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Balkan Report: July 11, 2000

11 July 2000, Volume 4, Number 51

Milosevic's Montenegrin Gambit. The Yugoslav parliament has passed a series of constitutional amendments that will enable President Slobodan Milosevic to stay in office for another eight years and sharply reduce Montenegro's political role within the federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2000). What Milosevic hopes to obtain by this direct challenge to Montenegro remains an open question.

In the early hours of 8 July, the Montenegrin legislature passed a resolution by 36 to 18 votes rejecting the federal parliament's recent changes to the Yugoslav constitution. The resolution repeatedly called the federal parliament's moves "illegal and illegitimate." The text added that the changes amount to "the destruction of the constitutional order" of the Yugoslav federation and constitute a "gross violation of the constitutional rights of the Republic of Montenegro."

The Montenegrin legislators promised unspecified "measures...[to] protect the interests of citizens of Montenegro and the undisturbed functioning of its legal system." The resolution also included an appeal to the "state bodies of the republic, especially of the Interior Ministry [to help] preserve peace," and called on Yugoslav army personnel "not to let themselves be misused against the citizens, institutions, and state bodies of the Republic of Montenegro." The legislators appealed to "the citizens of Montenegro, the citizens of and democratic opinion in Serbia, and the international community" to help find a peaceful resolution to the "problems in Montenegro's relations with the state bodies of Serbia and the federation."

Opening the session of the legislature on 7 July, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic called the federal parliament's moves a "brutal attempt" to end Montenegrin statehood, London's "The Independent" reported. Djukanovic later told Vienna's "Die Presse" that Montenegro faces a very real danger of a civil war because the Belgrade authorities continue to "brutally manipulate" Montenegrin supporters of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service noted. Svetozar Marovic, who is speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, said that the constitutional changes amount to a revision of the legal basis on which the Yugoslav federation was formed in 1992, Belgrade's "Danas" reported.

Also on 8 July, the legislature rejected a proposal for an immediate referendum on independence. Djukanovic told "Die Presse" that his government still wants to give Serbia time to consider Montenegro's 1999 proposal for the redefinition of relations between the two republics. He added that if Serbia does not agree by some unspecified future date, the Montenegrin authorities will hold a referendum on independence.

But this has long been his official line and reflects the pressure on him from the international community not to separate from Serbia. It remains to be seen how long he will be able to maintain this position in the face of deliberate intimidation by his enemies.

In Belgrade, pro-Milosevic media and several regime spokesmen taunted the authorities in Podgorica for not holding a referendum immediately, suggesting that Djukanovic does not want a referendum because he knows he will lose, Reuters reported on 9 July. Elsewhere, Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic threatened unspecified "measures to protect [Yugoslavia's] constitutional order" following the vote in the Montenegrin parliament, AP noted. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, who heads the Radical Party to which Vucic belongs, even called for the arrest of leading Montenegrin politicians, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. (The Army General Staff already slammed the Montenegrin leadership in a statement on 4 July.)

The Serbia opposition, for its part, generally expressed outrage at the constitutional changes. Politicians as different as Vuk Draskovic and Vladan Batic called for a boycott of federal elections on the grounds that the opposition must not lend its name to a farce.

But some of the most interesting ramifications will be in Montenegro itself, namely: what will be the political fate of pro-Milosevic politicians? In the heated parliamentary debate, Zarko Rakcevic accused the deputies of the pro-Milosevic Socialist People's Party (SNP) of supporting a president "whose only place is in The Hague," "Vesti" noted. Other politicians called their pro-Belgrade opponents "traitors."

The next day, the SNP's Predrag Bulatovic appealed for a "dialogue" among Montenegrin leaders, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Meanwhile, the SNP sheepishly claimed in a statement that the constitutional changes will not affect Montenegro's status within the federation.

It is difficult to see how anyone could make this statement with any degree of sincerity, since the amendments will end 50-50 parity voting for the upper house and replace it with a one-man, one-vote system. (Serbia's population outnumbers Montenegro's by about 10-to-1.) As one observer put it, there may be a split between SNP politicians in Podgorica--who have to fight for their turf--and those in Belgrade--who just voted to reduce their proud republic to the status of an autonomous Serbian pokrajina, or province. If such a division comes to pass, then Milosevic will have even fewer friends and allies in Montenegro than he did before the amendments were passed.

This leads to the question of what Milosevic intended in the first place with his clear humiliation of Montenegro. One view has it that the latest developments follow the pattern of his behavior in the run-up to his wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova, namely: "Stay in the federation on my terms, or get out."

If this is the case, then Milosevic may be headed for his fifth conflict and fifth defeat. Whether the dispute between Belgrade and Podgorica will be settled by political rather than military means will depend heavily on the decisiveness, clarity, and resolution of the international community. As Croatian President Stipe Mesic put it this weekend, the threat of war in the Balkans "will diminish in proportion to the strength of the message that the international community sends to Serbia or to Milosevic." (Patrick Moore)

Serbian Minister Warns Croatian 'Banana-Republic.' Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic warned the Croatian authorities not to assist Western efforts to broadcast to Serbia. He told a Belgrade press conference on 8 July that "the Western forces headed by the United States are preparing new media offensives on Serbia. They are using neighboring banana-republics, especially Croatia, as the most prominent exponent of their policies. The Serbian government is warning Croatia not to play with these things....Our response will be adequate if they dare to violate international regulations," Reuters reported.

He added that "if it becomes necessary, we will be ready to [use] ultimate [unspecified] financial resources for defending our country from the media aggression that Americans are intending to carry out from Montenegro and other neighboring countries." He did not elaborate.

Vucic is known for his outspoken criticism of the opposition and of the private media. He is closely linked to the repressive 1998 media law. (Patrick Moore)

Are War Criminals Getting Rich In The Hague? The Hague-based tribunal is investigating persistent but unconfirmed press reports in the former Yugoslavia and abroad that attorneys for indicted war criminals pay their clients kick-backs. The lawyers are allegedly hired by some clients on the condition that they pay those clients some 20 to 40 percent of their attorney's fees. Such salaries range up to $110 per hour and are paid out of the tribunal's budget, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 5 July.

The wife of one indicted war criminal has reportedly bought a house in Belgrade with the money she obtained from kick-backs. Some indicted war criminals do not care about a prospective attorney's professional abilities or even whether they are cleared of the charges against them, London's "The Independent" reported on 7 July. "The only thing important to them is to get more money than they could have earned being free during their lifetime," the daily added, quoting Serbian lawyer Vladimir Bozovic at The Hague. Ante Nobilo, a Croatian lawyer and former diplomat, also said that he knows of such cases. (Patrick Moore)

Former Tito-Era Leader Dies. Lazar Kolisevski died in Skopje on 6 July at the age of 88. He was a prominent functionary in the regime of Josip Broz Tito and briefly held the rotating chair of the state presidency following Tito's death in 1980. Kolisevski retired from public life shortly afterwards, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. (Patrick Moore)

Gligorov: Tudjman Ready To Partition Bosnia In 1991. Former Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov recently told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman showed him a map in 1991, according to which Tudjman proposed to divide Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia, with a small Muslim rump state remaining. The two men had their conversation when Gligorov called on Tudjman to present the Gligorov-Izetbegovic plan to preserve a single Yugoslav state. (Patrick Moore)

Albania's Notorious Zani Gets Life Sentence. On 3 July, a court in the southern Albanian city of Vlora sentenced Myrteza Caushi, known as "Zani," to life imprisonment for multiple murders and for illegal possession of weapons, "Albanian Daily News" reported. Police arrested the 31-year-old gangster in early September 1999 after he and his gang murdered three people in the village of Mifol, apparently taking revenge for the previous killing of some members of their gang (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 1999).

After the sentence was pronounced, clashes broke out in the courtroom between relatives of Caushi and members of the special police forces, but no injuries were reported. In another incident, a member of a rival gang shot and wounded Arben Caushi, a cousin of Zani, shortly after the court handed down its verdict. The circumstances of the incident remain unclear.

During the anarchy that broke out in Vlora in 1997 after the collapse of pyramid investment schemes, Caushi controlled and terrorized the port-city with his gang. At the end of his first trial in 1998, however, the court sentenced him only for illegal possession of arms because it lacked evidence of other crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1998). He was released shortly thereafter. Many observers saw his release as indicative of the weakness of Albania's judicial institutions.

In related news, speaking in Athens on 5 July, a Greek government spokesman called on the Albanian authorities to take immediate action against criminal gangs. His appeal followed an incident on 3 July in which inhabitants of the southern Albanian village of Lazarat fired with machine guns for about five hours at the neighboring mainly ethnic Greek village of Dervican.

Villagers from Lazarat have repeatedly blocked the main road from Albania to Greece in recent years and robbed trucks and various travelers. They also successfully fought back special police forces trying to enter the town in numerous incidents. In May, police besieged Lazarat for three days but withdrew after a policeman was shot and wounded.

The villagers of Lazarat, which was a leper colony in Ottoman times, have a tradition of behaving as a law unto themselves (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 2 February 1999). Lazarat is a stronghold of the opposition Democratic Party. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Government Reshuffle In Run-Up To Elections. Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta sacked three ministers on 5 July, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The new make-up of the government reflects the fears of the Socialists that voters may turn their back on them if they fail to deliver improvements in Albania's infrastructure and justice system before the local elections slated for October. President Rexhep Meidani will have to approve the changes before they can take effect.

This is the second government reshuffle since Meta became prime minister in November 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 1999). Ilir Gjoni, Meta's chief of staff, replaces Socialist Luan Hajdaraga as defense minister, and Arben Imami of the Democratic Alliance (AD) replaces the independent Ilir Panda as justice minister. The Socialist Ilir Zela, who was minister of state--a high ranking position in the prime minister's office--replaces Arben Demeti of the AD as minister for public works. Finally, Ndre Legisi, another senior Socialist, becomes minister of state.

Government spokesman Thoma Gellci said that Meta made the changes in order to "give a new impulse to the government's work." He did not elaborate. The next day Meta told "Zeri i Popullit" that he intends to improve the quality of government, most notably in the fields of justice and of construction and public works. The Albanian judiciary is notorious for its inefficiency. Similarly, many basic public services, such as the water supply and road systems, are plagued by serious faults.

Neritan Ceka, who is a leader of the AD, gave an interview to "Albanian Daily News" in which he said that he discussed the reshuffle with Meta and does not object to the changes. Ceka stressed that the AD "has received a portfolio much more important than the one [it] had before," namely that of justice instead of public works.

Ceka recalled that the AD's political priorities have been in the field of justice and institutional reform in the past, and that Imami played an important role in this respect during his stint as minister for institutional reform during the previous government of Pandeli Majko.

He regretted, however, that Meta did not give his party sufficient time to discuss the changes: "I am a little bit surprised by the way these changes were carried so quickly without giving us time to discuss them within the presidency and the party."

The independent daily "Shekulli" noted that "the dismissal of Panda can be justified by the present state of the judiciary, in which he could have played a stronger and more visible role." Concerning the sacking of Hajdaraga, the paper stressed: "In principle, replacing the minister of defense is not a casual move; is one of the most important posts in the government." Then the paper concluded: "As for the names of the two other Socialists, Ilir Zela and Ndre Legisi, there is not much to say about them. They are both young but do not inspire confidence, though they have often held party and government posts."

Another independent daily, "Gazeta Shqiptare," explained that "local elections are approaching [scheduled for October]. This is another reason for Albanian voters to think about the water shortages, the lack of electricity, the [state of their] roads, salaries, and pensions before they cast their vote. Meta seeks to improve the nation's infrastructure, which is why he replaced Arben Demeti. The unfinished reforms in the army delay Albania's integration into NATO, and [this along with] the poorly kept promises made to thousands of retired officers must have been the reason for the dismissal of Luan Hajdaraga."

Opposition Democratic Party (PD) leader Sali Berisha had another explanation, however. Speaking to "Rilindja Demokratike," he claimed that Meta's purpose is to find jobs for his corrupt friends. Berisha charged Meta's government with having "turned the prime minister's office into a school of theft�. By changing ministers he has gathered all the tenders (for awarding government contracts) in his hands." Berisha further reacted to the reshuffle by repeating earlier calls for the resignation of the government.

Observers note that Berisha will have difficulties proving his charges. But such harsh words are not unusual in the discourse between opposition and government in Albania's present-day political culture. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "This is the final act in the tragic political destruction of Yugoslavia." - Miodrag Vukovic, chair of the Steering Committee of Djukanovic's Democratic Socialist Party. Quoted by "Vesti" on 7 July after the Yugoslav parliament approved the constitutional changes.

"The Radical Party proposes that the new national anthem be 'Onamo, namo,' whose author was the Montenegrin king Nikola I Petrovic Njegos." - Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj, at the same legislative session as approved Milosevic's amendments. (The current anthem is still the Tito-era "Hej, Sloveni," although there have been numerous proposals over the past decade to replace it with "Tamo, daleko" or other traditional Serbian patriotic songs.)

"Not everyone in the Balkans loves [the international community's intervention in the region], but at least we Albanians want it, and this is our chance. We are not troubled by international arbitration in the Balkans.... Until now, the Balkans have only known foreign rule, be it from the Habsburgs, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans or the Soviet Union. Now for the first time we have arbitration that is in harmony with the interests of the Balkans." - Albania's foremost writer Ismail Kadare, quoted by Reuters on 10 July.