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Balkan Report: April 2, 2004

2 April 2004, Volume 8, Number 13

A WAKE-UP CALL IN KOSOVA. The recent violence in Kosova shows what can happen in a region consigned to political limbo. The key to prosperity and peace lies in clarifying Kosova's final political status.

The interethnic unrest of 17-18 March left 20 dead, according to the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). Of those 20, the Human Rights Council in Prishtina says 14 were Albanians and six were Serbs (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 26 March 2004). Regardless of who started the fighting or how it spread, members of both ethnic groups were involved, the Albanians being more visible because they are more numerous.

At least 800 mainly Serbian homes and at least 17 Serbian religious buildings were destroyed or damaged, which was quickly exploited by Belgrade and Moscow for propaganda purposes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 March 2004). Two Ottoman-era mosques were badly damaged in Serbia, one in Belgrade and the other in Nis.

With Serbian presidential elections due later in the spring and Serbian politics in a state of flux, the unrest in Kosova gave many Belgrade politicians the opportunity to engage in nationalist rhetoric rather than discuss solutions to Serbia's burning social and economic problems.

In Kosova, young and apparently unemployed Albanian toughs played a key role in starting and spreading the violence, but there does not appear to have been any central organization or direction. The fact that the unrest spread so quickly and so extensively may well have more to do with the intensity of pent-up frustrations, particularly among the more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, than with any grand or sinister plots.

Any number of theories have been put forward to explain what happened, particularly to assign guilt. One school of thought stresses that the violence was an accident waiting to happen because of two fundamental mistakes by the international community following the defeat of Serbian forces in June 1999.

According to this argument, the first mistake was to place Kosova under an indefinite international protectorate in 1999 rather than moving it unambiguously toward the final resolution of its status. Failure to resolve the status issue prolonged and intensified the uncertainty and instability that eventually exploded on 17 and 18 March -- and could do so any time again until the status question is settled.

This is because the issue in Kosova goes well beyond interethnic relations; in fact, two processes that are no strangers to violence are playing themselves out. The first is the post-1945 worldwide trend toward decolonization based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule.

The second is the dissolution of former Yugoslavia that began in the late 1980s when Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic first tried to take control of that state and then sought to destroy it when Slovenia and Croatia frustrated his initial plans.

This leads to consideration of the second mistake dating from June 1999, namely the failure to make it crystal clear to Belgrade that it had lost the war and lost Kosova. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote in her memoirs that a reference to Kosova remaining part of Yugoslavia was inserted in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 to provide a face-saving formula for Belgrade and to please its friends in Moscow and Paris. It was not, however, intended to be a binding legal commitment, at least not by Washington.

Unfortunately, as might have been predicted, successive Serbian governments clung to this provision to claim a lasting role in Kosova. In doing so, they gave false hope to the province's Serbian minority that its future will be determined in Belgrade rather than in Prishtina.

Furthermore, the provision enabled many Serbian politicians of almost all stripes to use aggressive rhetoric about Kosova to seek votes, thereby providing the politicians with a simple and welcome way to avoid focusing on Serbia's real problems: crime, corruption, poverty, and the collapse of basic civic and social institutions (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 20 February 2004, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 12, 19, and 26 July 2001).

Finally, many in the international community subsequently sought to encourage Belgrade to take a role in Kosova's affairs in order to "engage" Serbia and reassure the province's Serbian minority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002).

This ongoing involvement of Belgrade, together with the continuing presence of the unloved UNMIK administration, led many Kosovar Albanians to suspect that the international community -- especially the EU -- plans to deny them independence and eventually force them back into a joint state with Serbia, which all ethnic Albanian parties emphatically reject (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003).

This perception was part of the mixture that exploded on 17 March. The initial reaction of many in the international community was to potentially make matters worse by suggesting that the Albanians must be "punished" by delaying resolution of the status issue even longer. Those holding this view argued that violence must not be rewarded and that Kosova is far from meeting the international community's idealistic "standards" that many countries in the EU might have trouble meeting.

Some other observers, by contrast, stressed that the unrest was a wake-up call to deal with the status issue before the province explodes again. Some proponents of this view in the United States emphasized that only Washington can muster the political and other muscle to bring about the necessary settlement involving independence for Kosova with some form of autonomy for the Serbian minority. The Albanians trust the Americans in a way that they do not trust the EU, and some in Washington itself may have come to wonder about those in the EU who appear impatient to have the Americans out of the Balkans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004).

It seems to some observers that the lesson of 17-18 March is that the problem must be tackled, and sooner rather than later. They argue that to delay further with talks about talks and haggling over standards invites not only more unrest in Kosova, but increased nationalist agitation in Serbia and the potential destabilization of at least Bosnia and Macedonia. In any event, until the status question is resolved, investment capital is likely to stay away from Kosova, and with it jobs for the young and unemployed. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION CAMPAIGN BEGINS. The campaign for the 14 April extraordinary presidential elections officially began on 30 March. By that time, the State Election Commission and the Supreme Court had determined the final number of candidates.

The candidates had presented themselves to the public with their opening statements about their aims and goals. As in other Balkan countries, the president is the supreme commander of the army and has only limited influence on foreign policy. The president has very little influence on domestic issues.

The State Election Commission ruled on 25 March that four candidates fulfilled the provisions to run for president. Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM); Sasko Kedev, a lawmaker for the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE); Gezim Ostreni of the governing ethnic-Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI); and Zudi Xhelili of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) were able to collect the required 10,000 signatures supporting their candidacy. Three other would-be candidates failed to obtain enough signatures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March 2004).

Hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who is a legislator for the VMRO-DPMNE but wanted to run as an independent candidate, managed to gather enough signatures. But the State Election Commission ruled that Boskovski did not meet the constitutional provision in Article 80 that stipulates that presidential candidates must have lived in Macedonia for at least 10 of the past 15 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 29 March 2004).

Boskovski, who spent much of the 1990s in Croatia, immediately challenged the commission's ruling before the Supreme Court. His lawyers argued that under Article 132 of the constitution, "Time of residence in other republics in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is also included in the time span specified in Article 80, Paragraph 5."

This provision was clearly intended as a temporary measure to cover the period leading up to and immediately following the breakup of former Yugoslavia. It was originally designed to allow former President Kiro Gligorov, who had spent much of his life in Belgrade, to run for a second term. Although Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Boskovski's lawyers argue that the clause applies for Croatia, too.

However, the Supreme Court did not accept this view and confirmed the State Election Commission's ruling, thus effectively barring Boskovski from running for president. Boskovski construed the Supreme Court ruling as the result of a conspiracy between the governing SDSM and his own party, the VMRO-DPMNE, and as a "blow to democracy" in Macedonia. He announced that he will challenge the ruling before Macedonia's Constitutional Court and before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Thus, Boskovski's hopes of transforming the Macedonian presidency into a more powerful institution burst like a bubble. In an interview with "Dnevnik" on 28 March, he demanded that the constitution be amended to reinforce the president's position by granting him more powers in foreign and defense policy as well as by strengthening his veto powers.

The daily also asked the other four candidates about their view of the president's powers. The bottom line that emerges from those interviews is that none of the remaining candidates wants to create a strong presidency. Nor do they believe that the mixed system with the executive powers divided between president and government should be replaced by another model.

However, the PDSH's candidate, Xhelili, proposed one significant change to the current system. He demanded that the position of a vice president be introduced in order to balance the ethnic polarization of the Macedonian political system, meaning that the president and vice president must come from different ethnic groups.

Given the president's limited influence, it will be interesting to see what the parties will chose as campaign issues. Since the two major ethnic Macedonian parties, the SDSM and the VMRO-DPMNE, widely agree on foreign and defense policy, there is little room for the candidates to score political points on that front.

In fact, the VMRO-DPMNE's initial moves suggest that it will try to tarnish Crvenkovski's reputation by accusing him of using state resources for his election campaign. The VMRO-DPMNE leadership argues that Crvenkovski cannot be prime minister and a presidential candidate at the same time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2004).

Kedev's party also charged that the government cannot function properly during the campaign because Crvenkovski's campaign staff includes key ministers such as Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva. The VMRO-DPMNE declined to sign an agreement on fair and democratic elections proposed by the SDSM, dismissing it as an attempt to divert the voters' attention from the Social Democrats' own shortcomings.

For the two ethnic Albanian candidates, the elections are likely to end after the first round. However, the Albanian vote will be interesting as it will clearly show whether Ostreni's call for full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement or Xhelili's more radical views are more appealing. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "It would be tempting to conclude, as NATO and the EU enlarge this spring, that with so many problems elsewhere in the world, the United States should turn its attention away from Europe and toward the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and other hot spots. But fostering a Europe whole and free is as vital a U.S. national interest as it was when the Cold War ended." -- James M. Goldgeier of George Washington University in "The Washington Post" on 28 March.

"There has been great progress in our country and in other places, but there cannot be real stability in the Balkans if there is a black hole in Kosovo and Serbia." -- Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano in "The Washington Times" of 31 March.

"This multiethnicity is not working as planned." -- UNMIK chief Harri Holkeri to the "Helsingin Sanomat," quoted by Reuters on 27 March.

"One cannot establish a 'multiethnic paradise' in Kosovo." -- Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica before the parliament, quoted by RFE/RL in Belgrade on 26 March.

"To be quite honest, I'm surprised at some proposals that are being voiced in the West about the need to speed up negotiations on the status of Kosovo because otherwise, it's said, the Albanians will go on a rampage. This kind of approach would mean encouraging riots and ethnic cleansing. It's a position that cannot be justified either from the legal or political point of view." -- Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov, to Interfax in Moscow on 30 March.

"This is a different world. The moral or ethical standards we are used to at home, such as the author checking his information before publication, don't apply here." -- Czech KFOR Captain Jindrich Plescher on allegations in an unnamed Kosova newspaper article that Czech and Greek KFOR troops used violence in searching an ethnic Albanian home. Quoted by CTK on 25 March.

"I'm ready to nod to any restitution, I'm ready for anything, under a single condition. Bring the 28 of my relatives whom you murdered in World War II to this table. As you are unable to do so, we won't reopen the past." -- Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla on Sudeten German restitution claims. Quoted by CTK from Helsinki on 30 March. Some German expellee groups and politicians have sought to step up pressure on the Czech Republic and Poland in recent months as the countries move closer to full EU membership.