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Balkan Report: August 11, 2000

11 August 2000, Volume 4, Number 60

A Little Help From His Friends. Slobodan Milosevic seems set to win the 24 September Yugoslav presidential vote. The key to his impending triumph is likely to be his most important strategic ally, Vuk Draskovic.

Leaders of Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) voted on 6 August to nominate Belgrade Mayor Vojislav Mihajlovic to run against Milosevic. This puts an end to hopes that the entire opposition could unite behind a single candidate, who could then go on to defeat Milosevic despite the Montenegrin leadership's decision to boycott the vote (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 August 2000). Polls suggest that the opposition has a good chance of beating Milosevic only if it unites behind a single candidate, especially if that candidate is the nationalist opposition politician Vojislav Kostunica.

Draskovic's foreign policy spokesman, Predrag Simic, told the BBC's Serbian Service that the opposition as a whole will nonetheless benefit by Mihajlovic's candidacy. Simic argued that Mihajlovic will enable the opposition to reach out to people whom it otherwise might not attract. Observers note that this is perhaps the frankest admission to date by a top SPO official of the ideological closeness between that party and Milosevic. Both advocate a nationalistic hard-line in Kosova and toward Serbia's neighbors, and blame "NATO bombs" for many of Serbia's problems that actually stem from years of mismanagement.

Draskovic himself defended the choice of Mihajlovic over the united opposition's Kostunica--but by saying that Kostunica "frightens many citizens of Serbia, because his policies are in fact the same as those of Slobodan Milosevic." Draskovic then praised Mihajlovic as the "best possible choice" and said that he hopes that all of the opposition parties will still unite around him, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.

Observers note, however, that Mihajlovic has several problems in appealing for support. First, he is the grandson of World War II royalist chetnik leader Draza Mihajlovic, whom many Yugoslavs regard as a pro-Nazi collaborator. Second, the younger Mihajlovic's Belgrade city administration is widely seen as ineffective and corrupt. And third, he is little known. One leading Serbian pollster told the "Financial Times" of 7 August that "he's so low down in the SPO hierarchy that he hasn't registered in our opinion surveys."

Several opposition spokesmen were incensed at Draskovic's move, which they feel will play into Milosevic's hands. In Belgrade on 6 August, representatives of several opposition parties issued a statement saying that "this time it is clear who works for whom," referring to Draskovic's one-time stint as a Yugoslav deputy prime minister under Milosevic, AP reported.

On 7 August, the 15 united opposition parties nominated Kostunica and appealed to Draskovic to join them. The SPO leader told reporters, however, that he will not reply to the request--because he did not like "the tone" of the message.

Kostunica himself said that "the so-called opposition" SPO's decision to run Mihajlovic "makes it more difficult for us, but it also makes [the SPO's] future more difficult" by underscoring strategic links between the SPO and the regime. Kostunica added that the nomination of presidential candidates by the SPO and by Vojislav Seselj's Radicals are an "attempt [to reduce the chances] that the united opposition's candidate will enter the second round of voting." As Vienna's "Die Presse" put it in describing the significance of Draskovic's move for Milosevic: "With enemies like this, who needs friends?" (Patrick Moore)

Albanian Army Shores Up Montenegrin Border Defense. The Albanian army has begun to reinforce its troops at the northern border with Montenegro, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 8 August. The move is designed to prepare for possible emergencies in the case of tensions or conflicts between forces loyal to Milosevic and those backing Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic.

Albanian President Rexhep Meidani urged Defense Minister Ilir Gjoni recently to prepare the army for such scenarios. Chief-of-Staff General Aleks Andoni pledged to send more recruits to the Shkodra garrison. Andoni stressed that there is no increased level of alert, however. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Democrats And Allies Name Joint Candidates. Democratic Party (PD) spokesman Edi Paloka told "Shekulli" of 8 August that the parties in the opposition Union for Democracy the previous day signed a coalition agreement for the October local elections. The agreement envisages that the PD and the smaller coalition parties will name joint candidates for mayors of municipalities and communities.

The parties, however, have not yet allotted posts among themselves. The PD's coalition allies include the monarchist Legality Movement, the Liberal- and Christian Democratic parties, and the National Front (Balli Kombetar).

In other news, Klement Zguri, a member of the Central Election Commission (KQZ), told "Shekulli" that "even though the KQZ was set up some time ago, its working structure is not yet clearly defined and some of its leading positions have not been filled." So far, the KQZ has no permanent staff or secretary. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Anti-Corruption Unit Charges 23 Police Employees. Investigators have charged 23 high�ranking police officers in Gjirokastra, Permet, and Tepelena with the misuse of funds, "Koha Jone" reported on 8 August. The policemen--including former department chiefs and logistics officers--face fines or other disciplinary measures, Interior Minister Spartak Poci said.

In other news, "Shekulli" reported on 8 August that investigators in Tirana have recently arrested a driver and a high-ranking police official in an elite anti-terrorism unit. Both men are accused of forging passports.

Police investigators had suspected the two for the past three months but only now have been able to provide evidence against them. Law enforcement officers have also begun investigations into other police departments in which individuals are suspected of forging documents. Police at Tirana airport have arrested twelve people with forged passports or visas since the beginning of March. (Fabian Schmidt)

EIB Specialists Monitor Albanian Road Construction. A group of experts from the European Investment Bank (EIB) arrived in Tirana on 6 August to monitor the ongoing construction of several EIB-financed road segments. Officials from the General Department of Roads told "Koha Jone" that the specialists will audit the financing and paper work for the construction, as well as inspect the sites. In several recent cases, Albanian officials have complained that some foreign contractors failed to meet their construction deadlines, causing significant delays.

EIB experts have repeatedly visited Albania to observe the road construction, but the arrival of the latest expert group marks the first thorough investigation. It follows a visit by Prime Minister Ilir Meta in Brussels last month, when he expressed concern over the slow pace and low quality of some construction work. In one recent case a Greek company had to repave the road from Durres to Rrogozhina after the initial paving proved faulty.

Observers note, however, that the ongoing road construction by a Macedonian company between Librazhd and Qukes is moving ahead quickly. This example shows that some Eastern European countries are in a good position to help Albania with its development needs. (Fabian Schmidt)

Croatia: How To Catch Up In The IT-Revolution? (Part 2.) (Part I appeared on 4 August.) One of the many problems facing Croatia is catching up in the IT revolution. Without an IT infrastructure, it will obviously be impossible to prosper in the so-called New Economy.

The example of Germany shows that venture capital transactions can have a positive effect on small start-up companies, many of which can then reach an important size. Tax breaks and setting up high-tech centers on the outskirts of big cities were but some of the policies used to promote small companies and to keep global players in Germany (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 August 2000).

For Croatia, it will be more difficult to find private "business angels" who are ready to invest domestically. Because foreign investors usually look for safety first, the rule of law has to be strengthened before big money will come in from abroad. Croatia's currency, the kuna, is still overvalued. The banking system is stabilizing only very slowly.

These factors are some of the side effects of the incipient transition process that never really took off thanks to the war and the following years of political stagnation. These basic problems must now be dealt with as a prerequisite to launching a successful IT infrastructure. A stable economy will also help stop the ongoing brain-drain of Croatian computer specialists, who are still finding much better job opportunities in Western Europe or in the U.S. than at home.

President Stipe Mesic is committed to pulling Croatia out of its rut and making economic progress. In comparison to his predecessor Franjo Tudjman, he is well aware of the opportunities that await Croatia if it catches up in the IT revolution. He realizes that the internet offers great potential for the growth of individual companies and of the economy as a whole.

Who are the key players in the project to catch up with the IT world? Mesic's advisor for IT questions and the director of Microsoft Croatia, Goran Radman, is one of them. In communist times, Radman was the leader of the political youth organization. The highlight of his communist-era career was as director of HTV (Croatian Television), but he moved to the IT business after Tudjman came to power and put his own people in at HTV. Eventually, Radman became director of Microsoft Croatia.

But as a professional in the business and with numerous international contacts and an excellent ability to communicate, Radman's return to politics was only a question of time. After Mesic became president at the beginning of 2000, Radman's knowledge and consulting talents turned into political capital.

It proved to his credit that Radman was not one of the former communists who changed political colors immediately after Tudjman's victory in the first democratic elections. He had never joined the HDZ, and stayed out of political life. Consequently, he was not involved in any of the financial scandals during or stemming from Tudjman's reign.

Today, Radman is close to Mesic's People's Party (HNS), for which he deals with long-term strategic planning. This is a special challenge because HNS has risen in a short time from near insignificance to a healthy place in the polls, often among the top three parties. Some analysts see the liberally-oriented People's Party as headed for even better things. This could be possible if Prime Minister Ivica Racan's Social Democrats fail to deliver on their promises to transform the economy and raise the standard of living.

Another important personality for building up the IT infrastructure is Professor Velimir Srica. "Jutarnji list" reported on 4 April that he is actually in charge of long-term planning of IT development. Srica is an economist who studied at Columbia University in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he was a guest professor in Beijing and at Florida State University. In 1985, he became director of the Institute of Information Science of Croatia. From 1986 to 1990, he was Croatian minister of Science, Technology, and Information Science. Srica combines management skills with his expert knowledge in computer science. He was the founder and first president of the Society for Developing Informatic Literacy.

In short, Mesic knows that Croatia's future lies with IT and the internet. This is just one more front on which he has broken with the regime of his predecessor. It now remains to be seen how long it will take for the new IT policies to bear fruit. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer based in Munich.

Quotations Of The Week. "Mr. Milosevic is the only person who will benefit from Mr. Draskovic's decision" to run his own presidential candidate. -- Balkan expert Misha Glenny in London's "The Times" of 8 August.

"The terror from the regime is worse than that from the Albanians." -- Moderate Kosova Serb leader Father Sava Janjic, commenting on reported assassination threats from Belgrade against members of his Serbian Civic Council. Quoted by AP on 6 August.

"We have a legal system in the country, which will be fully respected." -- Belgrade representative in London Rade Drobac, in response to British protests over the arrest of two Britons and two Canadians by the Yugoslav army for "terrorism." Quoted by Reuters on 8 August.

"Moscow has little interest in resolving the West's dilemmas with Belgrade." -- The "Financial Times" of 9 August, commenting on British appeals to Russia to help free the captives.