Books on Serbia & Montenegro
% of GDP
Update No: 098 - (01/07/05)
Serbia has had a bitter and tragic history. It needs badly to
come to terms with it if it wants to have a brighter future.
Mladic on the run - but to the noose
To some Serbs, Ratko Mladic is a war criminal who orchestrated the Srebrenica
massacre in 1995. But to many others, he's a wartime hero.
Under increased pressure from the international community, Serbian authorities
say they're closing in on the fugitive general who has become a symbol of
Serbia's divide over its role in the Balkan wars.
Mladic, who has been on the run for a decade, is wanted by the U.N. war crimes
tribunal on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the
1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys in the eastern Bosnian enclave
of Srebrenica after it was captured by Serb troops.
But leading human rights activists and Serbia's liberal politicians say the
ambivalence toward Mladic points to a wider problem - the refusal by Serbia's
postwar authorities to clearly condemn war crimes and acknowledge the republic's
Serbia's parliament is still heavily influenced by Milosevic's nationalist
allies, who control nearly half of the 250 lawmakers. The ultranationalist
Serbian Radical Party - the single strongest party in Serbia - recently demanded
an end to what it called the "anti-Serb" hysteria over Srebrenica.
Srebrenica - Europe's worst massacre of civilians since World War II - has
become a symbol of the brutality of Bosnia's 1992-95 war. Faced with immense
international pressure to arrest Mladic before the 10-year anniversary of the
slaughter on July 11, Serbian authorities insist they are hunting down the
former Bosnian Serb commander to hand him over to the Hague tribunal.
Yet in Serbia, Mladic still commands considerable support among nationalists and
hard-liners in the ranks of the police and the army who refuse to acknowledge
that Serb troops committed war crimes in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.
Belgrade officials have acknowledged in the past that Mladic used to have
protection from hard-liners in the military.
In a sign of support for Mladic, graffiti depicting him as a hero and praising
his "Srebrenica Liberation" have appeared in Belgrade and the central
city of Nis. T-shirts and calendars with his picture are sold at flea markets
and at shops run by the influential Serbian Orthodox Church.
Recent opinion polls in Serbia suggest only about one-third of the population
knows what happened in Srebrenica in 1995 and a vast majority of Serbs consider
the U.N. tribunal an anti-Serb institution.
The intelligent Serb point-of-view
"We didn't have and we still haven't got the courage to point our
finger to the real culprits," said Milan St. Protic, a historian and former
Belgrade ambassador in Washington. "We have to take on the cross of blame
Protic was one of the leading politicians who ousted former President Slobodan
Milosevic from power in 2000 and extradited him to the U.N. war crimes tribunal
in The Hague, Netherlands, a year later. But, he says, Serbia's new, moderately
nationalist authorities failed to strongly address the wars that Milosevic
Natasa Kandic, a leading human rights activist, says Serbia has taken some
important steps in coming to terms with its past recently. But authorities still
have not clearly distanced themselves from the remnants of Milosevic's regime.
"Although we have had public condemnation (of war crimes), what we see
happening is a struggle ... to protect Milosevic's heritage," Kandic said.
"We must not allow the genocide in Srebrenica to be denied."
The Srebrenica massacre came into sharp public focus in June after the 1995
execution by Serbian gunmen of a group of Muslims - four of them minors - was
aired unedited on local television. The footage marked the first time that
Serbia came face-to-face with the brutality of its troops - something that had
been denied for years - and it triggered a wave of public condemnation of war
President Boris Tadic addressed the nation after the broadcast of the footage,
which led to the arrest of five paramilitaries and prompted parliament to draft
a resolution against war crimes, a measure expected to be adopted very soon.
Tadic told private BK Television that Serbia must face the war crimes. He said
it was good the footage was shown on television so "we can see what it
looked like in reality."
But critics say this is not enough
They say the parliamentary resolution, which will reportedly condemn all war
crimes committed in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, takes the edge off the
declaration and turns it into a general document acceptable to everyone.
"No one here is prepared to say that Milosevic's regime was a criminal
regime," said Borka Pavicevic, a leading human rights activist and
political analyst. At a conference in Belgrade on the Srebrenica massacre, no
top Serbian politicians showed up to hear women speak of the hardships of losing
their sons and husbands.
Ivana Dulic Markovic, Serbia's agriculture minister, attended, but only in an
unofficial capacity. "I can only bow my head and cry," Dulic Markovic
told participants. "When the mothers of Srebrenica victims passed beside
me, my knees started to tremble."
Serbian parliament fails to agree on massacre
The Serbian parliament has abandoned efforts to adopt a declaration
condemning war crimes because parties cannot agree on what to say about the 1995
Srebrenica massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims. "This is my personal
defeat," said parliament speaker Predrag Markovic after consultations broke
down late on Tuesday over how to mention Europe's worst atrocity since World War
He refused to allow any debate since it was doomed to end in a divisive vote
unless a text were agreed by all in advance.
"No one has the right to score political points on issues such as
these," Markovic said. Serbia had wanted to acknowledge Srebrenica before
the 10th anniversary of the massacre on July 11.
The Council of Ministers of the loose union of Serbia and Montenegro -- which
does not include the two heads of government or respective presidents -- issued
a statement condemning "the crime against Bosnian prisoners and
There should be no collective guilt, it said. "Those who killed in
Srebrenica and who organised and ordered this massacre represented neither
Serbia nor Montenegro but an undemocratic regime of terror and death to which a
large majority of citizens put up the strongest resistance."
Some historians would dispute how strong the resistance was. Over half of Serbs
questioned in a recent poll said they did not believe their kin had committed
war crimes in the 1990s.
But the video broadcast on TV in June showed Serb police torturing and executing
six Muslims from Srebrenica in 1995. It was this shock broadcast, applauded by
the West as long overdue therapy, that prompted parliament to try to draft a
text showing Serbia is ready to face up to its bloody past. The video was
followed by a surge of media reports that the government was preparing for the
surrender or arrest of Mladic, the Serb general in charge at the time.
Moral equivalence or not?
Parliament's deadlock exposed the limits of efforts to bring Serbia to terms
with the fact that Serbs were responsible for most civilian deaths in the
Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo wars.
Many believe it would be dishonourable to hand over Mladic to a court they
consider incorrigibly biased against them. But Western powers want Serbia to
acknowledge atrocities and close the war chapter, before joining NATO and the
European Union. The opposition Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic
had wanted to single out only Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces killed up to
8,000 unarmed Muslims in July 1995, of which the six in this video film were
just a tiny example of what happened there! "The crime in Srebrenica is
considered in Europe as a symbol of all war crimes," said Dusan Petrovic of
But, asserting the moral equivalence that has been the main plank in a wall of
denial for 10 years, other parties said it was wrong not to also mention crimes
committed against Serbs in the decade of ethnic war triggered by the break-up of
Socialist Ivica Dacic said singling out Srebrenica would be capitulating to
"those who want to officially condemn Serbia and Montenegro for genocide
against Moslems, Croats and Albanians".
Petrovic said opposition from the ultranationalist Radicals and the Socialists
of ex-strongman Slobodan Milosevic was no surprise. But he was disappointed not
to have the support of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's ruling party.
Kostunica's party wanted a resolution condemning Srebrenica, but also crimes
against Serbs in the Balkan wars. In similar vein, the daily Vecernje Novosti
carried photos of a Serb beheaded by foreign Islamic mujahideen fighters who
came to help Muslims in the Bosnia war, saying they were from a video even more
horrible than that of the Serb police.
CARDS aid for western Balkans…
The European Commission approved its first package of financial support
programmes for the western Balkans, New Europe reported recently.
It allocated 272.5m Euro in aid to Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia.
In a breakdown, Macedonia will receive 34.5m Euro this year, Serbia and
Montenegro 184m Euro, and Kosovo 54m Euro under the Community Assistance for
Reconstruction, Development and Stabilisation (CARDS) programme. The aid is
aimed primarily at reinforcing democracy and the rule of law, human rights,
civil society and the media, and the operation of a free market economy. The
annual CARDS aid for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the CARDS
Regional Annual Programme, will be approved by the Commission later this year.
The Commission's 2005-2006 CARDS assistance budget for western Balkans countries
totals around 5bn Euro.
Austrians pick up Mobtel
Austria's Mobilkom and a private business consortium recently announced they had
acquired a stake in Mobtel, Serbia's leading mobile phone operator, but admitted
that they were unsure how much they bought, New Europe reported.
"We bought between 42 and 51% of Mobtel," Austrian businessman Martin
Schlaff, who heads the consortium, told a press conference in Belgrade.
The Austrians acquired the stake recently from Serbian
billionaire-tycoon-politician Bogoljub Karic, a man who extracted his fortune
from a murky symbiosis with Slobodan Milosevic during 1990s.
Karic broke the sensational announcement that he has sold his stake in Mobtel
and that it was the 51% stemming from the founding contract from 1994 between
the Moscow-based BK - a spin-off from his business empire - and the Serbian PTT.
But the state of Serbia, sole owner of PTT, said Karic had not met many of the
investment commitments from the contract and wanted his stake reduced sharply.
The issue meanwhile landed at the International Arbitration Court in Zurich.
Karic seems eager to dump his Mobtel interest, which has been followed by a
flurry of lawsuits against his conglomerate, including one over US$66m in unpaid
dividends and a US$20m "extra-profit" tax targeting Milosevic-era
Last year, he sold the Mobtel part operating in Kosovo, then with 70,000 users,
to a controversial local businessman. The details of the transaction were never
Following the signing of the contract with Mobilcom in Vienna recently, he said
he was "serene." Actually, less than 2 months ago, he happily said
that he has sold his Mobtel shares to a Russian firm, then also stunning
"Believe me, I know nothing about this one, either," Capital
Investment and Telecommunications Minister Velimir Ilic said after news of the
sale broke from Vienna.
"The news surprised us, particularly that the sale had been negotiated for
8 months with BK Trade and not a single hour with the Serbian government,"
Foreign Economic Relations Minister Milan Parivodic said after meeting the
Austrian delegation. Regardless of the dispute over percentages, Schlaff,
Mobilkom chief executive Boris Nemsic and Austrian Vice Chancellor Hubert
Gorbach radiated optimism that the Karic part of the deal would be followed by
the sale of the remaining, state-owned capital.
Asked what if Serbian officials continue to insist that the state-owned stake
would go on a tender, Schlaff said: "I cannot imagine that Serbia would not
sell to Mobilkom."
The Austrian firm, a daughter company of Telekom Austria, had the interested
backing of Vienna, he said, claiming in addition that in case a tender is
opened, Mobilkom has the right of the first buyer.
Gorbach described the proposal for a 100% acquisition by Mobilkom as a
"unique opportunity for a swift and transparent privatisation."
None of the interested sides spoke of concrete figures, either in percentages or
US dollars. Various government officials have estimated Karic's stake in Mobtel
between zero and 41%.
The media have loosely estimated the company, with 2m mobile phone users, at
around €1bn (US$1.27bn).
The Austrian delegation was "alerted of all legal difficulties linked with
Mobtel" during talks in Belgrade.
"We particularly pointed to the unclear ownership structure that has led to
an international arbitration," Parivodic said.
In his words, the government holds "at least" 58% of the Mobtel
capital and that that part would have to go on an international tender. But, if
the Zurich arbitration says otherwise, "that's how it will be," he
Novi Sad bridge rebuilt 6 years after NATO strike
The bridge over the Danube at Novi Sad which NATO destroyed 6 years ago has
finally been rebuilt, with only refurbishing work ahead of its reopening for
traffic, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported on May 17th.
"We have welded the final reinforcement of the central section and with
that finished our work," German engineer and reconstruction supervisor
Frank Minas said recently.
The hanging cable bridge, 80kms northwest of Belgrade on the road to Budapest,
will be reopened to traffic in August. The downed segment had also blocked river
traffic, until the EU partly cleared the path in 2001, allowing some ships to
A pontoon bridge set up just downstream - linking two parts of Serbia's
second-largest city after NATO bombed all 3 of its bridges - remained another
hindrance to boats and had to be removed 3 times a week to allow ships passage.
The contract for the reconstruction of the bridge was signed in July 2002 and
the work financed from a 34m Euro (US$43m) credit approved by the European Bank
for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
The Saarlouis-based company Dillinger Stahlbau was signed on as the chief
contractor and had to observe certain conditions.
"We had to save as much of the old construction as possible," Minas
said. Of the 1,311m long bridge, just 711m are newly built and of the 8,000
tonnes of steel used in the construction, 2,700 came from the original bridge.
A night strike by NATO warplanes in 1999 totally destroyed one of the two main
cables and damaged the other one. Four of the six pylons remained usable after
Witnesses to the demolition of the huge steel bridge described it as terrifying.
"It may have lasted 2 minutes, from the hit until the torn section settled
on the river bed, Minas estimated.
NATO embarked on the aerial bombing campaign against Yugoslavia to stop the
terror campaign of Belgrade's security forces and paramilitaries against the
majority Albanian population in the breakaway province of Kosovo.
The new bridge is yet to be coated inside and out with special protective paint
and the cables finely tuned. It will also take an additional few days for the
tarmac to be laid.