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Balkan Report: February 27, 2004


27 February 2004, Volume 8, Number 8

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT KILLED IN PLANE CRASH. The death of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski removes from the scene a leader widely regarded as a factor for stability. It is not immediately clear who would succeed him, or what the impact of his passing would be on Macedonian politics.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who as head of the rotating EU Presidency was hosting an important Macedonian delegation, announced in Dublin on 26 February that Trajkovski was killed that morning in a plane crash in Herzegovina while en route to attend an economic development conference in Mostar, Reuters reported.

In Herzegovina, a Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry spokesman said: "At about 9:00 this morning, [our] radar lost control of an aircraft. Local police said a blast was heard in the mountainous region between the southwestern town of Stolac and the village of Ljubinje. The weather conditions were very bad with heavy fog and rain." Bosnian Interior Ministry officials later confirmed that the plane crashed on Mount Hrgut, killing all on board.

The others who died with the 47-year-old Trajkovski were his staffers Dimka Ilkova Boskovic, Risto Blazevski, Anita Krista Lozanska, and Mile Krstevski, as well as two bodyguards and two crew members, dpa reported.

At the time of Trajkovski's death, Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and other members of an official delegation were in Dublin to present the Irish EU Presidency with Macedonia's application for EU membership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004). Upon receiving news of Trajkovski's death, the Macedonian delegation prepared to return home immediately, without presenting the application.

Elected president in 1999, Trajkovski was widely regarded as a strong advocate of Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration and of the 2001 Ohrid agreement. That deal was brokered by the United States and the EU, ending a conflict between the security forces of the ethnic Macedonian majority and the insurgents of the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about one-fourth of the population.

Although his political roots were in the conservative and nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), he was considered a moderate and was often at odds with the hard-line party leadership. An additional factor that set him apart from many ethnic Macedonian politicians was the fact that he was a member of the United Methodist Church and not Orthodox.

One of his recurrent messages following the signing of the Ohrid agreement was that Macedonia and the Balkans continue to have serious problems even though they have dropped out of the headlines. He told a meeting at RFE/RL Prague headquarters on 21 November 2002 during the NATO summit that "the Balkan region today still is not safe, it is not yet a place of decent life. We are surrounded by a large arsenal of weapons, and a large number of people who are getting rich through smuggling, corruption, and murder" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002).

In Strasbourg on 8 April 2003, he warned against continuing threats to peace and stability: "We need to continue our efforts to strengthen the rule of law and fight against organized crime and corruption. We need to refocus our attention to deal more effectively with issues of economic and social cohesion. And we need to work on the realization of the vision of a Europe, not just for states, but also for its citizens, enabling free movement of the citizens of the western Balkans across the borders of the European Union."

At RFE/RL headquarters during the NATO summit, he also stressed the importance of regional cooperation, specifically with Albania and Croatia: "The participation in today's meeting with my friends, Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and Croatian President Stipe Mesic, creates the opportunity for our three countries to work more closely and more intensively than in the past towards getting into NATO by discussing basic elements which could be included in our joint efforts to be admitted into NATO." Indeed, the three presidents and other officials of their respective continued to meet regularly to discuss these and other issues.

Whoever succeeds Trajkovski will have a full agenda in promoting Macedonia's social, economic, and inter-ethnic stability; working to counter the polarization that characterizes much of the political life of the region; and promoting the Euro-Atlantic integration of what was one of the former Yugoslavia's poorest republics. (Patrick Moore)

BALKAN MESSAGES FROM MARBURG. Germany's leading Balkan-studies professional association, the Suedosteuropa-Gesellschaft (SOG), held its annual meeting in the historical university town of Marburg on 20-21 February. At the center of attention were several issues relating to the roles of regional specialists in passing their knowledge on to elected officials, as well as to Southeastern Europe's future ties to the EU.

The SOG differs from similar associations in many other countries in that it receives most of its funding from the Foreign Ministry and is led by an elected member of the parliament, who currently is Gernot Erler, a prominent foreign-policy spokesman for Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party (SPD). His predecessor at the head of the SOG for more than 30 years was Walter Althammer of Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU).

The idea behind having politicians chair a professional association is that they are best able to ensure government funding as well as provide good contacts between regional specialists and elected officials. Under Schroeder in particular, German government-funded think tanks and professional associations have been strongly called upon to make their work available and relevant to policy makers.

In Marburg, several speakers noted that many German Balkan experts spent relatively quiet years before 1989 conducting academic research. When communism collapsed, their focus shifted to providing analysis of ongoing trends. Now, the emphasis is on participating in the transformation process itself.

The SOG has been actively involved in such efforts, which until recently concentrated on the western Balkans and on Cyprus (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February 2003). Current projects are centered primarily on the EU's "partnership" with Turkey and on "providing European perspectives" for Moldova, all of which is done "in close cooperation with the Foreign Ministry," as several speakers noted (www.suedosteuropa-gesellschaft.com).

All this is, of course, easier said than done. Several participants in the Marburg talks complained bitterly that many politicians ignore or show no interest in the findings and opinions of trained professionals.

This is particularly the case where possible Turkish membership in the EU is concerned. Several speakers noted the widespread ignorance regarding and prejudice toward Turks and Turkey at all levels of German society, including among government officials.

Conference participants appeared unanimous in the opinion that there is ample knowledge available to help policy makers take wise decisions if the politicians would only bother to consult with experts and act on their findings. At the same time, some speakers warned their academic colleagues that the days of generous public funding for ivory-tower projects are long over, and the professionals must prove their worth as members of an integrated policy community.

In general, the speakers (and SOG members in general) tended to be sympathetic to Turkish hopes for EU membership and toward the desires of the Balkan peoples in general for European integration. This theme came through particularly clearly in the main speech of the conference, which was delivered by Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the outgoing international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003).

He stressed that it is "laughable" for the established EU members to treat the new and would-be EU members in Eastern and Southeastern Europe as second-class partners, to be kept at arm's length. Schwarz-Schilling called for open borders and exchange programs, particularly involving young people. He stressed that courage as well as perseverance are necessary in promoting European integration in the region, and that constant effort is essential to overcome complacency.

Much of Schwarz-Schilling's message to the SOG was, in a sense, preaching to the converted. But he alone of the major speakers stressed the importance of the Euro-Atlantic community and the trans-Atlantic alliance. Most other speakers stressed only "Europe" -- which in German usage generally means the EU -- as though it were an island cut off in space and time.

It was thus left to Schwarz-Schilling to point out that the EU countries developed and prospered over long decades thanks to U.S. protection, and that they by and large did not object to letting Washington take the responsibility and foot the bill.

He also argued that if it were not for the United States, Western Europe would have become "an extension of the Asian continent" during the Cold War. This is a point that few German public figures have cared to recall ever since Schroeder came from behind to win re-election in 2002 with anti-American rhetoric. His campaign was accompanied and followed by a fiesta of America-bashing in much of the German media (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002, and 20 June, 19 September, and 3 October 2003).

Schwarz-Schilling continued his blunt talk by recalling that European efforts to restore peace to former Yugoslavia in the 1990s failed without U.S. intervention. He nonetheless criticized Washington for creating what he called an unworkably complex system for Bosnia through the Dayton peace agreements in 1995.

Schwarz-Schilling argued that only experts from an established democracy outside the Balkans could have produced Dayton, but perhaps he overlooked the former Yugoslavs' own talents for devising elaborate networks of checks and balances to ensure an appropriate balance between various ethnic groups.

Schwarz-Schilling hailed the Allies' efficiency in cleaning out much of the old Nazi order in Germany at the end of World War II, but regretted that the foreigners did not make similar efforts against the nationalists in Dayton-era Bosnia, which is now left to sort things out for itself.

Yet another sort of criticism of foreigners' behavior surfaced at the conference. One of the SOG's two student prizes went to the writer of a dissertation from the American-studies department of Munich University. She criticized U.S. efforts to promote democracy in postcommunist Bulgaria by analyzing the work of the U.S. government, NGOs, financier George Soros, and the American University in Blagoevgrad.

It is interesting to note that such a thesis was written and took a prestigious award. One wonders when it might occur to a U.S. graduate student in a German-studies program to write a dissertation on, for example, German sex- and beer-tourism in the Czech Republic, and then go on to win a prize for it. (Patrick Moore)

DEBATE BEGINS ON MACEDONIA'S JUDICIARY. On 22 January, Public Prosecutor Aleksandar Prcevski held a press conference which revived the public debate about the shortcomings in Macedonia's inefficient judicial system. In what may simply be described as an opening move, Prcevski leveled accusations ranging from incompetence to abuse of office and corruption against a number of judges, prosecutors, and Interior Ministry officials throughout the country.

Prcevski said that to date 47 judges, 10 prosecutors, and 41 Interior Ministry officials have been formally charged with offenses, but due to the lack of evidence, the charges against two-thirds of them had to be dropped. He added that those cases still under investigation have been handed over to the Republican Judicial Council, which is the controlling body for the judiciary.

The council appoints and removes judges and assesses the judges' work; its seven members are elected by the parliament. Currently, the council's work is hampered because parliament did not confirm the two council members nominated by President Boris Trajkovski. Lence Sofronievska, who heads the council, told "Forum" of 30 January that at least 40 judicial vacancies remain unfilled because of the deadlock between the president and the parliament.

During the press conference, Prcevski presented some examples of judges under investigation. One judge in Strumica released a drug- and arms-dealer who was the object of an international arrest warrant. A judge in a Skopje court allegedly forgot a folder containing all the evidence in one case in a kebab grill in Bitola. Other judges reportedly held up the processing of documents.

Although he did not mention any names, Prcevski provided just enough details to make it easy for the journalists to figure out who the judges were. About a month later, in an interview for "Dnevnik" of 21 February, Prcevski argued that the reason for most of the problems within the judiciary can be summed up in a single word: "javasluk." The word is of Turkish origin ("yavaslik") and can mean slowness, sluggishness, and ponderousness.

In an official statement, the Supreme Court on 28 February dismissed Prcevski's charges as "generalized and unfounded," accusing Prcevski of having breached the general assumption of innocence until proven guilty when he publicly charged judges with corruption. Thus, the Supreme Court judges say, Prcevski not only sowed doubts among the judges and the population as a whole, but also exceeded his competence because investigations into such suspected offenses by judges can be launched solely by the Republican Judicial Council.

Prcevski's press conference was also criticized by the media. "It would have been correct to first take legal measures, to issue formal charges, and to inform the Republican Judicial Council of instances of incompetence, and only then to inform the media," Gordan Duvnjak wrote in "Utrinski vesnik" on 24 January. For Duvnjak, Prcevski's approach smacks of the onset of a witch-hunt. "It would be bad for [Prcevski] and the state if it turns out that he 'stirred up a lot of dust for nothing,' and if the matter ends only with threats and without concrete results," Duvnjak concluded.

At least Prcevski's press conference provided the daily "Dnevnik" with an excellent topic for its weekly discussion forum.

The participants in the 21 February discussion on judicial reforms covered a wide range of issues, but they largely agreed that the courts' inefficiency is due to a work overload and to "shortcomings in the legal framework." Participants such as Agim Miftari, who heads the Association of Judges in Macedonia, or Boro Tasevski, who chairs one of the two local courts in Skopje, therefore demand that the relevant legislation be amended so that petty offenses can be dealt with by administrative officials rather than by the courts.

Another point at issue is the election of judges and prosecutors. The state Anticorruption Commission came up with the proposal to replace the Republican Judicial Council with a completely independent State Council of Justice, which will not only appoint and dismiss judges, but prosecutors as well. This would remove the suspicion that judges and prosecutors act on the orders of the political party that appointed them, Mihajlo Manevski of the anticorruption body argued.

Prcevski supported the idea of an independent justice council, while cautioning that it must be kept free of interference from the executive and legislative branches. Sofronievska, for her part, disagreed that the council she heads must be replaced. "In our state we have a system of parliamentary democracy, and the three branches must keep watch on each other," Sofronievska said. She added that any body not subjected to checks and balances could throw the system out of balance.

The two issues raised by the discussants may only be a small part of the problems facing Macedonia's judiciary, but they could prove a good point to start with. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

SIGNS OF INTOLERANCE, OR JUST LEGAL WRANGLING IN SLOVENIA? In Ljubljana, Slovenes have their own way of dealing with the snow piled up on their sidewalks by the city street plows. Some cast a few furtive glances, and then toss it back out into the street whence it came. Others do nothing, hoping it will eventually disappear by itself.

Strategies for dealing with people who are different often follow a similar pattern. The refugees who fled Bosnia in the 1990s have largely worn out their welcome and face demands that they return "home." Others, such as the Roma and people erased from the population records, have simply been ignored (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 March 2002, 31 October 2003, and 6 February 2004). Some of those removed from the records have disappeared by returning south, but the others have lingered like unwelcome late spring snow.

A national referendum on the bill that would restore the residency status of the "erased" is scheduled for 4 April, and there are indications that a local referendum on the plan to build a Ljubljana mosque could be held the same day (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004). Opponents of both referendums argue that the vote will only promote intolerance and xenophobia in Slovenian society.

The Constitutional Court has already declined to issue a preliminary judgment on the constitutionality of the national referendum. Analysts believe that the court may refuse to consider the local referendum as well because it involves an administrative decision rather than a legislative act.

Does intolerance exist in Slovenia? Certainly, but probably no more so than in any other country. Slovenes are, however, highly self-critical of themselves, and the local media frequently examine the issue. In October 2000, the Ljubljana-based Peace Institute established an "Intolerance Monitoring Group" to report on various forms of intolerance, and their reports have included in-depth analyses of discrimination in Slovenia (http://mediawatch.ljudmila.org/).

Sometimes even insinuating that someone is a foreigner is insult enough. A brief commentary in "Delo" on 1 February praised Prime Minister Anton Rop for refuting accusations by "the Argentine citizen Andrej Bajuk." Bajuk, whose family fled to Argentina in 1945 and who heads the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) party, was born in Ljubljana and also holds Slovenian citizenship.

Not only ethnic groups, but also those that are religiously or sexually different face intolerance in Slovenia. The selection of the transvestite trio Sestre (Sisters) to represent Slovenia in the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest touched off public debate on the rights of homosexuals in society (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 February 2002, and rferl.org, 24 May 2002). The Slovenian Queer Resources Directory characterized the resulting wave of homophobic commentary as "the tip of an iceberg of Slovenian intolerance and hostility to everything different" (http://www.ljudmila.org/siqrd/dossier1.php).

This is all the more remarkable when one recalls that that gay and lesbian rights groups played an important role in the formation of the civil society in Slovenia in the 1980s, which helped the country make a smooth transition to democracy during the collapse of communism. At the time, many Slovenes seemed delighted that a gay rights parade greatly angered the Belgrade media.

Slovenes have long complained that they suffer from a lack of international recognition. Some foreign media have lately increased their coverage of the country -- but it is not the kind of news that anyone wants spread around. "Slovenia Does Not Respect Human Rights," announced a 22 February headline in "Dan," a Montenegrin newspaper. "Xenophobia Spreading in Slovenia," stated a 27 January article in Prague's "Hospodarske Noviny." These articles, and others like them, have turned the pending referendums on the "erased" and the Ljubljana mosque into an international public relations disaster.

The referendums themselves are unremarkable -- they will simply judge the appropriateness of a particular legislative solution and the procedural legitimacy of a city council decision. The most well-spoken proponents of the referendum on the "erased" suggest scrapping what they consider a badly prepared bill and implementing the Constitutional Court's decision through another bill. As for the mosque, the legal argument is that the city council exceeded its authority in granting a building permit without consulting local residents.

For much of the domestic and international public, however, the decisions have been reduced to whether Slovenes wish to allow other ex-Yugoslavs to live among them, and whether Muslims should be permitted to have a place to worship. Political demagoguery has exacerbated the emotional content of the debate by playing off popular fears and prejudices.

In the meantime, valuable time for implementing EU legislation before the 1 May accession date has been lost. This delay could result in an EU embargo against certain Slovenian goods, the weekly "Zurnal" reported on 13 February.

A 11 January essay in "Delo" by columnist Brano Piano pointed out that the current apprehension over the "erased" and the building of a mosque is minor compared to what the future holds. With a rapidly aging workforce, Slovenia will require an increasing number of immigrants in the future -- or its economy and pension funds will atrophy. In a decade or less, the streets of provincial Ljubljana could take on the multinational character of cities like Munich or Amsterdam.

Unlike this year's snow, those who are different will not simply disappear by themselves. By choosing integration into Western structures, Slovenia has also chosen multiculturalism. Making the best of both can only work to its advantage. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The United States is our ally. The common values that hold the Euro-Atlantic alliance together are stronger than any occasional differences of view." -- French President Jacques Chirac. Quoted in Budapest by the "International Herald Tribune" on 25 February.

"We have no intention to cut Europe into two or to make two Europes. That would be absurd. However, we believe that if, on any particular subject, there are countries that want to go farther and faster, they should be allowed to do so under two conditions -- firstly, that the acquis communautaire [the body of community legislation by which all EU members are bound] is entirely respected, under the control and with the approval of the [European] Commission, which is the guarantor of the [European] institutions, and secondly, that this group is absolutely open for anyone to join." -- Chirac in Budapest, quoted by RFE/RL on 23 February.

"There is no way we are trying to prescribe anything to anyone." -- Chirac in Budapest, quoted in the "International Herald Tribune" on 24 February.

"Turkey's Islamic values, coupled with the values of the European Union, will contribute both to democracy in Turkey and to stability in the region." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in Ankara. Quoted in ibid.

"If [EU] integration takes too long, I envision only risks. Nationalist centrifugal forces will start surfacing on the margins [of the political spectrum]. Already now, many warn that we [Czechs] don't want to dissolve [into a European mass] like a lump of sugar. [Were that to happen, however], at least the others would notice how sweet we are." -- International PEN Club leader and Czech Ambassador to Austria Jiri Grusa, quoted by CTK in Berlin on 24 February. He is also former ambassador to Germany. The comment about dissolving into the EU like a lump of sugar was made recently by President Vaclav Klaus.

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