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Balkan Report: December 17, 1999

17 December 1999, Volume 3, Number 55

Crown Prince Aleksandar Talks To RFE/RL. Aleksandar, scion of the Yugoslav Karadjordjevic dynasty, prefers to be addressed as His Royal Highness Aleksandar, Crown Prince of Yugoslavia. With increasing frequency lately, he has been raising his British-accented voice from his home in London calling for a civil society, democracy, and equal rights for all in Yugoslavia. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL's correspondent Don Hill, he says he believes that the Slobodan Milosevic regime is in its dying throes.

Aleksandar has been sounding more and more like the Czech Republic's Vaclav Havel recently. He believes most of the Yugoslav people of Serbia and Montenegro are ready to embrace democracy and international values. They are thwarted, he says, by a regime that has created madness.

Aleksandar: "I find that the people in general--out of the population of approximately ten and one-half million--are very much in favor of coming into the world, as one might say. It's the regime in the last 10 years that has created madness. And also we have a vicious propaganda machine at work which is labeling anybody who wants to do good and bring democracy as a traitor to the state. So we still sit back somewhere in the Stone Age and the people are the ones who are the recipients of the suffering, owing to this total madness. But I see this cycle coming to an end."

Aleksandar says also that what he calls "mistakes by the West," including NATO's "disastrous bombing" in the Kosovo war, set back prospects for democracy in Yugoslavia. He says he believes that the West will aid and invest in Yugoslavia, however, once the nation demonstrates that it has effective political leaders and can govern itself.

The prince says he bases his assessment of the mood of the Yugoslav populace on three factors. The first is the results of a visit he made to Belgrade in 1991. He says he was besieged by, in his phrase, "a huge turnout of people," who begged him to return democracy to Yugoslavia.

The second was a conference he organized last month in Budapest of various representatives of the Serbian opposition. Despite communication difficulties imposed by the Yugoslav regime, he says, he assembled a number of opposition leaders. He adds that he believes they heeded his call to set aside differences and rally against the Milosevic government.

Aleksandar says the third factor is what he describes as the frantic maneuverings of Milosevic and followers. They stirred up, as he puts it, "negative nationalism" in Kosovq and elsewhere and now are turning on Montenegro. The prince says the regime is exhausting the supply of areas, in his words, "to fire up and use." The descendant of nearly two centuries of Balkan kings adds:

"Over the years, I have maintained my very firm policy and belief in democracy and respect for all and their human rights. I brought together the opposition in Budapest in November. My intention is to continue this and to be the meeting point."

Prince Aleksandar does not compare himself to Havel, although he says he's an ardent admirer of the Czech president and his accomplishments. Yugoslavia has a long distance to travel before it can catch up with the Czech Republic, Aleksandar says. But when he speaks of creating a civil society in Yugoslavia, he defines the phrase in Havelian terms. It requires, he says, a constitution and legal structure, an independent judiciary, an army answerable to the people, a democratic parliament, and economic reform. "I would highly recommend that we remove the Berlin Walls, as one might say, that the regime has created--and the internal walls--and that the area be revived economically," the prince argued.

In addition, Aleksandar says, he would not be averse to developing a constitutional monarchy in Yugoslavia as a successor to Milosevic's rule, with himself, naturally, being the monarch. After all, he says, half the countries of Europe enjoy this form of governance.

He adds, in what evidently is a carefully polished phrase, "The important thing is to crown democracy." His part, he continues, is to serve as a rallying point, affiliated with no party although irrevocably inimical to the Milosevic regime and anyone connected with it.

A constitutional monarchy has much to contribute to the state, Aleksandar says. He notes, as his interview with RFE/RL nears the end, that Yugoslavia's future head of state must be someone who remains unconnected to any party. It must be someone who can work with all sides except the current regime, someone who serves as a point where people of diffused views can meet. That is just the way he has been describing himself.

"I am an optimist," says Crown Prince Aleksandar. "One must never give up." (Don Hill)

Did The International Community Get Cold Feet Over Erotel? Over the past year, the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina has demonstrated a firm determination to fight those who are obstructing the peace process. Now, however, it has shown a surprising inconsistency by not acting in the case of the Herzegovinian Croat television station Erotel, which failed to comply with registration procedures of the media body in charge of granting broadcasting licenses.

The story of Erotel is a simple one. The station, based in the Croat-controlled part of Mostar, refused to obey an order from the international community's watch-dog Independent Media Commission (IMC) to broadcast the programs of Croatian state television (HRT) on only 14 transmitters, instead of the 148 it had previously used. Two weeks after Erotel failed to comply with the IMC's 31 October decision, the media body approached the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) to help shut down the station. (SFOR has already been involved in actions of such a delicate nature. In late 1997, the force seized several television transmitters used by a hard-line Bosnian Serb television station because of its inflammatory broadcasts.)

But SFOR said it could only respond to such requests from Wolfgang Petritsch's Office of the High Representative (OHR), the top international body in charge of implementing provisions of the Dayton peace treaty that ended the 1992-1995 war. SFOR, however, did nothing, even after the OHR filed a request to it on behalf of the IMC to assist in closing down the station. SFOR officials claimed that they were awaiting the final green light from the IMC, which, they argued, preferred first to continue negotiations with Erotel.

Meanwhile, Erotel urged the IMC to reconsider its decision. But the commission ruled on 9 December that its ban on Erotel broadcasting remains in place, and that "no offer is on the table" for negotiations. Representatives of the media body said they wish that SFOR peacekeepers would take action. SFOR maintains that any action is in a "planning process."

Why the apparent foot-dragging by the peace-keepers? According to some analysts, the international community--and especially SFOR--were reluctant to take action over Erotel in order not to shut down the one television station in Bosnia that would have direct live broadcasting rights to the funeral of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. (Tudjman died on 10 December, but his passing had been widely expected for the previous 40 days.) According to such analysts, SFOR did not want to force the closure of Erotel so as not to unduly offend wide sections of public opinion among the Croats of Herzegovina, where Tudjman is highly revered. But now that Tudjman's funeral is over, this excuse is no longer valid.

The decision on Erotel's broadcasting ban is, moreover, part of a wider media-reform package imposed in July by the then High Representative Carlos Westendorp, who had issued a decision on transforming the former Muslim-controlled Bosnian state television into a new federation television. Many Croats nonetheless regard the new BH Television as still Muslim-controlled, instead of equally serving the cultural and national interests of Muslims and Croats.

In fact, an excuse by Erotel for using all 148 transmitters at some 50 locations throughout the country was that Bosnian Croats did not have locally-produced programs in the "Croatian language," which is the politically correct form of Serbo-Croatian preferred in Zagreb. Such local Croatian broadcasts were slated to start with the establishment of the federation television. But IMC said that precisely for that purpose all but 11 transmitters had to be given up by Erotel.

Meanwhile, the IMC has made a compromise deal with Erotel to continue broadcasting HRT programs until federation television is actually established. The commission did so even though the HRT broadcasts are technically illegal, since HRT has refused to apply for a broadcasting license in Bosnia. Erotel was, in fact, established as a result of close contacts between the hard-line Herzegovina Croats and Zagreb. But by forcing it to comply with new registration procedures in Bosnia, the international community is trying to weaken these links and make it more Bosnian-oriented.

Therefore, at the request of the IMC, Erotel had to reduce the Croatian government's majority ownership of the station to less than 50 percent from original 76.6 percent. Still, the commission remained concerned about influence exercised by the Croatian government over the station's editorial policy. "The international community continues to see Erotel as a political instrument of the Croatian government, which intends to assure a permanent support for the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) among the Bosnian Croat electorate," according to the commission in the text of its ruling on Erotel. It also said that the fact that the station's original owner was the former Croatian "Community of Herceg-Bosna" is a strong indication that Erotel has firm links to the HDZ and was primarily intended to promote the policies and interests of the Croatian government.

The commission had previously criticized Erotel for broadcasting HRT programs that included inflammatory language. In May, the station had to pay a 2,000 convertible marka fine for broadcasting a HRT program that included anti-Semitic remarks and presented a one-sided picture of the Bosnian conflict. Broadcasters are expressly forbidden from promoting ethnic hatred under the 1995 Dayton agreement. (Daria Sito) (The author is an independent analyst based in Sarajevo.)

Quotations Of The Week. "The biggest mistake would be to embrace post-Tudjman Croatia too soon, before it has made real reforms. Neighboring states such as Hungary, Austria, and Italy may push us to do so, but we must hold out for substantial change." -- Unnamed EU diplomat after the funeral of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, quoted by Reuters on 13 December.

"None of them is interested in a Greater Croatia. All of them have an understanding of what democratic practice is." -- Former U.S. ambassador to Croatia on leading politicians Ivica Racan, Drazen Budisa, and Mate Granic.

"Unfortunately we are still divided, but not as much as we used to be." -- Serbian Democratic Party deputy leader Slobodan Vuksanovic, on the Serbian opposition, to Reuters on 14 December.