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Balkan Report: October 26, 2001

26 October 2001, Volume 5, Number 70

CONFIDENCE-BUILDING MEASURES IN MACEDONIA. Under the protection of NATO troops and monitored by EU and OSCE observers, ethnically mixed police patrols entered several villages on 22 October for the first time since fighting broke out in February this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2001).

The return of police forces to the so-called crisis regions -- where until August fighting took place between the guerrilla fighters of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces -- was widely regarded as the first step in a whole set of confidence-building measures. These measures are badly needed in a country where inter-ethnic relations have been severely damaged in the course of the war.

The main aim of the deployment is, according to the government, to restore a "normal" situation. The central government in Skopje had lost control over large parts of the predominantly ethnic Albanian-inhabited areas even before the armed clashes broke out.

For their part, international observers saw the deployment of police forces as a success in the frail peace process. When the head of the OSCE mission to Skopje, Ambassador Craig Jenness, and Deputy Prime Minister Ilija Filipovski visited one of the villages now patrolled by police units, Jenness said, "The OSCE is very pleased with the development of today's events." He added: "We expect the positive signal coming out of today's start of the police redeployment in the pilot villages to be reflected in the parliament's work. We look forward to a timely conclusion of the current phase of the implementation of the Framework Agreement," the mission's Internet site ( reported.

But, as a report by the International Crisis Group pointed out in September, the police deployment is also a precondition for the return of thousands of Macedonian and ethnic Albanian refugees to their villages.

According to information provided by the UNHCR, there are still some 26,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Macedonia in neighboring Kosova. Most of these refugees seem likely to stay there over the winter. In addition to the Albanians who fled the country altogether, the Macedonian Red Cross speaks of about 44,500 internally displaced persons -- 60 percent of whom are ethnic Macedonians. Most of these people are currently staying with relatives or live in camps or hotels.

While the UNHCR distributes so-called "returnee kits" containing mattresses, hygienic materials, and plastic sheeting to refugees willing to return to destroyed homes, the refugees' fellow villagers do not always give them a warm welcome.

The mayor of the Lipkovo municipality, Husamedin Halili, told journalists of the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" on 22 October that the preconditions are not yet present for Macedonian and Serbian refugees to return to the village of Matejce, which belongs to the municipality.

In his words, he is still working to change the Albanian villagers' minds. "We will welcome the convoy [of refugees] as soon as we believe that those people can stay here not only for two hours, but will be accepted by the Albanians as neighbors and fellow-villagers. We are currently working to create such conditions. We don't want some small provocation to ruin everything we have done" to make living together possible again.

Halili did not specify what exactly he is doing in order to build confidence among the Albanian villagers of Matejce. He certainly did not raise confidence among the 400 refugees, who were waiting impatiently to return to their homes, when he said: "Even if they return, they won't see much. Sixty percent of the village is destroyed."

A commentator for the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" made clear on 23 October that not only the confidence between the refugees and their former neighbors has to be renewed -- if this is possible at all. As Saso Dimevski wrote, it is now up to the Albanians to give something instead of constantly demanding and to show a more cooperative attitude. "It is one thing to act in the spotlight of TV cameras, in front of high state officials and diplomats. But is something completely different if the police have to ask somebody for his identity card in the street, or to search a criminal in some [narrow] village lane.... The police have to be extremely careful,... because in the current constellation of [inter-ethnic] relations in this country, they are tested every day by provocations. They must not react to these provocations...[in order to] avoid any inter-ethnic clash."

Dimevski also blames both Macedonian and Albanian politicians for the tensions. He means not only ministers or legislators, but also local politicians like Lokman Elezi, the mayor of the Tearce municipality. During the two-hour visit by the police patrols, politicians, diplomats, and media people, Elezi made several confusing, anti-Macedonian statements, the bottom line of which was that he fears that the villagers will use violence to protest the return of the police and refugees alike unless the legislature enacts the reforms outlined in the 13 August agreement.

In Dimevski's words, it is precisely such "petty games that will have to be endured" by the police patrols and the refugees on the one hand, and their fellow-villagers on the other. The bomb blast that destroyed the municipal building of Tearce the evening after the convoy left the village must have seemed like a warning of more bad things to come (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 October 2001). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

CHURCH'S ROLE IN SLOVENIA STILL UNRESOLVED. On 6 October, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican state secretary, visited Slovenia to act as the chief consecrator of Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, the new apostolic nuncio to Belarus. Sodano is widely viewed as the number-two man at the Vatican, and the visit suggests a possible warming of relations between Slovenia and the Holy See. The two states signed a draft agreement on the position of the Roman Catholic Church in February 1999. However, following Slovenia's unilateral rewording of some passages in the draft, talks on a final agreement have been at a standstill since April 2001 -- reflecting the unresolved status of the Church in post-communist Slovenia.

The list of those in attendance at Jurkovic's consecration illustrates the Church's significance in Slovenian society. In addition to Archbishop Franc Rode and Edmond Farhat, the apostolic nuncio to Slovenia, the 600 people present included President Milan Kucan, prominent Catholic politicians Franci But and Andrej Bajuk, Ambassadors Janez Podobnik and Jozef Bernik, Maribor University Rector Ludvik Toplak, Police Director Marko Pogorevc, and various other representatives from government ministries.

Although traditionally a Catholic country, other religions have become increasingly visible in Slovenia. Geza Ernisa, the first bishop of Slovenia's Protestant congregation, was named in March this year, and on 5 October, Osman Djogic was named Slovenia's first mufti. Slovenia's 30,000 Muslims comprise the largest religious community after Catholics. They are mainly immigrants from Bosnia and other former Yugoslav republics. In addition, Orthodox, Mormons, Hare Krishna, and others can be found.

Nonetheless, it is Catholicism that remains most visibly linked to Slovene politics, although its role is the subject of a gamut of opinions ranging from condemnation to praise. Clericalism has been one of the dominant trends in Slovene politics since Habsburg times. In communist Yugoslavia, the Church was accused of having committed treason during World War II -- and indeed, many prominent Catholic collaborators with the Axis fled to Argentina after the war. Churches were often deliberately destroyed, and in 1952 the bishop of Ljubljana, Anton Vovk, suffered severe burns after a group of communists doused him with gasoline. And in the course of more than four decades of communist rule, Slovenian society became more secular and less receptive to clerical politics than it had been before 1945.

The 1980 appointment of Alojzij Sustar as archbishop of Ljubljana marked a turning point, and his efforts to reintroduce the public celebration of Christmas -- banned for nearly 30 years -- contributed to his popularity. Sustar was prominent in commemorating the victims of the communist massacres at Kocevski Rog, and this was followed by the widespread, often church-sponsored, erection of monuments to the victims of communism, sometimes only meters from the communist-sponsored monuments to the victims of fascism.

In addition to publicly -- and, inevitably, painfully -- challenging the established portrayal of recent history, the Church has become entwined in other facets of Slovene politics and society. Many resent the Church for claiming the largest share of property in the restitution proceedings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001). Consequently, Minister of Culture Andrej Richter's announcement that the island in Lake Bled to which the church had laid claim will remain in state hands was widely welcomed, as "Delo" reported on 6 October.

The Church was also closely associated with the previous center-right government of economist and international banker Andrej Bajuk, himself from a family of postwar emigres to Argentina (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 May 2000). Although Bajuk's government was subsequently replaced by a center-left one, his administration marked the return of conservatives to center-stage politics. In a referendum held on 17 June 2001, the Church successfully campaigned against in-vitro fertilization for single women.

In view of these developments, it seemed somewhat surprising when Rode announced in September that conditions for the Church had been better under communism. In particular, he cited allegedly offensive treatment of the Church by the current media and charged that the mass media are controlled by the communists, according to "Delo" of 6 September. Rode, whose own family also fled to Argentina after the war, added that the time is "not yet ripe" for an examination of the role of the Church during World War II, when Slovenia was under German and Italian occupation. He called for the Church to have a legally recognized status in the military, in public institutions such as hospitals, and in the schools -- with public funding.

Indeed, the Church has made some comebacks in these areas. Parochial education has been revived, and the secondary school at the Episcopal Institute in the Ljubljana suburb of Sentvid is considered one of the best in Slovenia. The institute, which served as a Gestapo prison during the war, is now the home of retired Archbishop Sustar and has successfully reclaimed adjacent run-down property once occupied by a military facility.

Catholic chaplains were reintroduced into the military in September 2000. However, the Roman Catholic Church is no longer alone in the barracks: Protestant army chaplains also took up their duties the following month. Although Slovenia -- like several other Central European countries -- observes some Catholic feast days as public holidays, 31 October is also observed as Reformation Day.

Perhaps a particularly telling sign of Slovenia's evolving relationship with religion is encountered in the downtown park adjacent to the Protestant church, currently named Argentina Park. In communist Yugoslavia, it bore the name Lenin Park. Bishop Ernisa recently proposed a new name: Reformation Park. (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Serbs are an old people, a proud people. We are not uncivilized." -- Young Serbian accountant in Srebrenica, explaining to visiting U.S. journalists why they were getting icy stares from local people. Quoted in the "International Herald Tribune" of 23 October.

"Denying access to [requested] information...only fosters suspicion that people in power are not interested to disclose and face the truth." -- Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, in Belgrade on 22 October. Quoted by AP.

"We are grateful to the Serbs and Muslims who defended us. I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.... We all will live together in our free, equal for all, unified, and democratic Bosnia-Herzegovina." -- Vlatko Kupreskic in Vitez, after being freed by a UN appeals court in The Hague, together with his two cousins (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001). Quoted by AP on 24 October.