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Balkan Report: April 16, 2004

16 April 2004, Volume 8, Number 15

LIVING TOGETHER IN KOSOVA? It may be too early to gauge the long-term effect of the recent violence in Kosova, but one thing is certain: Belgrade has sought to play it for all the propaganda value it can. Where this may or may not lead is another matter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 20 February, 26 March, and 2 April 2004).

On 12 April, in the wake of the interethnic violence of 17-18 March, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica charged that Kosova has become a source of "terrorism" and that Al-Qaeda may be active there. NATO quickly refuted his claims as unfounded.

Harsh rhetoric from Kostunica and other politicians -- including Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova -- is nonetheless likely to continue, given that Serbian politics remain unstable, the nationalist atmosphere is very heady, and raising Kosova-related issues enables politicians to avoid dealing with Serbia's real problems, which are poverty, crime, corruption, and institutional decay.

Meanwhile in Serb-controlled northern Mitrovica, Professor Branislav Milutinovic, who heads the Philosophy Faculty there, told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti" of 14 April that political Islam and fundamentalism are on the march in Kosova, which includes "likely" links to Al-Qaeda. He added that "it is not excluded that they will start kidnapping and killing, as in Iraq, as they had already announced."

This is not the stuff of which multiethnicity is made. In any event, it is difficult to imagine that the political class in Belgrade or even in northern Mitrovica seriously expects that all of Kosova will return to a joint state with Serbia, which all ethnic Albanian parties reject. Serbia unsuccessfully tried in 1998-99 to control Kosova by force, and it is hard to see how Belgrade could now expect to deal with 2 million Kosovar Albanians who have experienced and fought brutal repression and "ethnic cleansing" (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 8 and 15 April 2004).

Even before the most recent violence and Belgrade's subsequent rhetorical campaign, Kostunica angered many among Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority by calling for the "cantonization" of the province to ensure autonomy for the Serbian minority, which makes up less than 10 percent of the population. He stressed that cantonization would not prejudice the final status of Kosova, and linked cantonization to administrative decentralization, which many in the international community and in the region consider necessary to break up unwieldy administrative units dating from communist times.

Both the ethnic Albanian leadership and the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) have rejected Kostunica's proposed cantonization as an unacceptable form of ethnically based partition. And as the Prishtina daily "Zeri" noted on 15 April, relations between Albanians and Serbs have worsened since the March violence, giving rise to growing concern among Albanians that an eventual decentralization program would amount in practice to a partition.

But even if one were to accept the idea of partition, things are easier said than done. Serbs live in several enclaves of various sizes scattered across Kosova. To protect all of them in order to meet the local Serbs' security concerns would require a large international armed presence for perhaps many years to come. Is NATO, or anyone else, prepared to make such a commitment?

Even Serbia's most vocal supporter, Russia, has made it clear that it will not send troops back to Kosova, which it considers a matter for police. And most observers recognize that any return of Serbian security forces would only make matters worse because they would act as a magnet for armed Albanian extremists.

Many discussions have been held over the years about the possible partition of Kosova. Since the 1998-99 conflict, most models have tended to emphasize a need to concentrate the enclaves to provide better security, which would require thousands of people to give up their homes, in addition to stationing a large number of foreign troops.

The extreme version of the partition model calls for concentrating all of Kosova's Serbs north of the Ibar River boundary that runs through Mitrovica, leaving dozens of historical and religious monuments behind under some sort of international protection and supervision.

From this model, it is one step away to an outright division of Kosova, with the northern area -- and its mines -- being annexed to Serbia. Some Albanians claim that what really interested Belgrade all along was not the medieval cultural sites but the valuable mines. Other observers note that such a division already exists in practice, although the enclaves continue their precarious existence to the south of Mitrovica.

The problem -- or virtue -- of partition is that it would most likely involve not just Kosova but every state in the region. Kosovar leaders have said that partition could lead to war, and in any event, would prompt them to demand the annexation to Kosova of "eastern Kosova," or southern Serbia's Presevo Valley with its large ethnic Albanian population.

In fact, if carried to its logical conclusion, partition would mean setting up a Greater Serbia, Greater Albania, Greater Croatia, and smaller Muslim and perhaps Macedonian states. Montenegro would go it alone, as may happen in any event.

The Kosovar, Macedonian, and Albanian Albanians would find themselves in a single state, despite great differences between their respective societies, outlooks, and political cultures. It is worth noting that few, if any, serious ethnic Albanian politicians anywhere in the Balkans include setting up a Greater Albania as a realistic goal in their party platforms.

Critics charge that the partition model in Kosova or elsewhere would vindicate the results of previous ethnic-cleansing campaigns, set off new ones, and preclude any attempt at multiethnic statehood -- which is the basis of the standards-before-status approach of UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) chief Harri Holkeri, the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement in Macedonia, and the 1995 Dayton agreement in Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004).

All three multiethnic projects are strongly backed by the international community, although voices can frequently be heard calling for a reexamination of whether multiethnicity is really workable. Such observers argue that the future lies with ethnically based partition whether one likes it or not, and that it would be best for all concerned to get the matter over with sooner rather than later.

In the 29 March issue of "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Leipzig University's Professor Stefan Troebst writes that, once ethnically motivated violence has been used in a multiethnic environment, one cannot speak of restoring what had been, but only of building something new in its place. He sees possibilities for this in Bosnia, albeit less so in Macedonia.

Troebst rules out any new multiethnic society in Kosova, however, for the reason that the Albanians and Serbs did not have true multiethnicity even before the 1998-99 conflict. As many observers have noted, in Kosova, unlike in Bosnia, the major ethnic groups do not in any sense speak the same language. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN PREMIER TO FACE CONSERVATIVE IN SECOND ROUND OF PRESIDENTIAL RACE. According to preliminary results of the 14 April presidential elections announced by the State Election Commission, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) garnered some 42.9 percent of the votes.

About 34.5 percent of those casting their ballots voted for Sasko Kedev of the nationalist opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE); 14.3 percent for Gezim Ostreni of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI); and 8.3 percent for Zudi Xhelili of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH).

Voter turnout was 55.44 percent, thereby easily passing the 50 percent hurdle necessary for the ballot to be valid. Crvenkovski will face Kedev in a second round on 28 April, where the ethnic Albanian votes might be decisive.

Many observers were surprised by the relatively strong showing by Kedev, who is little known and had not preformed so strongly in pre-election opinion polls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 13 and 14 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 9 April 2004). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

COULD BULGARIA BECOME A TARGET FOR RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS? In the wake of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington, the authorities throughout the Balkans launched investigations into Islamic organizations and charities and their alleged links to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Some of the probes disclosed that some Islamic charities in Albania or Bosnia indeed had links to Al-Qaeda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 23, and 28 January, 15 March, 4 April, 4 June, and 2 August 2002, and 1 August 2003).

But in some cases, allegations of such links proved to be disinformation. In March 2002, Macedonian police killed a group of Pakistani migrants, claiming that they were Islamic terrorists. Later it turned out that the Pakistanis were looking for their relatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March, 9 May, and 5 June 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 May 2002).

Also in 2002, the Macedonian Interior Ministry, which was then headed by the hawkish Ljube Boskovski, tried to link a clandestine Albanian rebel organization, the Albanian National Army (AKSH), to Islamic terrorist organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002). Both the investigation into terrorist links and the disinformation took place in countries that were either shattered by interethnic conflicts involving Muslim populations (Bosnia and Macedonia), and/or had weak state institutions (Albania, Bosnia, and, to a certain extent, Macedonia).

It is noteworthy that another Balkan country with large Muslim minorities, Bulgaria, so far has not been mentioned as a possible hotbed for Islamic terrorists. But in recent weeks, and especially after the bombings of commuter trains in Madrid on 11 March, Bulgarian authorities stepped up security measures after warnings of possible terrorist attacks -- mainly because Bulgarian troops are part of the coalition forces stationed in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 2004).

After 11 March, the Bulgarian press began asking whether the Muslims in Bulgaria could be susceptible to radical tendencies within Islam and how great the chances are that Bulgaria become a target for terrorist attacks. The Bulgarian news agency on 6 March asked two experts for their opinions.

In the first interview, Georgi Koritarov, a prominent journalist, and Vladimir Chukov, a specialist in Arabic studies who heads the Center for Regional and Confessional Studies in Sofia, discussed an Al-Qaeda strategy paper on Iraq (Jihad al Iraq amal ya akhtar, to be found at, which was published by the Israeli International Counter-Terrorism Institute (

The main question was whether Bulgaria was mentioned in this document as a possible target for terrorist attacks. Chukov said the authors of the document mentioned Bulgaria only once, together with other countries supporting the United States on Iraq.

Chukov said the absence of an extensive discussion of Bulgaria can mean either that the country is not important for Al-Qaeda, or that there are no Al-Qaeda members in Bulgaria who could have prepared an analysis similar to the one on Poland.

This does not mean, however, that Bulgaria is not a possible target of terrorist attacks, Chukov warned. "I am amazed by the enormous hate of Poland. The same hate exists toward us as of all other former communist countries," Chukov said.

Asked who might be susceptible to Al-Qaeda propaganda, Chukov said the most likely target group among the various Muslim populations in Bulgaria are the Bulgarian Muslims, or Pomaks. Chukov believes that the Pomaks are vulnerable because of their marginal position within Bulgarian society.

The Pomaks live mainly in the Rhodope Mountains on the Bulgarian-Greek border (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2003). The Bulgarian-speaking Muslims are considered neither as "real Bulgarians" by the Bulgarian majority, nor as ethnic Turks by the large Turkish minority -- they are accordingly largely marginalized. And unlike the Turks, they do not have their own political party.

Chukov believes that the best way to prevent the radicalization of Muslims in Bulgaria is to improve their overall integration into Bulgarian society. "They must have their political representatives and have access to [political] power," Chukov said.

However, Antonina Zhelyazkova, who heads the Sofia-based Institute for Minority and Intercultural Relations, disagreed with Chukov's assessment that the Pomaks are the most likely target group. Zhelyazkova believes that if there is a Muslim group in Bulgaria that is especially vulnerable to radical views, it is the Muslim Roma. Unlike the Pomaks, who have so far appeared immune to radical Islamic tendencies, the Muslim Roma are highly marginalized and hence lack their own social defenses against Islamic propaganda, according to Zhelyazkova.

If Chukov's assessment that marginalized groups are vulnerable to radical influences is correct, then Zhelyazkova is right in her assessment that the Roma are the most vulnerable. After all, no other minority in Bulgaria has been ignored to such a degree by both politicians and religious leaders as the Roma. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "A free Iraq will show that America is on the side of Muslims who wish to live in peace, as we have already shown in Kuwait and Kosovo, Bosnia, and Afghanistan." -- U.S. President George W. Bush, at the White House on 13 April. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"The Middle East is complicated, and some places can never be reformed." -- William Kristol of the "Evening Standard," quoted in the "Financial Times" of 8 April.

"Things will remain as they are. German soldiers will not be sent to Iraq because we have seen that attacks take place against representatives of all manner of countries, without any differentiation. Russians and Chinese have been taken hostage, [and they are] from countries that have clearly spoken out against the war in Iraq." -- Gernot Erler (SPD foreign policy expert in the German parliament), quoted by Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service on 13 April.

"When our friends and allies -- and that means the Americans -- are in great difficulty, we cannot say that it is none of our business. We cannot help militarily, but rather by trying once again to bring a political process into motion, whereby the Iraqis finally take more responsibility for their own affairs, as problematic as that may be." -- Volker Ruehe (CDU foreign policy expert in the German parliament), quoted in ibid.

"Europe's shameful agricultural subsidies allow farmers in countries like France to make a profit while selling their crops on the international market at cut-rate prices. But the European Union does not intend to fully share this bonanza with the newcomers, whose farms are crushed by the cheap imports. Poles and citizens of the other nine new members are also not being immediately afforded the freedom to work anywhere within the union, a privilege that citizens of the 15 current member nations enjoy." -- "The New York Times," in an editorial on 14 April.