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Balkan Report: November 14, 2003


14 November 2003, Volume 7, Number 37

MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE FUNERAL OF ALIJA IZETBEGOVIC. On 22 October and in driving rain, about 150,000 people turned out in Sarajevo for the funeral of Alija Izetbegovic. Izetbegovic founded the main Muslim nationalist party in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), in 1990 and became its honorary chairman after retiring from active politics in 2000. Although that was the only office Izetbegovic held at the time of his death on 19 October, the funeral and much of the media coverage of it were appropriate for a beloved head of state who died in office.

In the late 1940s and 1980s, Izetbegovic served a total of nearly nine years in communist prisons on charges related to his Muslim political activities. A lawyer by profession, he always maintained that the charges were trumped up as a result of the communist regime's paranoia regarding any manifestation of religion in politics, real or imagined.

Izetbegovic led Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1992-95 civil war and was a member of the Bosnian Presidency between 1990-2000. He then left day-to-day politics, primarily because of a heart condition, but remained a towering figure to his supporters.

In their eyes, he was the greatest Bosnian Muslim politician of the 20th century and the father of the modern Bosnian state, a view that was widely reflected in the Muslim print and electronic media in the days following his death. In fact, the Muslim media's coverage was almost exclusively positive, depicting him as a man who firmly believed in God, patriotism, truth, multiethnicity, inclusiveness, and reconciliation.

Both the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" and the weekly "Dani" issued special supplements devoted to the life and works of Izetbegovic. "Dnevni avaz," the daily "Oslobodjenje," and the Muslim electronic media devoted such detailed and uncritical coverage to Izetbegovic, his funeral, and appraisals of him that one German journalist compared their work to the coverage in the former East German communist daily "Neues Deutschland" of the death of Stalin in 1953.

Several Bosnian journalists also commented that the media's coverage was dull and too effusive. For example, one Muslim journalist from northern Bosnia asked colleagues why the Sarajevo electronic media found it necessary to include reports involving funeral-related traffic tie-ups in the capital in their broadcasts for the entire country.

It was, moreover, left to outside publications such as the Zagreb weekly "Globus" of 24 October to recall the controversies and occasional scandals that accompanied Izetbegovic's political career. Unlike the Muslim media in Sarajevo, "Globus" did not shy away from publishing photos of Izetbegovic in the company of now-disgraced former Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey, whose father had been a close friend and prisonmate of Izetbegovic.

The Croatian weekly also suggested that Izetbegovic's Islam may not have been as moderate or tolerant as the Sarajevo media indicated. And while "Dani" highlighted Izetbegovic's life with the quote "seek truth rather than revenge," "Globus" found more colorful offerings, such as "screw the state of which I am president."

Bosnian Serb politicians and media were, predictably, highly critical of the deceased. Borislav Paravac, who is the Serbian member of the Presidency, told the press that many Serbs regard Izetbegovic as a war criminal. Unlike in the Croat-Muslim federation, the Republika Srpska did not observe a day of mourning for Izetbegovic on 22 October, and the three-member Presidency could not agree on establishing one for the entire country.

After the funeral, a discussion ensued in the Muslim press as to whether Serbs employed by the Bosnian government in Sarajevo reported to their offices during the day of mourning. The implication was that some Serbs had behaved improperly by daring to show up for work. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S PRIME MINISTER RESHUFFLES HIS CABINET. After an intense three-day debate, the Macedonian parliament approved on 7 November the changes to the government proposed by Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski. Along with the proposed replacement of four ministers, the parliament also discussed Crvenkovski's report on his first year in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 10 November 2003).

For most media outlets, it had been clear that a government reshuffle was imminent, but not who would be replaced by whom (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2003). On 1 November, Crvenkovski put an end to all speculation and announced that Finance Minister Petar Gosev of the Liberal Democrats (LDP) will be replaced by parliamentary speaker Nikola Popovski of Crvenkovski's Social Democratic Union (SDSM). Stevco Jakimovski (LDP) will take over the Economy Ministry from Ilija Filipovski (SDSM). Deputy parliamentary speaker Agron Buxhaku of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) is to head the Transport and Communications Ministry instead of incumbent Milaim Ajdini (BDI). Finally, Constitutional Judge and former Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti (appointed by the BDI but actually a member of the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity, or PPD) will take over the Justice Ministry from Ismail Darlishta (BDI).

When he presented the names, Crvenkovski conceded that mistakes were made in setting up the previous cabinet, "Dnevnik" reported. "[Our] priority was not to achieve results, but to avoid mistakes," Crvenkovski said. He added that there has been minimal success in attracting foreign investment or curbing unemployment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003).

But some observers also suggested that Crvenkovski had more personal reasons for this reshuffle. It is an open secret that Crvenkovski has presidential ambitions. However, with the elections due in 2004, he must first elbow out competitors within his own party. By nominating Popovski as finance minister, Crvenkovski sidelined his strongest rival. His other competitor, Tito Petkovski, who unsuccessfully ran for president in 1999, may now be eased out of the way by offering him Popovski's former job of speaker.

Crvenkovski was not the only one to move unwanted competitors out of the way. LDP Chairman and Skopje Mayor Risto Penov is said to prefer having his rival Jakimovski, who was the mayor of the Karpos municipality in Skopje, head a ministry rather than compete with him in the upcoming mayoral elections.

The BDI, for its part, successfully insisted that Education Minister Aziz Pollozhani remain in office -- at least for the moment. The ethnic Macedonian public demanded that Pollozhani be replaced, as he was thought to be responsible for the ethnic tensions and recent student protests in some high schools ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 September 2003).

But apparently the BDI was eager to avoid a situation in which more ethnic Albanian than ethnic Macedonian ministers were sacked. This could have created the impression that the Albanian ministers were the main reason for the cabinet's poor performance during the first year in office.

The debate preceding the vote on the new ministers was opened by Crvenkovski's report on his first year in office, in which he focused on the government's plans to improve the dire economic situation. He said his first year in office was "a year of stabilization" during which his administration concentrated on the security situation.

Crvenkovski pledged that foreign investment will rise in 2004. To achieve economic growth, he also proposed a number of government projects, including the creation of a free-economic zone and improving the infrastructure. He further proposed building a national memorial center honoring the first session of the communist-dominated Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 August 2002).

However, most opposition politicians said during the debate that Crvenkovski's pledges were too vague and unrealistic. Nikola Gruevski, who heads the biggest opposition party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, said the government has failed to improve the economy. Gruevski suggested the economy is comatose, claiming that the unemployment rate has reached a record high of 37 percent. "If a patient is in a coma there are two solutions -- one is shock therapy, the other is keeping the patient alive artificially," Gruevski said, adding that the government has chosen the second option.

In a commentary for "Dnevnik" of 8 November, Gruevski also charged that Crvenkovski's main concern in his first year in office was to secure power by installing his followers in the administration and the courts, as well as by silencing the trade unions.

Also in "Dnevnik" of 8 November, former parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov of the Liberal Party demanded that Crvenkovski resign, saying that the government has not achieved anything in the past 12 months.

And Zamir Dika of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) cynically commented on Crvenkovski's report: "I felt as if I were sitting in the parliament of Finland and everything is OK." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

SCLEROTIC LABOR MARKET BURDENS SLOVENIA. Slovenes warmly responded to the recent final EU monitoring report, which ranked their country as best-prepared among the 10 set to join the EU on 1 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2003). The major shortcoming, under the chapter "Free movement of persons," was a deficiency in "mutual recognition of professional qualifications" -- in other words, it is difficult for foreign-trained workers to find jobs.

The problem centers on what is known locally as "nostrifikacija" -- a cumbersome procedure that grudgingly recognizes the equivalency of degrees earned abroad (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 July 2003). According to the report, the problem is particularly acute in health care. Ironically, this is also an area in which Slovenia could benefit most from an influx of foreign-trained professionals. According to the Ministry of Health, by 2020 Slovenia's aging population will require 25 percent more doctors than are currently available.

Recognition of qualifications is only one of several serious problems in the Slovenian labor market today. The presence of a large gray economy -- small businesses operating outside the regulatory and tax system -- and a reluctance to offer workers permanent positions, are creating additional economic and social problems.

A "Delo" article of 17 September noted that the gray economy accounts for 24 percent of Slovenia's GDP and that a quarter of a million Slovenes work illegally. The problem is especially prevalent in construction, restaurants, and tourism.

As with so many other statistics, Slovenia ranks best among the EU accession states, but worse than the average in the EU, where the gray economy comprises 10 to 16 percent of GDP. However, it is doubtful whether EU accession will ameliorate the problem in Slovenia. A "Delo" article of 22 August observed that illegal work is now growing faster than legal work in the EU.

As Marko Jaklic, a professor at the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Economics points out, the tradition of the gray economy in Slovenia is centuries old. Until World War II, people generally worked in the formal sector for predominantly foreign owners, and then in the informal sector during their spare time to satisfy local demands for crafts and agricultural products. Postwar communism did not substantially change the situation, but simply replaced foreign owners with large state-owned companies.

Until Slovenia's independence, factory workers typically worked from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., went home for lunch, and then engaged in a second profession such as agriculture or carpentry. This labor pattern was one of the factors that contributed to Slovenia's prosperity within Yugoslavia, and it continues today even though many businesses have shifted to a later schedule.

Ironically, Jaklic argues, one of the best ways to tackle the gray market problem is to encourage the growth of gray market entrepreneurs. By increasing their productivity, they will eventually outgrow the gray market limits of the local community and adapt to official business activity. Doing so would also refocus Slovenian entrepreneurship from narrow local markets to national and international ones.

Securing a permanent job in Slovenia poses another challenge. Employers are increasingly opting for freelance work, temporary work, and repeated short-term contracts, even though this last practice is forbidden. In turn, nonpermanent employees often resort to gray activities to supplement their incomes.

Bozo Repe, a Slovenian historian, argues that it is not only employers but also potential employees who are to blame for the employment crisis. On the one hand, employers make extensive use of student services because doing so is cheaper than hiring staff -- the hourly take-home wage for students in Ljubljana averages 700 tolars ($3.50), but can be as low as 500 tolars ($2.50).

On the other hand, many students are reluctant to give up their student status because it provides benefits such as low-cost housing, transportation, insurance, and meals. The average time for obtaining a "four-year" university degree is six years, and many extend their student status by reenrolling, this time in another program. While this may be attractive in the short run, Repe points out that the proliferation of temporary jobs is creating a stratum of second-class citizens who are unable to raise loans, obtain credit, or accumulate pensions.

Still another factor contributes to Slovenian employers' reluctance to hire: it is extremely difficult to fire unsuitable employees. Once workers acquire permanent jobs, dismissing them is an extensive and demanding process. The head of a department at a major media organization recently recounted how she simply had to wait for the retirement of a translator who had been "dead wood" during his last five years.

This paralysis in domestic employment coupled with the reluctance to admit qualified foreign workers has created a feeling of stagnation that frustrates many young entrepreneurs, despite steady economic growth. This correspondent recently asked a class at the Faculty of Economics what advice the students would offer a person interested in starting a business in Slovenia. Their half-ironic response: "Don't." (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

RFE/RL JOURNALISTS TAKE TOP BILLING ON KOSOVA TELEVISION. Melazim Koci, who heads RFE/RL's Kosova Subunit, and RFE/RL Online's Balkan analyst, Patrick Moore, visited Kosova from 1-5 November. They discussed the latest developments there with political leaders and journalists in Prishtina and went to the divided city of Mitrovica to see the tense border area first hand. The main purpose of Koci and Moore's trip was to broadcast an interview on public television and meet Kosova's top officials, who had invited them for talks.

In the evening of 4 November, Koci interviewed Moore on the top-rated political program of Kosova's public television (RTK). The 45-minute interview covered a wide range of issues relating to Kosova and the region and was rebroadcast by RTK in full the next day.

The station's director, Agim Zatriqi, put the total audience at up to 2 million Albanians in Kosova, Albania, Macedonia, and western Europe, out of a total Albanian-speaking population of 6 million across the continent. During the interview, RTK's phones rang constantly with viewers' questions to Moore from across Kosova and around Europe.

Zatriqi said that the interview was one of the best programs that the Tuesday evening political broadcast has had in its two-year history. The complete interview is posted on RTK's website at http://www.rtkonline.com.

Earlier that day, Moore and Koci were received by Kosova's three most important political leaders: President Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), and Ramush Haradinaj of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK). Kosova television stations reported the meetings in newscasts throughout the day and into the evening, as did four of Prishtina's five daily newspapers the next morning.

Patrick and Koci also spent an evening talking politics with Adem Demaci, who heads RTK's governing board. He is known as "Kosova's Mandela" for having spent 29 years in communist prisons while retaining his boundless optimism and support for reconciliation and minority rights.

How did two RFE/RL journalists obtain such a high profile? Koci is a veteran of RTK television, where he worked 12 years before eventually joining RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. Soon after he became head of the subunit in the summer of 2000, he launched weekly interviews with Moore dealing with Balkan and international affairs in his weekend broadcasts. Moore has been a Balkan analyst with RFE/RL since 1977, after studying Balkan history in the United States and Sarajevo.

In just over three years since 2000, the Koci-Moore interviews have become an institution on the media scene in Kosova and Albania, where they are regularly reprinted in several daily papers. The interviews have also received high marks in the subunit's program reviews because they provide background information and analysis not always found in the regional media.

During their visit to Kosova, many people recognized them and stopped to offer praise for the broadcasts as balanced and objective. One young taxi driver identified Koci by his voice, and when Koci pointed out that the other fellow in the cab was Moore, the driver replied that "everyone here knows Patrick Moore."

The cab driver added that he was a guerrilla fighter during the 1999 conflict. He was at the front and worried about his parents in Prishtina at the time when Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces tried to "ethnically cleanse" the Albanian majority population. The driver stressed that during his time in uniform he kept alive his hope in a better future thanks to RFE/RL's Albanian-language broadcasts. (RFE/RL)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The [Serbian] parliament lost the ability to adopt laws necessary for the reforms. Seats were traded in the parliament and coalitions formed that no longer represent the will of the electorate." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, asking speaker Natasa Micic for the dissolution of the parliament on 13 November. Quoted by dpa in Belgrade.

"I've been in a Russian prison and, after a week in a Russian prison, anyone would confess to having killed JFK or being an alien invader from Mars." -- Russian caller to BBC phone-in program on "Putin vs. the Oligarchs," on 9 November.

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