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Balkan Report: August 8, 2000

8 August 2000, Volume 4, Number 59

The Silly Season Comes To Serbia. It's known in different places by different names: the silly season, the pickle season, the summer hole, or whatever. They all refer to the same thing, namely the period in mid-summer when news generally gets thin and journalists are hard-pressed to come up with copy.

But once again, as so often in the past decade and a half, Slobodan Milosevic and his regime have come to the beleaguered journalists' rescue. Within about one week, the Belgrade regime has managed to uncover not one but two terrorist infiltrations, the first by four Dutch citizens, and the second by two Britons and two Canadians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 4 August 2000). The men carried guide books, pocket knives, and other suspicious gear. The Dutch planned to kill Milosevic or smuggle him out in a ski box, we are told. The Britons were using their cover as UNMIK police instructors in Kosova to train Montenegrin police for a civil war against the Yugoslav Army, Belgrade maintains.

Heady summer reading this. And given the fertile imaginations in Information Minister Goran Matic's propaganda department, it is likely to be only the beginning in a series of revelations leading up to the 24 September elections. After all, a steady stream of anti-Western stories can only help to convince wavering voters that the country faces a diabolical threat and that only Milosevic and his watchful lieutenants can protect them.

The wicked foreigners--the voters are being told--are aided and abetted by the fifth column in the Podgorica leadership. And if the watchful moves made by the Army and security forces in arresting foreigners only serve to wrong-foot the Montenegrin officials and embarrass them in Western eyes, so much the better.

But there might be more sinister motives at hand. The elections are a good six weeks away. If the regime believes that the U.S. is too concerned with its own elections to pay attention to what is going on in and around Serbia and Montenegro, Milosevic just might be tempted to provide the journalists with a much more serious story than the ones that Matic and his staff have been serving up so far. U.S. General Wesley Clark's recent warnings that the West should prepare now for any eventuality in Montenegro may have come just in time. (Patrick Moore)

The Serbian Opposition And Its Dilemmas. Serbia's opposition parties have some difficult decisions to make, now that federal presidential and parliamentary elections are set for 24 September. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports that the opposition remains uncertain over how to proceed.

Public opinion polls suggest that if Serbian opposition parties were to campaign on a joint list, they would trounce Milosevic's ruling coalition.

But that is unlikely to happen, thanks largely to the main opposition party, Vuk Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO). According to statements by several SPO leaders last week, the SPO is using Montenegro's intention to ignore the vote as an opportunity to boycott the polls itself.

SPO representative Tomislav Jeremic explains his party's reasoning. He says that holding "federal" elections only in the Serbian part of Yugoslavia (without Montenegro) would be a contradiction in terms: "The federal [parliamentary] elections and the elections for president of Yugoslavia are only possible if both federal units participate. Without Montenegro's participation, it can be nothing but a farce, a base provocation, and [lead to] the break-up of the union of Serbia and Montenegro, with tragic consequences."

Montenegrin leaders have effectively ruled out participating in the polls in order to protest recent constitutional changes that severely diminish Montenegro's share of power in federal bodies (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 August 2000).

A top adviser to President Milo Djukanovic, Miodrag Vukovic, tells RFE/RL that Montenegro does not recognize the legitimacy or legality of the changes providing for the early elections and giving Milosevic the opportunity to run for up to two more four-year terms. Vukovic says the Montenegrin government will continue to work for a peaceful political and economic emancipation of Montenegro from Belgrade.

Draskovic's opposition rival, the Democratic Party's Zoran Djindjic, however, says he is still hopes that the SPO will come around to supporting a common opposition candidate--even if that candidate is Draskovic: "If Mr. Draskovic were to express the desire to run on our [joint opposition] list, I'm sure he'd get our support as, according to public opinion [polls], he has a chance of beating Milosevic. He'd have the support of all the others without any reservation."

Djindjic's concern that the opposition will be finished if it doesn't stand in the vote are seconded by another opposition leader, Democratic Party of Serbia head Vojislav Kostunica. Kostunica issued a statement in Belgrade on 28 July warning that without a united opposition, the opposition and country will, in his word, "perish."

Kostunica says the changes to the constitution and electoral laws presaged the announcement of early elections. He also says the recent discovery by the government of "internal enemies and spies"--as well as increased repression against dissidents and the stifling of private media--are all signs of a likely post-election crackdown in the event Milosevic and his allies win.

A former ally of Milosevic, ex-Constitutional Court Justice Slobodan Vucetic, tells RFE/RL that Milosevic's calling early elections is a political and legal scandal: "He [Milosevic] is threatened from all sides. He is isolated from the world, and unable to manage the economic and social situation in the country. He has turned to [using] aggression, repression, the police and the [official] media. He's called elections at the worst time for his opponents, who are relatively weak."

The Socialist Party of Serbia, meanwhile, has confirmed that Milosevic will run as its presidential candidate in the elections. (Jolyon Naegele)

Albanian Culture Minister To Run For Tirana Mayor. The Socialist Party (PS) wants Edi Rama to be the next mayor of Tirana and nominated him on 1 August as its candidate in the 1 October local elections, "Shekulli" reported. The 35-year-old culture minister accepted the honor but said that he will not join the party.

The Socialists apparently hope that Rama will pose a strong challenge to his competitor from the Democratic Party (PD), which currently runs the city administration. Observers believe that Rama will be able to attract undecided and younger voters, who would not normally vote for the PS.

Traditional PS voters are, of course, likely to vote for Rama out of party loyalty. Former Socialist Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, whom many observers expected to run, quit the race early.

Rama is an artist who became famous as "a rebel, non-conformist, and notorious provocateur against the nerves of those in power," as "Klan" described him on 7 June 1998. As culture minister since 1998, he has made a name for himself with an innovative cultural policy. Rama has tried to involve more private initiative and support unconventional and modern arts, which led the older generation of well-known Albanian artists to suspect him of disregarding traditional national art forms.

Rama--himself the son of a famous socialist-realist sculptor--countered those charges by stressing that he does not want to break with national tradition, but to put an end to an understanding of art shaped by socialist realism. Earlier this year, Rama had to face severe criticism from employees and trade unions of old established cultural institutions, such as the national opera, who went on strike in a dispute over his setting up a new administrative structure for state-financed cultural institutions.

Despite his conflicts with the conservative art establishment, Rama managed to gather support from the PS leadership for his reforms. These were designed to reduce the role of the government in the arts and increase the role of private foundations and similar institutions. One of his main achievements was the opening in 1999 of a new cinema in Tirana, which was jointly financed by the state and private investors. (After the fall of communism, new owners turned all of the city's older cinemas into bingo parlors and other kinds of establishments.)

In an Interview published by the "Albanian Daily News" of 3 August, Rama explained why he wants to run for mayor: "There is an urgent need to make drastic changes in Tirana, which is now in dire straits.... This is an obligation and moral responsibility.... I have the civic duty to make my maximum possible contribution to repair what has been destroyed over many years."

Rama stressed that the main challenges are the upgrading of the city's pitiful water and power systems, roads, and other infrastructure. He warned, however, that "drastic and immediate change" is necessary to bring the city out of its decline. And he appealed to all citizens to stop political infighting and help in the reconstruction: "I would say that the capital's population has already understood and is aware that any change requires work and sacrifice. The time of words and demagogy is over. Now is the time to roll up our sleeves and reconstruct the capital according to contemporary standards."

Rama's strongest competitor from within the PS was Taulant Dedja, the current prefect of Tirana, who was appointed by the national Ministry for Local Government. Despite his defeat for the nomination by a party outsider, Dedja told "Shekulli" of 3 August that Rama's nomination was "a responsible decision," and that "the selection of the candidates confirms the high level of democracy within the PS."

Dedja recalled that the parliament recently passed a law on local government that increased the authority of local administrations. To increase the financial independence and competence of the municipalities and communities, his ministry's working group on decentralization is currently preparing legislation on local finances.

This touches on one of the key problems that Tirana faces today. The cities and communities are still dependent on money from the center and therefore not able to substantially chart urban development on their own. Tirana's new mayor and his administration will be able to stand on their own two feet only if they have the right to collect revenues from private use of city property (e.g. for parking lots) and to impose fines in cases of, for example, traffic violations or environmental pollution.

The new mayor will thus need vision, imagination, and a strong will. The opposition Democratic Party has not yet presented its candidate, but it is likely that current Mayor Albert Brojka will run again. The race between the two is likely to be close.

Tirana has been a stronghold of the Democrats since the fall of communism. More conservative voters, including some potential voters of the PS, are likely to prefer Brojka. He is from an older generation and also a more traditional type of a politician than his young and somewhat unpredictable challenger. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "I told [Croatian President Stipe] Mesic that God looks after the Croats. He took away [the late President Franjo] Tudjman but left us [Serbs] with Milosevic." -- Former Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, quoted in "Vreme" of 29 July.

"For the past 10 years the opposition--including me--has fought until we burned ourselves out. We have lost credibility." -- Panic in "Vreme."

"I'm not going to spend all my life in Kosovo. One day I'm going to leave, but certainly not before the end of the year." -- UNMIK chief Bernard Kouchner, quoted by Reuters on 4 August.