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Balkan Report: July 11, 2003


11 July 2003, Volume 7, Number 21

THE PROBLEM OF ORGAN TRAFFICKING. The Albanian and Italian press have published articles from time to time regarding trafficking in teenage Albanian boys to Italy and beyond for use as prostitutes or possibly for the sale of their organs. The boys and their families appear to be tricked by a trusted person, who offers to take the youths to Italy or elsewhere in the EU with the promise of a good education or reunion with relatives already working abroad. RFE/RL recently prepared an article on the broader problem of organ trafficking, which "Balkan Report" now shares with its readers.

The Council of Europe is calling for a common European strategy in fighting against trafficking in human organs. Its report on the issue, presented on 25 June in the Council's Parliamentary Assembly, says kidney trafficking has become a hugely profitable business for organized crime. People in impoverished Eastern European countries such as Moldova and Ukraine are the most usual victims of the illicit trade, which the council calls an attack against human dignity. The report says combating poverty in Eastern Europe is the best way to curb organ trafficking, and urges improved cooperation between rich Western countries and their Eastern neighbors.

How much food and clothing can $3,000 buy? Is it worth a lifetime of suffering? Some Eastern Europeans may have asked themselves such questions before deciding that, yes, it was worth sacrificing one of their kidneys in order to provide food and shelter for their families.

The growth of the human-organs black market in Europe has attracted the attention of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, whose report says that international criminal organizations are capitalizing on the growing demand for kidneys for transplants, and are pressuring poor Eastern Europeans into selling their organs. Rapporteur Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, who authored the report, says kidney traffickers have focused in particular on Europe's poorest country, Moldova, where the average monthly salary is less than $50.

Vermot-Mangold tells RFE/RL that during a fact-finding mission to Moldova last year, she met with numerous people who had sold their kidneys via trafficking networks linking Moldova, Turkey, Ukraine, and Israel: "The donors are young men between 18 and 28 years of age. I did see 14 of these young men, I had a deeper interview with four of these young men. They are living in very, very poor conditions in rural parts of the country, and poverty had driven some to sell their kidney for a sum of $2,500 to $3,000. And the recipient pays $100,000 and $250,000 per transplant. The rest of the money goes to international organized crime. It is international organized crime that takes the rest of the money, and the doctors who make the transplants."

The report says a chronic organ shortage means between 15 percent and 30 percent of European patients die while waiting for a kidney transplant. The average wait for a legal transplant is now three years. It is expected to increase to 10 years by 2010.

Vermot-Mangold says patients in need of a kidney sometimes find donors through front people for the criminal networks. Organ donors themselves occasionally end up acting as intermediaries. The report says most donors travel to Turkey, where transplants are conducted, usually at night, in rented hospital facilities.

Donors are sent home after only five days. The report says their state of health generally deteriorates due to a lack of "any kind of medical follow-up, [as well as] hard physical work and an unhealthy lifestyle." While the report does not directly identify where the buyers come from, it quotes an article published in "The Lancet" magazine, which says that some Israeli transplant recipients have purchased kidneys from people living in Estonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Russia, and Romania.

Vermot-Mangold tells RFE/RL that Ukrainians and even Iraqis have also resorted to selling their organs. Mangold says the situation raises a number of questions: Should the poor provide for the rich? Should poverty compromise human dignity and health? She says that organ selling is unethical, and should be replaced as much as possible by organ donation.

But, is organ selling illegal? The question remains murky, even though the Council of Europe has made part of its legal "acquis," or body of laws, the principle that the human body and its parts shall not be used for financial gain. The principle was enacted by the council's Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, and was reiterated in an additional protocol opened for signature in 2002.

Under the council regulations, a convention becomes legally binding for those states which ratify it. Moldova ratified the Human Rights and Biomedicine convention in 2002. It came into force on its territory in March. Turkey has yet to ratify it.

However, the report says that even though organ trafficking is legally banned in member states, most countries' legal systems still have loopholes. Criminal responsibility is rarely specified clearly in national legislation.

Moldovan investigative journalist Alina Avram tells RFE/RL that indifference on the part of the public and officials only compounds the laws' insufficiencies: "I hung a sign around my neck reading 'kidney for sale' and stood half a day outside several legal institutions in Chisinau -- the security service, Interior Ministry, the prosecutor's office -- to see how people and officials react. And they didn't react in any way. That's because, according to our current legislation, kidney donors [or sellers] are not punishable and officials are not supposed to take any action against them. I stood under the [Interior Ministry's] stairway and nobody paid attention to me, except for those policemen who were telling me to walk across the road, where the marketplace is, and sell my kidney there."

So far, only two organ trafficking cases have made it to the courts in Moldova. One case has been dragging on for two years. The second one was closed, with two traffickers being condemned to a five-year suspended sentence.

Avram says such lenient sentences are likely to make organ trafficking victims even more reluctant to come forward. She adds that organ trafficking and trafficking in women and children are two sides of the same problem, and are largely facilitated by government corruption: "Where there is trafficking in human beings there's also trafficking in organs. We reached this conclusion after we found out that both forms of trafficking are being organized by the same mafia clans and are covered by the same spheres of interest in the official state structures. And both [forms of trafficking] are investigated by the same officials."

The report calls on Council of Europe bodies to develop a unified European strategy to combat organ trafficking, give organizational assistance to member states, and improve regional cooperation under bodies such as the Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings. But rapporteur Vermot-Mangold says the most important recommendation is in regard to the fight against poverty and corruption in Central and Eastern Europe: "The most important thing is to fight against poverty, so that people are not forced to sell [their] organs. So it is the first thing that development agencies, investment agencies [have to do], to have projects in these countries, for these people. And if you have too much corruption in these countries -- Moldova is a corrupt [country], it has a corrupt government -- so as long as you have corruption in these countries, it is very difficult to have investors. But to fight poverty is the first thing to do."

Mangold adds that media and international NGOs should play a more important part in raising awareness throughout the continent about the seriousness of organ trafficking. (Eugen Tomiuc)

THE TETOVO UNIVERSITY QUESTION RETURNS. When the ethnic Albanian guerilla fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) took up arms in early 2001, they demanded equal opportunities for ethnic Albanians in all spheres of life, including in the country's education system.

The Framework Agreement of 13 August 2001 (also known as the Ohrid peace agreement), which ended the hostilities between the rebels and the security forces, took this demand into account (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001; the full text of the peace accord can be found at http://www.president.gov.mk)."With respect to primary and secondary education, instruction will be provided in the students' native languages, while at the same time uniform standards for academic programs will be applied throughout Macedonia," the agreement says.

But the most important provision for the higher education of the country's ethnic Albanians is that, "State funding will be provided for university level education in languages spoken by at least 20 percent of the population of Macedonia, on the basis of specific agreements." In addition, the peace accord also envisioned the introduction of a system of positive discrimination for members of the ethnic minorities for a transitional phase.

During the first years after Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991, no higher education in their mother tongue was available for ethnic Albanian students. While the minority made up about one-fourth of the country's 2 million inhabitants, ethnic Albanians accounted for only 2 percent of the students enrolled in the two state-run universities in Skopje and Bitola.

The situation for Albanian students wishing to study in their vernacular was further complicated by the fact that the Albanian-language faculties of the University of Prishtina in neighboring Kosova -- where many Macedonian Albanians had previously studied -- was shut down by the Serbian authorities in 1991. And degrees from universities in Albania were not recognized in Macedonia until 1996.

In order to resolve this problem, ethnic Albanian intellectuals from Macedonia and Kosova founded a private university in Tetovo in northwest Macedonia in 1994. But this institution was never recognized by successive Macedonian governments, which called it "unconstitutional." For many ethnic Macedonians, who often referred to the institution as a "para-university," it was a hotbed of Albanian "nationalism and separatism."

Several attempts were made to resolve the matter. Branko Crvenkovski's Social Democratic-led coalition government decided to open Albanian-language teacher training courses at Skopje University in 1997. After the government change in 1998, the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and its coalition partner, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), pledged to legalize the private Albanian university in Tetovo.

But this promise was never fulfilled, mainly because OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel managed to win over the PDSH for his own project, a private trilingual (English, Macedonian, and Albanian) university, which would concentrate on teacher training and practical programs heavy on economics.

His internationally funded South East European University opened its doors in September 2001. By October 2002, more than 2,000 students had enrolled, according to its official website (http://www.see-university.com). Van der Stoel's main argument for his institution and against the underground university was similar to the ethnic Macedonian position -- he feared that it could turn into a diploma-mill for Albanian nationalists similar to what the University of Prishtina was in the 1970s (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October and 21 November 2001).

Now the picture might change again. On 27 June, Macedonian Education and Science Minister Aziz Pollozhani announced that the government has decided to recognize the original private university in Tetovo, thus legalizing its diplomas. Pollozhani said that by September the university could become the country's third state-run university, in addition to those in Skopje and Bitola. He argued that the OSCE-sponsored university in Tetovo has obviously not resolved the Albanian community's higher education problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003).

The government's decision was immediately criticized by the opposition. Former Education Minister Nenad Novkovski of the VMRO-DPMNE told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 30 June that this is a political rather than an educational problem. He recalled that before 1998, then-Prime Minister Crvenkovski had condemned the Albanian university as unconstitutional. While admitting that more universities are needed in Macedonia, Novkovski also claimed that the quality of higher education will deteriorate if the Albanian university is recognized.

However, there were positive reactions, too. For Albanian political scientist Hisen Ramadani, legalization means "the joint emancipation of Macedonians and Albanians as they pursue balanced relations in all spheres of their future life together." But Ramadani also called for good will and a cooperative attitude on both sides lest the country enter another crisis. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

INFRASTRUCTURE LINKS ACROSS THE BALKANS. Speaking in Tirana on 30 July at a meeting of Balkan leaders, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said the countries of the regions must step up their efforts to improve existing infrastructure, novinite.bg reported.

Providing rather optimistic estimates for travel times in the Balkans, Pasi said, "At the beginning of the 21st century, it takes nine hours by car to travel from Sofia to Tirana [550 kilometers]; to Skopje, four hours [240 kilometers]; to Sarajevo, 10 hours [740 kilometers]; and to Belgrade, five hours [400 kilometers]."

He said these travel times are nearly twice as long as for comparable distances elsewhere in Europe. "We have no direct flights to Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Zagreb, and those to Skopje and Tirana are once or twice a week," he complained. "Sofia has no railway connection with Skopje and Skopje has none with Tirana. This situation cannot be tolerated any longer."

Pasi stressed the need to build the long-delayed, so-called Pan-European Transport Corridor No. 8 that would run from Italy via Albania and Macedonia to the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas. "From our perspective, a major priority is to bridge the missing parts of the corridor and eliminate the bottlenecks across the borders and, in particular, to complete the railway line between Sofia and Skopje," Pasi said.

He also stressed the strategic aspects of such a corridor, as it would run "across the center of the Balkan Peninsula, linking Europe with Asia and acting as a stepping stone to the Middle East, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Caspian region, Northern Africa, and the Mediterranean."

Prior to inviting the regional prime ministers to meet in Sofia in November or December, Pasi said: "I myself do believe that in the long run, Corridor No. 8 will be extended by a bridge over the Adriatic, thus reducing the [travel time] between the Black Sea and Italy to a mere 10 hours by car." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

THE MIXED FEELINGS OF SLOVENIAN EMIGRANTS. The 1934 best-seller by the Slovenian-American Louis Adamic (1899-1951), "The Native's Return," describes the writer's visit to interwar Yugoslavia and the appalling injustice that its people suffered under the dictatorship of the Serbian King Alexander Karadjordjevic. Adamic, who first emigrated in 1913, thereupon returned to the United States and remained there until his mysterious death two decades later.

Today a new kind of native is returning to Slovenia: emigrants and their descendants from around the world. Whether they visit informally on summer vacation, choose to attend the annual summer language school in Ljubljana, or participate in additional organized events, Slovenia is a destination for those who want to rediscover their roots.

On 6 July, over 1,000 Slovenians from abroad attended the annual gathering of emigrants at Lake Bled, titled "A Meeting in My Country," "Vecer" reported on 7 July. Sergej Pelhan is the president of the Slovenian Emigrants' Society, which organized the event. Pelhan spoke proudly of Slovenia's achievements, but had critical comments as well. He cited the ill feelings between political parties and Slovenia's "moral crisis," which he said is exacerbated by "liberalism."

Pelhan's remarks underscore the differences dividing the estimated half-million Slovenians (one-fifth of the entire nation) living abroad. The gulf between "liberals" and "conservatives" -- terms occasionally serving as euphemisms for communists and "clerico-fascists" -- goes back over half a century, and remains keenly felt in emigrant communities.

The guest of honor at the meeting was Lojze Kosorok, who returned to live in Slovenia after 52 years in Australia. Kosorok spoke about the need for reconciliation today, but also faulted Slovenia for its bureaucratic processes hindering those wishing to return. Others cited the lack of media coverage of Slovenes in the diaspora. "I have the feeling," Kosorok said, "that this fifth [of the nation] is being written off or treated as second class, both by the state and by certain citizens."

The emphasis of the meeting this year was on cultural events, with an artists' retreat organized at Most na Soci, performances by folklore groups and accordion players, and an excursion to Slovenia's tallest mountain, Triglav. The visitors also attended an 8 July reception in Slovenia's National Assembly, where they exchanged views on Slovenes at home and abroad.

Kosorok is not alone in returning. Slovenia's relative prosperity makes repatriation an attractive option, especially for emigrants experiencing hard times in their adopted countries, such as Argentina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 July 2002). However, there are also legal requirements that must be satisfied.

Slovenia's Ministry of Internal Affairs defines 10 separate categories for naturalization (available at http://www.mnz.si/si/1331.php). Ordinarily, foreigners must live in Slovenia for 10 years to be eligible to apply for citizenship. In addition, they must produce police records and other documentation, all officially translated into Slovenian.

Applicants are also required to demonstrate proficiency in Slovenian by taking a standardized language exam. The exams can be quite culturally specific. One such recently administered test featured an interview with pop music icon Vlado Kreslin extolling the virtues of pumpkin-seed oil, a product especially associated with the province of Stajerska.

The residency requirement is relaxed for those of Slovenian descent, who need only live in Slovenia for one year before becoming eligible. For those who were formerly citizens of Slovenia (i.e., emigrants who renounced their citizenship or from whom it was withdrawn), the residency period is further reduced to six months and the language requirement is waived. In both cases, such persons are also permitted to automatically retain their other citizenship.

Returnees who manage to clear these hurdles face additional obstacles. Those wishing to validate their university degrees earned abroad must submit to a process known locally as "nostrifikacija." Candidates are required to hand over their original diplomas and court-certified translations of transcripts to a commission for a review procedure that can take up to half a year.

After paying a hefty fee (amounting to as much as a month's wages), a further humiliation is in store for many. It has been the practice to validate U.S. master's degrees as the equivalent of a domestic four-year degree -- analogous to a bachelor's degree. The writer and university professor Ales Debeljak criticizes the entire process as lacking dynamism and reminiscent of the political screening during the communist era (article available at: http://www.ce-review.org/99/20/debeljak20.html).

A cartoon published in "Delo" on 7 July may best sum up the Slovenian view of those contemplating a return. It depicts a markedly un-Slovenian couple -- overweight, and dressed in Bermuda shorts and stretch pants. The husband remarks, "At home here in Slovenia they already have such a high standard of living that we'll be able to return soon." The comments are deliberately misspelled in dialect, perhaps suggesting that many such Slovenes may well speak a form of the language, but are functionally illiterate. The drawing, titled "On Their Own Land," makes it clear that maintaining ties with Slovenes who have left the nest is one thing, but inviting them to move back in is a different matter altogether. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "What Brussels has said, essentially, is that if we work hard, we will get [into the EU]. This means we will definitely not get in." -- Ognjen Pribicevic, director of Belgrade's Center for South Eastern European Studies. Quoted in the "Financial Times" of 7 July (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003).

"[When we are able to offer German public television's German TV on cable,] the U.S.A. will experience what public television 'made in Germany' means. That will mean a 'cultural change.' Donald Rumsfeld will be amazed. 'The empire strikes back.'" [passages marked with internal quotes were in English in the original] -- Veteran journalist Fritz Pleitgen, speaking in the name of German public television at festivities marking the 50th anniversary of Deutsche Welle in Bonn on 27 June. (Observers suggested he was using spurious anti-Americanism to convince an influential audience of the need for yet another German public broadcaster, which critics charge is already a white elephant. The audience reacted with laughter rather than applause. Deutsche Welle's German Program included these remarks by Pleitgen in its 45-minute broadcast of the highlights of the half-day-long festivities.)

"Rumsfeld [has not learned that allies must show respect for and listen to each other.] In a few years, he will have to deal with a united Europe that is proud of its old culture and its new dynamism." -- French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, quoted by AFP in Beijing on 1 July. She added that France supports lifting the arms embargo placed on China following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

"China is a country ruled by law, and one has not committed a crime for thoughts, religious beliefs, or opinions as long as he has not broken the laws of the country. There are absolutely no political prisoners or prisoners of conscience." -- Dong Yunhu, deputy head of the (official) China Society for Human Rights Studies. Quoted in Beijing in response to U.S. criticism by AFP on 2 July.

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