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Balkan Report: June 15, 2001


15 June 2001, Volume 5, Number 42

PEACE AND SECURITY FOR THE BALKANS. The Atlantic alliance has played a key role in establishing and maintaining peace in the former Yugoslavia. The continued cohesion of the alliance is essential for the tranquility and progress of the still troubled region.

The NATO Brussels summit ended on 13 June with a decision to shelve any plans for intervention in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 June 2001). But some French, British, and Greek leaders have made it clear that they feel that NATO will have to become involved in that troubled republic sooner rather than later. NATO advance teams are reportedly already in the area, and Britain has said it will "look favorably" on a request by Skopje for help in setting up a counter-insurgency unit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 June 2001, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 7 May 14 June 2001).

The calls for NATO involvement reflect the hard-earned knowledge that the international community is effective in bringing an end to Balkan troubles only when the EU and U.S. speak with one voice and act with determination and credibility through NATO. That alliance has, moreover, proven itself for over half a century as what one top Reagan administration official once called "the greatest peace movement of all time."

But much of the political commentary on the eve of President George W. Bush's visit to Europe makes it clear that not all is well in the alliance, which, in turn, has presumably been noticed by those wishing to make trouble in the Balkans. Several observers writing in a wide array of publications on both sides of the Atlantic have nonetheless offered suggestions as to how NATO can put itself on a better footing and hence remain a factor for peace and security in the Balkans and elsewhere.

The first point, these observers note, is that serious issues deserve serious treatment. Emotions should be kept out of the discussions, as should the use of negative national stereotypes best left for the barroom or what the Germans call the Stammtisch. These serve no constructive purpose and only poison the atmosphere.

Similarly, it is perhaps less than wise to treat the various alliance partners in discussions as mutually alien monoliths. One is dealing with complex societies in which governments and laws have been determined through a democratic process. There are shared values of free speech, a free press, a democratic electoral system, and a market economy. Terms such as "the Europeans" or "the French" or "the Americans" tell us little of use. Is one referring to the government of Sweden or the government of Italy? Does one mean the president of France or the prime minister of France? Which society and political culture are at issue: those of California, Mississippi, or Vermont?

The second point, as many observers have pointed out, is that a bit of good will and mutual trust are in order within an alliance that has preserved the peace for over 50 years. It seems odd that some voices on both sides of the Atlantic grumble or scream that the partner of yesterday could become the devil of tomorrow. This is particularly so in an increasingly globalized world in which traditional concepts of nation states, national frontiers, and national or regional interests could become increasingly irrelevant.

Several commentators have pointed out in recent days that a strong and enlarged NATO, together with a strong and enlarged EU, offer the best hope for peace and prosperity. The commentators added that these goals can be achieved only when the partners on both sides of the Atlantic work together. Zbigniew Brzezinski made this clear in "The Wall Street Journal in Europe" on 12 June. Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger also pointed out in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" the next day that vital interests require that the two remain "partners, not rivals."

One might do well to recall a bit of history in this regard, namely George F. Kennan's 1979 book "The Decline of Bismarck's European Order." In it he described how irresponsible politicians and demagogic publicists in Germany and Russia contributed to destroying the alliance between the two empires in the late 19th century. The alliance had been crafted years before by cool-headed statesmen in order to preserve peace and stability as well as to defend the vital interests of Berlin and St. Petersburg alike.

In the end, once the politicians and publicists had done their work, the two empires found themselves in rival alliance systems. When a young man -- who was a patriot to some but a terrorist and separatist to others -- shot an archduke in Sarajevo, the former partners went to war against each other. When it was over, both had been destroyed. (Patrick Moore)

FORMER U.S. AMBASSADORS CALL FOR 'FIRM ACTION' IN THE BALKANS. Democrat Richard Holbrooke and Republican Jeane Kirkpatrick, both former U.S. ambassadors to the UN, wrote in the "International Herald Tribune" of 13 June that "NATO needs to make clear that it will stay the course in Bosnia and Kosovo, and that it will not allow Macedonia to be destroyed -- that it will do what is necessary now to establish a settlement and enforce it -- before conflict in Macedonia threatens not only peace in the Balkans but the trans-Atlantic partnership."

The former ambassadors warned that "failure to take firm action now threatens to reverse all that NATO action has gained, prolong the time that NATO troops must stay in the region, and cause political ramifications and human misery that could extend well beyond Balkan borders." (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN SECURITY FORCES PARALYZED BY POWER STRUGGLE. After almost four months of unsuccessful low-intensity warfare against the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK), the Macedonian public has become increasingly aware of the danger of an imminent full-fledged civil war (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 7 and 14 June 2001). In this situation, the Macedonian media have started to look for the reasons why the Macedonian security forces have not been able to deal with the rebels (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 June 2001).

A possible answer to this question is that the security forces may be paralyzed by the ongoing struggle for power within the Macedonian government of "political unity."

Arguing from a strictly military point of view, some international as well as domestic observers have pointed to the ineffective and outdated strategy of the Macedonian army of pounding the rebel positions with howitzers from a distance. One of the reasons for this strategy seems to be the reluctance of the military commanders to risk casualties among their troops. The commander in chief of the Macedonian army is President Boris Trajkovski.

Another point the public wonders about is the case of the so-called Tigers -- a highly specialized antiterrorist unit. As a part of the police force, the Tigers are under the command of the Interior Ministry. The special unit is therefore under the more-or-less direct control of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski rather than Trajkovski.

The special police force came in for criticism recently when its commander resigned from his post. He argued that the Tigers are not trained for military action and thus not able to fight the rebels.

In a critical report about the Tigers ("Tigers Become Pussycats") in the latest issue of the Skopje bi-monthly "Forum," author Vladimir Jovanovski notes that individual Tigers' fondness for designer sunglasses and gold chains reminded him more of "flea-market Rambos" than of specialists in antiterrorist warfare.

Jovanovski says that the Tigers are not trained for hand-to-hand combat, even though in recent months the unit would have had the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills and knowledge. But now they also lack the will: "By joining special units, they...expressed their willingness to sacrifice themselves. That is why it is somewhat strange when one hears, for instance, that during one action...the army conscripts fought more courageously than the 'Tigers.'"

When Macedonian newspapers reported on the president's plans to put both the army and the special police troops under a common command, they also reported that there is an obvious reluctance within the government to agree to this step (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2001). According to the Skopje daily "Vest" of 12 June, which cited high government officials, it was Georgievski who did not want the formation of a joint command for police and army forces, as he would thus lose control over the police units.

The same newspaper accuses one of Georgievski's political allies, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, of being responsible for the Aracinovo disaster. Since the ministry could not easily explain why no preventive action was taken to stop the Albanian rebels from infiltrating a village so close to the capital, "Vest" sees the case as part of a larger scheme by Georgievski. He allegedly wants -- by any means possible -- to introduce a state of war, which would give supreme command over all security forces to him, and not to Trajkovski, who opposes the declaration of a state of war.

In addition to the already existing dangers from the UCK and the less-than-competent Macedonian leadership, a third danger seems to be building up behind the scenes: that of paramilitary militias, similar to those that existed during the war in Bosnia. Apart from a Secret Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (Tajna Makedonska Revolucionerna Organizacija -- TMORO), and a group named Todor Aleksandrov (after an early-20th-century Macedo-Bulgarian rebel leader), the latest formation seems to be a militia called Lions (Lavovi).

According to "Forum," the Lions are criminals, very much like the Serbian Tigers of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, who was murdered early last year. The article identifies as leader of the Lions one of the most prominent figures in Skopje's Mafia circles: Ace Bocevski-Ciganot (Ace the Gypsy). The author himself does not take this information too seriously, but points to the danger that the current situation could tempt some "sociopaths" to take the law into their own hands.

Having all this in mind -- the badly trained and poorly motivated security forces, as well as the politicians who jockey for power amid an insurrection -- it is probably not surprising that many Macedonians are ill at ease. It is probably also not surprising that there was recently a rush to exchange denars into German marks, long the currency of choice in the former Yugoslavia and a safe haven in troubled times (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2001). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

ROW OVER ALBANIAN INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES CONTINUES. Several parties are running candidates as "independents" in the 24 June parliamentary elections with the apparent aim of gaining more parliamentary seats in Albania's mixed direct and proportional electoral system (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 June 2001). Independent candidates who win direct seats have not been included in the party-by-party proportional list in the past.

The governing Socialist Party (PS) has put 81 members on its official list of candidates and has endorsed a further 19 independent candidates, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The Democratic Party (PD)-led opposition coalition Union for Victory has endorsed 93 independent candidates, including PD Secretary-General Ridvan Bode.

Central Election Commission (KQZ) officials did not recognize the nomination of Bode and nine other PD members as independents, however. They also rejected the nominations as independent candidates of six government officials, including Defense Minister Ismail Lleshi.

The KQZ ruled on 12 June, however, that it will screen independent candidates after the elections for possible support they may have gotten from political parties. Candidates who have received such support will accordingly be counted as members on the official party lists. Commission Chairman Ilirjan Celibashi said that the KQZ will not address the problem again before the elections are over, but called on the political parties to respect the electoral system.

Celibashi made it clear that no registered party member will receive a seat as an "independent." The same applies to those who receive financial or political backing from a political party. The KQZ will screen the candidates after the elections, using evidence from party rallies and party archives. Meanwhile, Vasil Melo, head of the mainly ethnic Greek Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ), called the parties' practice of running party members as independents "immoral."

The same day in Bushat near Shkodra, PD officials pledged to cut VAT for food products to 5 percent and for other goods to 15 percent in the event that the opposition wins the elections. They also promised to abolish all taxes on fertilizers and farming equipment, arguing that this will help rural areas overcome poverty. Party leader Sali Berisha promised that the new government could finance the tax cuts by fighting smuggling and thus collecting more customs duties. Berisha also pledged to introduce a $50 minimum pension and a $100 minimum salary. (Fabian Schmidt)

DID THE HAJDARI VENDETTA CLAIM 120 VICTIMS? Former Albanian Interior Minister Perikli Teta told "Koha Jone" of 13 June that the killing of former PD legislator Azem Hajdari in September 1998 is "closely linked to the killing of 120 people in Tropoja," the hometown of the late politician. He did not elaborate but said that the figure includes the killings mentioned in an official investigation file of the Hajdari case. Investigators believe that Hajdari fell victim to a vendetta between two or more families in the northern town. Law enforcement officers recently arrested the main murder suspect (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 May 2001). Teta warned that the series of killings has not come to an end yet, and called on the authorities to act urgently to stop the chain of violence. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "This will certainly spread. Macedonia will fall apart. The government can't stop it." -- Meteorologist Vesna Cvetkovska, quoted in the "Financial Times" from Skopje on 13 June.

"I am equally sad for Macedonia as I am disgusted by our politicians." -- Unnamed Macedonian businesswoman, quoted in the "Financial Times" from Skopje on 13 June.

"We should rule out nothing in order to put a stop to it." -- French President Jacques Chirac, speaking at the NATO summit about the Macedonian unrest. Quoted by AP on 13 June.

"A presence of a peacekeeping force sooner or later...will be necessary." -- Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou. Quoted by AP on 13 June.

"Amid these cease-fires that seem to go on and off, the situation doesn't seem to be going into a stable line of improvement." -- Unnamed NATO official, quoted by the "International Herald Tribune" on 13 June.

"Getting involved in one more place is a big undertaking, but, on the other hand, letting one place undo everything that has been accomplished so far could be a worse and even bigger deal." -- Unnamed diplomat at NATO headquarters, quoted by the "International Herald Tribune" on 13 June.

"Our history of engagement in that part of the world has taught us that it is better to make preparations and to stabilize the situation rather than to wait and let the situation deteriorate." -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the NATO summit in Brussels. Quoted in "The Guardian" on 14 June.

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