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Balkan Report: February 23, 2001

23 February 2001, Volume 5, Number 15

RESPONSIBILITY AND DEMOCRACY. That the West bears much of the responsibility for the tensions in Kosova is the theme of an article by Matthias Rueb in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 20 February. Rueb says that the West failed over the course of a decade to give the peaceful democrats in Ibrahim Rugova's shadow state any serious hope for success, so that in the end the fighters of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) were able to take the political center stage. The journalist argues that violence is likely to carry the day again unless the Kosovars and Albanians of Presevo gain a clear perspective for their respective political futures.

Rueb, who recently debunked an attempt by some German journalists to misrepresent the history of the Recak massacre in Kosova, dismantles two more myths in his latest article (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 January 2001, and the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," 20 February 2001). First, he points out that the bogey of a greater Albania is a fiction. No mainstream party in Albania, Kosova, Macedonia, Presevo, or Montenegro advocates a greater Albania as a serious political goal for the foreseeable future. Rueb might have added that Belgrade's propagandists under the Milosevic regime and under the current leadership have carefully cultivated the myth of an aggressive greater Albania for their own purposes. Their efforts have not been without success in some Western journalistic and policy-making circles.

The second myth that Rueb deals with is the idea that an independent Kosova will lead to political instability. Instead, he argues that it is precisely the lack of a clear political perspective that has led Kosova to instability in recent years. He notes that virtually all of the province's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence and an end to a common statehood with Serbia. That goal, he argues, is what the West should now act upon.

The article raises serious questions of responsibility for the current tensions in Kosova and Presevo. Rueb argues that the West can remove much of the discontent upon which advocates of violence feed by showing that peaceful policies by democratic Albanian politicians can bring concrete dividends. This means independence, which is what the majority in Kosova has said at the ballot box that it wants. If the West delays or tries to force the Kosovars into a relationship with Belgrade that they plainly do not want, then the successors to the UCK will be the ones to profit. Once again, the perception in Kosova will be that the West has turned a deaf ear to the Rugovas, and that only the guerrillas can get the foreigners' attention, Rueb concludes.

He might have added that Russia, which enjoys a powerful attraction for many Serbs, has a constructive role to play in defusing tensions. Its reversion in the Putin era to an almost Soviet-type blustering over Western policies in the Balkans has not necessarily been helpful to those who want an end to the violence.

As to the Serbs' role, time and the progress of the Presevo talks will show whether the Covic plan is a serious first step toward reversing dangerous trends and breaking with the Milosevic era's policies toward ethnic minorities, or whether the plan is a propaganda ploy aimed at enlisting foreign support for the Serbian nationalist agenda in Kosova. (Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's foreign policy advisor wrote two articles in "NIN" in December, in which he argued that Serbia should cleverly cultivate the support of foreigners for a "return to Kosovo.")

The Macedonian leadership also has a special responsibility in steering the region toward a peaceful, democratic future, as many observers have long pointed out. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski will need to tread carefully, since ethnic tensions in his republic are rarely far beneath the surface. Macedonia has a 23 percent Albanian population, one of whose two main political parties, the Democratic Party of the Albanians, is represented in the government. (The other large party, the Party of Democratic Prosperity, was in the previous government.) If Georgievski alienates the Albanians as a group, he risks -- at a minimum -- destroying the foundations of his own coalition. His recent remarks in Belgrade about cooperating with Serbia against "extremism" may have been designed to assuage ethnic Macedonian fears about the spread of violence to their republic, but such statements could have a less than reassuring effect on the Albanians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2001).

In any event, it should be noted that the Albanians and their parties are clearly integrated into the republic's political life. The political alienation or even serious indigenous violence found in Milosevic's Kosova are thus unlikely to appear there -- as long as democratic rules continue to operate. Given the fact that there is no great mutual trust between the Macedonian and Albanian communities as a whole, the successful integration of the Albanians into the republic's political life is doubly striking. It serves as testimony to the role of democracy in managing inter-ethnic relations.

This calls attention to the responsibility of the region's Albanians in promoting a peaceful future for the area. If the West ignores the views of democratically elected Albanians or tries to strong-arm them into a political relationship with Serbia that the voters do not want, it will again be the West that bears heavy responsibility if the Kosovars resort to violence as a last resort.

But in the meantime, the traditional and clannish Albanian societies of the region have a responsibility to keep their own violent elements under control. These are conservative communities in which everyone knows everyone else and everyone else's business. To say that the community does not know or cannot control them is no more credible than when some residents of similarly provincial East German villages and towns claim that they have no knowledge of or social control over gangs of young neo-Nazi hooligans in their midst. There is no excuse for political violence in today's Europe when democratic channels are open to all who care to use them.

Finally, it might be noted that all political forces both inside and outside the Balkans have a responsibility for helping move the agenda away from 19th-century nationalist issues toward 21st-century questions of economic and social progress, and of European integration. It is worth recalling that Milosevic was able to rise to power, destroy former Yugoslavia, start and lose four wars, and create the political environment in which countless other demagogues thrived -- only after more than a decade of economic downturn. (Patrick Moore)

ALBANIAN COURT ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR FORMER CHIEF INVESTIGATOR. A Tirana court issued an arrest warrant for a former high-ranking police officer on 18 February, "Albanian Daily News," reported on 21 February. Sokol Kociu, former chief of the justice police and once police chief in Vlora, is suspected of involvement in a giant drug trafficking ring (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001).

Police failed to arrest Kociu but they arrested his 25-year-old driver, according to the daily. Kociu has denied allegations of his involvement in the drug ring as "baseless and unfounded." Police have already arrested five men in connection with the drug trafficking network.

Last week the authorities arrested Alfred Ninaj and Vehbi Hysi, who are close associates of suspected drug dealers Arben Berballa and Frederik Durda. A district court ordered their detention without bail. Investigators believe that they received cocaine shipments from the Colombian mafia on several occasions.

Police interrogated Kociu's driver on 19 and 20 February about the relationship of Kociu to Berballa. Both men were travelling in the same car on the day of Berballa's arrest in January. According to Kociu himself, the two have been friends for decades. (Fabian Schmidt)

NEW ALBANIAN ELECTION COMMISSION CONVENES. Albania's newly composed Central Election Commission (KQZ) met on 15 February, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 21 February. The main opposition Democratic Party (PD) criticized the composition of the KQZ, however, saying that it does not meet its demand for stronger representation for itself. Elections are due by 24 June, and the PD has threatened a boycott unless the governing coalition makes sufficient concessions.

Among the new members of the KQZ is Tomorr Malaj, a former senior official at the Ministry of Local Government. PD legislators boycotted the parliamentary session on 12 February, which appointed Malaj. Jemin Gjana, from the PD's parliamentary group, called on the Socialist majority to postpone the vote in order to find a consensus between the political parties.

On 11 February, there was a roundtable of political parties to discuss the matter and other election issues, but it failed to achieve any results. PD officials criticized President Rexhep Meidani for "undermining the roundtable" after the High Council of Justice (KLD) elected two KQZ members on 10 February to replace others who had resigned. The KLD elects three KQZ officials, while the president and the parliament appoint two each (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001).

Gjana argued that the election of new KQZ members was a "political game," adding that "we don't want a repeat of what the president and the KLD did by electing commissioners ahead of the roundtable."

Diplomats in Tirana voiced their support for the newly elected KQZ on 20 February and urged the authorities to make up for the lost time in preparing the elections. After visiting the KQZ headquarters, the ambassadors of the U.S., the EU Troika, the European Commission, as well as the OSCE and the Council of Europe issued a statement, saying that "there is now an urgent need for prompt...action to be taken to make the necessary preparations.... It is vital that the June parliamentary elections show further improvement over the October local elections."

Meanwhile, on 19 February Gjana proposed the creation of a parliamentary commission to verify voters' lists in the event of complaints. The PD has often complained of manipulated voters' lists since its electoral defeat in 1997. (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIAN, GREEK FOREIGN MINISTERS AGREE ON MINORITY PROJECTS. Paskal Milo and George Papandreou agreed in Athens on 19 February to construct a building for the Orthodox archbishop and for a Greek school, the Arsakeion, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 21 February.

The two ministers also agreed to settle a disagreement over the construction by a Greek company of fuel storage facilities in the port of Durres. The company has built fuel tanks that are not in keeping with port development plans.

Papandreou pledged Athens' support for the opening of Albania-EU negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement. (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIAN STATE TO SELL DAJTI HOTEL. Officials from the Ministry of Public Economy and Privatization have announced plans to auction a landmark Tirana hotel in April, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 21 February.

The Dajti Hotel is named for a mountain overlooking Tirana and was built in 1943 by the Italians. It was reconstructed in Stalin-baroque style in the 1950s, when it became legendary as the central location for visits of foreign delegations, diplomats, and officials during communist rule. Long after her husband's death, Enver Hoxha's widow continued to take her meals at a special table in the hotel's cavernous dining room, where a wide array of Albanian dishes were served.

In post-communist years, the hotel fell on hard times because of a lack of investment in basic repairs and maintenance. Foreign visitors with an interest in the history of the place would eat in the restaurant and have a look around, but most of the overnight guests in the run-down facility were overseas or local Albanians. Foreigners tended to stay in the more modern but still communist-era Tirana International Hotel, or in the much newer Austrian-built hotel, or in one of the small private establishments.

The ministry will accept bids for the Dajti until 2 April. The National Privatization Agency will announce the winner on 26 April. An auditing group has recently estimated the initial auction price at $4.47 million.

Mark Kosmo, an Albanian-American, intends to organize an investment fund to produce a joint bid for the hotel. Other interested businessmen include Swiss-based Behxhet Pacolli as well as French and U.S. entrepreneurs.

The government also plans to sell its majority share in the Tirana International Hotel and the Skampa Hotel Elbasan before the end of the year. Several other large hotels were sold to Albanian entrepreneurs last year. Those hotels experienced kinder fates than did the Italian-era Albturist hotel in Durres and several others around the country, which were totally ransacked under often mysterious circumstances during the 1997 riots. (Fabian Schmidt and Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "They are talking diplomacy. Better head to the bomb shelters." -- Serbian bon mot from the 1999 conflict, still in use among Presevo Serbs. Quoted by London's "The Times" on 22 February.

"We will not allow our people and police to become moving targets for Albanians." -- Yugoslav Interior Minister Zoran Zivkovic, quoted in "The Times" of 20 February.

NATO and KFOR "are afraid that the Albanian terrorists will perceive them as their adversaries." -- Zivkovic, quoted by Reuters.

"Albanian extremists are in essence throwing down the gauntlet not only to Serbia and Yugoslavia but to the international presence regulating the situation in Kosovo." -- Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defense Ministry's international cooperation department. Quoted by Reuters.

Independence "is more rational than trying to build a fourth Yugoslavia on the wreck of three Yugoslav failures." -- Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, quoted by Reuters.

"The strategic interest of the international community is stability in the Balkans, and that's our strategic interest, too -- even more so in our case because this is our home." -- Djukanovic.

"Secretary Powell," the press conference questioner said, "[German Foreign Minister Joschka] Fischer opposed the Vietnam War, he opposed American missiles in Germany, he opposed the Gulf War, and now you sit here with him and talk about missiles on Iraq. What do you think of that?" The former general answered: "Amazing, isn't it?" -- Quoted by AP.