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Balkan Report: July 12, 2001

12 July 2001, Volume 5, Number 48

MACEDONIA: A CEASE-FIRE AND A PROPOSAL. The armistice between the Macedonian government and the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) brokered jointly by NATO representative Peter Feith, EU envoy Francois Leotard, and U.S. envoy James Pardew is a clear success for the international community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2001).

While there have since been some exchanges of fire between the Albanian insurgents and the Macedonian security forces since that cease-fire took effect at midnight on 5 July, most observers say that on the whole the situation has been relatively calm. An unspecified number of internally displaced persons as well as of refugees, who had fled the country while the fighting was still going on, used the opportunity to return home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 July 2001).

Macedonian media, however, expressed concern about the fact that since the cease-fire took effect, the UCK fighters have set up checkpoints in the Tetovo area. The general conclusion the newspapers drew from this development was that the UCK wants to tighten its control over certain territories that it "occupied" in recent weeks.

The successful introduction of a cease-fire after a period of intensive fighting provided the political space for resuming talks between the main ethnic Albanian and Macedonian parties. These latest talks started on 9 July, after a group of both domestic and international legal experts drafted an extensive proposal to serve as the agenda.

Already before this document was presented to the public, the ethnic Albanian parties criticized its contents. In their view, the draft document contained no new proposals to improve the legal status of the large Albanian minority in Macedonia.

According to Macedonian newspapers, the first round of talks on 9 July under the auspices of President Boris Trajkovski witnessed a clash over this issue between Pardew and Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH). Xhaferi questioned the authority of the French legal expert Robert Badinter, who allegedly authored the draft proposal. Pardew reportedly interrupted Xhaferi by saying: "I was personally sent here by George W. Bush and Colin Powell! Treat this document as a document of the international community, and not as a document of Badinter...."

As a result of this clash, Imer Imeri, leader of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), stated after the meeting, "We are now forced to [put forward] amendments [to the draft document]," MIA reported on 9 July.

In the meantime, the Skopje dailies "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" on 10 July published the full text of the draft, putting an end to speculation about its contents.

The text is divided into eight chapters, the first of which contains the general principles for the political dialogue and the fundamental principles of the Macedonian state, which are not to be discussed at all. The second chapter describes the conditions of the current armistice.

Chapters three to seven represent the core of the changes that the Macedonian government is willing to talk about, including issues of local self-government and decentralization based on EU principles (chapter three), as well as non-discrimination and equal opportunities for members of national minorities (chapter four). The Albanian parties in general agreed with these points.

The fifth chapter describes a proposal for a parliamentary "mechanism," which is intended to prevent national minorities being outvoted in the legislature on issues that directly affect them. The Albanian parties want this mechanism to be extended.

Chapter six offers guidelines for the use of the mother tongue and a discussion of educational issues. Here again, the Albanian parties see room for more extensive rights. The sore points seem to be the funding of private universities by the state, and the use of minority languages in state universities. According to the Skopje daily "Vest" of 10 July, the provisions of the draft document concerning the use of the mother tongue in the administration are superfluous, since the Macedonian government will soon ratify the Council of Europe's European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, which provides for even broader rights. Critics charge, however, that the Charter is an amorphous "shopping list" that enables governments to determine what a minority is.

Chapter seven refers to rights in expressing national identity, saying that local authorities will be free to display symbols of the community's ethnic majority on the front of local public buildings. This proposal is an obvious response to Skopje's previous tough line, in accordance with which some mayors of overwhelmingly Albanian communities were jailed for flying the Albanian flag from their town halls (in former Yugoslavia, the Albanian flag was used by the Albanian minority as "its" special flag and not necessarily as a sign of allegiance to Albania).

The last chapter contains some proposals about the future implementation of the package. The document also calls for a donors conference to be organized as soon as possible. The main aim of this conference will be to help stabilize the fragile Macedonian economy and fund the proposed reforms.

The original document is intended to be supplemented by proposals for amendments to the constitution, for a new legal framework, and for confidence building. Those proposals are still being drafted.

It is quite clear that the publication of the draft document will trigger a new public discussion about the international community's proposals.

What is not so certain is whether the current talks will continue to be talks between only the leaders of the main ethnic Albanian and Macedonian parties and Trajkovski, mediated by envoys of the international community. The fact that neither the smaller political parties nor the smaller ethnic minorities have been included in the talks has already drawn criticism from those affected.

A commentator of the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" on 7 July proposed inviting representatives of the Turks, Serbs, Roma, or Vlachs to the talks -- as mediators between the Albanians and the Macedonians. Criticizing Trajkovski's "half-hearted" moves to obtain support from the minorities for a process from which they have been excluded, the author asks, "After all, if this is the state of all its inhabitants (or citizens), why then should others determine this population's future and fate, even if they are the biggest parties in the country?" (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS WIN ELECTIONS. "Shekulli" reported on 11 July that candidates of Albania's Socialist Party (PS) have won 70 out of 100 directly elected seats in parliament. This is based on preliminary results of the elections held on 24 June and 8 July. In addition, the PS will get its share of the 40 additional seats in the legislature distributed through a proportional system, in which the PS can claim 46.7 percent.

Socialist Party Secretary-General Gramoz Ruci said he is confident that the PS and its allies will receive the 85 votes required to elect a new president in 2002, when the term of current President Rexhep Meidani runs out, "Albanian Daily News" reported. It remains unclear whether three previous coalition partners of the PS have managed to pass the 3 percent hurdle. Final results are expected shortly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 July 2001).

The opposition Alliance for Change coalition emerged as the main opposition force and won 42 percent of the votes. Its candidates managed to win only 25 direct seats, however. The Democratic Party (PD) of former President Sali Berisha is the leading party within the Alliance for Change.

A split-off from the PD, the New PD of Genci Pollo, has established itself as the third largest player in the party landscape, gaining 7 percent of the votes.

According to OSCE officials, the ballot constituted progress in meeting democratic standards for holding elections. Nikolai Vulchanov, who is head of the OSCE monitoring mission, remarked, "When we look at the elections as a whole, we have to say that there was progress in the fields of administration, the media, and the election campaign itself." He added, however, that "problems remain, which shows that there is a need for further improvements to [meet] international standards for democratic elections."

According to a preliminary OSCE report of 10 July, the observers noted cases of police interference on behalf of local government candidates, arrests of local election commission members, and the stuffing of ballot boxes. Administrative problems included the slow work of election commissions and courts in problematic electoral districts, unprofessional staff in election commissions, and the late delivery and return of election papers and documents. Vulchanov demanded that "these irregularities be closely investigated by the authorities." The final assessment of the OSCE, according to Vulchanov, will depend on how the responsible institutions throughout the country handle the complaints.

Opposition leader Sali Berisha told the VOA's Albanian-language service that the elections took place amid "violence and terror by the police." He refused to accept the outcome, calling it "false." Berisha reported that "paramilitaries and bandits in uniform held a gun to the chest of Liri Dibra," a local candidate from Durres. Berisha furthermore said that four of his party's election commission members were arrested during the polling. Berisha also complained about the positioning of tanks in the vicinity of some local election commissions. And he claimed that two secret service (SHISH) officers stole ballot boxes, for which they were arrested by members of the national police.

Berisha added that he has presented evidence of irregularities to unspecified international institutions. He also said that most of them agree that the complaints have to be investigated. Berisha added, "I cannot agree that the election campaign of 2001 was much better than that of 1997," meaning the last elections, in which Berisha lost his presidency.

On 11 July, Berisha formulated his views more precisely, saying that his coalition will not recognize the election results unless runoffs are repeated in 30 districts.

But despite the irregularities, it is unlikely that the elections will be repeated on such a scale. There may be, however, a new vote in a few districts.

The elections showed that Albania's party system is clearly taking shape, with two large parties increasingly dominating the parliament, and smaller parties losing influence. The Socialists and Democrats previously sought to form coalitions with smaller opposition parties to show their readiness to make political compromises. They may offer the small parties such cooperation again, but at the same time the influence of the coalition partners will continue to diminish. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "There is nobody in the UCK who committed war crimes." -- UCK-commander-turned-politician Ramush Haradinaj, quoted in "Die Presse" on 11 July.

"I am the moral victor." -- Former President Slobodan Milosevic, quoted by "Vesti" on 11 July.

"We've been hearing stories about mass graves since the start of the [Yugoslav] wars, and every time you examine those alleged mass graves...they just disappear." -- Christopher Black, a Canadian lawyer working with some members of the Serbian diaspora for Milosevic's legal defense. Quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 11 July.

"[Milosevic is] determined to fight NATO wherever he is. I think he wins, no matter what. This man's being railroaded. We haven't seen any evidence [against Milosevic], and no one else has. He's not guilty of anything." --- Ibid.

"The answer to the region's problems is more enlightened government, not more inspired map-making." -- EU Commissioner Chris Patten, rejecting calls for a new Balkan peace conference. Quoted in "The Independent" on 11 July.