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OMRI: Pursuing Balkan Peace, Vol. 1, No. 49, 96-12-10

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

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Vol. 1, No. 49, 10 December 1996


  • [01] "Adios, Amigo"
  • [02] Belgrade Regime Playing A Waiting Game?
  • [03] German States Deport More Refugees To An Uncertain Future
  • [13] . . . AND IN HERZEGOVINA.

  • [01] "Adios, Amigo"

    by Pat Moore

    The latest international gathering to assess implementation of the Dayton peace agreement began in London on 4 December. This sort of meeting has become a time-honored institution since early in the wars of the Yugoslav succession. According to this ritual, international diplomats gather in a pleasant West European setting with prominent former Yugoslavs, whom the diplomats then admonish to keep promises they have already made and broken, often many times over (see below). The conference then concludes, and the former Yugoslavs go home and do as they please.

    This time was no different. Speakers made the usual admonitions and stressed that more attention must be paid to enabling refugees to go home and to catching war criminals. But enforcement of these provisions in 1996 has been lax to say the least, and it is difficult to see how matters can improve next year with a much smaller peacekeeping force present. A much tougher mandate for the new SFOR would help to offset the lack of numbers, but there is little reason to expect that SFOR will be encouraged to go after war criminals any more than IFOR was.

    Some speakers reminded the former Yugoslavs that allotment of reconstruction aid will be contingent on good behavior, but throughout the course of 1996 this carrot has failed to produce the desired results. Some critics have cited this reliance on material incentives to achieve political results as a mistake made by the U.S. in particular. In any event, the conference was largely given over to the rhetoric typical for such gatherings. One commentator summed up all the threats and admonitions as "huffing and puffing."

    But there was one significant difference between the London meeting and its predecessors: this time many of the delegates had Serbia on their minds rather than Bosnia. The events in Belgrade grew more dramatic almost by the day, and speakers in London warned the Serbian government not to use force against the demonstrators. U.S. envoy John Kornblum went further and said that Serbia's "internal structure and its internal order [are] unacceptable to us." The international community's High Representative in Bosnia- Herzegovina Carl Bildt noted that "peace can never be stable in Bosnia if we don't have stability throughout the region. That stability can never be built on repression." NATO's Secretary General Javier Solana, who comes from Spain, said his message for Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is: "adios, amigo."

    These statements represent a remarkable about-face of Western policy towards Milosevic compared to a year ago. At that time, the man most responsible for the destruction of Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia was courted and feted by international diplomats as an essential component of a new peaceful order in the Balkans. It did not seem to matter that he had helped whip up long-dormant nationalisms into an ugly frenzy, started a bloody war, unleashed floods of refugees, impoverished his country, helped thugs to enrich themselves, made a mockery of democracy, and throttled the media. Instead, his conversion to peace was hailed and he was treated as a key player, even if he did not manage to hand over any war criminals to The Hague.

    But Milosevic lost much of his luster in the weeks leading up to the London conference. The nightly appearance of crowds up to 200,000-strong on the streets of Belgrade despite the Balkan winter weather recalled the dramatic events of 1989 in a number of then-communist countries. At that time, people across Eastern Europe lost their fear and let their unelected leaders know that they had had enough of dictatorship. And another remarkable development in Serbia was that the protests were not confined to Belgrade but had spread to a number of smaller cities and towns where Milosevic and his followers had tried to steal the local elections.

    Not everyone regarded the demise of Milosevic as an unmitigated blessing, however. Many observers, particularly in Bosnia and Croatia, noted that the Serbian opposition includes well-known nationalists, and that Zoran Djindjic of the Democratic Party (DS) has especially close ties to the Bosnian Serb leaders. Such observers wondered if Milosevic's successors could be counted on to honor the Dayton agreement.

    The opposition replied that they were not seeking just to change leaders but rather to change the system and introduce democracy. They pointed out that they have a role to play in the peace process, too, and that democracy is good for peace. History would tend to support their arguments, in that it has often been pointed out that democracies do not start wars. Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), moreover, told the BBC on 7 December that it is Milosevic who threatens Dayton. He stressed that it is the opposition that demands full compliance with the treaty, including the right of all refugees to go home.

    Djindjic, however, was perhaps less convincing when he defended his support for the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) of Biljana Plavsic. He said that the SDS victory was necessary to prevent Milosevic from taking control of the Republika Srpska and hence even further consolidating his power at home. Many observers found this reply a bit slick, and wondered aloud what kind of integrity Djindjic would display in high office. This question might be particularly important for the future, given the fact that he has emerged as the strongest of the three opposition leaders.

    Questions also remain about whether the opposition can retain its cohesion once it ousts Milosevic. Some observers fear these politicians will begin fighting each other as soon as the common enemy appears to have been routed, as happened with the former non-communist government of Bulgaria. It has also been noted that while the protests have expanded beyond Belgrade student and intellectual circles, they have yet to attract much support from blue-collar workers or ethnic minorities, to say nothing of the rural Serbs who form much of Milosevic's power base.

    But it is Milosevic who is now on the defensive, and his unsure response to the protests (see below) suggests he has lost some of his once-famous nerve. True, he is able to appeal to large segments of the population because he holds a monopoly on most of the electronic media. But Milosevic can no longer appeal to Serbian nationalism to rally crowds as he could in the days before the rout of the Krajina and Bosnian Serb armies in 1995. In any event, what is certain is that Serbian politics have entered a new stage.

    [02] Belgrade Regime Playing A Waiting Game?

    by Stan Markotich

    Those mass demonstrations are now entering a fourth week. So far, the regime has not resorted to mass violence against the demonstrators, but questions are looming: Is the opposition on the verge of losing steam? Will the protesters be able to achieve any of their fundamental demands, and specifically will they be able to gain recognition of their 17 November victories?

    Djindjic told Belgrade's independent Radio B-92 on 9 December that the coalition will boycott the opening session of the federal parliament, slated for 10 December, as indeed it did. Djindjic did not rule out the possibility of negotiating an end to the mass political protests, but added that the regime would have to acknowledge the opposition victories as a precondition to any talks.

    Meanwhile, in the streets of Serbia's major urban centers, mass demonstrations continue unabated. On 9 December signs were mounting that public frustration with the regime is growing, as demonstrators in the capital slammed the authorities for having arrested and beaten peaceful protesters. While it has avoided mass arrests, the regime has been reportedly arresting and intimidating individuals, with an estimated 40 persons so far incarcerated under dubious charges and suspect circumstances. Sparking the most recent expression of public anger was the case of student demonstrator Dejan Bulatovic, aged 21, who on 6 December carried an effigy of Milosevic dressed in a prison uniform. Reports say that Bulatovic was beaten and tortured following his arrest, and that his nose was broken during an "interrogation." He has been unable to see a lawyer and placed in a cell with an open window and no bed..

    But industrial workers have been less than warm to the protests. According to CNN reports of 9 December, some workers have even signaled an unwillingness to join and simply went home after launching a strike. Likely prompting some trade unionists to stay on the sidelines is fear of severe regime reprisals. Dragoljub Matic, one independent trade union official, has already said for the public record that "fear is immense... This is the first time that we can't get workers to walk out..."

    The latest to signal that the authorities may not be willing to compromise came from Milosevic's wife and leader of the United Yugoslav Left (JUL), Mirjana Markovic. Speaking on RTS on 9 December, she attacked the peaceful protesters, declaring: "Brutality on the streets is no way to resolve economic and social issues."

    And there are other signs that suggest the authorities are digging in. The Serbian Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Belgrade's electoral commission to have the election results recognized, Beta reported on 8 December. Instead, the court ruling effectively upheld a third round of balloting, awarding the ruling Socialists 66 of 110 seats in the Municipal Assembly. Electoral commission head Radovan Lazarevic nonetheless took up a further appeal with the federal supreme court, the federal public prosecutor and the Serbian public prosecutor. He expects a ruling within 48 hours.

    Earlier, some signs indicated that Milosevic was reeling from the impact of daily mass demonstrations. Radio B-92, which had been offering extensive coverage of the ongoing protests throughout Serbia and live coverage of events in Belgrade, was taken off the air on 3 December. B-92 editor Veran Matic told reporters that the station received a letter from the federal ministry of transport and communications noting: "We determined that your radio station B-92 does not have the authorization for work issued in your name B-92. The work of your radio station without authorization is illegal." On 4 December the VOA reported that B-92 broadcasts were being carried on the VOA's Serbian language frequencies. RFE/RL, Deutsche Welle, and the BBC also carried the independent station's programs.

    And B-92 was not the only casualty in this latest crackdown in the long history of Milosevic's war against the independent media. Along with that station, the student Radio Index was taken off the air. Recently, the newly founded daily Blic, providing its own coverage of the mass demonstrations, was pressured to conform with official state media interpretations of the demonstrations. Those maintain that the peaceful mass demonstrations are a fundamental threat to Serbian state security and stability. Also reportedly used against Blic were threats against journalists, and suggestions were made that the publication would have trouble appearing on the streets, owing to such factors as "newsprint shortages."

    But after being off the air for only two days, B-92 and Index were broadcasting again in the wake of strong protests not only from the demonstrators, but also from foreign governments and NGO's. Furthermore, on 6 December Tanjug reported that Serbia's Minister of Information Aleksandar Tijanic, had resigned. Tijanic himself said the resignation was not political, but reports indicated his ouster may have been intended to appease demonstrators. At any rate, the most recent developments suggest that Milosevic -- despite international condemnation of his authoritarian rule and despite the ongoing daily mass demonstrations -- may be unwilling to make fundamental concessions, notably to recognize opposition electoral victories.

    [03] German States Deport More Refugees To An Uncertain Future

    by Jan Urban and Yvonne Badal in Sarajevo

    On 4 December, at half past two in the afternoon, a small Fokker 27 plane landed at Sarajevo airport. In a very special welcome ceremony for the passengers on that chartered flight from Munich, the new arrivals disembarked and entered a bus waiting on the tarmac. Accompanied by German federal border guards (BGS), the 24 passengers were the first group of Bosnian refugees deported from Germany to arrive "home." Only one day earlier, they had been gathered by German police in the states of Bavaria, Hessen, and Baden-Wuerttemberg. Some left their families in Germany and most had no place to go in Bosnia- Herzegovina. The frosty hills and bullet- riddled ruins of what had been the front-lines in the Dobrinja and Butmir suburbs surrounding the landing strip were the first sights they glimpsed of the war they had escaped. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Federation police and representatives from the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF) took them to the Ministry of Interior for interrogation. The Sarajevo UNHCR office learned of the deportation only three hours before the aircraft landed, and its protection officers were not allowed to meet with the refugees at the airport and could speak with some of them only after four hours of waiting in a police building.

    Neither the BGS officers, the IPTF, or Bosnian refugee ministry officials were willing to share any information with the UNHCR. On the opening day of the London conference, Germany sent a strong message to the more than 300, 000 Bosnian refugees sheltered on its soil. Following a 19 September accord signed by German state interior ministers calling for refugee repatriation to Bosnia to begin in early October, the Bosnia-Herzegovina government signed a bilateral "readmission agreement" with the German government on 20 November. They were trying to make the best of a decision they could not change. Germany had promised to increase development aid in exchange for cooperation on the swift -- but also forced -- repatriation of refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The first phase, affecting around 100,000 single adults and childless couples, is to be completed by the end of 1997. Germany has signed a similar treaty with federal Yugoslavia.

    Nearly simultaneously, the Swiss government also ruled that single adult Bosnian refugees as well as families without children must leave Switzerland before the end of April 1997. The German and Swiss governments were the first to openly break with the Dayton peace accord provisions and recommendations. Through their actions, the UNHCR -- the official international body with powers to deal with refugee problems worldwide -- was deliberately sidelined from the biggest refugee repatriation in Europe since 1945. And the right of refugees to return to their place of origin was no longer protected. Refugees must return to a country, Bosnia- Herzegovina, but not necessarily to their homes. Among those deported on 4 December are several refugees from what is now Republika Srpska territory who can not go back to their homes. They must apply for living assistance in a country that already has 70 percent unemployment and is unable to shelter many of its 800,000 internally displaced persons.

    For Germany, this is a clear political decision targeted both toward its domestic political scene and its international allies. Germany was the only Western European country to permit a mass inflow of refugees at the outbreak of the war and it rightfully complained about the unwillingness of other European Union countries to share the burden. Soon after the Dayton peace accord was signed, it became clear that the international community was not willing to press for the implementation of the refugees' right to return to places of origin, a provision that both the Republika Srpska and Bosnian Croat authorities strongly opposed. Germany faced the possibility that it would be left with hundreds of thousands of refugees unwilling to return to a country that was entirely different from the one they had left.

    Germany could not and was not willing to confront its allies on the issue of returning refugees and displaced persons to ethnically cleansed areas. Instead, it chose to confront the UNHCR, which until recently was a vocal advocate of refugee rights. After months of bitter backstage politicking and even very undiplomatic threats of cuts to UNHCR funding, Germany made direct bilateral deals with the Bosnia-Herzegovina and federal Yugoslav governments. This first deportation and the accompanying ruthless police performance was intended to convince all refugees from the former Yugoslavia that their only alternative to such treatment is quick, voluntary return.

    Defending that approach against numerous protests by international and German human rights groups, Bavarian Interior Minister Guenther Beckstein explained the first deportation like this: "We want to make clear that each refugee must depart in the next year. Refugees are supposed to help reconstruct their destroyed homeland." Mesud Kaltak, one of the 24 deportees, was detained in his flat in Munich one day after his visa expired on 1 December. That was despite the fact that he had applied for voluntary repatriation in spring 1997. He was not allowed to make a phone call or pack any of his belongings. After a night in jail, he was taken to the airport. He cannot return to his place of origin in Prijedor. He has no place to stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina and arrived with six German marks in his pocket. Mehmedalija Salkic entered Germany illegally in autumn 1995 after surviving the fall of Srebrenica. He was allowed to join his wife, who had been in Germany since 1993. On 3 December at 5 PM, four policemen and one policewoman came to their flat, disconnected the telephone line, and rudely ordered him to pack one suitcase. His wife was arrested while visiting in a friend's flat. He was taken to prison in handcuffs. The next morning, the pair were brought to the airport and deported. They do not know what happened to their belongings. They have no idea where to live and certainly are of very little help in reconstructing their frozen December homeland.


    The daily Rilindja Demokratike, which is a mouthpiece for the governing Democratic Party, praised the opposition protests in Belgrade, news agencies noted on 8 December. The editorial said it is to be hoped that the demonstrations bring down what it called the hated Milosevic dictatorship, which has oppressed the Kosovo Albanians. Albanian Television called for an end to "the last dictatorship in Europe." Meanwhile, President Sali Berisha urged Kosovars to support the Serbian opposition, Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported. The Kosovars have taken the attitude that they want no part of Serbia and that Serbian politics hence do not concern them. Berisha's words may be seen as a clear if gentle message to them that their future indeed lies with Serbia, and that they must help the opposition if they want to help themselves. -- Patrick Moore


    President Franjo Tudjman may not be under the same kind of pressure as is Milosevic, but he has certainly felt the political heat in recent weeks amid political and social protests. Now he has again warned that those who complain about human rights and media freedom in Croatia are really seeking to subvert the Croatian state, Slobodna Dalmacija reported on 8 December. He said these critics are enemies of Croatian independence or "communist remnants." In a tirade to the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), he especially blasted George Soros' Open Society Institute, which supports some independent media like Feral Tribune and NGO's; prominent critics like Ivo Banac, Chris Cviic, Slavko Goldstein and Vlado Gotovac; and the BBC, VOA, and Radio 101, as well as the only independent daily, Novi List. He warned that these enemies "have spread their tentacles throughout the whole of our society." -- Patrick Moore


    Reactions to this speech were not slow in rolling in. Novi List on 10 December carried many comments by the "enemies," some of whom likened Tudjman to a bad communist propagandist who seeks power at all costs. The speech had been intended to unite Tudjman's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) behind him, but some critics charge that it will only undermine the HDZ itself. Soros, for his part, told the Feral Tribune that his "Open Society only supports the development of a democratic society in Croatia. We help education, publishing, media, art, culture, health, legal and economic reforms. Does that make me a bad guy?" -- Patrick Moore


    Tudjman's blast did not come out of the blue. The Croatian Journalists' Union has said that pressure on and threats to journalists have increased since Croatia was admitted to the Council of Europe, Vecernji list reported on 6 December. Also, the Croatian official media have begun a campaign against journalists who work for the foreign media, accusing them of being communist agents paid to create "a poor image of Croatia in Europe, " AFP reported on 5 December. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    The next day after blasted his enemies in the media, he presented a number of military medals, including one to Gen. Tihomir Blaskic for his role in retaking the Knin region in 1995, Reuters said. Blaskic's wife accepted the award, since he is voluntarily appearing before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on charges of having committed atrocities against Muslims. In response, the EU's commissioner for Eastern Europe, Hans van den Broek, said he was "thunderstruck" by the decision to award the medal, adding that it was "not in compliance with the spirit of the Dayton accords," AFP reported on 9 December. Tudjman's "enemies" statement and presentation of the medal are classic examples of his insensitivity to foreign and domestic public opinion, which has long earned him the nickname "Mr. Own-goal." They also reflect his understanding of democracy and the uneasiness of the regime amid not only the recent demonstrations and strikes but also amid reports that Tudjman has cancer. -- Patrick Moore


    Meanwhile in Bosnia, Cornelio Sommaruga, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), stated that there can be no real peace in Bosnia until the fate of the 16,000 missing people is established, AFP reported on 5 December. Sommaruga said some 13,000 of the missing are known to have been in the hands of the Bosnian Serbs, including the 8,000 who disappeared after the fall of Srebrenica. Another 1,500 people are thought to have been held by Muslims and 1,000 by Croats. Sommaruga said the ICRC -- which under Dayton peace accords is responsible for reuniting families -- has faced "aggression" and harassment while seeking to track down the missing people. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Nor is this the only provision of Dayton to be called into question this week. Internationally mediated binding arbitration to decide the fate of the strategic north Bosnian town has been postponed from 14 December by two months. Carl Bildt's office announced on 9 December that the Serb side had requested the delay and that the Muslims agreed to it, Oslobodjenje noted, but the exact circumstances remain unclear (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 3 December 1996). The Serbs had avoided meetings even before, knowing full well that any change in the status quo would only benefit the Muslims. -- Patrick Moore


    Turning to other problems, about 100 workers from the construction firm GP Sarajevo went on hunger strike to protest poor wages and living conditions, AFP reported on 5 December. The group includes many demobilized solders, which reflects the problem across Bosnia-Herzegovina that tens of thousands of men on all sides have little or no work. Fighting is the only trade that many of them know. The situation is particularly bad in the Republika Srpska, which has received only 2 percent of the international reconstruction aid to date. Aid agencies blame the attitude of the local Serbian authorities for the problem. In any event, the problem will be compounded all the more on all sides as refugees now living in other countries are forced to go back to areas where housing, infrastructure, and jobs are wanting. -- Patrick Moore


    And even some of those who have held on to their homes through years of conflict may not have them for long. The UN reported that over 30 Muslims have been driven from their homes in the Bosanska Gradiska area of northern Bosnia in the past ten weeks, Oslobodjenje noted on 4 December. Their property is being taken by Serbs whose former homes in Donji Vakuf are now under federal control. A report by Human Rights Watch says that Serbian paramilitaries were involved in the expulsions and that the local authorities did nothing to stop them. And in Sarajevo, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights noted in its latest newsletter that the campaign to force Serbs to leave Ilidza is continuing. One man noted that "after every quarrel or beating, four or five Serb houses are sold cheap." -- Patrick Moore

    [13] . . . AND IN HERZEGOVINA.

    Then on 5 December, French IFOR arrested 20 Muslims who were looting four abandoned Serb houses near Konjic, Onasa noted the next day. In Croat-held west Mostar, the latest of more than 70 evictions of Serbs and Muslims was carried out on 9 December, only hours after NATO warned the HVO (Croatian Defense Council) to stop the practice, AFP reported. IFOR on 9 December then warned the HVO of "unspecified military consequences" if its soldiers persist. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Returning to the subject of refugees sent home, Bavaria and Baden- Wuerttemberg have deported 24 persons to Sarajevo , the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on 4 December. The group included 13 convicted criminals, the others were single persons. The number of people expelled from Munich since Germany and Bosnia signed a repatriation agreement in November has thus reached 35 (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 3 December 1996). An estimated 2,500 Bosnian refugees have left Germany voluntarily since October, the deadline after which the German authorities do not extend refugee status to Bosnians. The expulsions were coordinated with Bosnian authorities, who received the refugees and promised to accommodate them (see below). The Bavarian Interior Ministry ruled out further expulsions before mid-January 1997. A UNHCR official said that many Croat and Muslim refugees are victims of "ethnic cleansing" and will continue to be in danger when returning to their houses on Serb held territory. -- Fabian Schmidt

    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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