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Balkan Report: July 18, 2003


18 July 2003, Volume 7, Number 22

'NOT A CROOK': MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER DENIES ALLEGATIONS OF CIGARETTE SMUGGLING. Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has strongly denied media reports focusing on his alleged involvement in a cigarette-smuggling ring run by the Italian Mafia through Montenegro. The story, raised most recently by the Italian news agency ANSA, was picked up by the media in Montenegro, where it has stirred up a political storm.

Montenegro's prime minister has called allegations about his involvement in criminal smuggling rings "political insinuations" aimed at casting him, his government, and all of Montenegro in a criminal light.

Speaking at a Podgorica news conference on 9 July, Djukanovic said there was no evidence to back up the allegations and that he was not worried about possible fallout. "For me this is the same old talk in new packaging -- made, as previously, of untruths, from the same sources and probably with the same aims," he said. "Only this time they are considerably sleazier and more impudent. But knowing the players and their motives, nothing is surprising. These accusations resurface without even half-proof, with the ambition only to influence the political scene by interfering with my privacy using methods worthy of [George] Orwell. I can tell you that this not only does not surprise me, it does not concern me at all."

Italy's ANSA news agency recently reported that the prosecutor's office in Naples had requested that a warrant be issued for Djukanovic's arrest in connection with a Balkan cigarette-smuggling ring run by the Italian Mafia.

According to the ANSA report, Djukanovic and several associates had received payments from the Mafia for allowing and facilitating the transportation of contraband cigarettes through Montenegro. The report said an investigating judge had dismissed the warrant request on the grounds that Djukanovic, as a political official, has immunity from prosecution.

Djukanovic stresses that he is innocent, but that has not kept the Montenegrin press from running with the story. The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" published what it said were excerpts from telephone conversations between Italian Mafiosi and close associates of Djukanovic.

The prime minister said at his press conference there was nothing in the conversations to prove the smuggling allegations. He added that he is prepared to send a team of legal experts to Naples to clear his name should he be formally accused of a crime.

These were Djukanovic's first public comments on the affair. Similar accusations, however, have been leveled against him in the past, including during the years before and after his falling out with former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his Montenegrin lieutenant, Momir Bulatovic.

A prosecutor in the southern Italian city of Bari last year opened an investigation into Djukanovic, then Montenegro's president, also accusing him of links to Mafia groups involved in cigarette smuggling.

Djukanovic has always denied any personal involvement in such illicit businesses, but it has long been believed that cigarette smuggling was a major source of revenue for the Montenegrin economy when international sanctions were imposed on rump Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

But analysts note the current concrete accusations stem from 2000 and 2001, when Milosevic was no longer in power and the sanctions were no longer in place.

In any case, Djukanovic told the 9 July press conference there had been no smuggling. He said cigarettes had been in transit in Montenegro as a way to circumvent the oppressive sanctions aimed at Milosevic. But he insisted everything was done in accordance with the law and said such deals are common among countries in the region linked by transit routes.

Djukanovic said: "For the sake of the people of Montenegro, for the sake of the friends of Montenegro beyond its borders, I just want once again to recall some key arguments which demonstrate the uselessness of those accusations and about the real motives of those who make them. So, this is not a question of smuggling. We are talking about transit deals which have been agreed upon in line with Montenegro's legislation and in line with the legislation of the common state [Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] that Montenegro was part of at that time."

He said all the money from the transit deals had gone into state coffers to pay for social programs and civil servants. He added the deals were monitored several times by European Union representatives and that no irregularities were found.

Although Italy has yet to press charges, Montenegro's political opposition recently called on Djukanovic to resign and give up his political immunity. The prime minister has rejected the calls.

Some observers say the latest accusations against Djukanovic bear the appearance of orchestrated political pressure. They say that even the way information about the Italian investigation was leaked to the Montenegrin public raises questions about the legitimacy of the allegations.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, Nebojsa Vucinic, a professor of international law in Podgorica, noted that the accusations come at a time when the question of Montenegro's independence has again resurfaced. He too called the allegations part of a "political game." (Julia Geshakova)

SLOVENIAN 1991 VETERANS DEMAND VINDICATION. Many veterans of Slovenia's war of independence are indignant over recent comments by Neva Miklavcic Predan, president of Helsinki Monitor of Slovenia. In June, Predan stated that the deaths of three Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) soldiers at the Holmec border crossing in the region of Carinthia in 1991 remain unexplained.

The veterans have established a committee named Holmec 2003 to clear the names of those who fought at Holmec, "Delo" reported on 21 June.

The controversy centers around footage showing unidentified JNA soldiers with a white flag, while shooting can be heard and soldiers are taking cover. In addition to the deaths of the three federal soldiers, two Slovenian reserve police officers died from sniper fire during the two-day battle, which ended in a Slovenian victory and the capture of 91 JNA soldiers.

The controversy over the events of 27-28 June 1991 received broad media attention in 1999, after journalist Bojan Budja published an article in the tabloid newspaper "Slovenske novice" on 28 December 1998 suggesting that Slovenian police had been involved in war crimes by executing JNA prisoners after they had surrendered.

In the fallout from the affair, Interior Minister Marko Bandelj faced accusations of not protecting the integrity of the police. Bandelj was dismissed from his position in February 1999. A later investigation concluded that the war crimes charges were unfounded, manufactured to discredit officials within the Interior Ministry.

The Carinthian chapter of the war of independence was particularly successful. JNA forces failed to hold a single border post along Carinthia's 100-kilometer border with neighboring Austria, and Territorial Defense (TO) units and police captured all of the guardhouses in the region. The victory at Holmec is regarded as the first victory by Slovenian TO units.

It was also in Carinthia that the first stirrings of a Slovenian state were manifested back in the 7th century (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 January 2002). Accordingly, Slovenes consider Carinthia the cradle of their nation, even though German speakers now dominate most of the formerly Slovene-settled area.

Carinthia is nonetheless unfamiliar to many Slovenes, due to its inaccessibility. Although the relatively easily reached town of Slovenj Gradec serves as the region's cultural hub, historically the town is not part of Carinthia at all -- under Austria-Hungary it belonged to the neighboring province of Styria.

Instead, one must travel further west, on secondary roads into the Meza River Valley, to old mining towns like Ravne, Mezica, and Crna. Alternately, for those coming from Ljubljana, several unpaved mountain "shortcuts" are available. In fact, to visit the area it is faster to drive out of Slovenia, cut through Austria, and reenter -- at the Holmec border crossing.

Alternately, approaching the town of Dravograd -- the gateway to historic Carinthia -- from the east brings you to one of the strangest-looking monuments in Slovenia. A tall bronze-colored figure -- resembling a cross between an angel, a cigar-store Indian, and a chicken -- commemorates the site where the Dravograd Barricade was erected on 17 June 1991.

The position was ideal, with a rock wall on one side and a precipitous drop to the Drava River on the other. The ruins of the 13th-century castle of Pukstajn, which guarded the passage for centuries, loom above the opposite bank. The 1991 barricade proved effective: on 3 July a JNA column advancing from Maribor was halted here, preventing reinforcements from reaching the Vic and Holmec border crossings.

Arguments persist about what really took place 12 years ago and what the footage signifies. Zdravko Fajmut, a company commander at Holmec in 1991, recounted his memories in a 4 July article in "Delo." The footage, he says, was shot at 10 a.m. on 28 June 1991, but the last victims in the fighting had fallen at 7 a.m. that day.

"The surrender lasted 2 1/2 hours and, as for the soldiers with the white flag, nothing happened to any of them," Fajmut said. He noted that a proper surrender could not be negotiated, because the JNA commanding officer had fled to a guardhouse above the border crossing, only to be captured the following day.

At the annual gathering of Carinthian Slovenes on the summit of Ludranski Vrh on 5 July, President Janez Drnovsek lent his support to the veterans: "The Carinthian fight for an independent Slovenia was decisive, honorable, and just," Drnovsek was quoted as saying in "Delo" on 6 July.

With no official response to their demand that the Holmec affair be considered closed once and for all, the veterans' committee is preparing to sue Miklavcic Predan. Lawyer Stojan Dolsek has offered to represent the veterans free of charge.

"Let the Slovenian state judge us," said Fajmut in a "Delo" article on 23 June. "It called us to war, and we fulfilled the orders of its commander-in-chief.... If the state does not protect our honor, we have the right to do so ourselves." (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

MACEDONIA FACES BRAIN DRAIN, CORRUPTION IN HIGHER EDUCATION. Only weeks after the education minister's announcement that the government is set to legalize the underground ethnic Albanian university in Tetovo, two problems facing the Macedonian education system are being widely discussed in the media (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 July 2003). Although the emigration of highly educated citizens on the one hand and corruption in the universities on the other are not directly interrelated, both need to be addressed in any future reform of the education system.

The discussion about the ongoing emigration of highly educated professionals and university graduates was triggered by a recent survey supervised by Verica Janevska of the Institute for Economics at Skopje University. According to Janevska's study, some 15,000 Macedonian citizens with a higher education have chosen to live abroad rather than stay at home. This number makes up for about 15 percent of all graduates that have left the country's higher education facilities since their foundation.

The study also asked university graduates who still live in the country about their future plans. Here the results show a deeply rooted lack of perspective for highly educated people, as some 85 percent of the respondents said they are considering leaving the country, although only 12.5 percent say this would be a permanent decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003).

Janevska also identified the reasons for the high number of academics who have already emigrated or are planning to do so in the near future. They are basically the same as in other transition countries -- high unemployment and lack of perspective. Of some 13,500 unemployed persons with a higher education, about 43 percent have been without a job for more than four years.

But young university graduates also lack career opportunities because the government has imposed a hiring freeze on the universities. "When young [graduates] are interested in leaving the country, we cannot stop them," Milan Kjosevski, who is the dean of the School of Engineering at Skopje University, told "Utrinski vesnik" of 12 July. "The problem is that the state does not permit [their] employment. These harsh restrictions have been in place for a long time, so we cannot hold onto some of our best students who want to stay in our department."

The current debate in the media about the reasons for and the extent of corruption among professors and students was initiated by a study sponsored by the Macedonian Open Society Institute (the full English text of the results is available at http://www.soros.org.mk/angliska_verzija/index.html).

Corruption in the universities occurs during enrollment and at exam time. About one-third of the students believe that students can enhance their admission chances by paying some sort of "extra fee." Many students could even name the price they have to pay for an exam -- between $280 and $560.

However, one cannot draw a general conclusion from such answers because the situation seems to vary greatly from place to place. The students' trust in the academic staff of the newly founded, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-sponsored South East European University in Tetovo is considerably higher than in the state-run universities.

The study also noticed considerable differences among the students regarding their willingness to pay bribes, again depending on the faculty and the location of the university, but also on the ethnic affiliation of the students. Ethnic Macedonian students seem to be more inclined to pay for their exams than their ethnic Albanian colleagues.

A former professor at Skopje University, Ilija Josifovski, sought to analyze the reasons for the corruption among his colleagues in a commentary in the daily "Dnevnik" of 12 July. For him, it is clear that the lack of transparency in the university system is the key.

But Josifovski also slams the Education Ministry, which inhibits the prosecution of corruption cases by insisting on concrete evidence -- a trap into which only very naive professors would allow themselves to fall.

As a possible solution to the problem, Josifovski proposes a change in the professional status of the professors. In his view, limited labor contracts in place of tenure and annual evaluations by students could force the professors to clean up their act.

In the same issue of "Dnevnik," editor Aleksandar Damovski links the problem of the universities to the nepotism that is deeply rooted in Macedonian society. He doubts that a political or quick solution is possible. Any reform will most likely end up like previous efforts have: "A small purge, with a lot of dust raised on the surface -- and that was all!" (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

SERBIA: BIGOTS DON'T DISCRIMINATE. If anyone thinks that religion is necessarily at the heart of Balkan bigotry, they need look no further than the offices of the Ariadnae-Filum Vlach-Romanian Cultural Society in Bor, eastern Serbia, near the Romanian and Bulgarian borders.

The Vlachs (and Romanians) are Orthodox, like the Serbs. But that did not stop someone from defacing the society's office by spraying on it the message: "Get Out of Serbia" in Serbian (albeit in the Latin alphabet). Lest the point not be clear, the vandals also sprayed on the building a representation of male genitalia, which have a particularly insulting quality in a number of languages in the region. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "[Former UNMIK head Michael] Steiner "arrived [in Kosova] on Valentine's Day [2002] and finished on the Fourth of July [2003]. He started on the day of love and finished on the day where all men are created equal, live in liberty, and pursue happiness." -- His deputy and temporary successor, U.S. diplomat Charles Brayshaw. Quoted in Prishtina by the "Southeast European Times" of 14 July.

"No state arrests its guests." -- Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, arguing that Kosovar politician and former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci would not be arrested if he visited Serbia as an invited state guest despite a 10-year prison sentence awaiting him for "terrorism." Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic said he would arrest Thaci and try him for genocide. Quoted by Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" on 15 July.

"Eighteen of the 25 EU countries are smaller or midsized countries, each with an equal say in the constitution process. With those kinds of numbers, there will have to be compromise and our interests will have to be taken into consideration." -- Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, quoted in Washington by "The Washington Times" on 16 July.

"At the Lunar New Year and on Independence Day in September, there is a general amnesty in which inmates themselves recommend who should have his sentence reduced, based on good behavior. This is a very humane system." -- Dung Vu, first secretary of the Vietnamese Embassy in Washington, quoted by Radio Free Asia (RFA) on 16 July. He was commenting on the possible reduction from 15 years to 10 of the prison sentence of Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a Roman Catholic priest and human rights activist. Father Ly has served two years of his sentence, which is to be followed by five years' house arrest.

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