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Balkan Report: July 21, 2000

21 July 2000, Volume 4, Number 54

Mixed Signals For Croatia. The EU has been generous with its rewards for Croatia's new government this past week. That does not necessarily mean, however, that the West is uncritical of its new model pupil in the former Yugoslavia.

One of the great ironies of the rule of the late President Franjo Tudjman's rule is that he managed to isolate internationally the former Yugoslav republic that has traditionally been most open to the outside world. The long Dalmatian coast and its rugged hinterlands in particular have not only been a magnet for tourists for centuries, but for almost as long they have been a source of emigration of primarily younger men seeking a better life. Almost every Croatian family has some friend or relative working abroad, and many people are quite knowledgable about conditions in Germany, Australia, or any of many other countries. In addition, many members of the intelligentsia and middle class have studied or traveled widely abroad.

It thus was particularly frustrating to many internationally-minded Croats that the authoritarian Tudjman proved unable or unwilling to understand what Croatia's Western, democratic allies expected of Zagreb and why. The new government that replaced Tudjman's was under no such illusions, and immediately made efforts to end the isolation by pledging itself to more open practices and market reforms. The new government moved especially energetically on the international front because the chances of quick rewards were far greater there than, for example, in introducing social or economic reforms.

The first big bonus arrived in May, when Croatia was invited to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program. NATO membership had been former General Tudjman's dream, but the Atlantic alliance would not have his authoritarian state in Partnership for Peace, let alone full membership. President Stipe Mesic and the Social Democratic Prime Minister Ivica Racan thus succeeded with the world's largest military alliance where the arch-conservative Tudjman had failed.

In July, it was the EU's turn to reward the reform-minded Croatian leadership. Mesic visited Brussels, from which he was able to report on 18 July that the leaders of all 15 EU member states will attend the EU's Balkan summit slated for the fall in Zagreb. He added that he has received backing for a number of key economic projects. They include building an Adriatic-Ionian highway, reopening the Croatian segment of the Danube to navigation, constructing a pipeline to bring Caspian oil to the Adriatic, and launching work on a gas pipeline linking Norway to the Adriatic.

The next day came another piece of good news. Chris Patten, who is the EU's commissioner for foreign affairs, announced that Croatia will become the second western Balkan country (after Macedonia) to begin talks with Brussels over the terms of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 July 2000). Patten stressed that "this proposal is a great step forward in our efforts to stabilize the region. It is a tribute to the courageous steps taken by the new Croatian government in the short time in has been in office; the EU is determined to support Croatia."

But perhaps not all is roses. On 17 July, Reuters carried a report based on interviews with several unnamed but obviously well-informed Western diplomats in Zagreb. These individuals suggested that Western governments still remain unhappy with the pace of Croatia's progress in several key areas and expect improvements sooner rather than later.

The areas in question appear diverse at first glance but actually have a common denominator: they are all domestic political mine fields. They include: cleaning up the corruption from the Tudjman era; reforming the intelligence services; restructuring state-run television and transforming it into a public broadcaster; speeding up economic reforms so as to attract foreign investors; and stepping up cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal.

The problems for the government lie not so much in offending remnants of the old order--they are in any event discredited and got their marching orders from the voters last winter--or in stirring up a right-wing backlash, since most observers agree that the far-right is limited to a small if noisy political fringe element. The difficulties lie rather in the dellicate balance among the six governing parties. First, there are the tensions between the two large parties--the Social Democrats and the Social Liberals--in the main coalition. Second, there are power games between that coalition (the Social Democrats in particular) and the four parties in the smaller coalition, which can usually count on Mesic as an ally and spokesman. It was thus relatively easy for the six parties to campaign against Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) by calling for the reform and depoliticization of the intelligence services and state-run media, but it has proven quite another thing for them to decide who will carry out these tasks and to whom those persons will report.

The leading politicians will not have long to make up their minds and work out deals on the future shape of things. If the government does not take some bold steps to deal with the most important outstanding issues within the next few months, it may have to face some blunt words from Brussels and Washington . (Patrick Moore)

Grass-Roots Action: EU Mayors Meet Counterparts from Serbia, Montenegro, Kosova. Mayors from several cities in the European Union have held what the EU calls a highly successful meeting with opposition mayors from Serbia and Montenegro and similar local officials from Kosova. The purpose was to give practical support and encouragement to democracy in those regions.

The European Union's security and foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, hosted a meeting on 17 July between the mayors of several West European cities and their counterparts in the western Balkans--notably from Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosova--as part of the EU's effort to underpin democratic forces in the region.

At Monday's talks in Brussels were the opposition mayors of Nis, Novi Sad, and Pancevo in Serbia, plus the mayor of the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, along with a Serb and two ethnic Albanian co-mayors from the Kosovar towns of Gjilan, Suhareka, and Leposaviq.

On the EU side were the mayors of Athens in Greece, Bologna in Italy, Barcelona in Spain, Dortmund and Konstanz in Germany, and Lille and Boulogne-Billancourt in France. Also present was Kosova's United Nations administrator Bernard Kouchner, plus the special coordinator of the Balkan Stability Pact, Bodo Hombach, and representatives of regional organizations in the EU and of non-governmental organizations.

Solana said the reason for the unusual get-together was to lend support: "We want to offer concrete evidence of our determination to welcome the countries of the region into the European family. We want to promote mutual understanding and ties of solidarity, without which the European perspective of these countries will never be realized. And we want to consolidate an important channel for practical, technical and financial assistance."

Solana's spokeswoman Christina Gallach told RFE/RL that the atmosphere between the officials was excellent, and that good working links had been established for the future. She said one of the first practical fruits of the meeting came when Barcelona's mayor announced that his city will hold in the fall a week-long seminar for the Balkan mayors. The seminar will offer training in subjects ranging from administrative procedures, to handling local police and media affairs, to garbage collection.

Personal contact helped further the common aims, Gallach noted: "There was a very good moment when the mayor of Boulogne-Billancourt, who sat next to the mayor of Pancevo--those cities were twinned several years ago, but the men could never meet due to the circumstances, so they met now for the first time--they all put on the table new ideas. For example, the mayor of Pancevo said that his town is in desperate need of support for practical programs on the environment" after NATO air strikes hit a large communist-era chemical plant there.

In response to such pleas, the chairman of the EU Committee of the Regions, which represents hundreds of the union's regions, said he would immediately make his membership aware of such problems, and mobilize them to respond.

Gallach praised the strength and commitment of the Serbian opposition mayors who came to Brussels in the face of official displeasure from the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. She said: "The mayors who came representing the Serbian cities are extremely experienced politicians, who have been working under very difficult circumstances. The mayor of Novi Sad, the mayor of Nis, the mayor of Pancevo--they all are suffering from the fact that they are opposition mayors, so there is nothing coming to them from Belgrade, nothing to support them. And Nis, for example, was able to get heat for the winter thanks to the European Union's program 'Fuel for Democracy' [program], so they know how to survive. But we have to ensure that they can not only survive, but that they can really have a prosperous town and a prosperous city."

The EU outreach comes ahead of an anticipated string of municipal and national elections this fall in Yugoslavia and the surrounding countries. That's not by chance. EU officials say their efforts are designed to show the benefits that support for democratization brings to ordinary citizens.

The officials note, however, that apart from cases where the opposition is being helped, Serbia must remain excluded from assistance programs until the Milosevic regime loses office. But Stability Pact coordinator Bodo Hombach caught the general mood when he said he looks forward eagerly to the day when Serbia will be a full partner. He said: "The Stability Pact waits impatiently for Serbia to be included. We have in all our activities an empty chair, which symbolizes that Serbia will belong to the pact in the same second that the political conditions there are fitting."

The West is united in hoping that day will come soon. (Breffni O'Rourke is a senior RFE/RL correspondent. Ahto Lobjakas in Brussels contributed to this report).

Of 'Medieval' Churches. On 17 July, AP reported that a medieval Serbian Orthodox church had been destroyed by explosives near Fushe Kosova. NATO had not apparently not guarded the building because it had been badly damaged in the 1999 conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2000).

Reader Andras Riedlmayer has sent "Balkan Report" a substantial analysis that takes issue with several of AP's claims. First, the building was not "medieval" but dates only from 1964, according to Serbian Orthodox Church sources. Second, neither this church nor any other Serbian one was hit during the 1999 conflict, but was damaged only afterwards, namely in August. Third, the local Serbian population was no longer around because they left with the Yugoslav troops in June. AFP added that the church has not been actively used for about five years.

Our reader comments that none of this "makes the latest attack any less criminal. But it does help explain KFOR's priorities in choosing to deploy its manpower to guard the most important medieval patrimonial sites (all of which remain intact) and in settlements where there is a resident Serbian population to protect.... One attack a month [on churches] is still too many. And some damaged buildings, especially those of historical importance, should be better protected. But to suggest that KFOR 'does nothing to prevent [attacks]' (as per the recent statement from Momcilo Trajkovic's Serbian Resistance Movement), or that medieval Serbian heritage sites of world importance are being destroyed under the very noses of KFOR (as the Serbian Ministry of Culture has repeatedly alleged), is pure hyperbole." (Patrick Moore)

Milosevic Still Running VRS? An unnamed senior U.S. official said in Sarajevo that Milosevic--and not the Bosnian Serb authorities--still controls the Bosnian Serb army (VRS), Reuters reported on 16 July. The Serbian leader maintains "the ability to determine wages, [and to] appoint and dismiss officers [in the VRS, which] gives him for sure a strong influence over the army.... He can use the army to block whatever [moderate Prime Minister Milorad] Dodik initiates," the official added, noting that Milosevic also "influences" the Bosnian Serb intelligence services. Leaders of all three armies in Bosnia have expressed an interest in participating in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, but the Atlantic alliance has made it clear that it will deal with only one Bosnian army, not with three. (Patrick Moore)

A Home Away From Home... Former Bosnian military commander Ramiz Delalic has escaped from prison and is on his way to Iran using forged documents, Sarajevo's "Oslobodjenje" daily reported on 12 July and Belgrade's "Fonet" reported two days later. Delalic, better known as "Celo" (Baldy), led a gang of military racketeers linked to robberies and assaults against foreign journalists and aid workers. Celo was imprisoned in 1999 for beating a policeman after being pulled over for a traffic violation, but other charges against him since 1990 included murder, robbery, theft, and assault. Many cases were dropped after witnesses withdrew their testimonies. Although captured in a 1993 anti-crime drive, Celo was released. (Bill Samii of RFE/RL's "Iran Report")

...But Meanwhile Back Home... Several dozen Muslim displaced persons blocked a road near Maglaj to protest eviction orders for them to leave Serbian-owned homes in Bakotici where they have been living since the 1992-1995 war. A local government spokesman told Reuters that "the problem is linked" to the eviction of several dozen Bosnian citizens of Middle Eastern origin from the nearby village of Bocinja.

Those men came to Bosnia as Islamic fighters during the war and subsequently acquired Bosnian citizenship by marrying local women. Many representatives of the international community have called for the eviction of the former Islamic fighters, whom they suspect of having links to terrorist organizations based elsewhere in the Muslim world. The Sarajevo daily "Avaz" reported on 18 July that the authorities have declared a state of emergency in the area.

Later that day, Alun Roberts, a spokesman for the UN police, told Reuters that the international police are watching the situation but that it is up to local authorities to evict the mujahedeen. (Patrick Moore)

Yugoslav Movie Wins Croatian Internet Film Festival. The four-minute film "Chess Life," which criticizes the Milosevic regime through the metaphor of a chess game, won the most votes from 620 visitors to the site, AP reported on 18 July.

The second prize went to a Croatian movie, "Mechanical Animals," while a Greek movie, "The Feast," came in third. The announcement was made by Hrvoje Malekovic, the Croat who organized the festival, entitled Web Movie Fest Y2K. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "The international bad guys are provoking us. We cannot stand idly by and see the Clintons and the Albrights do whatever they want." - Dr. Milan Ivanovic, of the Serbian National Council, in Mitrovica on 18 July. He was addressing a crowd protesting the arrest of a Serb for setting fire to Albanian-owned cars. Quoted by AP.

"Every time we--Czechs--were in trouble, you--Serbs-- helped us. We are ashamed that at a time that is so difficult for the Serbian people, the Czech Republic's highest representative makes statements that go far beyond the boundaries of morals and common sense. We apologize to you on behalf of all decent and honest Czechs, who share feelings of shame and indignation with us. Serbs, forgive us! Forgive us, and don't blame the entire Czech nation for [President] Vaclav Havel's statements." - Chairman Frantisek Krejca of the Ceske Budejovice Association of Friends of Slavonic Cultures and Languages, quoted by CTK on 19 July. He was referring to Havel's remarks to the effect that it might be wise to use force against Milosevic before he starts another war (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 July 2000).

Go and visit the [Serbian] churches and show that you, too, care about sacred sites that are being despoiled. Go to those who have had relations or friends murdered and tell them that you, the Kosovo Albanians, know more about harassment than practically any other people on Earth." - NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, in an appeal to Kosova Albanians in Prishtina on 18 July. Quoted by AP.