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Balkan Report: May 20, 1998

20 May 1998, Volume 2, Number 20

Milosevic Has Become "Yugoslavia's Grave-Digger." No, this quote is not from a Slovene or a Croat in 1991, but from Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in May, 1998. The reform-minded president, who wants to reintegrate Montenegro into the world economy and revive its key shipping and tourist sectors, was referring to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's successful move this past week to unseat his own prime minister, Radoje Kontic.

The prime minister's grave mistake in Milosevic's eyes was his failure to back Milosevic-loyalist and outgoing Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic in January. At that time Bulatovic stirred up violence and hoped to provoke the declaration of a state of emergency, but Kontic refused to oblige. In the end, the police kept Bulatovic's rowdies under control, Djukanovic took office on schedule, and Milosevic began to face his strongest challenge from within the Yugoslav federation since Bosnia left it in 1992.

Djukanovic and his supporters both in Podgorica and Belgrade have made it clear that they regard Kontic's ouster on May 18 as illegal and a threat to Montenegro's equality with Serbia within the federation. They therefore view any successor government that Milosevic may name as illegitimate. That Milosevic picked Bulatovic on May 19 to succeed Kontic will only serve to heighten tensions still further. Stefan Susic, who is a Djukanovic backer and chairman of the federal parliament's Judiciary Committee, said even before Bulatovic's nomination that Milosevic's latest actions are tantamount to launching a political "civil war."

Speculation is rife as to whether Milosevic will now begin to purge other prominent persons who have defended the autonomy of their respective institutions and not done his bidding. One such individual is Gen. Momcilo Perisic, the chief of the General Staff who kept the army out of the Milosevic-Djukanovic feud. Whatever may happen in the next few days, the bottom line is that Belgrade is faced with its worst constitutional crisis since 1991-1992.

Herzegovinian HDZ Picks Jelavic. Political battles of a different sort raged in Mostar the previous weekend, when the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of Bosnia-Herzegovina chose Ante Jelavic, the federal defense minister, as its chairman. In his speeches, the tough-minded Herzegovinian defied the international community's Carlos Westendorp and rejected his demand that the Herzegovinians abandon their para-state structures and become fully integrated politically with the Muslims. Jelavic was particularly adamant that the Croats will not give up their own military and told delegates that the Croatian presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina depends on three factors: the Roman Catholic Church, the HDZ, and the HVO, or army.

The interesting thing about the Mostar convention, however, was that Jelavic was elected not only over the opposition of Westendorp, but also against the will of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. The Croatian head of state -- whom the HDZ delegates cheered as "our president" -- sent a powerful delegation that included Ivic Pasalic, Hrvoje Sarinic, Miroslav Tudjman, Vladimir Seks, and Gen. Ljubo Cesic-Rojs. They made it clear that Tudjman favored Bozo Ljubic to head the party, not Jelavic. In the end, however, Ljubic saw that he could not win and withdrew from the race.

This being the Balkans, much of the non-HDZ media refuse to take the Mostar events at their face value and have suggested that the Jelavic election was the result of some sort of conspiracy in which Tudjman merely seemed to be opposing the hard-liner. Whatever the case, three recent developments suggest that the HDZ may be entering a period of transition: personnel changes in the Zagreb leadership; the death of Croatian Defense Minister and leading Herzegovinian Gojko Susak; and now Jelavic's election.

Republika Srpska Muslim Leader Talks to RFE/RL. Safet Bico is the head of the Muslim caucus in the parliament of the Republika Srpska in Banja Luka. Most of his constituents live in the federation and elected him through a provision of the Dayton agreement that allows people to vote for officials in areas from which those voters have been "ethnically cleansed." Before the war, there were 500,000 Muslims in what is now the Republika Srpska; today there are 16,000. Those include some 286 people who went home this spring.

Bico paints a bleak picture of the Republika Srpska's Muslims as second-class citizens, who enjoy few of the basic rights regarded as standard in today's Europe. He told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on May 18 that these Muslims live primarily in the Banja Luka, Doboj and Bijeljina regions only; there are no more Muslims in eastern Herzegovina. The Muslims exist as refugees in their own towns, because court decisions to give them back their former homes are not implemented.

The Muslims do not have regular jobs or state health insurance. Merhamet, a Muslim charity, has set up a small clinic and pharmacy in Banja Luka, and provides assistance to supplement international humanitarian aid. Merhamet also helps people grow food and start small businesses. But the Muslims are not allowed to have any political organization.

Bico stresses that the Muslims -- and Croats -- will be second-class citizens until they attain the legal status of "people of the state," which the Serbs alone enjoy in the Republika Srpska. He might have added that the Serbs are similarly second-class citizens in the Muslim-Croat federation, and that Serbian Civic Council and some other non-nationalist organizations have long been urging that all three peoples be given legal equality throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.