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Balkan Report: August 24, 2001

24 August 2001, Volume 5, Number 60

MACEDONIAN DISAPPOINTMENTS AND FEARS. A week after the leaders of the major ethnic Albanian and Macedonian parties signed a political agreement to end the six-month crisis, the Macedonian part of the tiny Balkan country's population seems highly skeptical about what the outcome of the crisis means for it.

As previous opinion polls already showed, perceptions of the current situation and future prospects differ widely between the two major ethnic groups (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 August 2001). On 20 August, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" published an opinion poll on the popularity of the political parties as well as the respondents' expectations for the future of the Balkan republic. The poll was conducted between 17 and 20 July, about a month before the peace agreement was signed.

According to this poll, the main political parties of the two largest ethnic groups have lost much of the confidence of their potential voters. All political parties dropped in support compared to pre-crisis levels. The Internal Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and President Boris Trajkovski, as well as the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of Branko Crvenkovski, fell dramatically in the voters' eyes. According to the poll, the VMRO-DPMNE would win only 7.4 percent of the votes in new parliamentary elections, while the SDSM would take 17 percent. Among the ethnic Albanian parties, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) would have 5.1 percent of the ballots, while 6.7 percent of the voters would opt for the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH).

In comparison with previous opinion polls, the latest poll shows that the four parties represented in the current government have lost between one-third and one-half of their voters. A poll conducted before the outbreak of violence in Macedonian put the SDSM at 32 to 34 percent, the VMRO-DPMNE at 11 to 13 percent, the PDSH at 10 percent, and the PPD at a mere 5.7 percent. The relatively small losses of the PPD may be due to the party leadership's somewhat radical stance during the negotiations. It may also be that the party's support is already reduced to its absolute core constituency and that it cannot lose much more support without disappearing as a political force altogether.

What should concern the politicians most is the fact that about one-third of the electorate say they do not plan to vote at all. Among the Macedonians 31.6 percent would boycott elections, while 14.3 percent of the Albanians, 16.7 percent of the Serbs, and 50 percent of the Turks would do likewise. The latest figure is especially revealing, as it shows that the Turkish minority, whose leadership backed the Macedonian side during the conflict, is very unhappy. Their disappointment presumably stems from the fact that, of all the minorities in Macedonia, only the Albanians will benefit from the agreement.

The researchers also asked those interviewed for their opinion of the Albanian demands for a more decentralized state administration. The results were probably predictable on the basis of press commentaries in recent weeks: some two-thirds of the Macedonian respondents said that decentralization will eventually lead to the federalization of Macedonia.

Federalization is something most Macedonians fear, as it would -- in their view -- undermine the territorial integrity of their country. Two-thirds of the Albanian respondents, on the other hand, do not think that decentralization would lead to federalization. And they presumably do not fear federalization, either.

The fall in each party's popularity in the poll, together with the high percentage of Macedonians in particular who will not vote, also reflects a general discontent with the country's political leadership. Recent newspaper editorials mirror the electorate's disappointment with the work of the politicians. Among the editorials in Macedonian-language media under review in this article, there was not a single positive one about the peace agreement.

In a number of commentaries, the peace deal is compared to earlier Balkan peace treaties. Zarko Jordanovski of the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" compared the Ohrid agreement to the 1995 Dayton peace agreement (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 23 August 2001).

Trajan Petrovski in "Utrinski vesnik" of 17 August draws parallels between the Ohrid agreement and The Treaty of Bucharest 1913, when the geographic region of Macedonia was divided among Greece, Bulgaria, and Serbia at the end of the Second Balkan War. In his view, the provisions of the peace agreement signed on 13 August are the first step toward a new partition of Macedonia, the losers in which are the Macedonians.

Mirka Velinovska of the weekly "Zum magazin" on 17 August went so far as to compare the Ohrid agreement with the Munich agreement of 1938, when Britain and France sought to appease Hitler by offering him parts of Czechoslovakia under the pretext of protecting the German minority.

Other, less emotional editorials concentrated on the problems that might arise from the amnesty that was promised to the guerrilla fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK). Obviously, for most Macedonians it is hard to accept that -- under the terms of the peace agreement -- the number of ethnic Albanians in the police force is to be increased drastically, and that among the 1,000 new policemen there might be amnestied former members of the UCK.

Mirjana Najcevska argued in "Utrinski vesnik" on 21 August on the basis of the Macedonian penal code and on general legal principles that anybody who has committed crimes should not be allowed to become a policeman. While not stating so explicitly, it is clear that she opposes the amnesty.

In an article by Zoran Markozanov for "Zum magazin" of 17 August, penal law Professor Gjorgji Marjanovic sees the amnesty from a practical standpoint. "After the amnesty, the terrorist will have the same rights as any honest citizen of Macedonia... This means that even [the political leader of the UCK, Ali] Ahmeti could become a minister, and those who have killed [people] can become policemen." Marjanovic is of the opinion that such a situation can be avoided only by not granting amnesty to the leaders of the UCK. But he adds: "I believe that Ahmeti will not accept this, and that our government will not decide to take such a step."

Whether the Macedonian population's fears and disappointments will result in a call for new leaders remains to be seen. Journalists have already begun to outline the abilities any future leader(s) should have. Mirka Velinovska of "Zum magazin" wants people who are "honest, uncompromising, wise, and ready to take risks," while Saso Colakovski of "Utrinski vesnik" wants "a leader, who tells the blunt truth, as painful as it might be." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SKOPJE'S OWN GOAL. On 21 August, Reuters quoted unnamed Defense Ministry sources in Skopje as saying that guerrillas damaged a 14th-century Orthodox monastery in Lesok. An unnamed Western diplomat told the news agency, however, that the ministry's story is "rather suspicious. [The UCK] is not known to have attacked religious sites before. If you wanted to pick one way to screw up the peace agreement, this would be one of them."

Subsequently, each side blamed the other for the incident. One government official said that the "terrorists' act" can be compared to the destruction of the giant Buddhas in Afghanistan by the Taliban. The UCK replied that Macedonian hard-liners destroyed the building to undermine the peace agreement.

This incident may well be part of a broader propaganda war. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 21 August that many Macedonian-language media have for some weeks been fueling anti-American and anti-NATO sentiment, suggesting that the U.S. is arming the UCK even though there is no evidence to back up such conspiracy theories (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July and 14 August 2001). In the most recent display of anti-Western sentiment, some Macedonian nationalists recently blockaded the main road between Skopje and the border crossing to Kosova at Blace. And as NATO troops arrived in Skopje on 23 August, BBC Television reported that many ordinary Macedonians believe that the alliance has come to help the UCK.

There is special twist in the ongoing story about anti-Western propaganda in Macedonia. London's "The Guardian" wrote on 21 August that "Skopje's bullying" of Western diplomats and journalists in recent weeks has given the UCK a "public relations coup."

In one example, the daily suggested that Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski recently showed his opposition to the political settlement by "raging" against the UCK's political leader, Ali Ahmeti, when Ahmeti gave a press conference to announce that the UCK will disarm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). The government tried to force the cancellation of Ahmeti's press conference. An unnamed "Western official" told the government: "I hope you are not about to send a helicopter gunship up to Sipkovica [where the press conference was]. This [press conference] was bound to happen, and as long as [Ahmeti] is supportive of the agreement, [his conference] is actually helpful."

The daily noted that the Macedonian side has frequently tried to intimidate Western journalists and officials, "draining sympathy for the counter-insurgency, which was initially viewed as a justified crackdown against terrorists." Now, "Western journalists are more likely to report from Albanian areas, where they are welcomed."

Indeed, one can only describe some of the Macedonian political leaders' words and behavior as detrimental to winning support for their own cause. It was some remarks of that sort that led NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson to refer to one of Georgievski's statements as "undignified" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2001).

But Western journalists can also add stories of equally aggressive and abusive e-mails and other communications received from Macedonians, some of whom may not have been private citizens. The pattern recalls to many journalists that of missives from Serbs during the Croatian, Bosnian, and Kosova conflicts: whiny and self-pitying at best, bullying and vulgar at their worst. Diplomacy and tact seem to have been alien to many of these people. Ham-fistedness was the rule, such as in the case of the well-known VMRO restaurant in Berlin, where American and German flags suddenly disappeared recently from the honored place where they had hung for years.

One wonders what those behind such campaigns actually hoped to achieve. It seems that they brought about little -- except to make some observers wonder whether the UCK might not have a point or two after all. (Patrick Moore)

MOLDOVA TURNS 10. The avenues of Moldova's capital, Chisinau, will once again be flooded by light on the evening of 27 August, when the former Soviet republic celebrates 10 years of independence.

But even public lighting has become a luxury for cash-strapped Moldova. The streets of downtown Chisinau have not been lit since Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit last month. For each of the two special occasions, the electricity has been donated by the owner of the local electricity system, which turned off power earlier this year because of unpaid bills.

After 10 years of independence, Moldova has become Eastern Europe's poorest state and the only ex-Soviet state to vote an unreformed Communist Party back into power. The country has also struggled with a nearly decade-long dispute with its breakaway Transdniester region.

Moldova's situation looks particularly grim when compared to the enthusiasm that swept over the country a decade ago, when it was one of the first republics to declare independence from the Soviet Union after the failed Moscow putsch in August 1991.

Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and 65 percent of its 4.5-million population are of Romanian nationality. In the late 1980s, during the reforms launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, a strong pro-Romanian movement arose in Moldova, inspired by the nationalist revivals that swept many Soviet republics.

In August 1989, Moldova proclaimed Moldovan -- virtually the same as Romanian -- as its state language, and less than a year later the Romanian tricolor -- red, yellow, and blue -- was adopted as the republic's official flag. Closer ties were forged between Romania and Moldova after the Romanian communist regime collapsed during a bloody popular uprising in December 1989.

Moldova's pro-democracy movement, which owed its existence to Gorbachev's perestroika reforms, felt particularly threatened when news of the hard-line coup in Moscow broke. It publicly endorsed Boris Yeltsin in his defiance of the plotters.

"Of course, we were taking a risk. We were risking a lot," said Mircea Snegur, Moldova's president at the time. "We did not know what turn events would take, what the directives and decisions from Moscow would be. But we resisted together, both during the putsch and after, and we began to think about Moldova's independence."

On 27 August, less than a week after the failed Moscow coup, Moldova's parliament unanimously declared the country's independence and adopted the Romanian national anthem. The Moldovan parliament was among the first to declare the local Communist Party illegal.

But once the euphoria subsided, Moldova's political and economic troubles resurfaced. Like most ex-Soviet republics, Moldova's agriculture-based economy was in shambles and poverty was already widespread. In addition, the pro-Russian population of the Transdniester region on the left bank of the Dniester River -- which had already seceded from Moldova in 1990 -- was showing increasing signs of uneasiness over the fear that newly independent Moldova would seek reunification with neighboring Romania.

A short but bloody war between Moldovan forces and pro-Russian separatists followed in the summer of 1992, leaving several hundred people dead. The fighting was eventually contained by Russian troops already present in the Transdniester region.

On the other side of the border, Romanian politicians feared that reunification efforts would lead to regional instability and international isolation for Bucharest. After the end of the Transdniester conflict and amid deepening economic troubles, Moldova gradually drifted apart from Romania and in 1994 scrapped the common anthem.

That same year, the center-left Agrarian Party took over from Snegur's Christian Popular Democratic Front. But reforms remained at a standstill, while poverty grew. Elections in 1998 brought to power an alliance of reformist parties but also marked the return to parliament of the Communist Party, which was legalized again in 1995.

The economic crisis continued to deepen amid lackluster reforms, while political bickering between then-president Petru Lucinschi and parliament finally resulted in early elections this year and the Communists' victory.

Upon coming to power in April, Communist President Vladimir Voronin pledged to strengthen the country's economic and political ties with Moscow and to bring Moldova into the Russia-Belarus Union. He also named as his top priorities resolving the Transdniester dispute and boosting the status of the Russian language.

But the Transdniester dispute remains unresolved despite half-hearted mediation attempts by the OSCE, Moldova now says it is ready to grant Transdniester a large degree of autonomy. Pro-Russian separatists, however, insist that they want a loose confederation of two sovereign and independent states.

Russia still has some 2,500 troops in the Transdniester and large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition. The withdrawal of the troops and the destruction of the arsenal -- estimated at 50,000 pieces of armaments, as well as 40,000 tons of ammunition -- has long been a bone of contention between the two sides.

Russia last month began the weapons destruction in line with a 1999 OSCE agreement. But the Russian troops' withdrawal -- which has been fiercely opposed by the separatists -- has yet to begin.

"As long as this problem remains unsolved, as long as Moldova cannot control its borders and cannot protect its citizens, this state is not an independent state, is not a sovereign state, and is not a democratic state." said Moldovan historian Gheorghe Cojocaru.

Economically, Moldova remains overwhelmingly dependent on Russian energy, despite its "privileged" relationship with Romania. Both Romania and Moldova -- with average monthly incomes of $100 and $30, respectively -- rank among the poorest countries in Europe, and Romanian influence on the Moldovan economy is nearly nonexistent.

Moldova owes Russia some $600 million in unpaid gas and electricity bills. It owes an additional $800 million to international lending organizations.

Communists were brought back to power by voters dreaming of a return to the relative economic stability of Soviet times. But the government has done little so far to alleviate the growing poverty that has turned Moldova into a hub of crime and prostitution.

Some positive signs, however, have recently appeared. Moldova in June was admitted into the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. In July, it gained entry into the World Trade Organization, ahead of larger and richer post-Soviet countries like Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan. And the new government's reform program was praised earlier this month by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation. The IMF mission said it will support Moldova's attempt to have some $170 million of debt canceled.

However, Moldova now appears closer to Moscow than it did 10 years ago when it declared independence from the Soviet Union. And its communist government has yet to give clear signals that it is ready to change its populist rhetoric and engage in the reforms it will need to attract Western support. (Eugen Tomiuc)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "But in the end, it is not our soldiers who will bring peace. It is you, the citizens of Macedonia, who must insist that this opportunity be grasped without hesitation. Now, it is time for all sides to demonstrate that they are equally committed to fulfilling their promises, and this is a time when people will be judged, not by their words, but rather by their deeds." -- Danish General Gunnar Lange, NATO's commander in Macedonia. Quoted by RFE/RL in Skopje on 22 August.

"The rebels can re-arm. They can start fighting again. It's a lot more important that the trust and confidence that comes with the political process...give them no wish to re-arm and start fighting again." -- Lange in Skopje on 23 August. Quoted by AP.

"It has not been easy to convince the European Commission that progress is not temporary and that this is the beginning of a period of long-term stability and development of the country." -- Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta, in an interview with Reuters in Tirana on 23 August.