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Balkan Report: November 6, 2001


6 November 2001, Volume 5, Number 73

KOSOVA'S SERBS AT A CROSSROADS. Kosova goes to the polls in general elections on 17 November. Whether the members of the Serbian minority will cast their ballots remains to be seen.

In the latest in a series of negotiations, Serbian and Yugoslav leaders met with Hans Haekkerup -- who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) -- in Belgrade on 2 November. The next day, the Serbian and Yugoslav leaders agreed to urge Kosova's Serbs to take part in the 17 November elections, despite concerns about the Serbs' security in the 90 percent Albanian province. Serbs make up about 7 percent of Kosova's population, and about half of the total have fled the province, chiefly to Serbia.

Speaking after announcing the decision on the elections, Kostunica said that participation is "the lesser evil" for the Serbs. He stressed that Kosova's Serbs should take an active part in shaping the province's political future. He added that he has assurances from the international community that the elections will not be followed by a declaration of Kosova's independence. He specifically noted that Haekkerup agreed that the new Kosovar parliament will not have the legal right to declare independence -- which all Albanian parties want -- or to change the borders with Serbia or Macedonia. Kostunica said that, in short, "Kosovo remains part of Serbia."

On 5 November, UNMIK and the Belgrade leadership signed a formal agreement. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for the region, declared: "This is the start of Yugoslavia's return to Kosovo. It is proof that we are not giving up on Kosovo." Among other things, the accord specifies that Kosova's new administration cannot change the province's current legal status and provides for more Serbian policemen and for more international judicial officials.

But as might be expected, the opposition parties close to the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic, as well as nationalist parties outside the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition, criticized Kostunica. The Socialist Party of Serbia, Serbian Radical Party, Party of Serbian Unity, and Serbian Renewal Movement all condemned the president's decision as a sign of weakness and contrary to Serbian interests.

RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Mitrovica on 3 November that Kosova's Serbs are not united in their reactions to Kostunica's decision. Marko Jaksic, who heads the Serbian National Council (SNV), said that Belgrade's move is a result of foreign pressure (which Kostunica explicitly denied). Vuk Antonijevic, also of the SNV, argued that most Serbs are unlikely to vote "because they know how they live here and what is in store for them" after the elections. He did not elaborate. Momcilo Trajkovic of the Serbian Resistance Movement said that he does not find the international community's guarantees sufficient.

But veteran Kosovar Serbian leader Oliver Ivanovic called Kostunica's decision a bold one. Serbian Orthodox Bishop Artemije said that Belgrade's announcement reflected "political courage," and called on the province's Serbs to all turn out for the elections.

UNMIK spokesman Simon Haselock told dpa in Prishtina on 3 November that the UN administration "warmly welcomes" Kostunica's announcement. Haselock stressed that the Serbs must take part in the political process if they want to improve their situation. This is the message that many foreign leaders, including President George W. Bush, have been trying to convey for some time.

Hina reported from Prishtina on 4 November that the local Albanian-language media "continue to ascribe huge importance to Belgrade's decision." But their conclusions are not necessarily favorable.

"Koha Ditore" noted that Kosova's Albanian political leaders are not quite sure what Haekkerup promised Kostunica in order to secure his support. The daily noted that some local Serbian leaders have been calling for setting up a Serbian "joint task force" to work with UNMIK to ensure that no changes are made in the province's status. Other Serbian demands have centered on setting up a Serbian militia and on institutionalizing a separate legal status for existing Serbian enclaves. "Koha Ditore" cited a statement by Covic to the effect that UNMIK has promised that Kosova will not become independent.

This is, of course, totally unacceptable to the Albanians, who seek independence on the basis of the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that the bloody Serbian crackdown in the province during 1998 and 1999 made it imperative for Kosova to part ways with Belgrade once and for all. At present, Kosova remains legally a part of Yugoslavia but is in practice an international protectorate under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999.

The Serbs of Kosova face a dilemma. Many hope to hold on to their homes and communities by turning the existing Serbian enclaves into fortified settlements guarded by Serbian forces. Others -- in the case of the Serbs in Mitrovica and other northern areas contiguous to Serbia proper -- want to "join" Serbia outright. Still others believe that Serbia's days in Kosova are finished, and that they must leave the province while hoping for some internationally protected status for their family graves and Serbian cultural monuments.

It is not clear how many Serbs have come to accept yet another option, namely the possibility that their future lies as a minority in someone else's state. This idea is very painful to many members of the ethnic group that had so much influence in both royal and communist Yugoslavia. It should not be forgotten that the refusal of Serbs to accept minority status was at the root of the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia.

Many Albanians, however, argue that the Serbs of Kosova deserve no pity because they were long known as a bastion of support for Milosevic, and because many of them actively helped his security forces in the crackdown. But who-did-what-to-whom-and-when is the sort of chicken-and-egg controversy that bedevils many of the ethnic disputes in the Balkans -- and leads precisely nowhere.

At the heart of the matter is the Kosovar Serbs' future relations with their Albanian neighbors. To the extent that the Serbs are able to achieve a modus vivendi, they will have a future in the province. To the extent that they refuse to accept the changes in the geopolitical makeup of the Balkans over the past decade, they will be condemned to the fate of the French colonists in Algeria or the Dutch in Indonesia. The choice is theirs, and they can now start to take their future in their hands by going to the polls and electing serious leaders.

Outside forces can, of course, help make a difference. Belgrade needs to use its influence to help better the Serbs' lot and not to manipulate them for its own political purposes vis-a-vis the West or in petty power games in the region. Many observers also stress that the international community in general, and the U.S. and NATO in particular, should use their influence with the Albanians to ensure that violence against ordinary Serb civilians stops and that peaceful Serbs be allowed to live in peace. This will require a watchful eye and a hands-on policy in Kosova on the part of both Washington and Brussels.

For their part, the Albanians have surely realized by now that no one is going to hand them independence on a platter. They must show that they are ready for it by electing good officials, cleaning up the violence, crime, and corruption that plague much of their society, and showing that they are ready and able to respect European political norms. How they treat Kosova's Serbian minority will be a very important part of that test. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S ECONOMIC PROBLEMS. When the shooting between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces was at its height, the Macedonian media repeatedly noted the economic impact of the low-intensity war (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 June 2001). This problem has become, if anything, even more important over the course of the year.

In order to offset the budgetary deficit caused by large expenditures for weapons bought mainly from Ukraine, the Macedonian government introduced a war tax of 1 percent on every financial transaction by domestic enterprises. Now that peace is about to return to the tiny Balkan country with its 2 million inhabitants, it has become clear that this war tax will not be enough to fill the gaping hole in the state budget. The economic crisis set off by the military conflict is too pervasive.

But the conflict is not the only source of the problem. Authors like Biljana Krstevska, in the Skopje weekly "Zum magazin" of 2 November, also point to the government's fiscal and economic policies as reasons for the impasse.

According to Krstevska, industry and mining together accounted for 37.5 percent of the overall losses in the economy since the crisis began. Most heavily affected were the metal and textile industries, which lost about $66 million and $60 million, respectively. Tourism, which in previous years contributed to overall economic growth, lost some $32 million. Agriculture, one of the country's most important sectors, was hit not only by the war, but also by frost and drought -- and the damages amount to $166 million. Internal trade fell by $93 million compared to the previous year.

Industrial production came to a halt, but not only because of the conflict. In the crisis regions, many workers stayed away from their factories out of fear.

Strikes were a second reason for the losses, as the government-controlled daily "Nova Makedonija" of 4 November pointed out. According to that daily, most workers went on strike because their wages were months in arrears. But there were also strikes against the managements of some enterprises as well as protests against privatization.

Because the powerful Macedonian League of Trade Unions (SSM) organized most of the strikes, the government announced on 30 October that a commission will be formed to promote dialogue between the unions and the government.

In an analysis made by the Ministry for Economics, the government nonetheless denied any responsibility for the strikes and social unrest. The Chamber of Commerce, which represents the employers, for its part says that it has not attempted to pass its share of the responsibility on to state institutions.

To solve these problems -- which seem to stem mainly from a lack of communication between the various institutions and organizations involved -- the Chamber of Commerce has demanded that the state Council for Economic and Social Questions to be convened again after a hiatus of almost two years.

Thus it was not only the military crisis that contributed to the breakdown of the domestic economy in Macedonia, but also long-standing social problems, which still await a solution.

In light of all this, it should come as no surprise that external economic relations have also fared badly. In the latest issue of the "South-East Europe Review" -- a quarterly published by the German Hans-Boeckler-Foundation -- the Macedonian economist Mihail Petkovski wrote that trade with Yugoslavia, Macedonia's most important partner, fell by more than 20 percent compared to the same period the previous year. This loss was due mainly to the closure of important trade routes that run through the crisis region. Trade relations with other important partners, such as Germany, suffered as well.

Private transfers and foreign investments also fell sharply during the first eight months of the year. Petkovski says, "Given that creditworthiness is evidently lower than it was before the conflict, it will be difficult for the Macedonian economy to return to the growth path it had reached in 2000 without adequate help from the international donor community."

The question is how the international community will use one of its most powerful instruments to influence the Macedonian government. A donors' conference scheduled for October 2001 was called off by the EU due to constant delays in the implementation of the peace agreement, particularly by the Macedonian parliament.

Petkovski argues that "if peace efforts succeed, outside financial assistance will be crucial to the effective implementation of structural reforms and long-term development projects. Should there be a significant shortfall in outside support, the country's acute financial tensions would be [further] aggravated and the recovery of the economy would become too slow, generating high economic and social costs." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "I know that such a decision was tough. But it will meet with resistance from Kosovo Serbs because they know how difficult it is to live in Kosovo." -- Vuk Antonijevic, a leader of the Serbian National Council in Mitrovica, quoted by AP on 4 November apropos of President Vojislav Kostunica's decision to call on Kosova's Serbs to take part in the 17 November elections (see above).

"We concluded that in spite of all the difficulties, it is better for the Kosovo Serbs to take part in provincial elections due on 17 November. This agreement does not provide enough guarantees, primarily in terms of safety for the Kosovo Serbs, but it is the first step and as such it gives us reason to be satisfied." -- Kostunica on his decision, quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 3 November.

"Everybody who lives in Kosovo should have a stake in the institution which the self-governance in this elections will establish. Serbs can't expect their conditions to improve by standing outside, and participation is all what it's about." -- UNMIK spokesman Simon Haselock, to dpa in Prishtina on 3 November.

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