Saturday, September 23, 2006

Serbia facing the ‘perfect storm’

Published: Friday, 22 September, 2006

By Douglas Hamilton

BELGRADE: Barring a lucky break, Serbia may face a ‘perfect storm’ in the next two weeks as its government crumbles, its European Union bid falters and its plea to keep Kosovo province fails.

These major problems, all rooted in the wars stoked by the late Slobodan Milosevic from 1991 to 1999, are on a collision course as autumn closes in on a summer that resolved nothing.

At stake is six years of hard-won progress to rehabilitation on a path ambushed by ultranationalists, who treat reformists as sell-outs to a European Union Serbs don’t even need.

Most Serbs want to join the EU. But the EU has warned Serbia that membership talks will not resume this year unless it soon arrests Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.

The liberal G17 Plus party says it can no longer stand by and watch passively as Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, wary of a political backlash, dithers over arresting Mladic.

"For the thousandth time I repeat: we will quit the government and will not support it in parliament if the EU talks do not resume by October first," said G17’s Suzana Grubjesic.

The G17 liberals view Mladic as an albatross around Serbia’s neck. But ultranationalist Radicals and Socialists see him as a hero. Analysts say a G17 defection from Kostunica’s coalition risks letting the anti-Western camp gain power.

The EU will await word early next month from sceptical UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte on whether she thinks Serbia is genuinely trying to catch Mladic, indicted in 1995.

Clapping the general in handcuffs by October would be a very lucky break, but there is no sign whatever of that happening.

Like Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic, who would quit along with G17 colleagues, analyst Milica Delevic-Djilas thinks the EU will give Belgrade a break next month "if there’s the slightest room to keep Serbia on the road to European integration".

But "we’re all tied in knots waiting to see..." she said.

If del Ponte is negative and an EU rebuff triggers a G17 walkout and government collapse, the timing could not be worse.

It would cast Serbs adrift just as they face the likely loss of their Kosovo province, delivering a combination punch to national pride that could swell an anti-Western backlash.

Kosovo has been run by the UN and policed by Nato since the West forced Milosevic to pull his troops out in 1999 to end killing and ethnic cleansing in their anti-insurgency war. Its 90% Albanian majority wants to be free of Serbia.

With no hint of compromise in talks between Serbs and Albanians, UN mediator Martti Ahtisaari was this week discussing with major powers imposing a solution, which could well mean independence by year’s end.

Serbia’s reformist leaders say that is too soon. They need more time for their plan to ease the nation over the loss of this historic homeland in a way that will not drive voters into the revanchist camp and hand power on a platter to the ultras.

Kostunica and his rival President Boris Tadic have closed ranks to seek a reprieve on Kosovo so they can trounce the Radicals in a March 2007 election before its loss is sealed.

There is talk of an election truce, if not a coalition.

Their tactics for seducing nationalists include wrapping themselves in the flag and cosying up to Bosnia’s Serbs, who dream of joining Serbia one day. The idea of letting Bosnian Serbs vote in future Serbian elections was mooted this week.

This show of patriotism and brotherly love may impress sentimental Serbs but it is trying EU members who are tired of Belgrade using the bogey of Serb nationalism to scare them.

Electioneering Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, a frequent guest of Tadic and Kostunica recently, is warning his people might hold an independence referendum if Bosnia’s Muslim majority tries to whittle away the autonomy of their republic, or if Kosovo gets independence.

"If Kosovo gets independence, people in the Bosnian Serb Republic would request the same status (within existing Bosnia borders)," he said this week ahead of an October 1 election.

Backers say Dodik is simply responding to some Bosnian Muslim leaders calling for the abolition of his Serb Republic.

But Bosnia overseer Christian Schwarz-Schilling has now threatened to dismiss him if he persists - a move with highly unpredictable consequences in the prevailing climate. – Reuters

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Serbian President gets the impression that Washington supports an Independent Kosovo

Tadić wraps up Kosovo visit
9 September 2006 | 11:57 | Source: B92
WASHINGTON, LONDON -- Serbian President Boris Tadić wrapped up his three day visit to the US yesterday.

He said that the stances of American officials suggest that the Kosovo status solution calls for independence. Most analysts say that this stance by the US has been known for some time now, and that it is strange that Serbian officials have taken so long to come to terms with this and tell the Serbian people.

Tadić, after meeting with officials in Washington, said that the stances of Serbia and the US are significantly different regarding the Kosovo status question, and that he has the impression that the administration in Washington supports Kosovo independence.

British journalists and publicist Tim Juda told B92 that this stance of the US has been known for so long, that it is strange to him that it has taken this long for Serbian officials to inform their citizens of it.

“What surprises me is not the fact that it is President Tadić speaking, but that he is speaking just now about it. We have known this for a long time, more than a year. This stance is not only America’s, but the European Union’s and the stance of several countries within the Contact Group that support Kosovo independence. Last December, Tadić was in Paris where he was told the same thing he heard in Washington yesterday. Maybe the president wants to send a clear message to the citizens that this is really the situation now, but it is strange that he did this in the end.” Juda said.

In all the discussions Tadić had this week regarding Kosovo, he made sure to tell US officials that Belgrade’s stance is that Kosovo independence is unacceptable. US ambassador to Serbia, Michael Polt, said that a decision has not yet been made on the status, but that Serbia should not see Kosovo independence as a loss.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Serb politician says Kosovo’s independence desirable

NOVI SAD -- Nenad Čanak believes Kosovo's independence will force Serbia to face real, everyday problems.

“After Kosovo is independent, the story, ‘we suffer so much over Kosovo’ will be over. Then we will finally have an opportunity to face real, everyday problems, such as the standard of living, the country’s development, and, among others, Vojvodina’s autonomy”, the province’s European integration and regional cooperation Assembly committee chairman said.

Čanak added that Kosovo’s actual independence will happen in under a year, while the formal independence will be achieved in 2008. “Kosovo’s independence will open up the debate in Serbia itself, examining the failed national-socialist projects, starting with Garašanin, via Mojović, all the way to Milošević and Koštunica”, Čanak believes.

He accused Belgrade of using Kosovo Serbs as a “destabilization tool”, instead of assisting them in their integration in the Kosovo society. “Belgrade has a habit of holding Serbs located out of Serbia hostage to its centrist policies”, Čanak concluded. B92

Monday, September 04, 2006

"You can always count on them to bungle it"

This quote or something very close to is attributed to late Croatian President when he was referring to the Serbs (Serbian government). The legend has it that he was more confident in Serbs making wrong decisions then Croatians making right decisions during the war in Croatia. Boy wasn’t he right.
In recent years the Serbian government has given new life to this theory. Every important International representative and institution involved in Kosovo has been insulted and condemned by the Serbian government. Starting with the infamous indictment of Clinton and Blair on “war crime” charges in 1999 up to the recent condemnation of Ahtisari, the message from Belgrade has been this: we are masters at insulting important people at our own peril.

This seems to be a Serbian trait that does not go away with changing of guards. There have been several governments in Serbia since 1999, but almost all of them have continued to insult important international diplomats and institutions. Here is the short list of Individuals and Institutions that have been a target of Serb insults:

  1. 1999- Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Javier Solana and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder were indicted on “war crime” charges by the Milosevic regime. Having in mind that these were the most important decisions makers in the western world, this indictment convinced most people what they already feared: the Serb Government was lead by lunatics. In addition to that, these “indicted” leaders were even more determined in opposing the Serb position in Kosovo, which by default benefited Albanians. In Kosovo there is even a boulevard named after Clinton.

Lesson I: Don’t piss off important people in the international stage unnecessarily. They are humans and if insulted, they will make decisions that you may not like. The Kosovo government can count on Serbs continuing with this trend as negotiation over Kosovo intensifies.

  1. Hague Tribunal: the Serb attack against the tribunal has been constant. They call it biased against Serbs, anti Serb and you name it. Every government since Milosevic has maintained this position. Their beef is that the Tribunal has indicted more Serbs then any other ethnic group. What they don’t get it is that this logic does not play well in the western world. Of course the tribunal has indicted more Serbs because more Serbs committed war crimes then any other ethic group. Get it? This attack against the tribunal has pissed off a lot of people at The Hague making them more determined to condemn the Serbian government when they don’t deliver the indicted criminals. Compare this with Kosovo: a lot of people in Kosovo are not happy about the tribunal decision to indict former KLA members, but nobody has questioned its legitimacy and certainly nobody has insulted the prosecutor at The Hague. The result: Kosovo Albanians are allowed to defend themselves in freedom, while Serbs are not.

Lesson II: Don’t question the legitimacy of an international institution when that legitimacy is not question by any other nation. Why piss off institutions that can have a devastating affect in your country? If you don’t like an international institution, don’t insult them: just shut up. Silence is needed sometimes (See Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo).

  1. International Administrators in Kosovo: The vast majority of UNMIK chiefs have been condemned by Serbia. The usual accusation is: you are anti Serbian, you are promoting the independence of Kosovo, and you are pro Albanian. These accusations lead these administrators to actually be more pro Albanian. Who wouldn’t? If someone doesn’t like you, why the hell you would want to like them, back?) So they ended up not talking to Belgrade at all, which helped the Kosovo government (especially during Peterson’s rule – he didn’t even try to appear to be listening to Belgrade-this incensed Belgrade). The current German administrator has already been condemned by Belgrade, barley 3 days into his job, for advocating the Independence of Kosovo.

Lesson III: if you want people to be sympathetic to your cause, don’t insult them and their job. The Kosovo government doesn’t like UNMIK that much either, but they have the decency not to insult and condemn them. Don’t insult people who have the power to make your life miserable.

  1. The Fiasco against Ahtisari- the international negotiators has recently been condemned for asking Serbs to take responsibility for their past. Yes! The Serbian government is so pissed, that it launched a diplomatic offensive against the man that will soon advice the international community on the status of Kosovo. I said it before; the Kosovo government can count on Serbia to screw things up. Just be patient and appear cooperative!

Lesson IV: Don’t insult international negotiators for your sake.

  1. Calling Albanians Terrorists: the head of Serbian Orthodox Church in Kosovo calls Albanians terrorists. He does not say there are terrorists in Kosovo (which there are none in any case), but he actually refers to the whole Albanian population as terrorist. In several of his visits in Washington he asked “not to give Kosovo to terrorist” (i.e. Albanians). What an idiot priest! You want to live in a population dominated by Albanians (90%), you want them to treat you well, yet you call them terrorists? On top of that, you think you going to find sympathy in Washington and Brussels? NO! It just convinces them that you are a lunatic not a religious figure.

Lesson V: Don’t insult an entire nation that you live in because you will be treated like the lunatic you are, and your cause will find no sympathy.

The list goes on, but this is a big enough sample to draw a definite concussions: You can always count on Serbs to bungle it. The Croatian president was smart enough to realize this, but has the government of Kosovo learned from him? By the looks of it, it appears that they have. They should keep doing what they are doing now with the expectation that Serbs will bungle every step of the way!

Ferik Ferizaj