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SLUG: 8-034 FOCUS-Balkan Security




TITLE=Balkan Security

BYLINE=Jela de Franceschi


EDITOR=Ed Warner


INTRO: Two years after the ouster of strongman Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia is once again at a crossroads. Serbia has a choice between continuing political democratization and free market reform or reverting to the old path of insular nationalism. In the September presidential elections, which were rendered void after turnout fell below the legally required minimum, the current Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica, won two thirds of the vote. The next round of elections takes place on December 8th. This is a closer look at what a Kostunica presidency could mean for Serbia and the region.

FOCUS written by Jela De Franceschi, reported by VOA's Victor Morales:

NARR: In the aftermath of the fall of Slobodan Milosevic, many hoped for a peaceful resolution of remaining strategic regional issues in the volatile Balkans. Those issues concern boundaries and matters of statehood, in which Serbia has a large stake. Emerging from a decade of war with its neighbors and isolation from the international community, Serbia was confronted with a government crisis, as its junior partner in the Yugoslav two-state federation, Montenegro, seeks independence; and its ethnically Albanian province of Kosovo - now run by the United Nations is also striving for full secession.

Another regional issue is Serbia's financial support of armed security forces operating in the Serb-run part of Bosnia (Republika Srpska) - support that is in violation of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord and hampers international efforts in that country.

Those issues have overshadowed the need for accelerated reform in Serbia. Some analysts say major economic reform has been achieved. Others insist key reform in restructuring civil and security institutions are yet to take place. Disagreement over reform has triggered a rift between erstwhile allies, Serbia's pragmatic Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and the popular but nationalist Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica. Prime Minister Djindjic argues speedy free market reform will put Serbia back on its feet and ensure its dominant role in the region. For president Kostunica, the key to regional power are matters of statehood. He contends Kosovo and Montenegro should stay in a single entity under Serbia's umbrella. As a consequence, in the recent presidential elections nationalism eclipsed reform as a campaign issue, says James O'Brien former senior US envoy for the Balkans:


"The key point is the pace of reform. For Prime Minister Djindjic reform has to happen quickly because Serbia needs to take its place leading the region into Europe. For president Kostunica, reform can happen more slowly because Serbs need first to gather themselves after the damage of the wars of the nineties. It's the pace that should be the focus of the debate, not the fact of reform. I think it is very unfortunate when campaign rhetoric focuses on whether there should be reform and movement towards Europe. That's damaging to the region, and that raises the prospect that all the progress made in the last few years might be rolled back".

/// END ACT ///

NARR: Serbian nationalism, which in its extreme form has sought to acquire neighboring territories, has always been a volatile force in the region and in Serbian politics. Yugoslav president Kostunica could temper this force, says James O'Brien:


"We have seen Serbian nationalism be very destructive in the region and it's important that someone speak for Serbs who are proud, but also say that it's time for that to be a part of the movement towards Europe. And I think what's been unfortunate recently is that the elections have been cast as a referendum on reform. Every other successful country in the region has taken reform as a given. And I think the potential of president Kostunica is that he can say we can be for reform. We can be for joining Europe as Serbs and as Serbs who live at peace respectfully with our neighbors".

/// END ACT ///

NARR: James Lyon of the Brussels-based organization International Crisis Group, is more critical of the Yugoslav president, particularly in view of what he said in the election campaign:

/// LYON ACT ONE ///

"We look at one of Mr. Kostunica's famous statements during the election campaign in which he stood across the river from Bosnia and said that Bosnian Serbs were cousins who are only temporarily detached. Now that has the similar impact of Mr. Schroeder

(German Chancellor) going and standing on the Rhine and looking across the river at Strasbourg and Alsace-Lorraine and saying these are our cousins who are only temporarily detached. You can imagine the effect that would have in Paris. That's just one example but unfortunately, a very clear example of how Serbia can destabilize the region and how it can cause discomfort among its neighbors."

/// END ACT ///

NARR: Serbia's prime minister and the Yugoslav president also differ on ties to the West. Mr. Djindic and his 17-member ruling coalition, the Democratic Serbian Opposition -DOS favor strong economic links with the European Union and the United States. Mr. Kostunica, leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, the largest in the country, does not want closer ties and doesn't trust pro-Western reformers to help the Serbian cause.

Robert Hand, senior analyst of the US Congress Helsinki Committee says such resentment of the West is out of place:

/// HAND ACT ONE ///

"You (Kostunica) can't be recalcitrant and then call everybody that is doing the right thing and cooperating simply lackeys. That is not the case at all. Political leaders in Serbia can decide its own course, and we will respect that. But Serbia does not exist in a vacuum, and it needs to cooperate with its neighbors and the rest of the international community. And to play that type of game is not, I think, the healthiest type of politics at all, especially in time of transition."

///END ACT ///

NARR: The Yugoslav president echoes anti-western sentiments of his Serbian Democratic Party, but also reflects the mood of many Serbs who begrudge NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo crisis in 1999. Serbs also resent the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague in the belief the court is singling out Serbs for punishment.

Apart from this, Robert Hand, whose Committee works with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, says it is crucial for the region that Serbia democratize:

/// HAND ACT TWO ///

"If Serbia does not push forward, the whole South-Eastern Europe will lag behind. It is in the center, it's key and I think Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia -- all of these countries in the region -- need to see a Serbia that is moving forward in order for them to move forward as well, for recovery to occur and for there to be sufficient stability, so the international community doesn't need to be there to ensure peace and security".

/// END ACT ///

NARR: Because of Serbia's key location in the region, western nations are determined to help. They have eased the requirements for giving aid to Serbia and have increased the amount. But Jeffrey Gedmin, director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, cautions that economic assistance is not a cure-all, a lesson that Germany learned from reunification:


"Germans thought early on that by bringing in literally buckets of money and massive injections of cash subsidies, that that would fix the problem. But unfortunately, these problems cannot be solved by money alone. If we could just forgive the right debt, add the right subsidy, grant the right aid and wait two or three years to repair these countries, life would be a lot easier. But in all these former communist countries, especially in Serbia that comes out of this terrible decade of bloodshed, it is very difficult to turn around the attitude and the walls that literally exist in people's minds".

/// END ACT ///

NARR: President Kostunica could use a fresh mandate to push for democratic change because Serbia has no other path to follow, says Janusz Bugajski, Director of East European Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington:


"In the long-term, I am optimistic about the whole region, including Serbia. There is only one way for Serbia to go. It's not going to join the Russian-Belorussian Union, and it won't be part of a "no man's land". It has to join the European Union and NATO. It has to make progress to qualify."

/// END ACT ///

NARR: Mr. Bugajski thinks democratic reform will triumph over nationalism in Serbia but not without a struggle, considering President Kostunica's widespread support.

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