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Balkan Report: January 10, 2003

10 January 2003, Volume 7, Number 1

FORMER REBEL COMMANDER KILLED IN KOSOVA. Hundreds of peaceful protesters turned out for candlelight vigils in Prishtina and Decan on 5 January following the shooting death of 52-year-old Tahir Zemaj, a former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) commander, the previous day. Also killed in the Peja attack were Zemaj's 22-year-old son Enes and 24-year-old nephew Hasan, who headed a youth movement in Decan.

Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for UNMIK, the UN Mission in Kosova, described the attack: "A drive-by shooting in Peja -- two people died on the scene, one later in hospital. One of the victims was Tahir Zemaj." While declining to go into detail, Lindmeier noted that Zemaj was a very important figure. "Everyone who knows this place knows...what a high-level killing this was."

UNMIK police spokesman Barry Fletcher suggested that investigators have little to go on. "The subjects fled. At this time, we don't know who they are and we don't know the motive for the killing."

News reports said the attackers were in two cars -- one of them with Albanian number plates -- and used an AK-47 assault rifle to shoot the three men as they sat in their parked car.

Zemaj had been the target of several assassination attempts over the past two years. Following one such attempt last August, Zemaj accused allies of a rival former UCK commander, Ramush Haradinaj, of organizing what he called "a politically motivated murder attempt against me and my military staff cooked up by the Belgrade-Athens-Crete-quisling-Tirana kitchen."

Zemaj was reflecting a widely held fear among many Kosovar Albanians that Albanian Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano and then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had worked against Kosovar Albanian interests at a Greek government-sponsored summit of Balkan leaders in Crete in 1997.

Zemaj specifically accused his opponents of fearing the creation of a professional army in Kosova, because "they felt they would be out of the game, and would be unable to achieve their selfish goals for power."

Zemaj, who described himself as a security adviser to President Ibrahim Rugova, had many enemies within the ranks of the former UCK, having commanded a faction known as the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosova (FARK). The West European-based Kosovar government-in-exile of Bujar Bukoshi financed FARK from money it raised through a flat "income tax" collected from members of the Kosovar Albanian diaspora.

The main wing of the UCK, in contrast, was commanded by Hashim Thaci, and was ideologically left-wing and close to Albania's Socialist government.

On 6 January, papers in Kosova noted that Zemaj's opponents branded him in books and articles as a "traitor," a "spy," and a "mobster."

Zemaj's last public appearance was as a key witness at a UNMIK trial in Prishtina in December of five former UCK insurgents, who were convicted of kidnapping, torturing, and killing four FARK fighters near Peja in June 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). One of the five convicted defendants was the brother of former UCK commander Ramush Haradinaj, whom Zemaj had named as being at the center of the failed assassination plot last August.

Haradinaj -- who heads Kosova's third-largest ethnic Albanian party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) -- denounced the trial as politically motivated. The AAK's parliamentary faction leader, Bujar Dugolli, sought to deflect suspicion that the party was somehow behind this weekend's killings: "These events are unacceptable for us as a political party.... We think that the competent institutions such as the judiciary and police should be more effective in preventing such acts and in bringing to justice these people and giving them the punishment they deserve."

A 6 January commentary in the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" by Veton Surroi, the paper's publisher and one of Kosova's leading intellectuals, says Zemaj's murder and other recent acts of violence tied to the UNMIK trial are a "warning of the escalation of the settling of accounts."

Kosova's President Rugova issued a statement calling the Peja shootings a "terrorist act aimed against the progress and independence of Kosova and the future of our children." Rugova understands as well as anyone that such violent acts will be perceived by the international community as a sign of inherent instability and thus justification for further delaying talks on Kosova's final status.

Nexhat Daci, the speaker of Kosova's parliament, expressed similar outrage and frustration with the killings. "It seems to me that it is the youth of Kosova who are being killed. These are mad acts of violence that slow down the process of following our path, and I have nothing to add. Perhaps only by being silent can we express our grief over what is happening to us here." On 8 January, tens of thousands of people attended the slain men's funeral in Strellc.

As long as former insurgents and criminal gangs continue to resort to violence to deal with their perceived enemies, it appears likely that Kosova will remain not only unsafe for former members of FARK and their relatives but incapable of developing the democratic foundations of a future state. (Jolyon Naegele)

MACEDONIA'S NEW POLITICAL ETHICS. The fight against corruption and organized crime stands high on the agenda of the new Macedonian government. The coalition partners of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) are conducting a two-part strategy to achieve their goal.

One aspect involves taking steps to prevent graft among government and party officials by introducing a state Anticorruption Commission. According to the new regulations, officials are obliged to declare their assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2002).

The second part centers on investigating past corruption cases. This affects mainly members of the previous government, which consisted of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) and its coalition partner, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH).

The privatization of the state-owned Nova Makedonija Publishing House was among the first cases to be investigated. This resulted in the deal being declared null and void. The authorities established that the company's former management, high-ranking officials of the state Privatization Agency, and the buyers had been involved in financial irregularities. In early December, police arrested two Nova Makedonija managers, Nikola Tasev and Gjorgji Boskov, as well as the former deputy director of the Privatization Agency, Dusko Avramovski (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002).

Another case that came under the scrutiny of the investigators involved VMRO-DPMNE leader and former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. After the change of government, police found evidence that officials in the registrar's office had falsified documents when Georgievski's family bought land in Skopje's posh quarter of Vodno. In connection with this case, six high-ranking officials were arrested on charges of forging documents and abuse of office. At the end of December, a Skopje city court released them from custody.

Shortly before Christmas, some of the media speculated that the arrest of VMRO-DPMNE Secretary-General Vojo Mihajlovski was imminent. Then, on 26 December, the authorities issued an arrest warrant for Mihajlovski, after he had already ignored a summons. In a published statement, Mihajlovski informed the police that he is ready to cooperate with the authorities -- after the Christmas holidays. Mihajlovski is charged with misappropriating money during his tenure as director of the state Health Fund under the VMRO-DPMNE government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002).

The VMRO-DPMNE has reacted sharply to the arrests, accusing the government of carrying out "totalitarian policies." It has threatened to organize street protests against these "Stalinist methods" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 December 2002).

In an interview with the daily "Dnevnik" of 31 December, SDSM leader and Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski took the accusations calmly. He believes that there are tensions within the VMRO-DPMNE and that the threats are intended to strengthen the party's internal cohesion. Crvenkovski ruled out speculation that the government will sooner or later reach a "gentleman's agreement" with the opposition, because such a deal would violate the principle of the rule of law.

Asked whether those fearing arrest or criminal charges could try to destabilize the state by carrying out assassinations or kidnappings, as was the case in Italy about 20 years ago, Crvenkovski replied: "This risk exists, and we are aware that we are dealing with a structure with a solid financial backing. Those who have already committed criminal acts of one kind do not shy away from criminal acts of another kind. This will be a challenge for both the public prosecutors' offices and the courts.... We are aware that there is no getting around this risk."

Regarding the financial irregularities under the VMRO-DPMNE-led government, Crvenkovski made clear that the latest examination of the state's financial situation has established that the holes in the budget are much greater than was feared before.

He said that careful scrutiny is necessary for two reasons, which mirror the government's two-part strategy in fighting organized crime and corruption: "I want people to realize that the fight against crime is not only a message to the previous government, but that it is an even more important message to all those who hold positions today. They must understand that they will not be pardoned...if they get involved in criminal activities." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENES ASSESS PROS AND CONS OF EU MEMBERSHIP. After a year that saw success for Slovenia in reaching two long-standing policy goals -- receiving invitations to join NATO and the European Union -- the country's leaders are preparing to making good on their promise to offer the public a voice by holding referendums on the matter.

Whether the two issues should be decided in a joint referendum is a matter of debate. A 27 December article in the daily "Delo" observed that the savings offered by a joint referendum appeal to many, but some fear that this would cause voters to link the two decisions rather than weigh them separately. A further question is whether or not the referendums would be legally binding.

On 7 January, the president of the National Assembly, Borut Pahor, proposed holding a single, nonbinding referendum on both EU and NATO memberships on 9 February. However, despite Pahor's hope for unanimous support, the proposal fell through. In particular, the opposition conservative Social Democratic Party and New Slovenia objected to the nonbinding nature of the referendum. A working group has now been set up to discuss the matter, "Delo" reported on 8 January.

The tentative schedule for EU membership includes signing the accession treaty on 16 April 2003 and actual entry on 1 May 2004. Until then, the main task will be to bring inflation under control. Slovenia's relatively high annual inflation rate of 7.5 percent in 2002 is expected to disqualify it from immediately adopting the euro, "Delo" reported on 14 November. In fact, Slovenia has the highest inflation rate among all the countries invited for EU membership at December's Copenhagen summit.

To tackle the problem, Prime Minister Tone Rop recently announced that he will personally lead an anti-inflation task force, "Delo" reported on 22 December. The government and the Bank of Slovenia will try to develop macroeconomic policies in line with recommendations from the International Monetary Fund. Calls for measures to reduce inflation also figured prominently in the New Year's comments by various party leaders, carried in "Delo" on 3 January.

One example of the government's commitment to this goal was the unusual step of reducing fuel excise taxes as world oil prices climb -- in response to the situations in Venezuela and Iraq -- in order to stabilize the cost for consumers. On 6 January, taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel were reduced by 3.5 and 3.8 percent, respectively, and on heating oil by 32.2 percent -- an anticipated loss of some 7 billion Slovenian tolars ($31.8 million) in annual government revenues, "Delo" noted on 7 January.

"Delo" reported the results of a survey on attitudes toward EU membership on 28 December. The poll showed that 70 percent favor joining the EU, while only 1.7 percent said that they would not participate in a referendum on EU membership. The survey also indicated that Slovenes expect more gains than losses from EU membership.

Respondents were able to check off a number of pros and cons. Anticipated advantages included the improved flow of labor and goods (50.7 percent), economic progress (43.9), an improvement in Slovenia's standing abroad (43.4), accelerated development (36.8), increased foreign investment (34.8), greater attention to be paid to the rule of law (34.3), increased employment opportunities (34), and greater prosperity (17.9).

Disadvantages included foreign ownership of businesses (43.8 percent), foreign ownership of land (42.1), subordination of national law to EU legislation (41.4), declining competitiveness for Slovenian agriculture (41), excessive financial contributions to the EU and EU bureaucracy (37), reduced power in decision making (36.3), and loss of sovereignty (25).

The answers themselves characterize the dilemmas that Slovenes face. Foreign investment capital is desired, but its direct consequence -- foreign ownership -- is feared. The goals of accelerated development and increased flow of goods will naturally diminish the position held by agriculture in the economy.

Ultimately, many of these plusses and minuses are not exclusive to joining the EU, but symptomatic of the broader trends of modernization and globalization. A 24 December article in "Delo" is indicative of the cold feet that some Slovenes have. Is it possible, the article asks, to secede later from the EU? The opinions of legal experts are divided.

Despite serious concerns in Slovenia over the repercussions of EU membership, it is easy to see why joining remains the favored choice. Whatever the shortcomings of membership, not joining is a less attractive alternative. On 7 January, "Delo" echoed the assessment by Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, who argued that by joining the EU, all of the candidate countries are avoiding the isolation in which they would otherwise find themselves.

For Slovenia, membership in both the EU and NATO offers an additional psychological appeal as well. As the only Yugoslav successor state to secure invitations to either organization, this confirms its identity as distinct from the other former Yugoslav republics. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The spectacular murders [in Belgrade] are related to people who come from a criminal background. For normal people, I think it is safe here." -- Jadranko Petkovic, who heads the criminal investigation section of the Belgrade police. Quoted by Reuters on 30 December.

"In European police forces, when five criminals sit down to make a plan, two informers from the police are among them. Here, when five policemen sit down to make a plan, two informers of the criminals are among them." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, quoted in ibid.

"No, no, there is no cooperation [with Albanian wildlife officials across the border] of any sort. I'm telling you -- when you don't have any money, you don't have anything. The state doesn't allocate what it should. It doesn't give anything. This is Sisyphus work -- a couple of people, nature lovers, who are trying to get something done. But [what can they do] when there's no money and the government doesn't allocate any money?" -- Miso Andjelic, director of Montenegro's national park along Lake Shkoder. Quoted by RFE/RL on 23 December 2002.