daily News" reported. They added that eye- witnesses last saw Hysenbelliu having lunch with Grabova and a girlfriend near the Llogara Pass. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Mobile Phone Company To Get A Buyer. A consortium of the Norwegian mobile phone company Telenor-International and the Greek company Cosmote is likely to win the privatization bid for Albania's mobile phone company AMC, "Shekulli" reported on 17 May.

At an bidding session in Tirana on 15 May, the consortium offered $85.6 million for AMC. Telenor International holds the majority shares in the consortium. Other bids came from the British Vodafone AirTouch, which had offered $40.5 million, and from the Turkish Turkcell Iletisim Hizmet, which had bid $39 million. A joint venture of Telecom Italia and Mobilkom Austria quit the race.

Privatization Minister Mustafa Muci told the daily that negotiations with the Norwegian-Greek consortium and the two other bidders will start by the end of May, and that the government plans to finalize a contract by 29 June. The Italian consulting company IMI has been in charge of preparing the privatization of AMC and advised its management during the process.

Muci said that the offer for AMC was unexpectedly high and predicted that the privatization will be a success. He also announced that his ministry will issue a second license for another competing mobile phone company, parallel to the privatization of AMC. Mobile phone customers are likely to benefit from the privatization. AMC has held a monopoly so far and has charged fees that are among the highest in Europe.

Prime Minister Ilir Meta told "Albanian Daily News" of 17 May that "the outcome of the bidding made to privatize AMC represents one of the biggest achievements of the Albanian government." AMC has about 11,000 customers for a network that serves about half of Albania's 3.4 million people. The company doubled its net income to $7.8 million in 1999. The increase was largely due to the high demand for mobile phones during the Kosova crisis.

The former Democratic Party government founded AMC with Alcatel equipment shortly before the general elections in 1996. The company covers 25 percent of Albanian territory. Only 3.4 percent of Albanian homes have a fixed-line phone. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "Long live independent Macedonia." -- Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov in Skopje on 15 May. Quoted by AP.

"I expect that Europe accepts the concrete idea that national minorities should be seen as a bridge for cooperation and not as a reason to conquer the territory of others. Unfortunately, Serbia still doesn't accept this idea. There, they still think that all the Serbs should live in one state." -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic, in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, on 28 April.

"This is playing with fire. In the Balkans signs of impatience can be misinterpreted as symptoms of weakness. We cannot afford that in a region where weakness attracts vultures... If we leave now, I predict now, we'll have to return to the Balkans again and again.... Troublemakers in these regions [Kosova, East Timor, Congo, and Sierra Leone] cannot be simply wished away. They must be contained, captured, convicted, or converted, which in every case requires resources." -- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, on 17 May in Washington, on the possibility of an early departure of U.S. troops from Kosova.