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Balkan Report: February 13, 2004

13 February 2004, Volume 8, Number 6

HOLKERI PRESENTS HIS CASE TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL. On 6 February, UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) head Harri Holkeri urged Kosovar Albanian leaders and Belgrade to resume direct dialogue after four months of limited contacts (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October and 19 December 2003, and 6 February 2004).

Holkeri told the UN Security Council that progress toward an eventual decision on Kosova's future status would be stalled without a return to dialogue. He made a special appeal to leaders in Prishtina to break the deadlock. "It is the responsibility of the provisional institutions of self-government, in cooperation with [UNMIK], to actively and seriously engage, [without] further delay, in the direct dialogue with Belgrade," he said. "Dialogue constitutes a confidence-building measure as well as a demonstration of goodwill."

Dialogue on practical issues such as minority returns to Kosova is one of the eight standards set out by UN officials before Kosova's final status can be considered. His agenda seeks progress in democratic institutions, the rule of law, freedom of movement, the return of (mainly Serbian) refugees, economic growth, property rights, improvements in the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), and dialogue with Belgrade.

Leaders of the ethnic Albanian majority generally accept the program in principle while insisting that talks on Kosova's final status -- meaning independence -- must start by mid-2005. Leaders of the local Serbian minority tend to stress that the program does not go far enough in meeting their demands for refugee return and freedom of movement.

In New York, Holkeri criticized Kosova Serbs for failing to participate in a work plan of action needed to reach the standards. And he said Belgrade continued to provide backing for structures of governance for Kosova Serbs in a number of municipalities despite repeated calls by UN officials to cease the practice. "Unfortunately, Belgrade over the past few months has moved to extend and strengthen the presence of its parallel structures in Kosovo," he said. "Little is likely to change unless we respond to the challenge."

Key Security Council members reacted with concern to the lack of progress on the internationally endorsed "standards before status" process. Many council members stressed the need for the rapid completion of a plan of action to begin implementing the standards. They pointed to the deadline of mid-2005 for the first comprehensive review of the standards process.

The deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, warned Kosova Albanian leaders -- who seek independence -- to take the process seriously. "If Kosovo's institutions choose to approach the standards process half-heartedly, the international community and the United Nations must not hesitate to issue a negative assessment and postpone the process to determine future status," he said.

This was underlined by British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, who demanded that the province give full consideration to issues like human rights, multiethnicity, and minority representation. Jones Parry also stressed that the standards process would not be blocked by extremists. "The process will not be derailed because some on either side object to it," he said. "Extremists have had their day in the Balkans and those who obstruct progress in our view deserve no say in the future of Kosovo."

The United States, Britain, and many of the European members of the Security Council also called on officials in Belgrade to drop their support for parallel structures and participate fully in the reform effort.

An assistant foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Zeljko Perovic, told the council that Belgrade continues to provide services to Serbs in Kosova because they are allegedly neglected by provisional authorities.

Perovic criticized the way UN officials have organized discussions on the standards process. "Unfortunately, UNMIK has not found a way to make this process all-inclusive," he said. "Hence it is already apparent that this plan will serve to further divide the communities in Kosovo and Metohija and their political representatives instead of bring them, at least somewhat closer."

Holkeri said later in response that the Serbian concerns were not being ignored. He provided his personal assurance that Kosova Serb representatives are welcome in all groups involved in the implementation of the standards process.

Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi later said that his government will shortly name a delegation for talks with Belgrade, adding, however, that he does not expect much will come of those talks. He stressed that the Serbian team should not be part of Belgrade's official "coordinating" body for Kosova, which Prishtina regards as a source of support for local Serbian hard-liners.

After his trip that took him to Washington, New York, and London, Holkeri told the "Financial Times" of 12 February that "we must keep Kosovo on the political map" despite the shift in international interest away from the Balkans to the Middle East in recent years. "The problems of Kosovo still remain. We have to compete with other headaches in the world. Do not forget, the pain is still here," he added. (Robert McMahon, with Patrick Moore)

CONTROVERSY DOGS MACEDONIA'S EU APPLICATION PLAN. In Dublin on 26 February, a Macedonian delegation will officially hand over the country's application for EU membership to Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Although there is a broad consensus among the Macedonian population and most political parties in favor of the application, there are still critical voices being heard -- in Brussels, Strasbourg, and in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 29 October 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 November 2003).

The main question is whether this application makes sense at all, and -- if it does -- whether this is the right moment for such a move.

Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and his minister in charge of the European integration efforts, Radmila Sekerinska, have stated on various occasions that the main reason for the decision to apply now is their hope that the application will give new momentum for the government's reform efforts.

In an interview with the daily "Dnevnik" of 7 February, Sekerinska defended the decision, stressing that several influential European politicians have endorsed the idea, most notably French President Jacques Chirac. At the same time, Sekerinska complained that the Macedonian media do not pay enough attention to such positive signals, which led to the widespread perception that Brussels opposes Macedonia's application.

However, some EU officials such as Javier Solana, who is the EU's foreign and security policy chief, or the EU's outgoing envoy to Macedonia, Alexis Brouhns, or his successor, Soren Jessen Petersen, have declined to give a clear answer to the question whether submitting the application is a wise idea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2004). Instead, they reiterated what Solana said in an article for "Dnevnik" of 7 February (the English original can be found at "The only road to Brussels runs through Ohrid." That means that the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement -- which ended the 2001 interethnic conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian government forces -- is the most important precondition for any closer relations between the Balkan state and the EU.

But Solana also warned that Brussels will be tougher in its demands on Macedonia once it has officially knocked on the EU's door. "[An] application for EU membership raises the bar," Solana wrote. "Business as usual is not going to suffice. The challenges will be tougher, and so will the scrutiny."

He noted the enormous tasks lying ahead for the government: the "reform of the security sector, including the judiciary"; reforming the administration handling cooperation with the EU; the "introduction of EU legislation in key areas"; and last but not least, creating and maintaining a "strong consensus on the European agenda among all political parties and all ethnic communities."

But some other EU politicians openly oppose the government's plan. Asked what she thought about Macedonia's EU application, Doris Pack, who is the chairwoman of the European Parliament's delegation for Southeastern Europe, told "RFE/RL Balkan Report" in an e-mail that she has repeatedly warned the government not to apply.

Pack believes that this is not the right moment, mainly because there are too many other issues which the EU is currently focusing upon -- the 10-country enlargement in May, parliamentary elections, the formation of a new European Commission, and the ongoing dispute about a European constitution.

In Pack's opinion, the application will also lead to disappointment among the Macedonian population, as there will be no immediate effects. Pack says that the government should rather concentrate on implementing the conditions outlined in the Stabilization and Association Agreement.

Given the mixed signals from Brussels and Strasbourg, Macedonian media commentators are not sure what to expect from the application. Todor Pendarov, a journalist, feels that there are two options. "One is...that Brussels simply remains silent about the application," Pendarov wrote in "Dnevnik" of 7 February. "The other option is that Brussels...very politely, but firmly, tells us that we are on the right way to the EU, but that we are still far from meeting the criteria [justifying an application]."

Other observers, like Denko Maleski in "Utrinski vesnik" of 7 February, note all the problems in Macedonia that make it hard to justify an application at the moment.

In his well-argued analysis, Maleski not only lists the problems facing democracy and stability in Macedonia. He also asks himself whether Chirac indeed promised support for the Macedonian EU membership bid, as "the Macedonian politicians tend to hear only what they want to hear in diplomatic talks."

In her commentary in "Dnevnik," Svetlana Jovanovska writes that Brussels has fully understood the government's reasons for the application. Jovanovska concludes that "the only way to make Brussels review our application leads through reforms, the most important of which are the laws on [administrative] decentralization." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

COULD A LJUBLJANA MOSQUE BECOME A TERRORIST CENTER? Plans to construct Ljubljana's first mosque in a southwest neighborhood of the city are facing a potential legal move with the submission of a petition to hold a local referendum challenging the building plans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003). At noon on 6 February, Mayor Danica Simsic was handed a list of 11,896 voter signatures endorsing a referendum -- well over the required minimum of 5 percent of the local electorate, "Delo" reported.

Mayor Simsic has stated several times that she believes the proposed referendum is unconstitutional, a position that she repeated on 6 February: "The initiative is not in line with the constitution because it encroaches on the fundamental right to freedom of expression of faith and religious belief, the principle of equality of religious groups, and equality before the law." Simsic scheduled a city council session to formally call the referendum -- as required by law -- but she is likely to freeze the initiative pending a decision on it by the Constitutional Court.

The initiator of the referendum, city councilor Mihael Jarc, organized a press conference in late January that included architect Fedja Kosir and the head of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS), Zmago Jelincic, the weekly "Mladina" reported on 26 January. From the views offered by the participants, several underlying themes converged to explain the apprehension some Slovenes feel about the mosque project: terrorism, foreign involvement, and Muslim intolerance.

In his comments, Jelincic referred to what he called the "terrible problems with Muslims" elsewhere in Europe, citing controversy over head scarves in French schools and police access to Islamic centers in England. "Finally," he noted, "they are also shutting down Islamic centers in Italy, because they have clearly been functioning as Al-Qaeda cells."

The wave of popular suspicion triggered by the September 2001 attacks in the United States regarding Muslim links to international terrorism largely remained a topic of private conversation in Slovenia until early December, when Zvone Penko of the SNS characterized the construction of a mosque as "creating the infrastructure for terrorism."

Commentators may have dismissed Penko's remarks as right-wing rhetoric from a marginal party, but on 6 January, Andrej Umek and Jozef Jeraj of the conservative Slovenian People's Party (SLS), which belongs to the governing center-left coalition, added their voices. Umek repeated Penko's assertions that a mosque would establish Al-Qaeda infrastructure, and Jeraj added that it would promote narcotics trafficking as a source of funds, STA reported. The president of the SLS, Janez Podobnik, distanced himself from his party members' remarks on 12 January.

Opponents of the mosque also object to what they view as external manipulation of the issue -- the mosque will be funded by donors from Islamic states and will be significantly larger than what Slovenia's Muslim community originally requested, Kosir noted. Instead of a single centralized mosque, opponents argue, up to 14 separate "prayer centers" would better meet the needs of Slovenia's Muslims.

Still others point to the "intolerance" of certain Islamic governments as justification for limiting the rights of Muslims in Slovenia. At a recent dinner, a member of the diplomatic corps asserted, "When we can build a church in Mecca, then they can build a mosque in Ljubljana!" Jelincic painted Muslims with the same broad brush by rhetorically asking what the women at the press conference would say if they were publicly stoned to death for violating Islamic dress codes in Saudi Arabia.

Slovenian Mufti Osman Djogic addressed some of these concerns in a 26 January interview in "Mladina." Regarding foreign funds, he acknowledged that he was in contact with investors from Qatar, Turkey, and Malaysia. However, he insisted, no foreign investor will be allowed to influence the center's operations. Multiple prayer centers would be an inappropriate solution, Djogic stated, because they would defeat the purpose of having a common spiritual center where Muslims could "develop their identity."

When asked to identify the most troubling argument used against the mosque, Djogic singled out generalization. "It is not possible to equate Muslims in Afghanistan with Muslims in Slovenia. We have nothing in common with Afghan Muslims except that we are members of the same faith."

Djogic doubts that the referendum will be allowed to take place, but has called for a voter boycott should it go ahead. Such a referendum, he says, would put Slovenia in a bad light not only for the 51 Muslim-majority countries and 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, but all democratic states.

In an apparent effort to discredit the initiative, "Delo" noted on 8 February that Ljubljana's skinhead community assisted in the effort to collect signatures.

In addition, several events of a different sort marred the signature drive, Jarc noted in comments in "Dnevnik" on 5 February. Some passersby simply walked off with partial lists of signatures rather than returning them, and in one case a young man snatched a bundle of the signed forms and fled -- but dropped the forms as he did so. Police are investigating the incident. (Donald F. Reindl,

AMBASSADOR WARREN ZIMMERMANN. Warren Zimmermann, who was the last U.S. ambassador to the former Yugoslavia, died in Great Falls, Virginia, of pancreatic cancer on 2 February at the age of 69.

At the onset of the crisis that would destroy former Yugoslavia, he first hoped that the country would remain united. He soon realized, however, that formidable forces were at work to destroy it, primarily in Serbia. Eventually, he called for U.S. military intervention to stop the "ethnic cleansing" carried out by Serbian forces in Bosnia.

First posted to Yugoslavia in the 1960s, he became ambassador in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush. Zimmermann remained there until 1992, when the Clinton administration recalled him to protest Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's aggressive policies. Zimmermann became head of the State Department's Bureau of Refugee Programs, remaining in that post until he quit to protest the lack of U.S. intervention to halt the Serbian aggression in Bosnia.

The ambassador will be remembered by many as a courageous diplomat whose analysis went far beyond the facile cliches about "ancient hatreds," "wars of religion," and "the fighting just broke out" that were encouraged by the aggressors and found many adherents in the West over the years.

In his book "Origins Of A Catastrophe: Yugoslavia And Its Destroyers" (New York: Times Books, 1996), Zimmermann notes at the very outset that "this is a story with villains." Three of the most important, in his view, were Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

The ambassador points out, however, that whereas Tudjman and Karadzic were motivated by ethnic considerations and chauvinism, Milosevic was an opportunist whose primary interest was power. He was, in Zimmermann's view, Yugoslavia's main "gravedigger," thanks to whom Slovenia and Croatia were left with no option other than secession.

The book was published shortly after the end of the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, and the ambassador was not completely certain that the Dayton agreements that closed it would succeed. His insider's analysis of Dayton and the years that immediately preceded it has nonetheless stood up well, making the book an important one for many years to come. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Friendly abandoned after riots.... A friendly encounter between Croatian [soccer] rivals Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split was abandoned during the first half after rioting fans hurled knives, stones, and bottles onto the pitch." -- Reported by Reuters from Siroki Brijeg, Herzegovina, on 9 February.

"The chairmen of the Olympic committees of the former Yugoslav republics signed a document in Sarajevo Monday to boost mutual relationships and build peace and stability in the region through sports." -- Reported by dpa on 9 February.