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Balkan Report: April 9, 2004


9 April 2004, Volume 8, Number 14

MACEDONIA'S PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL. The short campaign for the 14 April presidential election is in full swing in Macedonia. Four candidates are touring the country, meeting with voters in several towns every day: Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union, Sasko Kedev of the conservative 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) (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March 2004).

An opinion poll carried out by the Skopje-based Institute for Social, Political, and Legal Studies between 20 and 27 March concludes that Crvenkovski will easily win the first round of the 14 April presidential elections, "Vreme" reported on 31 March.

Just over 21 percent of the 1,200 respondents said they would vote for Crvenkovski, 13.2 percent would cast their ballot for Kedev, and Ostreni would garner 9.7 percent of the votes. The poll also included candidates who later decided not to run or were barred from the race: 6.5 percent of the respondents favored Arben Xhaferi of the PDSH, while 4.2 said they would vote for hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who had planned to run as an independent candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 29, and 31 March 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 April 2004).

For 27.4 percent of the respondents, the personality of the candidate plays the biggest role; just over 21 percent said the candidate's program is most important; and 15.1 percent the candidate's party affiliation is the deciding factor.

The respondents also had the opportunity to say what they consider the most important task for the next president. Somewhat surprisingly, almost 37 percent of the respondents said the future president should improve Macedonia's international image. For about 24 percent, the president should concentrate on the country's security. And 21.6 percent of the respondents felt that the president should work to improve the interethnic relations within Macedonia.

Media reports on the election campaign suggest that both Crvenkovski and Kedev know what the voters are thinking. That is why the VMRO-DPMNE made the country's dire economic situation the central issue of its campaign. Kedev -- whose campaign managers promote him as a "new face for Macedonia: justice, security, and success" -- accuses Crvenkovski of having led the country into a deep economic crisis. Europe's highest official unemployment rate and a sharp drop in the country's industrial production of more than 40 percent in January provide Kedev and VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski with enough ammunition to use against Crvenkovski.

Since the candidates' characters matter most for the voters, Kedev accused Crvenkovski of immoral behavior, saying that the prime minister must not be granted the presidency as a perk. "Nobody in Europe recognizes leaders who do not care for their citizens independent of their ethnic, religious, and political background," Kedev said in Veles on 4 April. "This country needs a man who will solve its problems, who prepares it for foreign investments, and who knows the spirit of Europe," Gruevski said, implying that Crvenkovski lacks the experience of having lived abroad like Kedev, who worked in Italy and the United States.

Although both Kedev and Crvenkovski concede that the president cannot influence the government's economic policy, they stress that they would do their best to attract foreign investment.

To this end, Crvenkovski pledges to promote Macedonia as a good place for foreign investments. And he wants to help the government resolve the pressing economic problems by taking care of noneconomic issues. "All Macedonian governments spent a large part of their energy on so-called noneconomic problems. If the president...takes over part of these problems, the government has much more opportunity to take on the resolution of the economic questions and the...problems of the citizens," Crvenkovski told "Dnevnik" of 3 April.

The differences between the two ethnic Albanian candidates, Ostreni and Xhelili, are more striking than the differences between Kedev and Crvenkovski.

Ostreni, a former commander of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), presents himself as a moderate. Even if he occasionally addresses the country's economic problems, which he wants to resolve with "decisive action," his main platform plank remains the equal representation of Albanians in the state administration and the army, as well as the full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement.

Xhelili and the PDSH, for their part, are trying to split the governing coalition of SDSM and BDI by calling for a joint platform of all Albanian parties. Only such an alliance could ensure all collective rights of the Albanian minority envisioned in the constitution, the PDSH leaders say. The BDI has rejected this proposal. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

EU SEEKS GREATER ROLE IN THE BALKANS. The proposed EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia is beginning to take shape despite a reluctant concession to the United States for a continuing NATO role there. The German defense minister has suggested a greater role for the EU in Kosova as well.

The EU agreed in Brussels on 6 April to accept a U.S.-backed demand that NATO remain in charge of catching indicted war criminals when the EU takes over Bosnian peacekeeping from the Atlantic alliance at the end of 2004, as is widely expected.

In what Reuters described as a "Freudian slip," EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana said that "the United States will maintain,... NATO will maintain, [a force numbering] in the hundreds, not more than that."

The EU will replace NATO's current SFOR mission with its 7,000-strong EUFOR. NATO will continue to be responsible for fighting terrorism and training the Bosnian Army in keeping with the provisions of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which Bosnia seeks to join.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie nonetheless wants the NATO role to be as small as possible. "We are not making a casus belli over [the issue of arresting indicted war criminals] with NATO, we just think that it would have been more normal for the European Union to take that [role]."

It is difficult to understand precisely what she means, since the EU has no experience in "snatch" operations to arrest indictees. Some people in France, Germany, and elsewhere in the EU have, in fact, seemed particularly impatient recently to get the United States out of the Balkans. This is despite the clear wishes of at least the Bosnian Muslim and Kosovar Albanian political leaderships that the United States retain its military presence, which many regard as the only credible guarantee of the region's security (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004).

But some in the EU seem to have their own plans for Kosova, too. German Defense Minister Peter Struck said in Prishtina on 5 April that his country will maintain its troop strength there at about 4,000. "Until the [security] problem is solved, we will keep our troops here and maintain our support for KFOR," he said. He added that "the role of German forces here will be as it is. We already play the most important role here with our armed forces. We contribute the most troops, which is about 4,000."

Shortly before Struck arrived in Kosova, Alliot-Marie said in Prishtina that France's 3,500 troops will remain in Kosova as long as they are needed.

But what caught the attention of many in Kosova and elsewhere is that Struck also called for a greater EU role in Kosova, although he did not elaborate. It is difficult to see what this might mean in practice, because that body has previously shied away from truly difficult military missions in Europe until NATO has done the brunt of the work.

Furthermore, the sentiment among Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority is for reducing and eliminating the overall foreign role in the province -- except for some U.S., U.K., and other NATO forces -- rather than for introducing yet more international civilian officials, who are often regarded locally as an expensive and counterproductive colonial presence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 26 March and 2 April 2004).

It will nonetheless be interesting to see how the EU's Balkan ambitions develop. This is particularly the case for cash-strapped countries like Germany and Struck's own hard-pressed ministry. (Patrick Moore)

U.S. FREEZES AID TO BELGRADE AS NATO FAILS TO CATCH KARADZIC. In an interview on 1 April with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service from Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro's outgoing Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said the loss of an estimated $26 million in aid could complicate key economic and political issues facing Belgrade.

"It is not just a matter of money. It is much more important how it will reflect on some other issues -- if we still have or do not have the support of Washington in negotiations with various international financial institutions," Svilanovic said. "Also, we are entering the phase in which we have to deal of the most important national issue -- this is Kosovo. It is irresponsible [for the Belgrade authorities] to start negotiations on Kosovo without having the support of Brussels and Washington" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 1 and 2 April 2004, "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December and 20 February 2004, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 5 and 12 February 2004).

The U.S. decision to cut off most new aid was announced on 31 March. The office of Secretary of State Colin Powell said the suspension is a result of Serbia's failure to hand over suspects to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Powell "cannot certify" that Serbia and Montenegro is cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. As a result, he said, new assistance for Serbia and Montenegro ended at midnight on 31 March.

Serbia and Montenegro had been due to receive $100 million in U.S. assistance during the current fiscal year. About $43 million has already been disbursed.

Ereli noted, however, that some categories of aid are exempt from the cutoff. "Humanitarian assistance, assistance to promote democracy in municipalities, and assistance to Kosovo and Montenegro are exempted from the freeze," he said.

Ereli also urged Serbia to do better in the future. "We call on the authorities in Belgrade to cooperate fully with the tribunal by arresting and transferring their fugitive indictees, particularly [former Bosnian Serb General] Ratko Mladic, to face justice before the tribunal," he said.

Mladic is one of the most prominent war crimes suspects still at large. He is accused by the UN court of genocide over the deaths of about 7,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995. Mladic is among 16 suspects who are believed to spend most of their time in Serbia, but who have not been turned over to the tribunal.

In further comments to RFE/RL on 1 April, Foreign Minister Svilanovic said he believes the U.S. move on aid may have been influenced by the decision of Serbian lawmakers earlier this week to award salaries, legal fees, and other financial support to former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serbian war crimes suspects already on trial in The Hague.

"It seems to me that what weighed heavily in the United States' decision to cut the aid was actually the adoption of the law for financial support of The Hague defendants and their families and because, for all politicians in the United States, it is an impossible task to explain to their public why they have to give financial support to a state that will use the money to finance The Hague defendants," he said.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has made clear he considers the UN court to be anti-Serbian and is effectively refusing to cooperate with it, saying it is "not a priority."

And Defense Minister Boris Tadic expressed indifference to the U.S. move. He acknowledged before Powell's announcement that the cutoff of U.S. funds would hurt his country, but argued that it is time for Serbia and Montenegro to "take responsibility" for its own financial and political situation.

But it will not be alone. As Vienna's "Die Presse" noted on 6 April, the EU shows no sign of following Washington's lead and putting economic pressure on Belgrade.

Another top war crimes indictee is former wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. Karadzic is thought to spend most of his time not in Serbia, but in Pale in the Serbian part of Bosnia. He is also wanted on genocide and other charges and has been described as "the most wanted man in Europe."

Troops of the NATO-led SFOR in Bosnia staged an unsuccessful raid in Pale early on 1 April designed to capture Karadzic. SFOR soldiers arrived in the center of Pale and -- according to witnesses -- there was firing of automatic weapons and an explosion. A priest and his son at the local Serbian Orthodox church were reportedly injured in the raid and were taken by helicopter to hospital in Tuzla, where they remain in critical condition.

The raid resulted in indignation and protests in the Republika Srpska, while Muslims scoffed that the most powerful military alliance in human history continues to be unable to capture one Balkan thug. (RFE/RL)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "This group stands for the unification of all Albanian lands. If we see recognition of Kosova's independence, they will lose ground. If not, they will gain ground among the people." -- Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova, referring to the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH). Quoted in the "Sunday Telegraph" of 4 April.

"Over the past year we have seen political and economic reforms continue in the region -- but progress is slower than we would like, and many of the problems we highlighted last year still need to be tackled. The EU gives praise where it is due, but has to be frank about those areas where there has been insufficient action -- because it is only by achieving European standards that the countries of Southeastern Europe can move toward eventual membership of the EU. I hope the new European Partnerships will help governments target their reform efforts more efficiently. The European Commission will offer all the support it can, but how far and how fast the western Balkan countries advance towards integration is in their own hands." -- EU Commissioner for External Relations Chris Patten, quoted in a EU press release on 30 March.

The new Serbian government is "appealing to our conscience to voluntarily surrender. We who saved Serbia from terrorists in Kosovo in 1999! And now they are asking us to save it again by giving our heads to The Hague.... I will not voluntarily surrender because I would [in effect be] admitting that I'm guilty of everything The Hague is accusing me of." -- Former Serbian Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic to the Belgrade daily "Kurir." Quoted by Reuters on 6 April.

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