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Balkan Report: October 17, 2003


17 October 2003, Volume 7, Number 35

KOSOVA AND SERBIA HOLD DIALOGUE OF THE DEAF. Top leaders from Belgrade and Prishtina met reluctantly in Vienna for the start of talks aimed at solving some practical problems. The project is largely the work of the international community, which many Kosovars fear is pursuing a hidden agenda.

On 14 October in the Austrian capital, Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova, parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, and Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic opened the first official talks since 1999 between Prishtina and Belgrade.

Representatives of the international community included NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, and OSCE Chairman and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Solana said: "I am aware that the first step of a journey is often the most difficult one. But as one moves ahead, progress becomes easier."

The opening session will soon be followed by meetings of experts held in Belgrade and Prishtina under the chairmanship of Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). Topics on the agenda include ensuring electricity supplies, obtaining recognition of Kosovar car license plates and identity documents by Serbia, enabling a safe return for up to 200,000 mainly Serbian refugees and displaced persons, and accounting for about 3,700 missing persons from the 1998-99 conflict, mainly ethnic Albanians.

The talks began, however, under a cloud. Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, whom UNMIK had invited to the meeting, announced in Prishtina on 12 October that he will not attend because he does not have a mandate from the parliament. Rexhepi argued that he is "ready to talk with our neighbor Serbia, as with all other neighbors of Kosova. But it has to be our decision when, how, and what to talk about. This cannot be somebody else's decision. Now is not the right moment."

UNMIK subsequently withdrew invitations to Health Minister Resmije Mumxhiu and Milorad Todorovic, who is coordinator for refugee returns, on the grounds that they should not attend without the prime minister. Todorovic was to have been the only Serbian member of the Prishtina delegation.

In response, many Belgrade leaders balked at attending. In the end, Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic and Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic stayed home. Solana telephoned Belgrade and Prishtina into the night on 13 October to ensure that the talks did not collapse before they began.

His efforts proved successful. The invited Kosovar and Serbian officials showed up in Vienna and read prepared statements in the presence of the international officials -- but did not engage in a real dialogue.

London's "Financial Times" noted that "Zivkovic accused Rugova of refusing to open real dialogue. 'When [Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic was in power, Rugova spoke to him, but today he will not speak to the authorities in Belgrade.' Rugova laughed off the barb and spat back that he saw 'no difference between the previous regime [under Milosevic] and the current government of Serbia.'"

For his part, Covic stressed that any "talks on the [province's] status are premature, so one should not be in a rush. Kosovo is a part of Serbia and Montenegro. So, let us first deal with [creating] a normal life in Kosovo." In a thinly veiled warning to the Albanians, he added that "we heard statements from the international community which were encouraging, and I hope both sides will understand that the talks, the deals, don't have alternatives, and that we will use the opportunities and help which are offered by international community."

Also sticking to his established position, Rugova argued that "our aim is an...independent, democratic Kosova, integrated in the European Union, in NATO, and always in friendship with the United States." He argued that "as soon as possible, formal recognition of Kosova's independence will accelerate internal democratic processes and economic integration. [Independent Kosova] will serve as a stabilizing factor in the Balkans."

Kosova's parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci stressed that Kosova is independent in practice and that independence "is an irreversible process."

Most of the comments from the top international officials, who had pressured both sides into attending, were positive. Solana called the meeting "a very important step." Holkeri argued that "we have launched the work of the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina and now, in November, the working groups -- which [deal with] cooperation in the field of energy, cooperation [regarding] missing persons, cooperation on [refugee] returns, and cooperation in the field of transport and communication -- will start."

Patten stressed that "people got into the same room, they began addressing one another, and in my experience, having worked for years in Northern Ireland, the most difficult step is always the first one." Patten nonetheless scolded those who were invited but did not attend: "I'd like to say to those who weren't here that, frankly, I think it was lamentable that they weren't here, and they should be here next time."

In Prishtina, some 1,500 people demonstrated against the talks and for independence. When he returned to the Kosovar capital from Vienna, Rugova said that the negotiations will work to the advantage of Kosova's independence.

But many observers inside and outside the province criticized the Belgrade-Prishtina talks as little more than a well-publicized photo opportunity for the political benefit of the foreigners. There is little, if any, enthusiasm for the negotiations among Serbian and Kosovar politicians, who fear that the talks will yield few practical results and hence only anger voters.

In Kosova, many suspect that the talks are the first stage in an attempt by the EU to force them into a new political relationship with Belgrade, which Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority emphatically rejects. After the Serbian crackdown in 1998-99, all Kosovar political parties reject any link with Belgrade outside of future membership for both countries in the EU and NATO.

Covic, Zivkovic, and many other Serbian politicians employ nationalistic rhetoric about Kosova, but it is not clear what they would do with a population of 2 million hostile Albanians were they to reacquire control over the region.

Many observers suspect that Serbian politicians talk tough about Kosova to win points with voters at little political cost or to build up Kosova as a bargaining chip to "swap" at some point in the future for territorial compensation in Bosnia or elsewhere. In many ways, the international community is itself responsible for this problem by having encouraged Belgrade to think that it has a role in Kosova instead of making clear that Kosova is lost to Serbia, which would be well advised to turn its energies toward fighting crime, corruption, and poverty (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002).

Another problem with the negotiations is the ambiguity in UNMIK's dual roles as both a mediator and a power factor in Prishtina. The Kosovar leadership argues that UNMIK should turn over more powers to it to end the ambiguity.

Belgrade and Kosovar Serbs fear this transfer of authority would bring Kosova one step closer to independence, which they reject, arguing that UN Security Council Resolution 1244 specifies that Kosova is part of "Yugoslavia." Critics of this position charge that the resolution was simply a fig leaf to cover the Serbian retreat from the province in 1999 and not a firm commitment to permanent "Yugoslav" sovereignty (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June, 1August, and 26 September 2003). (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA PONDERS A NEW CITIZENSHIP LAW. When the government put a long-delayed reform of the citizenship law on its agenda in early October, it sparked a debate about the possible consequences of any new regulations. The major point at issue is the period of time after which the state may grant permanent residents the right to become naturalized.

Depending on their political and ethnic affiliation, some politicians say that a relatively short legal stay in Macedonia is enough to entitle non-Macedonians to acquire citizenship, as the number of persons affected is relatively small. Others, mainly from the ethnic Macedonian opposition parties, charge that the period of residence must be as long as possible, so that the number of future citizens can be limited. The state, these parties say, will not be able to cope with a large wave of new citizens.

The draft law on citizenship adopted by the government on 6 October stipulates that persons who have legally resided in Macedonia for at least eight years are entitled to citizenship. Under the current legislation, the period is 15 years.

The government is also planning to grant certain privileges to citizens of former Yugoslavia who have been living in Macedonia since its independence in 1991. Those persons can become citizens of Macedonia within two years after the draft law comes into force. The current special regulations for refugees or foreigners married to Macedonian citizens remain untouched.

On 8 October, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on the discussions within a group of experts that preceded the government's decision. According to an unnamed expert quoted by the newspaper, the working group had proposed to reduce the period of legal residence to qualify for citizenship from 15 to 10 years.

This would enable Macedonia to meet the recommendations set forward in the Council of Europe's 1997 Convention on Nationality (http://conventions.coe.int/treaty/en/Treaties/Html/166.htm). "In establishing the conditions for naturalization, [the state] shall not provide for a period of residence exceeding ten years before the lodging of an application," the convention says.

The unnamed expert quoted by "Utrinski vesnik" argued that the reduction of this period could lead to an influx of ethnic Albanians from Kosova and southern Serbia.

Former Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov, for his part, believes that the governing Social Democrats yielded to pressure from their ethnic Albanian coalition partners of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) and the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). Trajanov noted that "according to some estimates, some 200,000 persons from Kosova and southern Serbia have come to Macedonia since independence. Before the [parliamentary] elections in 1994, 120,000 of them were granted Macedonian citizenship." With the new regulations, another 80,000 persons would be entitled to citizenship. "All this would destroy the balance among the ethnic communities and [lead to] the federalization of the state," Trajanov said. He firmly opposes any reduction of the current 15-year period.

When the parliament's Defense and Security Committee discussed the citizenship issue during its 8 October session, it voted down a new citizenship bill drafted by Ismet Ramadani of the ethnic Albanian opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD). Ramadani's proposal also took into account the Council of Europe's recommendations. The main difference between his proposal and the government's draft was that he wanted to reduce the minimum period of legal residence to five years.

During that session, members of the ethnic Macedonian opposition parties criticized the government proposal. Slobodan Danevski of the Liberal Party and Koce Trajanovski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) demanded that the parliament decide on the draft law only after the official census results are announced in mid-November. Both Danevski and Trajanovski wanted the 15-year legal residency requirement to remain in place.

Interestingly, those opposition parties' former coalition partner, the PDSH, had demanded that the citizenship of ethnic Albanian immigrants be regulated before the census, obviously hoping to increase the share of ethnic Albanians in the country's overall population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September and 1 October 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001).

The government, however, is not inclined to accept the opposition's arguments. Instead, it says that the figures presented by the VMRO-DPMNE and the Liberals are inflated. Erol Salih, an aide to Interior Minister Hari Kostov, told a press conference on 10 October that the government expects fewer applications for citizenship than in previous years. "During the past 11 years, 113,080 people became citizens. [An additional] 1,709 applications for citizenship are currently under review. There are about 11,000 foreigners permanently residing [in the country], plus 26 with refugee status who are potential applicants for citizenship," Salih said. "Not all of them meet the requirements of the draft law, and many do not wish to apply for citizenship." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

NEGATIVE SLOVENIAN REACTION TO NEW CROATIAN ZONE. Croatia's declaration of a "fishing and ecological" zone in the Adriatic Sea on 3 October came as little surprise, although it remains unclear what such a zone will entail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 October 2003). The Croatian government's original plan to declare an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic had met with condemnation from Slovenia and reserved disapproval from Italy and the European Union (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 September 2003).

Although the fishing and ecological zone is broadly viewed as an EEZ in disguise, the move appears to be an attempt by the Croatian government to please its own public in advance of 23 November elections while avoiding censure from abroad. A further sop was offered to Slovenia and the EU with the decision not to enforce the zone for a year following its declaration.

Despite worries that offending Brussels could hamper Croatia's efforts to join the EU, Zlatko Tomcic, speaker of the Croatian parliament and head of the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS), admitted in "Jutarnji list" on 28 September that it would be "political suicide" for the government not to carry its plans through. Anto Djapic of the hard-line opposition Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights (HSP) also warned that failure to declare an EEZ would represent a victory for Slovenia at Croatia's expense, "Delo" reported on 26 September.

Slovenian reaction to the Croatian move was uniformly negative. Within the governing coalition, the leader of the Liberal Democracy of Slovenia (LDS) parliamentary group, Tone Anderlic, characterized the decision as undesirable. The moderate leader of the left-wing United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD), Borut Pahor, condemned the move as rash unilateralism, while Janez Podobnik of the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) labeled it a "mistake." Anton Rous, head of the Democratic Party of Retired Persons of Slovenia (DeSUS), charged that the Croatian parliament had acted "in the spirit of the [World War II fascist] Independent State of Croatia," "Delo" reported on 6 October.

The opposition leveled charges not only at Croatia, but also at the Slovenian government. Andrej Bajuk, president of the New Slovenia party (NSi), said that it was high time for the government to defend Slovenia's national interests. In comments on the Internet news site 24ur.com on 10 October, the leader of the newly renamed Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), Janez Jansa, stressed Slovenia's historical contact with the open sea. Jansa characterized Croatia's decision as a withdrawal from the (unratified) 2001 Drnovsek-Racan border agreement and a unilateral move that could prejudice the final demarcation of the maritime border.

The Croatian government also came under domestic criticism for its action, both for being too reserved and too assertive, "Delo" reported on 5 October. Tonci Tadic of the HSP, which originally submitted the bill for the EEZ, said that a "fishing and ecological" zone is meaningless within international law. The leader of the main opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), Ivo Sanader, likewise criticized the government for shying away from the outright declaration of an EEZ.

However, as early as 26 September the Split daily "Slobodna Dalmacija" warned that such a move would demonstrate to the EU that Croatia is "undisciplined, impulsive, and unready for membership." Similarly, former Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said that it will now be difficult to explain the zone to Brussels.

Slovenia had pushed for a joint zone in the Adriatic, to be shared by all countries bordering the sea, but this proposal was rebuffed by Zagreb. Croatian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Simonovic laid out his view of the situation in a report to his government on 25 September after meeting with officials in Brussels: a joint zone would disadvantage Croatia because Slovenia has no right to the Adriatic in any case, and Italy has a fishing fleet 10 times larger than Croatia's. (Italy also has a population 13 times greater than Croatia's.)

The Slovenian media have questioned whether Croatia has bitten off more than it can chew. The zone over which Croatia has extended its sovereignty -- some 20,000 square kilometers -- is equal in size to Slovenia and may be beyond Croatia's technological capacity to supervise. Croatia's Ministry of Agriculture has stated that the purchase of 12 additional patrol boats and the employment of 15 inspectors will be necessary to enforce Croatia's sovereignty.

Despite Slovenia's focus on Croatia's new jurisdiction in the Adriatic, from the EU's perspective the debate is overshadowed by Croatia's reluctance to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, most notably the failure to arrest General Ante Gotovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2003). Together, however, both issues could harm Croatia's chances to join the EU with Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 -- a decision due to be made by Brussels in early 2004. The Racan government has all but staked its political future on meeting its self-declared 2007 deadline.

Slovenia has been pondering how deeply to entrench its 670-kilometer Schengen border with its southern neighbor, only to see it quickly dismantled after Croatia's EU accession (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). In the current political climate, the answer is anyone's guess. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

BALKAN HUMAN TRAFFICKING OUT OF CONTROL? A new report on human trafficking in the Balkans has found that criminal groups are changing the ways in which they operate in order to avoid exposure. The report by the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact Task Force on Trafficking in Human Beings said that traffickers are moving deeper underground despite increasing regional and international efforts to combat this type of crime. The document also issues a caution on the rise of trafficking in children in the region.

The report focuses on Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosova, Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia and Montenegro, and Romania. It provides a regional overview on the status of protection measures and assistance for victims as well as data on the characteristics of victims.

Helga Konrad, who chairs the task force, presented the report on 30 September to delegates of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). She told RFE/RL that four countries in the region are most affected by human trafficking.

"As you can see in the report, the problem is huge everywhere. But most of the victims in Southeastern Europe are coming from four countries. These countries are Albania, Moldova, Romania, and Bulgaria," Konrad said.

The report said as many as 92 percent of all identified and assisted victims came from those four countries. Albania is far ahead of the others with 46 percent, followed by Moldova with 23 percent, Romania with 16 percent, and Bulgaria with 7 percent.

Widespread poverty in the region remains the main cause of human trafficking. The report said most victims are women and girls. Some are kidnapped outright, but most are lured by false promises of jobs abroad as waitresses, dancers, or babysitters, but are then forced into prostitution by means of threats, beatings, and even torture. Many times they are kept hostage in houses or brothels without any documents.

The report said more than 5,000 victims were identified and assisted in the region between January 2000 and June 2003. But it cautions that identification of trafficking victims at border points remains a key problem. Some governments have been accused of failing to fight trafficking -- notably Serbia, which did not identify some 1,300 trafficking victims that passed through the country and were later identified in neighboring countries. Moldova and Albania were also blamed for failing to identify large numbers of victims. The report said some 20 percent of the 1,000 Moldovan women who are sent back annually by Turkey through the Ukrainian port of Odessa were not identified prior to their deportation.

The report also notes that the number of victims to be identified and assisted has dropped over the past year by 20 percent. Macedonia was the sole exception. Lower numbers would seem to be a good sign. But Konrad said on the contrary, the drop only signals that traffickers are changing the way they work to better avoid detection.

"We believe it's not a good sign, because it shows that trafficking in human beings is going underground. It shows that the traffickers rapidly react to our responses in the fight against human trafficking. And it shows that the victims are no longer being found in bars and brothels. So therefore, we would have to rethink if brothel raids are the right approach to it, [if they] shift the victims to private locations -- where of course, the access is more difficult, and where it is more difficult to assist the victims," Konrad said.

She added that the report also found that organized-crime groups are quick to change trafficking routes once they have been detected by the authorities. "Albania, for instance, has done quite a lot to interrupt the transport from [the port of] Vlora to Italy, and now what the report shows is that this trafficking is re-routed through other countries, like through ports in Montenegro, or over land from Albania to Greece, for instance," Konrad said.

She noted that Croatia was not included in the report because experts found that Zagreb has not yet developed a method for identifying and assisting victims, and that in 3 1/2 years the country has identified only five trafficking victims.

The report urged governments in the region to step up health care, legal counseling, and shelters for trafficking victims. There are currently 26 shelters in the region, offering more than 300 spaces, but only for short-term stays.

According to Konrad, "most of the shelters we have in the region are just return shelters. That means victims of trafficking are allowed to stay as long as they prepare for, or as long as their papers are prepared for their return back home. But there are no long-term shelters that would allow the victims to stay for a certain time period -- let's say they would have a recovery period. Maybe they would be granted an extended stay, a temporary residence permit, for instance, in order to better prepare their return back home, but maybe also to find other sustainable solutions for them."

Most shelters are run by nongovernmental organizations and funded by third countries. Only three countries -- Romania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria -- provide partial funding for shelters. Romania, Bulgaria, and Moldova are the only countries that offer reintegration centers that allow longer stays of three months to two years.

The report also shows that traffickers are targeting increasingly younger victims. In Bulgaria, 50 percent of the victims were minors (under 18) when they were first trafficked. In Albania, the number climbs to 65 percent. But Konrad said even more alarming is the rise in trafficking in children: "There is, in the [Southeastern European] region, a huge problem in trafficking in children. Children are trafficked for many purposes -- for begging, for stealing, and sometimes also for sexual abuse, for the market of pornography. And, unfortunately, we realize that this is increasing and also shows the urgent need to focus on this problem."

Konrad said the report, which was put together by the task force's Regional Clearing Point in Belgrade, deals only with the victims of trafficking. She said information on criminal gangs and traffickers is being gathered by other bodies, such as the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative, a regional transborder crime-fighting center, as well as the European police force Europol and Interpol.

Konrad noted that the countries in the region are also inching ahead in the fight against human trafficking: "The countries in Southeastern Europe have really made progress. I must also say that trafficking in human beings is high on the political agenda and I believe that all governments, all authorities in South Eastern Europe are aware of the problem and are aware that they also have a responsibility."

But Konrad warned that much remains to be done before human trafficking in Southeastern Europe can be diminished. Konrad said the approach, the initiatives, and the structures to fight human trafficking must be improved, mainly through cooperation "with those responsible on the spot." (Eugen Tomiuc)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Germans have taken on...military roles [abroad] without exaggerated patriotic jingoism.... And where we have seen foreign policy at variance with our values and best interests, we have had the courage to say 'no.' And we find that we have allies in this approach within NATO and, as I found out last week, within the United Nations." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking on 3 October, the Day of German Unity. Quoted in Magdeburg by dpa, which noted that his thinly veiled jibes at the United States were met with "thunderous applause." He alluded to the "European framework" of German reunification in 1989 but did not refer even once to the role of the United States, which was Germany's only major ally to support reunification in 1989-90 without qualification.

The Franco-German idea of a "core Europe [is regarded in Eastern Europe] as an arrogant theory [aimed at keeping Eastern Europe out of the decision-making process].... The laughable war of words [over the Iraq conflict led to the confusion of who is the friend and who the enemy].... Poland and the Czech Republic better remember the lessons of Munich than do many West Europeans.... Pacifism is no response to the challenge of terrorism, a fight between good and evil," which affects Europe as well as America. -- Hungarian Nobel Prize for Literature laureate and Holocaust survivor Imre Kertesz, who was the guest speaker of honor in Magdeburg. Quoted in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." Most German media ignored his remarks, concentrating instead on discussing the standard of living in former East Germany.

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