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Balkan Report: November 25, 1998

25 November 1998, Volume 2, Number 46

Serbian Editors Discuss the Future. The Serbian authorities instituted a draconian media law last month, as a result of which several dailies and other periodicals have been banned, fined, or confiscated. In addition, Serbian radio stations are forbidden to rebroadcast the Serbo-Croatian language programs of RFE/RL and other foreign broadcasters (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," No. 42, 28 October 1998).

On November 20, RFE/RL was pleased to host some ten editors and other journalists affected by the new law at a symposium entitled "Opening Up Serbia's Media." The guests in Prague included: Dimitrije Boarov (deputy director of "Nasa Borba"), Boban Tomic (director and editor-in-chief of Radio Bajina Basta), Alesandra Raskovic (editor-in-chief of Radio Globus Kraljevo), Dragoljub Zarkovic (director of "Vreme"), Dusan Simic (editor of "Danas"), Dusan Radulovic (head of RFE/RL�s Belgrade office), Aleksandar Timofejev (journalist for Radio B-92), Dragan Bujosevic (editor of "Dnevni Telegraf"), Milorad Tadic (director and editor-in-chief of Radio Boom 93), and Nenad Cekic (director and editor-in-chief of Radio Index).

The topic of discussion was "The New Serbian Question -- Democratization." This was not in reference to the "Serbian Question" that the nationalists have manipulated and abused for the past 13-odd years, but in order to set the agenda for forward-looking discussions about Serbia's future, because peace, prosperity and stability in Serbia will not be possible without democratization. Peace, prosperity and stability, moreover, will not be possible in the former Yugoslavia and across the Balkans without a democratic Serbia.

The participants represented a wide range of views and took a variety of stands on questions from the audience. It is nonetheless possible to draw some general conclusions from their remarks.

First, the situation is bleak and unlikely to change as long as Milosevic stays in power. It is nonetheless difficult to foresee what may happen in three days or three months, let alone three years. If anything, Milosevic may be drawn closer to the extremists -- led by his wife Mira Markovic and the Radicals' Vojislav Seselj -- because Milosevic lost votes in the last parliamentary elections. His position may become even shakier if he is perceived as having "lost Kosovo" (as well as Krajina, etc.) at some point in the future. For that reason, he may have launched his media crackdown in the wake of his agreement with Richard Holbrooke over Kosovo. On the other hand, he may be tempted to jettison Kosovo (as he did Krajina, etc.) if he realizes that he cannot hold onto it. Some participants, moreover, suggested that the economic situation is so precarious that Milosevic "might not last out the winter."

Second, a long-established authoritarian tradition and ten years of repression have taken their toll, and the opposition has yet to mount a serious challenge to the regime. The opposition is marginalized and organized around personalities, not platforms. There was no clear consensus among the Serbian editors as to whether the independent media should help the opposition (as happened in Slovakia) or whether those media should remain independent of all parties and stick to news and analysis.

Third, hope for the future lies with the young, particularly with the bold Belgrade University students, who have protested Milosevic's efforts to turn higher education into a politicized arm of the regime. Positive developments in the Republika Srpska (especially the media scene) and in Montenegro (which some participants felt could gain independence within one year) suggest that change for the better is possible, perhaps even in Serbia.

NATO Says Force in Macedonia Threatens Nobody. An unnamed NATO official said in Brussels on November 20 that Yugoslavia has no grounds for claiming that NATO troops stationed in Macedonia would be a source of tension in relations between Belgrade and Skopje, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 1998). "The notion that a NATO force of less than 2,000 can threaten Yugoslavia's security is ridiculous," the source added.

In Skopje, French Ambassador to Macedonia Jacques Huntzinger said that "it is important for Belgrade to understand that this [French-led] force is not an imposing one...This force is not aimed at fighting Serbian soldiers or policemen...[It will help extract OSCE monitors] in case of massive hostilities," taking of hostages, need for urgent medical help or problems with land mines, AP quoted him as saying.

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov added that "our government has not taken any decision that [Belgrade could interpret] as a hostile act," "Die Welt" reported. For his part, Prime Minister-designate Ljubco Georgievski said on November 23 that he hopes to have his government formed by November 27. One of its first tasks will be to approve NATO's request to station troops in the north near the frontier with Kosovo.

Quotes of the Week. Gligorov in the same interview: "The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is the only country in the Balkans that has not embarked on fundamental changes. There is no democracy there, no free press, and no honest elections."

And on his country's Albanians, who comprise almost a quarter of the population: "We have never fought the Albanians. They fare better in Macedonia than in Kosovo or in Albania itself."

Kosovar negotiator Fehmi Agani, on November 22, on Serbian President Milan Milutinovic's attempts to hold "negotiations" on Kosovo's political future without mainstream Albanian representatives: "We shall avoid...silly games."

An unnamed source close to Milutinovic, quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on November 20, on U.S. envoy Chris Hill's plan for an interim political settlement: "He submitted this plan. If we react, it means that he is included in the negotiations. People from abroad are only guests. This is an internal question of Serbia and Yugoslavia."

Milutinovic in Prishtina, on November 20: "Serbia is a multiethnic, multiconfessional and multicultural state that guarantees to all national communities additional rights for the preservation and expression of their national identity, alphabet, language, religion, customs, culture and tradition...Peace and common life are possible [here] only with genuine, not just formal, equality of all national communities. This has been confirmed by the fact that we have honored all obligations and deadlines set forth in the agreements with the international community; that civilian structures are functioning and getting stronger by the day...that the situation in all fields, particularly economic, social, and humanitarian is being increasingly normalized" in the province.

Statement in Tirana by international monitors on November 23, declaring the previous day's referendum on a new constitution valid: "The political forces should now resume their dialogue and concentrate on Albania's vital problems. This could be best achieved through constructive cooperation between all parties, including the Democratic Party."

Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, on the referendum: the vote reflects Albania's "democratic maturity."

Albanian Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha, addressing a rally to protest the referendum: "Let's get rid of the filthy animals. Whoever wants to violate our votes will have to pass over our bodies."