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Balkan Report: August 22, 2000

22 August 2000, Volume 4, Number 63

I'Ballots To Bullets?' Unlike other Eastern European countries that progressed "from bullets to ballots," Yugoslavia risks moving in just the opposite direction after the 24 September elections, Anna Husarska told an RFE/RL press briefing in Washington on 16 August.

Husarska, a well-known journalist who works at the International Crisis Group, suggested that there are three reasons for this gloomy prognosis: the nature of Slobodan Milosevic's regime, the fundamental weaknesses of the opposition to it, and the difficulties both Belgrade and the West have in coming to terms with the special status of Montenegro.

Milosevic's dictatorship, Husarska said, has allowed him to crush most opponents and, as a result of his control of most of the media, to define the way many Serbs see their own country and its relations with the outside world. Moreover, the extraordinary economic difficulties most Serbs now find themselves in makes them afraid and unwilling to put at risk what little they have.

The Serbian opposition, she added, has proven unequal to the task of challenging Milosevic's regime. It has been unable to address major issues in a way that allows it to link up with much of the public. It is internally fragmented at a time when she argued it should be united to oppose the dictatorship. According to Husarska, many of the opposition leaders are spending their time discussing who will be their ambassador in Washington rather than focusing on how to gain power to be in a position to appoint one.

These two problems are compounded by the difficulties both Belgrade and the West face in defining the status of Montenegro. On the one hand, Husarska pointed out, Montenegro increasingly has the attributes of an independent country. But on the other, Belgrade is unwilling to pull its troops from the region and the West is reluctant to recognize a new country (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 August 2000).

That sets the stage for a series of unfortunate events in the wake of the upcoming elections, Husarska said. Milosevic will do what he has to do to ensure he has the majorities he needs in Serbia, she suggested, and his troops may very well confront Montenegrin officials over where and how the voting will take place in Montenegro. Such a confrontation could then lead to violence.

Husarska concluded that she sees no clear path away from the danger that Yugoslavia could reverse the Eastern European pattern and thus move quickly "from ballots to bullets." (RFE/RL)

Two Books On Kosova In German. Two books on Kosova have attracted attention in the German-speaking world in recent months. One is a handbook survey of the history of the Kosova question and is authored by High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch and two other Austrian Balkan experts, Karl Kaser and Robert Pichler. It is called "Kosovo/Kosova: Mythen, Daten, Fakten" (Wieser Verlag, Klagenfurt and Vienna) and includes in an appendix the complete English-language text of the Rambouillet agreement.

The book is a good companion to the English-language books on Kosova by Noel Malcolm and by Miranda Vickers. It is based on sound scholarship and is presented in such a way as to make it easy to identify and find specific topics.

The other book is by German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping. In Germany, as in many other European countries, politicians frequently write books while still in office to gather support for their policies or encourage discussion on what they regard as key issues.

That is precisely what Scharping did. "Wir duerfen nicht wegsehen" (We Can't Just Look Away; Ullstein, Berlin) is his diary of the Kosova crisis, but he has a definite political aim in mind. The book presents the case for intervention--primarily to his fellow left-of-center Germans, who usually reject any German intervention abroad out of hand.

He makes it clear that NATO had good cause to intervene as a result of Milosevic's brutal Operation Horseshoe to drive the Albanians from the province. Human rights, he argues, cannot be regarded as the purely internal affair of any given country in an increasingly interdependent world. Scharping stresses that the problems in the region are deep-seated and will require the careful implementation of a long-term strategy. (Patrick Moore)

Company Pledges To Build Burgas-Vlora Oil Pipeline. Officials from the Albanian-Macedonian -Bulgarian Oil Pipeline Corporation (AMBO) recently issued an announcement saying that they have completed a feasibility study on a planned oil pipeline. The pipeline, which will link the Black Sea port of Burgas with the Adriatic port of Vlora, is an essential part of the planned Corridor 8. The corridor will also link the three countries with highways, railroads, and telecommunication infrastructure.

AMBO officials based in Pound Ridge, New York, said that the feasibility study has been sent to interested oil companies and contractors. The pipeline will offer the opportunity of bypassing the Bosporus, which suffers from heavy traffic congestion that poses a high risk of accidents. The planned pipeline will transport up to 750,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Gligor Tashkovich, executive vice-president of AMBO, said that the pipeline provides "a commercially compelling proposition" to companies exploring for oil in the Caspian Sea, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 18 August. He stressed the need for "multiple export routes out of the Caspian region," adding: "We believe that the Trans-Balkan Oil Pipeline will be one of the more significant routes to be developed."

While the pipeline will increase the environmental security at the Bosporus, Albania will then face a danger of serious, dirty accidents it did not face before. This could also pose a possible threat to the tourist industry, unless the government applies strict environmental standards from the beginning. Albania currently produces about 160,000 tons of crude oil annually, which are used mostly for domestic consumption. Many Albanians believe that tourism is potentially a great income-earner for their country, with its Adriatic coast and often breathtaking mountainous interior.

The discovery of large amounts of spilled oil in Durres harbor on 14 August indicates that environmental controls in Albania are insufficient. The authorities estimate that up to 20 tons of fuel have polluted the harbor, but they failed to identify the source of the pollution. Officials initially said they suspected a ship of having dumped the fuel. Captain General of Albanian Ports Osman Metalla said on 15 August, however, that the waste could have accumulated from many ships over many years. Vlash Grami, who is in charge of environmental issues at the port, pledged to announce a tender to clean up the oil pollution. (Fabian Schmidt)

Bomb Damages Aqueduct In Kukes. A bomb damaged the main aqueduct of Kukes on 17 August. The explosion cut about 30,000 inhabitants in the northern city off from their water supply, "Albanian Daily News" reported. Kukes Police Chief Xhavit Shala said that the incident could be linked to recent unrest in the city over the collection of customs duties for trade with Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 August 2000). It is not clear, however, whether there might be other explanations. It was the third such incident since 1997.

Local people demanding compensation for land expropriated during the communist era have blocked the aqueduct three times over the past two years. They lost their homes in the construction of the Fierza hydroelectric power plant, which inundated the old city of Kukes. It remains unclear whether their protests were linked to the bombings.

Following the most recent unrest in Kukes over customs duty collection, police issued a wanted list of 30 suspects, which they also sent to KFOR troops guarding the Albanian-Kosovar border.

Local politicians, government officials, and business representatives from the local chamber of commerce met on 16 August to discuss the demands of the customs protesters but did not come up with concrete suggestions. In Tirana, members of the reform movement of the Democratic Party issued a statement proposing the introduction of a favorable tax and customs status for the underdeveloped north and for small businesses.

The statement stressed that "the government should think of alleviating the tax burden in [the north] so that it can catch up in development." Referring to the protesting traders, the statement stressed that "they are not [wealthy] gasoline wholesalers, but [only] small merchants." (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "This is the most flagrant interference in internal affairs of our country.... [The Americans' main aim is to] break up Yugoslavia and Serbia as a whole", not to promote democracy in Serbia. -- Serbian opposition presidential candidate Vojislav Kostunica in a statement on 16 August. He was commenting on the U.S. State Department's new Budapest office to promote democracy in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 August 2000).

"That [Budapest office] is one more link in a chain called 'How to Conquer Yugoslavia.' This is the battle for Yugoslavia and that is why the [24 September] elections are an important element of the battle." -- Milosevic aide and indicted war criminal Nikola Sainovic. Quoted by Reuters on 17 August.

"There is a democratic mainstream in Serbia, and that's something that we very much want to support, and we want those people to know that we support them. We're going to continue to do so through the office in Budapest." -- U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, in Washington on 17 August.