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Balkan Report: October 7, 1998

7 October 1998, Volume 2, Number 39

VMRO's New Message. At the beginning of the decade, several parties emerged in the former Yugoslavia that claimed to be the successor to one or another famous political organization from pre-communist days. One of these was the Independent Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO, now known as VMRO-DPMNE). Like its namesake, the new VMRO stood for militant nationalism, albeit within a democratic political framework and without its predecessor's predilection for violence. The new party's hallmarks nonetheless were fiery rhetoric, election boycotts, and a hard line toward the demands of the ethnic Albanian minority for a bigger share of the political and economic pie.

With time, however, all that has begun to change. VMRO's chairman, the young and charismatic Ljubco Georgievski, has quietly replaced many tough nationalists in key positions with more pragmatic individuals interested primarily in economic questions.

And it is on the basis of bread-and-butter issues that Georgievski is waging his campaign to take control of the government in the October 18 parliamentary elections. He told "Bosnia Report" in Skopje recently that it is ironic that the incumbent Social Democrats have "wrapped themselves in the flag" and accused their opponents of being "enemies of Macedonia," while VMRO has put national issues well into the background. (To be continued.)

A Shift in Skopje's Policy on Air Strikes? Speaking at a news conference in Skopje on October 2 with visiting Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, President Kiro Gligorov stated that "the Macedonian government will make a decision" if NATO asks for its support in conduction with any air strikes against Serbia. In June in Athens, Macedonian Foreign Minister Blagoje Handziski and his Greek counterpart Theodoros Pangalos said that they oppose NATO intervention in Kosova and favor a diplomatic solution. This was when Pangalos warned Western countries against meddling in Balkan affairs and said that "enough blood has flowed in the Balkans because of [Westerners'} amateurism." Greece continues to oppose air strikes.

The Bear Growls at Macedonia. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin expressed regret in Moscow on September 29 for what he called attempts "to limit Russia's involvement in considering military and political problems of the Balkan region."

He was unhappy because Russia was not invited to attend a meeting of the defense ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey in Skopje on September 26, during which the ministers agreed to establish a 4,000-strong peacekeeping force. The U.S. and Slovenia attended as observers.

Rakhmanin noted that "Russia usually welcomes international and regional initiatives aimed at stabilizing the Balkan situation, including through military and political cooperation," Interfax reported. He added that Moscow had notified Skopje that it wanted to attend, but that "the reply from the Macedonian side was negative, regardless of their excuses." Rakhmanin commented that such a "selective approach" in the determining participants in the new force suggests that "some countries of the region, in striving to join NATO, are following a tendency of drawing new division lines in the southeast of the continent and in Europe's single security space as a whole."

Traveler's Tales. A tourist bureau located amid the winding streets of Skopje's mainly Albanian bazaar area advertises the destinations in which it specializes. Among the cities listed are Rome, Ljubljana, and Prague. Heading the list, however, is not London, Paris, or Berlin but rather Teplice -- a town in northwest Bohemia that looks like it has seen better days.

Why Teplice? A local Albanian told "Bosnia Report" that it tops the list because it is close to the German frontier -- the window advertisement is a really a signal that this firm might be able to arrange "visa-free travel" over the Czech-German border.

Kosova's Muslims Leave. The independent Belgrade daily "Danas" reported on October 1 that up to 15,000 ethnic Muslims have left Kosova, especially the Peja region, since the Serbian crackdown began in February. Most have gone to join friends and relatives in Sandzak, at least temporarily, while others have moved to Bosnia or to Western countries. Some 3,000 persons from Kosova have applied for political asylum in Bosnia, and most probably are Muslims.

In addition, the paper adds, a number of Muslims from Sandzak have moved to Sarajevo. "Danas" suggests that some Sarajevo citizens look down on their country cousins from Sandzak as hicks who take jobs away from local people. It says that a joke is making the rounds in the Bosnian capital:

Q: Why did Zagreb get the Herzegovinians and Sarajevo the folks from Sandzak?

A: Zagreb had first choice.

Quotes of the Week. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in London on October 5: "We don't want to use force, but if force is the only measure [Yugoslav] President [Slobodan] Milosevic is going to listen to, Britain is ready to back force. Britain has today confirmed that we are united in our resolve that President Milosevic must be compelled to change his behavior [in Kosova] and to abide by the terms of the Security Council resolution. Britain will now be using this week to build the same unity and resolve among the wider international community...Milosevic has only a few days this week to listen to what the international community is saying to him."

The Podgorica daily "Pobjeda," commenting on October 3 on reports that Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic -- who is a loyal Milosevic supporter and Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic's arch-rival -- sent his wife and children to safety in Bulgaria: "The man who did nothing to help resolve [the crisis in Kosova] knows how to protect himself and his family, leaving the people to bear the consequences of the flawed policy" of Milosevic. Pope John Paul II in Marija Bistrica, Croatia, after beatifying Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac on October 3: "The newly beatified sums up, so to speak, the whole tragedy which befell the Croatian people and Europe in the course of this century, which was marked by the three great evils of fascism, national socialism, and communism...We all know the context of his death...He [Stepinac] is now in the joy of Heaven, surrounded by all those who, like him, fought the good fight, purifying their faith in the crucible of suffering."