For the past decade, stability in the Balkans has hinged on stability in Yugoslavia. That may all be about to change. Yugoslav elections held on Sunday 24 September brought overwhelming support for the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) and their presidential candidate, Vojislav Koštunica. As the world looked on, Romania, along with the rest of Yugoslavia's neighbours, joined forces with NATO to ready themselves for any eventuality.
Official elections results - suspected to be fraudulent - showed Koštunica to have received 48.96 per cent of the vote against President Slobodan Milošević's 38.62 per cent (The Guardian, 28 September 2000). Over 50 per cent of the vote was needed to secure an outright victory.
However, the opposition themselves and independent election monitors from Belgrade, the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) declared that Koštunica had received at least 54 per cent of the vote against roughly 38 per cent for Milošević.
Signs of election fraud are obvious. Many outside election monitors, including those from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), were forbidden from entering Serbia, some polling stations closed later than others, emptied ballot boxes suddenly reappeared full, known opposition members were turned away from polling stations after being told that they were not on the electoral register, and then there was the long, long wait for results.
Due to the limited presence of election monitors most accusations of electoral fraud in Serbia are unsubstantiated but United Nations peacekeepers in Kosovo noted that some polling stations remained closed and in those that opened there was a lack of privacy. They saw the young and opposition members being turned away from polling stations and many people who appeared on the electoral register had been dead for years.
Preliminary conclusions and findings of the OSCE released on 25 September from their own contacts within Yugoslavia declared that: "The 24 September elections in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were fundamentally flawed. In particular, these elections fell short of the minimum standards for transparent, accountable, secret, fair and free elections."
Generally, Romania has maintained good relations with their Serb neighbours. Not only does Serbia provide a valuable economic market but they also have a strong and historic link with Orthodoxy.
However, over the past couple of years relations have deteriorated. Romania's support of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the 1999 Kosovo conflict and their acceptance of the sanctions against the Milošević government, drove a wedge between the two nations.
In the run-up to the Yugoslav elections Romania once again decided to abandon their traditional ties with Yugoslavia and follow the directions of NATO. Relations were strained when Romania allowed military exercises involving troops and planes from eight NATO countries, along their borders with Serbia.
Yugoslav Information Minister, Goran Matić, accused Romania of siding with the enemy and preparing to follow a NATO invasion of Yugoslavia after the elections. The Romanian government denied accusations of war manouevres claiming that they were testing Romanian military compatability with NATO forces. (Reuters, 24 September 2000.)
It is true that Romania wishes to join NATO and perfectly feasible that they were assessing compatability of forces but the timing did suspiciously coincide with the Yugoslav elections. Bearing in mind past events in Bosnia and Croatia it is perfectly feasible that therr were precautionary motives behind the manouevres.
Despite military manouevres, Romania has done little but comment. Petre Roman, the Romanian Foreign Minister, stated that: "We had a tragedy in Romania in December 1989. It was a heavy burden for our people. It makes no sense for the Serbian people to experience such a tragedy." (Reuters, 26 September 2000.)
However, at present there is little more that they can do. A statement released to the press by the Romanian Foreign Ministry determined that only a vote for Democracy would lead to a change of attitude and policy towards Yugoslavia:
We reaffirm that a choice leading to democratic change will entail a radical change in the European Union's policy with regard to Serbia: we will lift the sanctions against the FRY (Federal Republic of Yugoslavia); we will support the necessary economic and political reforms by providing Serbia with economic aid for its reconstruction and we will support the reintegration of the FRY into the international community. (Romanian Foreign Ministry, 19 September 2000)
Romania has adopted the "carrot and stick" approach of the European Union (EU). Prior to the elections the EU announced to Serb people everywhere to accept democracy and vote against Milošević. In return, the EU will lift sanctions and provide millions of dollars for post-Milošević Yugoslav reconstruction and development.
In a statement to Serbia the European foreign ministers declared: "A choice leading to a democratic change, would lead to a radical modification of the European Union policy towards Serbia." (CNN, 19 September 2000)
Romanian desires to obtain EU and NATO membership are guiding their relationships with traditional allies and determining how they react in potential crisis situations. They clearly have another agenda: how to look good in the eyes of the world.
Not only that, they have their own elections, scheduled for 26 November, to take care of. With little likelihood of a Yugoslav conflict spilling over Romania borders, the manouevres of NATO and Romanian forces could be regarded as purely cosmetic. The NATO members needed to show their strength, a warning to Milošević and the Serb authorities not to try another Kosovo, and Romania needed to show a willingness to co-operate with NATO in order to further enhance their chances of integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Admittedly, the other side of the coin is that NATO also has to show a willingness to work with the Romanian military, just as Romanian maneouvres could be considered a defensive show of force for protection of their own borders and as a preventative option against another Balkan conflict.
Balkan nation regional stability is essential for Romania's national development. However, integration into the EU and NATO is the primary foreign policy objective and any way to enhance their position and usefulness will hopefully be grasped.
The election results have brought virtual consensus from Yugoslavia's Central and East European counterparts. Speaking to at the IMF conference in Prague Czech President Václav Havel congratulated Vojislav Koštunica on a well-deserved victory despite official election results revealing no outright majority.
Romania has also pledged support for Koštunica, ignoring Milošević's claims for a second round run-off. A press statement released by the Romanian Foreign Ministry announced that Milošević should accept defeat and face up to reality. The Ministry hoped that the democratic evolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would have a positive impact on Romanian-Yugoslav relations. (Romanian Foreign Ministry, 26 September 2000.)
As M Hareshian commented in Nine o'clock: "For Milošević, the only way out of the situation is to quit power. He will leave, one way or another. In Yugoslavia, the President has been replaced already." (Nine o'clock, 29 September 2000)
There is an overwhelming belief everywhere that Slobodan Milošević has lost power in Yugoslavia. Romania is no exception. Although the official figures show that a second round is constitutionally required, nobody, least of all the Serbs, is taking heed. Slobodan Milošević has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the Yugoslav electorate and the Western world. A second-round would mean nothing. Romania has teamed up with the EU and NATO and are adamant in their support for Vojislav Koštunica.
Romanian development and integration into the Euro-Atlantic institutions is partly reliant on regional Balkan stability. Although, for now, they may have lost a close ally in Orthodox Serbia, Romanian assistance and preventative action can only further their position in the eyes of the West. Romania, along with the rest of the former Communist world, may have its own problems and own agenda to worry about but another Balkan conflict would surley have made matters worse.
Catherine Lovatt, 2 October 2000
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