Libya's Balkan connections
Qaddafi's Yugoslav friends
Feb 25th 2011, 17:13 by T.J.
THE Balkan press and the region's intrepid Facebookers are having a field day digging out pictures of Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, the beleaguered Libyan leader, with, variously, Stipe Mesic
and Haris Silajdzic
, former leaders of Croatia and Bosnia, Boris Tadic
, the current Serbian president, and Behgjet Pacolli
, who on Tuesday was elected president of Kosovo.
(As everywhere else, in these countries news bulletins have been reporting on the evacuation
of citizens from Libya. Some have been having a rough time. There have been reports of Bosnians
coming under attack. Some Croats have already made it home but one group may have to be rescued
by a Montenegrin ship.)
The former Yugoslav states have a long, even intimate relationship with Mr Qaddafi. He has been in power so long that among the pictures that have been appearing in the press are ones of him with Tito
, who died in 1980 (the picture above is from 1973).
The Balkan press have also been running stories about Sofija (now Safija) Farkas, Mr Qaddafi’s second wife
, a Bosnian Croat from Mostar. Her eldest son is Saif al-Islam
, Mr Qaddafi’s once heir apparent, whose televised "rivers of blood
" speech earlier this week was the first significant Qaddafi response to the Libyan uprising.
Throughout the Yugoslav war years, Mr Qaddafi (senior) was staunchly loyal to the then Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic. He even aligned himself with the Orthodox Serbs against Bosnia’s and Kosovo’s Muslims.
Serb-Libyan ties remain strong. So strong, in fact, that on Tuesday Dragan Sutanovac, the Serbian minister of defence, was forced to describe
as “total stupidity” reports that Serbian warplanes were bombing anti-Qaddafi protestors.
There are strong business links, too: in the past few years the former Yugoslavs have been building on connections from the cold-war non-alignment
years to expand business ties in Libya and elsewhere in north Africa. As we reported
earlier this year, Serbia is interested in selling arms and building armament factories and military hospitals in the region. The Bosnians are in the construction industry, working for big companies like Energoinvest and Hidrogradnja
. In October there were reported
to be nine Croatian companies employing 500 workers in Libya.
But not everyone is having a fine time of it. There was much chortling across the Balkans last year when Mr Pacolli took a large party of Kosovars to Libya as part of his attempt to get Mr Qaddafi to abandon his pro-Serbian stance and to recognise the country. At one point the whole party was flown to the middle of a desert to meet the Libyan leader.
On arriving, Mr Gaddafi ordered them to sing and dance. When they ran out of tunes they were reprimanded by an aide. Eventually the good colonel told them they could stop, before dismissing them with words to the effect that he would never recognise Kosovo as long as their leaders remained American poodles. With that, the humiliated Kosovars were sent home.
Whatever happens next in Libya, Croatian tour operators are already licking their lips
. They reckon tens of thousands of tourists will now opt for a safe holiday on Croatia's beaches over an uncertain one in Egypt or Tunisia.