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Balkan Report: November 12, 2007

Bosnian Serbs Protest Imposed Reforms, But Is It Smoke Or Fire?

By Patrick Moore

A Bosnian Serb holds a banner saying "Lajcak is a Bosnian Muslim lobbyist" at a protest in Pale on October 29

October 30, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Bosnian Serbs' parliament voted overwhelmingly today to condemn administrative reforms introduced on October 19 by the international community's high representative as contravening the 1995 Dayton peace agreements, which ended the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The 12-point parliamentary resolution also called for sharply curbing Miroslav Lajcak's powers.

On October 29, the Serbian Movement of Nongovernmental Organizations (Spona) organized demonstrations of several thousand people across the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity, against the Slovak diplomat's reforms. In addition to carefully printed signs, some of the protesters in Banja Luka carried portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Lajcak's reforms are aimed at speeding up the decision-making process in the Bosnian government and parliament and invigorating the reform effort. The measures are also designed to stop politicians from blocking the functioning of institutions by not showing up. His move comes shortly before two potentially important events: the October 31 meeting of the Peace Implementation Council, the large international grouping that oversees Bosnia's postwar recovery and which appointed Lajcak; and the publication in early November of the EU's latest annual report on Bosnia's progress.

Blocking EU Membership

The high representative introduced the changes in response to the repeated failure of Bosnian politicians to agree on police reform, which is the main obstacle to launching a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, which has otherwise been ready since 2006. The SAA is the first step toward EU membership and the possible easing of visa requirements for travel to EU member states, which is of central importance to most ordinary Bosnians. Furthermore, many Bosnians see EU membership as essential for their country's economic development.

On October 28, Bosnian Muslim, Croat, and Serb leaders agreed in principle on a police reform, which would meet EU requirements for a single force, financed from the central budget and ostensibly free of political interference. Currently, the two entities -- the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat federation -- each have their own force, which many consider to be successors to the often shadowy security bodies that date from the war over a decade ago. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said on October 28 that "we agreed that a reformed police force must reflect the constitution. This is an attempt to unblock the process of EU integration." After 30 days, the leaders will meet again to discuss constitutional reform and the "details" of establishing a "functional, multiethnic, and professional police force," as Dodik put it.

But the devil is in those details. At stake are the power relationships between the weak central authorities on the one hand and the two entities, especially the Republika Srpska, on the other. When the Dayton agreements were signed, then-Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic convinced her followers that Dayton guaranteed the "sovereignty" of the Republika Srpska -- and Bosnian Serb leaders have operated from that premise ever since.

The international community and Bosnian Muslim leaders, however, viewed Dayton as a stop-gap measure necessary to end the conflict and certainly not intended to be permanent. Western and Muslim authorities foresaw the evolution of Bosnia into a democratic, multiethnic state with an effective central government. Ethnic-Serbian and Croatian politicians feared just such a development, because the Muslims are the largest single ethnic group and could possibly outvote the others. The Serbs accordingly became suspicious of any move that threatened to undercut the sovereignty of their entity, while many Croatian leaders sought in vain to replace the federation with two distinct entities, one Muslim and one Croatian.

Police reform is central to these power relationships and hence has been so difficult to achieve. One model of reform suggested setting up new police districts that crossed the boundaries of the two entities. This proved anathema to the Serbs, who saw that model as a blow to their sovereignty as set down in Dayton. Another question involves defining the multiethnicity of the police: is a force multiethnic just because it has a joint overall command like the Bosnian military, even though in reality individual units and their commanders are still determined on an ethnic basis?

Obstructionism With Russian Backing?

Meanwhile, much attention is centered on Dodik. If Lajcak does not withdraw his governmental reforms, which Dodik says will undermine the authority of the two entities, Dodik has threatened to withdraw Serbian officials from all central institutions and take his Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) into the opposition. For his part, Lajcak has suggested that he might use his authority to sack Dodik if the Bosnian Serb leader continues to obstruct. For the international community, much has indeed changed since U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said about a decade ago that Plavsic and Dodik were "a good ticket" because they were considered a sound alternative to politicians loyal to wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic in Bosnia and Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

Milorad Dodik speaking in Banja Luka on October 29 (AFP)

On October 22, Dodik and Lajcak held a meeting that seemed to ease tensions. But shortly afterwards, the Bosnian Serb leader met in Belgrade with nationalist Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov, who has acted as Moscow's diplomatic point man in obstructing moves toward independence for Kosova. Following that meeting, Dodik's rhetoric became tough again. Britain's "The Economist" on October 27 quoted Lajcak as saying, "They should either stop [threatening to paralyze the government] or reveal their real intentions." Meanwhile, Dodik has called for Lajcak to go and for his office to be abolished.

Much of the recent discussion hardly seems new. Several informed observers from the region told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on October 29 that Dodik and his followers are displaying familiar obstructionist tactics aimed at keeping non-Serbs from having a say in the affairs of the Republika Srpska and holding up Bosnia's European integration. Eastern Sarajevo's "Dnevni list" of October 30 quoted Rear Admiral Hans-Jochen Witthauer, commander of the EU's EUFOR peacekeeping force, as saying that "if we look into these problems and events, I believe the international community is well advised to keep its hands on the western Balkans."

One aspect that seems to be new is the possible Russian factor. Are Titov (and the Kremlin) encouraging Kostunica and Dodik to stonewall Western diplomatic efforts aimed at promoting the Euro-Atlantic integration of the former Yugoslavia? Does Russia have great-power ambitions in the region that go beyond nay-saying and obstructionism? What lies behind the appearance of the Putin portraits in Banja Luka, which were probably the first pictures of a Russian leader carried by demonstrators in former Yugoslavia in decades?

Despite Soviet leader Josef Stalin's expulsion of Yugoslav communist chief Josip Broz Tito from the Soviet-led bloc in 1948, many Yugoslavs, particularly those from a Serbian Orthodox background, maintained an uncritical admiration for Russia that sometimes bordered on awe. This complex phenomenon is still present and could provide a political basis for expanding Russian influence in much of former Yugoslavia.

It may also be, however, that Dodik's meeting with Titov and the appearance of the Putin portraits are simply aimed at providing some psychological support for Serbs who consider themselves embattled, even if there is not much substance behind the Russian "presence." Reassurance and support are part the aura surrounding Russia among many Orthodox of former Yugoslavia. According to a 19th-century British joke, an English traveler once asked a boastful Montenegrin exactly how many Montenegrins there are. The response was: "with the Russians, 120 million."

Firefight Kills Eight In Macedonia Near Kosovo Border

By Valentinas Mite

Macedonian special police forces near the village of Brodec, where the clash took place

November 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A firefight in northwestern Macedonia, mostly populated by ethnic Albanians, has left eight people dead.

The authorities say the firefight took place after an operation against an "armed criminal group" and that all the dead were members of the gang.

The clash comes amid rising ethnic and regional tensions in the run-up to the end of talks on Kosovo's future status on December 10. Ethnic Albanians make up around 25 percent of Macedonia's population.

The Macedonian authorities maintain that the recent fight was part of a routine police action targeting criminals crossing the border from Kosovo.

The Interior Ministry said the operation was aimed at a group led by Lirim Jakupi, a fugitive from a Kosovo prison and a former member of the outlawed Albanian National Army. Jakupi, who goes by the nickname "the Nazi," managed to escape capture.

The Albanian National Army includes former members of the Albanian nationalist movement that spawned the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK).

In spite of the police description of the operation as an anticrime crackdown, others say it has broader implications.

Biljana Vankovska, a professor at the Institute for Defense Studies in Skopje, says that the police found more -- and more dangerous -- weapons than an ordinary criminal gang would possess. The police, Vankovska says, announced that they would need several trucks to transport the seized weapons, which include rocket-propelled grenades and other sophisticated equipment.

Vankovska also says that, while the group involved in the clash may indeed take part in criminal activities, they behave more like a guerrilla movement. Their members wear black uniforms, and last week they set up informal checkpoints on mountain roads in the area where they operate.

And Vankovska says that "the past relations between Kosovo fighters and [ethnic Albanian] Macedonian fighters are still very close."

She says the intentions of the groups remain vague, but appear to link to a power struggle within Kosovo as the ethnic-Albanian government of the province plans to declare independence from Serbia in the beginning of December.

"This is not only a fight of gaining independence for Kosovo but also for the leadership in the future state of Kosovo," Vankovska said. "So, many people, many leaders have much at stake right now. It is very much I would say an intra-Albanian conflict but not only in Macedonia but you have to take in mind a regional context as well."

Northwestern Macedonia was on the verge of a civil war in 2001, but a growing Albanian insurgency was quelled and a broader conflict averted by a broad peace-and-reforms package brokered by the West to give ethnic Albanians more rights.

But the area has remained volatile due to ethnic-Albanian hostility to the central government, and porous borders with Kosovo to the north and Albania to the west.

Skopje, keen to project an image of stability as it seeks eventual membership in both NATO and the European Union, has frequently downplayed the risk presented by armed groups in the country’s northwest.

And on November 7, Avni Arifi, a spokesman for Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku, said that Kosovo authorities are interested in stability in Macedonia.

"We urge the institutions in Macedonia to protect the lives of its citizens and private property. Peace and stability in the region is very important for Kosovo and the process Kosovo is going through," Arifi said.

The same day, Kosovo police spokesman Veton Elshani said that the Kosovo police force and the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Kosovo, KFOR, have increased control of the Kosovo-Macedonian border and are acting in cooperation with Macedonian security institutions.

A key factor in avoiding further conflict in the coming weeks will be the reaction of ethnic-Albanian political parties in Macedonia, says Blagoja Kuzmanovski, the head of the Macedonian-language bureau of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Skopje.

"If they support these police actions, it will be good for the situation in Tetovo and Macedonia. But if they want to benefit from the situation for their own purposes, it will be bad," Kuzmanovski says.

Kuzmanovski notes that the November 7 incident is not an isolated one. Last week, another Kosovo prison fugitive was shot dead in the same region. Police denied involvement, saying Xhavid Morina was killed in a skirmish between rival criminal gangs.

(RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report.)

Moldovan President Sees Solution To Conflict With Separatists

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin (file photo)

November 6, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has announced that mediators have drafted a plan to be proposed to Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region that would grant separatists large autonomy and achieve reunification. During a wide-ranging interview in Chisinau with RFE/RL correspondent Eugen Tomiuc, the Moldovan president expressed optimism that negotiations based on the plan will soon resume. He also had high praise for the OSCE's mediating role, said Kosovo should not been seen as a model for other frozen conflicts, and accused EU member Romania of trying to undermine Moldova's efforts to develop its national identity.

RFE/RL: The negotiations to resolve Moldova's 15-year conflict with Transdniester have been lagging for some time. Has Moldova altered its position toward the withdrawal of Russian troops and armaments from the region? Are there any moves toward pushing the process forward?

Vladimir Voronin: I wouldn't confirm that the negotiations have stagnated. On the contrary, consultations are taking place -- we have the notion of negotiations, and we have the notion of consultations -- the basis for negotiations always consists of projects that resulted from prior consultations among the sides involved in the process. I highly appreciate the bilateral consultations which have already taken place between Moldova and the Russian Federation, the United States, the European Union, Ukraine, the OSCE, but I also have high regard for the ongoing consultations on the Transdniester dispute between the United States and the Russian Federation, and between Ukraine and the European Union. As a result of these consultations, a draft of the future status of Transdniester's autonomy has already been agreed upon. A mechanism of guarantees for implementing this status and work toward reunification has also been convened."

RFE/RL: When you say "agreed upon" should we understand that the two sides -- Moldova and Transdniester -- have come to an understanding on these issues?

Voronin: All the sides [involved in the negotiations process] -- with the exception o f Transdniester. All sides have agreed upon the draft as a viable plan to be brought up in talks with Transdniester."

RFE/RL: You have mentioned the OSCE as one of the sides involved in the process. The OSCE has actually been moderating the negotiations process for many years. However, the OSCE itself has recently come under criticism for lacking both the tools and the political will to intervene decisively in resolving the "frozen conflicts" of Transdniester, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. How does Moldova regard the OSCE's role in resolving its dispute with separatist Transdniester?

Voronin: OSCE may have indeed its shortcomings, but the OSCE is the body that has continuously been organizing the consultations with Transdniester. The OSCE is actually the organization that has been permanently involved in monitoring the situation of the frozen conflicts [in the former Soviet Union] and Kosovo, and that is a very important fact, because individual states have other problems too, and they have various interests, both domestic and foreign. And then I am asking myself, what other organization could unite us all and make us focus on these issues? There is no other such organization. [The OSCE] may come under criticism for its shortcomings, but its shortcomings are not caused by its staff's incompetence, but by its statute, which was voted on by all member states. All in all, the OSCE is undertaking a huge job, if I were to mention only the Transdniester dispute.

RFE/RL: You also mentioned Kosovo, where a deadline for an agreement between the two sides is drawing near. Are you apprehensive that an independent Kosovo would prompt Russia and separatist leaders in Transdniester to call for the breakaway region's independence?

Voronin: I don't think that a resolution of any frozen conflict should be set as an example for others, because each conflict -- the Transdniester one, if you like, or Kosovo -- has its own roots, its own history, and its own evolution, as well as its own solution, which can apply only to that conflict. There can't be a just one solution for all conflicts.

RFE/RL: Some commentators have criticized Moldova's communist leadership for what they call political opportunism -- courting either the West or the East, depending on its momentary interests. I will start with the East: after an obvious cooling in its relations with Moscow, Moldova's government seems to be getting closer to Russia again. How good are your ties with Russia during the hectic preelection period there?

Voronin: For commentators it is easy to criticize and draw conclusions. For us politicians, the situation is much more complicated. Geographically and politically, Moldova has the role of a span between East and West, if we are to consider only the fact that since January 1 it has become a neighbor of the European Union while remaining a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). We have certain advantages from CIS membership -- why should we give them up? On the other hand, we have some advantages resulting from our new role as EU neighbors. Western investors seem more interested in Moldova now that we are on the EU border. It is in our own interests to make the most of these new opportunities, especially since they are a gift for which we did not have to work. It was high time we had some luck, too. We have no natural resources, we have no economic power, how else could we develop? That is why I am satisfied that we have good relations with the CIS states, and at the same time we have managed to successfully implement the EU-Moldova action plan. This doesn't mean that we are shifting from one side to the other, we are pursuing our national interests. I am glad that Russia lifted the ban on Moldovan wine imports, that we have a solid five-year agreement for gas deliveries, and that we have resolved other bilateral issues. This good relationship with Russia does not contradict our strategic goal of European integration.

RFE/RL: You've mentioned the fact that Moldova lacks natural resources. You have mentioned a new contract with Gazprom. With winter approaching, can Moldova afford to pay for gas at market prices? Is there any connection between the lifting of the wine ban and gas issue?

Voronin: We have no choice but to negotiate the gas price with Russia. Of course we would like the price to be much lower, but there are no other options. We need gas, so we will have to tighten our belts a little more and pay for it. As for the wine, the Russian ban has actually prompted us to penetrate more aggressively into other markets as well. Now that the ban has been lifted, we shouldn't leave those new markets, but consolidate them even more. This was a very important lesson that paid off. In just the first nine months of this year, our exports to the EU grew a handsome 36 percent."

RFE/RL: You have just spoken about the advantages that Moldova is supposedly enjoying from its membership in the Commonwealth of Independent States. I'd like to ask you to elaborate on your opinion about regional groupings of former soviet republics such as the CIS and GUAM. Do they have a future?

Voronin: I will reiterate what I said at my first news conference after becoming president in 2001. Moldova has to be where its interests are, and where it can have advantages. Now, regarding our CIS membership, at the last CIS summit in Dushanbe I had the impression that the newly adopted strategy to develop the organization is more viable than previous ones. In fact, the changes in the CIS strategy are meant, I believe, to make it function more like the European Union. If this line is maintained, I believe that the CIS will become a viable organization that will benefit the member states. As for GUAM, the situation seems darker, because this group's future direction for development has not yet been clarified. There are wide-ranging discussions, but there has been no definitive decision on the principles and the fields of action for this organization.

RFE/RL: Let's turn now to the West. Are you satisfied with your current relations with the European Union? Since you now have a common border with the EU, do you and your government still have a clear political objective of becoming an EU member?

Voronin: It is clear that the strategy adopted by Moldova's parliament in July 2005 has the final objective of joining the EU. But we know it's a long road and not an easy one. That's why the first step -- the three-year Moldova-EU action plan, which is about to come to an end in December -- was tough for us. We had no experience, no trained staff, no previous experience. We made extraordinary efforts to honor the obligations we assumed under the plan. I am glad to tell you that during the recent meetings we had in Brussels with the European Commission our diligent efforts were praised by the EU, and we can say the three-year plan was implemented successfully. But this is just the first step. We have to implement European standards and criteria here, in our society, before knocking on Europe's door and asking to join the great European family.

RFE/RL: Then you still have a lot of work to do.

Voronin: Absolutely. The more we advance, the more difficult the challenges we face."

RFE/RL: How about relations with your new -- and only -- EU neighbor, Romania? There was a lot of tension after Bucharest earlier this year announced efforts to establish a fast-track procedure to grant Romanian citizenship to Moldovans who can prove they or their ancestors were Romanian citizens before World War II -- thus giving them access to the EU labor market. How would you rate your relationship with Romania now?

Voronin: Our relations are not particularly good right now, and we are worried about this evolution. These differences emerged now, but they have been brewing for many years. If Romanian authorities continue to base the relations with us on questioning the Moldovan state's national identity, I am not convinced that they will improve. This is our discontent right now. Our position should be understood by Romania and supported by the European Union. We should have normal relations with our neighbors -- whoever they are -- not relations that are to one side's disadvantage.

RFE/RL: Do you believe Romania's initiative to grant citizenship to some Moldovans has caused problems for Moldova?

Voronin: Yes, and very serious ones. Furthermore, the problems continue, and the changes in Romania's citizenship law are clear proof of that. We are very worried, and will complain to all European and international bodies, because this concerns Moldova's statehood. No matter how quiet we Moldovans are by nature, we can't remain oblivious to our state's future.

RFE/RL: Moldova's ruling Communist Party, as well as the president, are already in the last half of their second term. What has happened to the reform of the Communist Party, which you announced in 2005? Is it still under way, and what do you envision it will be like? A 21st-century perestroika?

Voronin: We are not into perestroika anymore, we don't even use the word anymore, because we've had enough of perestroika during the Soviet era. The party is a living organism, and the reform we talked about two years ago has been in the making. In two weeks' time, on November 17, we will publish the draft of the new party program, which then will be debated until March 15, when it is due to be voted on during an extraordinary congress of the Communist Party. It is a European program, a new program that I am sure will stir not only an internal debate in our society, but also be of international interest."

RFE/RL: Could you give us a hint about the future direction of Moldova's Communist Party? Might it turn into a Western European-style social-democratic party, for instance?

Voronin: I am absolutely against classifying political parties according to such [doctrinal] connotations -- communists, social-democrats, etc. Our goal is to build a welfare state, which would ensure the welfare of our citizens. We want to build a state where citizen's rights and security are guaranteed."