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Balkan Report: January 27, 1999


27 January 1999, Volume 3, Number 4

Kosova: Partition vs. Referendum. The Radio Most (Bridge) program of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service recently brought together a Serbian and a Kosovar writer on political affairs to discuss whether it will be possible for Serbs and ethnic Albanians to live together in Kosova after the dramatic events of the past year (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 3, 20 January1999).

Slobodan Samardzic of Belgrade's Institute for European Studies argues that it is not possible for the two peoples to share the province, and that partition is the only fair solution. One part would remain with Serbia, the other could choose self-determination. Sokol Blakaj of Prishtina, where he is secretary of the Liberal Party of Kosova, feels that living together is possible. But, in any event, he wants the province's future to be determined in a referendum for Kosova as a whole and not through a division of the province.

Samardzic says that partition should be based on a series of criteria, including population distribution, the location of historic cultural properties (a reference primarily to Serbian Orthodox monasteries), and property ownership (it is not clear what he would do with the mines). He argues that a referendum would be meaningless, because the result would be a foregone conclusion in a region with an overwhelmingly Albanian majority. There is no concept of a civil society in Kosova, he continues, and people would vote in blocs according to nationality, as they did in Bosnia before the war began in 1992. And, as in Bosnia, the result in Kosova would be war. Furthermore, he argues, if a referendum does take place, why not hold it in Serbia as a whole and not just in Kosova.

Blakaj stresses that Kosova has long been a legal entity under Yugoslav law and that it had the de facto legal status of a republic under the 1974 constitution. As proof, he points out that in 1981 the Serbian police did not cross the border between Serbia and Kosova to put down the demonstrations in the restive province. Blakaj charges that partition would lead to war. A referendum, he says, is the only democratic solution.

The Serbian writer replies that, in any event, Milosevic's policies seem headed toward giving the Albanians what they want: an international protectorate followed by independence.

Notes from Macedonia and Albania. Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov on January 22 refused to sign a draft amnesty law that would end the jail terms of more than 800 people, including ethnic Albanians who were convicted for violating the 1997 law on the public display of national symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 1999). Among the 800 are the mayors of Gostivar and Tetovo. The bill will be returned to the parliament, where the pro-government majority is expected to override Gligorov's veto without difficulty. It is the first time that Gligorov has refused to sign a law passed by the parliament. Observers suggested that his refusal was intended as a snub to the government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. Georgievski sought the amnesty in order to guarantee the support of his ethnic Albanian coalition partners and to reduce interethnic tensions. Georgievski wants to put ethnic issues "on the back burner" and concentrate his government's energies on promoting economic development.

Georgievski and his Albanian counterpart, Pandeli Majko, said in Tirana that they support increased international political pressure directed at ending the crisis in Kosova. Majko added that "if the Serbs continue their massacres in Kosova, there could be large waves of refugees heading for both Albania and Macedonia." He and Georgievski agreed that current relations between Skopje and Tirana are "an example of how new relationships can be built in the new Balkans."

But the old Balkans are still present, too. More than 400 armed civilians blocked the main road linking Gjirokaster to Greece on January 24 to protest the inability of the police to control bandits operating from the nearby mountain village of Lazarat. The inhabitants of Lazarat, which was a leper colony in Ottoman times, have a tradition of behaving as a law unto themselves. Meanwhile in Vlora the previous day, gangsters kidnapped the police chief and held him until police returned six impounded speedboats belonging to the smugglers. The incident "shocked Italy," Reuters reported. Defense Minister Carlo Scognamiglio said that Rome is prepared to double the strength of its 630 military, police, and customs officials in Albania.

Westendorp Cracks Down on HRT. The international community's Carlos Westendorp has told Croatian Radio-Television (HRT) to cease using its special channel for the Herzegovinian para-state of "Herceg-Bosna" by the end of this month and to stop broadcasting its second program to Bosnia-Herzegovina by the end of February, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. HRT may continue to broadcast its regular first program into the neighboring republic. Westendorp's spokesman for media affairs stressed that HRT in its broadcasts does not respect the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina and creates the impression that all Croats live in one and the same state. He added that HRT favors President Franjo Tudjman's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in its political coverage.

Quotes of the Week. Serbian Environment Minister Branislav Blazic in Kragujevac on January 22, on Ambassador William Walker's statements about the Recak massacre: Such a person as Walker is "a pollutant, an ecological and mental pollutant here in Serbia." Blazic added that Walker's behavior "reflects in every sense the morality of the West, all their honesty, the democracy that they so promote, and their respect for international law," Beta reported.

Walker on Recak, two days after Blazic spoke: "We should be addressing why 45 apparently unarmed ethnic Albanians were killed and who was responsible ... Let me restate my position. The villagers were unquestionably killed by units of the Serb security forces ... Neither I nor any of those who accompanied me saw any signs of a two-sided battle... I've been in other places, seen other massacres," said the seasoned observer of the wars in Central America.

Unnamed U.S. diplomat in Kosova, quoted in the January 25 "New York Times": "Once in a while, history tosses up events that order and galvanize what will follow ... In the West, there is now a strong sense that we can't continue to be paralyzed by this God-forsaken part of the world, and that it's time to do something serious to solve it."

German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, on January 22 in Bonn: "We will not just sit by idly while people are being butchered. This is not like in Bosnia, where we sat back and watched while the most grisly kind of massacres took place," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" quoted him as saying.

U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke said in Washington that his October agreement with Milosevic "eroded" because it "didn't have teeth."

Daan Everts, the OSCE ambassador to Albania, on Tirana's policy toward Kosova: "The international community should take heart that [the government does not call] for a violent uprising and a Greater Albania -- nothing of the kind. They are being very rational. What we see is controlled emotional and political support," Reuters quoted him as saying.

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