Who’s left from the Class of ’91?

Spun off an earlier post.

Remember the first generation of post-Communist leaders? The guys who took power immediately after Communism collapsed? Well, here’s a question: almost 20 years later, how many of them are still running things?

Not so many. A fair number of them are dead: Croatia’s Tudjman, Bosnia’s Izetbegovic, Hungary’s Jozsef Antall, Russia’s Yeltsin. Some are too old to do much — Romania’s Iliescu, Hungary’s Arpad Goncz. A few have retired from politics — Bulgaria’s Zhelev and Dimitrov. And quite a few are still alive, and active in politics, but will never reach positions of real power again.

— I should clarify my definitions here. I’m looking only at the top guys (they’re all guys). Presidents or other heads of state, Prime Ministers or other heads of government, or those who held equivalent levels of executive power. So, to qualify, you must have been President or PM in the first post-Communist government, and still be President or PM today.

So who qualifies? It’s a short list, but interesting. Continue reading

New Balkan visa rules: Serbia in, Albania still out

And the Montenegrins and Macedonians. EU Commissioner Olli Rehn just announced his recommendation that these three countries be granted visa-free travel to the EU starting January 1, 2010.

While many European readers will blink and shrug, this is a huge, huge deal for the region. For the last 20 years, it’s kinda sucked to be a Serb. Back in Yugoslav times, you had one of the world’s best passports. East, west, developing world… the Yugoslav passport was welcomed for easy travel in almost every country on earth. But after 1991, suddenly your passport was a piece of junk: nobody welcomed Serbs, you were often viewed with suspicion, and you had to fill out elaborate forms (and wait for months) to get a visa to enter the EU. Even after the wars ended, Serbia was still kept firmly at arm’s length.

A whole generation of young Serbs have grown up grumpy about this: they didn’t do anything, so why are they being punished, while young Croats and Bulgarians can freely travel to London and Paris?

No more. Assuming the recommendations is approved — and it’s almost a rubber stamp — then six months from now, Serbs (and Montenegrins and Macedonians) will be able to jump on a plane and just fly to anywhere in the EU, no visa required.

Mind you, they won’t be able to get work permits. It’s just travel. But still: it’s going to make a huge difference.

This being the Balkans, there are of course some complications.
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And Macedonia makes 50

Montenegro and Macedonia recognized Kosovo yesterday. Coincidentally, this raises the number of countries recognizing to exactly 50.

Macedonia and Montenegro are small countries, but they have outsized importance because (1) they’re neighbors of both Serbia and Kosovo, (2) they’re EU-members-to-be, and (3) they’re former Yugoslav Republics. So while this is no surprise, it’s still interesting.

I had some thoughts on this, but Radio Free Europe has already beaten me to most of them. (Yes, yes, I know about RFE. It’s a good article anyway, check it out.) One particularly interesting point: by co-ordinating their recognition, the two countries have given each other a certain amount of cover, diplomatically speaking.

I’ve said before that I expect a slow trickle of countries recognizing Kosovo gradually tapering off, until a plateau of between 50 and 60 is reached sometime next year. We’ll see soon enough!

Montenegro: I was wrong

A couple of years back, Brussels Gonzo and I had a debate about Montenegrin independence. I did a post saying it was a really bad idea. Gonzo replied with a post saying that I was just plain wrong. Bosh and drivel, I replied a few days later.

Okay, so: two and a half years have passed since that debate. Montenegrin has been independent since May 2006. How does that debate look in retrospect?

Well, it looks like Gonzo was right and I was wrong. Continue reading

Kosovo 46, South Ossetia 2?

I wanted to write a post comparing Kosovo and South Ossetia, but Dan Drezner has already written it. It’s a week old now, but still good:

It’s been more than a week since Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. The number of other countries that have followed Russia’s lead is…. well, maybe one (Nicaragua), as near as I can tell. Belarus keeps promising that they’ll get around to it, and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has defended Russia’s recognition decision; since that initial promise, however, Belarus appears to have decided to sit on their hands. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has expressed similar support of Russia’s recognition decision – but I haven’t seen any actual recognition from Caracas either… Vedomosti reports that, “It appears that the Russian government has reconciled itself to the fact that no other country has recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said yesterday the reluctance of other states to recognize the independence of the breakaway Georgian territories was not critical.”

As they say, read the whole thing — there are lots of interesting links and some thoughtful discussion of whether recognition was really such a good idea for Russia.

You want to bring along a grain of salt, because Drezner — like a lot of American conservatives — is a mild Russophobe. I note that he thinks the war was a serious economic setback for Russia, a position that Harvard B-School professor Noel Maurer sharply disagrees with. (Key quote: “Markets do not punish successful aggressors.”) Read ’em both and decide for yourself.
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Montenegro: Djukanovic is Prime Minister, again, again

So Milo Djukanovic is back as Montenegro’s Prime Minister again.

Djukanovic is a damn interesting character. When Yugoslavia broke up, most of the pieces were dominated by guys in their fifties and sixties — Milosevic, Izetbegovic, Tudjman. Hell, Gligorov of Macedonia was a WWII vet in his seventies.

Montenegro was the odd exception. Djukanovic was born in 1962, so he was just 27 when he and a couple of colleagues rode Milosevic’s coattails to power in Montenegro. By 1991 he was the youngest Prime Minister in Europe. By 1998 he had squeezed out various rivals to become the most powerful man in the country.

Which he still is today. He’s been in “retirement” for the last year and a bit, but everyone knew this was just a refractory period before jumping back in. Originally it was thought he’d run for President next year, but the current PM fell ill. Sow now he’s going to be Prime Minister for the third time. Continue reading

Meanwhile, in Montenegro

Montenegro initialed a Stabilization and Association Pact with the EU on March 15. That’s a step on the road to EU candidacy.

Nobody outside the Balkans noticed. Even inside the Balkans, nobody got too excited. Montenegro is a small and rather poor country, and EU membership is still years away. Hell, all they did was “initial” the S&A pact. They won’t actually sign it until (1) Montenegro adopts a new, EU-appropriate Constitution, and (2) all the current 27 members approve.

Still, it’s no small achievement. It shows that the Montenegrins, like the Croats, may be able to launder their recent history. Montenegro isn’t being held up for not cooperating with the Hague Tribunal, nor is their enthusiastic participation in the breakup of Yugoslavia being held against them. They are now formally, officially on the road to EU membership.

This is as good an occasion as any to review the league table in the Western Balkans. Continue reading

Eurovision: The Quickening.

78 days until Eurovision.

This is the season for choosing national entrants. The deadline is March 13; every candidate will have picked an entrant by March 10. Only a few countries have already made their choice. So, over the next three weeks, millions of people in over 30 countries will be choosing their national representatives.

It’s awe-inspiring, really.

First thoughts on this year’s contest below the fold.
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Serbia: tick, tick, tick

That’s the clock ticking down the last months of the current Serbian government.

The ruling coalition, never stable, is visibly crumbling. The Socialists — Milosevic’s old party — were supporting it, but they’re split down the middle now, and may bolt over the appointment of a new foreign minister.
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World Cup: Furor Yugoslavica

Yugoslavia used to have a hell of a team. They were regular visitors to the World Cup, advancing to the elimination rounds more often than not. They went to the quarter finals in 1990, and there are plenty of Serbs and Croats who will tell you that they actually came within a whisker of winning it all. They got knocked out by a wildly erratic and penalty-prone Argentine team that went on to lose the final against Germany. If they’d beaten Argentina… well, you have to believe that the Yugoslavs could have gone on to beat both Italy and Germany. This seems unlikely, especially given that Germany had whipped them 4-1 a couple of weeks earlier. But 1990 was a deeply strange year, so who knows.

Yugoslav football was on a rising arc all through the 1980s; rising interest in the sport, plus rigorous state-sponsored training programs, produced a “golden generation” of players starting around 1985. Unfortunately, Yugoslavia imploded just as these guys were reaching their peak. They ended up scattered among half a dozen different countries, with several of the best trapped behind sanction walls and unable to compete in international play. If the country had stayed together, the Yugoslav team would surely have been a serious contender in ’94, ’98, and ’02.

Anyway. Yugoslavia used to be quite something. How are the successor states likely to fare?
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