Yugoslavia Joins Pact

Stability Pact members have mixed feelings over Yugoslavia's newly acquired membership of the organisation.

Yugoslavia Joins Pact

Stability Pact members have mixed feelings over Yugoslavia's newly acquired membership of the organisation.

Nearly three weeks after the inauguration of President Vojislav Kostunica, Yugoslavia has become a full member of the Stability Pact of southeast Europe, a body formed last year to try and stitch the squabbling Balkans into a harmonious regional group.

At a ceremony in Bucharest on Thursday, Bodo Hombach, the organisation's co-ordinator, handed over a key symbolising the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's accession to the pact.

A day earlier, the newly elected Kostunica was also accepted by Yugoslavia's neighbours at an informal meeting in Skopje of leaders from the countries of southeast Europe.

Yugoslavia's membership came on a wave of euphoria over the ousting of Slobodan Milosevic and after a series of visits by high-ranking Western diplomats and statesmen, such as Belgrade has not seen since the time of Josip Broz Tito.

Pact members hope this will now speed up the group's activities after a disappointingly slow start in which loudly trumpeted promises of political, economic and security support from the West had failed to materialise.

The pact was conceived at a meeting of European Union leaders in Cologne after NATO bombers ended their attacks last year. It was grandly described as the "most important European project in the upcoming years".

EU leaders called for "promotion of political and economic reforms and the development of security in the region". They also promised "joint responsibility for the construction of undivided, democratic and peaceful Europe."

Fifteen months later, analysts from Balkan countries complain that people in the region are frustrated by the organisation's failure to bring about any concrete improvement in everyday life.

The majority of the 35 infrastructure projects selected for priority in the "quick start" program at a conference in March this year have yet to commence. Then, 1.8 billion euros were earmarked for the projects plus 600 million euros for other schemes. Seven months on, there's no sign of money being advanced.

Diplomats with extensive experience in the Balkans, like Carl Bildt and Jacques Klein, have claimed until recently that Milosevic had accomplished more reconstruction in Serbia under sanctions in one year than the Stability Pact managed for the entire Balkans.

At the Skopje meeting, leaders of southeast European countries denounced the pact as too slow. They complained that Bosnia-Herzegovina, where war ended five years ago, is still far from establishing a healthy economy and achieving the return of displaced persons.

But Western diplomats directly involved in the organisation insist on its success, pointing to an unprecedented number of meetings at leadership and expert level from countries in the region, the number of adopted and started projects that individually may look small but are significant when taken together.

"I am not very concerned about the implementation of quick start infrastructure projects, most of them are on track," said Jan Ludin, Stability Pact Co-ordinator, at Swedish Foreign Ministry. "The pact is primarily a political and not an economic process." This illustrates the different perceptions held by the West and by the Balkan countries.

While the countries in the region expect primarily direct economic support, Western diplomats keep warning that the pact does not have its own budget, that its primary purpose is to become a focus for meetings and the collection of good ideas for presentation to those who have the money. The West expects the group to encourage reforms to bring stable surroundings for future private investments.

What is particularly stressed is the importance of democratisation and human rights, as well as the struggle against corruption, organised crime and training of former soldiers for civic duties.

Foreign observers blame delay in achieving visible results not on lack of the financial support but on insufficient preparation of projects.

Experience acquired in Bosnia, where donated funds were heavily abused, has led foreign creditors and donors to insist on transparency in spending and detailed checks before starting infrastructure projects.

The experts warn that inflow of funds into a particular country should be no more than 3 per cent of gross domestic product in order to avoid corruption dependence syndrome.

From the Balkan viewpoint, it seems that countries which were fighting each other up until recently are now expected to deliver high-quality multi-lateral projects immediately, while the European Union spends enormous time on mutual co-ordination, keeping the already earmarked funds for much too long.

Hombach, when asked what is the biggest weakness of the pact, told the IWPR, "bureaucracy. I trusted them too much. I really have the feeling that the EU programmes take too long."

The accession of Yugoslavia gives a new dimension to all that. On the one hand, everyone expects more stability and more projects, in other words, a sure benefit for the entire region. The decision made concerning the cleaning of the Danube's river bed, which will establish a free river traffic along this important European corridor, is taken as the best example of benefit for all from the changes in Belgrade.

Mladen Stanicic, the director of the Zagreb Institute of International Relations and co-ordinator of the Foreign Policy Strategy of Croatia for the 21st century, believes Zagreb will profit from Serbia's accession to the pact, "Serbia will have an obligation to suggest quality projects in which neighbouring countries must be included, which is a good opportunity for Croatia."

There are those who are not convinced. There is a suppressed fear that Serbia has become overnight the "favourite of the West," which means neglecting the other countries in the region.

One Western diplomat who wished to remain anonymous commented, "The interest in Serbia is great, it is a big market and centre of the region, and I know that some neighbours would have preferred Milosevic to stay in power for say one more year so that the already adopted projects that side-step Serbia would at least be accomplished."

Hombach's main task at this point is to make clear that the means for helping of Serbia will in no way affect projects already approved for other countries in the region.

At the same time, there is still hesitation as to how the new authorities in Belgrade should be dealt with prior to solving the problems of Yugoslavia's membership of international organisations and co-operation with the Hague tribunal.

While understanding this caution, it seems that the initiators of the Stability Pact have gained a chance with Yugoslavia's membership to fulfil their grand promises.

Svetlana Djurdjevic-Lukic is a journalist of the Belgrade weekly NIN, currently Reuters Foundation Fellow in Oxford.

Frontline Updates
Support local journalists