Issue No. 305 - January 23, 2003


1. The Czech Republic:  IN SEARCH OF A PRESIDENT
by Petruska Sustrova

by Milos Jeftovic

by Goran Vezic

by Petruska Sustrova

        On Wednesday, January 15, 2003, the legislators of the two chambers of the Czech Parliament voted for a new head of state. The voting was unsuccessful: none of the candidates received the necessary number of votes by the deputies and senators. The second round will take place on January 24.

        In the Czech Republic, the President is elected by the combined chambers of Parliament, including both deputies and senators, rather than by the citizens. This naturally has an influence on the candidates who put forward by political parties. Unfortunately, the government coalition that was created as the outcome of last year's parliamentary elections, did not manage to put up a joint candidate who would have a chance to become the new head of the Czech state.

        The current Czech Government is made up of Ministers of three political parties - the Social Democrats (CSSD), the People's Party and the Freedom Union. The strongest of these, the Social Democrats, who came out as the winners in last year's June parliamentary elections, held a so-called internal party referendum at the end of last year which was to pick their candidate for the presidential elections. But the outcome of the referendum was perplexing. The highest number of votes was cast for the former chairman of CSSD, Milos Zeman, although he had made clear his intentions to withdraw from politics for good (he had resigned as party chairman in the spring of 2002 and went into retirement after the elections). Zeman declared that he would not stand in the first round, however, should the first round not succeed—in other words if a President was not elected—he would be willing to stand in the second round.

        The Social Democrats were thus compelled to nominate an alternative candidate for the first round on January 15. They chose Jaroslav Bures, a man whom neither politicians nor commentators gave the slightest chance. While Bures had been Minister of Justice between 1998 and 2002, he had left no impression on the Czech political scene. As a judge in the late 1980s, he had joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (he himself admitted that he had done so in order to further his career). This alone disqualified him in the eyes of the Czech public as a possible successor of Vaclav Havel. As expected, he received a mere 46 votes out of a total of 281.

        Jaroslav Bures was unacceptable as a candidate for president for the CSSD’s coalition partners, who backed instead Petr Pithart, the current chairman of the Senate (the upper chamber of the Czech Parliament). Pithart, proposed formally by the People's Party, in fact reached the second round, where he stood against Vaclav Klaus. In the end, however, he failed to get enough votes.

        The most successful first round candidate was Vaclav Klaus (ODS), put forward by the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS). As a former prime minister (1992-1997) and until recently chairman of the ODS (he resigned to run for president), Klaus has the strongest support of the public according to opinion polls. Nevertheless, he was unable to obtain a simple majority of legislators that the Czech constitution requires to be elected head of state.

        Finally, the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia proposed Miroslav Krizenecky, a lawyer and former chief military prosecutor during the early 1990s, but he got no votes beyond the CP and did not reach even the second round.

        Two candidates have been nominated so far for the next vote to be held on January 24. ODS again has proposed Vaclav Klaus and the CSSD executive committee this time decided to put forward Milos Zeman as its candidate. It is not known yet whether there will be other candidates, but it is unlikely that any political party or group of politicians would be able to find someone having any chance of being elected. But at this stage it is impossible to guess the outcome of the election due between Zeman and Klaus, since neither ODS nor CSSD have a sufficient number of legislators to elect the head of state.

        So, what are the prospects of Milos Zeman? The CSSD’s coalition partners will not likely cast their vote for him. But it is also not certain that all social democratic deputies and senators will vote for him. The faction supporting the current Czech Prime Minister and CSSD chairman, Vladimir Spidla, does not consider Zeman as a suitable candidate for the post of head of state. Spidla?s Government and party faction are staunch advocates of the Czech Republic’s accession to the European Union, and they look for coalition partners in this light. For Spidla’s Government, Zeman as President would constitute a considerable threat. His election would strengthen the opposite party faction that Spidla’s faction did its utmost to weaken and remove from power and influence.

        Neither, however, does Vaclav Klaus have sufficient votes to enable his election. Deputies and senators from the People's Party or the Freedom Union consider him an unacceptable candidate and have declared on many occasions that they would not vote for him.

        This means that it will be the votes of the communists that will decide which of the two proposed candidates will be elected. As head of state, Vaclav Havel never invited representatives of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia to any political negotiations because he did not consider them to be democratic politicians. But neither Klaus nor Zeman share Havel's view and advocate a "more realistic approach." In last year's parliamentary elections the communists received a little more than 18 percent of the votes of the electorate and their deputies account for one-fifth of the total number in Parliament.

        It is quite possible that Czech legislators will fail to elect a President on Friday, January 24. If that is the case, there will be two possibilities: either try and repeat the voting or to leave the country without a President and pass a law on direct popular elections. Opinion polls have revealed that almost 90 percent of those questioned regularly favour direct elections of the President. Even all decisive political forces approve this method, and it is more than likely that Parliament will pass a law on the direct election of the President and that as a result it will be the citizens themselves who will decide who is to be the future President.

• • •

by Milos Jeftovic

        At the beginning of this year, Belgrade suddenly launched the idea that it was "the right time" to start talks about the final status of Kosovo, formally still a province of Yugoslavia that has been placed under protection of the

        U.N. since June 1999. That remark of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic met with a very cold reception among leaders of Kosovar Albanians as well as international officials. Everyone said that this was not right time for such talks.

        In Pristina, analysts are noting that Kosovo has its own serious problems, among them are building democracy, decentralization, unemployment, and the fight against organized crime. Political infighting among Kosovar parties is leaving many victims. As well, Kosovo is facing court trials against former regional leaders of the now-disbanded Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) who are accused of war crimes against their fellow citizens. And it appears more and more certain that the Hague Tribunal will issue indictments against several former KLA leaders who enjoy heroic status within the Kosovar Albanian population.

        Leaders of Kosovar Albanians did not react officially to Djindjic's sudden offer. Last year, when Djindjic offered talks to KLA leader Hashim Thaqi, now president of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (DPK), there was similar silence but then a public rejection of the offer. In this case, the rejection was in the form of political advisers stating that there was no need to rush to talks because "Kosovo is free and is governed under U.N. Resolution 1244 by Crossovers and UNMIK." Djindjic's offer, which even in Belgrade was hardly met with enthusiasm, was further put down by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, followed by the chief of the U.N.’s civil administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), Michael Steiner. Both said that "it is not the right time for talks." They stressed that Kosovo first had to implement democratic standards, create conditions for a secure and safe multi-ethnic community with full respect for minorities, foster a market economy, and restrain organized crime before talks about status could begin.

        Kosovar Albanians have no second opinions regarding the issue of final status. Independence of the province, where they make up to 90 per cent of the total population, was their national and political idea during the last decades. Among Kosovar Albanian political leaders there are now no doubts regarding the methods of achieving that goal. They feel certain that they are independent and that it is only a matter of who, when, and in what way will it be made official.

        Rexheo Hoti, an advisor to Kosova’s prime minister, thinks that when the time comes "Kosova’s status will be decided by the citizens and institutions in Kosovo" in cooperation with the international community, especially the U.S. and EU. He is certain that the "process of independence of Kosova is irreversible" and that "democratic institutions affirm state identity of Kosova every day."

        "Kosova has its own way of building up the state and Djindjic's statement is more a consequence of the crisis in Serbia. Such statements of a neighboring country regarding Kosova are unbalanced, unnecessary and don't have anything to do with Kosova," said Hoti.

        There are many Kosovar Albanians who feel that Djindjic's statement was made as a result of Serbia’s internal political crisis, the re-definition of relations between Serbia and Montenegro, and the announcement of a new Serbian Constitution. In all those constitutional documents, all Serbian politicians demand that Kosovo be defined as a Serbian province. No serious politician in Serbia can now imagine saying that.

        Kosovo needs a different status. Kosovar leaders are also aware of this need but they have decided to wait. They know that Belgrade will not be able to decide the status of Kosovo and that final status cannot be decided without direct talks with Pristina. Kosovo has become an international problem. Neither Pristina nor Belgrade is ready or capable of resolving that issue in the foreseeable future. All of it will have to be done by the international community.

        Meanwhile, the situation in Kosovo is characterized by violence and conditions are a long way from talks about the future status of the province.

        At the beginning of January there was a triple murder that heightened tensions considerably among Kosovar Albanians. The former leader of a KLA faction (FARK), Tahir Zamaj, his son, and cousin were killed. Zamaj was a fervent supporter of Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo (LDK) and Kosova’s president. The murder, which Rugova called terrorism, frightened most Kosovar Albanians with the possibility of armed political fighting.

        Zemaj was the key witness in the court trial against a five-member Albanian group sentenced to a total of 31 years in prison for kidnapping four and killing one FARK member. Among those sentenced was the brother of the president of Alliance for Kosovo Future (ABL), the third strongest Albanian party in parliament, Ramush Haradinaj. Zemaj was also rumored to be an important witness in prospective Hague indictments against some of KLA’s top leaders. Following the murders, there were demonstrations in many towns throughout Kosovo, as well as different groups protesting the harsh prison sentences against the group sentenced and, before then, the group’s arrest. Some Albanians tried to organize a forced entry into the prison where the group of prisoners is serving their sentences, trying to incite armed rebellion in prison. These efforts were by a large number of police aided by heavily armed KFOR members.

        During the past few weeks, some Albanian politicians were threatened. The Albanian National Army (ANA) started to announce itself in Kosovo, threatening all Albanians who work against the interests of their community in Kosovo and the region. ANA was formed in the summer of 2001 as a fraction of the National Liberation Army in Macedonia, which broke from both the NLA and KLA as well as armed groups from southern Serbia [because of their acceptance of political negotiations]. ANA is estimated to have approximately 2,000 members. It took responsibility for the murder of several policemen and kidnappings of Macedonian civilians, saying it would continue the armed struggle "for achieving Albanian national interests in the Balkans."

• • •

by Goran Vezic

        The bitter aftertaste of a scandal caused by skier Ivica Kostelic can still be felt in Croatia. Two weeks ago, after his victory in Kranjska Gora (Slovenia), he stated that he was as ready to fight as a German soldier on June 22, 1941, when the Soviet Union was attacked. The weekly newspaper Nacional then ran previously unpublished parts of an interview with Kostelic where he explained his fascination with Nazism in more detail! "Nazism was a healthy system for an ambitious person," he said among several other things, in this proving that the first statement was not simply a singular occasion of excess but rather part of his worldview. Ivica Kostelic and his father Ante, who mad a similar notorious statement, turned Croatian national pride into national shame.

        During the past decade, there can be no doubt that the best Croatian products were its sportsmen. Croatian basketball and football players, tennis player Goran Ivanisevic, skiers Janica and Ivica Kostelic were more of an international affirmation for this young country than its entire diplomatic corps during the past twelve years.

        However, Croatian sport stars are not completely removed from social and political events in Croatia. Their formative years were during years of war and, once peace was achieved, extreme intrusion of politics into Croatia’s everyday life. They grew and became stars during the time of Franjo Tudjman, a right-wing absolute, who paid them the greatest honors and brought them under his influence. Footballers and basketball players often visited Tudjman's residence. Ivanisevic supported him, although never accepting Tudjman’s invitation for a tennis game, while the father of Janica and Ivica Kostelic, Ante, never hid his admiration for Tudjman, claiming that his children would never have succeeded in skiing without Tudjman and the creation of the Croatian state. Kostelic, a slight paranoid, meant that the Slovenian skiing lobby would have prevented his children from developing their skills. Tudjman's legacy can still be seen in football. Players still hold their hand over their hearts during the playing of the state hymn, a gesture Tudjman made obligatory for members of his party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Players like Zvonimir Boban and Igor Stimac, hailing from Croatia’s golden football generation, are among the ringleaders and founders of extreme right-wing parties and initiated a petition in support of right-wing army generals who were retired by President Stipe Mesic for meddling into civilian politics. The petition was signed by some of Croatia’s most well known sportsmen, including Goran Ivanisevic after winning Wimbledon. These two also gave their support to General Ante Gotovina, who is still on the run and is wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in Hague on an indictment of war crimes. Stimac also defended persons indicted by a Split court for crimes committed against Serbian civilians and prisoners of war during the war in that city.

        These celebrities are a neon advertisement for confusion in Croatian society in considering Tudjman's regime and its connection to fascism and war crimes. Tudjman relativised crimes committed by the war-time puppet fascist state during World War II, first as a historian and later as president. The same relativism was used for playing down crimes committed in the most recent war, resulting in the highest court in the land claiming that Croatian soldiers could not have committed war crimes because they were defending the independent state. It was very fruitful to adopt such viewpoints. Indeed, all career people adopted them, including sportsmen. Although on the international market (unlike the rest of the Croatian elite), they were expected to support the ruling party. Some did so out of belief and some in exchange for financial privileges, status, or opportunity. Before elections most prominent sportsmen would appear on the list supporting President Tudjman and his party. The famous basketball player Ivica Kukoc was put on the list even without asking him first. "Fuck that list and whoever put me there," was Kukoc’s response, which resulted in him being a lost Croatian sport hero.

        Kukoc was in the minority, however. The majority belonged to those favoring nationalist politics. Ivica Kostelic is only a tip of the iceberg. Croatia finally had to face the fact that its youth idol had dangerous and obscene attitudes. Part of the public, not far removed from
Kostelic's attitudes, is defending him while another part is not. The latter group is headed by president Stipe Mesic, who refused to appear at a ceremony last Saturday where Ante Kostelic was supposed to have been pronounced coach of the year in Croatia.

        Kostelic once said in regard to Mesic and his former opponent in the presidential race that Ante Ledic “would be the best president because he is a tall and handsome man who ran 100 meters in 10.3 seconds” while Mesic was a “porcupine.”

        What can a normal person in Croatia say after this? Nothing. They only pray that the true sports heroine, the winner of three golden and one silver medal at the last Winter Olympics, Janica Kostelic, does not follow in her family footsteps and say something which would cause normal Croatian citizen to blush.