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Balkan Report: August 1, 2003


1 August 2003, Volume 7, Number 24

MR. HOLKERI GOES TO PRISHTINA. A leading Finnish international political figure is the new head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). The challenges he faces are daunting and decidedly un-Scandinavian in nature.

On 25 July, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan named former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri to succeed Germany's Michael Steiner as head of UNMIK (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). Holkeri, who has no Balkan experience, served as Finland's prime minister from 1987-91 and was involved in the Northern Ireland peace process from 1995-98. In 2000-01 he served as president of the UN General Assembly, where he reportedly developed a good working relationship with Annan. Holkeri has also served on the governing boards of the Bank of Finland and Finnair.

It is clear that he will face no easy assignment, in which none of his three predecessors spent even two full years. One local newspaper suggested he will need the supernatural skills of Harry Potter if he is to succeed.

First, as the chief representative of the international community, Holkeri will have to deal with rivalries between some of the major foreign players. These tensions most notably involve the EU -- which provides most of the aid -- and the United States -- which supplies the political and military muscle that the ethnic Albanian majority most respects. Holkeri's own appointment, in fact, is largely the result of disagreements between Washington and Brussels over other candidates. One might also mention that Holkeri will need to earn and keep the respect of UNMIK's multi-ethnic staff and manage it effectively.

Second, as in the case of the international community's high representative in Bosnia, Holkeri has the seemingly contradictory mandate of creating a functioning democracy by fiat. He must do this while trying to overcome the social and economic effects of communism, repression, and war in order to promote a functioning market economy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2003). In the process, he must try to bring together ethnic groups that would generally prefer not to have much to do with each other.

Third, he will have to use his well-honed political skills in trying to reconcile the agendas of the 90 percent ethnic-Albanian majority and the Serbian minority, which accounts for most of the rest of the population.

The Kosovar Albanian position is clear: they want the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia to continue so that they can have independence in keeping with the worldwide post-1945 trend toward decolonization based on self-determination and majority rule. They have an elected president and prime minister, and their political parties hold a comfortable majority in the parliament. There are political and other divisions among them, but there is no disagreement on independence as the goal and the fledgling Kosovar institutions as the basis for the new state.

The Albanians will need constant reminding that the international community will not support independence for a state that does not allow its minorities to live in security and peace with rights in keeping with European standards. But the international community will have to face up to the question of status -- i.e. independence -- sooner rather than later if it wants to combat the crime and lack of security that flourish in the absence of a clear political framework.

The Serbian situation that Holkeri will face is more complex than often meets the eye. The Serbs living north of the Ibar River, much like the Croats of western Herzegovina, live in a compact area contiguous to their "motherland," to which they hope to be annexed. Like the western Herzegovinians during the rule of President Franjo Tudjman in the 1990s, they have received encouragement from the other side of the border.

The Serbs living in enclaves elsewhere in Kosova, like the Croats of central Bosnia, know -- if they are realistic -- that their future lies in living integrated with other ethnic groups. Their main concerns are freedom of movement and the safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons.

The Serbian authorities in Belgrade are another matter. Although some of them admit in private that former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic lost Kosova in 1999, many of them lose no opportunity to seek political capital among nationalist voters by publicly reasserting their claim to the province. In so doing, they also give false hope to the Serbs living in Kosova that Serbian officials -- and security forces -- might some day return and settle scores with "the Albanians."

In reality, however, UN Security Council Resolution 1244 stated that Kosova remains part of "Yugoslavia" simply as a face-saving measure to facilitate the withdrawal of Serbian forces from the province in 1999. The ethnic Albanian majority wants nothing to do with Serbia, even if the EU tries to force them into a joint state, as Brussels did in the case of Serbia and Montenegro.

A fourth set of difficulties facing Holkeri involves political culture. The Balkans are littered with the wrecks of well-intentioned plans and hopes of experienced and self-confident foreigners, who came to sort out the wars and problems of the past decade and a half.

One reason that many of them failed or were less than successful was that they did not understand the political culture they were dealing with. If compromise is the essence of politics in some parts of Europe, it is regarded in much of the Balkans as a sign of weakness -- which the other party will exploit ruthlessly.

Furthermore, in negotiating, the devil is in the details, and agreements can come undone at almost any stage. Nor is the acceptance of economic or other "carrots" any guarantee that the local parties will do what is expected of them. Most likely, they will signal acceptance of an agreement -- and then try to find a way around it while still claiming as many of its benefits as possible.

The brief history of the state of Serbia and Montenegro illustrates this point. Another example is the much-touted Serbian-Albanian "dialogue" on Kosova that the EU wants to launch. Belgrade and Prishtina formally accepted the proposal but lost little time in raising objections and enumerating preconditions.

Nor should one forget the problems posed by periodic displays of Balkan "inat," or stubborn defiance. This has become known as something of a Serbian specialty, but it is by no means a Serbian monopoly.

What commands respect and can help ensure success is toughness backed up by credible force and the willingness to bring one's political, economic, and other advantages to bear as firmly as possible. Any other approach will not be taken particularly seriously in the Balkans -- and will be treated accordingly (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001). (Patrick Moore)

NO END IN SIGHT FOR DIVISION OF YUGOSLAV ASSETS. Two years after signing a succession agreement on 29 June 2001, the Yugoslav successor states appear no closer to implementing the pact than they were then. Slovenia's National Assembly ratified the agreement on 5 July 2002, but Croatia is holding out on ratification until millions of missing dollars are accounted for.

In May 2001, rump Yugoslavia (FRY) stated that the National Bank of the SFRY (communist Yugoslavia) held $645 million in foreign currency. However, after signing the agreement, Croatia determined that $600 million had vanished without a trace. Croatia has been unable to obtain information on FRY accounts from foreign banks and, in a catch-22 situation, can only demand to see the records from the National Bank of the SFRY once it has ratified the agreement, "Delo" reported on 24 July (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February 2003).

It is widely believed that the missing funds were siphoned off by the Milosevic regime. In addition, the FRY is believed to have bartered away a fortune in debts owed to the SFRY in exchange for petroleum and natural gas deliveries.

According to a 24 July article in "Delo," the agreement covers several categories: property in general; diplomatic and consular property; finances; archives; retirement funds; other rights, legal benefits, and financial obligations; and personal property and vested rights.

The FRY, now Serbia and Montenegro, long maintained that it was the sole legal successor to the SFRY, preventing any earlier agreement as long as Milosevic was in power. As a result, Serbia and Montenegro continue to occupy most of the old diplomatic and consular properties by default. Other factors that slowed the agreement include the chaotic disintegration of the SFRY in several steps, as well as the split now underway between Serbia and Montenegro.

Some small progress was made at the end of April, when Washington unfroze $225 million in deposits by the National Bank of the SFRY, "Delo" reported on 4 May. Slovenia's share amounted to $36 million (plus $2 million in interest), while Croatia refused to accept its share of $50 million.

Under the agreement, Slovenia is set to receive 14 percent of the diplomatic and consular properties. Serbia and Montenegro will receive 39.5 percent, Croatia 23.5 percent, Bosnia-Herzegovina 15 percent, and Macedonia 8 percent. Five such properties were divided on 29 January 2002 under a preliminary agreement: the Washington embassy (to Slovenia), the Paris embassy (to Croatia), the Paris diplomatic residence (to the FRY), the Paris consulate (to Macedonia), and the London embassy (to Bosnia-Herzegovina).

The diplomatic and consular properties are grouped into geographical regions: member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), "other" Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. The proportional division applies to each region. Reflecting the importance of trade, each of the five successor states is most interested in the OECD properties. In addition, the individual states are very interested in properties in neighboring countries, "Delo" reported on 24 July.

In the meantime, Slovenia has established full-fledged embassies in 41 countries around the world, including all of the former Yugoslav republics, according to the website of the Foreign Affairs Ministry (http://www.sigov.si/mzz/). A number of missions and consulates have been established to serve other countries as well.

In addition to the buildings themselves, the properties also include 135 works of art valued at $260 million, "Delo" reported on 2 February. The agreed-upon principle for division is that Yugoslav works of art will be returned to the republic where the artist resided, contrary to the proposal from Bosnia-Herzegovina that the artist's place of birth be the deciding factor. Works by foreign artists or whose origin cannot be ascertained will remain with the property.

The 2 February story in "Delo" related that some of the artworks were reported missing. In one case, a piece missing from a former Yugoslav diplomat's office was located in his wife's art collection.

In addition to cash assets, remaining debts owed to the former Yugoslavia must also be divided. These include Russia's debt, ascertained at $1.3 billion in a meeting in Moscow in January.

Until the agreement is ratified, it has no legal basis and could be renegotiated or even scrapped altogether. Zmago Jelincic, head of the right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS), would like to see Slovenia's demands pressed further. He recently called for a conference in Belgrade to divide territory he claims is unjustly held by Croatia, "Delo" reported on 27 July.

After World War II, says Jelincic, Istria and Zadar were awarded from Italy to Yugoslavia, not Croatia, and should now be apportioned accordingly. Echoing comments made in December by Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, he further argues that territorial waters in the Adriatic Sea are also subject to division among SFRY successor states.

For its part, Croatia dismisses such claims out of hand. Croatian legal expert Vladimir Ibler has referred to them as "fantasies" based on "ignorance of international law." (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

SKOPJE MARKS A TRAGIC ANNIVERSARY. On 26 July, Macedonia marked the 40th anniversary of the catastrophic earthquake that destroyed large parts of its capital Skopje and killed more than 1,000 people. The earthquake leveled much of a city that was in the midst of a transformation, which had begun in the late 19th century before it gained momentum after the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. It was a transformation from an Ottoman, or, as some put it, an oriental city into a modern, socialist (provincial) capital.

Being located on the banks of the Vardar River at an important crossroads of the major north-south and east-west thoroughfares in southeastern Europe, Skopje has always been a good place for settlers. Its strategic position made it interesting for conquerors as well as traders.

Although the earliest settlements in the area date back to ancient times, historians usually put the beginning of what was later called Skopje to the town of Scupi, originally a settlement for Roman army veterans. Scupi's destruction by an earthquake in 518 was followed by the Slav immigration wave in the late 7th century. Byzantine emperors, Serbian kings, and Bulgarian tsars, took the city before it fell to the Ottoman troops in 1392.

More than 500 years later, Serbian troops won the struggle for the territory of today's Republic of Macedonia in 1912 and thus became the city's new masters. Medieval rule over the region served as a pretext to justify the modern Serbian and Bulgarian territorial aspirations that were each realized only temporarily. Serbia and the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav kingdom held the city between 1912-15 and from 1918-41, while Bulgaria occupied it during both World Wars, between 1915-18 and 1941-44. Only in 1945, Skopje became the capital of a Macedonian republic within socialist Yugoslavia.

Both the rulers and the ruled left their footprints in Skopje. Today's urban shape was largely formed during the long Ottoman period, when the town turned into an important administrative and economic center under the name of Uskub. Mosques, Turkish baths, caravanserais, and bazaars formed the city's image as much as the narrow lanes in the residential quarters, the mahallas. During much of the Ottoman period, the population consisted mainly of Muslim Turks and Albanians, but there were also Christian Slavs, Greeks, and Armenians, as well as Jews and Gypsies.

In the 19th century, the situation changed as more and more Bulgarians, Serbs, and Macedonians left their villages to make a living in the city. It was then that Skopje began to develop into two distinctly different parts.

On the left bank of the Vardar, the Muslim-dominated old town remained more or less unchanged, while on the river's right bank a new, mainly Christian part developed under western influences. At that time, many western visitors described crossing the Vardar over the old Stone Bridge from this new part into the old town as entering a fascinating Oriental world.

The first efforts toward modernizing the whole city were made already before World War II, but these plans had little impact. Under communist rule, however, city planning became a priority and a necessity. "Before the reconstruction, in the center of Skopje, on the right bank of the Vardar, there were whole quarters of substandard buildings. [People kept] horses, goats, and donkeys in the yards," Ljube Pota, an architect, told "Utrinski vesnik" on 25 July.

These efforts were interrupted by the powerful earthquake in the morning of 26 July 1963. The response to the destruction must have been overwhelming for the city's inhabitants. Under the auspices of the United Nations, help arrived from all over the world. In the midst of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as European countries from both sides of the Iron Curtain, cooperated in the clearing work. Many of the prefab buildings then delivered from various parts of the world are still in use, housing not only families, but also post offices or parts of the city administration.

During the later stages of the rebuilding of Skopje, the international community provided city-planning know-how and entire public buildings. An international city-planning contest for the city center was won by the internationally renown Japanese architect Kenzo Tange, who had the vision of a modernist, almost futuristic city.

But Tange's plan and a new road system were realized only partially. Financial shortages in the 1970s put an end to ambitious designs and left the city as a half-realized vision of a modern capital -- an interesting patchwork of ancient, Ottoman, socialist, and modernist building styles.

To some visitors, this may look ugly or unfinished. But be that as it may, Skopje's real wealth lies in its citizens and the mix of their cultures -- Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Serb, Vlach, Gypsy, or Bosnian Muslim. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The principle of self-determination in ethnically mixed regions is discriminatory." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. Quoted by dpa in Belgrade on 22 July.

"It is difficult to predict geostrategically the size and quality of army necessary for Serbia and Montenegro. Bearing in mind the democratization process going on in the country, a more significant military may be needed. At present we have 62,000 service personnel and 16,000 civilians, but resources to support no more than 50,000. In comparison, neighboring countries have 25-40,000-strong armed forces. If we care about security in Southeastern Europe, Serbia and Montenegro possibly needs more soldiers than we first estimated." -- Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic, quoted in "Jane's Defence Weekly," 21 July.

"This is not Europe. This is the Balkans. We were occupied by the Turks for centuries. Our mentality is different from yours." -- "Sasa," former press officer for the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, quoted by the "Financial Times" in Belgrade on 7 July.

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