"SECURITY AND STABLITY IN SOUTH-CENTRAL EUROPE"
22-24 March 2001
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International Secretariat, April 2001
This Secretariat Report is presented for information only and does not necessarily represent the official view of the Assembly.
- Almost 150 Members of Parliament and outside experts, government and international organisations representatives met in Dubrovnik, Croatia, March 22-24 for a three-day NATO Parliamentary Assembly seminar examining various aspects of security and stability in South-Central Europe. The seminar took place in a distinctly unsettled environment. The good news of the past twelve months - the democratic transition in Croatia, and more recently in Yugoslavia - had been offset by the re-emergence of problems in regions previously considered relatively settled. First, the ongoing insurgency in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia led by Albanian nationalists threatened to undermine the progress made in reconciling the Slav and Albanian communities in that country and represented a very worrying development for the longer-term stability of the entire region. And second, the declaration of independence by hard-line Bosnian Croats represented a direct challenge to the survival of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a potential unravelling of the Dayton Agreement itself. Taken together with the uncertainty in Kosovo and the forthcoming referendum in Montenegro, these events suggested a distinctly challenging environment for the international community.
- The programme, the 49th in the Assembly's Rose-Roth Seminar series, was hosted by the Croatian Parliament and marked the first Assembly activity in Croatia since that country became an associate member of the Assembly in May 2000. It was a rare opportunity for legislators from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro to come together to discuss their countries' common problems and the first time parliamentarians from Belgrade participated in a NATO-related event.
- The major themes of the seminar were that stability in the region depends on the following:
- Political reforms, like the establishment of liberal democracy and rule of law, with participation of domestic political actors;
- Reform of the armed forces to ensure that the military serves society and that society, through its elected representatives, exercises oversight of the armed forces;
- International cooperation, both among the states of the region and, ultimately, through integration in Euro-Atlantic institutions.
II. DOMESTIC POLITICAL REFORMS
- For more than a decade, the greatest impediment to peace in the region was Slobodan Milocevic. With his removal from power in October 2000, Serbia now enjoys the possibility of becoming a normal democracy. But Serbia still has a long way to go in its transition, Mr Ivan Vejvoda, director of the Open Society Institute in Belgrade, pointed out in his presentation. Serbia must undergo a deep transformation from a communist, single party-dominated system to a democratic society with a functioning market economy. Fortunately, in this regard, the experience of NATO countries like Poland and Hungary provides some examples for Serbian leaders to follow, and "there is a commitment to reform - a clearcut change from the past," he said. As for coming to terms with the events of the 1990s, Mr Vejvoda said that the new government already has met with South African leaders to explore the possibility of a "truth commission." He said, "Our country has done much evil, and this evil must be confronted."
- A more pessimistic view of the changes in Serbia came from James Lyon, director of the Sarajevo and Belgrade offices of the International Crisis Group. Mr Lyon argued that the problem with Milocevic was his policies, not him personally. He said new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Serbia Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic shared many of the same policies. For example, Mr Lyon noted that neither official favours working with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, and Mr Kostunica has supported wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, an indicted war criminal in the past. Mr Kostunica's commitment to the Dayton Peace Accords is also questionable, in view of his support for radical nationalists in Republica Srpska.
- Croatia is slightly further down the difficult path of transformation from a nationalist state under the late president Mr Franjo Tudjman to what was termed a "normal" state by Vesna Cvjetkovic-Kurelec, the deputy foreign minister. She and other Croatian officials stated that the country's goal is to join NATO and the European Union. Croatia expects to join NATO's Membership Action Plan soon and to sign a Stabilisation and Association agreement with the EU by June. Mr Zlatko Tomcic, president of the Croatian parliament, stated that "Croatia has a moral right to expect the West to act quickly" on its applications to Euro-Atlantic institutions. Referring to threats by the Bosnian Croat leadership to withdraw from common Bosnian institutions in protest of their election losses, Ms Cvjetkovic-Kurelec criticized those officials and indirectly Croatia's HDZ party, which supports them, asserting that, "We don't want to let the Bosnian Croats destabilize Bosnia-Croatia."
- As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, participants heard from representatives of the three ethnic communities that they are committed to building a functioning state. Mr Momir Tomcic, a Member of the Bosnian Parliament, stated, "We in the Republika Srpska want Bosnia and Herzegovina to work." His colleague, Sead Buturovic, added, "We Bosniaks don't want a national state in Bosnia and Herzegovina." And Mariofil Ljubic, another member of the delegation, said that the Bosnian Croat community supports Dayton and is seeking a stronger central government that can assert its rule throughout the entire country. However, Mr Ljubic indicated that he would like to see voting rules changed so that each ethnic community can elect its own representatives, on a par with its representation in the population.
- Officials from the United Nations and the United States were critical of the recent threats by the Croat nationalist HDZ party in Bosnia and Herzegovina to set up a mini-state in southern Herzegovina. The Western officials said that election rules allowing Bosniaks and Croats to vote across ethnic lines in the Bosnian-Croat federation were successful in reducing the influence of nationalist parties and allowing moderates to come to power. This threatens the power of Croat nationalists, who already have lost support in Croatia proper from the new democratic government.
- Ambassador Jacques Klein, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that the country needs a permanent election law that recognizes the "legitimate aspirations of the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina." But Mr Klein was withering in his criticism of the HDZ, adding, "The recent crisis was manipulated by politicians of the past who have been abandoned. They fear that the will of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be realized." Mr Klein said that the HDZ was skimming aid money from Croatia that had been intended for Bosnian Croats, and Croatia should put an end to being manipulated by the Bosnian HDZ. "Croatia must assure the Bosnian Croats that Zagreb will protect their interests, but that their future is in Bosnia-Herzegovina." Ms Cijetovic-Kurelec, the Deputy Foreign Minister, said that her country was doing just that, explaining that it would be unfair "if the whole Bosnian-Croat population was penalised for 150 thugs".
- Ambassador Robert Beecroft, the coordinator for Bosnian implementation in the U.S. State Department explained, "The problem is not deprivation of Croat rights; it is that the HDZ refuses to recognize that it has lost power." Noting polls that 70 percent of young Bosnians plan to emigrate in search of a better life abroad, he said that Bosnia is at risk of becoming "a backwater, whose young people have left, and is ignored because it doesn't matter," despite having received $5.1 billion in international aid in the past five years. The State Department official said, "The United States will respect and honour its commitments in the Balkans in the future," and any future reduction in American troop levels in the Stabilization Force (SFOR) would be negotiated in NATO, replying to indirect criticism formulated earlier by Mr James Lyon, from the IGC, that the recent US drawdown in Bosnia was ill-timed, at a moment of increasing tension in the region.
- The two Western officials stated that Bosnia-Herzegovina "is on the right track." Among the positive signs they cited are:
- Political reform: With ethnic nationalists out of power at the entity and state level, the Parliament is beginning to move forward with passing legislation and operating transparently. At the same time, other state institutions are becoming stronger, and the state is becoming capable of enforcing laws and border controls (thanks, among others, to a recently-created nationwide border control agency).
- Economic reform: Communist-era "payments bureaus" have been abolished and financial transactions are being processed through the banking system, eliminating a bureaucratic roadblock that had been a source of money for criminal activities. However, the transition from communism to a free-market economy will take time, not the least because of the need to pass economic legislation in a Parliament which is not yet entirely functional.
- Refugee returns: An estimated 60,000 Bosnians in 2000 returned to their homes in areas where they are an ethnic minority, 60 percent more than a year before. Still, property laws need to be clarified and enforcement strengthened in order to remove remaining obstacles to returns.
- Legal reform: Respect for the rule of law is growing, and the government has begun vetting judges to ensure they are free of political influence.
- Media reform: An independent journalists organization has been founded, and government mouthpieces no longer have a monopoly on information. The problem now is that there are too many outlets, so some rationalization must occur, and some outlets still must be removed from political control.
- External environment: The end of the Tudjman and Milosevic Governments means that Bosnia-Herzegovina is surrounded by non-nationalist, non-irredentist regimes, which previously had viewed it as a target for their own territorial aggrandizement. This, in the view of the UN Representative and several other participants was the key difference, which now made it possible to see Bosnia's future as a unified and stable country.
- One political question mark remains the future of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). With Montenegrin elections planned in April and a referendum on its independence likely in June, it is difficult to plan for reform in that country while its fate remains uncertain. Mr Miodrag Vlahovic, Director of the Centre for Regional and Security Studies in Podgorica, said, "Montenegro's drive for independence is irreversible. We're going to do it peacefully." He added that there is no possibility of Serbian intervention to keep Montenegro in the FRY. He pointed to the fact that the only links between Serbia and Montenegro today are the army, air traffic control and postal services, and he regretted that new Yugoslav President Kostunica had enlisted formerly pro-Milocevic forces in Montenegro to assert his power. Mr Vlahovic expressed some concern over the West's seeming shift in attitude toward Montenegro. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic had enjoyed Western support for his efforts to distance Montenegro from the Serbian Government, but the changes in Serbia have left Western governments cool toward independence. Montenegro's pro-independence drive was strongly rebuked by the representatives of the Serb and Federal Parliaments present at the meeting.
III. DEFENCE REFORMS
- An important aspect of ensuring stability, and one that particularly concerns the NATO PA, is reform of the armed forces. As Djurdja Adlezic, Head of the Croatian delegation to the Assembly noted, Croatia is reforming its laws to increase democratic oversight, and Parliament must play a role here.
- Croatian Defence Minister Jozo Radoc spoke of the need for Croatia to reduce personnel in its military by 20 percent now that the country is at peace, while working to enable Croatia to work with NATO, with the eventual goal of joining the Alliance. Croatia's military was formed during the country's war for independence, so the country still has a large conscript-based army, which is no longer tailored to today's peacetime requirements. As a result, the defence ministry last year produced a plan for the development of the armed forces in 2000-2004, and a more detailed White Paper is expected at the end of this year. The goal is to build a defence system that is more transparent, under the control of the government and endowed with parliamentary oversight, and which is compatible with NATO. One of the difficulties is the need to send to retirement a large number of officers to whom Croatia owes its victory in the 1991 war of independence. Croatia has begun to work with NATO in the context of its PfP programme, so that reform can foster rapprochement, and ultimately enable her to join the Alliance.
- Defence reforms will be more difficult in the FRY, according to Mr Miroslav Hadcic, director of the Centre for Civil-Military Relations in Belgrade. Mr Hadzic said that the new Kostunica Government may feel that it "owes" something to the armed forces for helping to bring about the largely peaceful change in power, and may be reluctant to reduce their size or budget to a more appropriate, sustainable level. He also pointed out the economic difficulty of down-sizing the military, and the lack of clarity of the present system of security decision-making linked to the complex institutional structure of the FRY / Serbia. Moreover, the texts are unclear as to the prerogatives of the Serb-Montenegrin Supreme Defense Council and the responsibilities of the military in the maintenance of domestic order.
- Mr Hadzic noted the role that NATO can play in helping to establish democratic oversight of the armed forces in Yugoslavia, as the country has no experience in the field; the Defense Ministry remains mainly staffed by military. He also pointed out the difficulty of improving the image of NATO in the country; as the participants could infer from the statements of the Serb representatives, many are still bitter about the 1999 NATO bombing campaign.
- Civilian oversight of the armed forces in NATO countries was discussed on the basis of presentations by two Members of Parliament speaking from their own national experience. Edit Herczog, a Member of the Hungarian Parliament, said that the Hungarian military in theory accepted civilian control after the election of a democratic government, but considered most defence decisions as professional matters that could only be decided by experts, who were nearly exclusively in the military. While the government has now hired civilian staff, many are retired military officers. There has been an effort to train civilian experts, but many leave government service because they are blocked by holdovers from the communist regime or find more attractive positions in the private sector. In addition, there are still problems for Parliament in gaining timely access to information, both from the government and the military.
- Sofia Kalantzakos, a Member of the Greek Parliament, noted that it takes time to develop traditions of democratic oversight. While the military junta in Greece fell overnight in 1974, it was not until the election of a Socialist government in 1981 that there was a strong effort to establish civilian control over the military, out of fear of provoking a military backlash. Today, a parliamentary committee oversees the defence ministry and has the final say on budget and military matters, but sometimes Members must demand more detailed information than the government initially offers. Carlos Encarnaçao, a Member of the Portuguese Parliament, commented that it took 20 years in his country for full civilian control to be established after the fall of that country's dictatorship in the mid-1970s. Other Members participating in the seminar stressed the importance of having expert staff to evaluate the budget and procurement, but noted that sometimes "talented amateurs" sitting in the Parliament were in the best position to decide how requests for defence resources should ultimately be evaluated in the context of overall national priorities.
IV. INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
- A key point over the three days of the seminar was that international cooperation is essential if the region is to be stable and secure. First, cooperation among the countries of the region is essential. As Ms Cvjetkovic-Kurelec, the Croatian deputy foreign minister noted, Croatia and Serbia must work with Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent country, not as a target for partition and territorial aggrandizement. Mr Klein, the U.N. official, said this is essential to enable the communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to focus their attention on building their own state.
- Mr Gerald Knaus, director of the European Security Initiative in Berlin, said that regional cooperation could best be encouraged by focusing on certain sectors that might prove conducive to cross-border solutions. Noting that the EU began as a "Coal and Steel Community," he suggested that energy might be one area where regional cooperation would make economic sense. But he cautioned against seeking to solve all of the problems of the countries of the region with regional solutions, noting that many problems are unique to a single country. "You can solve many of these problems one country at a time," he said.
- Equally important is the role of the international community, particularly the rest of Europe. The countries of this region can only survive and thrive as part of a larger European community. It is up to Europeans, particularly the European Union, to help bring these countries into a Europe whole and free. Antonio Pedauyé Gonzalez, the Spanish ambassador to Croatia, said that the EU took several significant steps in 1999 to assist the region, such as launching the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, beginning the process leading to bilateral stabilization and association agreements, opening its markets to exports from the region, and increasing economic aid.
- Mr Knaus noted that the main effort to stabilize the region, the Stability Pact, spearheaded by the EU, was trying to address problems like weak states, corruption and poverty. He pointed out that weak states have little capacity for delivering services to their citizens, which means there is little public support for them. If citizens could see tangible benefits from their governments, they would be more likely to support them. However, he regretted that the Stability Pact was very slow in delivering its benefits.
- Ambassador Pedauyé cautioned that there was a risk that the region would become dependent on aid, citing the example of Bosnia, where economic activity was still languishing despite five years of heavy international investment. His intervention to some extent contrasted with that of Ambassador Klein, who had earlier urged Parliamentarians "not to fall prey to political fatigue, compassion fatigue, or donor fatigue".
- James Lyon, of the International Crisis Group, warned of the consequences of international failure in South-Eastern Europe, not only for the region itself but because this could lead to a serious breakdown of cooperation between the United States, the EU and Russia.
- The seminar brought to light the fact that political reforms in the region are going forward, and much progress has been made since the death of Tudjman and the fall of Milosevic, the two nationalists responsible for much of the region's suffering. One essential element in this process is reforming the armed forces to establish civilian control, including effective legislative oversight. At the same time, international cooperation is essential to stability in the region, both among the countries themselves and in helping them integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
- The seminar was one of the best-attended of the Rose-Roth series, and it served a valuable role in bringing together Members of Parliament and other civic leaders from the region, many of whom had been separated for a decade while war raged in the countries that had comprised. While it will be difficult to overcome the legacy of communism and aggressive nationalism, there is cause for hope that recent political changes and international cooperation will bring security and stability to South-Central Europe.
- The seminar inaugurated a process of contacts between the NATO PA and the members of the Serb and Yugoslav Parliaments, which the Assembly will build upon in the coming months.