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Balkan Report: November 9, 1999

9 November 1999, Volume 3, Number 45

The Serbian Chicken And Egg. Serbian opposition politicians have stepped up their appeals to Western countries to ease the sanctions against Belgrade. The opposition leaders argue that this is the only way to improve the chances for democratization, and that to maintain the sanctions can only benefit Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his cronies.

Debates about sanctions are rarely simple or straightforward. The Serbian case has proven no exception. Supporters of the current sanctions argue that Milosevic proved vulnerable to such pressure earlier in the decade, and that it was the damage inflicted by the sanctions that brought him to the 1995 Dayton peace conference that ended the war in Bosnia. If sanctions continue, they will force Milosevic to call early elections in order to obtain relief, supporters of sanctions maintain.

This is essentially the policy of the U.S. government and some of its European allies. The basic argument is that sanctions will bring democracy, and that they must remain in place until they do.

The Serbian opposition and some other Europeans charge that this view is basically mistaken. They argue that sanctions are an obstacle to democratization for a number of reasons. First, the regime is able to line its pockets, sanctions or no sanctions. The current Western policy will not prevent Milosevic and his colleagues from stealing from the public and transferring the proceeds to banks in Cyprus, Russia, or elsewhere.

Second, the West should target the sanctions to hit the elite, not the bulk of the Serbian population. The one sanction that does any good by directly affecting the regime is the Western ban on visas to over 300 persons close to Milosevic. This one sanction should be kept and expanded, opposition leaders add. By the same token, the ban on regular civilian air flights to and from Serbia and the ban on fuel oil shipments target ordinary people and should be dropped immediately.

Third, the broad range of economic sanctions prevents a level playing field. It hinders opposition-run towns and cities from showing the voters that they can "bring home the bacon" by attracting foreign investment to modernize existing industries or develop new ones. Meanwhile, the regime claims that it alone is "rebuilding the country."

Fourth, the sanctions prevent ordinary Serbs--namely thosewithout regime connections--from similarly improving their existing businesses or starting up new ones. While Milosevic's son and daughter continue their commercial activities with impunity, ordinary Serbs in their twenties would be hard-pressed to start up a computer service firm, for example.

Supporters of a lifting of sanctions include virtually all of the opposition. This is perhaps the one issue all of the factious groups can truly unite on. This unique unanimity of views should be carefully noted. Its basic argument is that "poverty is not a good environment for democratization." (Patrick Moore)

The Regime's Agenda. Those who want Milosevic out have not been the only Serbs active on the international scene in recent months. The regime and its apologists have been putting forward an agenda aimed at steering Western public opinion toward policies that ultimately benefit Milosevic and will help keep the indicted war criminal in power.

The first argument is that UNMIK and KFOR are "turning Kosova over to the Albanians" and are unable (read: unwilling) to protect the local Serbs there. The "solution" for this is to reintroduce Serbian forces to the provinces, Belgrade and its backers add. This argument serves to show Milosevic as the true defender of the Serbs and the international community as malevolent or incompetent. The traditional Serbian nationalist view of "Serbs as victims" of menacing Great Powers is evident here.

A second ploy is to single out the U.S. as Serbia's main enemy, as a foe that has been single-mindedly waging a "war" against a weak and small country for a decade. This argument plays upon some traditional anti-American views among Serbs and hence falls on fertile ground. More importantly, it aims at creating a split between the U.S. and Western Europe, something that Belgrade proved unable to do in the course of the bombing campaign. Failure to divide the Western alliance was a major reason behind Belgrade's defeat in Kosova, and it does not want to face that combination of forces again. Furthermore, by identifying Washington as the foe and Brussels as the friend, this argument provides the political justification for Belgrade to seek aid and investments in Western Europe. The regime knows that Serbia will remain backward if its only sources of support are Moscow and Minsk.

A third point that the kleptocracy and its apologists make is to stress that the root of Serbia's problems is NATO's bombing campaign. This reinforces the regime's image of who is the aggressor and who is the victim. It also enables the neo-communist leadership to escape responsibility for the legacy of half a century of communist rule--and all the damage that has done to the economy, environment, and political culture of Serbia.

A fourth issue is Montenegro. Belgrade's spokesmen argue that the leadership around President Milo Djukanovic consists of gangsters and war profiteers and not of good democrats. This talking point notes that Djukanovic and his friends indeed were close to Milosevic and his local allies until not too long ago, and that many of the Djukanovic group have amassed suspiciously large amounts of wealth. Whatever the merits of this argument, its purpose is to turn the international public against those political leaders who are really Milosevic's strongest domestic threat. Caveat emptor. (Patrick Moore)

Macedonian Oro. Political fallout has begun in the wake of the 31 October first round of the Macedonian presidential elections. The latest developments reveal much about the country's progress along the road to a civil society.

The second ballot on 14 November pits the Social Democrats' Tito Petkovski against the VMRO's Boris Trajkovski. The defeated Democratic Alliance's (DA) Vasil Tupurkovski has already begun suggesting that he may leave politics and that his party may quit the coalition with the VMRO and Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). His ostensible goal is to force early elections, but it is difficult to see what he hopes to gain in such a ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 1999).

It may well be that Tupurkovski's real aim is to force concessions from his partners--despite his defeat--by reminding them that he can still play the spoiler. The PDSH has begun talks aimed at keeping the coalition together.

When the VMRO and DA agreed to cooperate prior to the 1998 parliamentary elections, Tupurkovski expected VMRO support in 1999 for his presidential ambitions. Following the coalition's election victory in the fall of 1998 and the PDSH's decision to join them, a new government was formed under VMRO's Ljubco Georgievski. Tupurkovski subsequently made a series of political blunders, and some of the DA's ministers performed poorly, all of which helped prompt VMRO to back out of the apparent deal and run Trajkovski.

Some observers noted that the decision of the two main ethnic Albanian parties to run their own respective candidates--rather than combine in the first round with a Macedonian coalition partner--shows that the country still has a way to go in building a civil society, rather than an ethnically based one. The Albanians form only about 25 percent of the total population and could not possibly hope to elect a president on their own. Their votes are now widely expected to go to Trajkovski because of Petkovski's attempt to play on Macedonian nationalist sentiments over the Kosova conflict, just as the Social Democrats tried--unsuccessfully--to play the nationalist card in the 1998 campaign. It is perhaps yet another example of the ironies of the modern Balkans that the party that is the descendant of Marshal Tito's League of Communists is now appealing to nationalist sentiments, while the VMRO--which was founded as a bastion of Macedonian nationalism--is now the ally of the Albanians.

The ethnic polarization, however, may not be as pronounced as it seemed just one year ago. As the German expert Stefan Troebst recently wrote, the conflict in Kosova impacted adversely on Macedonia economically and in several other ways. But the war, he concludes, may actually have had a beneficial "spillover effect" for helping resolve the country's key problem, namely bridging the ethnic divide. The leaders of both main ethnic groups held their own respective extremists in check. The refugee crisis was handled more or less successfully, and the government subsequently made a concession on Albanian-language higher education that had long been awaited by the ethnic Albanian community.

In the latest campaign, Petkovski opposed that concession. This stand helps explain why the Albanian voters are likely to cast their ballots for Trajkovski in the second round. Some observers suggest that Petkovski is, in fact, unlikely to get very many more votes in the second round than he did in the first one. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "Brave, objective, and moral." -- Milosevic, of visiting former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who visited him in Belgrade on 28 October. Clark led a campaign opposed to NATO bombing of Serbia earlier this year.

"All our neighbors still live in their dreams of some 'greater states,' to say the least. They all dream of their ideas of a Greater Bulgaria, Greater Serbia, Greater Albania, or Greater Croatia.... No one in the Balkans can be absolutely sure about the future, because four wars happened here in only a few years. All nations are still rallied behind their national leaders, and nothing has changed." -- Outgoing Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, quoted by AP on 28 October.