Geert Lovink on Fri, 14 May 1999 19:35:07 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> IWPR's Balkan Crisis Report, No. 31, 13 May 1999


EUROPE'S KOSOVO DOMINOES. NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia
risks creating "new Kosovos" throughout Central and Eastern Europe, as
Denisa Kostovicova reports.

SHARPENING BULGARIA'S RED-BLUE DIVIDE. Amid street rallies and errant
bombs, Sofia maintains its pro-NATO stand. But some old partisans tell
Georgi Koritarov that they are ready to take to the hills.

THE BLACK MARKET TO NOWHERE. Unscrupulous middlemen are taking money
from refugees desperate to get to the West, and pocketing it--leaving them
stranded and broke. Gordana Igric in Sarajevo reports.


IWPR's network of leading correspondents in the region provide inside
analysis of the events and issues driving crises in the Balkans. The
reports are available on the Web in English, Serbian and Albanian;
English-language reports are also available via e-mail. For syndication
information, contact Anthony Borden <>.

The project is supported by the European Commission, Swedish International
Development and Cooperation Agency, Press Now and the Carnegie Corporation.

For further details on this project and other information services and
media programmes, visit IWPR's Website: <>.

Editor: Anthony Borden. Assistant Editing: Christopher Bennett, Alan Davis.
Internet Editor: Rohan Jayasekera. Translation by Alban Mitrushi.

"Balkan Crisis Report" is produced under IWPR's Balkan Crisis Information
Project. The project seeks to contribute to regional and international
understanding of the regional crisis and prospects for resolution.

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) is a London-based
independent non-profit organisation supporting regional media and
democratic change.

Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH, United Kingdom
Tel: (44 171) 713 7130; Fax: (44 171) 713 7140;

The opinions expressed in "Balkan Crisis Report" are those of the authors
and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.

Copyright (C) 1999 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting <>.



NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia risks creating "new Kosovos"
throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

By Denisa Kostovicova in Bratislava

NATO's bombing campaign against Yugoslavia has sent shock waves throughout
Eastern Europe which are rocking the foundations of the region's fledgling
democracies. Should democracy lose ground, the field for the nastiest of
ethnic politics remains wide open in a part of the world which is dotted
with potential, as yet unexploded Kosovos.

Stroll along the streets of Bratislava, Slovakia's capital, and you could
be forgiven for thinking you are in Belgrade. "STOP NATO", with a swastika
squeezed into the "O" of NATO, is scrawled on the walls. Further on,
protesters wave their placards: "NATO Hands Off Yugoslavia."

Support for the hard-line, nationalist policy of Yugoslav President
Slobodan Milosevic is only partly a manifestation of Slav solidarity
between Slovaks and Serbs. It also reflects attitudes of nationalist
Slovaks to Slovakia's Hungarian minority. Indeed, ethnic Hungarians,
who make up 10.6 per cent of the country's population, are already
taking fright at the apparent attraction of the Balkan recipe of an
ethnically pure nation state to some Slovak nationalists.

The new reformist liberal government aspires to Slovak membership of NATO
and has even allowed the alliance use of its airspace for the operation
against Yugoslavia. But the majority of Slovaks, hitherto reluctant,
are now convinced that they do not want to join NATO. And they oppose
the air strikes against Yugoslavia.

As Slovakia prepares to go to the polls to elect a new President, NATO's
bombing campaign is stirring nationalist passions to the advantage of the
country's own strongman, Vladimir Meciar. Fears of a return to intolerant
authoritarianism with Meciar again at the helm are more palpable with each
day. He has, after all, already managed two miraculous political comebacks
when prime minister before finally losing power in last autumn's elections.

Ethnic Hungarians, who now have three ministers in government, are acutely
aware of what Meciar's return might herald. One of his last legislative
gifts was a ban on the Hungarian language on school certificates and the
subjugation of Hungarian-language schools to Slovak jurisdiction.

In the face of the common threat, all ethnic Hungarian political parties
have put aside their ideological differences and banded together to form
a national bloc. It is a phenomenon which Slovak political analysts have
called "Slovakia's Kosovisation".

Nationalists across the border in Hungary are also raising their voice.
Although a marginal force in Hungarian politics, they nonetheless have
parliamentary representation and are calling for a change of Hungary's
southern borders to protect the Hungarian minority in Serbia's northern
province of Vojvodina, whom they consider Serb hostages.

Janos Martonyi, the country's foreign minister, has denounced the
Hungarian nationalists, as has the leader of Vojvodina Hungarians, who has
also condemned the NATO intervention, not once but several times. Neither
Serbian nor Slovak Hungarians, it seems, wish to see any change of borders.

The demands of Hungarian nationalists are, nevertheless, music to the ears
of their Slovak counterparts. As ever, extremists feed off and derive
strength from each other.

Romanians do not require interference from Budapest to feel uneasy about
their Hungarian minority, who account for 7.1 per cent of the country's
population. Romanians have already declared Serbs to be heroes and
view Kosovo as an unwelcome precedent. For them, NATO is now fighting
a war of independence on behalf of Kosovo's Albanians. They fear the
Hungarian-dominated Transylvania will be next.

Small wonder then that NATO-phobia has spread across Romania in the wake of
the bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Only recently enthusiastic about
joining the military alliance, many Romanians now view NATO as an aggressor
and the United States as an interfering bully, in similar terms to their
Serb neighbours.

Ordinary Romanians are increasingly at odds with their elected
representatives who still aspire to NATO membership. But popular support
for Serbia has not gone unnoticed by Romania's Hungarians. The improvement
in inter-ethnic relations in Romania over the past decade is by no means

The democratic consensus between the leadership and the electorate has
come under pressure even in those Central and Eastern European countries
basking in the safety of relative if not absolute ethnic homogeneity.
Again, the trigger has been NATO's offensive against Yugoslavia.

Popular opposition to the NATO operation is growing in the Czech Republic.
No sooner did Czechs become members of NATO then it ceased being the
alliance they had wanted to join in the first place. Czechs sought
membership to provide security from the threat they perceive in the east,
not because they wish to become embroiled in the Balkans.

Memories of Yugoslavs' support for Czechoslovakia in 1968 when the Soviets
intervened to "help" their "communist brother" have been revived. As have
memories of Yugoslav friends opening their homes to those who were by
chance on holiday in Yugoslavia during that fateful summer. This makes many
uneasy about their country's newly-acquired status as a NATO member.

The plight of ethnic Albanians has, nevertheless, generated moral outrage.
"Thank God for NATO. Someone to help the Albanians. There was no one
to come to our rescue in 1968," says a man in the audience on a popular
Czech talk-show to a standing ovation. As ordinary people come to grips
with their moral qualms, the NATO action enjoys the backing of the Czech

In Bulgaria, the pro-Western leadership is pushing for membership in NATO,
but has to face a tough question: Will NATO's profile and mission have
changed so much after the strike on Yugoslavia is over as to cause voters
to turn against joining the alliance?

The majority of Bulgarians have consistently opposed NATO's action in
Yugoslavia. This is not because Serbs, like Bulgarians, are Orthodox Slavs,
since historically the two peoples have often been enemies. Rather it is
because they have one key thing in common: a mistrust of Muslims.

Fears of a spill-over of the Kosovo conflict elsewhere in the Balkans into
Macedonia, Albania, Greece and Turkey have often been cited in the West as
a reason for international intervention in Kosovo. While the domino-effect
prophets of doom have generally cast their eyes southwards, they may also
have to look elsewhere in the region.

Denisa Kostovicova is a doctoral candidate at Cambridge University focusing
on Kosovo Albanians' parallel educational system.


Amid street rallies and errant bombs, Sofia maintains its pro-NATO stand.
But some old partisans are ready to take to the hills.

By Georgi Koritarov in Sofia

An errant bomb landing on a Sofia suburb has intensified the sharp internal
debate within Bulgaria over the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia. Yet the
government has maintained its support for the war.

Recent street demonstrations recall the period of sustained rallies in
Bulgaria two years ago, which led to a change of government. Then, as now,
the political divisions echo the long-standing split within Bulgaria
between the so-called red faction of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP)
and the blue reformists behind the United Democratic Front (UDF), which
now forms the government.

At one rally, demonstrators sympathetic with the socialist opposition
chanted: "NATO-fascists, world terrorists," and "NATO Out". Banners and
posters declared: "Airspace corridor: to the central prison", or "Take
the UDF, but not our sky."

Meantime, pro-government rallies have responded with similarly
sophisticated slogans: "Red Rubbish", "Moscow's Agents," "Down with

Yet the issues facing Bulgaria are serious. While the country does have
long-standing ties to neighbouring Serbia, the current government has
charted a firm pro-western course, which it hopes will culminate in
entry into NATO. Its complicated relationship with Macedonia--Bulgarian
nationalists claim that Macedonians are ethnically Bulgarian--has always
placed it at serious risk of becoming involved in any "spillover" of
conflict from Kosovo. Its painstaking reconciliation with its own
Turkish (Muslim) minority, following a pogrom during the late 1980s,
could also be disturbed by a neighbouring conflict involving a the
largely Muslim Kosovo Albanians.

More concretely, Bulgaria's geographic isolation, and the destruction
of the bridges in Serbia over the Danube, have cut travel and trade to
a poor country already struggling hard with its own economic transition.
Export revenues are reported to have dropped 26 percent against last year,
and growth in the Bulgarian economy is expected to fall by almost half,
to 2 percent.

The increasing intensity of the NATO bombing has also ensured that Bulgaria
has not been able to sit out the conflict. The NATO missile which landed in
a Sofia suburb April 29--presumably after losing track of a Serbian missile
radar site against which it had been targeted--was the fourth to land on
Bulgarian territory, although no one so far has been killed. The country
has not, as yet, taken in many refugees, although its proximity to Kosovo
makes it a potential recipient.

More importantly, only days after the recent bomb--which led opposition
figures to claim that NATO was "bombing Bulgaria"--the parliament approved
the request by NATO to allow limited use of the country's airspace for the
campaign. (Bulgaria is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace programme,
though its request for early entry into the alliance was rebuffed.) The
May 4 vote, which was 154 to 83, took place with several thousand pro-
and anti-NATO demonstrators on the streets, separated by hundreds of
riot police. "This is a good day for Bulgarian democracy," Prime Minister
Ivan Kostov declared afterward. "It draws us closer to Europe."

Government ministers have strongly condemned the "ethnic cleansing" in
Kosovo by the Yugoslav forces. Yet even as suggested by statements such
as Kostov's, the driving force on the issue, whether among the government
or the opposition, is to chart the politically correct line. For the UDF,
this means pro-NATO--taken as the symbol of foreign investment after the
conflict is over. (There have already been calls for a post-war regional
Marshall Plan.) For the opposition BSP, support for Yugoslavia, itself
led by a Socialist Party, seems fuelled for the primary if not sole reason
of simply opposing the UDF.

Perhaps as a result, politicians have not matched the passions of their
argument with a clarity in their positions. Only a few days before the
start of the bombing, for example, Kostov expressed serious concerns over
the failure of the peace talks. "It seems the international community has
no strategy," he said. "Any military operations in Yugoslavia without
the agreement of Belgrade will lead to the collapse of the federation."
Once the air strikes began, however, he expressed his full support,
noting, "NATO air strikes aim towards the preservation of the territorial
integrity of Yugoslavia."

Nadezda Mihailova, the young and usually collected foreign minister,
became the focus of much derision when, in front of dozens of journalists,
she had to call one of her deputies to explain exactly what kind of access
is being offered to NATO aircraft. This only increased concerns that
the government has failed to think through the strategic and diplomatic
ramifications of the accord, with the opposition raising the spectre
of Bulgaria's being a staging point for ground operations.

Yet the BSP has itself hardly been a model of clarity. Emboldened by polls
suggesting that most people opposed the air-corridor agreement, it has
stepped up its campaign against Bulgaria's links with the Western military
alliance. Yet it has spoken only generally of support for Greek
initiatives, while failing to enunciate clear policy alternatives.

Such confusions contribute to the range of curious views on display at
the public rallies. At one anti-NATO demonstration, an elderly woman
leaning on a stick argued, "It's time to begin armed partisan struggle."
Asked what role she intended to play, she replied, "I will be at the
head of a brigade."

Pro-government demonstrators are hardly more restrained--or coherent.
"Milosevic is a monster. He must be murdered," said one outraged "blue"
supporter. "If the Kosovo Albanians insist on independence, they could get
out of Serbia, go to Albania, and have their independent state there."

Whatever the viewpoint, fuelled by the misguided NATO bombs and the
government's rushed explanations, all Bulgarians are feeling an
increasing sense of fear. The longer the crisis continues--and the more
military mishaps occur--the greater this fear will grow. While the
politicians continue to exploit it to their own advantage, the Bulgarian
people, without much clarity as to how or why, just hope the conflict
will go away soon.

Giorgi Koritarov is a reporter in Sofia for Radio Free Europe/Radio


Unscrupulous middlemen are taking money from refugees desperate to get
to the West, and pocketing it--leaving them stranded and broke.

By Gordana Igric in Sarajevo

The Armend cafe in the heart of Sarajevo's old town fills up every
evening. The owner, an Albanian from Prizren, opens the wooden shutters
and allows dozens of his ethnic kin, all refugees from Kosovo, to watch
TV Tirana's nightly news broadcast on his small television set.

The space is too small to cater for the demand. Sometimes as many as a
hundred people stand patiently outside. There they exchange stories about
their escape from Kosovo, attempt to trace missing friends and relatives,
and most importantly, plot how to get to the West.

The Western embassies in Sarajevo will not, however, grant visas. As a
result, some of the refugees will soon set out on an uncertain journey,
aiming eventually to enter Italy or Germany illegally.

Refugee families are prepared to part with everything they possess
in order to acquire Bosnian, Slovenian or Croatian passports on the
black market in the hope that they are buying a way out. Meanwhile,
unscrupulous middlemen are exploiting their desperation, promising,
for a fee, to take them to the West, but not delivering.

Donika, a 20-year-old Albanian, began her journey in Pec in Kosovo. After
she was expelled, she made her way to Ulcinj on the Montenegrin coast.
There she was promised a comfortable journey to the port of Bari in Italy,
where she had hoped to obtain refugee status.

Two weeks ago she paid 2,000 German Marks to an unknown person, along with
another 300 other passengers. Already as they were boarding the boat, it
was clear that the vessel was not equipped to take more than 200.

Barely an hour from port, the captain abandoned ship in a small dinghy
leaving the passengers to fend for themselves. With water seeping in,
they somehow managed to return to the place from where they had set sail.

Donika eventually made it to Sarajevo, and now, living in a refugee camp,
she dreams of buying a passport on the black market. She is separated
from the rest of her family and only has 500 German Marks left. "A
Croatian passport, with which you can travel everywhere without a visa,
costs 1,000 German Marks. I now don't know what to do," she says.

The desire to get to the West is not unique to Albanians. Ever since
the start of the NATO bombing campaign, some 15,000 Muslim Slavs from
the Sandzak, a predominantly Muslim region of Serbia, have arrived in
Sarajevo, in addition to 18,000 Albanians, as well as an unknown number
of Serbs, all hoping to move on to third countries.

The Bosnian capital appears an attractive destination because of the
city's Western embassies. Although diplomats tell refugees that their
chances of moving to the West are minimal, the queues in front of the
embassies grow ever longer.

The chances of eking out some sort of living in Sarajevo, while waiting
for better times, are almost non-existent. Impoverished Bosnia is unable
to offer jobs and prospects to its own citizens, let alone the refugees.
Moreover, the refugees' reserves are rapidly being depleted, so that,
sooner or later, almost everybody will have to take the black market

"I'm very afraid of being swindled, but I have to take the risk and try to
get to the West," says Shaban, a 20-year-old Muslim Slav from the Sandzak.

Sitting in a tent in a refugee camp, he explains that when the war began
in Kosovo he was a soldier in the Yugoslav Army's Pristina garrison.
He did not know whom to fear more: the Serbs, with whom he was the only
Muslim in the unit, or the Kosovo Liberation Army, for whom he was only
a man in a Yugoslav uniform. He paid an officer a 2,000 German Marks bribe
to get a pass to visit the town and then, with a friend, made it from
Pristina to Sarajevo.

Shaban says that a friend paid 3,000 German Marks to be transported in
a group of eight to Italy. They left in the evening, in a van with dark
windows, and drove all night long until they reached water.

"The driver told them that they had reached the Adriatic sea, and that
they should wait for a ship to transport them to Italy. And then he left,"

Shaban says. They stood there for hours, and, in the end, found out from
a local that the water was actually the Jablanica Lake in Bosnia. "So my
friend is still in the camp with us, but without money."

According to another story doing the rounds in front of the Armend cafe,
a group of Albanians was brought, after a 12-hour ride, to the suburbs
of Mostar and told that they had arrived in Germany.

As time goes by, refugees are becoming ever more cautious. They leave the
money with friends in Sarajevo, so that payments are only made after they
have made it to the West and telephoned back to say that they have arrived

But even the best plans can be foiled. Stories circulate about passengers
forced at gun point to telephone from a mobile phone from another Bosnian
town to tell friends or relatives in Sarajevo that they are in Italy and
that the payment could be made.

Despite such stories, a Muslim Slav couple with a small child from
Montenegro is planning to take the same route. They say it had become
unbearable to them in the town of Herceg Novi where they used to live.

Friends turned their backs on them, the father was about to be mobilised,
and they were jobless. They arrived at the refugee camp in Sarajevo with
only one wish--to go somewhere. Now, the father says they are exploring
the black market option.

"If we don't manage to get hold of a passport, I've heard of a man
who takes people to Croatia for 600 German Marks, where somebody waits
for you who will take you to Italy for another 1,500 German Marks,"
he says.

Asked where he would most like to go if he could, he says: "Another

Gordana Igric is an independent journalist from Belgrade.


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