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Balkan Report: July 26, 2002


26 July 2002, Volume 6, Number 27

PRESEVO VALLEY VOTERS TO GO TO THE POLLS. Incumbent parties backed by large ethnic majorities are expected to maintain their hold on power in two of the three local elections to be held in the Presevo Valley on 28 July. The electoral outcome in the municipalities of Medvedja, which is largely Serbian, and Presevo, which is largely Albanian, seems certain.

But the third election -- in the Bujanovac municipality -- is likely to prove more of a contest. There, the ethnic division between Serbs and Albanians is far more even, with Serbs dominating the administrative center and Albanians populating nearby hill villages like Konsul, Veliki Trnovac, and Dobrosin that were the center of the Albanian insurrection in 2000-2001.

The 37,000 registered voters in Bujanovac municipality are being asked to choose between two mayoral candidates: Novica Manojlovic, backed by the Serbian Bloc for Bujanovac; and Nagip Arifi, backed by the ethnic Albanian community and the Party of Democratic Action.

A Manojlovic victory would mean the continuation of five decades of Serbian socialist rule. If Arifi wins, he will become Bujanovac's first Albanian mayor.

The Bujanovac mayoral poll -- together with local council races in all three municipalities contested by Serbian, Albanian, and Romany candidates -- are raising interest and controversy in the first in a series of elections to be held in the Balkans over the next few months.

The 28 July elections have already given rise to dispute, with some Albanian politicians claiming that 3,000 extra Serbian names have been added to voter registration lists in Bujanovac while nearly 2,000 Albanian names have been struck from rolls, allegedly for having boycotted previous polls.

Serbian officials reject such charges. Nebojsa Covic, Serbian deputy prime minister and point man for the Presevo valley and Kosova, says the issue of unregistered voters has created "unneeded tensions" between the highly sensitive Albanian and Serbian communities in the Presevo Valley.

Covic has lashed out at Albanian critics and says every effort is being made to avoid misunderstanding and conduct elections as "transparently" as possible: "The issues we're dealing with in the pre-election period are highly sensitive, involving trust or mistrust. I think all the ethnic communities in this area should gradually enter a phase of relaxation so that once the administrative errors and omissions have been dealt with there would be no need to interpret how someone had been trying to cheat or fix the data [through electoral fraud]."

Riza Halimi, the ethnic Albanian mayor of Presevo and the head of the incumbent Party of Democratic Action, rejects Covic's argument that everything is being done to ensure free and fair elections: "The stand taken by Covic and other government representatives is generally known. They sometimes resort to criticizing Albanian political parties in the region without having any solid arguments. It is simply clear that they don't like the independent political organization of Albanians in this region, which includes Presevo and Bujanovac. So there is nothing new in Covic's criticism."

Covic and Halimi recently held pre-election talks in Presevo with U.S. Ambassador to Yugoslavia William Montgomery and OSCE Ambassador to Yugoslavia Stefano Sannino.

Sannino said it is in the interest of all the parties involved to create the best conditions possible for the elections, which he described as "very important for the region, for Serbia, and for the international community."

The OSCE has provided most of the 80 international observers charged with monitoring the election campaign, voting, tabulation, and media coverage. Nikolai Vulchanov, the head of the observation mission, says the OSCE, in observing the elections, hopes to "contribute to the process of reintegration of the entire population of the region into the democratic structures of Serbia."

Ambassador Montgomery says extremists on both sides -- Serbian and Albanian -- want the peace process to fail and may try to interfere in the elections. He says: "We've got to be prepared for that, we have to expect it, and we have to resist it."

He also says the elections should be a "success for everybody" and that voters should be assured the voter-registration controversy is being dealt with: "There are clearly some outstanding issues that people are working very hard on to resolve."

Albanians in the region suffered considerably less official discrimination than their Kosovar cousins until Serbian forces withdrew from Kosova in June 1999 and were redeployed in the Presevo valley. Harassment and shootings of Albanian civilians by Serbian troops led to the formation of a vigilante army -- the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac, or UCPMB, which repeatedly attacked Serbian police patrols.

After the fall of the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, the UCPMB refused to lay down its arms and expanded its insurgency further, forcing the new pro-democracy leadership in Belgrade to send in additional forces. Belgrade eventually won NATO support (in February 2001) to enter the "ground safety zone" along the boundary with Kosova, which was being used by the insurgents as a safe haven. The UCPMB rebels surrendered to NATO-led KFOR peacekeepers in Kosova and a peace treaty was signed.

The 28 July elections in the Presevo Valley are the first in a series of elections around the region in coming months. Macedonia is set to hold early parliamentary elections 15 September that are likely to result in the fall of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his nationalist VMRO-DPMNE. Opinion polls there currently give the opposition Social Democrats a lead of nearly three to one.

Serbia holds presidential elections 29 September to replace indicted war criminal Milan Milutinovic, a close Milosevic aide. The two main candidates are Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus. Both men will see their posts dissolve later this year with the abolition of Yugoslavia and the new, loose formation of Serbia-Montenegro.

Other polls include parliamentary elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, slated for 5 and 6 October, respectively. Municipal elections are also due to be held in Kosova on 26 October 26, and early parliamentary elections in Serbia are possible -- though looking increasingly unlikely -- by the end of the year. Finally, Slovenes will go to the polls, probably on 10 November, to choose a successor to President Milan Kucan, who cannot constitutionally seek an additional term. (Jolyon Naegele)

MACEDONIA'S ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTIES FORM PRE-ELECTION COALITION. Little more than one month ago, the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) seemed about to split. Some leading party members protested against the election of the new chairman, Abdurrahman Haliti, and either left the party or were excluded from it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June 2002).

At that time, many observers expected that should the party split or even disappear, some of its members would join either the small National Democratic Party (PDK) led by Kastriot Haxhirexha, or the party recently founded by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, the Union for Democratic Integration (BDI).

It was quite clear that the PPD's major rival, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), would not benefit from the turmoil within the PPD. The ideological differences between the PDSH -- led by the ailing Arben Xhaferi and his younger deputy Menduh Thaci -- and the PPD are simply too pronounced.

The PDSH follows a strictly anticommunist course, which in 1998 led the nationalist Albanian party into a coalition with the nationalist and anti-communist Macedonian Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE).

In the previous government, the PPD was a loyal coalition partner to the post-communist Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). These ideological differences between the PPD and the PDSH -- as well as personal animosities among their party leaders -- also undermined Ahmeti's efforts to form a broad coalition including all ethnic Albanian parties.

In the meantime, the situation within the PPD seems to have stabilized. Both the PPD and the SDSM leaderships have signaled that they would be willing to form a new coalition after the parliamentary elections slated for 15 September. According to opinion polls, it is quite likely that the SDSM will win the elections.

Delegations of both the PPD and the SDSM recently visited Washington, where they held consultations with State Department officials. It was during this stay in Washington on 17 July that PPD Chairman Haliti announced in an interview with VOA that his party is willing to form a pre-election coalition with both Haxhirexha's PDK and Ahmeti's BDI (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2002).

Haliti's proposal for a pre-election coalition fell on fertile ground -- at least where the PDK is concerned. Its Xhevad Ademi told "Utrinski vesnik" of 21 July: "We have already expressed our readiness to cooperate with all parties that [fight against] crime and corruption. This rules out cooperation with the PDSH." But Ademi was very cautious about a possible coalition with the SDSM. "The PPD has experience as a coalition partner of the SDSM, but neither the BDI nor the PDK share this experience," Ademi added.

An unnamed high-ranking official of the BDI, however, signaled that his party is far from happy with Haliti's proposal. "If Mr. Haliti wins the elections, we will be the first to congratulate him and wish him successful talks with the [ethnic] Macedonian party that wins the elections. But, if we win the elections -- and that seems to be in the cards -- then it will be our leader Ali Ahmeti who will talk...about the future composition of the government," "Vest" reported on 23 July. But the BDI official also underscored his party's wish to form a united front against corruption and organized crime, which made it necessary to form a pre-election coalition.

Hard-line Macedonian nationalists welcomed the de facto pre-election coalition between the SDSM, the PPD, the PDK, and the BDI, as it gave them an opportunity to lash out against the "coalition of communists and terrorists," as an editorial headline in the daily "Nova Makedonija" of 21 July reads. "Nova Makedonija" is controlled by the VMRO-DPMNE.

The editorial's author, Nikola Tasev, sees a direct connection between the time when the SDSM joined the so-called government of national unity in May 2001 and the subsequent successes of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) against the army under Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski of the SDSM.

Under these circumstances, it is no wonder that the SDSM is concerned about developments concerning the ethnic Albanian political parties. Given Ahmeti's image among ethnic Macedonians as a "terrorist leader," the SDSM leadership cannot support the coalition of the PPD, PDK, and BDI before the elections, since this would inevitably lead to a big loss of votes among the ethnic Macedonian electorate. But apart from the parties of the smaller ethnic minorities (Serbs, Turks, Roma, and Vlachs) -- which could not seriously help form a majority in the parliament -- the SDSM has no real alternative to its old coalition partner, the PPD. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

DON'T CRY FOR ME: SLOVENIA AND ITS ARGENTINE COUSINS. "Slovenia is a poor country, isn't it?" asked Jenny Marzu. "That's what Carl's folks always said." Leaning forward in her wheelchair, on her remote northern Wisconsin farmstead, Jenny tried to find something to say about the far-away country that her late husband's parents had left a century ago.

This outdated image of an impoverished Austro-Hungarian province is about all that is left to many descendents of the early Slovenian immigrants to the United States. Like Janez and Marija Marzu, most did not teach their children Slovenian, hastening their assimilation. Today, their grandchildren are likely to respond with blank stares if asked about Slovenia.

In Argentina, however, the Slovenian immigrant community has preserved its culture with greater enthusiasm and maintained closer ties with "the old country." Ironically, with the recent spectacular collapse of the Argentine economy, some these immigrants' descendents are today looking back across the ocean. By emulating the thousands of Argentines that have already left for their ancestral lands of Italy and Spain, they feel that they could find a similar economic refuge in Slovenia.

Post-communist Slovenia has had its share of prominent returnees from abroad. Joze Pucnik returned from 23 years in West Germany to serve as chairman of the anticommunist DEMOS coalition, but lost the 1990 presidential election to the reformed communist Milan Kucan. World Bank veteran Andrej Bajuk, the prime minister of Slovenia's short-lived center-right government in 2000, spent most of his life abroad, including Argentina, the U.S., and France (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 May 2000).

Eccentric presidential candidate Ivan Kramberger returned from 25 years abroad to ride a wave of popular support until his 1992 assassination (see "RFE/RL East European Perspectives," 19 April 2000), and Tomaz Rozman, after several decades in the U.S., is in the running for Slovenia's presidential election this fall (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 April 2002).

Perhaps the most visible returnee today is Archbishop Franc Rode, whose family fled to Argentina after World War II, as did many others opposed to Josip Broz Tito's communist rule (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 October 2001).

Before World War I, over a quarter million Slovenes emigrated, chiefly for economic reasons. Many intended to return, but war in Europe and greater opportunity abroad kept many from ever going back.

The greatest flood of immigrants headed for North America, but significant numbers settled in Germany, Egypt, and South America -- particularly in Argentina. Waves of as many as 100,000 followed in the interwar period, the years immediately following World War II, and the subsequent decades. Indeed, so great was the outflow of emigrants that Slovenian scholars refer to it as a diaspora.

Although only a relatively small number of Slovenes settled in Argentina before World War I, this number increased substantially during the interwar period. In the 1920s, the Argentine Slovenes established their own cultural organizations, followed by schools in 1933. By this time they numbered some 20,000 and had split into liberal and conservative factions. An additional 6,000 Slovenes -- capitalists, prominent Catholics, and anticommunists -- fled to Argentina after World War II, most with no intention of remaining in permanent exile.

Today Argentina's estimated 50,000 Slovenes generally possess at least a working command of the Slovenian language. With relatively good educations and skills, one would expect returning Argentine Slovenes to be welcomed.

Slovenia, however, is less than eager to embrace its far-flung progeny. Although Slovenia's moderately high unemployment rate of 8 percent compares favorably to the skyrocketing figures in Argentina, the unease felt by this nation of fewer than two million is understandable as it looks at a country where four million or more are out of work. "If they went there, they should stay there, that's what I think," recently declared an acquaintance, a Slovenian nurse.

This lack of enthusiasm is also visible in the press. In an editorial published in "Delo" on 14 July, Vojko Flegar wrote that "no migrant may expect, much less demand, that any state provide employment or a place to live if there is a sufficient domestic labor force on the market. To expect citizenship in Slovenia, a roof over your head, and work simply because you are or your ancestors were Slovenian is shortsighted and, in some circumstances, even unjustified."

Nonetheless, Slovenian legislation does stipulate certain advantages to persons of Slovenian descent, up to the third generation. For example, applicants for citizenship must first fulfill 10 years of residency in the country -- but this is reduced to one year for those of Slovenian descent. Similarly, Article 5 of the Constitution provides for "special rights and privileges" for Slovenes not holding Slovenian citizenship. In the light of such provisions, Flegar's characterization of Argentine petitions for citizenship as "blackmail" are rather harsh.

One fear in Slovenia is that their Argentine cousins may return with unwelcome political baggage. As Flegar writes, this would include "unresolved historical and ideological rubbish." Given Slovenia's remarkable homogeneity, any such influx would no doubt also introduce unfamiliar historical and political perspectives. However, the tendency in Slovenia and elsewhere to equate the post-war emigrants to South America with unrepentant fascists -- as "The Economist" implied in its 20 May 2000 article on Bajuk -- is a gross oversimplification.

For now there are few, if any, Argentines waiting in line for residency permits at Ljubljana's Office for Foreigners. In the end, however, some Slovenes may regret that their South American kin have remained so faithful to their roots. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "We want to improve the image of the service, which is still the most capable and professional in the Balkans." -- Serbian State Security chief Andrija Savic to Reuters in Belgrade on 21 July.

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