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Balkan Report: March 8, 2002


8 March 2002, Volume 6, Number 12

WHAT FATE FOR THE EU MISSION IN MACEDONIA? Many officials of the EU or its member governments feel that the time has come for that body to take on a greater military role in the Balkans, particularly if Washington scales down its presence there. But the idea of an EU military mission in Macedonia has encountered opposition from within NATO -- and may prove to be a non-starter anyway.

Plans by some EU officials -- particularly from France and Spain -- to take over peacekeeping in Macedonia from NATO have come in for sharp criticism from the Atlantic alliance, Reuters reported from Brussels on 5 March (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002).

Speaking on condition on anonymity, a senior NATO official said: "What is the chain of command for the European Union? There isn't one, and no one has come up with one.... Without a well thought-out chain of command and procedures, I would strongly recommend against it."

Earlier, British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon's office said: "There would be a real risk that the EU's first mission would end in failure or rescue by a re-engaged NATO."

On 6 March, the "Financial Times" quoted an unnamed NATO diplomat as noting that the current NATO peacekeeping operation, Amber Fox, is integrated into KFOR's supply networks and asked: "What will happen if the EU takes over? Will it have separate supply lines?... That would be crazy." The NATO official in Brussels asked what would happen if both NATO and the EU wanted to use the same helicopter at the same time.

The Vienna daily "Die Presse" reported on 6 March, moreover, that it is unclear how the EU would fund any peacekeeping mission in Macedonia. There is no money budgeted for such a large-scale project, and some unnamed countries are opposed to any attempts aimed at raising or finding the necessary funds.

Austrian Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser told the daily that there is no consensus in Brussels as to how to fund the project. Unnamed German sources added that the EU does not even have an estimate of how much the mission would cost.

The same daily also reported on a conference of EU Social Democrats in Brussels, where speakers frequently juxtaposed the EU to the U.S. One German member of the European Parliament added that the real "clash of civilizations...is between Europe and America."

All in all, this does not seem to be the sort of mix that inspires confidence in Washington or in NATO headquarters. It seems clear nonetheless that the U.S. wants its allies to assume more of the peacekeeping burden in the Balkans in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks.

Perhaps an EU mission in Macedonia is not the right formula at this time. It still remains to be seen how the EU can take on greater responsibility for European security in the Balkans while at the same time keeping the U.S. committed to and present in the region. Many observers feel this presence is necessary if Washington is to reassure its NATO allies, as well as the Albanians and Bosnian Muslims. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA: DRAFT AMNESTY LAW RAISES QUESTIONS. An amnesty for all former members of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) was one of the key elements of the Ohrid peace agreement which ended the conflict between the rebels and the Macedonian state (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001).

Subsequently, President Boris Trajkovski declared an amnesty. By the end of 2001, some 60 former rebels who had been detained by the police were released. But soon it became clear that Trajkovski's amnesty pledge was not enough. Some experts were even of the opinion that his amnesty declaration was not legally binding.

That is why the UCK leadership, Macedonian legal experts, and the international community pressed for formal legislation passed by the parliament to protect the former rebels from prosecution. Initially, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) clearly opposed an amnesty bill (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 November 2001). But recently he adopted a more moderate line and even agreed to support an amnesty law.

On 26 February, the Macedonian government approved a draft law on an amnesty for former UCK members prepared by Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti, an ethnic Albanian from the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002). The following week, on 4 March, the draft law was discussed in the parliamentary commission for political questions. The commission's findings on the draft law reflect the mixed feelings of most ethnic Macedonian politicians toward an amnesty.

Out of the seven commission members, only one (from the Democratic Party of the Albanians, or PDSH) voted in favor of the amnesty. One member from the VMRO-DPMNE voted against the law, and five members abstained (three of them from the VMRO-DPMNE). The representative of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) later stated that he abstained because he had to wait for the decision of his party leadership.

Even before the commission's decision, there were lively public discussions about the law, during which most ethnic Albanian politicians as well as former rebels expressed their approval of it. "We support the amnesty bill and believe that its content must not be changed. The law is a compromise reached by the political parties that have a majority in the parliament," Naser Ziberi, leader of the PPD parliamentary faction, said in a first reaction.

The deputy parliamentary speaker, Ilijaz Halimi of the PDSH, supported Ziberi's view: "We will support the draft law as it is. It was agreed upon by the four leaders [of the major political parties -- VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, PPD, and PDSH], and it must be respected." However, after the parliamentary commission session, Halimi's party colleague Jonuz Abduladi declared that the PDSH will call for some amendments to the law in order to "raise its quality."

The leader of the SDSM parliamentary group, Nikola Popovski, said that there are some differences between the draft law presented to the government and the version agreed on earlier by the party leaders. For him, the most problematic section of the draft law refers to the persons who are to benefit from the amnesty as well as to the time period covered, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 28 February.

According to the draft law, the amnesty will not include crimes committed after 26 September -- when NATO ended Operation Essential Harvest -- but it specifies no starting date. The law will refer to Macedonian citizens as well as to persons with permanent residence or with their family or property in Macedonia.

On 28 February, Dimitar Kjurkciev of the daily "Nova Makedonija" criticized these provisions in the draft law as undermining the constitutional order. Kjurkciev believes that under the proposed law, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague could not prosecute war criminals.

Kjurkciev is supported by the New York-based non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch. In an open letter to Trajkovski, the organization says that "serious violations of the laws of war have been committed by both sides to the armed conflict, and accountability for those crimes has to be an essential part of the peace process."

At the same time, Human Rights Watch warns: "The international tribunal can hear only a handful of cases. If the Macedonian authorities cannot hear the rest, then serious crimes like torture, murder, and attacks on civilians will go unpunished." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

ARE MACEDONIAN-BULGARIAN RELATIONS IMPROVING? In the past, relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia have often been strained. For decades, politicians and historians in both countries engaged in acrimonious discussions over whether there is a Macedonian nation, and if so, if it is distinct from the Bulgarian nation.

At the center of these discussions stood the question of the Macedonian language. While the Macedonian government has set up an Institute for the Macedonian Language, Bulgarian scholars work to prove that Macedonian is merely a Bulgarian dialect.

When Macedonia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1991, Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the Macedonian state -- but not the Macedonian nation. Relations subsequently became difficult. Many bilateral agreements made between the governments after Macedonian independence could not be signed, as the Bulgarians refused to accept Macedonian-language documents.

But since the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) came to power in Macedonia in 1998, the situation has improved considerably. Although many questions remained unsolved -- such as the recognition of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria -- Macedonia's pro-Bulgarian prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski, has maintained friendly relations with the conservative Bulgarian government (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 March 2002).

When Georgi Parvanov, the new Bulgarian president, decided to make his first official visit to Macedonia late last month, he was aware of the pitfalls in Bulgarian-Macedonian relations. But even if Parvanov -- a historian by profession -- had not been, a brief flare-up of the old differences would have reminded him.

News.bg published short interviews on 5 February with two of the key players in the Macedonian-Bulgarian controversy: Slavko Mangovski, the editor in chief of the Skopje weekly "Makedonsko sonce," and Professor Bozhidar Dimitrov, the director of the National History Museum in Sofia.

In his answers, Mangovski criticized the Bulgarian side for not recognizing the existence of the Macedonian language and thus laid the blame for the difficult relations between the two countries on Bulgaria. "Why does there have to be a Macedonian Historical Institute in Sofia if it only works to prove that there is no Macedonian nation? It would be as if we opened a Bulgarian Historical Institute in Skopje and began to prove that the Bulgarians do not exist."

Dimitrov, who is well-known for his nationalist views, made it clear right from the start what he thinks of "Makedonsko sonce." Asked whether he knew the publication, he described it as being run by "a bunch of idiots. You just have to take a look a the cover [of the publication] to know what it is worth." Dimitrov then went on to reiterate the classical Bulgarian position, which dismisses the Macedonian nation as a project promoted by the Serbian scholar and politician Stojan Novakovic. At the end of the 19th century, Novakovic planned to divide the Bulgarian nation by creating a Macedonian one, over which Serbia would have greater influence.

Knowing all this, Parvanov obviously decided not to step into the same history trap as his predecessor in office, Petar Stoyanov. Stoyanov prompted angry Macedonian reactions with his statement that "Macedonia is the most romantic part of Bulgarian history." In order to avoid similar problems, Parvanov said in an interview with the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" prior to his visit to Macedonia that no one can deny their own history and it does not make any sense to do so, as one can only learn from past mistakes and successes. "History has to be dealt with by historians, not by Bulgarian or Macedonian politicians. Our governments have to concentrate on the future and improve the positive tendencies in our relations," he added.

During his visit on 26-27 February, it seemed as if his tactic to leave history aside worked. The atmosphere during meetings between the Bulgarian and Macedonian leaderships was positive, and there was even time for jokes.

Some Macedonians, however, were critical of Parvanov's attempt to circumnavigate the reefs of history. Tito Petkovski, the former parliamentary speaker and 1999 presidential candidate of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), argued in a polemic for the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" that Parvanov failed to make a step toward reconciliation between Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Bulgarian journalists expressed disappointment that Parvanov's visit did not produce much in the way of results. Mitko Mandzhukov pointed out in the weekly "Kapital" that Parvanov's visit had two main aims: First, the president wanted to show that Bulgaria is a stabilizing factor in the southern Balkans in order to enhance Bulgaria's chances of joining NATO and the EU as soon as possible. Second, Parvanov sought to improve Bulgaria's standing in trade relations with its neighbor.

However, Mandzhukov wrote that he doubts whether the enthusiastically promoted idea of signing an agreement on good neighborly relations would help to increase Bulgaria's economic influence in Macedonia. "As a matter of fact, Greece has signed far fewer agreements with Skopje, but the share of Greek companies in the Macedonian market is enormous." He expressed doubt as to whether Macedonia will keep its promises to improve trade relations. Mandzhukov recalled the joint project for the Sofia-Skopje railway, which has been delayed by the Macedonian side for years.

It is questionable, however, whether the long-standing history dispute can ever be resolved. For the future of the Bulgarian-Macedonian relations, it would be of great help if the historians of both countries decided to cooperate as much as their political leaders have. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz)

THE PROBLEMS OF SLOVENIA'S ROMA. The daily "Delo" reported on 15 February that a conference took place the previous day entitled "Europe, Slovenia, the Roma." Organized by the Association of Roma in Slovenia, the Austrian Institute for Eastern and Southeastern Europe, and the Slovenian Institute for Nationality Issues, the conference assessed Romany living standards in Slovenia and the effects of anticipated EU entry. The conference followed the opening of the new Association of Roma headquarters in Murska Sobota in January.

The precise number of Roma in Slovenia is not known, although estimates range from 6,500 to 10,000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 January 2002). Of Roma with Slovenian citizenship, 74 percent receive aid and 13 percent are regularly employed.

Slovenia has two indigenous groups of Roma. The first lives in the Prekmurje region, near Hungary, centered around the town of Murska Sobota. The municipality of Murska Sobota itself has the highest number of registered Roma. Their living conditions, though substandard, compare favorably to the overall situation for Roma.

The second group lives in the regions of Dolenjska and Bela Krajina, near Croatia, centered around the town of Novo Mesto. Many members of this impoverished group support themselves by collecting scrap metal. Both indigenous groups have lived in Slovenia for centuries. Some of their settlements, such as Pusca near Murska Sobota, bear names, while others are simply marked on maps as "Romany settlement."

Many non-indigenous Roma live in urban centers such as Ljubljana and Maribor. These arrived after World War II from other former Yugoslav republics as economic migrants. Although their federal citizenship was Yugoslav, their republican citizenship was not Slovenian. Consequently, following Slovenia's independence, most were denied citizenship and other privileges such as voting and employment rights. ("Slovak" Roma living in the Czech Republic faced an analogous situation following the breakup of Czechoslovakia.)

Unwilling or afraid to return south, most non-indigenous Roma in Slovenia remain in a legal limbo. Although the parliament passed legislation allowing them to apply for citizenship or residency, its effectiveness has been limited. Some blame this on Slovenia's poorly functioning bureaucracy or a lack of goodwill from officials, while others attribute it to a lack of initiative from the Roma themselves.

The constitution promises the Roma some legal status, but not to the same degree as the Hungarian and Italian indigenous minorities (which also enjoy rights denied to larger "non-indigenous" minorities from other former Yugoslav republics). In particular, there is no provision for Romany representation in the National Assembly. Article 39 of the Act on Local Self-Government provides for local Romany representation, but this is currently implemented only in the municipality of Murska Sobota. On 4 March, the daily "Delo" reported a Constitutional Court decision requiring greater efforts to secure participation of Roma in this fall's local elections. Romany children generally receive separate education while employment programs, although they exist, are not widely publicized, with the result that comparatively few Roma take advantage of them.

Slovenia faces problems similar to those of other countries trying to better the lot of their Romany population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). Deficiencies in basic services, such as water supply and waste removal, are compounded by low education and high unemployment. All too often, imposed housing solutions fail to recognize the heterogeneity of the Romany population, leading to conflict among the Roma themselves. This was the outcome of an attempted resettlement of two groups of Roma in 1999 in Grosuplje, a town 30 kilometers southeast of Ljubljana.

"Cooperate with us," said Jozek Horvat, president of the Association of Roma, at the conference. "Don't give us orders, but give us the opportunity to participate in society." What is clear is that sincere efforts and goodwill are necessary from both sides, Slovenian and Romany -- and at the grassroots level as well as from leaders -- in order to ensure that Roma take advantage of the opportunities available. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK: "We are following [Karadzic]. He is running out of space, running out of time. It might be tomorrow, it might be next week, or next month. The fact is, he's got to escape every day. We only have to catch him once." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, speaking in Potsdam on 4 March. Quoted by Reuters.

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