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Balkan Report: September 18, 2001


18 September 2001, Volume 5, Number 65

WISHFUL THINKING. The outpouring of sympathy and support for the U.S. from across Europe and much of the world in recent days has been both touching and inspiring. As Vienna's "Die Presse" pointed out on 13 September, the tragedy in New York and Washington has enabled many people around the globe to see what is really important in life and what unites them, and at the same time to realize how much of the normal, daily fare of politics is trivial and silly by comparison.

The past few days have seen transatlantic solidarity strengthened and months of bickering brushed aside. There is a new tone of cooperation in relations between Washington on the one hand and Moscow and Beijing on the other. Many around the globe have raised their voices to point out that it would be unwise to demonize any one people or religion as a result of the terrorist attacks, adding that the tragedy should serve as an opportunity for taking a fresh look at some long-standing issues affecting America's and the West's relations with Muslim countries. Indeed, throughout the Balkans, messages of sympathy and support have come from all religious communities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 13, and 14 September 2001). The most visible signs of support for America came not only from Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro -- where official days of mourning were proclaimed -- but above all from Kosova, where thousands turned out across the province in public demonstrations of sympathy and offered to donate blood. In Macedonia, both the Macedonian and Albanian communities expressed solidarity through their leaders. Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica made his horror and revulsion known, as did many other Serbian politicians. The Yugoslav government offered to help catch the terrorists.

But other voices have been heard as well. There are those who remain wedded to 19th century concepts of nation-states, interests, and balances, even though it should now be clear to all that, in the North Atlantic world at least, we live in a very different and globalized era.

Some such observers in several countries have long been preoccupied with reducing the size and scope of U.S. influence. For many, it is a question of national honor and identity, even though it is difficult to say what is truly "national" in much of today's world. For others, their concern is because America represents the greatest threat to their own expansionist ambitions, particularly in Kosova, Macedonia, or other parts of the Balkans (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January and 15 May 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001).

From such quarters one could hear in recent days the view that the latest tragedy will prompt America to leave the Balkans and withdraw into isolation behind a wall of missiles. Some of these individuals predicted the same thing shortly before President George W. Bush took office.

They were wrong then and are likely to be proved wrong again, as many commentators have suggested in recent days. The administration is clearly on record that it entered into its Balkan commitments together with its valued NATO allies, and that it will leave with them as well. "In together, out together" is the way that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has often put it. In short, those who hope that the current tragedy will give them a chance for Balkan mischief-making are most probably engaging in wishful thinking -- at best.

The U.S. and its allies will clearly be concerned with the tragedy and its aftermath and lessons in the coming weeks. But that does not mean that they have forgotten about their obligations and commitments in the Balkans or any other part of the world.

On the contrary. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson's latest visit to Skopje underscores this point. In short, in the Balkans as elsewhere, the tragic events of 11 September may well serve to bring home once again to Western leaderships and publics the vital importance of solidarity and commitment. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS THE PEACE PROCESS. The Macedonian parliament, or Sobranie, decided on 6 September to start the parliamentary procedure to implement the constitutional changes and the other legal provisions of the Ohrid peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2001). It was President Boris Trajkovski who set things in motion, and not the parliament itself nor any political party or faction.

The result of the first vote was quite striking: 91 out of 112 members present from the 120-seat parliament voted in favor of the agreement. Some observers had been skeptical whether the necessary two-thirds majority of 80 deputies could be put together. Given the fact that Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who heads the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Movement (VMRO-DPMNE), had only half-heartedly supported and at the same time criticized the agreement, it was not clear how many VMRO-DPMNE deputies would vote for it.

Since Georgievski's party holds 45 of the 120 seats in the Sobranie, it was precisely the vote of the VMRO-DPMNE deputies that was crucial for the passing of the first parliamentary hurdle of the peace accord.

With their unambiguous vote, the legislators paved the way for the second phase of Operation Essential Harvest, in which NATO soldiers immediately began collecting the second third of the arms that the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) are willing to give up (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001).

Following that arms-collection phase, the Sobranie began on 13 September its debate over the amendments to the constitution, which are a major component of the political agreement. The debate will last at least 15 days, in which the deputies as well as the public can propose changes to the original agreement.

It is quite likely that this session will see much livelier and more controversial discussions about the constitutional changes than the first one did. Most observers therefore believe that the second stage will last more than 15 days. For this reason, the duration of the NATO mission, which was to end on 26 September but is linked to the progress of the work of the legislature, could well last longer than originally planned, even though Lord Robertson has called on all concerned to meet the 26 September deadline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September 2001).

The original Ohrid framework peace agreement was written in English. Subsequently, legal experts like former Foreign Minister Ljubomir Frckovski prepared a Macedonian version, which mirrors the language and style of existing Macedonian laws and the constitution.

One of the major worries of the Macedonian public is that the passing of the amendments will only prompt the Albanian leaders to demand further concessions.

Before the vote was taken early in September, Abdurrahman Aliti of the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) tried to dispel such fears. "The question was often asked," Aliti said, "whether there will be an end to Albanian demands when the constitution is changed. Yes, gentlemen, this is more or less the end. If we enact [the constitutional changes,] we will provide what is necessary to develop a system and a climate for living together. This is not only possible: This is the only way to survive."

Already during the parliamentary discussions preceding the first vote, the leader of the VMRO-DPMNE parliamentary faction, Cedomir Kralevski, announced that his party will support the peace process during this first phase but allow individual deputies to vote against it if that is their personal decision.

Kralevski's statement leaves room for speculation about the party leadership's tactics for the rest of the process. From the speeches of some VMRO-DPMNE deputies, it became clear that they did not have problems voting in favor of the peace agreement, but that they will introduce their own amendments when it actually comes to voting on changes to the constitution.

"The possibility of expressing ourselves by way of amendments opens an opportunity for some, but for others it opens a mine field," the hard-line VMRO-DPMNE Deputy Filip Petrovski told "Nova Makedonija" on 7 September. According to "Dnevnik" of 11 September, members of the VMRO-DPMNE faction have prepared about 30 amendments to Trajkovski's draft project.

Representatives of the ethnic Albanian parties were understandably alarmed by this prospect. As "Dnevnik" reported, Iliaz Halimi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) warned that any substantial changes to the framework agreement would necessarily lead to further talks -- in which "new demands of the Albanians in Macedonia will be presented."

In a comment for "Nova Makedonija" on 7 September, Ljube Profiloski identified a key issue. "The change of the current preamble of the constitution...will fundamentally change the character of the Macedonian state. With the proposed amendments, the Macedonian people will be removed as the sole constituent people of the state. This leads to the question of whether the legislators have the mandate to decide on such fundamental constitutional changes and raises the dilemma whether it is necessary to hold a referendum."

As the Skopje dailies reported on 11 September, a referendum would be supported by a large number of VMRO-DPMNE deputies. Originally proposed by the small Nova Demokratija faction, it would be an advisory vote rather than a binding one. When the parliament opened on 13 September, some deputies made it clear that they want a discussion about a referendum on the agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001).

The tabloid "Vecer," which is close to the VMRO-DPMNE, reported on 7 September that the political party representing the small ethnic Serb minority will also ask for some amendments to the framework peace agreement. While the current agreement specifies that any language spoken by more than 20 percent of the total population will be an official language, the Democratic Party of the Serbs in Macedonia (DPS) demands that the percentage be lowered to 2 or 3 percent. The Turkish and Roma minorities would also profit from such a low threshold.

It is hard to see, however, whether the legislators, who are almost all of Macedonian or Albanian origin, would support such a fundamental change to the agreement.

Representatives of the international community are well aware of the looming danger. In their 8 September issues, the main Macedonian newspapers reported that during their recent visit to Skopje, the EU's two main foreign policy representatives -- Javier Solana and Chris Patten -- strongly opposed any major changes to the peace accord. The fear behind this was that tensions between the state authorities and the UCK could quickly become aggravated again if the legislature made such a fundamental change to the agreement.

It is Macedonia's relationship to the international community and its already shaky international reputation that constitute the main reason why commentators like Sonja Kramarska for "Utrinski vesnik" on 7 September said that it seems inevitable that the deputies will back Trajkovski's initiative for constitutional changes. At the end of her article, Kramarska wrote: "All participants share the risk should the peace agreement fail: the Albanian and the Macedonian side, the U.S. and EU, and, in any case, NATO's Balkan policy. But [by voting for the peace package], Macedonia will know that it did its best to avoid a war." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

ALBANIA'S NEW GOVERNMENT. Albania's parliament gave Socialist Prime Minister Ilir Meta's new coalition government a vote of confidence on 12 September, "Albanian Daily News" reported. President Rexhep Meidani approved the new government on 7 September, pending the vote in the parliament. It took almost three months after elections on 24 June for the new coalition to take shape (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2001).

The delays were due to repeat voting in some districts. Furthermore, disputes between Socialist Party (PS) leader Fatos Nano and Prime Minister Ilir Meta about some individual candidates also delayed the process. Nano rejected some of Meta's candidates for ministers on the grounds that articles have appeared in the press in recent years charging some of them with corruption. One of the candidates in question was 1997 interim Prime Minister Bashkim Fino. In the end, he was not included in the new cabinet. Difficult negotiations with the four smaller coalition partners also delayed the agreement on the cabinet.

The Socialist Party won 75 of the 140 seats in the parliament. The Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Agrarian Party (PA), the Democratic Alliance Party (PAD), and the mainly ethnic Greek Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ) are the junior partners in the Socialist-led coalition. They only hold 13 seats between them, however.

A total of 84 legislators in the 140-seat parliament voted for the new government, while six from the New Democratic Party (PD e Re) voted against. The PD e Re is led by several former senior Democratic Party (PD) officials who grew disappointed with party leader Sali Berisha. The former president has largely followed a policy of boycotting the legislature since he lost the 1997 elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 28 August 2001).

The PD-led opposition Union for Victory (BpF) coalition boycotted the parliamentary session and accused the government of having manipulated the elections. OSCE observers, however, dismissed suggestions that individual cases of irregularities during the voting affected the overall outcome of the ballot.

Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer told "Shekulli" after meeting Berisha in Strasbourg on 10 September: "The elections were a step forward toward European standards, but there have been irregularities and shortcomings.... We must say that five rounds of voting are something unusual in Europe."

The BpF gained 46 parliamentary seats in the parliament. Berisha, who demands new elections, ruled out any participation by PD legislators in the new legislature, but added that the opposition "will not be just an ornament in Albanian politics." He did not elaborate.

Within the governing coalition, the PS controls all the power ministries. As the first woman in Albanian history to reach such a high office, Arta Dade became foreign minister. Unnamed insiders, quoted by the "Albanian Daily News" of 12 September, say Dade's appointment is a move by Meta "to polish up the country's image before Albania gets into membership talks with the EU." Dade taught English at Tirana University before serving a stint as culture minister. During that time, she reportedly "did not find it difficult to make friends in Brussels."

Others from the PS include Ilir Gjoni, the new interior minister, and former Transport Minister Sokol Nako, who is now justice minister. Former Prime Minister Pandeli Majko became defense minister. Former Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli kept his job, while another Socialist, Mustafa Muci, became minister of public economy. The former director of the Albanian Electricity Company (KESH), Dritan Prifti, became minister of state for energy, while former Minister of Education Edhem Ruka is now in charge of the new Environment Ministry.

In order to help provide cabinet-level jobs for its four coalition partners, the PS leadership decided to create four additional new positions for ministers without portfolio. Three of the ministers without portfolio are members of the smaller coalition partners. The PSD and the AD are the only parties to maintain a significant degree of influence by holding full-fledged ministries.

The PSD sends its chairman, Skender Gjinushi, into the cabinet as deputy prime minister and minister for labor and social affairs. Another Social Democrat, outgoing Foreign Minister Paskal Milo, is now minister of state for Euro-Atlantic integration. The AD's outgoing justice minister, Arben Imami, became minister of local government and decentralization. Observers point out that, by naming Imami to that job, Meta showed his determination to increase the authority of cities and local governments and to boost regional development.

International officials have praised the work carried out by Imami in recent years as minister for institutional reform. He also played a role in drafting the new constitution and other essential legislation designed to prepare Albania for European integration.

Niko Kacalidha, the new state minister for minorities and the diaspora, represents the PBDNJ in the cabinet. The position was specially created for that party, which tries to reach out to voters from other minorities, rather than only to the Greeks.

For its part, the PA lost the ministry of agriculture, and party chief Lufter Xhuveli is now minister without portfolio.

Meta said that his new government's priorities include improving power supplies and the power grid. He pledged to speed up the privatization process, fight corruption and organized crime, work toward further improving ties to Western Europe and the Balkan neighbors, and promote free trade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2001). (Fabian Schmidt).

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "I fear only my people's tribunal, not the political one set up by America in The Hague." -- Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, quoted by "Institute for War and Peace Reporting," 14 September 2001.

"In Macedonia, Russia is trying to do its best to stop the spread of Kosova extremism and terrorism into other countries." -- Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksander Andeyev. Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 10 September at a roundtable on Russian-Bulgarian cooperation.

"Even if the situation remains fragile in the region, it was the appropriate moment to take this initiative in favor of Yugoslavia and the democratic authorities." -- France's UN Ambassador Jean-David Levitte, quoted by RFE/RL in New York after the Security Council voted to lift the arms embargo against Belgrade on 10 September.

"Americans are paying the price for putting their nose into too many places." -- Serbian shop owner commenting on the 11 September attacks. Quoted by dpa in Belgrade on 13 September.

"I expect [as] an indirect consequence [of the attacks]...a reduced role of the United States in Kosova and Macedonia." He fears a "unilateral, irresponsible reaction by the United States [that] could seriously jeopardize international relations." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's adviser, Predrag Simic. Quoted in "Blic" on 13 September.

"What happened in the U.S. should act as a signal to the entire world to settle accounts with terrorism." -- Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic, Simic's former boss. Quoted in "Vesti" of 13 September.

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