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Balkan Report: August 13, 2004


13 August 2004, Volume 8, Number 29

AN ELECTION GAMBLE IN KOSOVA? Kosova's Central Election Commission is slated to announce on 12 August the order in which parties and coalitions will appear on the ballot in the 23 October parliamentary elections. The problem is that most Serbian parties and coalitions have either said that they will not participate or have not yet made a final decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 9, and 10 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 16 April and 6 August 2004).

The international community, Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, and much of the Kosovar Albanian leadership have sought to convince the Serbs not to boycott, so that the new parliament will be truly representative and the Serbs will be able to help determine their own future. Kosova's population is about 90 percent ethnic Albanian (see the article below).

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic has also urged Kosova's Serbs to vote lest they exclude themselves from the decision-making process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). He said that plans by some local Serbian leaders and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica for the Serbian minority to boycott the election will help nobody. Draskovic called on Serbs to protect their interests by filling the up to 30 seats to which they are entitled in Kosova's legislature.

RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported from Prishtina on 11 August that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) are considering options to enable the Serbs to join the electoral process even after 12 August. One possibility is to leave blank some spaces on the list of parties and coalitions to be published on that date, so that Serbian contenders might be added later.

But it is not clear that the Serbs will be inclined to participate at all. Leaders of a three-party Serbian coalition informed election officials and representatives of the international community on 10 August that they will follow the advice of Kostunica and many other Belgrade politicians and not participate in the vote. Momcilo Trajkovic, who heads the Serbian Resistance Movement (SPOT), which belongs to the coalition, said that he does not expect Belgrade to change its position.

Kostunica and many local Serbian leaders argue that security for the Serbs is lacking. Ethnic Albanian leaders charge that this is a ruse aimed at securing approval for Belgrade's plan for ethnically based administrative units, which the Albanians fear is a first step toward partition. A Kosovar government spokeswoman recently argued that the Serbs had found nothing wrong with voting conditions when they cast their ballots in the June Serbian presidential vote.

For the present, the OSCE -- and most everyone else -- has no choice but to wait for the final word from Serbian political leaders. An OSCE spokesman told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 11 August that his organization is disappointed with the three-member coalition's decision not to take part, noting that any decision to boycott the vote will limit the Serbs' range of political options in the future.

Oliver Ivanovic, who is a leader of the influential Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition and a member of the presidency of Kosova's current legislature, told RFE/RL that a final ruling could take time. He stressed that options and consequences of any decision must still be weighed by the Serbian government, the governing coalition in Belgrade, the Serbian government's special body dealing with Kosova, and by Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic. Ivanovic said, "I think that the representatives of [local] Serbs will be invited [to Belgrade] for yet another large round of consultations" before the final decision is reached. He did not rule out that some members of Povratak will take part in the vote while others will not. (Patrick Moore)

UN SECURITY COUNCIL CALLS ON BELGRADE TO BACK KOSOVA ELECTIONS. Representatives of the United States and key European countries on the UN Security Council urged Serbian leaders on 5 August to drop a call for the Serbian minority to boycott the 23 October local elections in Kosova (see the article above and "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 29 July, and 6 August 2004). The Security Council members stressed that Kosovar Serbs can only play a role in shaping local government in the province by participating in the polls. Their failure to do so would be a setback to the international community's efforts to build a multiethnic society in Kosova.

Stuart Holliday, the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, made a direct appeal to leaders in Belgrade, echoing the concerns of representatives of France, Britain, Germany, and Spain on the Security Council.

"We look forward to Prime Minister [Vojislav] Kostunica, President [Boris] Tadic, and the Serbian government -- we look to them to send a clear signal that Kosovo Serbs should, without precondition, participate in the elections," Holliday said.

Kostunica recently urged Kosovar Serbs to boycott the parliamentary elections because of an alleged lack of security for minorities in the ethnic-Albanian-dominated province, although the Serbs had no difficulty in casting their ballots in the June Serbian presidential election. More than 200,000 Serbs remain displaced in the rest of the country because of security fears, heightened after the outbreak of violence in March aimed at minorities.

The minister of public administration and local self-government for Serbia and Montenegro, Zoran Loncar, told the Security Council that conditions would be better for participation if the UN would adopt Belgrade's proposal for Serbs to be given local rule in Kosova municipalities where they form a majority.

Britain's UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, described Belgrade's self-rule proposals as a "useful contribution" to the debate about future living arrangements in Kosova. But he said Kosovar Serbs must remain engaged in the political process and that Kostunica's recent boycott call was disappointing.

"Nonparticipation will only disenfranchise the Kosovo Serbs at a time when we have seen real progress on their key concerns. The Kosovo Serbs should participate in the elections and should rejoin the institutions," Jones Parry said.

Jones Parry also called for a streamlining of the operations of the UN mission in Kosova and a greater focus on priority areas such as minority returns. Jones Parry and Holliday both indicated their support for accelerating the handover of some authorities to ethnic-Albanian-led institutions in Kosova, while maintaining pressure for key reforms.

Holliday said the "standards-before-status" process backed by the Security Council should place more responsibility for Kosova's progress in the hands of Kosovar leaders. "The international presence in Kosovo should move increasingly toward a monitoring role and less of a governing role. We, of course, would not support the wholesale transfer of reserved authority that the provisional institutions of self-government of Kosovo proposed last month, but the UN in Kosovo can further shift additional competencies to the local authorities or further share these competencies with them," Holliday said.

Albania's UN ambassador, Agim Nesho, recommended moving forward discussion on the province's final status, saying this would help stabilize the situation there.

"We think that it will be useful towards stability that the international community -- along with the discussion of standards -- should take into consideration the final status of Kosova under the belief that the implementation of the policy of 'status with standards' will advance concretely the political process in Kosova and further normalize the situation in the region," Nesho said.

But Security Council members generally reasserted their message of May. At that time, they called on Kosova's ethnic Albanian leaders to show a clear commitment to building a multiethnic democracy and to protect minority rights, or a discussion of status would not be possible. (Robert McMahon)

MACEDONIA'S GOVERNMENT THREATENED BY A REFERENDUM? On 11 August, the Macedonian parliament approved the government's controversial plans to decentralize the state administration and to cut the number of administrative districts. Public opposition to these plans of the Social Democrat-led government is nonetheless rising (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 July, and 6 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July 2004).

One of the big questions currently is whether the organizers of a petition drive to call a referendum on the government's redistricting plans succeed in gathering the 150,000 signatures necessary for such a popular vote by the 23 August deadline.

It was the World Macedonian Congress (SMK) that launched the referendum initiative in February. This organization is headed by Todor Petrov, a former member of parliament. According to its official website (http://www.smk-wmc.org), the SMK was registered in Macedonia in 1990 with the aim of uniting Macedonians at home and abroad on a "spiritual, cultural, and economic" level.

But in recent years, the SMK has engaged in a mixture of populist and nationalist politics, participating in all major protest movements in Macedonia, often side by side with the country's main opposition party, the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). When initiating the anti-redistricting referendum, the SMK hoped that a number of referendums against the redistricting plans on the local level could be translated into a nationwide movement.

The main aim of the SMK is to thwart the government's plans to reduce the number of administrative districts from 123 to 80 in 2005. The SMK demands that the administrative borders remain unchanged. However, in its official statements the SMK rarely provided any arguments for its opposition to the redistricting plans. Instead, it called the referendum a "historical opportunity for the citizens to defend the country's integrity."

Some pundits interpret such statements as an allusion to alleged ethnic Albanian plans to carve up Macedonia along ethnic lines, a charge that Albanian leaders deny (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 and 30 July 2004). The Albanians stress that all they want are the language rights and a degree of local self-rule promised them in the August 2001 Ohrid agreement, which ended the armed conflict.

After a slow start, the referendum drive gathered momentum only after the VMRO-DPMNE and other opposition parties openly endorsed the SMK's initiative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004).

On 7 August, SMK Chairman Petrov announced at the organization's general assembly in Skopje that so far, 90,000 people have signed the petition for a referendum. If the SMK succeeds in gathering 150,000 signatures, the parliament must call a referendum.

However, since it initiated the petition drive, the SMK and its supporters claim that the state authorities are trying to obstruct the collection of signatures, which must be carried out under the supervision of government officials. This claim was repeated by the chairmen of two smaller opposition parties, Vasil Tupurkovski of the Democratic Alternative and Pavle Trajanov of the Democratic Union. "The government is obstructing the referendum in many ways," "Utrinski vesnik" on 9 August quoted Trajanov as saying. "Government monitors take longer breaks than necessary, the offices [where the petition can be signed] are being moved from one place to another, and officials in the public administration are being threatened that their jobs will be declared superfluous if they sign the petition."

Although it is not clear whether such claims are valid or not, it is clear that the governing coalition of Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) faces a difficult situation.

Parliament speaker Ljupco Jordanovski told "Utrinski vesnik" on 7 August that a referendum is the only legitimate way for citizens to express their opposition to government policies between two general elections. For him, the scenario is clear: "If the signatures can be collected, if the referendum is successful, then I believe that this government, together with the parliament, must resign and new elections must be called," Jordanovski said.

But even if the SMK and the opposition parties fail to collect the necessary signatures for the referendum, the government will face more trouble from citizens who are prepared to protest the redistricting plans even if they run afoul of the law, as Vlado Popovski, a professor at Skopje University's law school, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 9 August. And now that the parliament has finally adopted the new Law on Territorial Organization, the government will most likely face even more civic protests, Popovski predicted.

Citizens in Struga, a town spearheading the anti-redistricting movement, have already made it clear what these protests could mean -- they say they will seek some form of independence from the Macedonian state, similar to the Republic of San Marino in Italy. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Europe's problems do not lie with the [United States]. Europe is faced with economic and demographic decline and an alienated Muslim population. These are the issues European leaders should be facing, not U.S. hegemony. Politicians cannot change these facts. America is likely to become an even greater colossus, but without a sense of community with its traditional partners. Is this in Europe's best interests? Will the world be better and safer with an increasingly powerful but less idealistic, less Europe-oriented America that distrusts international institutions? Those who want to see the diminution of U.S. power should reflect on the deeper implications." -- Former U.S. Army General Zeb Bradford, in the "Financial Times" on 5 August.

"Germany must make a wiser contribution [to the EU], by returning to a more balanced European policy and adopting again a more rational attitude towards the [United States]. One of the reasons for the recent weakening of Franco-German influence [inside the EU] was Germany's abrupt departure from what had been a more even-handed policy. Germany used to prevent France from getting carried away by anti-American obsessions, but the present German government even encouraged France in its excessively obstructive attitude over Iraq. As a consequence the [EU] ended up split into two camps." -- Former German permanent representative to the EU Dietrich von Kyawa, quoted in the "Financial Times" on 10 August.

"In spite of their unwillingness to get militarily involved in Iraq, the French as well as German governments should increase their efforts to strengthen cooperation with the [United States] on security issues. It is high time that, on the basis of the yet-to-be-ratified constitutional treaty, EU members closed ranks again, not only as Europeans, but also as part of a trans-Atlantic community of shared interests and values, facing common challenges." -- Von Kyawa in ibid.

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