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Balkan Report: October 25, 2002

25 October 2002, Volume 6, Number 39

CAUGHT! The scandal arising from arms deals between two Serbian companies and Iraq shows that Serbia has some way to go in reestablishing itself as a serious partner for the international community.

The U.S. has "accused two state-owned companies in Yugoslavia and Bosnia of repairing the engines of Iraqi MiG fighters and demanded that the two countries' governments act to stop the trade," "The Washington Post" reported on 23 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2002). Serbian experts are also believed to be helping Iraq improve its air defenses.

Speaking in Washington on 22 October, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that there is "clear evidence" of dealings with Baghdad by the Belgrade-based Yugoimport firm and the Orao company, which is located in Bijeljina in the Republika Srpska.

In Sarajevo, the U.S. Embassy affirmed the charges in a statement. NATO spokesman Lieutenant Commander Yves Vanier said that SFOR peacekeepers "did find something very significant" in their recent search of Orao's premises. He did not elaborate. Reuters reported from Sarajevo on Orao's involvement with Iraq and its attempt to cover up the evidence. Donald Hays, a deputy to High Representative Paddy Ashdown, confirmed that Orao had exported goods to Iraq via a third party.

In Belgrade, the Yugoslav government held an emergency session to discuss the growing scandal over illegal arms sales to Iraq. The cabinet did not formally admit that Yugoimport has been dealing with Baghdad but fired two generals involved in arms trading. They are Deputy Defense Minister Ivan Djokic and Jovan Cekovic, who heads Yugoimport.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic blamed the deals on "remnants of the past regime [of President Slobodan Milosevic], spurred on by pro-fascist and criminal elements." Covic stressed that "we must not allow the entire country to be dragged into problems created by [Milosevic's] deals."

Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic argued that "the very suspicion of such an embargo-busting trade endangers our top state interests."

The government has promised an investigation of the charges, as has Dusan Mihajlovic, who is both Yugoimport's chairman of the board and Serbian police chief. "The Washington Post" noted that "Yugoslav leaders view the alleged trade as the biggest threat to relations with the United States" since the ouster of Milosevic at the end of 2000.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac expressed what appears to be official Belgrade's position in the Iraqi arms-deal affair, saying that the illegal trade has been carried out by "individuals who are beyond control. The Yugoslav Defense Ministry denied in a statement that it had approved any deals with Iraq. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and the Bosnian Serb government also made statements aimed at damage control.

But observers note that many questions remain. Given that the current authorities ousted Milosevic in 2000, why did it take so long for the affair to come to light? Put differently, what did the Belgrade authorities know about illegal arms sales, and when did they know it? What is the role of Mihajlovic, who holds key positions both in the Serbian government and in Yugoimport?

And will Washington be content with Belgrade's reaffirmation that it is cooperating in the war against terrorism, or will the U.S. want to take a closer look at the possibility that some Serbs have been involved in other unsavory dealings?

In any event, one thing is clear: there are more reasons to be cautious in admitting Belgrade to NATO's Partnership for Peace program -- and to other international institutions -- than just the lack of civilian control over the military and the possible presence of war criminals in the officer corps. (Patrick Moore)

THE NEW MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TAKES SHAPE. After four weeks of coalition talks, Prime Minister-designate Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) presented his preliminary list of nominees for cabinet positions on 20 October. The office of the parliament speaker had already confirmed that the election of the prime minister and the confirmation of the government will take place on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2002 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 October 2002).

According to Crvenkovski's proposal, the next government will be made up of 14 ministers. There will be three ministers without portfolio who will also be deputy prime ministers. The deputy prime ministers are responsible for questions regarding the political system, the economy, and European integration, respectively.

With the draft cabinet list, Crvenkovski made clear that the key ministries in the cabinet will remain under the control of the SDSM. The junior coalition partners -- the Liberal Democrats (LDP) and especially the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- will be granted ministries of less importance from the standpoint of state security. As the strongest party in the emerging coalition, the Social Democrats will hold seven ministerial posts, while the BDI will get four and the LDP three ministries.

Crvenkovski secured the Interior Ministry, which is to be headed by Hari Kostov, for his party. Former Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and former Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva will return to their old jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). Buckovski and Mitreva were members of the short-lived so-called government of national unity during last year's conflict with the ethnic Albanian rebels.

Crvenkovski also nominated Ilija Filipovski as economy minister and Blagoja Stefanovski as minister of culture, while Aleksandar Gestakovski is to head the Ministry for Local Self-Government. Ljubomir Janev will be in charge of the Ministry for Environment and Regional Planning. Radmila Sekerinska will be the SDSM's deputy prime minister for European integration.

Perhaps the most surprising decision was the nomination of Commercial Bank Director Hari Kostov as interior minister. The daily "Dnevnik" quoted sources from within the SDSM who believe that Kostov's experience as a banker could be helpful in fighting organized crime, especially money laundering and illegal financial transactions.

The process of nominating the LDP candidates made clear why the small party is often referred to as the SDSM's "satellite." After Crvenkovski rejected the LDP's initial shortlist of candidates for ministerial posts, the LDP leadership under Chairman Risto Penov had to meet again in order to choose other candidates more acceptable to the prime minister.

Petar Gosev -- one of the most prominent politicians in the country -- will head the Finance Ministry. Jovan Manasievski, a social scientist, will become minister for labor and social affairs, while Slavko Petrov will take over the Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry. Vlado Popovski was the LDP's choice to become deputy prime minister for economic questions.

The BDI, which is headed by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, had a hard time during the negotiations with the SDSM. In vain it demanded to be granted at least one power ministry -- the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, or the Foreign Ministry (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 October 2002).

But the ministries that the BDI will take over are closely linked to those state institutions which have to be transformed as a result of the Ohrid peace agreement. It thus makes sense that the BDI's deputy prime minister -- Musa Xhaferi -- will be in charge of questions regarding the political system. Xhaferi was the National Liberation Army's (UCK) coordinator for Western Europe.

Former legislator Azis Pollozhani will become minister for education and science. Ismail Dardishta will head the Justice Ministry, and Rexhep Selmani will be in charge of the Health Ministry. However, there were rumors that Selmani's role during last year's conflict -- he worked as a field surgeon for the UCK -- may make him unacceptable to the SDSM leadership.

The transport and communications minister will be Milaim Ajdini, who replaced Abdulhakim Kasami as the party's nominee. "Dnevnik" reported that former UCK commanders within the BDI had protested against Kasami's nomination.

At present, it is not clear who will be the deputy ministers in the new government. These positions will be granted in part to the parties of the ethnic minorities -- namely the Serbs, Vlachs, and Turks -- which were part of the SDSM's Together for Macedonia election coalition.

And it is expected that the BDI will be granted the post of a deputy minister in at least one power ministry, in addition to the two posts it will hold on the expanded National Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA: A NATION OF CANDIDATES. With the passing of the 16 October midnight deadline for registration, the number of candidates for Slovenia's 10 November presidential election fell from a potential 16 to nine: Janez Drnovsek, Gorazd Drevensek, Barbara Brezigar, Lev Kreft, Zmago Jelincic, Jure Cekuta, Anton Bebler, France Arhar, and France Bucar (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 September 2002). This is the order, determined by lot, in which the names will appear on the ballot, "Delo" reported on 23 October.

Cekuta barely made the deadline for submitting his 5,000 signatures. With just three hours to go, Cekuta submitted 5,020 signatures, only to have 23 of them invalidated. However, eight more valid signatures arrived by post from Maribor, salvaging Cekuta's candidacy on the basis of a clause allowing candidates to make up deficiencies.

Slovenia's Electoral Commission rejected the registration of a 10th hopeful, Dusan Mihajlovic, because he had submitted only one signature backing his candidacy. "Delo" wryly observed that Mihajlovic could have rescued his candidacy as did Cekuta, except that his missing 4,999 signatures did not turn up.

Recent polls have consistently given current Prime Minister Drnovsek the greatest chance of winning the presidential election, with the endorsement of 35 percent or so of voters. This gives him a comfortable lead of 10 to 15 percentage points over his nearest rival, Brezigar. Modest support for Bucar, Jelincic, and Arhar ranges from 5 to 7 percent, with the remaining candidates trailing further behind.

Arhar appears unlikely to recover the backing he enjoyed earlier this summer now that media focus on his purported income has eroded his support. On 14 October "Delo" reported a denial from Arhar that he was planning to withdraw. It also cited rumors about the possible switching of support by the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) from Arhar to Brezigar.

"In 2000 there were 5,000 people with salaries higher than mine," protested Arhar. "The fact is that in this country there are a lot of people who make more than I do." On 20 October, "Delo" quoted the sentiments of Franci But (SLS), Slovenia's minister for agriculture, forestry, and food: "It is ridiculous and senseless at the same time for people to judge a candidate's quality by his salary."

Official campaigning got under way on 11 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002) and will end on Friday, 8 November to give voters time to collect their thoughts before voting that Sunday.

One hallmark setting the 10 November elections apart from past elections is that for the first time presidential and local elections will take place simultaneously. These are staggered at five- and four-year intervals, respectively. On 20 October, "Delo" noted that 40,000 candidates are running for various political offices across Slovenia. The bulk of these are for local posts. There are 193 local municipalities, and membership on local councils ranges from seven in the smallest local municipalities to 45 members in the largest.

The number of candidates for mayoral positions is also staggering, at approximately 1,000. Although the municipalities number 193 (even Slovenes admit that this number is inordinately large), there are 12 mayoral candidates in Ljubljana alone, followed by 10 in Maribor, eight apiece in Koper and Nova Gorica, and six each in Koper, Novo Mesto, and Slovenj Gradec. All told, some 2.5 percent of the approximately 1.6 million-strong electorate is running for public office.

Turnout is expected to be robust. The most recent surveys indicate that over 75 percent of voters are planning to participate in the elections -- a marked contrast to voting in the Serbian presidential runoff on 13 October, which was invalidated due to a lack of voter turnout (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 October 2002).

Others in the press have mused about what role a former president should play in Slovenian society. After all, outgoing President Milan Kucan will be Slovenia's first former democratically elected president. A 20 October feature in "Delo" examined the activities of former presidents in other countries.

Still other commentators look at events more critically. The headline of an opinion piece by Boris Jez in the 14 October edition of "Delo" asked, "Do we really need a president at all?" Whereas in past elections opponents at least had ideological differences, wrote Jez, today Drnovsek and Arhar have very little to say, Brezigar serves merely as an opponent in name only, and the rest are circus figures.

Echoing Jez's last sentiment, "Delo" reported on 15 October that Stefan Hudobivnik, one of the candidates not to make the grade, had lodged an appeal with the Ministry of Internal Affairs for formal protection. He fears being assassinated and had filed human-rights-abuse charges against Prime Minister Drnovsek for his role in Federal Yugoslavia during the breakup in 1989. (Donald F. Reindl,

NEW GENERAL DIRECTOR AT ALBANIAN PUBLIC BROADCASTING. Artur Zheji, who is the newly appointed general director of the public radio and television (RTSH), told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service on 1 October that he will "guarantee the right to all political forces and elected communicate with the voters and the public" through the public media. He added that "the same guarantee applies not only to the politicians but also to the civil society and all spheres" of public life. Zheji, who previously worked for the private TV Arberia, replaced Ardian Klosi on 1 October. Klosi was appointed in 1998 to transform RTSH from a state media company into a public broadcaster. Observers suggest, however, that his reform efforts have shown few results. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The international community and especially Europe has learned the lesson of the Yugoslav wars of secession." -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, speaking in the Bundestag debate on 23 October in favor of renewing the mandate for peacekeepers in Macedonia. Quoted by dpa.

Montenegro is "an oasis and lighthouse of multiethnic democracy that disperses the gloom hanging over the Balkans." -- Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic. Quoted by RFE/RL's Jolyon Naegele on 17 October.

"I am much of a nationalist, but not in an aggressive sense. We have to maintain our national identity." -- Claimant to the Albanian throne Leka Zogu. Quoted by dpa in Tirana on 21 October.

"The borders of Albania were artificially created in 1913. What I want to see in the future is that Albanians are united, not through violence, but through political and diplomatic means." -- Leka in ibid.

You are the "pride of the nation.... Your success will remain printed in golden letters in Macedonian sports history." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, in a letter to the national soccer team on 17 October. They played England to a 2-2 draw in Southampton the previous day. Quoted by Reuters in Skopje.

"Both Macedonians and Albanians put enmity aside and celebrated together when Artim Sakiri, an ethnic Albanian, scored the first goal for Macedonia. They continued celebrating together throughout the night." -- From the same Reuters report.

"Death to the Albanians." -- Slogan used by ethnic Macedonian students in Skopje and other cities on 23 October to protest the drive-by shooting of a Macedonian youth the previous weekend. Quoted by Reuters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002).