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Balkan Report: November 24, 2000

24 November 2000, Volume 4, Number 82

On The Eve Of The Zagreb Summit: Issues In Croatian Foreign Policy. Croatian Deputy Foreign Minister Vesna Cvjetkovic-Kurelec gave an overview of the issues in her country's foreign policy in Munich on 15 November. As is typical of government leaders, she stressed the successes of the new government in its first 10 months in office. She noted that Croatia has joined NATO's Partnership for Peace program and the WTO, and that the OSCE no longer feels it necessary to monitor Croatian domestic developments.

The international community has, in fact, concluded that Croatia "is no longer a part of the problem, but a part of the solution in the region," Cvjetkovic-Kurelec argued. In her view Croatia is now in its "second transition." In its first transition, the country left communism behind. Then in the year 2000, it began to develop a market economy and real democracy after the coalition of the six parties formed a government and Stipe Mesic became president.

The deputy foreign minister added that there are "four milestones" in Croatia's recent history, namely establishing an independent state, liberating the territory occupied by Serbian forces, launching the transition to a market economy, and demonstrating a commitment to democracy.

But the largest part of her speech was dedicated to the future of Croatia's foreign policy. She called the EU summit in Zagreb on 24 November "one of the most important instruments of Croatian foreign policy." It is already a mark of success that this important meeting will take place in Croatia's capital. (She might have added that such a distinction for Croatia would have been unthinkable so long as the late President Franjo Tudjman remained in office.) The government further hopes that official talks between Croatia and the EU will result in a stabilization and association agreement as early as next year, she stressed (see "Slobodna Dalmacija," 16 November 2000).

The Zagreb summit will bring together representatives of the 15 EU states and leaders from Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Yugoslavia (including Montenegro), and Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2000). Voluntary cooperation is the key to prosperity in the region as a whole, Cvjetkovic-Kurelec noted. But she also emphasized that the Croatian government insists that each Southeastern European country be treated on its own merits and granted access to the EU accordingly. She stressed Croatia's important role in the "triangle" of Central Europe, Southeastern Europe, and the Mediterranean. (These remarks should be seen against a background of longstanding Croatian -- and Slovenian -- resentment against being lumped together by the West with their poorer Balkan neighbors.)

She then turned to a dilemma in Croatian foreign policy. On the one hand, everything must be done to establish good relations with Yugoslavia for the sake of political stability in the region. But on the other hand, normalization of relations is only possible if Belgrade cooperates with The Hague as Croatia has already done and pledged to do. Croatian Foreign Minister Tonino Picula said recently that he expects that the Serbian leadership will make a clean break with the policies of former President Slobodan Milosevic at the Zagreb summit, just as Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic previously acknowledged his republic's responsibility for its role in the 1991 conflict.

The question of Croatian-Yugoslav relations is a very sensitive topic for Croatian diplomacy. This is because its foot-dragging would be interpreted as jealousy toward Belgrade for receiving more attention from the international community as of late. Croatia (and others) will be able to demonstrate their support for Serbian democracy at the summit. But the six ruling parties in Croatia also expect Belgrade to show that it has broken with the past and will bring Serbian war criminals to justice.

Turning to Bosnian issues, the deputy foreign minister is concerned about the continuing strong influence of the nationalist parties after the recent legislative elections there. The Croatian government will respect the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as the post-Tudjman authorities have consistently pledged to do. Zagreb also hopes that a normalization between Croatia and Yugoslavia will help stabilize Bosnia, as well as help establish a civil society there.

In an interview for "Balkan Report," Cvjetkovic-Kurelec talked about the next steps toward Croatia's NATO integration. An individual partnership with NATO is Zagreb's goal for the near future. The so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP) is another one. It includes a group of states that are close to the alliance but do not have a firm timetable for membership. Cvjetkovic-Kurelec said that Croatia will demonstrate to NATO that Zagreb is a serious and constructive partner for the Western alliance.

After her speech, Cvjetkovic-Kurelec was asked about her reasons for leaving academic life in favor of a political career. She told her audience of academics, diplomats, Bavarian officials, and businessmen that her decision was influenced by the fact that in Croatia intellectuals cannot achieve much by just commenting on political issues. NGOs are not that effective, either, she added. The only way to influence public policy and participate in politics is to join a political party. In 1990, she chose the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) because it was the first non-communist party in modern Croatia.

Vesna Cvjetkovic-Kurelec was born in Dubrovnik. Her father was once an Olympic athlete. She grew up in Athens and finished high school there. Cvjetkovic-Kurelec then studied in Vienna and Zagreb and holds two doctoral degrees. She subsequently worked as an interpreter, director of the archive of the Croatian National Theater, dramatic advisor, and linguist. She speaks Greek, German, French, and Italian. As a university teacher in Zagreb, she translated Greek literature into Croatian. (Christian Buric is a freelance writer and a consultant for strategic business communication based in Munich

Tough Start For Muslim Returnees In Srpska. This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Dayton peace accords that ended nearly four years of fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Milosevic's wars in Croatia and Bosnia left 200,000 dead and forced two million inhabitants from their homes. In recent months, the displaced have been trickling back and momentum has picked up substantially in some places. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from the west Bosnian border town of Bosanski Novi -- known by Serbs for the last few years as Novi Grad -- where several thousand Muslim returnees are trying to make a new start. Here is his account:

Eight years ago as Serbian nationalist forces fought to consolidate their hold on the lower Una River valley, a convoy of several thousand Muslims fled Bosanski Novi for exile in Croatia and beyond.

The Dayton peace accords placed Bosanski Novi in the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska. Serbian residents renamed the town Novi Grad in an apparent bid to erase its heritage.

In the first years after Dayton, Muslim returnees risked confrontation if they went beyond demilitarized zones along the inter-entity boundaries. But now, five years later, police checkpoints and SFOR tanks are gone, and the sense of fear is dissipating. Residents are free to travel where they like, and a growing number of displaced Muslims are moving back to their homes in an orderly manner.

But there have been incidents. The most serious in Bosanski Novi occurred last month when a 66-year-old returnee was killed one morning when he went out to open his front gate and unknowingly set off a booby-trap bomb. In addition, unknown assailants have stoned the homes of Muslim returnees.

Bekira Kulenovic is a 39-year-old mother of two from Bosanski Novi. Her situation could be described as typical: she spent most of the war in exile and returned to Bosnia two years ago, settling temporarily in Bosanska Krupa in Bosnia's other entity -- the mainly Muslim-Croat Federation -- about 30 kilometers from Bosanski Novi in the Republika Srpska.

She now works in a small pastry shop/cafe and is living in a house owned by a displaced Serbian family that is exiled in Bosanski Novi. Her unemployed husband has returned to Bosanski Novi to repair the two homes they have there. But Kulenovic is delaying her return until her daughter finishes secondary school in the spring.

Asked how she expects to reintegrate, Kulenovic is circumspect, saying that while she can hope for a brighter future, she knows prosperity and a normal life are still a long time off. She said: "I and most of my people know that (overcoming the past) will take many, many years. Our returnees who live down there (in Bosanski Novi) live next to them (the Serbs) -- not with them. That means there is nothing left from the pre-war era -- no socializing, no friendships, and no assistance. Quite simply, each [ethnic group] looks after its own."

Kulenovic recently began commuting to Bosanski Novi on weekends to help fix up one of the two houses. One is still occupied by a displaced Serbian family that refuses to move out and remains off limits to the Kulenovic family. The other building contains a cafe that the Kulenovic family built themselves in the 1980s and a flat above it that was trashed in their absence.

Last week, she was given back the key to that flat. She says she has an agreement with the current Serbian tenant of the caf�, according to which he pays her DM 500 a month rent until she moves back and assumes control of the cafe. She says she is looking forward to the day when she can take over her cafe and give the place a thorough cleaning.

But her 18-year-old daughter Ada, having spent the last eight years in exile, mainly in Germany, says she has no desire to live in Bosanski Novi. She says even the relatively big lights of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo do not attract her. Instead, her dream is to be able to attend university in Germany.

Considering what Bekira Kulenovic has been through and the pressures she is under, she is optimistic: "I hope next year, I'll return to my town, that I'll succeed in making ends meet, that I'll be able to work and make money for my family, to educate my children. If I couldn't hope for a brighter future, I wouldn't be here. In the meantime, some 2,000 [Muslims] have returned to our town."

Although Bosanski Novi suffered minimal damage during the fighting -- in contrast to the destruction just across the Una River in the Croatian border town of Dvor wrought in fighting between Serbian rebels and Croats -- Serbian refugees from Croatia and the Federation occupied many Muslim-owned homes. The town's buildings have undergone little, if any, modernization in the past decade. The bridge was heavily damaged but has now been replaced with a new bridge and a modern covered border crossing facility.

Kulenovic has been relatively lucky. Some other returnees have faced worse. A businessman living in exile in Sanski Most in the Federation returned to Bosanski Novi in July to open a store. He then gave an interview to a television station in the Federation, saying he believed it was safe to come back and urging Muslim exiles to return to homes in the Republika Srpska.

The day after the interview, someone set his car on fire. He has also received various threats, provocations, and racketeering demands. But he remains undeterred. As he puts it, "I am from [Bosanski] Novi and always will be." In his words, "there are opportunities for business here and someone has to start."

He notes the town has always been a trading center for western Bosnia and neighboring Croatia. He says he has no problem attracting clients -- Bosnian Serbs as well as returnees from the Federation -- because he offers what he calls "good prices." But he also notes that the nearest office of the UN police is 50 kilometers away in Prijedor. (Jolyon Naegele)

Quotations Of The Week. "Let us recognize that, as difficult as it has been, the effort the United Nations has made in Kosovo has prevented violence and, with the change in leadership in Belgrade -- which was not anticipated at the time -- has created new opportunities." -- U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, quoted by RFE/RL's Bob McMahon at the UN on 16 November.

"The changes in Belgrade will of course have a positive effect on Kosovo. All Albanians in Kosovo have greeted these changes as a contribution to regional stability, although these changes do not eliminate the desire for independence." -- UNMIK's Bernard Kouchner, also at the UN on 16 November.

"I might be too young and wrong in this. But I'm very optimistic that there will no longer be any more war in the Balkans. We can do better than before. I want to explain to our people that of course there will be criticism and arguments between us and our neighbors, and us and the big powers. But we'll do it openly and directly," with diplomacy, and not with troops and paramilitary police. -- Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, quoted in the "International Herald Tribune" on 20 November.