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Balkan Report: November 2, 2001


2 November 2001, Volume 5, Number 72

MACEDONIA: LEGAL ARM OF UCK GAINS SUPPORT. The current political crisis in Macedonia continues to take its toll on public support for the main political parties in the Balkan state in the run-up to the January 2002 elections.

A recent opinion poll conducted between 23 and 26 October by the Institute for Sociological, Political, and Legal Studies shows that the main ethnic Macedonian political parties have lost much of their support among the electorate, the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" reported on 30 October. It also shows that most leading politicians in Macedonia have suffered a dramatic loss of confidence among the voters. This mirrors the findings of opinion polls this past summer (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 August 2001).

Asked whom they would vote for if elections took place now, 32 percent of the respondents answered that they would not vote at all. Some 27 percent of the electorate indicated that they do not know whom to vote for.

If one takes a closer look at the findings, it becomes clear that the main ethnic Macedonian political parties and their leaders are the losers in this crisis, while the ethnic Albanian parties and the Albanian politicians have fared relatively well.

If elections took place now, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski would gain only about 11 percent of the overall votes. The Social Democratic Union (SDSM) led by Branko Crvenkovski would reach about 20 percent. The Liberal Democrats led by Skopje's Mayor Risto Penov would garner about 4 percent. Here one has to keep in mind that these are the overall results. As ethnic Macedonian voters make up about two-thirds of the electorate, the parties' respective shares of votes among the Macedonian voters are much higher.

Asked whom they consider the best politician, the overall results show a certain disappointment with the current leadership of the country. Former President Kiro Gligorov was named as the best politician by 15 percent of the respondents. Social Democrat leader Branko Crvenkovski comes in second place with 11 percent, followed by Prime Minister Georgievski at 7 percent. Gligorov's successor in office, Boris Trajkovski, is considered by just 4 percent to be the best politician, which puts him slightly behind hard-line Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski.

The corresponding question about the most distrusted politician in the country, however, reveals that about a quarter of the ethnic Macedonians and almost 40 percent of the ethnic Albanians give Georgievski no credibility. Arben Xhaferi, the ailing leader of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), faces the distrust of 16 percent of the Macedonian respondents, while Boskovski is distrusted by 30 percent of the Albanian respondents.

The most interesting results, however, are the ratings of the ethnic Albanian political parties and their leaders among the ethnic Albanian voters. One question was whether politicians might profit from the outcome of the crisis. Another was whether findings would be influenced by the announcement by the political leader of the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK), Ali Ahmeti, that he is willing to play an important role in Macedonian politics.

Ethnic Albanians who do not plan to vote make up 17 percent of the respondents, while 20 percent do not know whom to vote for. The strongest ethnic Albanian party would remain the PDSH with 22 percent. Its rival, the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), headed by Imer Imeri, would reach about 17 percent. The surprise is that the National Democratic Party (NDP) founded by Kastriot Haxhirexha earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001) would gain as many as 19 percent of the Albanian votes.

This clearly indicates that Haxhirexha's party seems about to play a role similar to that of Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland -- to be the legal arm of the UCK rebels, which it has been considered since shortly after its founding.

When asked about support for specific Albanian politicians, 30 percent of the ethnic Albanian respondents favored Xhaferi of the PDSH, 21 percent the rebel leader Ahmeti, and only 14 percent PPD leader Imeri.

Although the NDP was previously considered a splinter party, this opinion poll suggests a restructuring of party preferences among the ethnic Albanian electorate. This development is also mirrored by rumors that some leading Albanian politicians from both the PDSH and the PPD plan to join the NDP.

As the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 30 October, only the PDSH leadership has so far borne out such rumors. Among the PDSH defectors, the newspaper names a number of prominent figures such as Hasan Bekteshi from the party leadership.

It is not clear whether the PPD will likewise lose members. PPD legislator Mersel Billali denied that any member has left his party to join the NDP, but the newspaper says that former deputy party leader Shpetim Pollozhani is now a member of the new party.

The NDP leadership, for its part, seems to be surprised by this sudden interest. "There are careerists and idealists in every party. The people who joined us seem to belong to the second category, since we did not promise them any high-ranking positions to attract them," NDP spokesman Xhevad Ademi is quoted by the newspaper as saying.

Should the trends shown by the opinion poll prove stable, it is quite likely that these idealists will gain seats in parliament as well as positions in local government bodies. But it is less likely that they will gain any portfolio in a future national government. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

BATTLE OF THE BREWS COMES TO A HEAD IN SLOVENIA. A takeover of Slovenia's Union brewery is imminent, and speculation is growing as to whether the Belgium-based multinational company Interbrew or the Lasko brewery -- Union's Slovene archrival -- will be successful in acquiring a majority stake in the 137-year-old Ljubljana brewery. Lasko currently controls slightly over half of the beer market in Slovenia.

The Slovene daily "Delo" reported on 23 October that Interbrew acquired an additional 3 percent of Union shares the previous day, giving it a share nearly as great as the 24.9 percent currently held jointly by Lasko and its subsidiary Radenska. Lasko merged with the popular Slovene soft drink company Radenska in a friendly takeover in September last year. Traders reported that Union employees likely sold the stock to Interbrew in an attempt to prevent a Lasko takeover. The outcome now depends on which company acquires the remaining shares, which are held by a state fund and small shareholders.

The potential international consolidation of Slovenia's beer market is a reflection of broader trends from the Baltics to the Balkans. Despite frequently intense loyalties to local brews, independent hometown breweries have become increasingly rare anachronisms in Central and Eastern Europe. The privatization of formerly state-owned breweries, coupled with the need for Western capital, has made breweries a ready target for international firms. Indeed, Interbrew is active in other parts of postcommunist Europe, and operates breweries in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and elsewhere. Nor is it alone. The South African Breweries corporation boasts holdings in Slovakia, Russia, Poland, and -- perhaps most prominently -- has had a controlling interest in the Czech brewing combine Pilsner Urquell-Radegast since 1999, when it beat out Heineken by meeting the $321 million asking price set by the combine's Japanese owner, Nomura. On the other hand, the Dutch company Heineken counts breweries in Macedonia and Poland among its 110 worldwide, and holds a range of labels in Slovakia.

The rare exceptions to this trend are represented by cases such as the well-known Czech Budvar brewery, which remains state-owned in order to prevent a hostile takeover by the American Anheuser-Busch Companies, Inc. -- although this has not prevented a series of court cases and even criminal prosecution involving marketing rights in various countries over the "Budweiser" label. The two companies have been contesting the matter since 1911, when Budvar first tried to sell its Budweiser on the American market, and they appear no closer to a compromise now than they did 90 years ago (see "Czech Republic: Beer War With U.S. Matches Tradition Against Marketing Skills," rferl.org, 31 July 2001).

However, it is not only Western multinationals that are engaged in buying up the breweries of Central and Eastern Europe. Lasko is also engaged in takeover bids outside Slovenia. Although the company does not command as much capital as the large multinational brewing consortia, it has acquired a 40 percent share in the Jadranska brewery of Split, Croatia, and recently competed -- albeit unsuccessfully -- with Interbrew for Bosnia's Banja Luka brewery.

These international takeovers are not so much a reflection of an inability to maintain domestic control over the beer market as they are a sign of the modernization of the brewing industry in Central and Eastern Europe. After all, several decades ago the American brewing industry went through similar growing pains associated with massive consolidation. The developments also indicate the attractiveness of these breweries to international investors. Despite falling beer sales across Europe, many breweries continue to operate successfully. Last year, for example, Lasko reported a net profit of approximately $6.2 million. This is explained in part by the diversified products of modern breweries. Whichever company eventually acquires Union will also acquire production facilities for a variety of soft drinks and spring water. In addition, Union is Slovenia's only producer of baking yeast, producing some 3,800 tons annually.

Slovenes remain relatively unconcerned about the changing ownership of the Union brewery. The general attitude seems to be that business is business. As an article in the weekly financial paper "Delnicar" commented on 28 September after Interbrew confirmed its intention to enter Slovenia's beer market, the real regret is that it is only Belgian money -- and not Belgian lambics and other celebrated Belgian brews -- that will be coming to Slovenia. And, in any case, there are no plans to close the landmark brewery on the edge of Ljubljana's downtown.

Connoisseurs of irony might note that Union and Lasko were locked in fierce market competition three-quarters of a century ago. The outcome was Union's secret purchase of most of Lasko's stock in 1924, and the closure of the brewery three months later. Union then marketed its own beer under the Lasko label, to the indignation of loyal Lasko drinkers. If Lasko is successful in acquiring a majority stake in Union, many may well remark that turnabout is fair play. (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana, dreindl@indiana.edu)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The Bosnian Embassy in Vienna issued a passport to bin Laden in 1993, according to various reports in the Yugoslav press at the time. The reports add that bin Laden then visited a terrorist camp in Zenica, Bosnia, in 1994." -- "Al-Qaeda's Balkan Links" by Marcia Christoff Kurop, published in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" on 1 November.

"By 1994, major Balkan terrorist training camps included Zenica, and Malisevo and Mitrovica in Kosovo. Elaborate command-and-control centers were further established in Croatia, and Tetovo, Macedonia, as well as around Sofia, Bulgaria, according to the U.S. Congress's task force on terrorism. In Albania, the main training camp included even the property of former Albanian premier [editor's note: he was president] Sali Berisha in Tropje [editor's note: Tropoja?], Albania, who was then very close to the Kosovo Liberation Army [editor's note: the UCK did not exist in 1994]." -- Ibid.

"Meanwhile, Albanian separatism in Kosovo and Metohija [sic] was formally characterized as a 'jihad' in October 1998 at an annual international Islamic conference in Pakistan." -- Ibid.

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