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Balkan Report: January 11, 2002

11 January 2002, Volume 6, Number 3

MACEDONIAN BISHOPS ATTACK PRESIDENT TRAJKOVSKI. In Macedonia, as in other countries with an Orthodox Christian majority, believers celebrate Christmas in January (according to the Gregorian calendar). Most ethnic Macedonians are Orthodox Christians, but some are atheists, Muslims, Roman Catholics, or Protestants -- including President Boris Trajkovski, who is a Methodist.

Traditionally, the head of the Macedonian Orthodox Church as well as the political leaders of the country give Christmas addresses, which express their wishes for the coming year. After a year of crisis, which could have ended in an all-out civil war, it was no surprise that religious as well as political leaders expressed their desire for peace.

His Holiness Stefan, archbishop of Ohrid and Macedonia, who heads the Macedonian Orthodox Church, said in his address, "Let this Christmas be a holiday, but also a day when all of us will pray for peace." He also referred to last year's political events. He added that "someone has tried to grab parts of our country, to diminish the honor and dignity of the Macedonian name, to degrade everything that is part of being Macedonian, to humiliate the holy Church...."

Other high-ranking Church leaders, such as Bishop Agatangel of Bregalnica or Bishop Petar, who heads the large Macedonian Orthodox immigrant community of Australia and New Zealand, did not only pray for peace.

Already in mid-December, Bishop Agatangel published an article in the daily "Nova Makedonija," in which he directly attacked Trajkovski. Under the headline "The result of the president's hypocrisy," the bishop developed a conspiracy theory with Trajkovski as the central figure.

After describing the danger that various sects allegedly pose to the Macedonian Orthodox Church and its members, Bishop Agatangel wrote: "The growth and unscrupulous behavior of the sects in our state, as far as I know..., is a result of a number of steps taken by the president, Mr. Boris Trajkovski. The citizens of this country see him hypocritically light candles in Orthodox churches. As an authority in this state, he thus tries to lead the Orthodox Macedonian people into the muddy waters of Protestantism.... Ever since he was elected president...the number of sects has grown considerably. They have even become more aggressive."

Bishop Agatangel also accuses Trajkovski of having allowed the position of the Orthodox Church to be weakened by the recent constitutional changes. According to the cleric, this could only be the result of outside pressure: "Maybe this pressure comes from the foreign emissaries who visit Macedonia every day and who come from Protestant countries."

At a press conference in the southern Macedonian town of Bitola, the Australian Bishop Petar made similar accusations against Trajkovski. "During the past two years, Macedonia has been attacked not only by Albanian terrorists, but also by a large number of sects, which, supported by the Methodist Boris Trajkovski, have already entered our schools, mailboxes, families, and even the army barracks," the daily "Dnevnik" on 8 January quoted him as saying.

In response, Trajkovski said: "I do not believe that the Macedonian Orthodox Church supports the standpoint of Bishop Petar, because such attacks harm both the church and the Macedonian state."

Trajkovski feels that it is not wise for the church to engage in political discussions. "I am the president of this state. [I am] elected by all citizens of the Republic of Macedonia, and so I will continue to carry out my duties, regardless of my religious beliefs. I respect the traditions of the Macedonian Orthodox Church. One of my duties is to strengthen the church in its foreign relations and to work for its recognition." This is an allusion to the fact that other Orthodox churches -- especially the Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek -- do not recognize the existence of an independent Macedonian Orthodox Church.

"The fact that I am a member of the Methodist Church is my personal right, and I never abused this right in my authority as president. When I mention the Lord in my speeches, I mention a universal category -- this is the Lord whom believers of all religions respect," "Dnevnik" quotes Trajkovski as saying. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ANTI-RUSSIFICATION PROTESTS IN MOLDOVA. Several thousand people staged a demonstration on 9 January in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, to protest the Communist government's decision to declare Russian language instruction mandatory in schools, beginning this month. The protest was organized by the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), but participants also included teachers and parents who see the government move as another step toward bringing Moldova back into Russia's sphere of influence.

The protestors, mostly young people, gathered in downtown Chisinau, shouting "Down with the Bolsheviks!" and "Don't shove the Russian language down our throats!" The demonstrators also listened to speeches from several politicians from the PPCD.

The opposition officials called on demonstrators to oppose what it called "re-Russification" and hailed the protest as a "wave of national revival." The demonstrators later marched peacefully along Chisinau's main street under the watchful eye of security forces. The protest eventually ended with no reports of violence.

The protest was prompted by an announcement in December by Education Minister Ilie Vancea that beginning with second-grade levels, Russian-language instruction would become mandatory in all schools as of January 2002. Vancea first attempted to push the measure through in August 2001, but retreated amid protests from teachers and parents.

Earlier that summer, Moldova's Communist-dominated parliament adopted legislation granting the Russian language special status. Under the law, Russian-speaking Moldovans receive the right to education in their mother tongue at all levels.

Moldova was part of Romania between the two world wars, and some 65 percent of its 4.5 million people speak what is locally called Moldovan -- virtually the same language as Romanian. The rest speak Russian. Moldovan became the official language after Chisinau declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Communist government's latest decision has stirred protest in Moldova's pro-Romanian circles. Critics of the plan accuse Communist President Vladimir Voronin's government of trying to bring Moldova back into Russia's sphere of influence.

Voronin and his Communist Party came to power in 2001 pledging to bring Moldova closer to Russia and to restore living standards to pre-independence levels. Moldova is currently Europe's poorest country, with an average monthly salary of some $30.

Pro-Russian Communists control more than two-thirds of the Moldovan parliament's 101 seats, leaving the opposition largely powerless. Moreover, there are signs that interest in reunification with Romania is waning. The pro-Romanian PPCD won only 11 parliamentary seats in last year's elections.

But despite its limited leverage in parliament, the PPCD says it is determined to fight the re-Russification of Moldova by mobilizing civil society. In organizing the latest protest, the PPCD joined forces with the newly formed Committee for the De-Russification of Moldovan Education, a group comprising mainly teachers and parents. PPCD leader Iurie Rosca says that the 9 January protest was just a part of his party's actions to prevent Russian-language studies from becoming obligatory and to fight the Communists' stated goal of amending the constitution to make Russian Moldova's second official language. "We distributed many forms, and we organized the campaign to collect signatures from parents, students, from all citizens wishing to support our initiative -- an action which we intend to use to eliminate Russian language and literature as a mandatory subject in Moldova's Romanian schools."

Vancea announced on 8 January that schools' winter breaks would be extended by a week, prompting some critics to speculate that the education minister was trying to encourage teachers and students to continue their vacations and forgo the next day's protest.

But Vancea denied there was any connection between the extension and the scheduled protest. He told RFE/RL that the extra week of vacation was granted at the request of many teachers across the republic. "No, there is no connection [between the protest and the extension of the winter vacation]. There is no connection between the two. [The extension] was made at the request of some teachers' collectives, and I want to tell you that many of the teachers' collectives are actually beginning school on January 14."

Despite the extended break, however, an unexpectedly large number of people turned out for the Chisinau protest, prompting the government to signal that it may reconsider introducing Russian as a mandatory school subject. Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said his cabinet is ready to "re-examine" the issue if demonstrators send him a written note of protest.

Protest organizers say they will continue staging demonstrations on a daily basis until Communist authorities revoke the decision altogether. The government's position may be complicated further if the country's teachers' unions -- which have demanded a 50 percent increase in their meager $20 monthly salaries -- decide to join the demonstrations over the next few days. (Eugen Tomiuc)

MEDIEVAL TUNNEL DISCOVERED IN SLOVENIA. The discovery of a forgotten tunnel connecting the medieval castle in Skofja Loka to the nearby river has astounded archeologists, the daily "Delo" reported on 20 December. Skofja Loka (Bishop's Meadow), is 20 kilometers northwest of Ljubljana and one of the oldest towns in Slovenia. Bavarian bishops controlled the town for over eight centuries until the Hapsburgs acquired it in 1803. An Ursuline convent was established in the town's 13th-century castle in 1890. After World War II, the castle served as a prison for political prisoners.

Workers came across the four-meter-high tunnel during street repairs. Archeologist Joze Oman and historian Modest Erbeznik of the Ljubljana Institute for Monument Preservation examined the tunnel before the crew sealed it back up and paved it over.

Franc Podnar, director of the town museum, expressed amazement that there is no known written record of the tunnel. The fact that the tunnel runs directly under the convent walls towards the Franciscan monastery set local tongues wagging regarding its purpose. However, Oman points out that the river would have prevented any link between the convent and monastery. Instead, the tunnel probably served as a secret passageway during the Turkish attacks of the late 15th century. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We must turn to real patriotism to avoid future problems stemming from the abuse of power by aggressive patriotism." -- Republika Srpska President Mirko Sarovic, marking that entity's 10th anniversary. Quoted by Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service in Banja Luka on 8 January.

"Looking back, we have nothing to be ashamed of. Our way was the right way, and we would do it the same way if we had to again." -- Sarovic.

"All this is geared towards a construed justification for the crimes committed during the NATO aggression against my nation. Quite obviously, the intention is to [portray] those who defended their families, children, hearths, homes, and country as criminals and evil people.... Those who traveled thousands of kilometers to destroy their houses in the night and kill innocent people and destroy maternity wards [and] hospitals...are, in cooperation with the Albanian terrorists, responsible for the vast number of victims." -- Former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, in The Hague on 9 January. Quoted by Reuters. He faces trial for crimes against humanity in Kosova.

"Look at this court. Courts should be impartial. The indictment has been drafted according to what the British intelligence service has said. The judge is an Englishman. The amicus curiae is [as well]...." -- Milosevic.