RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL NEWSLINE 30 March 1999
ETHNIC SERBS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST NATO STRIKES IN
BUCHAREST. Several hundred ethnic Serbs demonstrated in
Bucharest on 29 March against NATO air strikes. The
demonstrators, who were joined by some Romanian
nationalists and leftists, threw eggs at the U.S. and
French embassies. They carried Yugoslav flags and
banners that read "NATO-Nazis" and "Yugoslavia is not
Lewinsky." They also shouted "Today Yugoslavia, tomorrow
Transylvania," in a reference to the province where most
of Romania's large Hungarian minority lives, Reuters and
AP reported. MS
THE KOSOVA CRISIS AND THE NATO HOPEFULS
By Michael Shafir
An unexpected side effect of the Kosova crisis is
that NATO aspirants in Central and Eastern Europe now
have raised expectations that their admission to NATO
will be expedited.
Slovakia is a case in point. When U.S. Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright told Hungarian television
earlier this month that Bratislava was "sadly" not yet
prepared for NATO membership (which the U.S. embassy in
Bratislava later clarified as referring to the country's
development under Vladimir Meciar's leadership), Foreign
Minster Eduard Kukan interpreted that statement as "an
appeal to Slovakia to proceed more resolutely ahead."
That Bratislava intended to do just that was
demonstrated by, among other things, the decision to
cancel orders for the Russian S-300 anti-missile system,
which Moscow was to have supplied in part repayment for
its debt to Bratislava under a deal reached by Meciar.
Current Premier Mikulas Dzurinda explained that the deal
"would not reflect Slovakia's orientation toward the UN
and NATO." While that move was significant in itself,
the decision to allow NATO aircraft to over-fly Slovak
territory, including to carry out mid-air fueling, was
undoubtedly the most significant aimed at proving that
Bratislava was indeed "proceeding resolutely ahead."
The latter decision appears to have been taken in
the hope that in the midst of the Kosova crisis
Bratislava is drawing NATO's attention to the country's
importance for the alliance. As the daily "Sme" wrote
shortly after NATO air strikes began, Slovakia has been
generally perceived as of little strategic importance,
mainly because of its small size. "Sme," which is
thought to reflect to some extent government thinking,
believes the conflict may have changed that perception.
Two neutral countries in central Europe, Austria and
Switzerland, cannot allow over flights and mid-air
fueling without contravening their constitutions. This,
"Sme" says, suddenly revealed Slovakia's strategic
importance as the only possible corridor in central
Europe between NATO and the CIS as well as between
western or northwestern Europe and the southeastern
parts of the continent. And, according to "Sme," NATO is
unlikely to want to make such requests each time a
crisis requiring its intervention develops in those
Whether this argument will have any impact at the
NATO Washington summit next month is unclear. Most
alliance officials do not envisage further enlargement
in the immediate future, though some steps may be taken
to demonstrate that the "open doors" policy is not
merely a declaration of intent.
But Slovakia is by no means alone in entertaining
such a hope. Closer to the conflict area, both Romania
and Bulgaria want to use the conflict to bolster their
long-standing argument that NATO currently has a
strategic "loophole" in a volatile area where they can
serve as "islands of stability." On the other hand, they
fear that the proximity of the conflict might find them
militarily involved without the benefit of membership.
Thus, while denying in the parliament that NATO planes
have already over-flown Bulgarian territory or that
Sofia has offered soldiers to fight on NATO's side,
Bulgarian Premier Ivan Kostov urged NATO to express
readiness at the Washington summit to admit Bulgaria as
a full member. A resolution adopted by Bulgarian
legislators after the air strikes began echoes that
Like Bulgaria, Romania is "hoping against hope"
that the crisis will help it overcome the obstacles to
membership, despite its financial crisis, which makes it
highly unlikely that it could meet the high costs of
membership. Romanian Deputy Foreign Minister Elena
Zamfirescu has even speculated that the Kosova crisis
might open doors in Washington that had seemed closed,
and the same thoughts were expressed by Ion Diaconescu,
leader of the main coalition National Peasant Party
Meanwhile, however, Slovakia and Bulgaria are
facing the problem of volunteers who want to enroll to
fight on the "other side" in the name of "Slavic
brotherhood." Reportedly, 430 such volunteers have
registered in Bulgaria, and some are already in Serbia.
In a bid to prevent a similar development among would-be
Slovak volunteers, the Slovak Defense Ministry has
announced that fighting for another country without
official permission is a punishable offense.
In Romania, "orthodox brotherhood" triggered a
procession organized by the Orthodox Church (which,
however, has not openly taken any side in the conflict).
A prominent role in that procession was played by the
Students' League, which is allegedly pro-Western and
rightist in political outlook but rather fundamentalist
when it comes to facing alleged dangers posed by the
influence of Western Churches.
Paradoxically, these young Romanians find
themselves on the same side as the groups of Slovak and
Bulgarian "volunteers," which are supposedly being
organized by pro-communist and pro-Russian forces. They
also find themselves on the same side as the Cossacks in
Moldova's separatist Transdniester region--a state of
affairs that they themselves would have considered
impossible, had it been proposed to them before the
In short, while some perceive the Kosova crisis as
an opportunity to achieve NATO membership quicker than
they had believed possible before the crisis and while
others would rather promote historical attachments,
there are also those who believe they can eat the cake
of NATO membership and preserve the traditional slice of
Slavic and Orthodox brotherhood.
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