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Balkan Report: August 3, 2000

3 August 2000, Volume 4, Number 58

A Principled Decision. Montenegro's leaders have chosen to remain firm in their decision to boycott the federal elections. They probably had no choice.

Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic confirmed on 2 August what several Montenegrin officials had been making clear for days, namely that the governing coalition will boycott the 24 September federal elections. In so choosing, they refused to yield to friendly pressure to take part, pressure from most of the Serbian opposition and from key Western allies.

For Podgorica, the choice was simple. To participate would be to grant legitimacy to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's recent constitutional changes and electoral legislation. These were aimed at reducing the former independent kingdom to the status of a Serbian province in terms of power politics. President Milo Djukanovic and his backers had no self-respecting choice but to say "no." The only question is how Milosevic's Montenegrin supporters around Momo Bulatovic will defend their support of their boss's new laws when facing the voters in the upcoming campaign.

The options before the Serbian opposition were more complex. Vuk Draskovic and his Serbian Renewal Movement have chosen to boycott the federal (but not necessarily the local) elections rather than give legitimacy to the "fraudulent" new legislation. Perhaps an additional reason is that Draskovic knows he has no chance of becoming the presidential candidate of the united opposition or of defeating Milosevic in a head-on popular vote.

Most other opposition parties, however, agreed with the Democratic Party's Zoran Djindjic, who said: "We think the only right option is taking part in the elections. No analysis we've done so far showed a boycott would bring a positive result, either for us in Serbia or for Montenegro."

But they will enter a race with the cards stacked against them. Not only will they be without the votes of Djukanovic's people, Draskovic's supporters, and the Kosova Albanians--all of whom could theoretically help tip the scales against Milosevic--but they are playing by Milosevic's rules. As the latest issue of "Vreme" points out, at least some of the districts have been markedly gerrymandered. Furthermore, although the opposition is training its own monitors, Milosevic will allow foreign monitors only from "friendly countries," which presumably means places like Iraq or China. And there is no indication that he plans to loosen his choke-hold on the electronic media to give the opposition a better chance to spread its message.

In short, the best the Serbian opposition can hope for is a Balkan version of the recent elections in Zimbabwe. There the dictator took what he wanted in a rigged election with intimidation much in evidence, but with the opposition putting up a morally rousing contest in spite of it all.

As the Alliance for Change's leader Vladan Batic put it, the opposition is confronted with a real mess. The Montenegrin leadership, for its part, preferred to stand firm on a clear question of principle rather than compromise its way down Milosevic's slippery slope. (Patrick Moore)

Albanian Socialists Back Out Of Election Coalition. Albanian parliamentary speaker Skender Gjinushi, who also leads the Social Democratic Party (PSD), told "Shekulli" of 1 August that the pre-election coalition with the Socialist Party (PS) for the 1 October local elections is dead (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 August 2000).

Gjinushi pointed out that the Socialist Party on 31 July published a list of its candidates for all communities and municipalities. He concluded that now the Social Democratic Party will have to put forward its own candidates rather than negotiate a joint list with the Socialists, as they had planned earlier. Gjinushi said that the PSD is, however, still willing to participate in a joint list should the PS leaders change their mind.

Meanwhile, Genc Pollo of the reform movement within the opposition Democratic Party (PD) presented a list of candidates for mayors in some municipalities and communities. Pollo told "Shekulli" that his group will send the names to the party's parliamentary group. He said that putting forward members of the reform movement along with other PD candidates will help to "secure a significant victory for the PD and of the entire opposition."

The reformers said that they back Bamir Topi for mayor of Tirana, a man who also has the support of the PD leadership around Sali Berisha. The reformers also proposed that Ferdinand Xhaferri run for mayor of Durres. Xhaferri was one of the few PD candidates in the parliamentary elections of 1997 who managed to gain a direct seat. But observers have expressed doubts whether the PD leadership will even consider the proposals of the reform movement. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albania's Parliamentary Speaker Criticizes New Anti-Smuggling Law On Speedboats. Skender Gjinushi told "Shekulli" of 1 August that a new law prepared hurriedly by the government and approved by the parliament just before the summer break on 28 July is unconstitutional. The law empowers the Naval Police to seize speedboats on the spot and to impose tough checks on speedboat repair units.

The government pushed the law through as a reaction to the death of two Italian Guardia di Finanza officers on 24 July. They drowned when an Albanian smuggler rammed their boat.

Gjinushi argues that the new law violates individual property rights: "We have taken an extreme of the possible measures�. If one bans somebody from owning a boat, then that would mean we also have to ban trucks, because most of the cigarette smuggling goes on in trucks."

Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato visited Tirana on 28 July and urged the government and parliament to take tougher measures against smuggling by speedboat. Amato threatened that his government will otherwise stop the delivery of aid to Albania. Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta agreed in principle to allow Italian Carabinieri to join their Albanian colleagues in operations against smugglers also on Albanian soil. Meta told the "Albanian Daily News" of 29 July that fighting smuggling "needs to be a collective effort because Italy is not the final destination for most of these desperate people but just a step on the journey."

Gjinushi raised doubts, however, whether Albania will indeed allow Italian police to actively pursue suspected smugglers already in Albania (see quotation below): "I don't know the details [of the Meta-Amato agreement], but I do not believe that [allowing Italian police to catch suspects in Albania] will be the solution, and I can not really envisage that. [But] this is a joint challenge for the Albanian and the Italian police, who are on the same side and [fighting] Albanian and Italian smugglers on the other�. [Smuggling] is not an Albanian phenomenon only, because the [drugs] usually come from Greece or Turkey."

Politicians of Italy's center-right opposition have called for changes in Italian laws to allow customs police to fire on smugglers' boats. Meta rejected the idea, however: "Arms will not resolve anything. It is an idiotic idea that will only jeopardize the lives of innocent people."

President Rexhep Meidani stressed in an interview published in the "Albanian Daily News" on 1 August that "this phenomenon cannot be fought by repression alone. Economic and cultural development is crucial in dealing with illegal immigrants." (Fabian Schmidt)

Croatia: How To Catch Up In The IT-Revolution? (Part 1) After years of stagnation, tourism is booming again in Croatia. But for a modern state that wants to be an integral part of modern Europe, it is quite impossible to live off tourism alone.

A key to almost all future-oriented industries--as well as for international communications--is the information technology (IT) business. In the negotiations about Croatia's association agreement with the EU that will start in November, the level of high-tech infrastructure could be a relevant aspect, too.

War and reconstruction previously prevented Croatian authorities from thinking extensively about the consequences of globalization. But those were not the only factors. Franjo Tudjman, the first president of the independent Republic of Croatia, neglected building up an IT infrastructure. In his world of ideas that was dominated by nationalism, the internet had no place. Tudjman did not speak about how to catch up with the worldwide revolution in information technology. Furthermore, his government was unable to see or analyze the problem of a brain drain of thousands of well-educated Croats, among them many computer specialists (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 May 2000).

Croatia has a long road ahead of it if it intends to catch up. The domestic market is relatively small, the unemployment rate hovers around 20 per cent, and the bank system is stabilizing only very slowly. President Stipe Mesic's advisor for IT questions and director of Microsoft Croatia, Goran Radman, told the author of this article in an interview for Bayerischer Rundfunk on 17 July that two things need to be done. First, an IT infrastructure has to be built. Second, jobs have to be created for the students who are leaving Croatian high schools right now.

Although Germany is in a much better situation than Croatia, even that country only began to think about the promotion of IT industries comparatively recently. There are 75,000 vacancies in the German IT business at the moment, and specialists are hard to find. Venture capital transactions, tax breaks, and setting up high-tech centers on the outskirts of big towns were only some activities launched to promote small start-ups and to keep global players in Germany.

Croatia could become an attractive location for high-tech industry, too. The country has traditionally been a bridge between Eastern Europe and the West. Start-ups could settle in attractive areas near the sea coast.

Thinking of potential Croatian "Silicon Valleys," it is important to keep in mind that the IT industry must stay in contact with training centers, universities, and political hubs. In Germany, some people recognized that political institutions, start-ups, and the "multimedia-generation" have to forge links. The so-called D-21 initiative was founded to interest young people in computer-related subjects. The initiative includes political institutions and IT companies and seeks to develop human resources in computer business, e-commerce, and online marketing. There are five working groups linked in the initiative: "arrangement and framework," "role of the state," "education," "women and IT," and "start-up offensive."

Projects like the D-21 can be a model for Croatia. Perhaps it might even be possible for Croatia to cooperate in this framework. Beside setting up an IT infrastructure and educating high school students, distance learning concepts could be an interesting approach, too. Croatians abroad could get together in working groups and discuss the transfer of know-how to Croatia. In some cases, they could help themselves and organize their own return home by ensuring themselves jobs as consultants or entrepreneurs in joint ventures. Online networks of Croatians in the U.S. and Europe could be built, linking Zagreb with the rest of the IT world.

These ideas are only some aspects of a package of projects that could become reality. Without Western know-how and financial help, access to the world of multimedia and e-business is not possible for Croatia. But recently, there have been positive signals, and not only from the EU. The U.S. governmental Oversees Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and financier George Soros announced on 26 July they will establish a $150 million fund to spur private business in southeastern Europe. Croatia is among those that will take part in the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2000). (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer based in Munich

Quotations Of The Week. "The Italian police will stay where they are." -- Albanian President Rexhep Meidani, rejecting the idea that Italian police could pursue smugglers on Albanian territory (see above). Quoted by "La Repubblica" on 30 July in Rome.

The "Republika Srpska remains a safe haven" for indicted war criminals. -- Hague tribunal Deputy Prosecutor Graham Blewitt. Quoted by AP on 28 July.

"We will go to Srebrenica ourselves, but when we do, Bosnia will shake again." and "Everybody betrayed us. We're sick of declarations while [Serbs] are looting and burning our houses. We, too, will now practice the policy of force." -- Two different Muslim refugees from eastern Bosnia, demanding the right to go home. Quoted during protests in Tuzla by AP on 29 July.

"He should be burned to death so he can see hell with his own eyes.... We only have a problem with Ronghi, not with other Americans." -- Kosovar woodcutter Halim Shabiu on 1 August, after a U.S. military court in Germany sentenced Staff Sergeant Frank Ronghi to life imprisonment without parole for raping and killing Shabiu's 11-year-old sister Merita. Quoted by AP.