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OMRI: Pursuing Balkan Peace, Vol. 1, No. 48, 96-12-03

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Vol. 1, No. 48, 3 December 1996


  • [01] Belgrade Demonstrators Keep Up The Pressure
  • [02] Seselj: Serbia's New Moderate Radical Politician?

  • [01] Belgrade Demonstrators Keep Up The Pressure

    by Stan Markotich

    Nationwide mass protests against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic are now entering a third week, showing no signs of waning. These are the largest displays of public disaffection with any regime in Europe since 1989, when demonstrations prompted the collapse of the Berlin wall and signaled a death knell for communist dictatorships across Eastern Europe.

    In Serbia today, demands center on making the authorities recognize the outcome of 17 November run-off municipal elections, in which in the opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition won majorities in Serbia's 12 largest urban areas. Vuk Draskovic, a key opposition leader, has said the protests will stop when the regime recognizes the outcome of the 17 November polling, CNN reported on 2 December. But some protesters are also openly calling for Milosevic's resignation, thereby adding another dimension to the issue.

    For its part, the regime has nullified the 17 November returns, claiming victory in a third round. But signs are emerging that suggest the protesters are having a significant impact. A police presence -- notably that of riot forces -- has been stepped up, particularly in Belgrade. The regime has, moreover, intensified its media campaign against the demonstrators. On 2 December, for example, Vecernje novosti dubbed Zajedno a "terrorist" organization bent on "seizing power violently."

    Meanwhile, a growing wave of international condemnation is mounting against the Belgrade authorities, especially Milosevic. Many Western leaders have deplored the cancellation of the 17 November polling and are urging the regime to refrain from violence in response to the peaceful protests. For his part, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said "the results of the municipal elections ought to be respected, some way must be found by the government to walk back from its decision to stifle those elections," Reuters reported on 3 December. Burns also spoke of the elections having been "stolen," the BBC added. Washington officials have stated that an "outer wall of sanctions" will be maintained against Belgrade, as well as efforts at blocking the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's integration into institutions in the international financial community. This is partly because of the nullification of the second round municipal elections.

    And while hard-line members of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) are reportedly urging the president to deal forcefully with the demonstrators, at least some Montenegrin leaders are on record advocating restraint. Montena-fax on 2 December quoted Svetozar Marovic -- speaker of the Montenegrin legislature and member of the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) -- delivering an oblique criticism of those who would use force: "No one has the right to change the foundation of democracy, the will of the people, irrespective of whether it's done by the authorities or the opposition," he said. "It is critical in the most difficult of situations that those who take care of the people and the state keep a cool and rational head," he added.

    For the time being, Milosevic appears willing to temper his media campaign and stepped-up police presence. A session of the Serbian parliament to be held on 3 December has been postponed, ostensibly because the building had to be rid of water in which mosquitoes could breed. Zajedno had hoped to use that session to overturn the nullification of the 17 November local elections. Perhaps Milosevic is gambling that delaying that high-profile legislative session may slow the opposition's momentum. -- Stan Markotich

    [02] Seselj: Serbia's New Moderate Radical Politician?

    by Stan Markotich

    And there are still more surprises in the world of Serbian politics. At his 21 November press conference, held at party headquarters next door to the Greek embassy, leader of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), Vojislav Seselj, tried to make himself out as a political moderate.

    Seselj -- who has been accused of committing war crimes and whose paramilitary Chetniks are implicated in some of the worst ethnic cleansing campaigns during the conflicts throughout former Yugoslavia -- condemned violence. The context in which he made his remarks was in reference to the 17 November runoff elections held throughout federal Yugoslavia. Seselj claimed he accepted both those electoral returns and those of the 3 November parliamentary races. His SRS had gone up in popular support, increasing their share of the vote by 30% since the Serbian republican elections of December 1993. Seselj said, however, he was not pleased by the circumstances under which the gains were made. By this he meant regime control of the media and the ruling SPS's vote tampering.

    But Seselj also said that he could not condone the recent actions of the Zajedno opposition coalition. Seselj insisted the protest rallies organized by Zajedno amount to little more than vigilantism and a call to mob violence. Such behavior, according to Seselj, is far "worse than vote falsification." Straining to portray himself as a politician of the center, Seselj said both he and his party "appealed for peace." He went on: "We will not [advocate] throwing bombs all over Serbia." He also remarked that he "wouldn't do anything, both in the context of parliament, and through extra parliamentary means to defeat [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic, " stressing he would keep all activities "within the confines of the law."

    While Seselj's claims to the political middle ground are a bit difficult to swallow, they may indicate that the SRS leader is simply following a lead set by other Serbian politicians implicated in war crimes. Milosevic -- whom many regard as the one man most responsible for the destruction of Tito's Yugoslavia -- has fashioned himself a regional peacemaker. Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, is the leader of the notorious Tigers and accused of numerous war crimes and felonies. Onasa back on 5 July reported that Arkan now says his party, the party of Serbian Unity, is "a centrist party of European orientation." Seselj may in fact be attempting through his latest rhetoric to return to the fraternity, led by Milosevic. Despite the fact Seselj says his party will enter no coalition with either the SPS or "that idiocy called Zajedno," Seselj may in fact be signaling that he really is prepared to cooperate with Milosevic. -- Stan Markotich in Belgrade


    Unlike in municipalities where candidates of the Zajedno coalition gained the majority, the ruling Socialists did not challenge the results in city councils where the Muslims' List for Sandzak - Sulejman Ugljanin and the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) won the majority, Beta reported. The Novi Pazar city council met on 26 November and elected Fevziju Muricha as mayor. Ugljanin's List took 33 out of 47 seats in the local legislature, with nine for Milosevic's SPS and two for Seselj's SRS. Two other seats went to candidates of smaller parties. The Muslim majority then rejected a written request by the Socialists, who asked to participate in the local government. In the federal parliament Ugljanin's List and the SDA gained one seat each out of 138. Ugljanin on 27 November met with representatives of the U.S. embassy in Belgrade and discussed election irregularities. He stressed that the Muslim National Council of Sandzak, which he represented during the talks, wants a special status for Muslims within the federal Yugoslav constitution. This would, according to Ugljanin, include a special status for the region of Sandzak "which would guarantee the biological existence of the [Muslim] people on this territory." He therefore called on the diplomats to link the lifting of the "outer wall" of sanctions against Belgrade (see above) with a improvement of the status of Sandzak, which is divided between Serbia and Montenegro. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Events in Croatia have not remained as dramatic as those in Serbia (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 26 November), but things are definitely happening nonetheless. Zlatko Pavletic, the head of the railway workers' union, said that remaining rail traffic will be suspended if government pressure on strikers continues, Slobodna Dalmacija reported on 30 November. Some 11, 000 workers of the Croatian state railways (HZ) began a general strike on 28 November for higher wages and better working conditions. They halted nearly 80% of services, leaving only international traffic and some freight trains operating. By 3 December only military trains were running. Railway workers have been negotiating pay raises with the government for months. Two essential conditions that must be met before the strike will end are an agreement on substantial pay raises and the payment of back wages. The minimum salary for a railway employee is about 1,890 kunas ($380), according to AFP reports. The Croatian government calls the strikers' demands baseless. Meanwhile, HZ said it is losing some 1.6 million kunas ($300,000) daily from the strike, Reuters reported on 1 December. Pensioners and teachers have also held protests recently. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Croatian police questioned Vesna Jankovic, the editor of the independent bi- weekly ARKzin, about an article giving foreign analysts' reports on assets acquired by President Franjo Tudjman's family, Reuters reported on 29 November. Jankovic said she believed the questioning was linked to an earlier Tudjman announcement that he would clamp down "on false prophets ... who preach human rights and media freedom." A public prosecutor launched the investigation under a libel law protecting the country's top five officials, the same one under which the editor and a journalist from the weekly Feral Tribune were tried and eventually acquitted. The incident came a week after 100,000 Zagreb citizens demonstrated against the government's decision to close down the independent Radio 101. Croatia's admission to the Council of Europe was delayed partly due to its poor treatment of the independent media and it is still under scrutiny. But the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) said on 29 November that non- governmental organizations with foreign funding are undermining the state and threatened legal action. ARKzin is a magazine partly funded by the Croatian Open Society Institute. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    In another case reflecting poorly on the HDZ's handling of its opponents, Chief Justice Krunoslav Olujic was fired by disciplinary authorities on the government's recommendation, Vecernji list wrote on 27 November. He is accused of having had sex with minors and of using his position to protect the financial activities of friends, AFP said, quoting Croatian Television. Olujic, however, is an opponent of attempts by the HDZ to thwart the independence of the judiciary. His successor, Milan Vukovic, is a known HDZ hard-liner. Commenting on the charges, Olujic told the independent weekly Globus: "The police accuse me of having sexual relationships with minors, girls what is more, which is astonishing," alluding to rumors that he is gay. In other news, the opposition agreed to end its boycott of parliament now that the question of the impasse in Zagreb city government will be placed on the legislature's agenda, Novi List noted. -- Patrick Moore


    Moving on to Bosnian issues, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia announced on 29 November that it has sentenced Drazen Erdemovic to ten years in prison, the BBC and Oslobodjenje reported. Erdemovic is an ethnic Croat whose underworld activities eventually led him to the Bosnian Serb side and participation in a massacre of 1,200 Muslims after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995. The court said it was lenient because Erdemovic, who had turned himself in, showed remorse and had been cooperative. His testimony revealed a massacre that had not been reported before and that is now under investigation. It is the first sentence for war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials at the end of World War II. Only seven of the dozens of indicted war criminals are in custody, however, and the court has criticized the Serbs in particular for a lack of cooperation. -- Patrick Moore


    But Pale seems to be constructive on other matters. The OSCE's chief election monitor for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ambassador Robert Frowick, announced on 1 December that the Bosnian Serbs have agreed to accept the OSCE's monitoring of the local elections slated for 1997, the VOA reported. This removes the last major obstacle to the OSCE's organizing the vote, which the Muslims and Croats have already accepted. An advisor to President Alija Izetbegovic said, however, that continued Muslim support will depend on the exact nature of the new election rules, AFP noted. The Muslim leaders fear that the Serbs will again try to abuse a controversial clause in the previous election rules that enables people to cast their votes -- using what is known as the P-2 option -- for areas in which they claim they will eventually live (as opposed to their prewar homes or their current place of refuge). The new regulations contain this option, but will require the voter to prove a "connection" to the place, such as a home, business, or blood relative. This may well prove to be too much for the Muslims and too little for the Serbs, but both sides are likely to argue and posture over the issue in coming months. -- Patrick Moore


    In any event, the Serbs have engaged in a bit of theater on another issue, namely the question of Brcko. The northern Bosnian town and its surrounding "corridor" are the land link between the eastern and western halves of the Republika Srpska, and hence of vital importance to that "entity." The area had a Muslim and Croat majority before the war, however, and the Sarajevo government refuses to accept the results of "ethnic cleansing." It was the only territorial question that was not at least formally settled by the Dayton agreement and was left open to be decided by international arbitration by 14 December.

    Neither side has become any more flexible in the meantime. Now the Serbs have said they are withdrawing from the talks, AFP quoted Pale radio as saying. Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic announced on 1 December that "the Republika Srpska does not intend to participate in such arbitration processes. Any decision [made] in the future will not have any legal power." The ball now seems to be in the court of the international mediator, Roberts Owen, whom the Serbs charge made decisions without consulting them or the Muslims. In any event, the State Department announced on 2 December that the talks will go ahead with or without the Serbs. -- Patrick Moore


    But the big story for the Republika Srpska's leadership this week had to do not with Brcko but with their own military. On 28 November, the cashiered commander and indicted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic agreed to step down. On 1 December, his deputy Gen. Milan Gvero did likewise, AFP reported. Neither man went quietly, however. Mladic warned the government that it must do something about the poor morale and state of preparedness in the army, claiming that his intelligence reports show that "the Muslims" will renew fighting later in 1997. Gvero lambasted the civilians, arguing that they "believe that the services of the officers and generals who fought the war are useless and harmful."

    The resignations of the two men would seem to end a standoff that began on 9 November when President Biljana Plavsic sacked Mladic and some 80 loyalists. She replaced them with relatively unknown men like the new chief of staff, Gen. Pero Colic, in what Mladic's backers said was a politically motivated coup. Plavsic and other leaders of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) kept up the pressure and last week asked the ministries of justice and defense to "examine... the grounds for judicial action against the members of the army leadership, [which has been] committing acts against the constitution and the rule of the state in the Republika Srpska," AFP said on 26 November, quoting SRNA.

    She had spoken to Mladic's representatives but was unwilling to let him retain a major role in Bosnian Serb military affairs (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 26 November 1996). The head of the SDS caucus in the joint Bosnian parliament, Slobodan Bijelic, told NIN of 22 November that Plavsic moved to fire Mladic only after long and careful deliberation, and "with the tacit approval of official Serbia and representatives of the international community." In the end, she carried the day.

    It may nonetheless be too early to say that the civilians in the Bosnian Serb leadership have finally won their long-standing contest with the military. Mladic and his followers defied Plavsic for nearly three weeks, during part of which time they held Bijelic hostage for five days. The Guardian on 29 November quoted Belgrade sources as saying that Mladic agreed to go only after the federal Yugoslav authorities cut off his funds. -- Patrick Moore


    Back among the representatives of the international community, IFOR, the UNHCR, and the UN police announced the lifting of the two-week-old suspension of the right of refugees to go home to a sensitive area in northeast Bosnia, Oslobodjenje reported on 27 November. The international representatives had charged the Muslims with deliberately provoking the Serbs and breaking the rules for returning to homes that lie in territory held by another ethnic group. The Muslims said the Serbs were using Muslims' applications to go home in order to target empty Muslim houses for dynamiting. The international representatives now say that the rules for returning must be scrupulously observed. -- Patrick Moore


    But some other refugees are less anxious to go home. One week after Germany and Bosnia signed an agreement providing for the expulsion from Germany of Bosnian refugees, Bonn announced it would invest DM 50 million to accommodate the return of 20,000 people to Bihac. Similar projects are envisioned for the Tuzla-Podrinje canton in northeastern Bosnia and for Sarajevo, all of which are controlled by the mainly Croat and Muslim federation. The money will not be paid directly to returning refugees but rather to the respective reconstruction projects at the rate of DM 2,500 per returning person. Refugees in Germany have not been legally allowed to take jobs and thus save money for their return.

    Meanwhile, the German Society for Threatened Peoples (GfbV) has sharply criticized the Berlin ombudsman for foreigners, Barbara John, after she claimed that Berlin is "the most tolerant city in Germany." The GfbV on 29 November pointed out that "the Berlin authorities along with those of the German state of Bavaria showed particular ruthlessness in dealing with Bosnian war refugees." The human rights group pointed out that the Berlin state Interior Ministry had sent Bosnian refugees letters in recent weeks demanding that they leave by December and threatening to expel those who did not go voluntarily. According to the GfbV "these letters were also sent to heavily war-traumatized people, to elderly and disabled refugees who come from Serbian-occupied areas in Bosnia, and to survivors of the Srebrenica massacre." In addition, torture victims, survivors from concentration camps, 19 families, and seven single mothers with young children -- who are not supposed to be among the first returnees -- were reportedly ordered to leave Berlin. On 4 November a Bosnian male committed suicide in desperation. Police have, meanwhile, confiscated hundreds of passports in an attempt to prevent refugees from going into hiding.

    In other news, the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) has donated over DM 3 million for the reconstruction of an elementary school, a high school and a sports center in Gorazde, Onasa reported on 26 November. The nearly isolated Muslim enclave risks becoming a ghost town except for the elderly and the disabled unless means are found to attract jobs and young families. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Moving on to Macedonian affairs, the UN Security Council on 27 November approved a six-month extension of the mandate of the UN Preventive Deployment Force, Reuters and AFP reported. The mandate was extended until 31 May 1997, but UNPREDEP's strength will be reduced from a present 1,100 to 800 troops and monitors by 30 April. UNPREDEP currently comprises around 500 U.S. troops, a 500-member Scandinavian battalion, a 50-member Indonesian heavy engineering platoon, 35 military observers, and 26 civilian police monitors. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali in a report to the Council on 22 November had recommended that the mission continue on a reduced scale. He argued that recent developments in the region and Macedonia's increased international standing have reduced the possibility of the spread of violence from other parts of the former Yugoslavia. He noted that "the primary threat... may come from internal tensions." Russia abstained from the vote because the UN resolution did not spell out that this was to be the last extension, as Russia had sought. Russian UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov hinted that Russia might veto a future extension next year. -- Stefan Krause


    And in Macedonian domestic affairs, the governing Social Democratic Alliance (SDSM) was the overall winner in the 17 November municipal elections, AFP reported on 3 December. First unofficial results after 1 December's second run-off poll give the SDSM 500 of the 1,903 council seats at stake, compared with 321 for the right-wing opposition coalition made up of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the Movement for All-Macedonian Action-Conservative Party MAAK-KP, and the Democratic Party (DP). The Socialist Party won 140 seats and the Liberal Party 110. The two parties representing the ethnic Albanians -- namely the Party of Democratic Prosperity and the Party of Democratic Prosperity of the Albanians -- gained 156 and 107 seats, respectively. Of the 123 mayoralties, which were elected separately, the SDSM took 52, compared with 27 for the right-wing coalition. Risto Popov of the Democratic Party was elected mayor of Skopje. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Macedonia and its neighbor to the west on 29 November signed an agreement providing for joint efforts to protect Lake Ohrid, whose shores are home to a number of communities on both sides of the border. It is also a popular tourist site because of its natural beauty and its Balkan architecture and medieval ruins. Skopje and Tirana committed themselves to a series of measures concerning water usage, fishing regulations and technical upgrading of sewage plants. The overall costs for the project are estimated at $200 million, of which Albania will contribute $120 million and Macedonia $80 million, MILS reported on 2 December. These are very large sums by regional standards. -- Fabian Schmidt


    But there has been another side of Albania's activities abroad that has been attracting attention. An Albanian soldier under conditions of anonymity told Gazeta Shqiptare that his military unit was ordered to secretly load Russian transport airplanes with bullets and automatic rifles in the course of several months, international agencies reported on 28 November. The man previously was a witness at a closed trial. The planes were reportedly flown by Russian and Ukrainian pilots and operated from the airfield of Gjader. The soldier added that they "were ordered to keep silent and each time before take-off, a high-ranking Albanian officer would get on the plane and emerge later with a black bag in his hand." He added that arms transports were allegedly sent by ship from Durres as well.

    The allegations come less than a month after documents were found in a camp in eastern Zaire which indicate Albanian involvement in illicit arms shipments to Rwanda. According to the documents, abandoned by Hutu militias, the British-registered Mil-Tec Corporation Ltd. shipped mortars, rifles and heavy machine-gun ammunition from countries including Albania to the former Rwandan government during the 1994 genocide. The Albanian defense ministry denied the allegations and said that Albania has never violated the UN arms embargo against Rwanda, which took effect in May 1994.

    The case was, however, not the first incident of Albania trading arms in conflict regions. On 3 August 1995, Afghanistan's Taliban militia forced down an Ilyushin 76 transport plane chartered by the United Arab Emirates- based company Transavia and detained its crew in Kandahar. The plane was coming from Ukraine and was on the way to Kabul when it was intercepted by Taliban MiG-19 jet fighters. Taliban said the Russian plane was carrying 3.4 million rounds of Kalashnikov assault rifle ammunition and two boxes of shells for Z-U anti-aircraft guns. President Burhanuddin Rabbani's government then admitted chartering the aircraft, insisting that there was nothing sinister or illegal in the flight. "We purchased the supplies from Albania because it was cheap there," a spokesman was then quoted as saying. Over a year later the plane and crew returned to Russia. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Moving on to less explosive topics, Archbishop Anastasios Giannulatos visited Prime Minister Kostas Simitis in Athens on 28 November, ATSH reported. Simitis said that good relations with Albania will always be a top priority for Greece. Giannulatos -- himself a Greek citizen who became the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church after the fall of communism -- told his host that after five and a half years of working in Albania his priorities include promoting good bilateral relations "in addition to the restoration of the Orthodox church." Ties between Greece and Albania were strained until both sides worked towards reconciliation in the spring of 1995. Since then relations have improved markedly. -- Fabian Schmidt


    Meanwhile in Bulgaria, the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS) on 1 December held its third National Conference in Kardzhali, RFE/RL reported. DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan said early parliamentary elections must be provoked by all legal means for "no later than April or May." He was reelected DPS chair for three years. Meanwhile, the Liberal- Democratic Alternative was formed on 30 November with outgoing President Zhelyu Zhelev's backing and in his presence. The new party seeks to replace the present parliamentary republic with a presidential republic. The delegates decided to press for early elections for an assembly to change the constitution. Meanwhile, the Socialists' Georgi Pirinski complained that the introduction of his resignation as foreign minister to the parliament (as stipulated by the constitution) was delayed by Prime Minister Zhan Videnov. Pirinski resigned on 13 November to protest Videnov's policies. -- Stefan Krause

    Edited by Patrick Moore

    This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in Prague, Czech Republic.
    For more information on OMRI publications please write to

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