Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: July 25, 2000

25 July 2000, Volume 4, Number 55

Advice From An Old Balkan Hand. One of Europe's leading experts on the Balkans has a clear message for the continent's policymakers: end any "obsession" with Serbia and concentrate on those countries that are ready to work for democracy and reform.

One of the pillars of the European Balkan-watching establishment is Swiss-German journalist Viktor Meier, who for many years was the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's" leading expert on the region. Now in retirement, he continues to write and make the conference circuit. His outspoken and well-argued views almost always generate controversy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 March 2000).

Meier's latest article is no exception. Writing in the "FAZ" on 20 July, he argues that European (primarily West European) policymakers entertain the illusion that it will some day, somehow be possible to reconstruct the former Yugoslavia. In contrast, Meier hails U.S. President Bill Clinton for explicitly stating in Aachen earlier this year that the reestablishment of Yugoslavia is an impossibility. Meier adds that this "is the first time that a Western statesman has expressed himself with such clarity" on the issue.

Indeed, Meier has few kind words for European policy toward the former Yugoslavia over the past decade. He argues that it was ineffective and, after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995, had to be rescued by the Americans, who then took the lead. He charges, moreover, that the British Conservative government and the French under the late President Francois Mitterrand deliberately steered the West toward policies that were, if not openly pro-Serb, then at least designed to spare President Slobodan Milosevic much active Western opposition.

Meier is not any more impressed with current European Balkan policy. He argues--citing a conversation with Croatian President Stipe Mesic--that European politicians have a distracting "obsession" with Serbia. He adds that they wrongly believe that the problems of the western Balkans will sort themselves out once Milosevic is gone and "democracy" established in Belgrade. The Serbian opposition, he notes, does not show any of the remorse for recent policies that many Germans did after 1945. The worst that the opposition will say of Milosevic's policies is that they did not work, Meier (and Mesic) maintain.

Meier's remedy is for Europe to simply "leave Serbia alone for awhile" and concentrate on helping and working with those countries that have shown themselves willing and able to move toward democracy and market reforms. He says that Slovenia and Croatia are the best but not only examples. Instead, Ljubljana has been kept waiting for a timetable for EU membership and suspects that Brussels wants to keep it in a sort of "lasting exile" from the EU's table. Similarly, Croatia has not received the same sort of attention from the EU as it might. As an example of policies that Brussels should encourage, Meier points to Croatia's recent initiatives to promote close ties with Albania and Montenegro while distancing itself from the Croatian nationalists in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Turning to the much-heralded Stability Pact, he argues that it has become, in effect, a talking shop for discussing the eventual reconstruction of Serbia. Zagreb went along with hosting the EU's upcoming Balkan summit simply because the new government was flattered by the attention. In Ljubljana, the whole project is viewed with skepticism, Meier adds. He notes that Slovenian mistrust towards the EU was compounded when Ljubljana was told that "of course" it will not be able to keep its special trade agreements with other former Yugoslav republics when it joins the EU (the Czech Republic received the same message regarding its agreements with Slovakia).

In Kosova, moreover, the international community has been increasingly concerned with the situation of the local Serbs. Meier argues that its priority instead should be to set up a functioning state structure and reinvigorate the economy.

These are tough if typical words from a seasoned expert. Your editor would only add his agreement to most of them, including Meier's words of caution on the Serbian opposition. Its foreign policy community contains more than one person whose professed commitment to Europe is probably based mainly on getting the flow of investments going again, if not on personal ambition. Many of these people defend Milosevic's policies in Kosova and hold anti-American views that are as pronounced as those of anyone in the regime.

One German diplomat described these people as having difficulty coming to grips with the modern world.

Your editor has heard some leading Kosovars over the years say that "the problem is the Serbian mentality." In any event, as the German example after 1945 has shown, such a fundamental change will not come quickly or easily among the intellectuals, to say nothing of the more grassroots elements.

To be sure, there are some very impressive individuals in the opposition, particularly among the G-17 group of economists. One should not, however, expect that the ouster of Milosevic will result in a happy, democratic Serbia moving confidently into the common European home. And as Meier suggests, there are other priorities calling out for attention right here and now. (Patrick Moore)

Bulgarian Prime Minister Stresses U.S. Role In Balkan Stability. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said in Sofia on 20 July that "a key element in providing national security is attracting the attention of NATO and the United States to overcoming the hidden risks in Kosovo and resolving the problems to the end. The equilibrium in Kosovo requires constant intervention of external factors....The region lacks internal forces capable of guaranteeing stability," Reuters reported. (Patrick Moore)

RFE/RL President Slams Belgrade Decision Against Broadcaster. RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine on 20 July denounced Yugoslavia's decision to declare RFE/RL activities in that country illegal as a violation of international law and an indication of the desperation of the Milosevic regime. "Only a government afraid of the truth would try to prevent our journalists from gathering and disseminating information," Dine said in Prague. "We will do everything in our power to protect our journalists and to make sure that they can continue to do their important work."

Dine's comments came in reaction to a letter from Yugoslav Information Minister Goran Matic to Nenad Pejic, the director of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. In that letter, which was a response to Pejic's request for the registration of RFE/RL's bureau in Belgrade, Matic said that his government views Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty not as an objective journalistic organization but as a propaganda arm of the NATO coalition against Yugoslavia. Matic said that as a result, "we shall regard all the activities of the RFE bureau as illegal and against the law--and towards those who work unauthorized for that media in Yugoslavia, we shall undertake proper legal measures."

He argued that "the office of Radio Free Europe, as a mouthpiece of American official policy, promotes its colonial aims using means unsuited to principles of objective reporting.... [Radio Free Europe tries to] influence the Yugoslav public by using dirty propaganda with the aim of realizing these aims," Matic claimed.

Noting that RFE/RL has had to deal with such efforts at intimidation in the past from other governments, Dine said that the station, working together with the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, will continue to report the truth about the Milosevic regime. "Both Yugoslav journalists and the Yugoslav people know the value of our work," Dine argued. "We will not let them down."

In a response to Matic, Pejic wrote that he is disappointed in the government's decision. He added: "It is strange that the Radio Free Europe is the only foreign radio station that has restrictions on reporting from Yugoslavia." (Patrick Moore)

Hope For Fighting Corruption In Bosnia? Bosnia went from three-and-a-half years of war to a society nominally at peace but in reality riddled with crime and corruption-- which can be nearly as destructive. A recent report by the U.S. Congress said the root cause is a lack of will by Bosnia's political leaders. But an official of the administration of President Bill Clinton said the American government is now addressing these problems. RFE/RL's correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports from Washington on the debate.

On 7 July, the General Accounting Office (GAO)--which conducts investigations for the U.S. Congress--issued a report calling corruption and crime rampant in Bosnia. On 19 July, the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives--the lower house of Congress--held a hearing to explore the report's findings.

Harold Johnson is the GAO's associate director of international relations and trade, who directed the preparation of the report. He told the Committee that the three major nationalist political parties--the SDS, SDA, and HDZ--are the source of the country's lawlessness: "Bosnia's nationalistic political parties continue to control all aspects of the government, the judiciary, and the economy. Thus they maintain the personal and financial power over their members and authoritarian control over the country."

Johnson said underground networks that were formed during the war have become smuggling enterprises for goods ranging from narcotics to prostitutes. And now, he says, Bosnia's political leaders have "little incentive" to fight corruption because that would reduce their own power.

The GAO official cited several initiatives by the U.S. and the EU to improve law enforcement in Bosnia, but said they have accomplished little because of a lack of will on the part of the country's leaders: "These and other efforts have had only minimal impact on the problem, partly because high-level Bosnian officials have not demonstrated a sufficient commitment to fighting crime and corruption."

Johnson argued that one of the most important ways to invigorate any transitional economy--especially one that has recently been through a war--is to attract foreign investment. But the GAO official said investors--particularly banks--are reluctant to commit large amounts of cash to a country where corruption is the normal way of doing business.

Accompanying Johnson was another GAO official who worked on the report, David Bruno. He said that until Bosnia gets crime and corruption under control, the country will remain dependent on the aid of foreign governments: "Large-scale foreign investment is unlikely. As we mentioned in our report, corruption is one of the main reasons why investment--foreign investment and even domestic investment--by private entrepreneurs hasn't accelerated and, in fact, taken the place of assistance."

James Pardew is the special adviser to President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on democracy in the Balkans. He appeared at the hearing to give the Clinton administration's response to the report.

Pardew, an official with the State Department, conceded that much of the GAO's report is accurate. But he said it does not consider the administration's planning for the future. He stressed that America's first priority after three-and-a-half years of war has been to rebuild the country. Now, he said, the administration is turning its attention to helping restore Bosnia's political, economic and law-enforcement infrastructures: "Fighting corruption and crime requires action in two general areas. The first is reform of the political and economic structure. The second is establishing the rule of law with effective enforcement. Bosnia must achieve major progress in both of these areas if it is to counter current levels of corruption and crime."

And Pardew said there are now politicians in the country who are prepared to work toward that goal: "There are, however, democratic, reform-minded leaders in Bosnia, and we want to work with them. And our message to the people of Bosnia in the run-up to the parliamentary elections this November is that they deserve--they often deserve--better and should use the elections in November as an opportunity for change."

Pardew recited a long list of programs that the U.S. and European countries have initiated, particularly those designed to strengthen Bosnia's judiciary and police. They include carefully screening candidates for judgeships and removing judicial nominations from the control of ethnically-based political parties. As for the police, Pardew said there are programs for training officers and making sure they are properly paid so they are less inclined to take bribes.

The GAO report made a point of saying that very little assistance from foreign governments has actually disappeared, despite Bosnian corruption and only nominal oversight by allied governments. It did, however, cite the loss of about $900,000 in operating funds for the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. Still, it conceded that this was a very small proportion of the $1 billion that the American government has spent on Bosnia since 1995. And at the close of the hearing, Pardew said that because the money was lost due to a bank failure, he believes that the full amount can be recovered.

Meanwhile, stay tuned--because the debate is certain to continue. (Andrew F. Tully)

Albania's Pre-Election Building Race. District Councils throughout Albania have started issuing unusually large numbers of building permits in the runup to the local elections scheduled for fall, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 19 July. The daily added that most of the councils involved are controlled by the opposition Democratic Party, which apparently fears losing the vote and thus the possibility of issuing permits later.

The high number of building permits issued would usually not cause problems, but since the end of communism the appearance of Albanian cities has suffered severely from unlicensed construction and a lack of systematic urban planning. Moreover, in numerous cases local authorities have issued construction permits in violation of the existing construction laws.

Some observers suggest, in fact, that the District and City Councils issued the most recent building permits without any proper review of the individual cases. The practice, furthermore, indicates that Albania's political system is still heavily influenced by patronage networks and favoritism.

In Tirana alone, the City Council met on a weekly basis over the last three months and issued up to 150 new construction permits at each session. The daily observed that previously the council had met barely once a month.

The practice caught public attention when Socialist deputies boycotted the City Council in mid-July, thus preventing the necessary quorum. Before the session, the Tirana building authorities had presented 140 new draft construction permits for approval. Mayor Albert Brojka criticized the boycott as undemocratic, saying that "one can come and vote against, but not boycott a meeting."

Two other cities that have issued 140 and 160 building permits, respectively in recent weeks are Pogradec on Lake Ohrid and the "museum city" of Gjirokastra in the south. Both towns are among Albania's main tourist attractions, although many hotels and public buildings in Pogradec were vandalized during the 1997 anarchy.

Prime Minister Ilir Meta, who also chairs the National Council for Territorial Regulation, on 17 July ordered the creation of a task force to audit and check construction licenses issued throughout Albania. He stressed that the massive licensing of new construction is "irresponsible" and that "It is time to stop this."

He also ruled that specialists from the National Council for Territorial Regulation will attend the meetings of the regional authorities and will have a right to veto construction projects that fall short of safety standards. Meta furthermore urged local authorities to complete the zoning of cities to designate areas for future construction and to better control urban development.

The head of the national electricity company, Farudin Hoxha, supported Meta's actions, saying that "most construction currently underway does not meet security and urban planning standards." And an unnamed specialist at the Ministry of Public Works stressed that "it is better to start containing it now�.[because] It is [comparatively] hard to destroy a high-rise building that has cost millions of dollars in investments."

One case last week in Tirana illustrates the possible consequences of uncontrolled licensing. The pre-communist-era owner of some land just in front of the well-known Piazza Restaurant across from the National Museum had lobbied for a construction permit to build an eight-storey building there. The construction would have come right in the middle of what is now an open public space with a small park just off central Skanderbeg Square. An architectural ensemble of other communist-era buildings surrounds it, and the construction would have destroyed the unity of the complex. In the end, Meta put a stop to the planned construction. (Fabian Schmidt)

Bulgaria Wants To Host Balkan Media Academy. Nikola Karadimov, Bulgaria's coordinator for the Stability Pact, told journalists on 19 July that his country proposes setting up a Balkan Media Academy in Sofia to operate under the aegis of the pact. Karadimov, who spoke ahead of a visit to Sofia by Stability Pact Coordinator Bodo Hombach, said the academy would help train journalists to work for independent media in the region. (Michael Shafir)

Quotations Of The Week. "Until these crimes are solved and perpetrators punished, we cannot speak of the rule of law in Croatia." -- Zarko Puhovski of the local branch of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee in the central regions of Banija and Kordun. He was referring to some 267 ethnic Serbian civilians who were killed or "disappeared" during or after the 1995 Croatian offensive in the area. The total comes to over 650 if one includes victims from the Knin area, whom Puhovski's group reported on in 1999. Quoted by AP on 20 July.

"One can see clearly that Serbian political structures in northern [Kosovska] Mitrovica are resisting with all possible means those who want a political, step-by-step approach to resolve the Mitrovica issue and to create genuine democratic structures in Kosova. It seems, however, that this [has not affected the behavior of] the leadership of the UN mission. This sort of UN passivity can be less understood and justified with each passing day." -- Blerim Shala in his daily "Zeri" on 20 July. Shala is one of Kosova's most prominent publishers and was an independent member of the Rambouillet delegation in 1999.