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Balkan Report: March 19, 2004

19 March 2004, Volume 8, Number 11

VIOLENCE SHAKES KOSOVA. Twenty-two people died and about 500 were injured on 17 March in interethnic violence in Mitrovica, Ferizaj, Peja, Lipjan, Prishtina, Prizren, Gjilan, Fushe Kosova, Caglavica, and some other Kosova communities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2004). Numerous homes and some Serbian religious buildings were reportedly damaged or burned out. Flights in and out of Kosova were halted, and the border to Serbia was closed.

The worst interethnic violence in several years erupted after two separate incidents in which a Serbian youth was injured in a drive-by shooting and at least two ethnic Albanian children drowned in the Ibar River.

It is unclear whether any of the violence was organized or whether it was simply an explosion of pent-up tensions. Many ethnic Albanians fear that the international administration in the province will seek to prolong its rule, which Albanians widely regard as colonialist, thereby delaying or blocking Kosova's independence.

In addition to these frustrations, the recent electoral successes of nationalist politicians in Serbia have raised fears among Albanians that Belgrade will seek to reassert itself in the province. Conversely, the nationalist victories in Serbia have given rise to hopes among Kosova's Serbian minority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 and 19 December 2003 and 13 and 20 February 2004).

Whatever the origins of the violence, a tense calm prevailed in Mitrovica and elsewhere in Kosova early on 18 March, except for Obiliq, where a Serbian church and some other buildings were in flames. NATO forces blocked the center of Obiliq as well as the Prishtina-Mitrovica road with armored vehicles.

Later in the day, however, a crowd of Albanians in Mitrovica forced their way into a Serbian Orthodox church, setting it on fire. French peacekeepers attempted unsuccessfully to hold back the crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets.

In Brussels, NATO ambassadors agreed to dispatch at least 700 troops from Bosnia, Italy, and the alliance's strategic reserves to reinforce the approximately 17,500 KFOR troops and 9,000 local and UN police in Kosova. Up to 150 U.S. troops from Bosnia and 80 Italian Carabinieri were sent immediately, and additional forces might follow if NATO commanders deem it necessary. In London, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Britain is prepared to send up to 750 troops to Kosova.

Speaking in Prishtina on 17 March, Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova called on "the citizens of Mitrovica to stop their protest so that the situation can calm down because the escalation of the [violence] is not helpful for Kosova." "I also call on the Serbian citizens of Caglavica to unblock the [Prishtina-Skopje] road and on the Albanians to withdraw from the Veternik area so that confrontation can be avoided," Rugova added.

At the same press conference, Harry Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said that "in moments like these, emotions are running high and that is why I...appeal to all communities to stay calm and not let such terrible incidents jeopardize the stability...[and] future of Kosovo."

Local Serbian leader Momcilo Trajkovic said, "We are back in 1999," a reference to Albanian revenge attacks on Serbs following the withdrawal of Serbian forces in June of that year.

Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi suggested that unnamed Belgrade politicians have recently fanned nationalist passions among Serbs (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). In Washington, Kosovar Albanian political leader Hashim Thaci broke off his visit to the United States to return to Kosova.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade that the violence in Kosova "showed the true face of Albanian separatism." He noted, however, that there is no practical way to dispatch Serbian forces into Kosova to protect the Serbian minority there. Kostunica repeated his call for territorial autonomy for the Serbs, which the UNMIK and Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority reject (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 March 2004).

The next day, Kostunica charged that the violence was "planned and organized" by unidentified Albanians bent on driving the Serbian minority from the province. He added that the international community has failed to protect the local Serbs and must now introduce what he called "extraordinary measures."

Boris Tadic, who is Serbia and Montenegro's defense minister, said on 17 March that his country has only a limited right under the terms set down in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 to send troops into the province, warning against any attempt to further inflame passions. He referred to the idea of sending Serbian troops to Kosova as "playing with fire" when some Serbian politicians raised the issue in mid-2003 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003).

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, which was scheduled for 18 March.

In Belgrade on 17 March, a crowd that reportedly included drunken soccer hooligans burned out a mosque and broke some of the windows of the U.S. Embassy. Violence lasted through the night, leaving 33 police and an unspecified number of protesters injured. In Nis, a crowd burned a mosque.

The next day, Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova, called the attacks on the mosques "ugly." He warned, "Churches are not rebuilt by setting fire to mosques, and vice versa." Covic added, however, "One must find new solutions which reflect the reality of life, which is that the Albanian community or individuals hate the Serbian community."

Covic stressed: "Serbs and their property must be protected, and if the international community cannot do it, assistance must be sought. Our army and police together with the international community must do it." He also argued that the latest violence proves that "the concept of multiethnicity has failed."

In New York on 17 March, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for an end to the violence.

The U.S. State Department said in a statement that the violence could damage the fragile peace in the region. In a separate statement, the White House called on the people of Kosova to stop the violence, appealing to political leaders there to use their influence to bring an end to the violence and promote the peaceful resolution of problems.

In Banja Luka, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic warned that unrest in Kosova could have a destabilizing effect on the entire region.

In Moscow on 18 March, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov said: "We strongly condemn the instigators of the current riots in Kosovo and want [the riots] to be stopped immediately, since they may explode the situation both within the territory and in the entire region."

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea told RFE/RL in a telephone interview that the unrest will benefit only the extremists. The violence, he argued, "is a setback for Kosovo, obviously, in the attempts to create a peaceful multiethnic community. Only the extremists are going to gain. The ordinary people of Kosovo, the great majority of them, are going to be the losers, not the winners. We hope that now they see the consequences of this stupid violence [and will] stop, go home, and cooperate with KFOR, UNMIK, and the Kosovo police service in restoring law and order as quickly as possible.... The notion anything is going to be gained through an orgy of violence is completely misplaced." (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE BEGINS. Two weeks after the tragic death of Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in a 26 February plane crash, most political parties have nominated their candidates for the vacant position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 February and 5 March 2004).

In addition, a number of independent candidates have announced that they will join the race. The elections are slated for 14 April; since none of the candidates is likely to win a majority in the first round, it is very likely that a second round will take place two weeks later.

The Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), which is the country's largest opposition party, nominated legislator Sasko Kedev as its presidential candidate on 15 March. The nomination of 42-year-old Kedev came as no surprise, as he was the clear favorite of party Chairman Nikola Gruevski. Like Gruevski, Kedev belongs to the moderate faction within the VMRO-DPMNE (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 May 2003).

Kedev is a member of the party's executive committee, and, according to "Utrinski vesnik," leads the party's foreign relations committee. In Macedonia, Kedev is known as an internationally experienced heart surgeon rather than as a politician. During the election campaign, Kedev will focus on the economy, security and foreign policy, and Euro-Atlantic integration, according to MIA news agency.

His candidacy might be hampered by the fact that former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski will also run for president. Like Kedev, Boskovski is a legislator for the VMRO-DPMNE, but is known for his hawkish views. Since Boskovski was not supported by the VMRO-DPMNE leadership, he decided to run as an independent candidate.

In Macedonia, potential candidates must either be supported by 30 legislators or collect 10,000 signatures to be able to officially register as candidates. As Boskovski is still highly popular among the party's more radical followers, he was able to gather the necessary signatures within a relatively short period of time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2004).

Boskovski's popularity among the nationalist Macedonian voters is equaled by that of opposition ethnic Albanian politician Arben Xhaferi among his fellow Albanians. Although Xhaferi's party, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), has lost its position as the strongest ethnic Albanian party to the governing Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Xhaferi himself is still the most popular Albanian politician in Macedonia.

In a first programmatic statement as presidential candidate, Xhaferi said he hopes to reopen a public debate on major Albanian demands. "[This demand] is the equality [of Albanians] on all levels of society and the demand for the division of power, and not the integration into power," Xhaferi said. He warned that if this demand is not met, the Albanians could put the division of Macedonia along ethnic lines back on the agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 16 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 February and 4 and 25 April 2003).

Given Xhaferi's known penchant for radical statements that do not lead to much, it is likely that many Albanian voters would prefer Gezim Ostreni, the BDI's secretary-general. Ostreni was the military chief of staff of the National Liberation Army (UCK), which launched an insurgency against government forces in 2001. Later, the UCK leaders formed the BDI and joined the government.

Last fall, Ostreni headed the government body that coordinated the disarmament of the civilian population (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," September 2003). His nomination nonetheless came as a surprise because the BDI initially said it would support the candidate of its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2003).

The opposition ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) has said that it will support Ostreni's candidacy, while the small and radical National Democratic Party (PDK) announced that it will boycott the elections.

Three minor candidates have also entered the race: Branko Janevski of the Social Democratic Party of Macedonia, former PDSH legislator Sali Ramadani, and one Mirko Hristov.

Finally, on 17 March, the Central Committee of Macedonia's governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) unanimously approved Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski as its presidential candidate. The SDSM's other potential candidate, Tito Petkovski, who reportedly had strong support from local party organizations, decided not to challenge Crvenkovski's bid.

Petkovski lost against Trajkovski in the 1999 presidential elections because he failed to attract enough Albanian votes. Thus, the more moderate Crvenkovski might have better chances than Petkovski against the conservative candidates. "The key...lies with Crvenkovski," Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said on 15 March. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIAN ARCHBISHOP HEADS TO ROME. The 11 February announcement that Archbishop of Ljubljana Franc Rode had been appointed to an important Vatican position came as a surprise both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia. Rode will move into the influential position of prefect of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, one of the congregations of the Roma Curia.

According to an article in the 27 February issue of the weekly "Zurnal," the unexpected news has left the Slovenian church in a "state of shock" and triggered broad speculation about who might succeed Rode, who is scheduled to leave Ljubljana on 18 April.

Rode's appointment means that he will receive the rank of cardinal at the convening of the next consistory. Based on the frequency with which Pope John Paul II has called previous consistories, the next such ceremony is expected in 2006 or 2007.

The appointment will put the Rode in a high-profile position as the second living cardinal of Slovenian origin. Aloysius Ambrozic (1930- ) -- who, like Rode, was originally a post-World War II emigrant from Slovenia -- was appointed cardinal of Toronto in 1998.

The appointment of Rode's successor depends on a decision from the Vatican itself, which could take as long as two years. A new archbishop could be sent from the Vatican (as happened with Rode) or could be appointed from among the eight bishops already in Slovenia. In comments reported in "Delo" on 29 February, Rode said he believes it will not be long until a successor is named.

What captured the most attention in Slovenia was Rode's widely reported comment that the move will take him "from the battlefield to the general staff." Commentary in "Delo" on 16 February gave a number of possible reasons for the military metaphor, concentrating on recent efforts by the church to exert influence in secular institutions and attempts to reclaim church property nationalized under the communists.

Under Rode, the church has received more media coverage in Slovenia than under any other postwar leader. The church unsuccessfully sought the introduction of religious classes into public education but saw success in a 2001 referendum with the defeat of a bill that would have allowed in vitro fertilization for single women.

The church's efforts to regain nationalized land and buildings have met with mixed success. Restitution claims have encountered broad public opposition when they involve objects considered national icons, such as the island in Lake Bled and forested land in Triglav National Park (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 July 2001).

The Slovenian church is also burdened by continued association with the anticommunist Domobranci (Home Guard) forces, which allied themselves with the Germans in World War II. The political divisions of over half a century ago still deeply divide Slovenian society today (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003).

When it comes to battlegrounds, however, many of Rode's predecessors faced more trying circumstances. Bishop Gregorij Rozman (1883-1959) has an entry in a popular communist-era desk encyclopedia that reads like a war crimes indictment: "supported clerico-fascists, organized movement against progressive forces,... chief organizer of counterrevolution, collaborator with occupying forces,... sentenced to 18 years [in prison] in absentia."

Rozman's successor, Anton Vovk (1900-1963), was attacked and suffered severe burns at the Novo Mesto train station in 1952 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 October 2001). His successor, Jozef Pogacnik (1902-1980), was imprisoned for five years. Still under communism, Alozij Sustar (1920- ) was instrumental in reintroducing the public celebration of Christmas and later led the first public ceremony commemorating the victims of the World War II-era massacres carried out by the communists at Kocevski Rog.

Rode has had notable achievements during his tenure as archbishop, enumerated by Ali Zerdin in a "Mladina" article on 16 February. The conclusion of an accord with the Vatican to regulate the status of the Catholic Church in Slovenia was probably his greatest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2004).

His second success was the calling of a synod of the Slovenian Bishops' Conference. The second papal visit to Slovenia in 1999 and the beatification of Maribor Bishop Anton Slomsek (1800-1862) ranks third.

However, setbacks also occurred under Rode. The number of Slovenes actively identifying themselves as Catholic dropped from 1.37 million (69.8 percent) in the 1991 census to 1.14 million (57.8 percent) in 2002. No other religious group experienced such a decline.

In a 2003 poll, 57.4 percent of those surveyed -- including a majority of Catholics -- felt that Rode did not represent the interests of Catholics in Slovenia, the conservative weekly "Mag" reported on 18 February. However, even Rode's critics admit that he has shaped a more assertive church with a higher public profile than any time since World War II.

As "Mladina" commented on 16 February, the move to the Vatican will not signal the end of the Rode era in the Slovenian church. Whenever Rode chooses to visit his native land, he will now speak with the authority of a cardinal and a member of the Curia. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "11 September changed our perception of the Balkans." -- Unnamed U.S. official quoted by the "Financial Times" in Brussels on 9 March. He was referring to Washington's interest in maintaining a security presence in the region and not abandoning the Balkans entirely to the EU (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004).

"In what was probably one of the most negative results of 2003 in terms of the trans-Atlantic relationship, mistrust of European intentions and of the European Union as such has become rampant in Washington." -- German Ambassador to the United States Wolfgang Ischinger. Quoted in the latest issue of "Internationale Politik."

"Some in Washington ask whether the United States would not be better off with a few truly reliable European partners rather than with one EU, whose common foreign policy represents, at best, the lowest common denominator. They ask whether the need for political compromise, which Europeans view as a key element of European integration, does not in reality prevent effective joint transatlantic action." -- Ischinger in ibid.

"Offering to include the Europeans in the implementation by NATO of strategic decisions adopted in Washington is not good enough. A NATO relegated to a 'toolbox' role will not remain healthy for long. Europeans hope to see a fundamentally different U.S. approach in the future -- a demonstration of enlightened leadership, a demonstration that Washington is prepared to wield its power not simply in the narrowly defined American national interest, but in a much broader sense, on behalf of its allies and partners, on behalf of all those who share the same fundamental Western principles of democracy and freedom." -- Ischinger in ibid.

"A rules-based international system is not a trick to limit American power! On the contrary, it would be dangerous to separate power from international law and legitimacy." -- Ischinger in ibid.

"After the experience of 2002-03, Europeans have every reason to acknowledge that the European Union will grow into the coherent foreign-policy player it wishes to be only if it defines its identity not in opposition to the United States, but as complementary to it. This should in no way prevent it from having an identity. But the notion that Europe's identity will have to grow out of a process of emancipatory alienation from the United States is one that could well lead not to increased European power, but to a more seriously divided Europe." -- Ischinger in ibid.

"If Europeans are to succeed in balancing and pursuing the two goals of completing the European integration process and of maintaining close trans-Atlantic ties, then it should also be possible for America to maintain and reaffirm its traditional support for the European integration process, and for strong trans-Atlantic institutions. Nothing could run more counter to shared trans-Atlantic interests than an America that turns away from Europe and hand-picks individual partners, and a Europe that defines itself as a global player by emancipation from and opposition to the United States. -- Ischinger in ibid.

"All the trans-Atlantic wounds may still be there, but the protagonists have agreed tacitly to ignore them and get on with life. After several false dawns, this modus vivendi finally is determining policy." -- Veteran U.S. journalist Elizabeth Pond in ibid.