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Balkan Report: August 29, 2006

August 29, 2006, Volume 10, Number 8

MACEDONIA'S OHRID AGREEMENT IS FIVE YEARS OLD. Macedonia has just marked the fifth anniversary of the Ohrid agreement, which was brokered in August 2001 by U.S. diplomats with EU support. The pact led to the end of armed hostilities between insurgents from the roughly 23 percent ethnic Albanian minority and government forces led by politicians from the ethnic Macedonian majority.

The main underlying principle of the deal was to institutionalize a role guaranteed by law for the Albanians in the public life of the country (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," August 14, 17, and 24, 2001). This has moved along by fits and starts, but the necessary changes are largely in place as far as the international community is concerned. Only sporadic armed incidents now take place, and these are probably more of a criminal than a political nature (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," February 25 and June 10, 2005).

A deep cultural and political divide continues to separate the two communities, however. Their shared political life remains stormy or even confrontational, but the same can often be said about the political tensions within each of the respective ethnic communities. This picture reflects political patterns in much of the postcommunist Balkans.

But Macedonia continues to hold largely peaceful elections and change governments on the basis of their results. In practice, two coalitions have emerged, which alternate in power. One consists of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of outgoing Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, and the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) led by Ali Ahmeti, the former leader of the insurgents. The second group is made up of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) -- long led by former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and now headed by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski -- and its partner, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) of political veteran Arben Xhaferi.

When Gruevski's party placed first in the July parliamentary elections, it was a foregone conclusion that the PDSH would be his coalition partner, even though the BDI will have a few more seats than Xhaferi's party in the new legislature. It thus came as a surprise when, after the ballots were counted, Ahmeti demanded that Gruevski take him as his primary coalition partner on the grounds that the BDI won the most votes among the Albanians and thereby is entitled to pride of place in the cabinet ahead of the PDSH. He said that he based his position primarily on the Ohrid agreement.

The BDI organized mass protests to back up Ahmeti's claim, but he received little support among Macedonian politicians, political and legal experts, and the international community. Gruevski declared flatly that "there is no requirement specified in the Macedonian Constitution, or any other law, that could oblige me to make a coalition" with the BDI.

It is clear from the Ohrid agreement, however, that any stable government led by a primarily ethnic Macedonian party will have to include at least one large primarily ethnic Albanian party in the spirit of inclusion and power sharing. This may change if Macedonia moves in the direction of large, multiethnic parties, but such an era seems a long way off.

For now, Gruevski will head a coalition led by the VMRO-DPMNE and the PDSH that includes five smaller parties and will control at least 65 out of 120 legislative seats. The cabinet was confirmed in office on August 26 after a two-day debate. The vote was 68 in favor with 22 opposed. Most legislators who did not vote belong to the BDI or its smaller ally, the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD).

But the new government's most important tasks will not center on the ethnic power balance so much as on issues relating to the economy and to corruption, which is all-pervasive and extends throughout society. The prime minister also plans to stress membership in the EU and NATO. At least in theory, this is very similar to the agenda of several of his predecessors, who achieved mixed results.

To show that he means business in tackling these problems, Gruevski placed emphasis on youth, foreign education, and practical experience in putting his cabinet together. The average age is 35, and most have studied or worked abroad. Zoran Stavrevski, who will be deputy prime minister for economic issues, has been working for the World Bank. Finance Minister Trajko Slavevski has a degree from Harvard. (Patrick Moore)

CROATIA'S PRIME MINISTER STILL OPTIMISTIC ABOUT JOINING EU. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader made a brief stop at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague on July 28. The leader of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is in his third year as prime minister, and has made membership in the European Union and NATO a top priority.

Croatia's bid to join the EU was first held up by its failure to deliver war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina to The Hague to face trial. He was arrested in Spain in 2005, but Croatia's hopes of joining the EU now seem to be blocked by "enlargement fatigue" among older EU member states, which played at least some role in the rejection of the proposed EU constitution in 2005 by French and Dutch voters (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," September 23, 2005, and June 27, 2006). Sanader nonetheless continues to put on a brave face.

RFE/RL: The European Commission's decision to delay a final decision on whether Bulgaria and Romania can join the EU in 2007 seems like another sign that the EU's enthusiasm for adding new members is declining. Are you at all concerned that Croatia's accession might be in jeopardy because of what some have called enlargement exhaustion?

Ivo Sanader: I'm sure that Croatia will not become a victim of this enlargement fatigue, which is very real in the European Union. We know that and don't deny this fact. But take into account the fact that, according to [polling agency] Eurobarometer, more than 50 percent of the citizens of EU member states support Croatia's membership. In some countries, like the Czech Republic, the figure rises to about 70 percent. This is very encouraging and shows that Croatia is not affected by enlargement fatigue.

RFE/RL: Earlier this week, four Croats attacked the homes of some Serbian refugees who had returned to their village of Biljani Donji. President Stipe Mesic says the attackers were not nationalist, just drunk. But the head of the European Commission in Croatia said the crime goes against "EU values of rule of law and tolerance" and urged your government to pass laws that severely punish such crimes. Some say that's a subtle criticism of Croatia's judiciary, which is seen as being lenient in crimes against ethnic Serbs. What is your reaction to the crime, and that critique?

Sanader: I think that what happened in this incident is totally unacceptable. But this is just one incident [that] should not reflect on our political life overall. It happened in a place I visited two years ago and to a family I visited [among] the Serbian returnees. I give full support for all who would like [to return] and are returning, so there [have been] no changes in our policies on that score. But, you know, never in your life do you have 100 percent support, from anyone.

We will continue with our policy on returns. This is because the full normalization of relations between Croatia and Serbia, between Croats and Serbs -- either in Croatia or in Serbia, because we have also a Croatian minority in Serbia -- is a precondition for a stable future for this part of Europe.

RFE/RL: Do you see Croatia as a role model for other Balkan states, like Serbia, which is still sorting out its issues with The Hague and needs to arrest and extradite fugitive war crimes suspects?

Sanader: I think that Croatia has shown that there is no alternative to full cooperation with the [tribunal]. This is simply a matter of the rule of law. So I think that Serbia's [recent] presentation of the [government's] "action plan" to deal with [former Bosnian Serb General Ratko] Mladic and [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic [by sending them] to The Hague is the best way to solve this problem. And I cross my fingers that Serbia will solve it.

NOTABLE QUOTATIONS: "It is evident that the positions of the parties remain far apart. Belgrade would agree to almost anything but independence, whereas Prishtina would accept nothing but full independence." -- UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari on July 24 in Vienna, after the conclusion of Kosova talks. Quoted by RFE/RL (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," June 27, 2006).

"The Serbian side has proposed substantive autonomy of the highest level, while the Albanian side has only one option -- [and] that's independence." -- Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, ibid.

"In an ideal world, we would like to convince Serbia to be our partner in building a functioning, democratic, independent Kosovar state. It is not up to us to force this invitation, it is up to Belgrade to accept it." -- Kosovar negotiator Veton Surroi, ibid.

"There are no divisions in the European Union." -- Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja in Brussels on August 1, after hammering out a resolution on the Middle East. Quoted by the BBC.