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Balkan Report: May 6, 2005


6 May 2005, Volume 9, Number 14

A 'EUROPEAN' MODEL FOR THE WESTERN BALKANS. A former top German administrator in Bosnia-Herzegovina argued recently that most of the western Balkan states have a long way to go before qualifying for EU membership. He said he believes that regional integration is a necessary first step.

"Europe" is a word with connotations that border on magic in Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosova, Montenegro, and Serbia. For most people there, it simply means a better life and has few of the anti-American or grand international political connotations one can find in some other parts of the continent. In the western Balkans, EU membership means development funds and subsidies, a seat at the table where important decisions are made, and the prestige of belonging to "the rich man's club."

This psychological factor of prestige and of belonging is particularly important in much of former Yugoslavia. Many people there saw themselves through the late 1980s as having the best of both capitalism and socialism. Theirs was the only passport in Europe that required no visas for travel to the East or the West. Then suddenly, they found themselves regarded in most European countries as virtual pariahs from war-torn republics whose passports required visas for travel to just about anywhere.

Hans Koschnick is a former mayor of Bremen, Germany, who served as the EU's administrator in Mostar from July 1994 until March 1996. He then acted as the German government's point man for Bosnia-Herzegovina until that post was abolished in late 1999. As such, he is one of the European "internationals" in the former Yugoslavia with a good deal of practical experience on the ground. His proposals on bringing the western Balkans into the EU via a path of regional integration are hardly new, but they come with a special authority derived from his direct personal involvement in the region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004 and 21 January, 11 and 25 February, 25 March, and 15 April 2005).

The former mayor outlined his views on the future of the western Balkans in an interview with "Spiegel Online" on 3 May (http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,348586,00.html). Like Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, and many German politicians, Koschnick speaks of the need to "Europeanize" the Balkans by bringing the region into European structures. He would start with regional cooperation and integration, possibly without Croatia, which seems likely to qualify for EU membership sooner than the others. The regional approach is not without controversy in much of the western Balkans itself, where many suspect it is a devious ploy by Brussels to recreate a new Yugoslavia "minus Slovenia but including Albania." Anything that smacks of an attempt to set up a new Yugoslav state is particularly abhorrent to most Croats but not only to them, since Bosnian Muslims, Montenegrins, and Kosovars tend to suspect that any such polity would be dominated by Belgrade again.

Koschnick presented his opinions by discussing each country separately. He noted that Slovenia has lost no time in identifying itself with its Austrian and Italian neighbors rather than with Croatia and other former Yugoslav republics. He might have mentioned that this is ironic in a historical context, because Yugoslavia was attractive to Slovenes in 1918 and 1945 precisely because it offered them a guarantee against being dominated and assimilated by the Austrians and Italians. In any event, Slovenia is now the only former Yugoslav republic that belongs to the EU and NATO; none of the other republics has yet to qualify for membership in either organization, although they all want to.

Turning to Croatia, Koschnick said he believes that the Croatian leadership takes seriously the fact that their path to European integration is blocked as long as fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina remains on the loose and not in The Hague. The leadership's problem, Koschnick added, is that some of the government's political supporters still regard Gotovina as a war hero and do not accept the idea that "whoever wants to join Europe must also accept European values" and not just its economic benefits.

Asked whether Croatia is ready for EU membership, Koschnick argued that some regions are more prepared than others. He said he feels that western Croatia and the Zagreb areas are ready, but not the regions bordering Serbia or Bosnia. He charged that Dalmatia is interested in Europe when it comes to hosting tourists or signing economic agreements but not "in adopting the European identity."

The German government's former point man for Bosnia noted that many of the results of "ethnic cleansing" from the 1992-95 conflict there appear to have become permanent. Many people -- especially but not only Muslims -- have chosen not to return permanently to their prewar homes, and many who want to are prevented from doing so by the hostility of their former neighbors.

He seemed to accept this reality, even if he did not say so explicitly: "The Europeanization of the Balkans will depend on whether we succeed of making a stable state out of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in which the three [main ethnic] groups can completely preserve their cultural and regional identities but are nonetheless ready to serve a joint state." He added, however, that unless the leaders of the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats are ready to make a joint state where all enjoy the same rights truly function, nobody from outside will be willing to invest in Bosnia.

Koschnick argued that foreign troops will be able to leave Bosnia in the foreseeable future once a sufficiently unified army is created, without the presence of ethnically-based fighting units that potentially could attack each other. He nonetheless said he feels that "the Europeans" have a long task ahead of them in Bosnia in building up the administration, the economy, and the rule of law. Discussing the future of Mostar, he said he believes that the different ethnic groups are willing to live together peacefully. He added, however, that "Mostar is still a problem because the Croats would like to make it their [own] regional center."

Turning to Serbia, Koschnick stressed that the key issue is overcoming nationalist extremism. He said he believes the Serbs will "always be nationally oriented," but it will be necessary to overcome nationalism's more extreme aspects there. He said he feels that Montenegro is too small to be economically viable and that the most realistic solution for its future is in a looser state union with Serbia, with which many Montenegrins have close personal and cultural ties. A problem that an independent Montenegro would pose for "the Europeans," he argued, is that it might become more of a smugglers' haven than a center of economic development.

In contrast to many politicians in Montenegro and Kosova, Koschnick said he regards the futures of those two areas as interconnected. He stressed that Montenegro's long-term status will not be clarified until that of Kosova is. In a view that is close to some political leaders in Belgrade, he argued that the UN Security Council will not agree to Kosovar demands for full independence lest that lead to similar "secessionist tendencies" elsewhere in the world. The key task for "the international community, and certainly the EU," is to find a way to grant the ethnic Albanian majority a form of self-determination or autonomy while preserving international guarantees for the minorities. This will not be easy, and international peacekeepers will have to remain in Kosova for a long time to come, as they have in Cyprus.

Macedonia, by contrast, Koschnick finds much more stable than could have been imagined "four or five years ago." Nonetheless, he said he believes it is not yet economically ready for EU membership, which its political leadership has actively sought. Instead, he said, he feels that all the states of the western Balkans, probably excluding Croatia, should be brought together in an "open area, like we have in the EU," with legal and cultural boundaries but constituting an economic unit.

"The Economist" noted on 29 April that the countries of the western Balkans were promised in 2003 that they might have EU membership once they qualified, but there was no timetable provided for any of them. Most of the countries there, the weekly added, are "still a mess." In reading the ideas of Koschnick, Busek, and others who have discussed a "European" future for the region, it might seem that the problem is not so much a lack of ideas but the absence of the political will to put them into practice. (Patrick Moore)

VERDICTS ON MIGRANT KILLINGS POLARIZE MACEDONIA. A Macedonian court recently acquitted three former senior police officials over the slaying of six Pakistani migrants. The killings were part of an apparent attempt to convince the public that the police had intercepted dangerous terrorists.

The case reflects both internal power politics and the ramifications of regional officials trying to show that they are playing a serious role in the war on terrorism.

The court, in Skopje, acquitted the three former policemen and a fourth defendant on 22 April of the killing of seven Asian migrants in all -- six from Pakistan and one who is thought have been from India -- outside the capital in March 2002. The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove charges that the defendants killed the migrants in a shootout staged so that the Interior Ministry could claim that police killed Al-Qaeda members planning to attack Western embassies in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 March 2002 and 25 April and 2 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May 2004 and 19 January and 26 March 2005).

Macedonian press reports suggested that the acquittals were due to poorly prepared charges, inconclusive testimony by prosecution witnesses, and effective work by the defense attorneys. Prosecutor Sterjo Zikov announced that he will challenge the acquittal as soon as he receives the reasons for the verdict. "We believe that the verdict does not take into account all the circumstances in the case," Zikov said.

Domestic and international reactions to the verdicts showed how politically and publicly charged the trial had become. In Macedonia, conservative and nationalist opposition parties, such as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and its offshoots, as well as the Liberal Party, welcomed the acquittals. For the opposition, the acquittals dealt a serious blow to the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI).

The opposition parties had claimed from the beginning that the SDSM-led government set up the trial in order to discredit a special police unit known as the Lions and former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the previous VMRO-DPMNE-led government. Boskovski had also been charged in the case but managed to flee to Croatia. However, Croatian authorities subsequently arrested Boskovski and charged him with murder. In March, Croatia sent Boskovski to the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, where he faces charges in a separate case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March and 4 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March 2005).

VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski congratulated the court for what he called its resistance to political pressure from the government. Vesna Janevska, who is acting chairwoman of the opposition splinter party VMRO-People's Party, said the acquittals were truly a landmark. "We were right when we said that the judges are solid," Janevska said.

The governing SDSM refrained from commenting on the verdicts, denying that it tried to influence the trial. "We of the SDSM were very careful from the beginning and called [on the political parties] not to politicize the judicial process," SDSM spokesman Boris Kondarko said.

The verdict could nonetheless have negative repercussions for the governing coalition.

The Liberal Democrats, whose chairman, Risto Penov, lost his position as Skopje mayor in the recent local elections, demanded that "someone" take responsibility for the political damage caused by mistakes made during the trial. Penov told "Utrinski vesnik" on 29 April that he will ask SDSM Chairman and Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski for precise answers to some questions, including whether prosecutors failed to prepare the trial properly, or whether allegations that some witnesses were bribed are true.

So far, the SDSM's ethnic Albanian coalition partners from the BDI have not commented on the trial. That does not mean, however, that Macedonian Albanians were indifferent to the verdicts. Muhamed Halili, who is a diplomat, and Daut Dauti, a journalist, both called attention to the potential international repercussions of the trial. In his comment for "Dnevnik" of 30 April, Halili suggested that the international community is not so much interested in the names of the perpetrators. "The most important thing is that [the perpetrators] were controlled by the state," Halili said. "If the state fails to find the real perpetrators, a dark cloud will hang over the affair forever."

Dauti wrote in "Dnevnik" that it is dangerous to call the trial a victory for the independence of the judiciary. Dauti did not rule out that there were irregularities, but he also pointed to the fact that the main question remains unanswered: "Why were the Pakistanis killed? What will Pakistan say to this verdict?"

The Pakistani response was clear. A spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry has announced that Islamabad will challenge the verdicts, the Islamabad-based "News International" reported on 30 April. "Not only do we have a lawyer to represent the murdered Pakistanis, but the government of Macedonia has approached us and asked us for more details," the spokesman said. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY FIGHTS FOR SURVIVAL. Menduh Thaci, who is the deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), announced recently that his party was pulling out of parliament once and for all. The 20 April move marks a watershed for his once-powerful party and begs questions about its political agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005).

Thaci's announcement came after the governing majority of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) rejected a PDSH request that a draft bill on local elections be put on the parliamentary agenda. The bill would seek to annul recent elections in 16 administrative districts in western Macedonia where ethnic Albanians predominate. Both the PDSH and the opposition ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) argue that the governing coalition is responsible for ballot irregularities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, 23, and 25 March and 11 April 2005, End Note, 18 March 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 April 2005).

Thaci also harshly criticized parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski when he announced the parliamentary boycott. "We announce that the parliamentary group of the [PDSH] will boycott the parliament's work once and for all," Thaci said, "because the behavior of the speaker and of this parliament is right out of the 15th century, and because apart from stealing votes from us [in the local elections], you do not allow the opposition to speak out."

Zamir Dika, who leads the PDSH's caucus, added: "The governing majority will not succeed [in silencing the opposition], because the debate on the electoral fraud will continue outside the [democratic] institutions."

It is not the first time that the PDSH has boycotted parliamentary proceedings. The daily "Utrinski vesnik" recalled on 21 April that PDSH legislators stayed away from parliament between April and June 2003 to protest the slow implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. PDSH Chairman Arben Xhaferi subsequently said his party was obliged to return to the legislature because it was the only party representing the "real interests" of the country's 23 percent Albanian minority.

Thaci's boycott announcement came as no great surprise. One week before the parliamentary majority rejected the draft election bill, Xhaferi had warned that his party might resort to civil disobedience if the bill was defeated.

In an interview with "Utrinski vesnik" of 23 April, Xhaferi explained how his party would react to the rejection of his bill. "In a democracy, you have the possibility of acting outside the institutions if the institutions [do not respond] to the demands and ideas of individual political parties," Xhaferi said. "This does not mean that we now take to the mountains and start shooting. We will act outside the institutions but democratically -- that is, without violence, with various demonstrations, contacts with international representatives, with NATO, the EU, etc."

The smallish PPD, which left the coalition it had formed with the PDSH ahead of the local elections, announced that it would remain in the parliament. PPD Chairman Abduladi Vejseli told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service recently that his party would continue to support the democratic institutions because "it is difficult to resolve problems outside those institutions."

In the eyes of the BDI, the PDSH's decision to boycott was merely an attempt to find an excuse for its poor showing in the local elections. The BDI has replaced the PDSH as the strongest ethnic Albanian political party since it was founded in 2002 primarily by members of the former National Liberation Army (UCK). In the recent local elections, the PDSH lost much of its remaining political power on the local level.

But boycotting the parliament is not the only way the PDSH has gained public attention of late. Xhaferi recently raised another contentious issue that is likely to enrage the Macedonian public: the question of Macedonia's national symbols, such as the future of its coat of arms, flag, and national anthem (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2004).

Xhaferi has argued that neither the flag nor the anthem reflects the country's multiethnic character. Thus, he said, they contradict the spirit of the Ohrid peace agreement, which defines Macedonia as a multiethnic state. According to Xhaferi, all "ethnocentric codes" -- including references to ethnic Macedonian traditions in the hymn and state symbols -- must be removed.

While the other ethnic Albanian parties at least partly support Xhaferi's demands for a change of state symbols, most Macedonian observers reject them. Former Interior Minister Ljubomir Frckovski, who was one of the authors of the agreement, told "Dnevnik" that a review of the state symbols was not part of the peace deal, adding that nobody has the right to interpret the agreement this way.

In the past, Xhaferi has repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to gain attention with its tough talk (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February 2003). It is unlikely that his latest statements will help the PDSH regain the confidence of Albanian voters. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Decisions [in the EU] are taken by 25 [members]. The number of French votes in the council are increased by 50 percent under this [proposed] constitution. Together, France and Germany, who are the engine of Europe, go from 18 percent of the vote to 30 percent, and together, the six founding countries of Europe have 50 percent of the vote." -- French President Jacques Chirac, on French television on 3 May. Quoted by "The Irish Times."

"The U.S. is not a member of the EU. NATO is the primary trans-Atlantic forum for security issues. We intend to use NATO more." -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Vilnius on 21 April. Quoted in the "International Herald Tribune."

"As a professional soldier, I honorably and professionally fulfilled all my assignments to the end. I do not wish to remain our country's only obstacle to a better future. I am going to The Hague so that I can fulfil my military pledge completely." -- Retired Serbian General Nebojsa Pavkovic. Quoted in "The Guardian" of 25 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005).

"This is all a lie. I am imprisoned in the same room as Serbs. I don't see any justice here." -- Ethnic Albanian war crimes indictee Beqa Beqaj at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Quoted by Reuters on 25 April.

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