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Balkan Report: September 26, 2003

26 September 2003, Volume 7, Number 32

MOVEMENT ON BELGRADE-PRISHTINA TALKS. International officials appear confident that long-awaited direct dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina will begin in mid-October. The talks will focus on technical issues and not on the final status of the UN-administered province (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). Diplomats from the six-member Contact Group met on 23-24 September in New York and agreed on a plan for the talks, for which analysts say both sides are ill-prepared and less than enthusiastic.

Serbian and Kosovar leaders have not officially had direct contact since the end of NATO's air campaign in 1999 to end a crackdown by Serbian security forces against the province's majority ethnic Albanians.

The international community has been pushing for talks, and officials now say that -- after a number of false starts -- they are set to open soon. The talks between Serbian and Kosovar representatives are expected to focus on practical issues such as cooperation in the energy and communications fields, as well as the fate of missing persons and the return of Serbian refugees.

The talks will not touch on the province's final status, which the international community insists will be solved by the UN Security Council, not by Belgrade or Prishtina.

On 20 September, Harri Holkeri -- who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) -- already sounded upbeat, saying the dialogue could start "within weeks" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2003).

Representatives of the six-member international Contact Group for the Balkans agreed on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York on 23 September to back Holkeri's proposal for Belgrade-Prishtina talks. Diplomats from the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, Germany, and Italy said in a statement that "the Contact Group reiterated that the international community [will] not accept attempts by any party to preempt or circumscribe the question of Kosovo's eventual final status," adding that the international community remains committed to the principle of "standards before status." The talks will take place in mid-October in Vienna. The Serbian private news agency Beta reported that the exact date will depend on the schedules of unnamed EU representatives. Officials of the EU, NATO, the Contact Group, and the United States will be present at the talks, which Holkeri will chair.

The start of the talks had been expected earlier this year, but they have been constantly postponed amid apprehension on both sides about the direction the talks might take. Observers agree that politicians in Belgrade and Prishtina alike do not really want the talks but are being pressured by the international community.

Serbian politicians in the days leading up to the New York meeting nonetheless reiterated their previous public assurances that Belgrade wants to see talks as soon as possible. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is the government's pointman for Kosova and southern Serbia, is expected to lead the Serbian delegation: "If people do not talk to each other, if they do not have a dialogue, problems cannot be solved. We have seen what happens when people do not talk, when there is no dialogue."

Starting such talks is in Serbia's long-term interest, since progress toward eventual European Union membership is seen as impossible without resolving the Kosova issue. Some observers suggest that Belgrade may at some point even try to "swap" Kosova for the Republika Srpska in Bosnia as part of a broader deal.

Serbian politicians insist that emotionally laden issues -- such as security for the province's minority Serbs and the return of Serbian refugees -- should have priority, with other problems being dealt with at a later date. Some critics of the Belgrade politicians charge that they are exploiting the Kosova question to win nationalist votes and detract attention from their failure to solve Serbia's key problems of poverty, crime, and corruption (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June, 25 July, and 5 September 2003).

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic -- meeting teenagers from the Kosovar village of Gorazhdevc recently -- reiterated that security in Kosova is a priority for his government: "It is not going to be easy. It is not going to be simple. I cannot tell you that it is going to be tomorrow, or in seven days, in 10 days, or in a month. Our political activities will have different goals, but the most important goal will be [to guarantee] that children in Kosovo, regardless of their ethnicity -- and you in particular -- can play freely, study freely, bathe freely in your rivers, that you can freely come to Belgrade, but can also freely return to your Gorazdevac."

Recent moves by Belgrade, however, hardly seem conducive to dialogue. In a declaration in August, the Serbian parliament declared Kosova an indisputable part of Serbia, despite its UN administration, a statement that drew the ire of politicians in Prishtina bent on Kosova's eventual independence.

Kosovar leaders also are wary that direct talks might make it easier for Serbia to dictate its own terms.

Esat Stavileci, a member of the Prishtina Academy of Sciences, explains why he believes neither side is ready for talks: "Despite the fact that, formally, both sides have declared that they are for talks, I believe that in reality these talks will take place [only] because the international community is pushing both sides. That is especially true for Kosova, because the talks will be taking place at the same time when [the union state of] Serbia and Montenegro has taken several steps which EU officials say will have no impact on the future status of Kosova but which, in fact, mean that [Serbia and Montenegro] wants to secure a better position at the start of talks."

Enver Hasani, a professor of international law at Prishtina University, says the lead-up to the talks is further complicated by the lack of consensus among Kosovar politicians: "I think that Kosovar institutions, the Kosovar side, is not ready for a dialogue, but that does not mean they are not going to take part. This is something we have yet to see. But they are not ready as far as the Kosovar political life is concerned, and that became obvious in the past few days when the Kosova Assembly could not reach a consensus on the platform, the representation and the procedures for a dialogue with the Serbs and with Serbia."

On 18 September, the Kosova Assembly said dialogue with Belgrade is not a priority and that problems should be solved inside the province.

There are a number of practical issues related to the planned talks that have not yet been agreed. Many Kosovar leaders feel that it is wrong for UNMIK to attempt to act as a mediator rather than be a part of the Kosova delegation, since UNMIK has the final word in many spheres of public life in the province.

Kosovar leaders insist that a number of points -- such as who will participate and at what level, and who will enforce any decisions -- must be resolved before talks begin. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi recently said U.S. and European Union involvement is necessary if the talks are to succeed. (Julia Geshakova, with Patrick Moore)

SLOVENIA AWAITS CROATIA'S NEXT MOVE IN EEZ DISPUTE. Even before Slovenia's ambassador returned to Zagreb recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003), Ljubljana started backing off from its confrontation with Croatia over the possible declaration of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic.

Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel characterized Ambassador Peter Bekes' departure as an "invitation for consultations" rather than a "recall" in a 10 September interview in "Dnevnik." Regarding an earlier statement widely interpreted as a threat to withdraw support for Croatian EU membership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003), Rupel said that he had instead been speaking of reevaluating the "enthusiastic, independent" support Slovenia had hitherto lent Croatia.

Prime Minister Anton Rop's comments were even more direct: "Slovenia has and will continue to back Croatia's accession to the EU. We will find it much easier to solve our bilateral problems once Croatia joins," AFP reported on 15 September.

Some of the statements recently coming from Zagreb must have left geographers scratching their heads. On 4 September, the Croatian daily "Vjesnik" commented that Slovenia's demand for direct access to international waters on the basis of former Yugoslav succession would be equivalent to Macedonia demanding the same, or Turkmenistan demanding access to the Baltic Sea on the basis of rights inherited from the U.S.S.R. Slovenia, of course, is neither landlocked nor lacking an Adriatic port.

On 9 September, Croatian President Stipe Mesic further ridiculed Slovenia's position. In comments to the Croatian press in Brijuni, before setting off for Belgrade, Mesic said that by the same logic Croatia once had a border crossing with Austria at Sentilj (in northeast Slovenia) -- and could now demand a corridor to Austria and the countries of the EU.

The president seems to have forgotten that Croatia already borders the EU, as Croatia repeatedly emphasizes when discussing its territorial waters. However, the fact that the Croatian-Italian border lies in the middle of the Gulf of Trieste underscores the fundamental difference between land and sea borders. Furthermore, Croatia will enjoy direct contact with two additional EU countries -- Slovenia and Hungary -- in little over seven months' time.

In reaction to Mesic's analogy, the Slovenian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 11 September emphasizing that Croatia never shared a land border with Austria or Italy (discounting coastal territory occupied by Italy during the interwar period).

Despite rumors that Slovenian sea traffic will be cut off by the declaration of an EEZ, the Slovenian media have taken pains to clarify the impact of such a move. In a 10 September article in "Vecer," maritime law expert Mitja Grbec explained that ships will continue to have unhindered access to the port of Koper. Croatia could stop such vessels only if they violated some right in the zone, for example fishing rights. Container ships destined for Koper will travel unimpeded.

Of greater concern are fishing rights in what have until now been international waters. Unlike most of the Mediterranean, the Adriatic is unusually shallow, averaging less than 100 meters. Consequently, demersal and small pelagic fish stocks such as anchovy and hake are widely distributed and shared between countries rather than restricted to narrow zones of territorial waters. This attracts to the Adriatic foreign fishing fleets, which otherwise rely on large pelagic species, such as swordfish and tuna elsewhere in the Mediterranean.

Adriatic fish stocks are undeniably in crisis -- many species have diminished significantly or even disappeared altogether. However, Croatia's pleas for protection of the Adriatic ring hollow in light of the country's fishing practices, suggesting monopolization of limited resources as the true motivation behind any EEZ.

"Delo" pointed out on 22 September that until recently dynamiting was a widespread Croatian method of fishing, and that the practice continues in some areas. Croatian fishermen are also using drag rakes in the Bay of Piran -- a destructive practice banned in former Yugoslavia in the 1980s. The illegal harvesting of date mussels, which burrow into stone, by destroying rocks lining the coast also continues (see ""). All of these practices are prohibited in Slovenia.

The EU has generally frowned on the Croatian plans while being careful to stress that it has no jurisdiction in the matter. The Italian papers in particular have suggested that Croatia put off a decision until the 25-26 November Venice conference on EU fisheries. On 18 September, Italy advised Croatia not to declare an EEZ ahead of the Venice conference and not without first securing multilateral agreements, "Delo" reported on 22 September.

Croatia nonetheless looks set to declare an EEZ in the coming weeks. "It will be difficult to take Italy's advice," "Delo" of 23 September quoted Prime Minister Ivica Racan as saying. He added that the government will likely introduce such legislation in advance of the 23 November elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2003). There is also speculation that Croatia will seek to tread lightly by immediately freezing implementation of its EEZ rights, perhaps until agreements are concluded with other states regarding rights to excess fish stocks. (Donald F. Reindl,

STUDENTS PROTEST IN MACEDONIA. When the fall semester began in Macedonia's schools in early September, not all students were happy with their situation. Back in June, several thousand ethnic Albanian students demanded better schools in Kumanovo, but now it seems to be the turn of Macedonian students to protest against a number of controversial decisions made by Education Minister Aziz Pollozhani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003).

The protests came at a time when the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), of which Pollozhani is a member, tried to regain voter confidence by legalizing the underground Tetovo university (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 July, and 5 and 12 September 2003). These protests are good examples of how otherwise straightforward problems can be given an ethnic connotation in a society deeply divided along ethnic lines.

The trouble began on 4 September, when Pollozhani ordered that a class of ethnic Albanian high school students be moved from Kicevo to Bitola. The class was to be taught at the Goce Delcev primary school there. The Goce Delcev school, "Utrinski vesnik" pointed out on 9 September, is a multiethnic school attended by Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, and Romany children. The parents' protests against Pollozhani's decision thus had little to do with national prejudices and more to do with the age difference between the high-school students from Kicevo and the younger pupils in Bitola.

Within days, however, the situation in Bitola changed. Although the Education Ministry tried to defuse the situation by moving the Albanian-language class to another building in Bitola, protests began. During the first demonstration on 12 September, one of the protesters told "Utrinski vesnik" that "Minister Aziz Pollozhani must know that the Albanian nationality does not [have enough people] in this town to open an Albanian high school."

While the protesters -- mainly high-school students -- claim that the 34 students are all from Kicevo, the ministry's argument was that most students actually came from villages outside Bitola, which is some 70 kilometers southwest of Kicevo. By 16 September, the number of protesters had grown to 3,000, according to "Dnevnik." They refused to attend classes unless Pollozhani withdraws his order. At the same time, ethnic Albanian children were afraid to go to the Goce Delcev school after some of them were reportedly beaten by their Macedonian peers.

In their reactions to the street protests in Bitola, the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) traded accusations instead of offering solutions.

It took the ministry more time before Deputy Education Minister Tale Geramitcoski announced on 20 September that there are no legal grounds for opening an Albanian-language high school class in Bitola. As it turned out, there were only 11 students who could attend any such class in the town -- too few to merit a separate school. However, the protesting students returned to their schools on 22 September only under the condition that the class from Kicevo be dissolved.

At about the same time, other student protests took place in Skopje, again triggered by a controversial decision by Pollozhani. He ordered that seven Albanian-language classes return to their original high school in the northern Skopje quarter of Cair after years of "exile" in another part of the capital.

Both the ethnic Albanian students and the ministry argued that the "exile" school lacked suitable conditions. At their old school, however, the Albanians faced a cool reception. The school management and the Macedonian parents argued that there was simply not enough room for the Albanian students.

As a result of the conflicting interests, the school was temporarily closed down on 11 September. By 22 September, the school was still under police protection, and no classes were being taught. But the same day, a government spokesman said that Pollozhani had withdrawn his orders and that the students must return to their classrooms.

Pollozhani, for his part, disappeared from the scene when the opposition VMRO-DPMNE raised corruption charges against him -- the ministry had reportedly paid more than $60,000 for disinfecting a student dormitory. Together with his predecessor, Nenad Novkoski of the VMRO-DPMNE, Pollozhani was even summoned for an "informative talk" -- a former Yugoslav euphemism for interrogation -- at the Interior Ministry.

In view of his failure to provide enough teaching materials and the emergence of the corruption scandal, it is unlikely that Pollozhani gained much political capital among the ethnic Albanian voters by legalizing the underground Albanian university in Tetovo. The ethnic Macedonians, for their part, seem to have lost any confidence in him, anyway. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Kosovars must show confidence in their economy and invest their own money in it.... Then I'm sure we'll find ways and means to get international investors to show keen interest." -- UNMIK chief Harri Holkeri, quoted by Reuters in Rome on 18 September.

"We talk a lot about European integration and about being Europe-oriented today. Why? Because [the EU's] economy is developing decently and their people live well. We want to live like that, too.

"But the people there make responsible decisions and are not involved in political intrigues. They made the decision to create a supranational regulatory body, signed the Treaty of Rome [that established the European Economic Community in 1957], and stopped picking their noses year after year and started to work, casting aside ambitions and national arrogance." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, quoted by RFE/RL in Yalta on 19 September.

"To be frank, I never understood why there was tension [between Washington and Paris over Iraq] in the first place.... We gave our opinion...but as far as I know, we were not aggressive about it. We were operating within the context of a debate between long-time friends....

"It is perfectly clear that there may be cases where we have to act but where our NATO friends do not wish to. So what do we do? There must be a [EU] capacity for command, planning, and intervention.

"We have seen this recently in Macedonia. Our American friends have told us that we should take responsibility for the Balkans from now on. We can do this, but how? With a flute?....

"This is the process we are committed to. And it is one of the topics we discussed in earnest [on 20 September in Berlin] with [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair and [German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder. We are almost in agreement on everything.

"And this European defense system will come to be whatever happens. You know that four or five years ago, Tony Blair and I decided in Saint-Malo to launch the European defense system. I remember all the articles in the French press that said: 'It's pointless, and anyway other countries don't want it.' Now everyone agrees.

"Once again, it is inevitable. One should never fight against the inevitable. There is nothing unpleasant about it for the Americans. It suggests ignorance of the way things are to imagine that it would be against them, what with the transatlantic link and transatlantic solidarity. Some Americans -- and luckily I think they are a minority -- think that when we do something, it is against them. This is very odd....

"This is squarely in NATO's interests, and also in the interests of the U.S., since there is no point in having a weak partner. There is value in having a strong partner....

"I don't read the papers much, and that protects my peace of mind." -- French President Jacques Chirac, in "The New York Times" on 22 September.

"Chirac will probably do everything to keep this phase going where France has finally built itself up as a powerful opponent of the United States." -- Sabine von Oppeln, European politics analyst at Berlin's Free University. Quoted by Reuters on 20 September.