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Balkan Report: September 11, 2004

11 September 2004, Volume 8, Number 33

STIRRINGS OVER KOSOVA. German Defense Minister Peter Struck told his parliament's defense committee on 7 September that the time has come for the West to reconsider its policy towards Kosova. He is not alone in his views.

Support has grown recently among some key UN Security Council members -- such as the United States and Britain -- for accelerating the handover of some authorities to ethnic Albanian-led institutions in Kosova, while maintaining pressure for key reforms. A recent report by Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and several statements by Danish diplomat Soren Jessen-Petersen, who is the new head of the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), indicate that the UN is moving in a similar direction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 July and 20 August 2004).

These are not the only signs that some changes in the international community's policy toward Kosova might be in the offing. Struck argued that the international community's "standards before status" policy on Kosova "is not the only solution" regarding the final status of the province.

He did not elaborate, but questioned the efficacy of several aspects of current international policy in Kosova. He noted, for example, that it takes much money and many troops to protect often small and isolated settlements inhabited primarily by elderly members of ethnic minorities. Struck suggested that the current "security policy has failed," adding that the time has come to consider establishing "more consolidated" Serbian enclaves.

Struck also promised a "thorough investigation" into the role of the German KFOR troops during the 17-18 March violence, the worst ethnic flare up in Kosova since 1999. German and other European KFOR troops have recently come in for heavy criticism from NGOs and the German military for their performance during that unrest.

The minister himself is no stranger to controversy, including charges that he has not always done his homework. Against this background, it is not clear whether Struck's statements on 7 September were carefully planned or not.

His latest remarks nonetheless appear striking because elsewhere in Berlin, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was telling a gathering of Germany's diplomats posted around the world that the current international policy in Kosova is working.

The discrepancy was noted by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," as well as by German parliamentary deputy Dr. Rainer Stinner of the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP), which advocates making Kosova a protectorate of the EU with the U.S. role limited to KFOR peacekeeping. Addressing the parliament on 8 September, Stinner said that Struck's remarks showed that at least one member of the government recognizes that the current policy on Kosova is at a dead end, and that the time has come to develop new ideas. Stinner called on the parliament to discuss the issue in a full session.

Only a few days earlier, former German General Klaus Reinhardt was quoted by the "Stuttgarter Zeitung" on 2 September as saying that the EU and the United States must develop new policy options for Kosova. He charged that too much emphasis has been placed on the military aspects of the situation in the province and on the "standards before status" formula. He recommended that the West develop a new strategy for the region as a whole and suggested that the lack of a clear plan for the final status of Kosova is a big part of the problem.

U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Michael Polt told regional media on 6 September that the United States agrees with Norwegian diplomat Eide that more progress needs to be made towards clarifying Kosova's final status. Polt stressed that "standards before status" remains Washington's official policy, adding, however, that that policy should be linked to action and not to "slogans."

Daniel Serwer of the United States Institute of Peace has also said that resolving the status issue is essential for improving the overall situation in Kosova. Indeed, many Balkan experts have long argued that failure to resolve the status question will only fuel instability, and that the violence of 17-18 March was a wakeup call for the international community to act (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001, and 2 April 2004). (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA FACES POLITICAL PARALYSIS. World Macedonian Congress (SMK) Chairman Todor Petrov presented a petition to the Macedonian parliament on 1 September calling for a referendum on the government's plans to cut the number of administrative districts. With the support of the major ethnic Macedonian opposition parties, the SMK had managed to gather more than 180,000 signatures for the petition.

"Today is a holiday for democracy in Macedonia, because the will of the citizens has won," Petrov said, adding that "the referendum is not a luxury for Macedonia, but establishes its democratic credentials and legitimacy before the international community."

However, many pundits disagree with Petrov's assessment of the referendum drive as a success story. One problematic aspect of the referendum is that it was supported almost exclusively by ethnic Macedonians and not by members of the large ethnic Albanian minority. If the organizers of the referendum succeed in convincing a majority of voters to support them, growing interethnic tensions could be the result.

For that reason, the governing coalition of Social Democratic Union, Liberal Democrats, and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration hopes that the referendum will fail. This will happen if less than the required majority of all registered voters participates in the vote, or if a majority of voters backs the government's redistricting plans.

Iso Rusi, who is the editor in chief of the Albanian-language weekly "Lobi," doubts that the government's tactics will yield the expected result. In a comment for the 3 September edition of his paper, Rusi pointed out that the referendum drive succeeded not only because large numbers of the population oppose the government's redistricting plans. "[The politicians] do not take into account the other possibilities, especially the escalation of social dissatisfaction and the accumulation of dissatisfaction with everything the governing parties have done," Rusi noted.

He warned that the absence of a strong parliamentary opposition could contribute to a radicalization of the political situation, because demagogues could reduce the conflict over the referendum to slogans blaming either the Macedonians or the Albanians for the shortcomings in the country.

Another problematic issue is the looming political paralysis -- with the referendum officially slated for 7 November and the long-delayed local elections postponed until further notice. Rusi argued that the coming months will be lost time. "But the problem is not that we lost one year," Rusi wrote. "The problem is that we lost 13 years during the Macedonian transition" since independence in 1991. During those years, politicians reacted to every major challenge by saying that any given problem could be dealt with later because it was not of vital importance to the state, Rusi argued.

He added that Macedonian leaders developed neither any vision for the future nor ways to realize that vision. Thirteen years after the referendum for Macedonia's independence from Yugoslavia on 8 September 1991, the country remains a youngster who must still wear diapers, because his parents have forgotten to teach him what every normal child learns in the first years of his life, Rusi noted.

Nikola Kljusev, who was the prime minister of Macedonia when it declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, shares Rusi's skepticism. Asked how he sees the past 13 years of Macedonian independence, Kljusev said: "We must not be satisfied with that period," adding that Macedonia made numerous mistakes in its economic policy. Like Rusi, Kljusev warned that social dissatisfaction and the huge unemployment rate could prove fatal for Macedonia.

The international community has also expressed its concern about the postponement of important reforms. During a press conference in Skopje on 1 September, a spokeswoman for the EU said that voters should keep in mind the effect of the referendum on broader political developments, including the postponement of local elections as well as the diversion of attention from other important reforms. The spokeswoman also added that the delay in the political reform process could also have a negative impact on Macedonia's application for EU membership.

But there are also more optimistic views of the coming months. Professor Vanco Uzunov, who is an economist at Skopje University, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 4 September that one should not underestimate the citizens' maturity. He admitted that some people might be glad that the referendum has replaced the country's serious economic problems at the top of the political agenda, but at the same time he stressed that Macedonia will be stronger once the referendum is behind it. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

UNCERTAINTY AHEAD IN MILOSEVIC TRIAL. On 7 September, former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's court-appointed lawyers called the first witness in his defense, as the ex-Yugoslav leader blasted the war crimes tribunal's decision to appoint lawyers for him and demanded he be given back the right to represent himself (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 September 2004).

Judges on 2 September appointed Steven Kay and Gillian Higgins as defense lawyers, against Milosevic's will. The judges cited potential further delays in the proceedings due to the former president's heart trouble and high blood pressure.

On 7 September, Milosevic -- who says he is able to conduct his own defense -- blasted presiding Judge Patrick Robinson's refusal to let him question the witness, retired Serbian law professor Smilja Avramov.

Judith Armatta is a legal expert with the Coalition for International Justice, an independent group that is monitoring the trial. She told RFE/RL that Milosevic has decided to appeal the court's ruling.

"Mr. Milosevic has asked his [court-appointed] counsel [Steven Kay] now to appeal the decision on self-representation. So our anticipation is that that issue will go before the appeal chamber fairly soon, and they'll decide whether or not the trial chamber was correct in appointing a counsel over [Milosevic's] objection," Armatta says.

Milosevic, who is 63, faces a total of 66 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in the 1991-1995 war in Croatia, the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Kosova conflict in 1998-1999. He has also been charged with the most serious of war crimes, genocide, and complicity in genocide, for his alleged part in the Bosnian war, in which some 200,000 people died.

In The Hague, Avramov defended Milosevic's record during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. She told defense counsel Kay that Milosevic had been a moderate attempting to avoid the breakup of the former Yugoslavia by peaceful means.

Prosecutors had repeatedly said the trial needed a "radical review" in light of Milosevic's health and called on the court to impose a lawyer on Milosevic. But Milosevic has nonetheless insisted on preparing his own defense and spent around five hours delivering his opening statement on 31 August.

Judges had been wary of appearing to violate Milosevic's right to defend himself, but they were finally swayed in late August by medical reports warning Milosevic's life could be at risk if he continues to represent himself.

Dutch legal expert Heikelina Verrijn Stuart has been observing the course of the Milosevic trial. She says the court will have to carefully explain its decision to impose defense counsel on Milosevic.

"According to rule number 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, there is a basic right to defend yourself, and that's a strong guarantee. So there must be very, very good reasons to impose counsel, and we haven't seen the exact legal reasoning for it yet," Stuart says.

Experts say it will be difficult for Milosevic's lawyers to defend someone who does not want to cooperate.

But Armatta says that since Milosevic has attempted to put forward a political case, rather than a legal one, the court has the right to impose its decision.

Furthermore, she explains that while it is important to work with the defendant, attorneys can conduct a defense even in the absence of such cooperation.

"Certainly, an attorney wants to hear from the client and to hear what their conception of the case is, particularly the factual situation. But it's the attorney who makes a professional decision. They're not mere mouthpieces for an accused, and it would be professionally impossible for a lawyer to go forward with the initial defense Mr. Milosevic set out, and that is a political defense, not for himself, but for Serbia. And Serbia is not on trial," Armatta says.

Tribunal watcher Stuart, meanwhile, says the court's decision to appoint a defense lawyer for Milosevic may actually speed up the procedure after months of delay, which raised doubts about the court's ability to try Milosevic.

"I think [the trial] is heading fast forward now. I think in the end the appeals chamber will accept this solution and it will become a much more normal criminal trial, with Milosevic being silent or only just adding some remarks or questions to what his defense counsel has done," Stuart says.

Armatta also thinks the decision will streamline the trial, eliminating long delays caused by Milosevic's illnesses and what she calls "his inept and irrelevant questioning."

The trial, which started in February 2002, has already been interrupted more than two dozen times after Milosevic fell ill. The case is expected to last until at least late 2005. Milosevic faces a life sentence if convicted. (Eugen Tomiuc)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "All members of the political class are responsible for ensuring that society does not become disillusioned with democracy." -- Mexican President Vicente Fox. Quoted by Reuters amid mounting political tensions in Mexico City on 1 September.

"He's bad news and he's a liar. This government is incompetent. It has done nothing to benefit the people." -- Electricity worker Enrique Marin, referring to Fox in ibid.