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Balkan Report: February 3, 1999

3 February 1999, Volume 3, Number 5

Has Macedonia Found A Benefactor? Macedonian Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitrov and his Taiwanese counterpart Jason Hu established diplomatic relations in Taipei on January 27. Dimitrov said that Macedonia regards Taiwan as a role model for economic development. Both ministers suggested that Taiwan will provide assistance to Macedonia in trade, agriculture, and technical fields but did not provide details.

Predictably, Beijing was quick to register its objections to the move. It issued a thinly-veiled threat that it would break off ties with Skopje unless the Macedonian government repudiated the January 27 agreement. Dimitrov and other officials of the government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who considers economic development his government's top priority, appealed to Beijing to understand that Taiwanese support could be crucial for Macedonia's free-market development plans.

Perhaps less predictably, the decision to recognize Taiwan brought about several public statements from President Kiro Gligorov, including a tearful televised address that lasted an hour. His message was that Macedonia should not "sell its honor" in exchange for development aid. He was also piqued that Georgievski and his coalition partner, Vasil Tupurkovski, had set up links to Taipei over the course of one year in cloak-and-dagger fashion. They carefully kept their plans secret from Beijing, Gligorov, and the Social Democratic government that Georgievski ultimately unseated last fall.

Macedonia's move brings to 28 the number of countries that recognize the island republic. The only other European state to do so is the Vatican. The last European country to switch recognition from Taipei to Beijing was Portugal in 1975. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Taiwan showed a particular interest in promoting ties with the Baltic States but achieved no breakthrough.

Taiwan and China actively compete for diplomatic recognition by offering aid and development packages to poor countries in regions such as Latin America, Africa and the Pacific. Observers noted that it will be interesting to see if any other European former communist countries will follow Macedonia's lead in attracting Taiwanese capital and know-how. A little of either or both could go a long way.

As to Macedonia, it is not clear how much aid is coming its way and in what form. Articles have appeared in the Taipei and Skopje press to suggest that a generous package is in the works. It reportedly consists of grants, aid, loans, aid support through third parties, and tax breaks for Taiwanese companies that invest in Macedonia. Some writers concluded that the Taiwanese package could be the source of the mysterious "$1 billion in foreign investments" that Tupurkovski confidently promised during last year's election campaign. In any event, Hu's statement that his country does not engage in "dollar diplomacy" was not convincing. And many Macedonians are now waiting for the tangible benefits of their country's latest diplomatic success.

Thoughts from Kucan. Slovenian President Milan Kucan said in Strasbourg last week that the destruction of the former Yugoslavia came about because of political elites that destroyed the region's traditional multicultural and multiethnic society. He stressed that the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova were not caused by religious or ethnic differences -- as some continue to argue -- but were begun and carried out by the undemocratic national political elites of the very peoples who had long been accustomed to living together.

Kucan called for the prosecution of war crimes, respect for human rights, and the promotion of economic development so that "real peace can return to this region and that people can again know living together, toleration, cooperation, and [respect for] differences," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service quoted him as saying.

Quotes of the Week. "NATO Air - Just Do It." Sign carried by Kosovars demonstrating outside the headquarters of the Atlantic alliance in Brussels on January 27.

There "has never been a peace conference involving terrorists," Russian military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" on January 31.

Federal Yugoslav Minister for Health, Labor and Social Policy Miodrag Kovac said in Prishtina on January 27 that the recent death of five Kosovars driving a tractor near Rakovina "was a traffic accident." The bodies showed 300 bullet wounds.

"Only bombing can get Belgrade back to the table." Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova in the "International Herald Tribune" on January 27.

"There has been considerable concern, especially among the Europeans, about whether we have sufficient leverage on the [Kosova Liberation Army -- UCK], and there's been a lot of effort made to try to figure out what that leverage might be. Obviously it's going to be different from the leverage on the Serbs, and appropriately so. The Serbs have been threatened with punitive air strikes, and obviously that's not in the cards for the [UCK]. Other things can be done. Enough said," stated U.S. Ambassador Chris Hill in Prishtina on February 2. He noted nonetheless that he never likes "to use 'optimism' and 'Balkans' in the same sentence, but I believe we have a very good process ahead."