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Balkan Report: January 7, 2005

7 January 2005, Volume 9, Number 1

KOSOVA: NO TIME TO WASTE. Two prominent NGO activists -- one from Prishtina and the other from Belgrade -- have warned that it is dangerous to delay action on resolving the final status of Kosova any longer. They stress that acting soon is necessary not only for Kosova's sake, but also for that of the democratization of Serbia.

Veteran Kosovar student activist Albin Kurti and Sonja Biserko of Belgrade's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (HCHRS) wrote in Dublin's "The Irish Times" of 5 January that the time has come to resolve the status of Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, 20 August, 10 and 17 September, and 17 December 2004).

They argue that the province "is in a state of political turmoil and economic stagnation due to the insistence by the international community on deferring consideration of its final political status until it is deemed that a satisfactory level of political 'standards' has been achieved. While this may appear to represent a responsible policy in theory, in practice it is quite the opposite: it ignores realities on the ground, exacerbates intercommunal tensions, and prevents any effective inward investment. In reality it represents a failure of nerve by the international community and a desire simply to play for time and defer difficult decisions."

The authors note that the interethnic violence of 17-18 March in Kosova played into the hands of those in Serbia and the international community who, for whatever reasons, are reluctant to grant Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority self-determination and majority rule. "Much is made of the outbreak of violence in March as an example of Kosova's unpreparedness for self-determination: in reality it is the economic crisis precipitated by Kosova's unresolved status that is the root cause of intercommunal tensions and resultant instability," Kurti and Biserko argue.

They also hold that the root of the instability in the region lies in Serbia, and that the democratization of Serbia is the central problem that must be faced if peace and prosperity are to come to the western Balkans.

"The roots of the recent Yugoslav tragedy lay in the resurgence of extreme nationalism in Serbia. This found its initial outlet in the brutal suppression of Kosova, especially from 1987 [under Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic], which in turn galvanized the movements for independence in Slovenia and Croatia," the two NGO officials say they believe. They also stress that "today it is Serbia's continued designs both on Bosnia and on Kosova and the unwillingness of the international community to deal with these in a determined and proactive manner, particularly regarding Kosova, which is the primary source of instability in the region."

Kurti and Biserko say they believe that "the problems of Kosova are inextricably linked with the continued ascendancy of the ultranationalist agenda within Serbia, which manipulates the Serbian minority in Kosova in pursuit of its own agenda, while the current policies of the EU have the effect of encouraging aspirations in Belgrade towards the ethnic partition of Kosova."

In addition, they argue, "the flashpoints of instability -- Serbia and Montenegro, Kosova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia -- all have their origins in the as yet incomplete process of disintegration of Yugoslavia and the undefined borders of Serbia, particularly concerning the status of Montenegro and Kosova. Hence a democratic transformation within Serbia is essential for regional stability. Unfortunately, the anti-Milosevic coup of 2000 did not fulfill whatever tentative promise it held in this regard" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 2 July 2004).

In fact, the authors say they believe, much of Serbian political culture remains stuck in the Milosevic era. "Milosevic's Greater Serbia policies are being resurrected, typified by [Belgrade's] policy towards Montenegro, Vojvodina, Kosova, and the Republika Srpska, by the renewed dominant influence of promoters of ultranationalism -- in, for instance, academia and the [Serbian] Orthodox Church -- and by Serbia's continuing state of denial regarding its primary responsibility for war crimes. Meanwhile, the army continues as a redoubt of extreme nationalism," Kurti and Biserko argue (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002 and 19 November 2004).

The authors add that Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Serbia is playing no useful role regarding Kosova. "Belgrade's policy towards Kosova is entirely negative: essentially to prevent participation of Serbs in Kosova's institutions, to undermine international engagement, and to demonize Albanians. [This is] a policy that has to date been successful, and that can only lead ultimately to the partition of Kosova, which would have disastrous consequences for the wider region."

Kurti and Biserko say they believe that the stakes are too high for the international community to delay any longer. "Only through concerted EU-U.S. action in support of Kosova's self-determination, Prishtina and Belgrade may agree upon a mutually acceptable solution subsequently endorsed by the [UN] Security Council: that is the only way to stabilize the Balkans. However, without a more proactive engagement by the EU, the political dynamics of Serbia will continue to thwart the best intentions of the EU in this direction," they maintain. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S NEW GOVERNMENT FACES OLD PROBLEMS. In his annual address to the Macedonian parliament, President Branko Crvenkovski admitted on 22 December that the expectations he and other politicians might have had for 2004 did not materialize. "The highest priority in all plans and programs was given to the fight against poverty and unemployment, the need for investments and new jobs, and...higher economic growth rates," Crvenkovski said. "That means that 2004 should have been the year of political stability, of strengthened interethnic trust, of a big step forward toward integration into the EU and NATO, and, first of all, a year dedicated to the economy. But today we must say that this last and most important [aim has not been achieved]."

Whether or not 2004 was a "sad, lost year," as Iso Rusi of the Albanian-language weekly "Lobi" wrote in his review on 25 December, it is clear that many problems remained unresolved due to the deep political paralysis.

This paralysis was triggered by two developments. The first was the tragic death of President Boris Trajkovski in a plane crash in February and the subsequent presidential elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 and 19 March, 23 April, and 21 May 2004). The second was a referendum on 7 November against the government's redistricting plans, which, however, failed (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April, 2 and 23 July, 13 and 27 August, 11 September, and 12 November 2004). The fact that Macedonia had three prime ministers in 2004 -- Crvenkovski, his immediate successor Hari Kostov, and, since December, Vlado Buckovski -- is merely a symptom of the country's political instability.

It is now up to Buckovski and his new government to stabilize the situation. As Crvenkovski said, tackling the economic crisis should have been a priority in 2004. Buckovski acknowledged this and dedicated much of his government's program to this task. In addition, he also picked a new economy minister, Fatmir Besimi, and a new deputy prime minister, Minco Jordanov, who is to coordinate the government's economic reform efforts (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004).

Two of Buckovski's ministers -- Jordanov and Finance Minister Nikola Popovski -- were the first to talk to the media about the planned economic reforms. While Jordanov's interview with RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 26 December focused on the difficulties of the state's monetary policy, Popovski spoke with the daily "Dnevnik" of 31 December about the economic and political situation as a whole.

The first question Jordanov answered concerned recent public discussions about a possible devaluation of the denar. Some experts had argued that the strict monetary policy to stabilize the denar has hampered economic growth. But Jordanov said the government will not support a devaluation, since that approach should only be used as a last resort once all else has failed.

"We are sure that we can avoid [a devaluation]," Jordanov said, adding that the government feels that simply adopting a less stringent fiscal policy would not affect price stability but could foster a sustainable economic development. An additional measure might involve "modernizing" the financial markets. In this context, Jordanov mentioned the necessity for better legal protection for creditors and greater responsibility on the part of debtors.

The new deputy prime minister also referred to legal issues. Jordanov said the legal system does not protect lenders sufficiently well, making loans unnecessarily expensive. But political instability too served to frighten away potential foreign investors.

In this respect, Jordanov agreed with Popovski, who told "Dnevnik" that Macedonia's main economic problem is political instability. "As long as the political situation has not stabilized, there will be no foreign direct investments for a long time to come," Popovski said, adding that Macedonia is regarded as one of the most unstable countries in an unstable region. "This image of the country has put off foreign investors. And let us not forget that we postponed local elections twice [in 2004 because of the referendum on the government's redistricting plans], which does not happen in countries with a stable political situation."

Popovski, who was among the possible candidates for the position of prime minister when Kostov resigned, also commented on the possible outcome of the local elections, which are now slated for March. "At present, having in mind that the opposition in Macedonia is divided and that the governing parties [are doing badly in the polls], the most objective assessment is that we will all lose," Popovski said. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The present situation [in Kosova] is a direct result of dawdling in Washington, New York, and European capitals. For too long the difficulties of working out a Kosovo solution that would stick were just too painful to face.... [The Westerners] foisted a neocolonial administration on Kosovo and saddled its citizens with standards for government that were desirable but unrealistic -- while offering little economic development and no reason to hope for a permanent solution. Today it is the prospect of stalemate and renewed violence that is too painful to face. The United States usefully nudged the process along this year by declaring that 2005 would be the crucial time for starting the resolution of Kosovo's status. Now the time has arrived." -- Morton Abramowitz and Heather Hurlburt in "The Washington Post" of 23 December.

"Never in history have the Serbian authorities pursued a policy of establishing a greater Serbia...[which was only the work of] marginal parties and one officers' movement." -- Serbian historian Cedomir Popov as a defense witness at the trial of former President Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague on 15 December. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"Turkey will have to make further considerable efforts that might take 10, 15, 20 years, I don't know, but certainly not less than 10 or 15 years. [Turkey will need] to catch up with what we call the acquis communautaires, that is all our rules, our values, our way of life, both in respect of human rights and market economy -- all our values and rules." -- French President Jacques Chirac on TF1 television on 15 December. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"For the countries of the western Balkans -- often weak states where institution-building is crucial -- we have created a stabilization and association process that includes the prospect of EU membership.... My goal is that in 2009 the EU will have about 27 members, with half a dozen western Balkan countries well on their way to EU membership, and Turkey on track, through rigorous reforms." -- Olli Rehn, European Commission member responsible for enlargement. From an article in the "Financial Times" of 4 January.

"We are seeking to restrain these purely European attempts at teaching lessons to the whole world and Russia." -- Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, quoted by ITAR-TASS on 14 December in Moscow. Luxembourg holds the rotating EU chair for the first six months of 2005.