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Balkan Report: September 29, 2000

29 September 2000, Volume 4, Number 72

What Next In Serbia? Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic insists on a second round in the presidential vote, while the opposition demands that Vojislav Kostunica's victory be recognized. This standoff is unlikely to continue, but what the unpredictable Milosevic will do is anyone's guess.

Milosevic has made a gross miscalculation. He apparently thought he could stage a presidential vote on 24 September and win a new term of office because the opposition would remain divided. To his surprise and that of many other people, the opposition has remained united. The opposition leaders who did not join the united Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) now find themselves marginalized, while Kostunica has become the standard-bearer of all important political forces opposed to Milosevic.

Perhaps the dictator is hoping that he can buy time by insisting on a second round on 8 October. But to what purpose? Does he think that the opposition, which now senses victory, will fall apart in such a short space of time? Might he think that, with an additional two weeks to prepare, he can steal the run-off vote?

There are other, less savory scenarios, however, for what Milosevic might try to do with extra time. One is that he might stage an incident in Montenegro or in Serbia that would give him the excuse to declare a state of emergency and annul the election or indefinitely postpone the second round. A similar scenario suggests that he might seek a pretext for a full-fledged conflict in Montenegro, thereby provoking the fifth and potentially bloodiest Balkan war of his career.

A key factor in these scenarios is the loyalty of the army and the police. Milosevic appears to command the allegiance of the top military commanders--whom he appointed. But middle-level officers may be asking themselves whether Milosevic will still be their boss in a few months' time and what such prospects mean for what they should be doing now. The conscript soldiers, according to most experts, are unlikely to obey orders from a defeated dictator to fire on their own people.

This leads to the important question of the police. Milosevic created them as his praetorian guard because he does not trust the army. The police have equipment that is similar to that of an army rather than a police force and are, by all accounts, pampered. But some of them, too, might be asking whether Milosevic will be their commander much longer, and if it is therefore wise to throw one's lot in with him now. Perhaps the most politically interesting photo to emerge from Serbia in some time is one published in "Vesti" on 26 September, which showed two uniformed riot police laughing and joking with a young female opposition supporter. Such a photo would have been difficult if not impossible to imagine just a short time ago.

Meanwhile, calls for Milosevic to respect the election results and to go quietly have come from many leaders in the Balkans and the West. Russia has appealed to all Serbs to "respect the law" and show restraint.

The prospect of an armed conflict nonetheless remains, including one that could involve outside forces. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov hinted darkly on 27 September that "it is important not to allow destabilization of the situation, which would play into the hands only of those powers that are not interested in preserving a single Yugoslavia and restoring its place in the world arena."

One can only guess at which "powers" he has in mind. Whatever the case, British Foreign Minister Robin Cook has warned Milosevic "that there is a very substantial [foreign military] capacity in the region." Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu was even more blunt: "If there is a crisis, there will be an intervention in the same way there was a NATO intervention in Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina in defense of UN values. But I hope this will not happen." He made his remarks in Koren, Bulgaria, on 27 September.

For now, Milosevic-watchers will be trying to guess the unpredictable dictator's next moves. As an indicted war criminal, the only place to which he could in theory flee abroad would be to a rogue state. Some politicians who know him well--such as Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic--have suggested that Milosevic will resort to violence rather than give up power. Former NATO commander General Wesley Clark recently suggested that Milosevic will leave the political scene only in the same bloody fashion as Romania's Nicolae Ceausescu did. Local people frequently point out that both of Milosevic's parents committed suicide and that his wife is believed to have attempted suicide on more than one occasion. (Patrick Moore)

Crown Prince Aleksandar Hails Opposition Victory. Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, who is the claimant to the Serbian and Yugoslav thrones, issued the following statement in London on 25 September:

"I extend my warmest congratulations to Dr. Vojislav Kostunica and the Democratic Opposition of Serbia for having won the presidential, parliamentary, and local elections against all the odds The people have convincingly expressed the desire for change and for democracy.

"I call upon Mr. Slobodan Milosevic to honor the will of the people who opted for change and not to prolong the agony of the nation. I call upon Mr. Slobodan Milosevic to immediately and without delay hand over the presidency to Dr. Vojislav Kostunica and order his regime to relinquish power in a respectable and orderly manner.

"I appeal to all the people of Serbia and Montenegro to put aside their differences and unite for the good of the nation regardless of their political background. I ask that the Armed Forces fully respect and protect all citizens, and defend the demand for change.

"There must be no revenge or conflict. All citizens must be vigilant, remain calm and not be provoked. I request that the Democratic Opposition of Serbia work hard in doing everything possible to bridge the differences between all parties and set the course towards democratic reforms as soon as possible.

"There must be no delay in getting on with the job of putting the people�s welfare and future first. The task is a big one. It can and must be done," the crown prince concluded. (Patrick Moore)

Kosova Voter Registration A Non-Starter? An OSCE official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told "Koha Ditore" of 22 September that the multipurpose civilian registration in Kosova has been marred by serious technical irregularities. The official said that the mistakes were so numerous and grave that "it is impossible to repair the data base. The only way to correct this is to repeat the entire civilian registration process from the beginning." The report comes just one month before local elections in Kosova, which are scheduled for 28 October 2000.

The daily quoted the OSCE source as saying that "at this moment, we neither know whether a particular person on the street has been registered, not can we guarantee that any of the 5,500 political candidates [in the elections] has been registered."

Every citizen of Kosova who applied for civilian registration had to fill out a form by hand, include a picture, and give his or her finger-prints. Every applicant then received a blue registration card, certifying that he or she applied for registration. This does not mean, however, that the person holding the registration card has indeed been registered.

The basis for the registration are the registration forms, which were to be scanned and verified on an individual basis. Initially the OSCE had planned that only those people would be allowed to vote who had indeed concluded their full registration process. Now, however, it plans to allow every holder of a registration card who is over 18 to vote even if the person's registration has not yet been completely verified.

This will enable the OSCE to hold the elections despite the technical difficulties with the central register. Voters whose names do not appear on the voters' lists will now be allowed to vote, but the election officials will collect these votes separately pending verification of the respective voters' registration.

But the central register will also become the basis for equipping citizens with identification and travel documents, which will not be possible very soon. About 900,000 people--including many minors--have applied for registration and have preliminary registration cards, but only about 500,000 people have been fully registered to date, according to "Koha Ditore's" source. Of these, about 350,000 people will eventually have the right to vote, which means all those over 18 years of age.

OSCE spokesman Roland Bless had earlier acknowledged that technical problems occurred during the registration process. He estimated, however, that mistakes on the voters lists will affect only about 5 percent of the total number of registered voters. He also stressed that the OSCE has kept all of the initial registration forms in a "safe place" and is able to use these to check individual cases and complaints.

"Koha Ditore" reported, however, that, up to 40 percent of the data may be useless. This is at least partly because the applicants filling out the registration forms and officials feeding the information into the central data base often misspelled first and last names of many individuals, which makes it impossible to identify the individuals correctly.

These mistakes were aggravated by problems in scanning the registration forms. Since the forms have a blue background color and the applicants filled them out by hand with blue or black pencils, the scanners failed to read the text correctly. There were cases in which the computer recognized numbers and other signs as names or simply misspelled the names. Furthermore, the central data base failed to list together the names of the heads of the family, spouses, and dependents.

Another problem stemmed from the use of mobile registration centers. Because these centers moved about from community to community, there was considerable confusion about the place for which citizens applied for registration. As a result, there are some communities in which no single citizen has registered, and others that have twice the expected number of citizens.

Finally, the data base was to be compiled centrally in India, but some of the ZIP drives and CDs holding the data were lost in the mail. An OSCE official told "Koha Ditore," however: "I do not believe that the data of more than 50,000 to 60,000 applicants has been lost" in the process.

"Koha Ditore" quoted an UNMIK official as saying that the registration has become "a nightmare that international officials have hidden from local political leaders--and in many cases also from themselves." (Fabian Schmidt)

Croatia After The Dragnet. In mid-September, Croatian security forces arrested dozens of people suspected of atrocities during the 1991-1995 conflict in Croatia and the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2000). In conjunction with the killings of Serb civilians in 1991 and the recent murder of Croatian war crimes witness Milan Levar, former political emigrant Tihomir Oreskovic and four other suspects were also detained (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2000). What effects did the arrests have on the domestic political landscape of Croatia?

Though Prime Minister Ivica Racan said shortly after the jailing of five people--the so-called Gospic group--that he does not believe "that any sane person would protest...the arrest of war criminals," a wave of protest organized by veterans' organizations swept the country. In Gospic, protest marches were held, and in many cities so-called "staffs for the protection of dignity of the war of independence" were founded.

In Split, some 12,000 people signed a petition of the local staff. It called for an immediate debate in the Croatian parliament about the recent arrests. Other demands were, for instance, the stop of further arrests and the introduction of a new policy towards The Hague (see "Slobodna Dalmacija," 19 September 2000). Previously, the veterans' organizations were not willing to recognize the authority of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal in conjunction with the war of independence in 1991 and the 1995 operations against Serbian rebels in Croatia.

Many Croatian former soldiers now feel discriminated against and even disgraced. Some parts of Croatian society even see the danger of a politically-motivated, overall "criminalization" of the war of independence--which was treated with near-religious respect under the late President Franjo Tudjman and is generally regarded in Croatia as a war of self-defense.

Journalism is only one mirror of the ongoing controversy. On the one hand, people like Gojko Boric, the well-known columnist of "Slobodna Dalmacija," see the war of independence criminalized by politicians and other journalists. Boric wrote that some politicians of the ruling coalition are too aggressive in their rhetoric towards the strongest opposition party, the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Community), which held power until the start of this year. He even argued that civil war could break out if the "offensive of the descendants of communist Partisans" goes on (see "Slobodna Dalmacija," 23 September 2000).

But on the other hand, Davor Butkovic of "Globus" views the arrests as the biggest success of President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Racan. After ending Croatia's international isolation earlier this year, it was necessary to enforce the rule of law, catch suspected war criminals, and continue with the success story--this time in domestic politics (see "Globus," 22 September 2000).

The political parties, for their part, also reacted in very different ways to the arrests and the subsequent protests of the war veterans. The HDZ recalled the crimes of the Serbian warlords between 1991 and 1995. The party pointed out that 1,400 Croats are still missing from the war of independence. "The new government has not done anything until now" to solve this problem of the missing persons, said Ivo Sanader, the head of the post-Tudjman HDZ.

The hardcore nationalist Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP) supports the HDZ and the veterans' organizations on this issue. Together they are working to mobilize support for the view that the government is criminalizing the war of independence for political reasons.

Racan and Mesic have frequently said that this is not their aim. Mesic argued that the protests in the wake of the arrests are based on a misunderstanding because "people who defend the dignity of the Croatian war of independence today should defend the institutions of this state, too" (see "Slobodna Dalmacija," 16 September 2000). This statement did not impress Sanader. Like people from the veterans' organizations, he said that Racan should resign if the government is unable to solve the case of Levar's murder as soon as possible (see "Slobodna Dalmacija," 19 September 2000).

The arrests did not only mobilize the political right but also led to divisions within the governing coalition itself. Zdravko Tomac, who is vice president of the parliament and a leading figure of the strongest party, the Social Democrats (SDP), said: "From the beginning I was always against responding to one crime with a new crime, but I am [especially] against individual crimes on the Croatian side being equated with the Greater Serbian aggression that was planned as genocide" (see "Vecernji list," 15 September 2000). The SDP is against the demands of the veterans' organizations, but it was Tomac who visited a meeting of war veterans in Vinkovci and talked to the people there. The veterans told him that most of them reject civil disobedience; they just want the government to stop treating them as "informal groups or enemies." Tomac said that he fears the emergence of a divided society with an extreme left on the one side and an extreme right on the other. He thinks that Racan will find a solution for the question of the veterans, but, if the SDP does not follow the path of "modern Social Democracy," Tomac said that he is ready to leave the party (see "Slobodna Dalmacija," 23 September 2000).

It thus appears that Croatia is a long way from a consensus on the issue of the arrests. This lack of consensus on a key issue could endanger the building of a civil society. An opinion poll from 1997 supports this thesis and becomes more relevant now. The agency Metron asked 300 Croats in 70 cities and villages about their opinion on war crimes. Some 59.3 percent of the people interviewed said it is impossible to commit war crimes in a war of defense of one's own territory (see "Tjednik," September 1997).

Bearing these results in mind, the problem of obtaining a national consensus seems not to be a question of tolerating objective differences but rather a question of what constitutes a crime. For example, "Jutarnji list" reported on 23 September that the Croatian Roman Catholic bishops condemn war crimes, but call for each of such crimes "to be examined in its own context." Mesic, who wants all war criminals to be punished, told the bishops to mind their own business.

Recent polls suggest that the majority of the population supports the latest arrests. Some veterans groups, moreover, have distanced themselves from some of the more hard-line organizations. It nonetheless seems clear that there will have to be a broad public discussion of the issues involved. The alternative is the possible emergence of new, deep internal divisions on the model of the rift between communists and nationalists in the various parts of the former Yugoslavia in the decades after World War II. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer and a junior consultant for business communication.

Quotations Of The Week. "From our information, the electoral procedure took place smoothly, without any cause to question [the outcome of] the results." -- Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppa. Former Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias was in Serbia as an observer. Quoted by Reuters from Athens on 25 September.

"There were massive irregularities and reports of fraud of just about every size, shape, and color. Nonetheless, it's also quite clear that the democratically committed forces of the opposition appear to be on their way to a convincing victory. Things have changed in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav people have had a chance to stand up and say what they want...and it's clear they have overwhelmingly chosen the path of democracy and reintegration into Europe." -- State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. Quoted by Reuters from Washington on 25 September.

"What can I say? We've won." -- Ivan Markovic, spokesman for Mira Markovic's JUL. Quoted by Reuters from Belgrade on 25 September.

"Let us not fool ourselves. Dictators are never removed through elections. Unfortunately, but most likely, even after this election, Milosevic will still be there, one way or another." -- Lord Russell Johnston, who heads the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly. Quoted by Reuters from Strasbourg on 25 September.

"Western powers'--primarily the U.S.--policy of sanctions against Serbia...enabled Milosevic's authoritarian regime to stay on. It has thrived on isolation.... The West, primarily Washington, effectively created a cult of Slobodan Milosevic, both when commending him and when criticizing him. The international community, the United States, saw only Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia." -- Vojislav Kostunica on Serbia's "return to the world." Quoted by AP from Belgrade on 25 September.

"Finally, we are free. We can start breathing like normal people. Smiles are back, the pressure is gone, we are flying!" -- University student Milica Danilovic (22). Quoted by AP from Belgrade on 26 September.