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Balkan Report: May 29, 2001


29 May 2001, Volume 5, Number 37

BULGARIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN BEGINS. The official opening of the election campaign in Bulgaria showed that the major political parties are running on similar platforms: they all promise European and NATO integration, more jobs, and better living standards. This is the first time since 1990 that all contenders agree on the issues of major concern to the Bulgarian people. The similarities, however, end there.

With the former king, Simeon II, entering Bulgarian politics, political reality has dramatically changed (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 April and 4 May 2001). His coalition, the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), has moved into a comfortable first-place lead by all serious accounts, RFE/RL's Bulgarian Service reported. Sociologists and political analysts are trying to explain this phenomenon as a protest vote by many disappointed and frustrated people, who are tired of Bulgaria's post-communist partisan confrontations. Some Western experts wonder how the ruling coalition lost so much support despite the fact that it saved the country from a major economic disaster four years ago and ensured stable growth for three consecutive years.

Support for the governing Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), which was running a few points ahead of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) before the former king's arrival in April, plunged to 15 percent in May. The Socialists were marginalized to only 10 percent. It thus seems that Simeon's party is attracting not only undecided voters and those who initially did not want to vote, but that it also appeals to segments in the hardcore electorate of the two major parties.

Although some consider that Simeon's support comes from the poorest segments of the population (over 50 percent of Bulgarians live below the poverty line), public opinion surveys show that it is equally spread among all social groups.

Some of the Bulgarian media have compared Simeon's popular support to nationalist Vadim Tudor's success in Romania, Joerg Haider's strength in Austria, and even Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany. One Russian expert has warned that Simeon threatens Bulgaria with the establishment of an authoritarian regime of the "Balkan type" (see, for example, Mediapool.bg, 18 May 2001). In stark contrast, others argue that Simeon's role in the upcoming elections will be beneficial for Bulgarian democracy, since "an old, decent gentleman" will gather the protest vote, instead of somebody from the far right like Tudor or Haider.

Bruce Jackson, head of the non-governmental U.S. Committee on NATO, argued at a conference in Bratislava on 11 May that the U.S. will not support the restoration of the monarchy in Bulgaria. He, too, compared Simeon to Haider and Tudor. "The Washington Post" published an editorial on 10 May claiming that Simeon's gaining power could be disastrous for Bulgaria. However, there has not been any official statement by the U.S. or any European government, including that of Russia, on the new political situation in Bulgaria.

Although Simeon has declared that restoring the monarchy is not among his priorities, many think that this is indeed his long-term goal. Such analysts speculate that Simeon's name will not appear on the ballot because he would not want to take an oath to the republican constitution and thereby give up legal grounds for the eventual restoration of the monarchy. President Petar Stoyanov pointed out that by not actually running for office himself, Simeon failed to fulfill his promise to allow Bulgarians to vote for him.

The announcement on 21 May of the names of Simeon's candidates for parliament in the 17 June vote provoked mixed reactions, because along with many talented young economists and lawyers, some individuals widely regarded as compromised were also included on the lists. Some supporters from the town of Russe left the movement for this reason, and there are also some compromised candidates running in Burgas.

There is a possibility that Simeon's campaign may incur additional negative publicity once the candidates are officially screened for collaboration with the communist-era security services, as the law requires. The NDSV was the only one that failed to request such a check before the start of the election campaign.

The opinion research company MBMD expects that the popularity of the NDSV will drop by approximately 10 percentage points by election day. After an initial period of high emotional support for the king, people are now asking questions about Simeon's election platform.

However, the presence of some young Bulgarians who have built impressive careers abroad -- such as the vice president of the London-based Lazard Bank, Nikolay Vasilev; Milen Velchev from Merrill Lynch; and Ljubka Kachakova from PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Brussels -- may be a sufficient basis for electoral success. The young group of economists wrote the coalition's economic program, which is based on cutting taxes, stimulating economic growth, providing incentives for reinvesting enterprise profits, and promoting the development of capital and stock markets. Prime Minister Ivan Kostov sharply criticized this platform, arguing that any changes in Bulgaria's tax system will jeopardize the country's progress toward EU accession.

Despite the serious blow that the SDS experienced with the appearance of the king's coalition, it launched an optimistic and confident election campaign. The SDS declined to make commitments regarding any postelection coalition, declaring that it will win the elections outright. The NDSV nonetheless announced that its natural partners in the next parliament will be the SDS and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the so-called Turkish party.

The Turkish party has experienced serious problems in this election because part of its traditional support base has now evidently opted for the king's coalition and another part for the SDS. The Turkish minority has been steadily declining over the past decade due to emigration to Turkey. This has cost the party almost half of its potential voters. It may be left out of parliament altogether if its voter support does not increase to over 4 percent. Current polls give it between 2 and 3.8 percent of the vote.

Veteran party leader Ahmed Dogan was absent from the official campaign opening rallies in the southern town of Djebel and the northern town of Isperih on 19 and 20 May, respectively. His deputy, Osman Oktaj, said that all other political parties are trying to destroy the Movement for Rights and Freedoms by including ethnic Turks on their lists of candidates in hopes of luring Turkish voters.

The Movement has been long considered by many Western experts to be one of the most important contributors to Bulgaria's multiethnic harmony, in contrast to the interethnic wars in neighboring Yugoslavia.

If the Turks and Muslims in Bulgaria emerge from the 17 June voting without serious parliamentary representation, this may seriously damage interethnic relations and may contribute to new political tensions in an already unstable Balkans. (Kathryn Mazur is an independent analyst based in the U.S. Kathryn_Mazur@hotmail.com)

NEW TENSIONS IN MACEDONIA. A 23 May meeting in Kosova between Ali Ahmeti, the political representative of the ethnic Albanian fighters' National Liberation Army -- or UCK -- and the chairmen of Macedonia's two main Albanian parties has sent shock waves through the government in Skopje as well as the international community.

It was an OSCE diplomat, Robert Frowick, who allegedly facilitated the meeting between the UCK's Ahmeti and Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri, the respective chiefs of the Democratic Party of Albanians, or PDSH, and the Party of Democratic Prosperity, or PPD. Frowick, whose title is "Personal Representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office" for Macedonia, was summoned to Bucharest on 24 May to report to his boss, the OSCE's current chairman, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. He has not returned to Skopje.

Frowick has been a diplomat for almost four decades and an ambassador since the mid-1980s. He was closely connected to the so-called Helsinki Process (Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) in the 1970s and 1980s, as well to the OSCE's activities in the Balkans in the 1990s.

At their meeting in Kosova, the three ethnic Albanian leaders reportedly called for "joint efforts" to change the Macedonian Constitution to provide equal rights to the Albanian community, estimated to comprise from one-quarter to one-third of the country's two million people. The three were also reported to have appealed to Macedonia's new national unity government to declare a cease-fire in the fighting with the UCK and to seek to resolve the crisis by peaceful means.

Reports of the agreement triggered denunciations not only by the Macedonian government, but by the United States, the European Union, NATO, and the OSCE. All agreed there can be no negotiations with the ethnic Albanian fighters, whom the government calls "terrorists."

On 25 May, Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski characterized the agreement between the UCK's Ahmeti and ethnic Albanian party leaders Xhaferi and Imeri as an act of war: "This [agreement] means that the [ethnic] Albanians have declared war against the Macedonian people."

Georgievski said the previous day that the deal means "the Macedonian security forces must defend the country's territories without mercy." Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski subsequently announced a major offensive by the military against the UCK.

Trajkovski had previously urged Xhaferi and Imeri -- whose parties are part of the national unity government -- to renounce the agreement with the UCK. He said that if they fail to renounce that deal, "it will be impossible to work together."

In response, Xhaferi said he "stands by the [common political] platform" and that he did not act behind the Macedonian government's back. Imeri said the Macedonian government had actually encouraged the two Albanian parties to contact the UCK. He added: "We did it for peace, and peace is very near."

In a statement, U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Michael Einik rejected "any kind of attempt to bring the so-called UCK into the negotiating process." Einik urged the PPD and the PDSH to renounce their agreement with the guerrillas and to demonstrate their sincere commitment to be part of what he called the "legitimate political dialogue that is now underway." Einik concluded: "There should be no accommodations made for violence or violent groups."

The OSCE mission in Skopje also issued a statement reaffirming the organization's commitment "to adhere totally to the long-standing positions of the international community that ethnic Albanian armed groups calling themselves the UCK do not have any legal status and in the present situation cannot be considered as partners in a political dialogue."

The OSCE representative in Skopje, Carlo Ungaro, said that Frowick had been "acting on his own" and not on behalf of the 55-member organization. The Macedonian-language press quoted unnamed officials as saying Frowick is no longer welcome in Macedonia. Unnamed diplomats in Vienna told RFE/RL that the veteran diplomat's career with the OSCE in Macedonia is finished.

According to a Kosova Albanian TV station, KTV, the accord reiterates ethnic Albanian demands for amendments to the Macedonian Constitution that would grant equal rights to the Albanian community. The TV report said the agreement spells out, as conditions for peace, "the use of the Albanian language as one of the official languages in Macedonia, the expansion of local government competencies, the full secularization of the constitution, the establishment of a consensual democracy on issues relating to national [that is, ethnic] interests, and the right to free communication in Albanian cultural areas."

The same report says that Ahmeti, Xhaferi, and Imeri agreed to cooperate to "reform the Republic of Macedonia into a democratic state for all its citizens and all national [ethnic] communities." They said they reached consensus on the need "to preserve the integrity and the multiethnic character of Macedonia," noting that there are no solutions for Macedonia's problems based on purely ethnic or territorial criteria.

The report also said the men warned that any attempt to redistribute territories along ethnic lines would harm Macedonian citizens and peace in the region. The declaration was reported to have flatly stated: "There are no military solutions for the problems in Macedonia." The document reportedly concludes by referring to the possibility of integrating demobilized UCK fighters into civilian society, including government posts.

But several politicians and diplomats in Skopje say that the agreement called for the UCK to stop fighting in exchange for an amnesty guaranteed by the two Albanian parties in the government coalition. PDSH and PPD politicians insist they had received the tacit approval of ethnic Macedonian government parties to reach the deal with the UCK. But the Macedonian parties have since expressed outrage, alleging the talks were held without their knowledge.

Just what role Frowick actually played is far from clear. He appears to have tried to urge Xhaferi and Imeri to persuade the UCK to stop fighting and resolve differences with the Macedonians politically.

At a news conference in Skopje in mid-May, Frowick told reporters that he had been engaged in intensive consultations with Xhaferi, the PPD leadership, several Kosovar Albanian leaders -- including Ibrahim Rugova, Hashim Thaci, Ramush Haradinaj, and General Agim Ceku, who heads of the Kosova Protection Force -- and Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta. He said these talks were aimed at persuading the UCK "that it is time to stop the armed struggle."

At that time, Frowick accused the UCK's leadership of "defying this search for peace with justice" and of speaking in support of political reforms, while "stubbornly refusing to pull back from armed confrontation."

In a twist of irony, Frowick concluded: "Let me convey a message to Ali Ahmeti: The ethnic Albanian insurgents must choose now, at this pivotal moment, between the pathway to peace with justice or continuing its [sic] present course toward an escalating war. Only by choosing peace, and pursuing political objectives through political dialogue, can the door to progress and legitimacy be opened."

Some Macedonian cabinet members have demanded the resignations of Xhaferi and Imeri as a result of their talks with Ahmeti. Both have rejected those calls, but aides say that Xhaferi -- who is ailing -- is likely to quit his post as party chairman within a month.

In the latest development, Javier Solana, who is the EU's chief foreign and security policy envoy, arrived in Skopje on 28 May to urge leaders of both major ethnic groups to "resume political dialogue." (Jolyon Naegele)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The real problem is that neither [Macedonian President Boris] Trajkovski nor the government is committed to an open dialogue with the Albanians." -- Unnamed NATO diplomat, quoted in the "Financial Times" of 28 May.

"The important thing is that the killing stops and that the civilians are saved." -- PPD leader Imer Imeri. Quoted by AP in Skopje on 28 May.

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