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Balkan Report: April 12, 2002


12 April 2002, Volume 6, Number 15

MACEDONIA'S SECURITY UNDER REVIEW. Beginning on 5 April, a series of roundtable discussions on the country's future security strategy started in Skopje under the motto "Process 2002 -- Security of the Republic of Macedonia." The discussions are slated to end just before the NATO summit in Prague in November.

It was President Boris Trajkovski who initiated the roundtables. As the president's official website (www.president.gov.mk) states, the "objective of Process 2002 is to bring together the relevant national and international governmental and non-governmental authorities to discuss security issues of strategic importance to the Republic of Macedonia that will serve as a basis for the work of the president of the Republic of Macedonia.... We offer this as a basis for a neutral, high-level forum for policy-oriented exchange between experts and practitioners from various backgrounds."

In his opening address to the second roundtable on 7 April, Trajkovski underscored the need for such a forum. "After last year's grave and tragic developments, I believe we all agree that there is a need for a national security strategy and that the time has come to open this process," the daily "Dnevnik" quoted him as saying.

During the first two discussions, the participants addressed a number of issues, such as Macedonia's hoped-for NATO membership and the problems of cooperation between the various authorities in charge of the country's security.

The president's security adviser, Stevo Pendarovski, said: "The official policy and opinion of NATO in Brussels is that there is no shortlist of countries that will surely be admitted to NATO in November. I believe that Macedonia's chances are not very good and that we are somewhere at the end of the list, mainly because of last year's conflict."

Pendarovski thus agrees with Trajkovski about the country's chances for NATO and EU accession. As in other Balkan countries applying for NATO membership such as Romania and Bulgaria, Macedonia's security situation in the runup to the NATO summit in Prague in November could be decisive.

But Pendarovski also commented on the future. As quoted by "Dnevnik," he said: "In the coming years Macedonia may face new challenges, and its existence and future may depend on how it deals with them. The country cannot survive another Ohrid agreement." (The August 2001 Ohrid agreement ended the violent conflict between the ethnic Albanian guerrilla fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces.)

In view of both past and present problems in the security forces, Grozdan Cvetkovski's demand for a national security law was most interesting. Cvetkovski -- who heads the Intelligence Agency -- stated that last year's conflict showed that the security structures were unprepared. "Only [by introducing the national security law] can these shortcomings be overcome. The place, role, and duty of every segment of the security and intelligence system will be defined," Cvetkovski said.

However, it is doubtful whether legislation will be helpful in dealing with one serious problem posed by Macedonian politics -- political infighting at the most inappropriate times. During last year's conflict, the two ministers in charge of the security forces argued constantly. Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski and Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski at times paralyzed the security forces with their mutual accusations.

Currently, Defense Minister Vlado Popovski of the Liberal Party and Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) are the main players. But while the hawkish Boskovski and the moderate Buckovski had conflicting views about defense strategy, Popovski and Gruevski quarrel about money.

In press statements, Popovski accused Gruevski of holding up payment for special army units. Gruevski, for his part, in a televised interview called Popovski incompetent.

Newspapers such as the opposition "Utrinski vesnik" are already speculating about the possible "retirement" of Popovski and about the background of the quarrel. Some suggest that Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski (VMRO-DPMNE) wants Popovski to be replaced by Deputy Defense Minister Boris Zmejkovski -- Georgievski's old crony and godfather. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

BALKAN WEAPONS ROUNDUP. Several Balkan countries have agreed on the need to strengthen the collection of illegal weapons and have come out in support of the establishment of a new "clearinghouse" to destroy these weapons. The United Nations Development Program estimates 1 million illegal small weapons are circulating in the region.

For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Balkans were known as "the powder keg of Europe." And the five wars -- in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosova, and Macedonia -- fought over the past 11 years in the region, as well as the anarchy that gripped Albania in 1991-92 and 1997, have done nothing to diminish that reputation in a region where most adult males traditionally owned guns.

A different kind of struggle is now under way there. Local governments -- led by the United Nations -- have agreed on a joint effort to improve the collection and destruction of the huge quantity of illegally held small weapons.

The head of the United Nations Development Program mission in Tirana is Ana Stjarnerklint. She told RFE/RL: "There has been quite a lot of progress toward a weapons-free region, and Albania has been a leader in the collection and destruction of small arms. One hundred and fifty-thousand weapons have been collected, 116,000 of these have been destroyed, and 100,000 to 150,000 have been taken [smuggled] out of the country. And this leaves about 250,000 still in circulation. And this is a dangerously high level."

Skender Gjinushi is deputy prime minister of Albania, where some 500,000 light weapons were looted during the civil unrest of 1997. Gjinushi said the government is ready to take full control over the monitoring of weapons trafficking. Meanwhile, a law expires in August that grants amnesty for those who surrender looted weapons. "We feel Albania is now prepared to enter the final phase of full control of weapons and ammunition," he said.

Elsewhere in the region, Croatia has one the highest numbers of firearms per capita, with 19 percent of households possessing firearms. Some 100,000 light weapons were confiscated by police during the two-year postwar amnesty dedicated to the handing over of weapons held by the population.

Alfred Moisiu is the president of the Albanian North Atlantic Treaty Association. "To provide weapons and ammunitions in the Balkans nowadays is the easiest thing. It does not require any sophisticated organization. One can find them everywhere -- in Albania, Macedonia, Kosova, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia. Even in calm states like Bulgaria and Romania, it is not so difficult to find such means. Smuggling, illicit traffic and corruption have to be stopped," he said.

The U.S. ambassador to Albania, Joseph Limprecht, said effective border controls are the key to prevent weapons proliferation in the region. "I would like to urge close cooperation between Macedonia and Albania.... In addition to this kind of [bilateral] cooperation, the international community also has the responsibility to provide assistance. NATO has made recommendations for border-post liaison officers and joint border patrols between Albania and Macedonia, and we will be talking to Albanian officials, to Albanian leaders, to urge their taking this up. And we hope that both countries will be favorable to this," he said.

Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, and Yugoslavia have all expressed full support for the opening of a weapons-destruction center in Belgrade next month.

A regional clearinghouse in Mjekes, Albania, was used for the destruction of 1.6 million land mines and explosives over a recent eight-month period. The head of NATO's delegation at the Albanian Defense Ministry said a similar project for destroying land mines from other countries in the region is being planned in Albania. (Alban Bala)

SLOVENIA WEATHERS STRIKE BY DOCTORS UNION. On 5 April the Ljubljana daily "Delo" announced the signing of a negotiated agreement to end a strike called by the country's doctors and dentists on 19 March. The doctors union, FIDES, had called for a "soft" strike, with its members working a maximum of 40 hours -- plus 10 hours overtime -- per week. This fact in itself clarifies two of the union's demands: the right to a 40-hour work week as well as entitlement to overtime pay and the right to decline overtime work. Other demands included preserving a special status for doctors within public-sector work and increased government efforts to resolve Slovenia's chronic shortage of doctors and the overburdening of its health-care system.

FIDES President Konrad Kustrin estimated that the strike would reduce services by 30 to 50 percent, and assured the public there would be no interruption of medical services for children and the elderly, or in obstetrics and intensive care. The day before the strike began, Health Minister Dusan Keber met with hospital directors and discussed how to meet patient needs during the strike.

Slovenians are justifiably proud of their country's long tradition in the field of medicine. Ljubljana's Academia Operosorum Labacensium promoted medical and other scientific work starting in 1693. Under Habsburg rule, close ties were maintained with specialists in Vienna and Prague. This medical tradition continued into the 20th century. The trust placed in Slovenian medical care during the Yugoslav era is best attested by the fact that it was the medical center in Ljubljana -- not Belgrade -- that treated Josip Broz Tito during his final illness in 1980. Slovenes today enjoy a level of medical care comparable to that in much of the rest of Europe.

Debate on the organization of the health-care system had already begun in the late 1980s. The socialized medical system of the time suffered from inadequate financing, low wages, and low motivation among doctors, as well as from dissatisfaction among its patients. Following independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, new legislation introduced private practice health care and additional voluntary health insurance, creating a combination of private and public services. Through the 1990s the number of private practitioners steadily increased, especially in the field of dentistry. Support for privatization was highest among younger, better-educated Slovenes in higher socioeconomic brackets.

In time, however, this led to what some see as a two-tiered medical system, in which the better-off are able to afford private physicians' fees for higher-quality care. During a three-week strike in April 1996, public-sector doctors and dentists protested their high workload and low salaries. In response, the government countered that pay raises for health-care workers would foster demands for similar wage increases in other labor sectors. Nonetheless, FIDES and government representatives in April 1998 agreed to harmonize the wages of doctors with those of judges, starting on 1 January 2000.

The government's observation during the 1996 strike was borne out on 30 March this year, when "Delo" reported a demand from the Slovenian teachers union that the government explain why doctors' salaries average $800 more than those of educators. The agreement resolving this year's strike avoided a direct pay raise for doctors, but granted FIDES demands on work hours. The government also agreed to fund 50 new public-sector doctors, although estimates show that up to 325 are needed. Hospital directors will carry out a financial analysis to determine whether there is a need for the government to provide additional funds.

Doctors receive a generous 36 vacation days a year -- a number that the government had proposed reducing by two. In addition, although their salary level varies with their responsibilities, half of all doctors receive a monthly net salary of $2,400 or more, compared to the average judge's salary of $2,220. Dentists average less, with a salary of $1,760, "Delo" reported on 26 March. In any case, these wages significantly exceed the average 2001 Slovenian monthly salary of $1,330.

Generally speaking, public support for the doctors' strike was weak. The results of a telephone survey, published by "Delo" on 30 March, indicated that only 26.5 percent agreed with the strike. Most felt that a desire for higher pay was the doctors' main incentive. However, despite widespread opposition to the strike, the poll found a general belief that doctors and other public-sector workers -- including teachers, police, and administrators -- deserve pay increases. (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate based in Ljubljana, dreindl@indiana.edu)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "When we saw the peacekeepers running away from their positions, then we knew we had to run, too. Right before the massacre, I saw one Dutch soldier sitting and crying. It seemed that he knew what would happen to us." -- Srebrenica survivor Azija Sehomerovic (61), quoted by AP in Sarajevo on 10 April. Her husband was among those killed.

"We fell short. It was the opposite of a success." -- Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, commenting on the role of Dutchbat at Srebrenica. Quoted by Reuters in The Hague on 10 April.

"It's not a bazaar. You cannot negotiate cooperation." -- Jean-Jacques Joris, adviser to chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, quoted by Reuters from Belgrade on 9 April.

"Cooperation is our obligation, but it is up to us how we regulate it." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.

"Serbs cannot be treated like animals." -- Nebojsa Jovic, local Serb leader in Mitrovica. Quoted by AP on 9 April.

"In Mitrovica, the international community has never spoken loudly enough or carried a big enough stick. Radical Serbs, much like hard-line Arabs, understand and respect power. In Bosnia and in Kosovo, when the NATO powers act with conviction, they get results. Kosovo is now a democracy, if still an imperfect one, watched over carefully by the UN where the minority Serbs can have their say through the legitimate institutions of the province. A rogue group, the Bridge Watchers, who flexed their muscle this week, should be faced up to and removed from the bridge -- for good." -- "The Wall Street Journal Europe" in an article entitled "Europe's Ramallah" on 10 April.

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