Issue No. 317 – April 22, 2003
1. Belarus: READY TO WITHSTAND AGGRESSION
by Paulyuk Bykowski
2. Slovakia : REFERENDUM ABOUT EU MAY BACKFIRE
by Peter Mikes
3. Bosnia and Herzegovina: HUNT ON CRIMINALS
by Radenko Udovicic
Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has instructed the country's armed forces to be prepared to withstand aggression “like what is being seen in Iraq today” while at the same time reassuring the citizens that no European powers wish to do battle against Belarus.
The main event in world affairs is the invasion of Iraq by the United States and Great Britain, Belarusan president Alexander Lukashenka stated on April 16 in his annual address to parliament. The Belarusan leader emphasized in particular that, by attacking a sovereign state in violation of the UN charter, the United States and Great Britain have forced the world back to the time when international law was unable to protect state sovereignty and only military action could.
“Today we have different types of weapons that can be called arms to restrain an aggressor and its accomplices,” Lukashenka said. “They are ordinary arms, but they are capable of inflicting significant casualties in a significant portion of the territory of our state.” He went on to declare “with all responsibility” that “today Belarus has at its disposal an armed forces that has the professionalism, size, and equipment to carry out military actions on a modern level.”
Speaking of the country's various security systems, Lukashenka returned repeatedly to relations with Russia and the establishment of a Belarusan-Russian Union State. “A Belarusan-Russian united defense area is the crucial factor in guaranteeing the security of our countries and regional security as a whole,” he said. “I place great value in the agreement that is now ready to be signed on joint defense of airspace along the external borders of the union and the establishment of a regional antiaircraft defense system. We have an interest in its speedy signing. Today Belarus is Russia's only faithful and battle-worthy ally.”
Along the same lines, the Belarusan president expressed support for continued strengthening of the military readiness of the Union State and CIS Agreement on Collective Security. “The transformation of the Agreement on Collective Security into a full-fledged regional organization requires the quick formation of workable mechanisms and the development of concrete practical measures,” he noted. Lukashenka called active participation in international and regional security systems a top priority for Belarus. “Under the conditions of having three of the five border states become members of NATO, and a fourth — Ukraine — seeking membership, we should find the optimal form of interaction with that military and political bloc,” he said.
Earlier, at a meeting with military leaders that took place on April 9 at the 558th Aviation Renovation Plant in Baranovichi, Brest Region, Lukashenka confirmed a plan to hold an exercise called Clear Skies 2003, scheduled for October 6–12. The presidential press service reported that Lukashenka said that the armed forces combined operational exercises, to involve military units from the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry for Emergency Situations, the State Security Committee and the State Committee on Border Forces, “should confirm the latest step in reforming the state military organization and significantly raise the level of preparedness for defending the Homeland.”
The press service noted that the US military aggression against Baghdad resulted in certain changes in the discussions at the 558th Plant and the BELTA news agency specified that the president ordered “defensive strategies to be developed during Clear Skies 2003 against military aggression like that which is being seen in Iraq.”
Lukashenka has rejected the suggestion that Belarus will be the next object of US aggression. He said that such rumors were being circulated “to sow fear and influence the leadership's standing.” According to BELTA, “in relation to this, the president said that ‘the people of Belarus can work and relax peacefully’ since there are people in the republic who maintain the country's security.”
Russian news agency ITAR-TASS carried Lukashenka's thoughts on world affairs: “Under the conditions of an increasingly unipolar world, of the diminishment of the role of the UN and of unprecedented pressure put on inconvenient states, of which the war in Iraq is a glaring example, [Lukashenka] emphasized that Europe has found itself in search of a new system of security. He also said that the expansion of NATO to the east and the possibility of using military forces without UN sanction significantly complicated Belarus’s military and political situation. Lukashenka emphasized that conditions are being established for the quick transfer of significant forces to the borders of Belarus. ‘We should study the emerging balance of power in the world objectively and be concerned about guaranteeing our security,’ the president said.”
About 80 aircraft are expected to take part in Clear Sky 2003 exercises. Chief of staff of the Belarusan armed forces First Deputy Minister of Defense Sergei Gurulev told the Interfax news agency on April 11 that the exercises “cannot be taken as saber-rattling.” Gurulev added that the scale of the exercises would be more modest that Neman 2001 or Berezina 2002. “Special stress will be laid on proven theoretical tactics for the deployment of the recently established air force and antiaircraft forces,” Gurulev stated. He went on to say that an agreement was near on bringing in Russian armed forces units to participate in the exercises. At Baranovichi, Lukashenka also made the sensational announcement that he would consider the use of the national armed forces as justified in case of aggression not only against Belarus, but also against its allies.
This is a direct contradiction to previous statements made by the Belarusan leadership about not using Belarusan citizens in military actions abroad and Belarusans no longer being “cannon fodder” for others. In connection with the clause of the constitution on Belarusan neutrality, the CIS Agreement on Collective Security was signed with the proviso that Belarusan soldiers would not fight abroad. Last year's laws “On Defense” and “On the Armed Forces” gave the president the right to send military personnel (with their written approval) beyond the boundaries of Belarus “to fulfill the international obligations of the state according to the legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus and international agreements of the Republic of Belarus.”
However, such legislative acts do not exist yet. The president has introduced legislation into the House of Representatives on the deployment of Belarusan military and civilian personnel beyond the borders of Belarus “to take part in activities to support international peace and security.”
The proposed legislation foresees the possibility of deploying Belarusan citizens on observation missions and missions to enforce cease fires, separate conflicting sides, disarm and decommission their military units, to perform engineering and other tasks, cooperate in refugee crises, provide medical and other humanitarian aid, and perform police functions to ensure the security of the population and the observation of human rights.
The Commission on National Security of the House of Representatives has already supported the proposal. Commission member Valery Frolov told NIJ that the new proposal places the parliamentarians in an awkward position considering the constitutional clause declaring that Belarus become a nuclear-free zone as soon as possible and that its government be neutral. He said, “The constitution presupposes neutrality, but we are making agreements and entering into collective security systems. Now we are defining the conditions for deployment of our troops abroad. Maybe we are not talking about direct military actions. Sometimes it is assumed, and rightly so, that certain preventive measures may require that the presence of our armed forces on the territory of another country involve dangerous activities. From that point of view, as a professional soldier, I think that there is sense to having our forces abroad from the beginning of a military conflict. The neutrality of Belarus, on the other hand, suggests that we have no right to do that,” he said.
General Frolov emphasized that he does not understand “how to combine the incompatible,” but thought the only possible solution would come from the “sensible interpretation of lawyers.”
Minister of Defense of Belarus Leonid Maltsev, whose ministry drafted the proposed legislation, assured journalists in February that only military professionals (officers, ensigns, and enlistees) could be sent abroad for peacekeeping operations. The minister strictly differentiated “peace support operations” and “peace enforcement operations.” The latter are military actions in which, Maltsev said, Belarusan citizens will not participate.
It is reasonable to assume that aggression against any country requires military action. Therefore, either Lukashenka's statement about the justifiability of the use of the armed forces and other military units in case of aggression against Belarus or its allies indicates his intention to introduce new legislation or he and his defense minister have different ideas about the last law.
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The referendum about Slovakian entry into the European Union, which will be held in mid-May, could became a challenge to the stability of the Slovak government. If the referendum is unsuccessful, the position of deputy prime minister Pal Csaky, who is responsible for the campaign, will be in danger, which could be just the beginning of a governmental crisis in Mikulas Dzurinda cabinet. Success of the referendum is not certain.
In Slovakia, a referendum can be successful only in case more then half of eligible voters comes out to vote. In all referendums held in the past 10 years of the Slovak Republic’s existence, participation was always less than 50 percent — and so none were valid and none successful. It may well be the case with the referendum about Slovak entry into the EU.
The government of Mikulas Dzurinda has already persuaded Slovak citizens that entrance into the EU is a good thing. More than 84 percent of Slovaks agrees with the idea of integration. The problem is that it is not clear how many will come out to vote. The government has been unable to mobilize voters and explain to them just how important it is to participate at the referendum. The campaign began just a few days ago and the message is unclear. The campaign message is “The EU is Good For Slovakia,” but there is nothing explaining that it is also important to come out to vote in the referendum. The campaign is thus persuading citizens about something they already want to do, but is not persuading them to vote.
The referendum in Hungary, where just 46 percent of voters came out to vote, indicates that citizens of candidate countries don't realize how important it is to cast a ballot in the referendum itself. In the case of Hungary [where there was no threshhold for validity], it was not a tragedy, but in Slovakia such a referendum would be invalid.
The opposition, in particular the pro-EU SMER party of Mr. Robert Fico, is criticizing campaign and is asking for deputy prime minister’s head. SMER did not exclude the possibility that it would demand the prime minister’s resignation in the event of an invalid referendum.
In this situation, Dzurinda got a helping hand from his rival, the other side of the opposition, the Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), led by Vladimir Meciar. Meciar refused to support the proposal to oust Csaky. On the contrary, the HZDS proposed to change the law on referendums to allow their validity with less than 50 percent turnout. The details of the law are yet unclear. But the aim of the proposal is clear: Meciar does not want to let SMER and Fico become the leaders of the opposition. It is not clear whether Dzurinda will take the help from Meciar and try to change the law or risk it all. If the latter, the referendum about entry into the EU will be not only about the EU but also about the fate of the government.
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In response to last month's assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic in Belgrade, there has been launched a widespread fight against organized crime not only in Serbia but also throughout Balkan peninsula. It is now proven that the Serbian reformer was killed by dangerous criminal groups connected with some government representatives, even state institutions themselves, showing how the politically unstable Balkans can be fruitful ground for the darkest criminal forces connected to politics.
The state of emergency in Serbia and the unprecedented hunt for criminals has a strong reflection on the neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country which shares many issues with Serbia.
Almost half of Bosnia is inhabited mostly by Serbs. As a consequence of war, the federal unit called the Serb Republic, was formed having so many elements of a state that it can be considered a state within a state. As such, the Serb Republic has close ties with official Belgrade, but also with various opposition groups. The other state entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina is mostly inhabited by Bosniaks and Croats and is distinct from Serbia, but it does have open borders with it, without any visa regime. Such a situation helped make the territories of Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina a single whole with many possibilities for criminals to travel. Apart from that, some Bosnian Serbs also have Serbian citizenship, and a majority of Bosnian Croats have a Croatian passport. Becasue of dual passport documents, it is difficult to ascertain the true identity of some individuals. It should be no surprise that Milorad Lukovic Legija, the mastermind behind Djindjic's murder who is still at large, has also Bosnian and Croatian citizenship.
That crime knows no borders is best illustrated by still unofficially kept information that members of the notorious Zemun clan from Serbia[, which Legija heads,] spent some time in Western Herzegovina with the Croatian majority population. Zemun clan members include people who fought against Croats only several years ago and some even committed war crimes. However, the profit of smuggling goods, including heroin, dampened national hatred and political differences.
With the assistance of the international community, which has a key role in Bosnia, there is a renewed effort to fight crime. It is a wide action involving not only the politically motivated fight against bandits and drug, cigarette, and human traffickers, but also the fight against tax evaders, corruption, and economic crime. For Bosnia, economic crime represents a large problem. Estimates say that various wrongdoings in the customs service and general tax evasion costs the state budget 500 million euros each year, an incredibly huge sum for a country of just 3.9 million people. Such a sum could be used for rebuilding infrastructure and resolving many social problems in the country. One example: as a result of the war that ended eight years ago, 30 percent of Bosnians still have destroyed homes or inadequately rebuilt homes. Officially, Bosnia doesn't have enough money to aid the reconstruction.
The investigations have already begun against many present or former officials because of their involvement in all those murky businesses or for turning a blind eye to them. Among the most famous names are Dragan Covic, a member of the Bosnian presidency, and Edhem Bicakic, a long-time Federation prime minister.
It is probable that the Bosnian presidency will be left without another member, this following the removal of Mirko Sarovic, who was accused of illegally trading with Iraq. It would Separation of those people from power and punishing them would help Bosnia’s bleak image of a country whose citizens vote primarily according to national affiliation.
In an important meeting in the fight against organized crime, the ministers of internal affairs from Serbia, the Serb Republic, and Federation B-H met in Belgrade met last week. They agreed to cooperate in disclosing information on organized criminal groups operating in both countries, as well as the open and expedient exchange of intelligence data. Although this meeting was primarily motivated by the investigation and arrest of suspects in the case of Djindjic's assasination, it has many side benefits. Criminals will not feel protected anymore when they pass over an entity or state border. With so-called telephone hotlines, police of one country or entity can now immediately send a demand for information on an individual to the other side. This will make life more difficult for car thieves running from Sarajevo to the Serb Republic. Also, the territory of Serbia and Bosnia will be much less suitable for transit of narcotics and other illegal goods towards Western Europe.
A widespread fight against crime also has political consequences. Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic accused the ruling party in the Serb Republic — the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS ) — that it supported some of those accused in the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic and that he wouldn't "want to hear about that party anymore.” Immediately after the statement, however, Djindjic's successor Zoran Zivkovic flew to Banja Luka where he discussed strategy in the fight against crime with the president of Serb Republic Dragan Cavic who is also SDS vice-president. It was concluded that crime is a joint problem and that it needs to be fought without regard to political differences. Zivkovic also announced soon a meeting with Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic.
Anti-crime cooperation between the two countries probably also means black days ahead for criminals who are hiding from the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, indicted war criminals, are still hiding. In an atmosphere tolerant of crime, there were no possibilities or political will to arrest about 20 persons indicted for war crimes who are still hiding in Bosnia and Serbia. The Serbian government managed to arrest most of the important criminal elements and to impose cooperation with the Hague Tribunal as a necessary requisite for having good relations with the international community.
At this moment, there are no doubts that the Serbian government will extradite all indicted war criminals who are caught on Serbian territory. However, there is a much bigger problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina or, to be more exact, the Serb Republic.
The ruling SDS in that entity was founded by Radovan Karadzic himself and has not shown much will to participate in the search for indicted war criminals. The Majority of Hague indictees who have ended up before the Court as defendants have been arrested by international troops not the local government. A few days ago, however, the president of the Serb Republic promised international representatives that the entity would obey its international obligation and start arresting the Hague indictees.
Those who hide war criminals will now have consequences. The recent decision of the European Union mandates seizure of property and prohibiting entrance into the EU for all who are suspected of harboring indictees. The EU had primarily in mind the whole network of influential people who allegedy help Radovan Karadzic. in hiding both from Bosnian authorities and also from international soldiers. The EU has made out a list with 100 names of persons from the Balkans who are now forbidden to enter EU countries. Twenty-five come from Bosnia and a majority are from Serbia. However, as we have found out, there are also a few people from Croatia and Macedonia on the black list, too, as well as several from Albania and Bulgaria, countries which were not part of the former Yugoslav community. Serbian police have already arrested two Bosnian businessmen living in Belgrade who are accused of crimes and giving support to Radovan Karadzic. One of them, Momcilo Mandic, was a pre-war minister of interior in the Bosnian government, which shows how thin the line between government and crime is.
Although the assassins of Zoran Djindjic were motivated by the hope that his assassination would bring about a restoration of the old tolerance for nationalist and corrupt politicians, they had a completely different effect. First in Serbia and then in Bosnia, a widespread fight against organized crime was launched, with a crackdown on organized criminal groups, some having strong political standings that hoped to slow down Bosnian progress and its approach to Europe.
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