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Balkan Report: May 20, 2005

20 May 2005, Volume 9, Number 16

The next issue of "Balkan Report" will appear on 3 June 2005.

TALKS AND NEW MODELS PROPOSED FOR KOSOVA. New proposals and suggestions regarding Kosova's future have emerged in recent weeks from several sources. The Kosovars continue to want a quick transition to independence.

"The Washington Post" reported on 17 May that "the Bush administration has decided on a new strategy designed to finally settle whether Kosova will become fully independent of Serbia, [unnamed] U.S. officials said." An unnamed "senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity...[that] "if you freeze the situation for two or more years, you are likely to create a pressure cooker."

The Washington-based daily added that "the plan, which Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns will announce in congressional testimony [on 18 May] and a speech [the following day], has been carefully worked out in intensive discussions with UN and European officials. The United Nations will shortly appoint Kai Eide, the Norwegian ambassador to NATO, to assess whether Kosova is ready for final-status talks. Once that certification is made, probably by mid-autumn, then the United Nations will sponsor international negotiations on whether Kosova should remain part of Serbia, become independent, or achieve a hybrid status."

Eide made a study on Kosova for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004, in which Eide called on the UN to move quickly on giving the Kosovars a "road map" for the future. He stressed that time was of the essence, but Annan proved more cautious. Eide's report was, however, generally very well received by the Kosovars themselves, who have long sought independence based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule.

In recent weeks, much media attention has been given to proposals by Serbian President Boris Tadic and several other Belgrade leaders for unspecified "talks" with Kosova's elected ethnic Albanian officials. Serbian leaders have, in fact, repeatedly called for direct bilateral talks in Belgrade or Prishtina, whereas Kosovar leaders want any conference on Kosova's future to be international in scope and not in Belgrade. The Kosovar leaders are willing to talk about "technical questions" with their Serbian counterparts but do not want full-fledged political negotiations, arguing that Belgrade lost all claims to the province by its behavior in the 1998-99 conflict.

Kosovar leaders also note that previous talks with Belgrade have yielded no real results except to enable Serbia to claim that it still plays a role in Kosovar affairs. In fact, Kosovar media note that the Serbian leaders' main interest in the Kosova issue is probably linked to domestic politics. General elections are widely expected in Serbia before the end of 2005, and the Kosova question enables the politicians to vie with each other for nationalist votes and divert attention from Serbia's real problems, namely crime, corruption, and poverty.

In private, many Serbian leaders concede that Belgrade has lost Kosova and are at a loss for answers when asked what Serbia would do if it ever found itself in charge of the province once again. The UN has, in any event, made it clear that Serbia will not have a veto over Kosova's future.

The EU, for one, nonetheless seems to have great hopes for bilateral Belgrade-Prishtina talks. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels on 20 April that Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova should take up Tadic's offer of talks. "It is very important to start a constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina," Rehn told reporters. He added that he has "noted positive developments in this regard -- the willingness to [extend a] hand by President Tadic, and I encourage President Rugova to take this seriously and proceed to have a constructive dialogue." Rehn also argued that "the [European] Commission Kosova to make progress towards its European aspirations, provided its political leaders demonstrate a clear commitment to democratic principles, human rights, rule of law, and economic reform."

An international commission recently suggested that the EU extend explicit prospects of EU membership for an independent Kosova that would, however, be an EU protectorate for at least several years. Many Kosovars have come away from this and other discussions with the impression that the EU is concerned as much with procedure as with results, and that it is determined to somehow "prove" its ability to deal with Balkan problems through prolonged paternalistic rule regardless of what the locals might wish. Many people in the Balkans sense that the attitude in Brussels is that if the "peoples of the Western Balkans" want to join the EU, they will have to do as they are told.

As RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service has noted, many Kosovars also suspect that the EU will ultimately try to force Kosova into some form of joint state with Serbia and Montenegro, which both Podgorica and Prishtina reject. These perceptions of Brussels' intentions have led some Kosovars to question how well such proposals have been thought through in light of concrete experience. They argue that the track record of creative Western statecraft in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro has not been particularly encouraging.

In 1964, veteran British Middle East expert Anthony Nutting criticized his country's policies in that region by noting that "Britain failed to realize that the Arabs preferred being governed badly by themselves to being governed well by somebody else" ("The Arabs," New York: Mentor, p. 364). His observations are probably still valid four decades later -- and in the Balkans as well. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S PRESIDENT LAUNCHES A TITO MEMORIAL PROJECT. Following his controversial proposal to introduce visas for Kosovar citizens -- which both the Macedonian government and opposition rejected -- Macedonia's President Branko Crvenkovski recently came forward with another idea that has divided the public. Speaking on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II on 8 May, he proposed building a memorial to former Yugoslav dictator Josip Broz Tito in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April and 13 May 2005). The ensuing discussion has centered not only on the legacy of World War II, but also on how fledgling democracies deal with their recent past.

"Josip Broz Tito undoubtedly has his place in the history of the Macedonian people and our statehood," Crvenkovski said in a statement released by his office ( "At least two things deserve our full recognition and respect. Josip Broz Tito was one of the unrivalled leaders in the fight against fascism during World War II. And secondly, Josip Broz Tito is a historic personality who made an extraordinary, positive contribution by [resolving] the Macedonian national question and [by setting up a Macedonian state in the form of a federal Yugoslav republic]. For these reasons, and on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the victory over fascism, I am launching a project to build a memorial dedicated to Josip Broz Tito in Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia."

Crvenkovski's statement made clear his belief that Tito played a decisive role in the formation of a Macedonian nation-state. According to this interpretation of history, the Yugoslav communists led by Tito were the first to recognize Macedonians as a people distinct from other South Slavic peoples, namely the Serbs and Bulgarians. This recognition ultimately led to the creation of the first Macedonian national state at the end of World War II, the People's Republic of Macedonia within the framework of the Yugoslav state (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 August 2002 and 6 August 2004).

This interpretation of history largely follows the official line promoted by the communist leadership prior to the dissolution of former Yugoslavia in 1991. Ever since, however, anticommunist historians have tried to reinterpret the role of Tito's communist Partisans and rehabilitate a number of anti- or noncommunist wartime leaders, a point made by Stefan Troebst -- a professor of history at Leipzig University and an expert on modern Macedonian history (see

Crvenkovski's proposal quickly became the subject of a public debate not only about his ideological orientation but about why he launched the project at this time. Among those supporting his proposal was Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, who succeeded Crvenkovski as leader of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM). Buckovski -- who recently clashed with Crvenkovski over a number of issues relating to foreign and domestic policies -- said that the proposal should be carefully considered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 5 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 May 2005).

"I think that the time has come to reexamine all that Tito has done for the Republic of Macedonia," Buckovski said. "I personally believe that he played a positive role in modern Macedonian history and that he is one of the people who helped us -- by way of [creating the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] -- to achieve our current position, and that is the independent Republic of Macedonia."

For former conservative Interior Minister Dosta Dimovska, Crvenkovski's staged "conflict" with Buckovski and his proposal to honor Tito are part of an all too transparent attempt to deflect public attention from more important political issues, such as the dire state of the economy.

Antonio Milososki -- who was a spokesman for the conservative-led government during the 2001 armed conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and the state authorities and is now working at Duisburg University in Germany -- argued in the same vein. In his comment for the daily "Utrinski vesnik" of 14 May, Milososki accused Crvenkovski of exploiting popular nostalgia for the Tito era -- when Macedonian citizens were better off economically and could travel freely throughout Europe without any visa requirements. "This nostalgia is the result of the terrible economic situation and poverty facing every household," Milososki said, adding that Crvenkovski is among those politicians responsible for the ongoing economic crisis.

Milososki also warned that erecting a memorial to a dictator and a communist would send the wrong signal with regard to Macedonia's ambitions to join NATO and the European Union. But Muhamed Halili, an ethnic Albanian publisher, drew a different conclusion from the ideological conundrum and the failed transition from communism to capitalism. "My question is whether or not the time has come to announce a return to socialism and its values because of the economic, social, and cultural debacle [we have suffered] in our attempt to establish capitalist...relations in our society." Halili's answer is no. He said he opposes memorials in general, but if it is necessary to build one, then it should honor those intellectuals who suffered under Tito's rule. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "You want to become a member of the club, and consequently the EU should have a role in the [independence] referendum process, to [ensure] that it is organized by accepted rules." -- EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, to Montenegrin journalists on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005).

"We cannot have a strong NATO or a stable Europe if the Balkans are on fire." -- Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, quoted in "The Washington Post" on 17 May.