by Roksanda NINCIC
That is how a state secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Espen Bart-Eide [Serb version of Serbocroatian language uses phonetic spelling, so that the spelling of this name is the translator's educated guess] explained swift Norwegian assistance to FR Yugoslavia in a conversation with a group of journalists who followed last week's visit of the FRY president, Vojislav Kostunica, to the Norwegian capital Oslo.
On October 5, Norway sent urgent financial aid to FRY. The aid consisted of $4.15 million, to be used to purchase oil and for other humanitarian needs. During the Kostunica's visit, the two sides discussed assistance in the area in which Norway has a lot of competence, production and distribution of electrical energy. "Parts of your electrical distribution network were destroyed, other decayed because of the lack of maintenance. Norway has a small population, but a large territory and produces a lot of electricity, so that we can assist you in the reconstruction of the electrical distribution network," says Bart-Eide, who studied the conflicts in the Balkans and the international reaction to those conflicts at his earlier job in the Institute for International Politics, as he does now as a Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs.
The state secretary explains the mentioned "first aid" as a contribution to a "time-out" that the new authorities have requested while they prepare for the normalization of economic relations with the rest of the world.
"I think that in your country there is an enormous awareness, probably much more than we would tolerate in Norway, that all of that will require time and that the times will be hard, but we think that it is important that people see that at least someone is doing better, and be convinced that they will also soon do better," says the Norwegian diplomat.
Independently of the mentioned sum of $4.15 million, Norway will in this and the first months of the next year send to Yugoslavia assistance of $17.5 million. Out of that, $5.5 million was earmarked in year 2000 for the payment of child benefit arrears and, to a less extent, for cattle feed.
"I will soon visit Belgrade to check what is going on with the rest of the mentioned sum of $17.5 million and to discuss our future actions, since these $17.5 million do not cover even the whole 2001, but only its first months. Although I cannot be specific about figures at this time, there will be more assistance next year," says our interlocutor, adding that he hopes that by then the Federal Government will be functioning because "that is necessary in order to formalize certain things".
Furthermore, Norway has abolished all the remaining sanctions against Yugoslavia, apart from the financial ones, directed against Milosevic and his satellites that will remain in force, and decided to take a key role in the so-called operation bridge-loan [that is supposed to enable Yugoslavia to again join the International Monetary Fund]. The implies that Norway will make a very short-term loan to Yugoslavia of $128 million and this loan will allow Yugoslavia to resume its membership in the International Monetary Fund.
"We are very willing to actively help in the first phase, but it is the ambition of both sides to quickly switch from assistance to trade and return to where we used to be in the past, to normal relations. Namely, we shall not make it a practice that Norway pays child supplement in Yugoslavia," says Bart-Eide.
To the question regarding how they decide which sort of aid to send, the Norwegian state secretary states: "We are carefully listening to you and, unlike some other donors, whose names I shall not mention, we do not intend to tell you what you need. Instead, we want to hear what representatives of your country have to say about the country's needs and then we estimate where and how we can help." Even during the previous regime, when Norway also found ways to assist the citizens of Serbia with projects of the type "energy for democracy" and to assist students, the decisions about the type of aid were made based on discussions with mayors of free [opposition controlled] cities and towns, the Norwegian embassy in Belgrade and the Norwegian non-governmental organizations.
The senior official of the Norwegian MFA points out another specific characteristic of the Norwegian assistance model. "Although we are a small or medium sized country on the world scene, we can play a very significant role using a combination of diplomacy and financial assistance. Our investment per capita in international activities is among the highest in the world. However, what is much more important than the amount is the flexibility in its use. We do not have to decide something and then implement it two years later. We always have available funds that we can activate immediately. Sometimes an intervention with a small sum can immediately have a much larger effect than presence two years later with larger sums. We can compare ourselves to the EU which is the largest donor in the world. That is why it is important to draw the attention of the EU, but the EU is never particularly fast."
To the question of Vreme whether Norway as a significant international assistance donor has learned some lessons from the fact in the post-Dayton Bosnia large amounts of money have disappeared without trace, Bart-Eide responds:
"That is valid question, and it is absolutely correct that in other countries in the region, and elsewhere in the world, there have been many mistakes in the distribution of the assistance. There are two problems. The first one is that the money does not reach the intended target but, due to corruption, ends up elsewhere. That is a problem that will never be fully eliminated. We know that Bosnia is a good example of that, and that story has been widely publicized. Another problem, partly related to the first one, is that money makes it to the intended recipient, but that it does not achieve desired effects. Instead of enabling the transition to self-sustained survival and development, that assistance becomes the confirmation that it is not possible.
"This has been discussed a lot at this summer's conference about Bosnia. Authorities in Bosnia, Muslim, Croat and Serb, have not been particularly efficient in developing a country capable of independent economic development. They have rather used the financial assistance to continue with old bad practices. We are partly to blame for this, and international donors discuss this frequently. Discussions, of course, do not solve problems, but at least draw attention to them. We discussed that yesterday with the Yugoslav representatives. Neither they, nor we, want to enter that vicious circle.
"It is good that you ask us that question and you should ask that question in Yugoslavia, as well. This is a challenge, especially because of the amount of friendship that is expressed towards you at this moment. Do not allow that to undermine a normal critical relationship with respect to your own authorities. Give them a small chance, but then ask them what they are doing with the assistance."
"I think that the Yugoslav president is doing exactly what he should. That is why I would say that our main concern is what to do with Montenegrins. That should, on the one hand, be a strong signal that we haven't forgotten them, that we are interested in their fate and that we shall keep close contacts with their government. At the same time, we shall maintain the firm attitude of the international community that everyone agrees with - there is no support for Montenegrin independence. I think that Ms. Albright, whose policies were discussed a lot over the last few years in Belgrade, made a wise move by immediately phoning [Montenegrin president] Djukanovic and in her direct way telling him to forget about independence, that that for now is not an option and that he had to talk to Belgrade. I think that it is especially precious that there are strong contacts between European leftist parties, since their Social Democratic Party is among the strongest advocates of independence.
"The problem was partly created by the Western attitude with respect to the crisis in the Balkans during the last decade. I think that the western policies were well meaning, but not always carefully thought out since our policies supported and opposed the break-up of Yugoslavia at the same time, and that was repeated four times. In 1991, the international community was at the same time for the preservation of Yugoslavia and the recognition of the independence of Slovenia and Croatia. The German-Italian-Austrian-Danish coalition very quickly supported their independence, followed by Great Britain, France, us and others. At first, the US advocated the assistance for a democratic transformation of Yugoslavia as a whole to a market economy.
"Both positions were based on good intentions, but the problem was that they gave the signal to Zagreb [Croatia] and Ljubljana [Slovenia], which was accordingly understood in Belgrade [Serbia], that the support for the break-up of Yugoslavia existed. This was repeated at the start of the conflict in Bosnia and then when that conflict was finished - we were at the same time both for the united Bosnia and for two or three Bosnias. That was repeated again in 1998 in Kosovo when we were against KLA terrorists, as we referred to them at the time, but at the same time we were absolutely opposed to any military actions against them. Such policy has not helped the Balkans a lot, although I have to emphasize that Balkan problems were not created from the outside, but rather by the people from the region.
"However, now there are so many more positive signs and I think that we should celebrate that at least for now there is no support for the separation of Montenegro. After Kostunica's election victory there is a clear agreement that now is the time for a dialog between Serbia and Montenegro. That is the view of the US, Europe, of course Russia, and all others."
Does the Norwegian State Secretary believe that that message is making it to Podgorica [Montenegro]?
"Yes and no. I think that Djukanovic hears these messages very well, but his problem is that with his boycott of the Federal elections he has been put, rather he has put himself, in a very unpleasant situation. He now watches as the coalition for Yugoslavia, and he believed that no one would cooperate with them, is in the Federal Parliament, and that they are receiving Western support in shape of Western support for the new Yugoslav authorities. Djukanovic can now remain in power only with support of small parties, such as the Social Democratic Party, which in turn has no incentive or will for making compromises. He is really in trouble in Montenegro. We cannot tell him how to get out of trouble, but we shall be in touch with him."