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Balkan Report: October 19, 1999

19 October 1999, Volume 3, Number 40

More Than Just One Man. The ouster of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is the top priority of the Serbian opposition and of NATO's Balkan policy. While the removal of the man most responsible for the destruction of Tito's state and for four bloody wars will be a great step forward, it will hardly be the end of Serbia's problems or of other countries' Serbian problem.

Once Milosevic is removed--however that may come about--there remains first of all the matter of his henchmen. Just over 300 prominent men and women from Serbia-Montenegro are banned from receiving EU visas, which suggests the approximate number of members of the elite closest to Milosevic. Particularly important are the other four men whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted in May along with the Yugoslav president.

The Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) (among others) is counting on peacefully undermining Milosevic by appealing to some members of his power structure to save their own skins by defecting to the opposition. There was much speculation at the end of the summer that no less a person than Serbian President Milan Milutinovic--who is one of the four indicted war criminals--may have unsuccessfully tried to do just that. Meanwhile, any successful defections remain very cleverly concealed.

And even if the fractious opposition of some 150 parties and 800 NGO's were to oust Milosevic and the most die-hard of his lieutenants, there is no telling what they will put in their place. The opposition with its squabbling egos took weeks to agree on a common platform on the vital issue of elections--the first such agreement in ten years. Party leaders still fight among themselves over matters such as who will march or speak at whose rally, and who will speak in what order.

There is therefore little likelihood that the advent to power of the opposition will prove a panacea for Serbia's ills. The squabbling that beset the Slovak cabinet once former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar was out of the way offers a possible example of what might come to pass in a post-Milosevic Serbia. And it should also be noted that the governing coalition's behavior has been such that Meciar was able to make political capital out of its disarray and prepare to launch his come-back.

Serbia's problem has, in fact, probably less to do with the presence of one man than with the nature of its political culture. One aspect is the tendency to rely on strong leaders. Even foreign observers fell prey to this approach when they bemoan the lack of "an alternative" to Milosevic (read: another strongman). Democracy, however, grows from the bottom up. The real alternative to "caudillo" rule is likely to come from the opposition-run cities and towns and their mayors and other elected officials. It is there that Western countries have wisely begun to concentrate their hopes and attention, not on the well-known egos of Belgrade.

Another issue in the political culture is the all-pervasiveness of nationalism. Many of his once fervent supporters have turned on Milosevic not because they have become good democrats, but because he failed to live up to his promises to create a Greater Serbia. He is responsible for as huge a disaster for the Serbian people as Adolf Hitler was for the Germans in terms of territorial losses and migrations of Biblical proportions. It is primarily because of this that many opposition politicians seek his ouster. It is difficult to say how much peace and progress in the Balkans one could hope for with disgruntled nationalists in power in Serbia. (Not to mention the problems Bosnia and Kosova will have regardless of who governs in Belgrade.)

A third problem is the lack of civic consciousness, which is another term for political immaturity. Many among the ranks of the opposition and intellectuals provide classic examples of this. In the course of the Milosevic years, many Western governments and NGO's have spent tidy sums supporting Serbian NGO's and the independent media. But when Milosevic launched his full-fledged campaign of genocide in Kosova this spring, the private media for the most part censored themselves or generally fell into line. It is true that one could not expect them to write editorials in praise of NATO air raids or the Kosova Liberation Army. But it is telling that barely three dozen individuals were willing to sign a document that, while slamming NATO time and again, dared to criticize the genocide in so much as one passage.

At a recent OSCE-sponsored conference in Montenegro, several leading figures from the Serbian private media showed a high degree of defensiveness when Westerners criticized them for their docility during the genocide. Some of the journalists showed touches of the paranoia and xenophobia characteristic of the regime and its propaganda. Knee-jerk mistrust of the major powers--the Americans in particular--was never far beneath the surface in Serbia, anyway.

Perhaps the best that will come of such gatherings is what one observer called the beginnings of a "thinking process" on the part of the Serbian intellectuals, opposition politicians, and journalists regarding their roles and responsibilities. This could lead to what some observers have called a "cleansing" or "denazification" of public life (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, no. 39). Similar reflection by those foreigners who would promote the democratization of Serbia might also be of value. Perhaps they should not expect too much too soon from a society imbued with authoritarianism and nationalism and where the average per capita income is $50 per month. (Patrick Moore)

Controversy Surrounds EU Oil Deliveries. International humanitarian assistance to people living in authoritarian countries can sometimes undermine dictators, but on other occasions can be exploited by such rulers to shore up their power and control.

This uncertainty as to when such outside aid will help to promote positive political change and when it will have the opposite effect almost inevitably sparks disagreements among those considering the provision of such assistance.

Such a debate has now broken out between the United States and some of its West European allies as to whether providing humanitarian aid to people living under the rule of Milosevic will speed up his exit from the political scene or help him to remain in office for a long time to come.

Last Thursday, George Robertson, the new secretary- general of NATO, articulated the European position. Arguing that the majority of people in Yugoslavia are "good and decent," Robertson said that "they need to know that there is a welcome for them in this European family of democratic nations."

Moreover, they need to understand that "there are benefits for them individually and collectively as well as benefits for the whole region if they reject the regime of Milosevic." Consequently, Robertson continued, "we have got to use every means at our disposal"--including humanitarian assistance--to get that message across.

Humanitarian assistance--such as providing heating oil to at least some opposition-controlled Yugoslav municipalities as the Europeans have advocated--serves in Robertson's words, to prove that "the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is not Milosevic, [and] Milosevic is not Yugoslavia."

Opposing that view is the U.S. government, whose officials repeatedly have argued that such assistance could actually benefit Milosevic by reducing popular anger against him. Consequently, Washington now suggests that not providing the aid now is perhaps the surest way to create a situation out of which the Yugoslav people can fashion a better future.

Responding to charges that such a stance is heartless, U.S. spokesmen have argued that the humanitarian crisis in Yugoslavia predicted by some in Serbia and abroad may never happen. The spokesmen conclude that providing assistance is thus not only unnecessary in human terms but counterproductive in political ones.

Indeed, American officials have suggested that those who want to rush in with assistance often end by propping up the very governments responsible for the conditions that the people under their control are forced to endure.

Each side in this debate can invoke numerous examples in support of its point of view. Those who believe that humanitarian aid will undercut a dictator regularly invoke the worldwide trend that as countries become wealthier, they almost inevitably have moved in the direction of greater freedom and democracy.

They further suggest, as Robertson does, that aid from democratic nations will make those who receive it more disposed to be pro-democratic domestically as well as in foreign affairs. And they note that when countries do not provide such assistance to people in need, dictators like Cuba's Fidel Castro often play up that fact as part of their political strategies.

But those who argue the opposite position note that foreign assistance extended to people living under a dictatorial regime often goes astray not only as a result of petty corruption, but because of the ability of local officials to divert it for their own benefit. Consequently, opponents say, dictatorial regimes can make use of it to continue in power.

In the current case, Belgrade has been sharply critical of the "energy for democracy" project of the Serbian opposition and European countries. And like authoritarian rulers elsewhere, Milosevic and his officials are interested in exploiting any such aid which does arrive for their own ends.

When individuals and nations see people suffering, most want to help. But as the debate over providing humanitarian assistance to Yugoslavia suggests, this impulse may be almost universal, but views on how best to do so remain very much divided. (Paul Goble)

Albania's Rival Parties Stick With Old Leaders. Members of the governing Socialist Party of Albania and the opposition Democratic Party have recently re-elected their respective leaders. On 10 October, former Prime Minister Fatos Nano of the Socialist Party defeated his successor in the government, 31-year-old reformer Pandeli Majko. And a week or so earlier, former President Sali Berisha of the Democratic Party fought back a challenge to his party leadership by its former secretary-general, the charismatic Genc Pollo.

Nano and Berisha are bitter rivals who count among the older generation of Albanian politicians. The two are largely responsible for the polarization that has characterized Albanian political life since the end of communism in 1991-1992. Their rivalry grew into open personal antagonism after the mid-1990s, when Berisha's government arrested Nano on dubious corruption charges. In the wake of the unrest that spread throughout Albania in early 1997 following the collapse of pyramid investment schemes, Nano managed to escape from prison. He won the elections in July of the same year and became prime minister by presenting himself to the voters as the main challenger to an authoritarian regime. A Tirana court acquitted him of the corruption charges on 5 October 1999.

Berisha, in return, accused Nano of being the mastermind of the 1997 unrest and blamed his government for the killing of senior Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari in Tirana in September 1998. The investigation into that murder has been deadlocked for more than a year. Democratic Party witnesses have refused to testify to investigators, arguing that they do not trust the authorities to conduct an impartial investigation.

Nano resigned shortly after the Hajdari murder, when riots broke out during the legislator's funeral in Tirana. The Socialists then charged the Democrats with having conducted a coup attempt, a charge the Democrats vehemently denied. Nano and Berisha, furthermore, have not refrained from charging each other with involvement in corruption, arms smuggling, and other crimes. These exchanges have long been part of Albania's daily political discourse.

Nano�s resignation paved the way for a new Socialist government under Majko. Since taking office, he has sought to present himself as a dynamic, forward-looking politician who is willing to reconcile with the opposition for the benefit of the entire country by establishing rule of law and promoting economic recovery. The Kosova war gave Majko an opportunity to call for unity among all Albanians and to put aside old grievances. Majko also followed a policy of establishing good-neighborly relations with Macedonia, Greece, and Montenegro, and he made participation in the EU's Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe one of his government�s priorities.

But Majko's government has faced difficult tasks. It was unable to increase the level of public security until mid-summer 1999. At that time, his newly appointed Public Order Minister Spartak Poci launched an offensive against the country's most notorious gangs. Poci acknowledged in early October that unidentified politicians have put pressure on police and justice officials to have several of the arrested gang leaders released, thereby confirming that political corruption is indeed widespread. He did not disclose names, however.

Before the party congress, Majko threatened to resign should Nano win the party chairmanship. After his defeat, however, he pledged to remain in office, arguing that he lost by a margin of only 30 votes. At the same time he stressed that he felt "hurt in his moral and political legitimacy." But while the vote indicates that his support within the party is fragile, his decision to stay in government is nonetheless based on backing from the Albanian public and the international community, where Majko appears to enjoy more support than within his party's rank and file.

Nano, on the other hand, is unlikely to seek to oust Majko as prime minister and return to government, since a second major change of government after two years could derail the fragile reform process and give a boost to the Democratic Party�s demand for new elections.

For their part, the Democrats have maneuvered themselves further into a corner by re-electing Berisha. Pollo's initial candidature seemed to offer an alternative to Berisha's tight control over the party and his role in the polarization of political life. Pollo pledged to bring several other center-right political parties into a coalition, most notably the Republicans. But with the reelection of Berisha--whom many potential Democratic voters consider too authoritarian--a major shift in voter support from the Socialists to the Democrats remains unlikely.

The two party congresses have shown that the old-generation leaders--who were forced to resign after scandals and amid charges of corruption against their respective governments--do still have the backing of most party members. The two men owe their victories probably less to any real popular support for themselves and to their ideas than to their patronage of those within the party willing to back them in crucial leadership votes. (Fabian Schmidt)

The Bill For The War. The aftermath of the conflict in and around Kosova has brought forth a plethora of statements and estimates of the cost of the war and reconstruction. Many of these studies come from interested parties in the region and are blatantly self-serving to the point of embarrassment.

"The Guardian" on 15 October published estimates of a different nature on the basis of calculations by British experts. They concluded that the total cost comes to over 30 billion pounds. Here is the breakdown, in billions of British pounds:

Bombing -- 2.63

Humanitarian aid -- 2.54

Peacekeeping -- 6

Reconstruction of Serbia and Kosova -- 20.5

The study notes that bombing Kragujevac's Zastava car works cost 6 million pounds but that rebuilding it will require 46 million. It is not clear, however, whether the study factors in the point that much of Serbia's infrastructure was antiquated and long over-due for replacement.

UN environment experts did take note of this. Pekka Haavisto, who heads UN environmental investigators in the Balkans, said in Stockholm on 14 October that NATO's spring air campaign did not produce an ecological catastrophe, as the Milosevic regime has claimed. Haavisto noted that Serbia was already a heavily polluted country before the war. He added that previous pollution and the effects of bombing have combined to produce dangerous situations in Pancevo, Kragujevac, Novi Sad, and Bor. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "I think any way you look at it, it was a success. We achieved our military objectives. We were fortunate to come out with no combat casualties. Milosevic's forces are out and we're in--and so the Kosovar Albanians are back at home." -- General Henry Shelton, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Washington on 14 October.

"You cannot move in the streets [of Kosova] if you're a Serb or a Roma, or else you risk your life." -- the OSCE's Daan Everts, in Tirana on 15 October.

The Croatian state will allow the return of those Serbs "who did not bloody their hands, but the days are gone forever when the Serbs control these parts and the Croatian people" who live there. -- President Franjo Tudjman, speaking on 16 October at the opening of the Sveti Rok tunnel in Gracac, linking the Lika region with Dalmatia.

"Croatian generals will not go to The Hague. They liberated the country from aggressors. Every war is evil, but Croats cannot be held accountable for freeing the country from this evil." -- Tudjman in Zagreb, two days later.