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Reports Archive

Balkan Report: April 19, 2002

19 April 2002, Volume  6, Number  16

MACEDONIA'S ALBANIANS MAKE BUMPY TRANSITION TO PEACE. For most of the past eight months, the guns in northwestern Macedonia have been quiet as local authorities and lawmakers in Skopje slowly proceed to implement last August's Ohrid framework peace agreement. The top leaders of the disbanded Albanian insurgency in northwestern Macedonia have left their snowbound Sar Mountain hideouts for the comfort of a well-heated modern villa in a suburb of Tetovo.

The rank-and-file soldiers were demilitarized last autumn and have gone home to their families after handing over nearly 4,000 weapons to NATO-led peacekeepers. Nevertheless, Western diplomats believe the former rebels have hidden considerable stocks of weapons in the largely inaccessible mountains. Thanks to an amnesty that was recently enacted by parliament, the former rebels and their commanders have nothing to fear -- provided they do not resume their insurgency.

Macedonian security forces still have only a tenuous hold on the region, paying lightning visits by vehicle or helicopter for brief inspections, but not establishing a permanent presence in remote or heavily Albanian areas.

The villa in Mala Recica is now the headquarters of the Coordination Council of Albanians in Macedonia, a shaky grouping established last month. It groups representatives of three political parties, plus the leaders of the disbanded National Liberation Army (UCK). The UCK, in the words of one of its founders, "continues to exist as a political subject."

Former UCK fighters clearly predominate in and around the villa, though they have traded in their camouflage uniforms for blue jeans and leather jackets or even three-piece suits to meet and greet not only their compatriots but a steady stream of German peacekeepers, international observers, diplomats, and journalists.

The council is intended to ensure the implementation of the internationally brokered framework peace agreement that ended the fighting and provided for constitutional and legal changes to broaden the rights of Macedonia's large Albanian community. But many Macedonians are not happy with the rise of the council and perceive it as yet another threat to the status quo.

Pavle Trajanov is a policeman and former interior minister who now heads his own small party, the Democratic League of Macedonia (DSM). Trajanov is skeptical about the council and its motives. "It's a really mistaken solution to the problems in our state. This Coordinating Council of Albanians is functioning as a parallel authority in a large part of the territory of Macedonia. The formation of any coordinating body is unnecessary since Albanians are [already] represented in the government, in parliament, in local self-administrations, and in a large part of the public institutions, which they themselves are running."

In contrast, Albanian politicians are generally upbeat about the council. The Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) initially was wary about joining the council but is now its strongest supporter. PPD lawmaker Rizvan Sulejmani says: "Albanians need the Coordinating Council. I personally support [it] because we know the reality in Macedonia that Albanian political parties are very fragmented and no one can say he or his party represents the Albanians in Macedonia. This is the reason why I think Albanians need to have a council which coordinates the implementation of the Ohrid agreement and [works] against corruption to build Macedonia into a really democratic state."

In addition to trying to ensure compliance with the Ohrid accords, the council also serves another purpose -- to enable its chairman, the former UCK political commander Ali Ahmeti, to play a political role and possibly even run in the parliamentary elections in September by being affiliated with a coalition of legitimate political parties.

The council may field a joint list of candidates -- from the UCK and the established political parties -- in the September elections.

A member of the council, Macedonia's Deputy Health Minister Muharem Nexhipi, who is a leading member of Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), expects the joint list to be a reality. He adds that, while various governing coalitions are possible, one thing is already clear: "They cannot be formed without the participation of Albanian political subjects." Albanian parties have been represented in all government coalitions since the first parliamentary elections in 1991, when Macedonia declared independence from Belgrade.

Ahmeti takes a more cautious view, insisting that nothing has been agreed on. "We haven't yet discussed a joint list or the elections because we are facing other, bigger issues on the ground here. But I think in the coming days and weeks, we'll have a chance to discuss this."

The problems "on the ground" Ahmeti refers to is an attack on the council's villa in Mala Recica on 25 March by a radical UCK splinter group and an attack on 4 April by unknown persons on a cafe in the center of Tetovo belonging to a leading ethnic Albanian politician (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2002).

A fringe element of Albanian fighters who call themselves the Albanian National Army (AKSH) sprayed the villa with gunfire in a nighttime confrontation with Ahmeti's men. In the words of a Western diplomat in Skopje, "Whatever happened in Mala Recica, it was a challenge to Ahmeti's authority."

But Ahmeti says the shoot-out had a far more dangerous goal. "I think this was organized by certain circles which want to stop the Ohrid process, which we -- the Albanian parties and the former National Liberation Army -- support.... But I think we will overcome this situation and move forward."

Fulfillment of the Ohrid agreement has been slow, in large part, Western diplomats say, due to obstacles created by the ruling Macedonian nationalist party, VMRO-DPMNE. This, in turn, has played into the hands of some Albanian extremists. Nevertheless, Ahmeti says, the AKSH rebels are isolated and lack support among the Albanians in Macedonia.

The UCK's gray eminence, Fazli Veliu, alleges the AKSH is being steered by fanatic exiles living in Switzerland and Germany, who he says are intent on fomenting unrest and destabilizing Macedonia.

The difference in that sense between the AKSH and the disbanded UCK in its heyday is that while the UCK's masterminds led by Veliu and his second cousin Ahmeti always claimed to want Macedonia to succeed as an inclusive, multiethnic state, the AKSH's leaders in some of their recent declarations are demanding a common state of all Albanian regions and are denouncing as traitors Albanian politicians who support the Ohrid agreement.

It remains unclear whether the AKSH was involved in the attack on Tetovo's Cafe Dora, a popular hangout for leading politicians of Xhaferi's PDSH. The cafe belongs to PDSH Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci's brother and is around the corner from PDSH headquarters. Thaci and Xhaferi were inside the cafe at the time of the attack.

Theories abound about the motive. One theory is that AKSH wanted to foment mistrust between PDSH and the other members of the council. Another theory is that the attack was an attempt by a local gang to settle accounts with Thaci, who has considerable commercial interests in the area. Thaci in the past has denied allegations of involvement in illicit trafficking.

Yet another theory is that Macedonia's Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski was behind the attack in a bid to remind Thaci and Xhaferi of political obligations the PDSH may have to the ruling VMRO-DPMNE. The interior minister has declined repeated requests for an interview with RFE/RL. (Jolyon Naegele)


BACK TO POLITICS-AS-USUAL IN MACEDONIA? Divisions within both of Macedonia's two main ruling parties -- the traditionally fractious VMRO-DPMNE and the more tightly-run Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH) -- appear to be growing. The fighting could weaken the coalition even before parliamentary elections in September.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, both of VMRO-DPMNE, are sidelining and attacking moderates in their own party -- including President Boris Trajkovski and former Defense Minister Dosta Dimovska. They have also lashed out at intellectuals and members of the media who have challenged the party's authority.

Georgievski and Boskovski are targeting those people who have been the most cooperative in helping the international community to reach and implement the Ohrid framework peace agreement.

On the Albanian side, the split within PDSH stems from Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci. Following allegations from other Albanian parties that a recent shoot-out at a popular PDSH gathering place was rooted in criminal activities, Thaci attempted to suspend his party's role in a joint council grouping the three main Albanian parties and the former UCK command (see above). PDSH Chairman Arben Xhaferi blocked Thaci's move, however, suspending his deputy's participation in the Albanian council but leaving the party's role there intact.

The problems don't end there. Boskovski has also drawn international criticism for pursuing the arrest of a top Trajkovski adviser, who has been charged with providing a passport to a suspect in the 1995 assassination attempt on former President Kiro Gligorov, among other crimes. Western diplomats describe the charges as false.

Some observers say the case is an attempt by Boskovski to divert public attention from more pressing political issues. One such matter is the recent exhumation of 10 Albanians from a mass grave at Ljuboten, north of the Macedonian capital. The 10 are alleged to have been killed last summer by Macedonian security forces under Boskovski's command.

Another issue Boskovski may be hoping to avoid is the long-standing question of corruption. Ahead of last month's international donors conference for Macedonia last month, the International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that corruption "threatens the viability of the state" in Macedonia.

The ICG statement did not limit its criticism to the Macedonian majority. It said, "Both Macedonian and Albanian political leaders flirt cynically with ethnic extremism, deepening communal divisions, and corroding the rule of law and public trust in institutions, [as] they connive at siphoning off national assets."

As September's elections approach, some analysts predict a stormy campaign -- pitting VMRO-DPMNE and PDSH against the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) and the relatively moderate ethnic Albanian Democratic Party of Prosperity (PPD).

The SDSM has stayed out of the public eye in recent weeks as the problems within VMRO-DPMNE mount. In the words of one Western diplomat, "the SDSM is lying low, letting VMRO-DPMNE beat itself to a pulp." (Jolyon Naegele)


OLD AND NEW IRRITATIONS IN MACEDONIAN-BULGARIAN RELATIONS. Some observers have spoken recently of a "normalization" in Macedonian politics. This is taken to mean that, after last year's interethnic violence, the ethnic communities have once again turned to strife within their own respective groups (see above). Ethnic Albanians still let the guns speak, while ethnic Macedonians find legal ways to get rid of their opponents (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 12 April 2002).

Some observers feel that this change is in preparation for the upcoming general elections. It might well be that some recent irritations in the Bulgarian-Macedonian relations are also connected with the election campaign in Macedonia.

In recent times, the relations between the two neighbors seemed to be on the mend -- at least to some extent. Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov's official visit to Skopje in February was an example of avoiding the pitfalls of this difficult relationship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2002).

But the points of contention still exist. The most important one is the reluctance of the Bulgarian side to recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. For most of the post-World War II period, this reluctance was the major stumbling block in bilateral relations.

After the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) came to power in Macedonia in 1998, the minority question was deleted from the agenda. As a result, the relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia eased somewhat.

However, a recently published draft report by the chairman of the Bulgarian government Council on Ethnic and Demographic Questions, Mihail Ivanov, to the Council of Europe has changed the situation once again. Ivanov, who has been working for years for a more realistic approach to bilateral relations, has now called on the Bulgarian government to recognize the Macedonian minority.

While Ivanov himself declined to comment, saying it was only a draft version of the report, Macedonian media gave ample space to the issue. But Viktor Cvetanovski, a Macedonian journalist well-known for his anti-Bulgarian views, warned that Ivanov's proposal will be ignored. According to him, the Bulgarian public will never accept the recognition of the Macedonian minority.

As might be expected, moreover, Krasimir Karakachanov, the chairman of the Bulgarian nationalist VMRO in Bulgaria, told Focus news agency that the proposal is treason. The Bulgarian VMRO is a hard-line lobby organization for Bulgarians who were forced to leave Macedonia in the past.

The Macedonian public's positive echo to Ivanov's draft report, however, was overshadowed by its reaction to another proposal. Bulgarian Ambassador to Macedonia Aleksandar Yordanov announced that he planned to celebrate St. Cyril and Methodius Day -- 24 May -- in the Macedonian town of Ohrid. In Bulgaria, St. Cyril and Methodius Day is a national holiday called the Day of the Slavic Script and Bulgarian Culture.

The Macedonian public reacted strongly to Yordanov's announcement. After all, the two saints are believed to be the inventors of the first alphabet for Slavic languages. The Cyrillic script used today by most Orthodox Christian Slavic peoples -- Macedonians, Serbs, Russians, Bulgarians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians -- is named after St. Cyril. In the eyes of non-Bulgarian observers, the Bulgarian state appears to be appropriating the two saints for nationalist purposes.

Meanwhile, Yordanov withdrew his plans for a public celebration. In an editorial for the Skopje daily "Dnevnik," Branko Gjorgjevski welcomed Yordanov's change of mind. "Unfortunately, the Balkans are still trapped in national complexes and still have to learn, little by little, that some things can be shared with others.... We believe that this was clear to the Bulgarian ambassador, who could have contributed to improving the situation if he had proposed a joint celebration to honor the holy brothers, either in Ohrid or in Sofia." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)


BOOST TO TRANSLATION IN SLOVENIA... The daily "Delo" reported on 11 April that the Ministry of Education held a press conference at the University of Ljubljana announcing plans to provide additional office space to the Department for Translation and Interpreting. The ministry also intends to relocate the department, which is currently lodged in a pleasant but ramshackle set of rooms tucked above a restaurant behind the main university building.

The field of translation and interpreting has been the focus of increased attention as Slovenia's anticipated accession to the European Union draws near. Before accession can take place, a staggering 100,000 pages of legislation must be translated into Slovenian. To this end, in 1997 the Government Office for European Affairs established a translation unit, which makes use of both in-house and free-lance translators. A need is also forecast for up to 200 Slovenian translators in Brussels. This heightened political interest has spawned greater government support for the university program.

This assistance, however, has not come without effort. Andrej Pleterski, a senior student in the department, recalls how students boycotted classes in November 1998, demanding increases in the number of faculty and of classroom space. A student strike followed in April 2001, organized around the same unresolved issues, and petitions were addressed to the university rector, the government, and the National Assembly. The strain on the department's resources became so great that a one-year moratorium on new enrollments was imposed.

The ministry's decision is expected to ease the situation, and the department has already received 160 applications for the 140 slots available for new students. There is an even greater shortage of spaces for new students at Slovenia's other university, in the eastern city of Maribor, where 174 applications have arrived for a mere 45 slots. The departments place the greatest emphasis on English, followed by German, but also offer instruction in translating Italian and French, as well as training programs within various EU countries.

Translation in Slovenia has moved beyond the old method of thumbing through countless dictionaries to elucidate unfamiliar expressions. Although specialized print resources remain important, Slovenian has joined the limited but increasing number of languages with flexible electronic dictionaries, memory-based computer applications, and even machine translation.

Eventually, those graduates that do not move on to Brussels may find themselves working for domestic translation companies such as Amidas, located across town from the university. Here the atmosphere hums with high-speed Internet connections and the busy clatter of dozens of computer keyboards processing everything from tax codes to tourist brochures. (Donald F. Reindl)


...AND ACADEMY ADOPTS LANGUAGE DECLARATION. The daily "Delo" reported on 6 April that the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU) has adopted a declaration on the state of the Slovenian language. The declaration identifies three main problem areas: undervaluing of the language by its own speakers, delay in legislation to preserve the official use of Slovenian following EU accession, and government indifference to a declining number of publications (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 January 2002). The implications, warns SAZU, could impinge on Slovenia's cultural development and even its state sovereignty.

SAZU charges that Slovenes are uncritically accepting when it comes to borrowing foreign vocabulary, particularly from English, warning that it is leading to the creation of a hybrid "Anglo-Slovene" language at levels ranging from everyday speech to technical writing. Such claims are nothing new. In the 19th century, language-conscious Slovenes undertook to cleanse the language of German vocabulary, generally by borrowing expressions from other Slavic languages. In the 20th century, the increasing influence of Serbo-Croatian raised similar warning flags.

Admittedly, language has played a central role in shaping modern Slovenian political identity. In the early 19th century, the poetry of France Preseren helped establish a Slovenian literary language, averting the linguistic and political assimilation of Slovenia into the proto-Yugoslav movement of Illyrianism. A century and a half later, the infamous "Mladina" trial galvanized Slovenes into action when the Slovenian defendants were tried in Ljubljana not in their native language, but in Serbo-Croatian. The trial is generally acknowledged as one of the factors that precipitated Slovenia's 1991 declaration of independence.

Although some Slovenes feel that such warnings amount to little more than a well-worn paranoia, others point to more troubling facts. On 16 April, Austria announced that its 2001 census showed a decline in the number of Slovenian speakers in the province of Carinthia from 15,573 to 12,586 since 1991. A century ago, Austrian censuses conservatively estimated the number of Slovenian speakers in Carinthia at over 100,000. In the same period there has been a drop from 222 to 200 in the number of communities with the crucial 10 percent threshold of Slovenian speakers that the Austrian Constitutional Court last year ruled as sufficient for setting up bilingual signposts. Confronted with an aging population and a low birthrate within Slovenia itself, and a corresponding demand for admitting more immigrant workers, many Slovenes fear a retreat of their language both inside and outside the state.

In the end, says SAZU, it is the responsibility of the Slovenes themselves to safeguard their language. Like the earth itself, the declaration states, language "is an inheritance that we preserve for our grandchildren, entrusted to us by our forebears, through which both we and a multilingual Europe are enriched." (Donald F. Reindl)


QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Every Serb is Radovan." -- Pro-Karadzic slogan on posters of him displayed in Belgrade and Novi Sad by the nationalist group Obraz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 April 2002).

"Not every Serb is a war criminal." -- Response to those posters by Social Democrats in Novi Sad.


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