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Balkan Report: May 1, 2001

1 May 2001, Volume 5, Number 32

THREE APPEALS FOR DEMOCRACY IN THE BALKANS. Many in the international community seem to have developed a sort of phobia regarding the continuing unraveling of Tito's former Yugoslavia and the ongoing decolonization process in the western Balkans. Three articles have just appeared that argue that such an attitude ignores the democratic aspirations of the people in the region and is likely to lead to more trouble, not less.

One need not look too far lately to find statements by prominent Western leaders and other observers to the effect that independence for Montenegro would set off a chain reaction leading to an independent Kosova, the breakup of Macedonia, the dissolution of Bosnia, the emergence of a Greater Albania out of the ruins of several neighboring states, and perhaps even a general Balkan conflagration involving Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.

Nor are these views confined to Washington or Brussels. There are people in the region with an interest in preserving the status quo. Such people have tried their best to frighten Western leaders, Macedonian politicians, Montenegrin voters, and others into thinking that any change in the political map will lead to a modern-day Balkan Armageddon.

The three articles under review argue that such thinking is likely to lead to further tensions in the region because it ignores the democratic aspirations of the people involved. Like the fabled King Canute, some political leaders or observers seem to want to hold back an inevitable tide of change manifested democratically at the ballot box (see below).

This attitude is perplexing to some, including Alush Gashi, who is an adviser to moderate Kosovar leader Ibrahim Rugova. In an article published by Reuters, he said in Washington on 26 April that "we will do our best to be a good neighbor but there is no way we can be forced to accept Belgrade's rule any more." Gashi stressed that independence is the only alternative: "Even if [the UN's Hans Haekkerup says] no, we don't take no for no. We have to push through a democratic process to change all existing no's on a referendum�. We have to have first of all a timetable for [Kosova's] final status�. We will offer arguments on a daily basis until we achieve our democratic goal (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001)." Gashi added: "We are a little bit surprised that democratic countries are reluctant to accept the will of the people, so we will continue to work on this issue."

In the second article under consideration, the "Financial Times" of 27 April reviewed a new study by the International Crisis Group (ICG) entitled "After Milosevic." The article summarizes the study as saying that "attempts to freeze the status quo risk provoking more tensions because they ignore local conditions."

Presenting the report, Gareth Evans, who is ICG president and former Australian foreign minister, said: "Arguing that there are already too many states in the Balkans is not an appropriate response to the situation in Kosovo and Montenegro," the "Financial Times" noted.

The study goes on to say: "Hopes that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia can be reconstituted -- on a transitional or permanent basis -- as a loose federation or confederation with little or no power vested in central authorities, appear painfully detached from political reality." Fears that Montenegrin independence would lead to conflicts elsewhere in a domino fashion "have all been overstated." The study recommends talks between Podgorica and Belgrade as the best way of defusing the tensions.

Turning to Kosova, the ICG argues that foot-dragging over settling the province's final status is in itself a cause of instability and tension. The study proposes autonomy for Kosova, followed by a negotiated form of "conditional independence" during which the UN will continue to exercise limited control over Kosova's sovereignty.

It might be added that, through that process, the Kosovars will gain valuable skills in self-government. They will also have the opportunity to prove that they are indeed capable of controlling crime and violence and of treating their minorities fairly. In any event, it is worth recalling that Haekkerup was in no hurry to hold elections in Kosova when he took over from Bernard Kouchner just a few months ago. Within a short time, however, he realized the importance of holding elections in 2001, just as Kouchner did.

The third and final article appeared in London's "The Guardian" on 27 April. In it, veteran correspondent Jonathan Steele argues that the process of unraveling the former Yugoslavia continues, and that attempts to halt or reverse that development are futile.

Looking at Montenegro, Steele argues that Western officials and observers are wrong in focusing on the domino theory. He suggests that the West remain neutral in the debate among Montenegrins about their country's future and let the Montenegrins decide things themselves. The danger that Steele sees is not one of a conflict between Belgrade and Podgorica but the risk of "violence within Montenegro itself, which could be provoked from either side: by a pro-independence majority which feels unfairly denied, just as much as by a pro-Yugoslav minority which wants to hang on to the status quo. The danger of bloodshed is small, but Western policy would do better to concentrate on this rather than the false strategic problems for the region which it claims to see."

Steele is somewhat more optimistic about Western policy toward Kosova, noting that Haekkerup and others have come to see the need for elections. Steele adds that "Haekkerup or his UN successor will have the final say in the most sensitive areas of policy, just as his internationally appointed counterpart [Wolfgang Petritsch] does in Bosnia, even though Bosnia is a nominally independent state. These two Balkan protectorates are doomed to last for a long time."

The Kosovar Albanians, Steele notes, will not have independence handed to them outright. "But Kosovo will get the symbols of sovereignty, and these matter as an incentive to responsible self-government. They also imply that the territory can never be part of Serbia again -- a de facto guarantee of what every Kosovo Albanian wants." (Patrick Moore)

IS IT POSSIBLE TO STOP MONTENEGRIN AND KOSOVAR INDEPENDENCE? A similar view came through in a commentary by well-known Kosovar journalist Shkelzen Maliqi in "Koha Ditore" on 28 April. Maliqi, who is the head of RFE/RL's Prishtina bureau, argued that Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's drive for independence from Yugoslavia suffered a setback when the governing coalition gained only a narrow victory in the recent election (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 April 2001). Maliqi suggests that the status quo both in Montenegro and in Kosova may continue for the near future. But he predicts that in the long run, nobody will be able to stop Montenegro from gaining independence, which will then also mean independence for Kosova.

The pro-Yugoslav Montenegrin parties, he argues, consider it their victory that Djukanovic's majority is not convincing enough to launch a referendum on independence. But those pro-Yugoslav parties are not satisfied with even such results and challenged them in order to "prepare the ground for an internal crisis in Montenegro, with the intention of undermining the legitimacy of Djukanovic's drive for independence."

Maliqi believes, however, that the supporters of a union with Belgrade will not be able to undermine Djukanovic's credibility with the broader Montenegrin public. Their campaign to discredit the president as "a criminal and Mafia-type who steals votes" will appeal only to "pro-Yugoslav fanatics." Against this background, Maliqi adds, Belgrade is indirectly threatening an open rebellion by its militant supporters in case Montenegro nonetheless chooses to hold a referendum.

But the elections served to underscore the legitimacy of Djukanovic's government and undercut that of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Maliqi recalls that "the institutions of the so-called Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were built on a coalition between Kostunica and the pro-Yugoslav forces in Montenegro." They thus do not enjoy legitimacy among the Montenegrin people as a whole.

He explains: "Also after the federal elections of December 2000, it was clear that this was a phony [federation] that does not have the support of the majority in Montenegro."

Maliqi warns that "the legalist Kostunica will make use of the rules [set down by] former dictator Slobodan Milosevic by creating a government of yes-men and by appointing puppets�such as Sejdo Bajramovic, a man who currently represents Kosova" in the Yugoslav government but who has no backing from the Kosovar electorate.

Therefore, Maliqi believes, Djukanovic will insist on the removal of Kostunica, who represents "a Yugoslav federation that does not exist in practice." Instead, he predicts, Djukanovic will seek to regulate bilateral relations with Serbia through direct negotiations with Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who is a legitimate elected representative of Serbia.

Maliqi concludes: "It is clear that the last chapter in the [dissolution] of the former Yugoslavia has begun. This crisis must end, sooner or later, with the independence of Montenegro, and consequently with a redefinition of Serbia's entire 'Yugoslav' project."

When this comes to pass, Maliqi envisages "favorable conditions for solving the Kosova question." He argues that UN resolution 1244 defines Kosova as part of Yugoslavia. If Yugoslavia ceases to exist, consequently, there will be no legal reason for denying independence to Kosova.

Maliqi disagrees with commentators who argue that the ongoing dissolution of Yugoslavia need not automatically lead to an independent state of Kosova, and who call for bilateral negotiations with Belgrade. Such commentators base their argument on a fear that Kosovar independence would set a precedent for Bosnia-Herzegovina, where a similar dissolution of the state could follow, with Serbs and Croats each demanding their own mini-states.

Maliqi counters this argument by stressing that the question of Kosova cannot be linked to the aspirations of Croats and Serbs in other countries. He argues: "The sovereignty of the former Yugoslav Federation has been defunct for some time. This has led to a situation in which five of its successor states are now members of the UN�. With the international recognition of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the fall of last year, the decisions of the [EU's] Badinter Commission [which set the rules for recognizing new states] have finally been put into practice. All the successor states now recognize each other."

The ongoing dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia will thus be "a dissolution of a new sovereign state and it will not have any repercussions on the sovereignty of other states that have emerged out of the former Yugoslavia in the past. Each of these states is now a case in itself. In terms of international law, the relations between the Yugoslav federation and Bosnia are the same as with any other sovereign state."

Maliqi adds that the Dayton agreement protects the sovereignty of Bosnia. Montenegro is a different case, however, because it enjoyed sovereignty in the 19th and 20th centuries and has a right to leave the federation if it chooses.

Kosova, according to Maliqi, enjoys the right to secede from Yugoslavia on two grounds. The first is because it was a unit of the Yugoslav federation and enjoyed territorial and political self-government under the 1974 constitution. The second reason is because the Belgrade government threatened its inhabitants with genocide, which only the NATO intervention of 1999 stopped. (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIAN, ITALIAN ARMIES REBUILD KEY ROAD. Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta opened a 12-kilometer-long stretch of the road across the Llogara Pass between Vlora and Himara on 21 April, "Koha Ditore" reported. An Albanian army engineering brigade with the support of the Italian army widened the road segment to between 7 and 8 meters. Six months earlier, the government decided to speed up the reconstruction of roads by using soldiers. It was the first instance since the end of communism that the Albanian government used the army for public construction projects.

The scenic road follows southern Albania's most beautiful coastal area and will have significance for the development of tourism there. The road was previously dangerous and badly maintained. The daily noted that the latest project was completed during the winter, which made construction even more problematic due to strong rain and winds along the mountainous coast.

At the inauguration ceremony, Meta pledged to provide army support for the construction of a new road linking Albania with Kosova as well. He stressed that by supporting civilian infrastructure development, "the army will acquire a special importance�as a factor for peace, development, and modernization."

Within the coming three weeks, the army will start work on a road segment linking Llogara with Dhermi and Orikum. The government is financing the project out of its own budget. Meta promised the inhabitants of Himara that the government will also start to refurbish Himara's water supply systems. He did not specify whether foreign donors will participate, however. He also pledged to set up a television relay station close to Himara to broadcast Albanian public television and several private programs to the area. Due to the high mountains, Himara is currently cut off from any Albanian television programs and can only receive Greek-language television. (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIAN FLOUR PRICES RISE AFTER KOSOVA TAX COLLECTION. Flour prices in the northern Albanian city of Kukes have risen by 17 percent since the UN administration in Kosova (UNMIK) introduced tax-collection points on the border between Kosova and Serbia in mid-April, "Koha Ditore" reported on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2001). Prices have risen at a similar rate inside Kosova.

The daily observed that the northern Albanian regions of Bajram Curri, Kukes, Mirdita, Puka, and Dibra "supplied most of their needs with flour from the plains of Vojvodina over the last ten years." Since the fall of Albanian communism, small traders and smugglers have exported fuel into Kosova and brought back flour. As a result, northern Albania has had the cheapest flour in the country for years.

On 20 May 1998, with fighting increasing in Kosova, the Yugoslav army closed all border checkpoints between Kosova and Albania and between Montenegro and Albania, thus bringing the trade to a halt. After the end of the Kosova war, the trade resumed, with prices getting even more competitive than before due to the large humanitarian aid supplies reaching Kosova.

When the Albanian government introduced a customs regime at the border between Kosova and Albania in 2000, Albanian traders protested and stormed a police station in Kukes. Since then, the flour importers have repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, lobbied for reduced customs tariffs between Kosova and Albania. The traders propose a free-trade agreement between Albania and Kosova, but an official from the Albanian Finance Ministry told "Koha Ditore" that UNMIK rejects ending its own customs collection rights, which provide revenues needed to fund UNMIK's operating budget. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "There are people in the region who have never given up the idea of a greater Albania, and that is a very destabilizing concept. So my message to President Trajkovski was that he has to work very hard with the political elements within his governing coalition and with political forces within Macedonia to reach out to their ethnic Albanian population and make sure those Albanians understand they are part of Macedonia." -- Secretary of State Colin Powell. Quoted by RFE/RL in Washington on 26 April.

"We have been working very well with all the parties in Macedonia in the last weeks. This [ambush] is something that has to be condemned with all [possible] unity�[and] determination. We have to say very clearly that in the Balkans a new page has been [turned]. We are trying to write a new page, and on that page violence of this nature has no room." -- EU foreign and security policy coordinator Javier Solana. Quoted by AP in Brussels on 29 April.