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Balkan Report: February 6, 2004


6 February 2004, Volume 8, Number 5

NEW REPORT CRITICIZES BULGARIA OVER MACEDONIAN MINORITY. On 27 January, the Council of Europe's European Committee against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) presented its report on Bulgaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004 and http://www.coe.int). The largest section of the study focuses on the plight of Bulgaria's large Romany minority. But it also attracted particular interest in neighboring Macedonia, because the ECRI criticized the Bulgarian state for discriminating against the Macedonian minority, which -- according to the 2001 census -- numbers about 5,000 people.

Such criticism of the Bulgarian government and administration is nothing new. But Skopje's "Utrinski vesnik" hailed the ECRI's appeal to Bulgaria to reconsider a provision in the constitution according to which "there shall be no political parties based on ethnic, racial, or religious lines, nor parties which seek the violent seizure of state power." (official translation provided by http://www.parliament.bg).

This constitutional provision was cited by Bulgaria's Constitutional Court in 2000 and by a Sofia city court in 2002 in denying registration to an ethnic Macedonian political party, the United Macedonian Organization Ilinden -- Party for Economic Development and Integration of the Population in Bulgaria (OMO Ilinden-PIRIN) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2001 and 7 April 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 April and 14 December 2001).

Regarding another long-standing issue facing the Macedonian minority, the ECRI notes that "[progress] has been reported from several sources as regards the right of peaceful assembly of Macedonians, although they sometimes encounter harassment" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2002). The report adds that the ECRI "is also concerned about allegations of discrimination and acts of intolerance on the part of the authorities and members of the majority [Bulgarian] population against people who openly declare themselves to be Macedonians."

To resolve these problems, the report calls on the Bulgarian authorities to continue their efforts to improve the situation of the Macedonian minority, and to closely monitor allegations of discrimination and acts of intolerance against this group, "and, if necessary, take steps to punish such acts."

As might be expected, representatives of the Macedonian minority welcomed the report. OMO Ilinden-PIRIN leader Ivan Singartiski told "Utrinski vesnik" of 29 January that Europe has finally taken measures to defend the Macedonians against the Bulgarian state, which does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority. Contrary to previous reports, which -- according to Singartiski -- were based mainly on information provided by the Bulgarian side, this time the ECRI has also spoken with minority representatives.

Although the article in "Utrinski vesnik" acknowledges some progress as regards peaceful assembly, it also adds that the "Bulgarian secret services even today harass all those who regard themselves as Macedonians."

For the Bulgarian government, the ECRI's conclusions on the situation of the Macedonian minority are unacceptable. In an official comment attached to the report, it notes that the ECRI did not take into account the developments between June 2003, when the report was drafted, and January 2004, when it was published. Responding in detail to the charges made in the report, the government cites the appropriate constitutional provisions and laws.

The government's most interesting comment regards the charge leveled by the Macedonians that they are not recognized by the Bulgarian state as a national minority. "The existence of Bulgarian citizens, who identify themselves as Macedonians, has been duly reflected in the official results of the 2001 national census," the comment says. At that time, 5,071 persons declared themselves to be Macedonians. For the government, "this obvious fact does not require any further special act of acknowledgement by the Bulgarian state."

Regarding the demand for recognition as a national minority, the comment states: "...the [Bulgarian] Constitution...expressly recognizes the existence of ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity in the country. However, Bulgarian law does not utilize the term 'national minority,' neither does a definition of this term exist in international law." Consequently, the state cannot recognize something that does not exist.

Given the long series of misunderstandings and disputes over the issue between the Bulgarian authorities and the Macedonian minority, as well as between Bulgaria and Macedonia, the ECRI was probably wise in urging Sofia to take the initiative. The report "strongly recommends that the Bulgarian authorities establish a dialogue with the representatives of the Macedonians to find a solution to the tension between this group and the authorities, but also between this group and the majority population, so as to enable them to live together and respect one another in the interests of all concerned." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

SLOVENIAN OPPOSITION SCORES POINTS IN DEBATE ON 'THE ERASED.' Slovenia's Constitutional Court ruled on 26 January that it lacks jurisdiction to issue an advance decision regarding the constitutionality of the referendum on the "technical" bill restoring the legal status of non-Slovenes removed from the country's population records in 1992, known as "the erased" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2004). The court suggested that the National Assembly set a new date for the referendum, originally proposed for 28 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2004).

The government had sought to settle the question of "the erased" through legislation passed in the parliament, while the opposition sensed an opportunity to make political capital through a popular referendum. In a year that will see two important elections, the government is clearly worried about losing face in a referendum. Elections to the European Parliament will take place on 13 June, and national parliamentary elections will be held in October.

Even before the court's decision, the government attempted to revise the draft "organic" law regulating the status of the erased by limiting compensation claims. The changes were a nod toward opposition demands in an attempt to reach a compromise and avoid a referendum on the issue.

At the same time, a public appeal -- signed by 180 prominent intellectuals, university professors, and public-sector workers -- was published, characterizing the erasure as unconstitutional, undemocratic, and unethical, "Delo" reported on 22 February. Conceding that the state made it clear in 1992 that those who failed to act would have no citizenship, the appeal stated that it was not clear that these persons would also lose their resident status.

The National Assembly met in special session on 2 February to discuss the organic law, but failed to set a new referendum date for the bill. The opposition charged that the ruling coalition thereby violated the constitution, and reacted by submitting over 1,000 voter signatures as the beginning of a drive for a binding referendum on the organic law itself. A total of 40,000 signatures are required to force a referendum.

During the 2 February debate, Janez Jansa, head of the center-right opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), questioned the illegality of the erasure. Jansa argued that 20,000 Yugoslav Army (JNA) officers, customs officials, and their families left Slovenia with defeated federal forces without giving notice of their departure and were therefore not illegally deregistered. The opposition maintains that only those able to prove that they tried to regulate their status -- but were prevented by factors beyond their control -- should be reinstated retroactively.

In a further development, "Delo" reported on 4 February that Interior Minister Rado Bohinc has begun issuing individual decisions restoring residency status. Bohinc cited a Constitutional Court ruling of April 2003 as a legal directive justifying his action. Jansa has threatened to start a recall process against Bohinc should such decisions be issued (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 January 2004).

The governing coalition has tried to emphasize the unfairness of the erasures by arguing that the failure of persons to submit residency applications demonstrates that the requirement was simply unknown. Jansa countered that "hundreds, perhaps even over 1,000" applied in 1992, showing public awareness of the requirement, Slovenian television reported on 20 January.

Just as the opposition has raised the specter of compensation, the government is also resorting to economic arguments. Prime Minister Anton Rop argued on 26 January that the highest possible damages under the proposed amendments to the organic law -- 150,000 tolars ($800) per person -- will amount to less than the 600 million-tolar ($3.2 million) cost of a referendum.

The opposition appears to be profiting from the imbroglio. The results of a monthly opinion poll reported in "Delo" on 25 January indicate that popular support for the SDS has risen for the third month in a row -- with a gain of 5 percentage points in January alone -- to encompass 15 percent of the electorate. At the same time, support for Rop's Liberal Democracy of Slovenia party (LDS) fell from 26 percent to 21 percent in January. Analysts blamed Rop's apparent lack of leadership for a corresponding fall in public approval for the government, from 53 percent to 47 percent.

As Slovenia's 1 May accession to the EU approaches, the Council of Europe continues to monitor the issue. Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles urged the prompt resolution of the problem in an October 2003 report, and reiterated his concerns in a 4 February interview in "Delo." Gil-Robles warned that monetary issues cannot determine human rights, and that human rights cannot be settled through a referendum -- but emphasized that the matter is a domestic politic issue beyond his jurisdiction.

The opposition parties are clearly hoping to win additional leverage in the upcoming referendum. In comments on Slovenian television on 20 January, Jansa accused the government of being "anti-Slovenian" and "ultraleftist." Jansa also declared that "this referendum...will judge the legitimacy of our authorities. If the result is convincing...we expect [the current] government to resign."

Rop dismissed the charges, commenting that the opposition is not interested in dialogue and is only seeking to exploit a referendum for political advantage. Although Rop's government is unlikely to resign, Slovenia's conservative parties stand to gain from a government embarrassment at the polls. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

ROW ERUPTS OVER GERMAN DIPLOMAT'S REMARKS IN KOSOVA. Peter Rondorf, who is Germany's chief diplomat in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 23 January that the final status of the province cannot be settled in opposition to Serbia, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 27 January.

He stressed that if the Kosovar Albanians want self-determination leading to independence, they must also grant the local Serbs the same right to self-determination. Rondorf argued that there is therefore no "absolute right to self-determination." He appealed for cooperation and consensus.

Clearly letting the Kosovars know who has the last word in the province, Rondorf stressed that whether the Kosovars like it or not, there will be no decision on the final status of Kosova in opposition to Serbia, and this is a condition set by the international community.

The "Quint" -- the United States, Germany, France, Britain, and Italy -- and the larger Contact Group will play a central role in determining Kosova's future, which includes an important role for Germany. Rondorf added that the foreigners' main goal is to achieve stability in the Balkans.

Jakup Krasniqi, who is minister of public services and a leader of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), said in response that foreign diplomats should mind their own business and not seek to determine the fates of other peoples. Krasniqi stressed that one cannot expect Serbia to play a constructive role in determining the future of Kosova with its more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority. He suggested that Rondorf had, in effect, made himself Belgrade's spokesman in Prishtina.

In sum, the polemic stemming from Rondorf's remarks is but the latest illustration of the paradox of Western powers trying to impose a liberal democratic system in parts of Southeastern Europe by what are essentially colonial means (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002, and 2 May, 17 October, 14 November, and 19 December 2003). (Patrick Moore)

SERBIAN PARTIES APPEAR ON ALLEGED IRAQI OIL LIST. The Iraqi daily newspaper "Al-Mada" in its 25 January edition published a list of companies, organizations, and individuals who allegedly received crude oil in return for political support for Saddam Hussein's regime, RFE/RL reported.

Among the names on the list were those of several Serbian political parties: Mira Markovic's United Yugoslav Left (JUL) allegedly received 9.5 million barrels of oil, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) is listed with 1 million, and something called the Italian Party allegedly got 1 million barrels.

Someone whose name in Arabic transliteration appears to be that of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is also listed as receiving 1 million barrels. Its market value at the time would have been about $24 million.

Persistent but unconfirmed reports in 2002 suggested that Kostunica or his entourage knew of or approved alleged covert Serbian and Bosnian Serb arms sales to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 November 2002). The top Belgrade authorities at the time denied the charges. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I felt like a pig in Tehran." -- A Serbian reporter in Zagreb after Croatian hooligans abused a Serbian basketball team and beat up its driver. Quoted in "Vesti" on 30 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2004).

"We need Croatia to be a success story for this part of Europe. It would certainly motivate our neighbors to follow." -- Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. Quoted in the "Financial Times" of 30 January.

"Although use of the word totalitarian to describe Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet empire is unremarkable to most people, in some British and U.S. academic circles it meets with a noticeable froideur, and it will not get you tenure on some of the more 'chi-chi' campuses." -- Michael Burleigh in the "Financial Times" of 24-25 January, in a review of Tzvetan Todorov's "Hope and Memory: Reflections on the 20th Century."

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