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Reports Archive

Balkan Report: August 30, 2002

30 August 2002, Volume  6, Number  32

MACEDONIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN IN FULL SWING. Speaking at the official start of the election campaign on 14 August, President Boris Trajkovski called upon political parties to offer concrete, realistic, and creative solutions to the most pressing problems -- poverty, unemployment, and corruption -- "instead of accusing each other" of being responsible for the situation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2002).

After the first week of more or less intensive political marketing for the 15 September parliamentary elections, some newspapers tried to make a first assessment of the campaign. The question was whether the parties followed Trajkovski's recommendation.

The daily "Nova Makedonija" featured an article on 24 August that described the various campaigning methods of the different parties. As could be expected, the parties did not come up with anything really new.

Apart from the usual rallies with prominent party leaders in all major towns, the parties are also holding so-called "meetings with the people." Most parties have produced radio and television spots. At the end of the campaign, all major political parties will stage large rallies in Skopje.

Perhaps the biggest differences between the parties are the strategies adopted for the campaign. The ruling nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) has obviously adopted a multidimensional strategy.

In order to show off his successes, VMRO-DPMNE Chairman and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is touring the country and inaugurating sports facilities and infrastructure projects. In his speeches, he underscores the government's achievements. At the same time, he and other leaders lash out against their chief rival, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), which levels corruption charges against the VMRO-DPMNE. In their campaign speeches, Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski often adopt a mixture of nationalist, anti-Western rhetoric and a promise to create thousands of new jobs.

The creation of new jobs is high on the agenda of the SDSM party program as well. One of the SDSM's major trump cards in this respect is the fact that the party leadership managed to gain the support of Trifun Kostovski, one of Macedonia's most successful businessmen. Kostovski is running for parliament as an independent candidate.

The Social Democrats' campaign is unlikely to take on any nationalistic overtones since the SDSM-led Together for Macedonia Coalition includes a number of parties representing the smaller ethnic minorities, namely the Serbs, Vlachs, Roma, and Bosnian Muslims.

The Macedonian-language press has also reported on rallies of the ruling Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and the newly founded Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) of former National Liberation Army (UCK) political leader Ali Ahmeti. But there is almost no coverage of the campaign of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), which was in the previous Social Democrat-led government. And some Macedonian journalists seem to be more interested in what is on show at the rallies than what is said, which may partly be due to their lack of knowledge of the Albanian language.

When the PDSH kicked off its campaign in Skopje's Universal Hall on 19 August, a reporter from "Dnevnik" noted bewilderedly that "during [PDSH Secretary-General Ruzhdi] Matoshi's speech about peaceful and democratic elections without violence..., behind him a video was shown with [former UCK] Commander Leka shooting an automatic weapon, while the enthusiastic mass in the Universal Hall shouted 'Leka! Leka! UCK! UCK!'"

The PDSH's election program includes a promise to create jobs and a call for unity among Macedonia's Albanians, but this seems to be of minor interest to the Macedonian-language journalists.

While the PDSH can hold rallies in Skopje without facing any problems, the BDI cannot. As the BDI is headed by Ahmeti, many Macedonian citizens and politicians regard it as a "terrorist" organization. When the BDI called for a party convention in Skopje's Universal Hall on 26 August, some 200 angry Macedonians blocked a major thoroughfare and thus prevented Ahmeti's convoy from entering the city. The BDI meeting was then called off.

The situation worsened when Boskovski threatened to arrest Ahmeti immediately after the elections. Only the intervention of the international community prevented a further escalation. Under the auspices of representatives from NATO, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a compromise was reached: Ahmeti agreed to absent himself from BDI rallies in Skopje, while Boskovski pledged not to arrest Ahmeti or members of the BDI who are former UCK fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002).

Together with the killing of two Macedonian policemen on 26 August, this confrontation created a tense situation that could still endanger the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 27, and 28 August 2002). On 24 August, Sonja Kramarska asked in "Utrinski vesnik" whether this time the elections can be held without such tensions. The answer seems to be "no." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, ub@itinerarium.de)


DISPUTE OVER BAY OF PIRAN MOVES INLAND. Events have gone from bad to worse for Josko Joras, the Slovenian politician at the center of events in the ongoing dispute over the Bay of Piran (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002).

After a gang of Croatian youths apparently damaged his property and threatened him on 18 August, Joras decided to protest the fact that Croatian police had not come to his assistance by refusing to show his identity papers at the border crossing near his house. Joras's property is in Mlini, one of four border villages contested between Slovenia and Croatia. Joras was promptly arrested, hauled before a court in Pula, and sentenced to a fine or 30 days in jail. Joras chose the latter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002).

Joras was ostensibly sentenced for ignoring court summons dating back to 1999. His lawyer, Danijel Starman, contended that Joras has never received any summons because he has always refused the envelopes that officials have tossed into his car or left lying on his front steps. Starman labeled the blanket permission granted to Croatian police to search Joras's house, family members, and visitors through 18 August 2004 as hostile and a terrible precedent. The jail term, Starman said in a 23 August article in "Delo," was handed down for nonpayment of petty fines relating to 12 liters of milk, the acquisition of a dishwasher, and displaying the Slovenian flag.

In jail, Joras has begun a hunger strike to protest his detention. An article in the Croatian daily "Vjesnik" on 27 August reported that he is under medical supervision and has been allowed contact with Amnesty International. In the same article, Josip Hehet, the director of the Croatian prison administration, also said that Joras can satisfy his request for Slovenian mineral water at the prison store.

Political reaction in Slovenia has largely faulted Croatia. The mayor of Piran, Vojka Stular, said the decision deviates from the tolerant policy both states have applied to open issues. In Ljubljana, the coalition-member Slovenian People's Party (SLS) and the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDS) have both condemned the Croatian action.

On 26 August, the chairman of the Slovenian parliamentary committee for the surveillance of secret services, Jozef Jerovsek (SDS), raised the possibility that Croatia is trying to undermine Slovenian efforts to join Euro-Atlantic organizations -- an allegation that has been voiced previously (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002). The same day, Croatian Assistant Foreign Minister Josip Paro rejected this suggestion as ridiculous (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2002).

In the latest development, the Slovenian government has offered to assist Joras through a special account to aid Slovenian citizens abroad who are "victims of illegal activities and arbitrary processes by other states." A sum of 250,000 tolars ($1,066) has been earmarked for the purpose. According to the Slovenian government, it is not a matter of giving Joras special treatment but of offering assistance to a Slovenian citizen abroad in difficult circumstances.

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry stressed that offering or making a payment is not tantamount to acknowledging Croatian jurisdiction over the disputed villages, and it advised Joras to accept the offer. Popular opinion holds otherwise. In an online poll conducted by the Slovenian daily "Dnevnik," 74 percent of respondents indicated that by paying the fine the government would also be recognizing Croatian sovereignty.

So far, the issue is a moot question because Joras has not indicated whether he will accept or not. Marko Jakomin, spokesman for the organization Slovenian Civil Society for the Border in Istria, says that Joras will not accept the money, as it would negate his efforts and acknowledge Croatian sovereignty over his property. Jakomin says that Slovenia must decide whether Joras's property is in Slovenia or not, and, if not, when and how this became the case.

Some in Croatia appear to have taken umbrage at the fact that in their language, the Bay of Piran is named for the town of Piran, which is, after all, Slovenian. At least two other names have recently surfaced in the Croatian press: the "Bay of Savudrija" (Savudrijska vala), named for the cape at the northwest extremity of the Istrian peninsula, and "Dragonja Bay" (Dragonjski zaljev), after the river flowing into it at the Secovlje salt flats. Neither name has yet received official sanction.

A 23 August opinion piece in "Delo" argues that Croatia's action in the Joras case is heavy-handed and inconsistent with the claims Croatia presses in the Bay of Piran. On the one hand, Croatia argues that the nonratification of the 2001 border agreement means that the sea border outlined in it for the Bay of Piran does not apply (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002). On the other hand, Zagreb has decided to enforce the land border that was set down in the same agreement.

Some media, at least, are also trying to offer solutions. The Slovenian "Dnevnik" and the Croatian "Vjesnik" have launched a joint Internet initiative by opening a forum and archiving relevant articles from both newspapers, as well as government statements. In addition, the website features a map of the proposed maritime settlement and a detailed nautical map of the region (available at: http://www.dnevnik.si/meja/).

Whatever the outcome of the Joras case, Slovenian public opinion remains skeptical regarding the possibility of a breakthrough. In an online poll being conducted by "Vecer," participants are asked when problems with Croatia will be settled. In addition to the 11 percent who believe there are no problems, an optimistic 3 percent have responded "this year." But 22 and 13 percent, respectively, believe the answer lies with Slovenian and, eventually, Croatian accession to the European Union. However, the most popular answer, at 49 percent, is "never." (Donald F. Reindl, dreindl@indiana.edu)


ALBANIAN POLICE IN MAJOR ANTITRAFFICKING OPERATION. Albanian police recently moved into the second phase of a large-scale operation aimed at halting human trafficking from Albania to Italy. The high-profile operation -- overseen by the prime minister's office and involving a number of government ministries and law-enforcement branches -- is considered a crucial step toward Albania's goal of Western integration.

The largest antitrafficking operation ever held in Albania grew even bigger on 24 August with law-enforcement officials expanding efforts from the port city of Vlora to the entire Albanian coastline.

The operation, which began earlier in August, was drafted by the police force in Vlora, the city considered the hub of all Albanian trafficking routes. The operation has found robust support within the government as well as from Italy and Greece, the usual target destinations for Albanian traffickers.

Public Order Minister Luan Rama, announcing the launch of the operation in Vlora, said the operation's success is crucial for the image of Albania -- one of Europe's poorest countries and a key link in regional trafficking rings.

Rama said law-enforcement bodies at every level, including the prosecutor-general's office, the secret service and the tax police, were committed to seeing the antitrafficking operation work.

The target in the coastal operation are the speedboat operators who ferry human traffic -- mainly women and children -- from Vlora and other Albanian ports to Italy, Greece, and beyond for work in the sex trade or as unpaid labor.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Fatos Nano -- whose office is overseeing the operation along with a number of top government ministries -- said that in the first three days of the operation, police detained three speedboats and at least 18 criminal traffickers. Eight illegal gas stations were also closed after the tax police charged them with fueling dozens of speedboats crossing from Albania to Italy. Two boat-repair centers were also closed and their owners arrested.

Nano spokesman Dalipi said the operation would expand with military help from not only Albania but Italy and Greece as well. But despite the manpower, a number of speedboats suspected of being used for human trafficking have yet to be seized in the operation.

According to press reports, some traffickers may have been tipped off and were able to move their boats to Greece's Faos Islands before the operation began.

Public Order Minister Rama said that several Albanian law-enforcement officials, including the intelligence chief in Vlora and the general director of police, Bilbil Mema, have been suspended, apparently for their connection to information leaks that allowed the speedboat operators to relocate ahead of the operation.

Some members of the Albanian opposition claim that the antitrafficking operation is little more than a propaganda effort on the part of the government. But others argue that the operation represents a step in the right direction.

Gazmend Noga, an antitrafficking expert trained in Italy, said: "I would stress that trafficking is fought not simply at sea. Trafficking links can be beaten on shore as well. But first, a special plan should be designed in order to involve all Balkan countries, not only Albania, in the fight against trafficking. We need well-defined goals and [a division] of institutional responsibilities in order to fight trafficking from the starting point to the end."

Noga says Albania is just a link in a regionwide trafficking chain encompassing all the Balkan countries, and he urges other countries to undertake initiatives similar to Albania's. Police authorities in Albania have also accused Greece of supporting the trafficking of Kurds, although they say the trade appears to have declined over the past several months.

Speedboats are responsible not only for human trafficking but for narcotics and cigarette smuggling conducted in cooperation with the Italian Mafia. A number of speedboats have been sunk by Italian patrol craft, which operate along the Albanian coast together with Albanian border police in a joint antitrafficking operation that has come under heavy criticism. Dozens of trafficking victims have been killed in such incidents.

All the same, Albania hopes this most recent operation will pave the way for greater integration with the West. Albania must demonstrate progress in its antitrafficking efforts in order to open negotiations for a Stabilization-Association Agreement with the European Union.

The U.S. State Department, in its latest report on global trafficking, recently promoted Albania from a "Tier Three" to a "Tier Two" country, meaning it has shown significant progress in trying to comply with international standards. But at the same time, the U.S. has threatened that the country will face sanctions if trafficking persists at its current levels.

Albanian police say that prior to the latest operation, about 10 speedboats carrying trafficked persons departed from the Bay of Vlora and other coastal points each night. The number of trafficked people during the summer is believed to be between 2,500-3,000 a month. Many are Kurds who enter Albania from Greece.

According to the U.S., over the past year, at least 700,000 men, women, and children worldwide were bought, sold, or otherwise held against their will in slave-like conditions. (Alban Bala)


QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We do not, in any way, base our support for any country's entry into NATO on the issue of the [International Criminal] Court." -- U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) in Ljubljana on 23 August. Quoted by AP.

"We are certainly not as advanced as we would like to be." -- Hansjoerg Kretschmer, the outgoing representative of the European Commission in Bosnia, regarding Bosnia's progress toward EU membership. Quoted by Reuters in Sarajevo on 21 August.

"If we want to come to a conclusion that the 'road map' [for membership] has been completed, we have to close one eye, if not 1 1/2 eyes." -- Ibid.

"Even if Kostunica were to win [the Serbian presidency on 29 September], it would not mean he had won the battle for Serbia. In that case, the fight would only be getting started." -- Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Quoted in "The New York Times" on 23 August.

"My life has not improved since they got rid of Milosevic. That's why I'm not voting for anyone." -- Serbian retiree. Quoted ibidem.

OUT OF AREA.

"I have to admit that he was right about a lot of things." -- Former Polish communist leader Wojciech Jaruzelski, of Pope John Paul II. Quoted in "The Economist" on 23 August.


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