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Balkan Report: July 20, 2001

20 July 2001, Volume 5, Number 50

THE MACEDONIAN 'GOVERNMENT OF POLITICAL UNITY' -- A CLOSER LOOK. Not long ago, the EU's security policy chief, Javier Solana, put considerable effort into putting together the current Macedonian government under Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 May 2001). The main aim of this government was to find a solution to the current crisis in the country. This was to be achieved by a compromise between the main political parties of the Albanian minority and the Macedonian majority. But from the outset, it was clear that this government of four mutually suspicious parties could function only under great outside pressure.

The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), a post-communist party, stood against the national conservative VMRO-DPMNE on the Macedonian side. On the Albanian side, the radical Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) was pitted against the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD). And, given that the elections due in early 2002 may be brought forward to September, it was quite likely that all the parties would use any opportunity to engage in a pre-election campaign.

The situation has since changed. The ongoing conflict between the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the government has deepened the rift between the Albanian minority and the Macedonian majority, not only within Macedonian society, but also within the government.

Taking a closer look at the current behavior of the main Macedonian political parties, it becomes all too obvious that the political actors are well aware of the loss of voter confidence they stand to suffer if they do not please their respective constituencies. This affects first and foremost the ethnic Macedonian parties, but also their ethnic Albanian counterparts as well.

Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski (SDSM), in a lengthy interview with the Skopje daily "Vest" on 13 July, attributed this loss of confidence mainly to the chaotic media policy of the current government. The government was neither able to sell its "successes" to the public, nor did it conduct an information campaign about the ongoing peace talks.

Buckovski refrained from any direct accusations against his government partners from the VMRO-DPMNE. He even stressed that he works well with Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who is widely believed to be his major rival in the government.

But media close to the Social Democrats did not mirror Buckovski's restraint. The Skopje weekly "Start," in its 13 July issue, published a number of articles that suggest that since the elections in 1998, which brought Georgievski and his coalition partner Arben Xhaferi of the PDSH to power, the two leaders have conspired against the interests of the Macedonian state.

Under the headline "The 'Profiteers' Need the War Chaos," one article accused the VMRO-DPMNE leaders Georgievski and Boskovski of trying to keep the people in a state of "war psychosis." According to this article, the two also organized the recent street protests in Skopje after the evacuation of Aracinovo.

In a similar way the independent bimonthly "Forum," in its issue No. 87, argued that Boskovski adopted his "warmongering" rhetoric only recently. That rhetoric was intended not only to prove that the VMRO-DPMNE is the most patriotic of all ethnic Macedonian political parties, but also to divert attention from the business dealings of Georgievski and his clique (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 May 2001).

Georgievski is often criticized in the press precisely because of these business interests. The prime minister sometimes comes under fire because of his unclear role in the OKTA oil company scandal. Georgievski's government had granted that Greek oil company exceptional privileges when it bought a refinery close to Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2001).

Deputy Prime Minister Zoran Krstevski of the smaller Liberal Party (LP), who was in charge of relations between Macedonia and the EU, was forced to leave his post recently. Krstevski was slated to inform the European Commission about the deal with OKTA in Brussels on 17 July. Having publicly criticized the prime minister earlier for his behavior in the affair, Krstevski had to change jobs within government.

Georgievski then reportedly assigned Justice Minister Xhevdet Nasufi of the PDSH to take over EU affairs from Krstevski without informing the rest of the government. There are also rumors that Georgievski had to "amend" the minutes of the government meeting in order to make the change. Neda Popovska wrote in the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" on 17 July that such manipulative practices are not uncommon for Georgievski's party.

The government-controlled tabloid "Vecer" struck back at the prime minister's critics, running a polemical article on 16 July under the headline: "The SDSM undermines the Macedonian bloc during the peace talks!" According to that article, the Social Democrats are responsible for the new negotiating arrangement that was ostensibly designed to help bring the peace talks to a close. The talks now take the form of meetings between individual parties and the international mediators. This constitutes a departure from the more transparent previous practice of holding joint talks involving President Boris Trajkovski and the leaders of the four main Macedonian and Albanian parties.

The SDSM thus seems to be trying to prove that it is willing to cooperate both with the international community and the ethnic Albanian political parties and not just with the other Macedonians. "For them it is important to bolster their position for early parliamentary elections and to court the Albanian parties in order to secure their support for a future joint government. At the same time, the SDSM is trying to prove to the international community that the VMRO-DPMNE's principles are national-chauvinistic and against interethnic tolerance and political compromise."

Under these conditions, it is not clear whether, when, or how the peace talks or the cease-fire will come to an end. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

REPEATED ELECTIONS AND A SQUARE-OFF FOR PRIME MINISTER IN ALBANIA. On 16 July, Albania's Constitutional Court ordered legislative elections to be repeated in one constituency in Lezha, bringing the number of electoral "zones," or districts, where elections have to be held again to 10 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 July 2001). The new ballot will take place in eight districts on 22 July and in the remaining two on 29 July, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The court found irregularities in the voting procedure in the constituency where opposition candidate Llesh Kola appeared to have defeated Nikolle Lesi, a publisher and independent candidate endorsed by the Socialist Party (PS).

Earlier the same day, the Central Election Commission (KQZ) announced that elections will have to be held again in eight constituencies. All of them are contested between the PS and candidates from the opposition Union for Victory coalition. The reasons for holding a new ballot include improperly prepared election returns, reports of the stuffing of ballot boxes, or other attempts at manipulating the results, in at least one case by the police.

The Constitutional Court has yet to decide on four additional complaints. One involves an electoral district in Tirana, where a Socialist candidate alleges that there was rigging in favor of his rival from the Democratic Party (PD), the leading party in the opposition coalition.

KQZ spokesman Aldrin Dalipi said on 16 July that the KQZ has received complaints from 33 constituencies but dismissed most of them. In the second round of elections on 8 July, the PS won 69 out of 140 seats in the parliament and 42 percent of the total votes. The Union for Victory received 42 seats and 36 percent of the total votes. Five seats went to smaller parties.

Meanwhile, police and prosecutors have started investigations into illegal campaign funding, vote buying, and voter intimidation, according to Deputy Minister of Public Order Bujar Himci. According to Himci, prosecutors are investigating cases of bribery and of exchanges of favors for votes; forging of certificates and voting materials; and voter intimidation.

He added that police have detained dozens of people, including polling station officials, and charged them with attempting to rig the vote. Investigators have received hundreds of complaints against specific individuals, including election staff, former police officials, and bodyguards of candidates. Corruption allegations include paying the equivalent of $6 to $30 to voters, and distributing gifts, including sheep wearing a medal bearing the candidate's name.

Meanwhile, the PD daily "Rilindja Demokratike" on 17 July charged the KQZ with making arbitrary decisions that indicate "institutional craziness or collective insanity." Bamir Topi, a PD candidate in Tirana, called for a boycott of the parliament, arguing that the commission dismissed too many opposition complaints and carried out a "massacre of the mandates of opposition representatives."

A "Rilindja Demokratike" commentator wrote, "If the opposition participates in this dirty game played with free elections and institutions, Albania risks institutionalizing an electoral system essentially identical to that of [the late communist dictator] Enver Hoxha."

Meanwhile, the PS announced that it will hold a meeting of its General Committee at the beginning of August to select its choice for prime minister by secret ballot. Three possible candidates include current Prime Minister Ilir Meta, former Interior Minister and current Minister for Public Works Spartak Poci, and former Finance Minister Arben Malaj, "Koha Jone" reported on 18 July. Malaj is currently also head of the PS parliamentary group.

According to the daily, supporters of Malaj want the new government to be less centralized than has been the case since the Socialists won the 1997 elections. Malaj's backers accuse the 32-year-old Meta of holding too much power in a strong, hierarchical structure. They also claim that Malaj has more experience than Meta and will be able to cope better with the increasingly complex tasks of governance.

On the other hand, supporters of Meta suggest that precisely the concentration of control in the hands of a small, dedicated team has helped the government make significant changes in the administration of public works, customs, and public order.

Malaj argues, however, that the country has overcome its "emergency period" and will have to prepare for a more diversified system of government in the years to come.

The third candidate, Poci, has been highly successful as minister of public order in cracking down on criminal gangs. Largely because of his image as a determined politician, the PS put him in charge of public works just before the elections. (Fabian Schmidt)

CROATIA'S CHANGING POLITICAL LANDSCAPE. The decision to hand over two war crimes suspects to The Hague has served to underscore the differences within the governing coalition in Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 16, and 18 July 2001). A long-awaited restructuring of the cabinet, if not the political landscape itself, is likely to be the result.

There are noticeable ideological gaps between the five parties in power. The biggest point of difference is how to define the national interest. Four ministers of the center-right Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) resigned after the cabinet's 7 July decision to extradite the two Croatian generals wanted by The Hague, Ante Gotovina and Rahim Ademi. (The center-right HSLS is the main coalition partner of the governing Social Democrats (SDP), who are the successors to the former League of Communists.)

Prime Minister Ivica Racan, who heads the SDP, requested a vote of confidence in the Sabor, or parliament, after the resignation of the four HSLS ministers. He won the contest handily on 15 July: 93 votes for the government and 36 against. Most of the votes against came from the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). Some 22 deputies were absent.

Meanwhile, on 12 July, Drazen Budisa resigned as party leader of the Social Liberals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 12 July 2001). He did not specify the reasons for his decision, but there is no doubt that Budisa is against the extradition of the two generals on the principle that the 1991-1995 war was a defensive one and that defenders cannot be considered to have committed crimes. Budisa fears that The Hague will ultimately accuse Croatia of having planned the "genocide" of the once 150,000-strong Serbian minority. Budisa has said that he is not against cooperation with the tribunal in general, but believes that it has to be based on the individualization of guilt, "Slobodna Dalmacija" reported on 9 July.

President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Racan, however, stress that the extradition is necessary because of Croatia's international obligations. Racan in particular argues that there is simply no legal or political choice involved. Mesic has also said that some Croats did indeed commit war crimes in the conflict, but stresses that this is a matter of individual, not collective, guilt.

In the wake of the vote of confidence, the political landscape is undergoing a transformation. The outspoken and ambitious Budisa, who may have resigned to avoid provoking a split in the party over the extradition issue, has since been replaced by Defense Minister Jozo Rados. The HSLS already split while still in opposition to the late President Franjo Tudjman and his HDZ, giving rise to the more left-leaning Liberal Party (LS). A second split and the emergence of a third liberal party is widely seen as political suicide for the liberal option in the country.

There now seem to be several possibilities on the political horizon. First, it is likely that winning the vote of confidence will strengthen the position of SDP and the ruling coalition. But developments elsewhere in Eastern Europe show how hard it is for reformist governments to win re-election if they have instituted harsh economic policies without producing tangible results. Even if the economy should begin to recover, which is not yet the case in Croatia, it will still be difficult for the coalition to meet voters' high expectations. Polls regularly show that bread-and-butter issues interest Croatian voters above all other topics.

Second, the HSLS might continue to oscillate between liberalism and nationalism. This would weaken the five-party coalition even further. A break-up of HSLS is still possible.

Third, a new constellation of parties might emerge consisting of the HSLS as a representative of national liberalism, the HDZ, and some other parties on the right of the spectrum. There has long been speculation that Budisa would dearly like to head such a coalition.

But it would be hard to consolidate such a bloc at this juncture because the HDZ has not yet reformed itself and become a modern party of Christian democratic orientation. It is still a heterogeneous movement rooted in the Tudjman era and linked to variety of right-wing groups.

What the conservative opposition parties all have in common is their opposition to Racan and Mesic. As one can see in the current governing coalition, which was created on the basis of anti-HDZ sentiment, it is not enough just to be against something. The HDZ never tires of attacking the government, but the party has no alternative program for economic recovery, for example. But if the HDZ becomes a real conservative party of the type found in Western Europe, it will find it difficult to cooperate with partners on the extreme right, like the Croatian Party of [Historic] Rights (HSP).

Former Foreign Minister Mate Granic and his Democratic Center (DC) could well become a modern European conservative party. But the DC emerged from the HDZ after the disastrous election defeat following Tudjman's death and is presumably in no hurry to close ranks with the HDZ once again.

There are thus unlikely to be any immediate, major changes in the party landscape in the wake of the vote of confidence, although a long-expected cabinet shake-up may not be far off. What does seem clear, however, is that there continues to be a division within society over the issue of war crimes. It is true that the HDZ and some veterans' organizations have not succeeded in making that issue a primary object of voters' concern. But there is nonetheless a considerable element within society that feels strongly about such matters, particularly when cooperation with The Hague is advocated by leaders with a communist past. (Christian Buric. The author is a free-lance writer and consultant for strategic business communication based in Munich.

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The masks are off, and it is obvious that the terrorist actions in Macedonia are seriously supported and have logistics from the Western democracies." -- Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. Quoted by Reuters in Skopje on 18 July.

"Georgievski's statement yesterday in reaction to the proposals of EU and U.S. envoys in Skopje was an undignified response to international efforts to assist in the search for a peaceful solution. It is also disappointing, given that the international facilitators are in Skopje at the invitation of the government, which has been informed of every move made." -- Joint statement by NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson and EU security policy chief Javier Solana. Quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 19 July.

"We obviously wish both that the [Serbian] armed forces and the police go back [to Kosova], but our desires are one thing and reality is something else." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic. Quoted by AP in Brussels on 18 July.

"They could be victims of Serbian nationality." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, calling on the Serbian Justice Ministry and Belgrade district court not to hand over remains from a mass grave in Batajnica to UN authorities in Kosova. Quoted by AP in Belgrade on 16 July. He called the assumption that the bodies are those of Albanians "premature and irresponsible."