Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Years after Milosevic, Serbia's illusions

By Roger Cohen International Herald Tribune

[Shrinking Serbia?]

BELGRADE Every month officers of the armed forces of Serbia and Montenegro are asked if they have taken any foreign trips. The questioning is a routine matter, a hangover from the communist era.

In come the replies - a family holiday in Turkey, a visit to the Black Sea coast. More officers are traveling these days, often with newly acquired passports, although monthly salaries of about $450 (for a lieutenant colonel) limit foreign sojourns.

There is also a problem, not a new one in Serbia, with defining what is inside and what outside the country. Some officers who have visited Bosnia balk at categorizing the trips as foreign travel. They say they were stationed there and will never be able to consider the former Yugoslav territory as "foreign."

The protests are summarily dismissed: An international border now separates Serbia from Bosnia. But such little confrontations, witnessed and related by an army member, say much about the confused state of Serbia as the fifth anniversary of the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic approaches on Oct. 5.

At its most basic level, this confusion centers on geography. Within the greater question of where Europe ends, a matter of growing debate in Brussels, lies the smaller but still volatile question of where Serbia ends.

The historic Serbian mistake of 1918, when the victorious kingdom gambled on a large country that would take the name Yugoslavia, rather than consolidating a compact state of Serbia, continues to haunt Belgrade. Just how to complete the long pullback from this hubris-driven overreach remains unclear.

The territory governed from Belgrade continues to shrink. Next year, under an accord devised by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Montenegro can call a referendum to decide whether to secede.

Its union with Serbia is already something of a fiction - the two republics use different currencies - and many weary Serbs are inclined to say good riddance to the funny federation sometimes called "Solandia."

But Vojislav Kostunica, Serbia's conservative prime minister, is opposed to Montenegrin independence. So is the army. So is the EU, which sees no need for another European mini-state. So are many Montenegrins, who worry about losing access to good Belgrade hospitals and other perks. As a result, the 2006 referendum remains in doubt.

This uncertainty is unhelpful. "The sooner they decide, the better," said Goran Svilanovic, a former foreign minister. "We need to know the answer to this question: Are you in my country or not? People suffer from a chronic identity problem."

The nature of that problem is familiar enough. Belgrade is the capital of a vanishing state that once stretched to the Austrian border. Its peeling stucco and abandoned old cars are emblematic of decline. Nobody needs a thousand guesses to determine who the big loser from Yugoslavia's disintegration was. Slovenia and Croatia have left Serbia in the dust.

But Serbian illusions persist. As the officers' reluctance to qualify Bosnia as foreign suggests, former bigness is hard to reconcile with current smallness. Belief in some Serbian "Sonderweg," or "special way," endures below the surface. That makes acceptance of a mediocre reality difficult.

Part of this reality is that Montenegro is not alone in contemplating the exit. Negotiations are likely to begin later this year on the status of Kosovo, which is formally part of Serbia, in reality a ward of the international community, and in the minds of almost all its ethnic Albanian citizens a putative independent state.

What goes around comes around. Kosovo was the launching pad for the crazed nationalism engineered by Milosevic as Yugoslavia began to crumble. Now it will, in all likelihood, be the last piece of Serbia to go, but not without a bitter struggle over what many Serbs like to refer to as the cradle of their civilization.

When two Serbs were killed last weekend in a shooting in Kosovo, Kostunica and Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, rushed to issue statements of outrage. In essence, their message was that the incident demonstrated how far Kosovo remains from the basic standards Europe and the United States demand of any community with ambitions to self-governance. They had a point.

The problem, however, is that Serbia, ever quick to denounce ethnic Albanian "terrorism" in Kosovo, has scarcely begun to confront the crimes it committed on a vast scale in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

A video of Serbs killing Muslims at Srebrenica, shown in June at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, provoked a shock here. That was salutary. It was also a terrible indictment of the degree of Serbian ignorance a decade after the Bosnian war. Six Bosnian Muslims being shot in 1995 were shown in the video. Six! In the early months of the Bosnian war in 1992, tens of thousands of Muslims were driven from their homes, herded into camps and selectively killed. Over that murderous campaign silence reigns. From Kostunica down, obfuscation of the "They-killed-us-we-killed-them" variety is still encouraged.

"If you ask people here about joining the EU, everyone agrees," said Dusan Pavlovic, a political scientist. "But if you ask them about Serbian responsibility for war crimes, most people would say no. And if you ask them how you can integrate with Europe without accepting responsibility, they stare at you in dismay."

Of course, progress toward EU membership will not occur until two chief protagonists of Serbian violence, General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, are handed over to the international tribunal. Kostunica and Tadic have committed themselves to their capture, but national sentiment seems divided.

Within the army, younger officers, with an eye on potential NATO membership, favor Mladic's handover. But older officers cannot accept his capture. "They say they will never accept the arrest of a man with whom they fought in Bosnia," said the army member.

That's interesting. One of Serbia's, and Milosevic's, many fictions is that the Yugoslav Army never fought in Bosnia and the campaign there had nothing to do with Belgrade. Nonsense, of course, but Serbia remains ambivalent about reality.

Kosovo President seriously ill?

By Shaban Buza

PRISTINA, Kosovo[Kosova] (Reuters) - Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova was reported to be seriously ill on Wednesday, raising concern about a possible succession just weeks before talks he hopes will lead to independence.

"He is in very serious condition," a senior foreign diplomat told Reuters in the Kosovo capital Pristina, without specifying the nature of Rugova's ailment. Rugova has been in a U.S. military hospital in Germany for the past four days.

The charismatic Rugova has no obvious successor in his faction-ridden Democratic League of Kosovo[Kosova] (LDK).

United Nations-mediated talks with Serbia on the future of its southern province are expected to begin by October, and Rugova hopes to lead Kosovo's two million ethnic Albanians to full independence in 2006.

The 60-year-old president, a pacifist who has championed his people's independence aspirations for the past 15 years, was flown to the U.S. hospital at Landstuhl on Saturday.

Aides said his health had deteriorated after a bout of flu. An official spokesman refused on Wednesday to comment further on his health.

A hospital official at Landstuhl confirmed that Rugova was being treated but declined to give any details.

Kosovo[Kosova] became a de facto U.N. protectorate in 1999 after NATO bombing forced the withdrawal of Serb troops accused of atrocities in their conflict with Albanian separatist guerrillas.

Despite being eclipsed by the armed rebels, Rugova's popularity rebounded and he has been twice elected president since the war ended six years ago.

The LDK has relied heavily on his personal charisma to maintain a majority share of the vote among Kosovo's two million ethnic Albanians, but is driven by factionalism.

Smaller parties led by former guerrilla war leaders Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj -- who is now in The Hague to answer war crimes charges -- have eroded LDK support and would hope to overtake the LDK if Rugova was no longer at its helm.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Kosova and Malaysia aim economic cooperation

There are favorable conditions for establishment of a fruitful cooperation between Malaysia and Kosova since both countries have similar economic resources, said Parliament Speaker Nexhat Daci, following a meeting with the Chief of the Malaysian Liaison Office in Kosova[Kosovo], Mustafa Mansor. (KosovaLive)

It should also be noted that Malaysia was the only country in the world,other than Albania, to reconize the self styled "Rebublic of Kosova" during 1990's.F.F

Berisha: "Wishes of Kosova citizens should be taken into account' when deciding the fate of Kosova

26 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Prime Minister-elect Sali Berisha stressed in a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL today that his new government's priorities will be fighting corruption, setting up a state based on the rule of law, and establishing the basis for economic development.

Berisha, a former Albanian president who heads the country's Democratic Party, is expected to take office as prime minister in early September.

Berisha said he wants to see Albania integrated into NATO and the EU and known as a country that welcomes foreign investment, although he admitted those goals will not be easy.

Turning to the subject of Kosova[Kosovo], a UN-administered province that is heavily populated by ethnic Albanians, Berisha told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that he is opposed to any change of international borders in the Balkans, including those of Kosova[Kosovo].

A lasting solution to the Kosova[Kosovo] question must take into account the wishes of its citizens, Berisha stressed, as well as the views of local officials and the international community, including the UN Security Council. He said that delaying talks on Kosova's final status is not in the interest of Kosova[Kosovo] or the region, and those talks must respect the Kosovars' wishes for self-determination, which means independence.

Berisha added that his government will stress the importance of ensuring minority rights in Kosova[Kosovo], including those of the Serbian minority, as a guarantee of independence, peace, and stability for Kosova. It is important to treat the local Serbs as citizens of Kosova with full equality before the law and the right to develop their national and cultural identity, he stressed.

Dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade on the many bilateral questions affecting them is of great importance, Berisha argued. But he added that Belgrade should not be involved in Kosova's status talks, which are the business of the citizens of Kosova, the local authorities, the major international powers involved in the region, and the members of the Security Council, led by the United States.

Berisha made it clear that his party and its coalition partners intend in no uncertain terms to maintain Albanian's involvement in the struggle against terrorism.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Queuing for a stamp in Serbia

By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Belgrade

When Slobodan Milosevic was toppled by a popular revolution in October 2000, the country badly needed political and economic reform but, as Matt Prodger reports, Serbs are still waiting for the change that was promised.

Bureaucracy moves slowly in Belgrade

When I was a child, I dimly remember receiving as a birthday or a Christmas present something called a John Bull printing kit.

What this gift allowed children to do was create their own rubber stamps, letterheads and personalised symbols which, with the aid of an ink pad, they could use to make official looking correspondence.

I cannot say it was my favourite toy and it ended up at the back of my cupboard soon after.

But recently I was reminded of the John Bull printing kit as I sat in the dusty waiting room of a Belgrade police station, sweating in the August heat.

You see, I need a stamp. Desperately.

If I do not get this stamp, then the prospect of jail, a fine and eventually deportation loom.

I, like everyone in Serbia and Montenegro, need to register with the police.

Proof of residence

And to register with the police I need somewhere to stay. But officially I do not have somewhere to stay unless I have a stamp on my document to show that this is where I stay.

The trouble is that the old guard which ran Serbia in the 1990s is still here

So my visa, my tenancy agreement, my driving licence, bank statements, passport, press pass, identity card, my contract with the BBC are all redundant.

Because I need the stamp. And, like everything you really need here, you have to queue for it.

My colleague recently told me how upset she was about the death of her grandmother last year.

I expressed my sympathies and asked her if they had been close.

"No," she said, "but when she retired she'd get up every morning at five o'clock and queue. She'd queue to pay our bills, queue to get our documents and queue for visas at the embassies. She was a real professional.

"But now she's gone," she said, "and I've got to do it myself. It's a disaster."

'In transition'

Slobodan Milosevic is standing trial for genocide and crimes against humanity

This is a problem familiar to anybody who has ever lived with the crushing bureaucracy of a communist country.

The thing is, Serbia is not communist and has not been for at least 15 years, since the old Yugoslavia disintegrated.

Now it is post-communist or, to give it its proper term, "in transition".

That is a nice phrase - slightly dynamic, suggesting some forward momentum, some progress towards an ultimate goal. The trouble is, it does not apply much to Serbia.

It is nearly five years since Slobodan Milosevic was swept from power by a popular revolution, with a little help from abroad.

Reformists took over, things began to change. And then they stopped changing.

The trouble is that the old guard which ran Serbia in the 1990s is still here. The chairman of the board may be facing war crimes charges in The Hague, but the management is still pretty much the same.

So in recent months a new description of the situation here has emerged: not transition, but slippage.

Red tape

A drift back to the values of the Milosevic era. Nationalism, authoritarianism and corruption.

Serbia's relations with its neighbours - Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia - have deteriorated.

The party representing ultra-nationalists has become the most popular in the country, and the government relies on the parliamentary support of Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party.

Veterans of the struggle against Mr Milosevic were angered by the announcement that criminal charges had been dropped against the former president's son, who was accused of threatening to cut up a pro-democracy activist with a chainsaw five years ago.

A government minister has admitted advising the alleged victim to change his statement.

And the gangsters who robbed Serbia in the 1990s are still here as well, only now they have swapped their tracksuits for business suits.

Meanwhile, the economic upturn that many Serbs had expected post-Milosevic has not happened. The average monthly wage is about £150, unemployment is about 30% and daily life is still governed by red tape and bureaucracy.

Desperate measures

Back in the police station I can hear the slow tap-tap of one-finger typing as a clerk ever so slowly fills out a report on a rusting typewriter.

A yellowing wanted poster of war crimes suspects hangs on the wall.

And then the John Bull printing kit springs to mind. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I turn to my colleague and say: "Let's buy a stamp. We'll find a stationery shop, get the stamp made up and all our problems will be solved."

"You can't do that," she said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Well, you can't just go into a shop and buy a stamp. You need written permission.

"And a stamp."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Kosovo[Kosova]-Miles To Go

Daniel McKivergan

"WE HAVEN'T WON THIS YET." That's how a senior Western diplomat serving in Pristina characterized the situation in Kosovo[Kosova] six years after the end of NATO bombing. The intervention against the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was the right policy, he added, but what we've been trying to accomplish since is "more difficult here than in Bosnia." A bit south of Pristina is the town of Lipljan. There, a Kosovar Albanian man, a geography teacher, sat at a table in the home of a Kosovar Serb and spoke of people "in dark corners who work to undermine efforts [of reconciliation between Albanians and Serbs] because it's not in their interest to reconcile." Similar sentiments were repeated by others in Kosovo. So while Milosevic is tried at The Hague for war crimes, much more work remains to defeat his legacy in Kosovo.

In the late 1980s, Milosevic consolidated power on a platform of extreme nationalism. His efforts to centralize power in Belgrade put the Balkans on a path to war in which over 200,000 people would eventually be killed. In 1989, he forced amendments to the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution which eliminated the autonomy of Kosovo "inaugurating an era of spiraling human rights abuses against the Kosovar Albanian population," as detailed in war crimes documents at The Hague. All this led to the formation of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1997 and fierce fighting between the KLA and Serb forces operating in Kosovo before NATO intervened in March 1999.

Since 1999, when the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1244 making Kosovo a U.N. protectorate, the goal has been to establish a stable, multi-ethnic democracy. Under 1244, UNMIK--the U.N. Interim Administrative Mission in Kosovo--supervises domestic affairs while KFOR--the 18,000-strong NATO-led Kosovo Protection Force--is tasked with creating a "secure environment" for the transition to full civilian administration of Kosovo.

Soon, the United Nations and members of the Kosovo Contact Group (the U.S., the U.K., Germany, France, Russia, and Italy) are expected to announce that Kosovo has made enough progress--four elections have been held, a constitutional framework drafted, and provisional government institutions erected--to warrant the start of "final status" talks. The outcome of these talks will determine if Kosovo becomes an independent nation, as the Kosovar Albanians demand and expect, or attains the status of "more than autonomy, less than independence," as Serbian President Boris Tadic frequently advocates in public appearances.

OFFICIALS IN BELGRADE have also been floating the idea of a partitioned Kosovo because, they say, full independence would provoke a nationalist reaction and suffocate Serbia's nascent democracy. Belgrade would absorb the Serb-dominated land north of the Ibar river (the majority of Serbs are also scattered in central and southern Kosovo) while the rest would become an independent state governed by Pristina. According to several Western diplomats, Belgrade has discouraged Kosovar Serb participation in elections and institutions in Pristina to bolster their case for partition.

Even so, partition won't happen. The United States opposes any partition, as does the European Union, on the grounds that a partition would spark even greater regional instability and reward the aggression of Milosevic. Furthermore, the State Department's Nicholas Burns testified to Congress that a partition would undermine the basic principle of a Kosovo "based on multi-ethnicity with full respect for human rights including the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes in safety."

Odds are that Kosovo will gain a sort of probationary independence. Full sovereignty--say within a few years--would be conditioned on, among other things, the return of Serbs who fled Kosovo since 1999 (the State Department estimates over 100,000 fled mainly due to Kosovar Albanian retribution while the United Nations believes about 13,000 have returned) and a demonstrated ability of local government officials to ensure freedom of movement throughout Kosovo. Any transition would also involve a continued international security presence for some time.

BUT MEETING THESE CONDITIONS WON'T BE EASY. Along with an unemployment rate of over 60 percent, ensuring freedom of movement in Kosovo remains the biggest failure of UNMIK and KFOR for the last six years.

A recent report, written by UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Peterson of Denmark, cited the lack of freedom of movement as a major obstacle to further progress in Kosovo--a conclusion echoed by other international officials and one that is obvious to anyone traveling around Kosovo. If a Kosovar Albanian and Serb want to socialize, they generally do so out of public view. As many stated privately, talks in public raises the risk of being targeted by extremists who are not interested in multiethnic dialogue.

On a Wednesday in Lipljan, where about 450 Kosovar Albanians and 210 Serbs live, five Serb men sat down in a Serb home to talk about life there. "The economy doesn't exist for us," said one, who blamed the international community for their plight. Another revealed that "he talks with his Albanian neighbor in his backyard" but not on the street "where others can see"--that's too dangerous, he said. Asked if all Lipljan's Albanians were hostile, they collectively gestured no. One added that perhaps 1 in 10 Albanians are "hostile to us." Toward the end of the discussion, a Kosovar Albanian, a geography teacher who lives nearby, joined in. He agreed that ethnic relations are bad and blamed "Albanian politicians for not doing enough" to challenge the extremists who want the remaining Serbs to leave Kosovo.

A short distance from the Macedonian border is Prizren, a town where, at least on that day, you could spot children wearing clothing emblazoned with the letters "USA" (I should note that many Kosovar Albanians expressed pro-American sentiment in discussions with them). Outside a small coffee shop a middle-aged Serb said that the "majority of Albanians don't have ill will toward us. The problem is the radicals--the 10 percent who control politics." Later, speaking in the living room of her small home nearby, a Serb woman in her eighties said ethnic relations "were better" before Milosevic came to power and that "Albanians suffered quite a bit under Milosevic." Muzafri, a Kosovar Albanian who now works at a cafe in the center of Prizren, told the story of Serb forces entering his village in 1999 and giving everyone two hours to flee their homes. They joined the hundreds of thousands of other Kosovar Albanians ejected by Milosevic's forces. Asked if he would like the Serbs who still live in town to stay, he responded, "Sure, we should all live together."

ABOUT 60 KILOMETERS NORTHWEST of Prizren is Orahovac, which witnessed heavy fighting between Milosevic's forces and the KLA in 1998 and 1999. At the top of a narrow, sloping street that leads into the town's center is a crowded enclave of about 500 Serbs. They are protected by barbed wire and a handful of KFOR troops. At the lower end live Kosovo Albanians, who vastly outnumber the Serbs. In between is the so-called "buffer zone," which is lined with crumbling, burnt-out buildings. Just outside Orahovac is another Serb enclave of Velika Hoca, which has a fixed military checkpoint on the only road leading into it and is regularly patrolled by KFOR.

Many gravestones line the main road leading into the town of Decan, northwest of Orahovac, along the Albanian border. A May 2005 International Crisis Group report described Decan as a "tinderbox, full of angry armed groups, and isolated from the rest of Kosovo." According to the Louis Segnini, the local UNMIK head, Decan is the home of many "hardcore [KLA] fighters" from the 1990s who today are the town's "political hardliners." They "intimidate other Albanians" from socializing with Serbs, who live in enclaves on the edge of town. For example, every so often Segnini hosts a "sugar meeting" at the local UNMIK headquarters between local Serbs and Albanians to facilitate better relations. But when he suggests that they all go out to a restaurant down the street the Albanians get "very nervous" and decline.

In Mitrovica, a gritty, bustling town northeast of Pristina, the bridge spanning the Ibar acts as the "buffer zone" with a heavy U.N. and KFOR presence at both ends. In March 2004, Mitrovica was also the town which sparked two days of violence throughout Kosovo which left 19 dead, hundreds injured, hundreds of Serb houses burned, and 30 Orthodox churches destroyed along with 72 U.N. vehicles. KFOR was caught by surprise and did little to stop it. The United Nations believes Kosovar Albanian extremists orchestrated the violence to "destroy any ethnic integration," and officials in Belgrade point to the violence to discredit Kosovo's bid for independence. "The more I looked at what happened [in March 2004], the bigger the impact" the violence really had on our efforts, lamented UNMIK's Soren Jessen-Peterson. The International Crisis Group report concludes that "Both Kosovo Albanian extremists seeking to eject UNMIK, and those in Serbia who would prefer Kosovo to discredit itself . . . share an interest in provocation."

Whatever the outcome of the "final status" talks, the United States, the European Union, and NATO must remain engaged in Kosovo and not let the extremist minority win a victory over simple human decency.

Daniel McKivergan is deputy director of the Project for the New American Century.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Another Serb war suspect arrested

A Bosnian Serb fugitive sentenced for crimes committed during the Bosnian war and wanted by a UN war crimes court has been arrested in Argentina.
Police say Milan Lukic, who has been on the run for more than five years, was arrested in Buenos Aires.

He was indicted by the UN's war crimes tribunal for crimes said to have been carried out during the Bosnian war.

He is also wanted in Serbia, where he was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for war crimes.

'Reign of terror'

In 2003, a court in Belgrade found Lukic and three other men guilty of torturing and murdering 16 Muslim civilians whom they abducted from a bus travelling from Serbia to Bosnia in 1992.

Yugoslav officials say Lukic headed a paramilitary group believed to be responsible for abducting, torturing and killing the victims, all Yugoslav nationals.

The incident - known as the Sjeverin case after the town where the victims were kidnapped - was the most serious crime to take place on Serbian territory during the Balkan wars in the early 1990s.

In the indictment from the tribunal at The Hague, Lukic is accused of forming a paramilitary group in 1992 which worked with local police and military units to exact a "reign of terror" against Bosnian Muslims in the Bosnian city of Visegrad.

Lukic is being held in a Buenos Aires jail and is expected to appear in court for questioning before a federal judge in the coming days.
BBC World News

Monday, August 01, 2005

Swiss support Kosovo independence

PRISHTINA -- Monday – Switzerland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said in Pristina that her nation supports the independence of Kosovo[Kosova] under international supervision, because the idea of returning the region to the control of the Serbian government is undesirable and unrealistic.

She said that Kosovo[Kosova] is Switzerland’s priority in Southeast Europe, and is interested in intensive cooperation with Kosovo. Calmy-Rey met with Kosovo President Ibrahim Rugova today.

According to the Swiss official, Switzerland is convinced that the current status of Kosovo is unacceptable and untenable, and that such a situation is getting in the way of Kosovo’s economic development.

“Moving towards formal independence must be done under the supervision of the international community and through talks with Belgrade.” she said.

Calmy-Rey said that the two legitimate demands of the Kosovo people should be honored.

“On one side there is the demand of the minority to live in security and to have equal rights in public institutions, and on the other side is the demand of the majority in Kosovo which wants to establish its right to self-appropriation.” Calmy-Rey said.

President Rugova said that Kosovo respects the demands of the international community to implement standards before beginning status discussions.

“I insist on the direct recognizing of the independence of Kosovo by the US and the European Union.” Rugova said.

Calmy-Rey is to meet with Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi today, as well as with leaders of the Kosovo opposition parties and Serbian political officials in Kosovo.