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Balkan Report: October 30, 2001


30 October 2001, Volume 5, Number 71

THE SAGA OF MACEDONIAN DEMOBILIZATION. As legislators quarreled over the constitutional amendments set down in the Ohrid peace agreement, Defense Ministry spokesman Marjan Gjurovski announced on 25 October that some 1,200 army reservists will soon be demobilized by the commander-in-chief, President Boris Trajkovski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2001). Gjurovski cited as the reason for the demobilization the improved security situation in the country, the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 26 October.

At the same time, the Defense Ministry denied that demobilization will mean giving up positions held by state security forces in the crisis regions in the north. Army spokesman Colonel Blagoja Markovski said: "The [security] vacuum will be filled by police forces.... The army will be replaced by the police in some places, but army units will still be at strategic locations, from which they can intervene whenever it is necessary," the daily "Dnevnik" quoted Markovski as saying on 26 October.

At the same press conference, the army announced plans to increase its professional component. From about 1,400 professional soldiers (out of a current total of 16,000 soldiers), the Defense Ministry plans to increase the number of professionals to some 3,000 by the end of 2003. In keeping with the plan originally set down in 1998, about half of the army will be made up of professional soldiers by 2005.

The announcement of the demobilization decree and the restructuring plans came about one week after the Skopje bi-monthly "Forum" published an article by Vladimir Jovanovski under the headline "Demobilization, now!"

In this article, the journalist analyzes the state of mobilization in the crisis-ridden Balkan country. He also examines the connection between the number of mobilized reservists and the growing state budget deficit.

Despite Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's assertion that the military budget is transparent, Jovanovski was not able to find out the current total number of mobilized reservists in the army and police forces, or the state expenditures related to the 2001 mobilization.

But the journalist does cite a statement by Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski to the Skopje daily "Vest." According to the minister, the government currently pays for some 20,000 to 30,000 reservists. He compares the estimated number of ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) -- which has been put at about 3,500 -- with the total number of some 9,000 regular employees of the Interior Ministry, and the total number of soldiers in peacetime, or about 6,500 in total.

Given that relation of numbers, Jovanovski asks whether it was necessary to mobilize such huge numbers of police and army reservists at all. And why are these people still mobilized now that the Ohrid peace agreement seems to have come into effect?

Given the enormous expenditures connected with the mobilization of reservists, Jovanovski takes a closer look at the social and economic problems of Macedonia. Citing the example of Probistip, a former industrial town, he shows that unemployed men often cannot support their families any longer. Many have even gone so far as to pay off government officials to be mobilized in the army or the police -- in order to have some kind of income. Thus, out of roughly 15,000 inhabitants of Probistip, about 700 are currently serving in the army or police.

A second reason why the Macedonian government keeps the number of mobilized reservists high is closely related to the state's political culture. As is the case in other sectors of society, the governing political parties divide up state institutions among themselves in a sort of spoils system. If one party controls a ministry, it also has control over the jobs to be announced and filled by this ministry (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 May 2001).

This is the case with the Interior Ministry, and the Defense Ministry as well. Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski belongs to the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), while Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski belongs to the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). That is why most police reservists are followers of the VMRO-DPMNE, while the army reservists are made up mainly of SDSM sympathizers.

The journalist came to the conclusion that neither Boskovski nor Buckovski want to expose their supporters within the armed forces to unemployment before the parliamentary elections looming in January 2002.

Under these circumstances, when the commander-in-chief decided to demobilize army reservists for financial reasons, it must have seemed like a big bonus when it became clear that the Macedonian state will receive a large number of arms from the stores of the former Yugoslav People's Army.

Macedonia, which was left without any weapons after it left Yugoslavia in 1991, will now receive its share of the property (such as embassies, gold reserves, and arms) of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia which will soon be distributed among its successor states. As the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 22 October, Macedonia will receive a quantity of Soviet-built training and transport airplanes, T-55 tanks, troop transporters, rocket launchers, anti-aircraft artillery, and training equipment for pilots. There will also be huge amounts of light arms.

The newspaper cites experts to the effect that Macedonia will theoretically now be able to destroy its outdated weaponry. But after demobilizing army reservists, will Macedonia reduce its stockpile of arms as well? (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

MONOPOLIES WEIGH DOWN ALBANIAN ECONOMY. Ten years ago, Albanians perceived the free market as a new religion to be embraced. Today, many feel disappointed.

The state still controls a broad range of services, while some private companies are believed to be colluding with the state in order to ensure high prices. The largest monopolies include the fixed-line telecommunications company AlbTelecom and the Albanian Electric Energy Corporation. The government also controls the Savings Bank, which holds up to 80 percent of the country's deposits.

Three independent regulatory committees have been created to coordinate more effectively public and private interests in the communications, water-supply, and energy sectors. But analysts say these committees are not as effective as they could be since they operate under strong pressure from the government.

Several weeks ago, the head of the Communications Regulatory Committee, Fredi Kote, resigned after rejecting a request by a senior government official to place Internet providers in Albania under his control.

Tirana commentator Prec Zogaj has been raising these questions in parliament since he was elected a deputy for the Democratic Alliance Party earlier this year. "These situations are a product of the absence of strategic thinking in the leadership. But there is no doubt, they are [also] caused by the close links the Albanian administration and government people have developed between state and private, partial interests." Zogaj says the monopolistic climate is created mostly through the licensing process.

Gjergj Buxhuku is director of the Institute for Efficient Policies and served from 1995 to 1999 as economic adviser to Prime Ministers Fatos Nano and Pandeli Majko. He explains how the licensing system enforces the vested interests of well-connected groups. "It is an irrefutable fact that in Albania, through some legal acts, obtaining a license to trade oil and gas is very difficult. This license in Albania is awarded to a very small group of companies which are pretty well connected to each other and are just a prolonged arm of the main industrial and financial groups, which operate as...sole players in the field."

But Buxhuku says it is not so important for the public whether monopolies rule the state or vice versa. And, he says, the results have been poor so far. "When the import-export ratio has shifted to five- or six-to-one in favor of imports, it means the government's economic policies have been failing continuously. To have different policies on track, as a first step, the authors and executors of the actual policies should accept full responsibility and step down."

The head of parliament's Commission on the Economy, Ylli Bufi, is more inclined to blame the government's attitude toward creating a climate of competitiveness.

Bufi, who served as prime minister during the collapse of communist rule in 1991 and 1992, says Albania has never had a policy of promoting competitiveness, nor has the state actively enforced antitrust legislation.

The World Bank mission representative in Tirana disagrees. Eugen Scanteie says the political will for competition exists but the lack of foreign investment has limited the chances for success. "The legislation to allow competition is, by and large, there. So I don't think there is a lack of political will to encourage competition. This is what the Americans call 'It takes two to tango.' It's not enough for the government to say, 'We want competition.' The private sector must invest. Or investments have been very slow to materialize in Albania for other reasons. So you have basically 1 percent of GDP [gross domestic product] only in new greenfield investment. [It] should be four to five times higher normally to see the competition you are talking about. So there is not enough private investment, therefore not enough competition."

Scanteie says he is confident about the future in Albania, but stresses that the current administration in Tirana should focus more on fighting corruption. He says the World Bank has conducted a survey of the private sector indicating that "much of the licensing is colored by corruption." (Alban Bala)

SOUND FAMILIAR? In the wake of the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington, a rumor continues to circulate in the Arab and Muslim world that the events were masterminded by Israeli intelligence agents trying to provoke a confrontation between West and East. RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq Service Deputy Director Kamran Al-Karadaghi recently interviewed a leading Arab intellectual regarding how such rumors get started and why they take on lives of their own -- even when there is no supporting evidence. Here is our report:

Hazem Saghie is the chief columnist of the London-based, Arabic-language daily "Al-Hayat." He is the author of many books about politics and intellectual life in the Middle East. Al-Karadaghi asked Saghie why many people in the Arab world are susceptible to believing the kinds of rumors blaming Israel for the 11 September attacks on America.

Saghie had this to say: "Even in normal times, Arabs have a great weakness for conspiratorial theories. The reason, regrettably, is that they don't understand the world they live in. Because of this, they don't behave in apolitical terms. They don't have any idea what is real politics, and they don't contribute to the real issues in our world. All this gives them a tendency to believe in myths and the abnormal."

Saghie continued: "If that is the case in normal times, you can imagine how it is when something as bizarre and unexpected as the attacks in New York and Washington happened. An event like this can shock even sound-minded people. But for Arabs, whose minds are fascinated by magic and myths, the solution was in blaming the Jews, a typical expression of the usual racist approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict."

Our correspondent asked if Saghie did not feel his argument risks making too many generalizations: "No, I am not saying all Arabs think in this way. But I have observed that there those who think in this way, and say so, and those who reject the idea of conspiracy theories but keep silent."

Saghie has written on this topic widely and has said he intends to continue doing so: "It is time that we face our responsibilities instead of trying to find simplistic and mythical solutions by going on blaming an imaginary and mysterious enemy. And believe me, to do this is more important than being involved in politics. Because if you win politically but lose your intellect, the loss is huge. So imagine what happens if you lose both with one blow."

Our correspondent concluded the interview by asking Saghie what he personally sees as the remedy: "First of all, Arab intellectuals who reject this kind of thinking must do more to confront it. But that is the easiest thing to say. Because there will be no solution to this problem without people learning democracy as a means of practicing politics. This process needs rational consciousness, enabling people to think, debate, recognize the truth, and not accept things as matters of fact. They need to doubt, challenge, and go to the ballot box to vote on them. I believe this is the only way to achieve a different mindset," said Hazem Saghie. (Charles Recknagel)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Either we export stability to the Balkans and Southeast Europe, or it exports instability to the rest of Europe." -- EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten. Quoted by international news agencies in Bucharest on 25 October.

"The antiterror coalition should not just be concentrated on Afghanistan but also on Chechnya and Macedonia." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. Quoted by dpa in Moscow on 29 October.

"The truth cannot be drowned by any kind of flood of false accusations." -- Former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, quoted by AP in The Hague on 29 October.

"I had the honor of defending my nation from the criminal aggression that was committed against it and defending my nation from terrorism. The Clinton administration was closely cooperating in these [terrorist] acts, which no one can deny." -- Milosevic. Quoted by RFE/RL from The Hague on 29 October.

"I'm convinced that a further fragmentation of the Balkans would lead to the new instability in the region." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, after unsuccessful talks with Montenegrin leaders in Belgrade on 26 October. Quoted by AP.

"Since our starting point is to renew Montenegrin statehood and international recognition, [Montenegrin leaders] agreed that there is no point in wasting any more time" in further talks. -- Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, also after the Belgrade talks. Quoted by AP.

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