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Balkan Report: March 4, 1998

4 March 1998, Volume 2, Number 9

Small Steps. JAT Yugoslav airlines made an inaugural flight from Belgrade to Banja Luka on March 2. Flights will continue at the rate of three per week. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative, said in Sarajevo that twice-weekly regular flights between Sarajevo and Belgrade will begin for the first time since 1992 "in the next few days," an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital.

In Zagreb, a spokesman for the Croatian oil company INA said on March 2 that INA and Bosnia's Energopetrol have reached an agreement whereby Energopetrol will repay its $3.4 million debt to its Croatian partner in six monthly installments. The spokesman added that INA will ask a court in Split to release a shipment of 18,000 tons of oil-based products in the port of Ploce destined for Energopetrol in Sarajevo. The court impounded the shipment late last week to pressure the Bosnian firm to settle its outstanding debt to INA, RFE/RL reported on February 28.

The Imbroglio over Tudjman's Speech. Scarcely a day has passed in the past week and a half without some U.S., EU, or Bosnian Muslim political figure criticizing references to Bosnia in a speech Croatian President Franjo Tudjman made on February 21 at the convention of his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) -- or without some Croatian official charging in response that Tudjman's remarks were taken out of context. Indeed, a review of the official text of the speech from the news agency HINA suggests that the remarks were nothing out of the ordinary for Tudjman.

But whatever he did or did not say, the acrimonious political discussion that has emerged in the aftermath of his speech has taken on a life of its own. One recent aspect of the controversy involves Jacques Klein, one of Westendorp's deputies, who is best known as the highly successful former chief administrator of eastern Slavonia (aka "the Kingdom of Klein").

The former U.S. general told the Muslim-oriented Sarajevo daily "Avaz" of February 26 that the Bosnian HDZ is obstructing the implementation of the Dayton agreement, and that, if it continues to do so, it will share the political fate of the Bosnian Serb hard-liners in Pale. He also accused the party of building homes in western Herzegovina to resettle Croats from central Bosnia. Klein charged that, in so doing, the HDZ is undermining the position of the Roman Catholic Church in central Bosnia. But, he added, the HDZ does not care about the Church because the party is composed of "old communists." Turning to Tudjman's speech, Klein called it "destructive [and] something that takes us back to an earlier time." By this he presumably meant the time before the 1994 Washington Agreement, which formally ended the Croatian-Muslim conflict.

The Croatian reaction was not long in coming, and RFE/RL broadcast the story. On February 28, Ambassador to Bosnia Darinko Bago met with Klein to express the Foreign Ministry's unhappiness with the former general's remarks about Tudjman's speech.

That same day, Bozo Rajic, the head of the Bosnian branch of the HDZ, said in Mostar that Klein's remarks were without foundation. In particular, Rajic took exception to Klein's comment about the HDZ's role toward the Church. The HDZ leader also attacked Klein's statement questioning the legitimacy of Bosnian-style elections in which people vote strictly along ethnic lines rather than for a platform or ideology.

Kucan Warns Against the "Language of Hate." A key element in the political background to the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia has been the manipulation of language by nationalists for their own purposes and the imposition of a code of political correctness (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 19, 1997). Slovenian President Milan Kucan on March 1 urged his countrymen to eliminate from political discourse what he called the language of national, religious, and ideological intolerance. Kucan warned that "words can kill" and that physical violence is often "just one step away" from verbal abuse, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Ljubljana.