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Balkan Report: August 16, 2002


16 August 2002, Volume 6, Number 30

POOR ROMANIA. One of the distinguishing characteristics of Romanian statecraft over the centuries has been an ability to maneuver between or around larger and not always benevolent powers. These skills are likely to come in handy in the future.

Bucharest has incurred the wrath of the EU by agreeing to Washington's request for a bilateral agreement that would bar the extradition of U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said on 12 August that his country is simply looking after its own interests. "We have a strategic partnership with the Americans, and it is rare for the U.S. to come with such a direct and clear request. It was in our national interest to sign the treaty."

But the powers in Brussels are not happy. EU Commission President Romano Prodi himself warned Romania and 12 other applicants that they should first consult with the EU and wait until Brussels works out a joint policy on the American request before entering into any deals with the U.S. Washington, for its part, replied through Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton that "we're not applying any pressure on countries to sign these agreements, and we don't think it is appropriate for the European Union to prevent other countries from signing them."

This is not the first time that the East European EU applicants (or other would-be members) have found that their place seems to be at the back of the EU's bus (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June 2002). And as some Americans have sensed over the years, when West European allies ask to be "consulted," what they really want is a right of co-determination or an outright veto over policy decisions.

Romania is in a particularly difficult position, because it seeks of its own accord to join both NATO -- where Washington has a decisive voice -- and the EU, which is not fond of having its wishes disregarded.

Now Romania is being told, in effect, that it is expected to join in the costs of EU membership by outsourcing its foreign policy to Brussels without yet enjoying all the gravy-train benefits of a seat at the decision-making table.

It might be recalled that the EU -- and some of its senior members -- are generally quick to defend their right to protect their own interests. But when Washington does the same, it is accused of being "unilateralist." And when Bucharest does so, it is told to mind its place.

The moralizing (or arrogance) of the EU has been well analyzed in Robert Kagan's article "Power and Weakness," which appeared in "Policy Review" in June. That attitude of superiority -- and the EU's tendency to define itself in opposition to the U.S. -- have prompted some Americans to ask themselves whether what they once regarded as America's star prodigy has not instead become America's Frankenstein.

In any event, Mr. Geoana will need his well-respected skills in the weeks and months ahead. It is not the first time that Romanian diplomats have had to deal with the concept of limited sovereignty. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S BEKTASHIS -- A SHIITE MINORITY BETWEEN THE CHRISTIAN MAJORITY AND SUNNI MUSLIM MAINSTREAM. During last year's conflict between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces, Tetovo in northwestern Macedonia was one of the hot spots.

One of Tetovo's suburbs, which was then under rebel control, was Tekke. The suburb is named after a large dervish monastery, the Arabati Baba Tekke. The monastery -- parts of which under communist rule were turned into a tourist complex with hotel, restaurant, and cafe -- is inhabited by five Bektashi dervishes and their spiritual leader, Baba Tahir Emini.

But they do not live at the Tekke legally. In 1994, the dervishes squatted in some buildings in the complex under the pretext of holding a three-day meeting there. The Bektashi dervishes claim that they are the legal owners of the monastery, as it was built in the 15th or 16th century by the Bektashi leader Sersem Ali Baba and later reconstructed by another Bektashi leader, Arabati Baba.

Baba is the religious title of the leaders of Muslim dervish brotherhoods, quite similar to the abbot of a Christian monastery. Just as there are various Christian monastic orders like the Franciscans or the Benedictines, there are various Muslim dervish orders as well.

The Bektashi order is one of the largest dervish orders, and it is the most important for Balkan and Ottoman history. It was the Bektashis who helped spread Islam among the indigenous Balkan people after the Ottoman conquest in the 14th and 15th centuries.

In the Ottoman Empire, Bektashism assumed prominence especially as religion of the state's elite soldiers, the Janissaries. The Janissary Corps was the only institution in which the otherwise Sunni Muslim empire tolerated the liberal Bektashi beliefs.

When the Janissaries were abolished in 1826, the Bektashi orders also suffered a serious blow. Nevertheless, in some parts of the Balkans -- such as Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, or Bosnia -- there are still active Bektashi orders, and the number of active dervishes seemed to rise after the fall of communism. Albanian Bektashis in Detroit in the U.S. have been particularly active and generous in restoring their faith and its centers in Albania in recent years.

The success of the Bektashis' proselytizing among the Balkan Christians under Ottoman rule is mainly attributed to their version of Islamic practice and their tolerance of other religions. The practice of the Shiite Bektashis is often described as liberal and syncretistic -- Bektashis drink alcohol and ignore the feast of Ramadan.

The well-known historian Noel Malcolm in his book "Kosovo -- A Short History" (New York: New York University Press, 1998; p. 134) described the ideological background of the dervish orders as "varieties of mystical theology which drew not only on Sunni [Muslim] doctrine but also on Shiism, Judaism (including the theories of the cabbala), Neoplatonism, and Christianity; traces of pre-Islamic Asian shamanism have been found in their religious practices, and in the countryside they also fostered a cult of local saints and their tombs."

In a recent interview with the Skopje weekly "Start," Baba Tahir listed a number of more modern ingredients in his beliefs. As part of the doctrine of equality of all human beings before God, Baba Tahir underscores the Bektashis' attitude towards women. "Women are granted...the rights they deserve -- equal to those of the men..., unlike other religions, in which the position of men is different from that of women.... The education and emancipation of women has a special place [in our belief]."

It might well be that Baba Tahir spoke also as a former teacher. He received his education at the Pedagogical Faculty in Skopje and at the University of Prishtina and then worked for 28 years as a teacher in Macedonia.

As elsewhere in the Balkans, the heterodox Shiite Bektashis often faced problems from the orthodox Sunni majority. In both prewar and communist Yugoslavia, the Sunni Muslims had a hierarchical organization that was closely affiliated with the state -- the Islamic Religious Community. The cooperation of the Islamic Religious Community was rewarded with financial support from the state. The Shiite Bektashi minority did not receive such support.

During the interview, Baba Tahir also mentioned recent attempts by the Islamic Religious Community of Macedonia to take over the Tekke and other property claimed by the Bektashi.

But when USAID granted money to an NGO for the reconstruction of the Tekke in April 2002, it became clear that the Islamic Religious Community is not the only claimant to the Tekke. The Macedonian state agency for the protection of monuments then came forward with an argument that normally is used against ethnic Albanians' demands for greater rights.

"Dnevnik" quoted Jovan Kondijanov of the state agency as saying that "this is an absolutely illegal and devious attempt at carving out yet another [private fiefdom at the expense of] the state.... The NGOs must convince the dervishes to leave the Tekke and not rebuild it together with them." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

SLOVENIA'S MUSHROOM BONANZA. The incessant rains that have afflicted much of Central and Eastern Europe in past weeks, awakening fears of proverbial 100-year floods across the region, have been drenching Slovenia as well. The weather is also dampening the enthusiasm of tourists to Slovenia's mountains and Adriatic coast, where sunny expectations have been met by gray skies and cool temperatures. A dour 7 August article in the daily "Delo" asks, "Would you go vacationing in the hills or at the seaside if it rained every day?"

At least one group in Slovenia is not put off by the weather. The rain has triggered a bumper crop of summer mushrooms, and enthusiasts have been heading in droves to the Pokljuka Plateau in Triglav National Park, traditionally known for its mushrooms. Whether they are searching for universally esteemed boletus or chanterelle mushrooms -- or less-known but equally choice species such as Craterellus cornucopioides (the "horn of plenty") or Sparassis crispa (the "cauliflower mushroom") -- one can see them combing the forest floor, searching for fungal treasures.

Like most nations of continental Europe, the Slovenes have a special affection for mushrooms. In his dichotomy of "mycophiles" versus "mycophobes," the Montana-born R. Gordon Wasson (1898-1986) -- known as the father of the field of ethnomycology -- would have definitely classified them among the former.

Slovenia is home to numerous mushroom societies that are affiliated through the Ljubljana-based Union of Mushroom Societies. The societies sponsor regular outings, display collected species, and offer expert help in identifying unknown species. Mushrooms are enshrined on Slovenian postage stamps, and everyone seems to know at least one secret place where they search for their favorite species.

Caution is in order, however. A 10 August article in "Delo" warns that Marjan Stempihar, a state forestry inspector, is back in the woods this year to make sure that mushroom gatherers abide by the rules. Stempihar has outfitted himself with a portable scale this season. In past years he used a water-filled plastic jug on a stick as a makeshift scale to enforce picking limits. The fact that he paid for the scale himself shows the seriousness with which he approaches his job.

In 1998 Slovenia adopted its Ordinance on the Protection of Wild Mushrooms. The law prohibits the wanton destruction of mushrooms, protects 70 rare species of mushrooms, and stipulates that they must be cleaned in situ and carried only in firm-sided containers open to the air. The last two provisions are intended to protect the fragile mycelium and encourage the spread of spores.

However, it is Article 5 that most directly affects collectors: "In one day an individual may collect at most 2 kilograms of mushrooms permitted under the provisions of this ordinance" (an exception is permitted for single specimens weighing more than 2 kilograms). For those who choose to flout the law, the fine is set at 50,000 Slovenian tolars ($215).

When not patrolling the forests, the inspector coordinates his actions with the traffic police -- who are entitled to ask motorists to open their trunks for inspection. In addition, park workers distribute flyers listing the regulations on collecting mushrooms and driving in the national park.

In the latest operation this season, the inspector stopped and inspected 50 vehicles leaving the Pokljuka Forest and ticketed five persons for exceeding the limit on mushrooms collected. Contrary to popular belief, Stempihar does not confiscate mushrooms and take them home for himself -- they remain the property of the collector.

This is not to the inspector's liking. "It's like allowing a bank robber, after he's served his prison term, to keep the money he stole," he says. Stempihar is clearly not a man to be toyed with. After one indignant mushroom gatherer offered to throw his excess harvest back into the forest, the inspector threatened him with an additional fine for intentional destruction of mushrooms.

Mycologists disagree on what, if any, effect harvesting has on mushroom populations. Phenological fluctuations sometimes cause a species to apparently disappear for years, only to reemerge in abundance. Some mycologists maintain that harvesting the fungus' so-called fruiting body, or mushroom, harms the organism no more than picking an apple harms the tree. However, everyone agrees that disturbing the below-ground mycelial network can have grave consequences -- not only for the fungus, but for the entire ecosystem. Many fungi live in symbiosis with specific species of trees, and are vital for their good health. Destructive harvesting methods, such as raking the forest floor to search for truffles, can kill the trees as well.

The "Delo" article also notes that mushroom gatherers in northwest Slovenia have been forsaking the traditionally rich pickings on the slopes of Mezakla, just south of the Austrian border. A bear recently killed a sheep grazing there, and locals have been flocking to Pokljuka instead. With Marjan Stempihar on the job, though, they might just decide to take their chances with the bear instead. (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)

ALBANIAN COMMANDOS FOR AFGHANISTAN. Thirty specially trained commandos from the Albanian armed forces recently undertook peacekeeping operations in the Kabul airport in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002).

The mission marks the second time Albanian troops are participating in Western-mandated peacekeeping. Albanian special forces soldiers are also serving in Bosnia with the NATO-led SFOR stabilization troops.

The 30-man Albanian platoon spent two weeks training in Turkey before joining the ranks of the 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, which is currently under Turkish command. The Albanian platoon will be focusing on security at the Kabul airport, the site of the assassination of interim Civil Aviation Minister Abdul Rahman last February.

Major General Pellumb Qazimi is chief of the General Staff of Albania's armed forces. He says the Afghanistan mission is of key importance to the Albanian Army: "The first point is a national one. We rank along with the other democratic Western countries in fighting against evil; the Albanian flag is flying there [in Afghanistan].

"In my view as chief of the General Staff of our armed forces, this is also extremely important from a professional point of view. Our armed forces are being trained not only for traditional duties, the traditional mission of protecting the country. They are also preparing to take on humanitarian missions...and activities abroad. Afghanistan is a clear example and a direct indicator of our military contributions outside of [Albania]. Our current hope of joining NATO will be directly affected by this."

Albania is among nine countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) hoping to receive an invitation to join NATO when the alliance holds its summit in Prague this November. Albania is not expected to receive an invitation, but has nonetheless made efforts to demonstrate to the West its commitment to joint military endeavors and the war on terror.

Since 11 September, the Albanian government has pledged to fight terrorism within its own borders. At least five people have been expelled from the country for illicit dealings that threaten Albania's relations with other nations, while over 250 foreigners have been asked to leave for holding invalid residency permits. Bank accounts and real estate belonging to several Arab companies have been frozen.

The fight against terrorism within Albania coincided with the parliament granting approval to a plan known as the National Military Strategy for the Albanian armed forces. Qazimi says this document should be considered a constitution of sorts for the Albanian Army.

The new military strategy, Qazimi adds, releases the armed forces from their "old mentality" and allows them to work according to "new standards." These are outlined in a 10-year military reform program sponsored and supervised by the U.S. Defense Department.

The program foresees the reduction and modernization of the standing force of 30,000 troops. Weapons and ammunitions arsenals are slated for a similar overhaul.

Albanian authorities have also decided that surplus military equipment -- including artillery, light weapons, airplanes, helicopters, and ships -- will either be destroyed or sold in an effort to pare down and modernize the country's armed forces. Some of the weapons -- including Soviet and Chinese submarine equipment -- are actually considered collector's items and will be sold as such.

Albania has already succeeded in a project to oversee the destruction of some 1.6 million antipersonnel mines and explosives over a single eight-month period. In addition, 116,000 light and small weapons have been destroyed so far in a joint project with the United States, Germany, and Norway. (Alban Bala)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Those who would enjoy immunity from prosecution would not only sleep soundly, but would also be encouraged to keep committing crimes." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, on his opposition to an agreement with Washington on immunity for U.S. citizens being sent to the ICC. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 13 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2002).

"We think such a contract is not necessary because a situation in which American soldiers would undertake peacekeeping operations in Switzerland would be very unlikely, if not impossible." -- Swiss Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss on his opposition to a similar agreement between Bern and Washington.

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