28 January 2005, Volume 9, Number 4
SERBIA'S PRESIDENT REJECTS INDEPENDENCE FOR KOSOVA. Serbian President Boris Tadic told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade on 21 January that independence for Kosova is "unacceptable." This view puts him at odds with a growing body of international opinion that believes that renewed violence awaits the province unless there is serious movement towards resolving its final status, which, for the ethnic Albanian majority, can mean only independence.
But Tadic stressed that independence is "unacceptable," even while granting that the province is "on the verge of independence" and its Albanian population is in practice beyond Belgrade's control. Tadic argued that "independence...is unacceptable for very specific reasons...[because it would lead to the] fragmentation of the region...[and] the establishment of a new Albanian independent state with its own army and foreign policy, which would in the long run be directed against Serbia. This is absolutely unacceptable to Serbia" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 November and 10 December 2004).
The references to "fragmentation" are typical of many Belgrade politicians, not only regarding Kosova but also Montenegro. It is interesting that Tadic assumes the new state, which President Ibrahim Rugova has said will be committed to peace and Euro-Atlantic integration, will somehow be hostile toward Serbia. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who is Tadic's rival, often speaks about a "domino effect" that independence for Kosova might allegedly have elsewhere in the Balkans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 December 2004, and 13 and 20 January 2005).
Such views about "fragmentation" find a warm reception in some circles abroad, particularly within the EU. Kosovar Albanian and pro-independence Montenegrin leaders reply that Serbia is simply trying to hold on to territories that now seek to exercise the rights of self-determination and majority rule. Those Kosovars and Montenegrins believe that trying to maintain the status quo is the surest recipe for instability and unrest in the future (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, 17 December 2004, and 7 and 21 January 2005).
But speaking to RFE/RL in Belgrade, Tadic argued that an independent Kosova would not be economically viable and that "that state could live only from smuggling drugs, people, and weapons." This argument, too, is not new. Since the times of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, official Belgrade and the Serbian lobby abroad have often sought to portray Albanians in general and those of Kosova in particular as criminals and drug dealers.
An RFE/RL listener asked Tadic whether Serbia should form groups of armed volunteers to "defend" the province because "we will not give up Kosovo at any price" and Serbia needs its lignite. The president replied that "there is nothing that is worth more than life or worth doing at any price." The brown coal, however, has the potential to provide some domestic energy sources for Serbia for a rather long time, and this factor "must be taken into account" whenever the Kosova question comes up for discussion, Tadic added.
He nonetheless criticized his countrymen for their "passivity" and lack of imagination in dealing with the province and its future. He suggested that only the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, who led Tadic's Democratic Party prior to his assassination in March 2003, broke any new ground on Kosova policy. Tadic specifically referred to an interview Djindjic gave to a Belgrade daily a few weeks before his death (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003).
Tadic did not mention, however, that the most striking proposal Djindjic made was to start talks on Kosova's future status, an issue that most Serbian politicians prefer to put off on the assumption that time works to Belgrade's advantage. In fact, Tadic and Kostunica both avoided the status question in recent talks with Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005).
But the question might not wait. The International Crisis Group said in a 40-page report released in Prishtina, Belgrade, and Brussels on 24 January that "either 2005 will see the start of a final status solution that consolidates peace and development, or Kosovo may return to conflict and generate regional instability" (http://www.crisisweb.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3226).
The study argues that "Kosovo's de jure sovereignty should be recognized by the international community" by mid-2006, adding that "the potential for renewed violence is very real" if the Serbian-dominated north calls in Serbian forces or breaks away. "Reintroduction of violence into the equation has raised the very real possibility the process may be decided by brute force on the ground rather than peaceful negotiation," the report notes, adding that the international community must act to ensure the protection of minority rights by attaching some conditions to Kosova's future status.
The study nonetheless stresses that "while legitimate Serbian concerns should be taken fully into account, particularly about the status of Kosovo's Serb minority, Belgrade should be cautioned from the outset that 'the train is leaving, with or without you,' and encouraged to participate fully in achieving the best possible terms of settlement." (Patrick Moore)
MACEDONIAN WATCHDOG GROUP SLAMS HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION. In its annual report on the human rights situation for 2004, Macedonia's Helsinki Committee for Human Rights harshly criticized the government, the state authorities, and the ruling parties.
Mirjana Najcevska, who heads the Helsinki Committee, presented the report to the public on 21 January, using an unexpectedly critical tone. "Generally speaking, there are no conditions either to practice or to defend human rights," "Dnevnik" quoted her as saying. According to Najcevska, the human rights situation in Macedonia can be considered good only when compared to a dictatorship, but not when compared to European democracies.
The committee's report itself, which can be found at http://www.mhc.org.mk/mkd/izveshtai/2004gi.htm, sounded to some observers like an indictment of the government and the ruling parties rather than a detached assessment of the human rights situation.
The first chapter of the report deals with the alleged lack of economic and social rights. It describes the high unemployment rate of 400,000 in a country of 2 million citizens, the government's recent welfare spending cuts, a lack of adequate state spending in general, poor working conditions, and the growing impoverishment of large parts of the population. "The further impoverishment of the population makes it impossible to exercise civic and political rights, and a citizen who cannot ensure the minimal existence for himself and his family is neither free nor independent, nor can he fight for his rights and liberties," the report concludes this chapter.
Macedonia's democratic institutions come under scrutiny in the next chapter. The committee especially criticized what it called the ongoing shift of the legislative process and decision making away from the relevant state institutions -- the parliament and the government -- to the leaderships of the ruling political parties. According to the report, the practice of reaching deals among the ruling parties rather than discussing legislative projects in the parliament violates democratic and legal standards.
The committee also accused the political parties of abusing the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement as a pretext for this practice. At the same time, the report argues that those portions of that agreement that have been implemented have not resulted in the expected improvement in basic rights and freedoms.
The committee believes that the governing parties use the fragile state of interethnic relations as a pretext for their failure to disarm both the former rebels and the volunteer police units. Interethnic tensions were also allegedly used a pretext to avoid implementing democratic procedures, for example in the decision-making process for the 2004 administrative reform and the redistricting plans, which led to wide-spread protests (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 July, 27 August, 4 October, and 12 November 2004).
In this context, the committee also accused the governing parties of having deprived citizens of their right to vote and express their opinions. With the governing parties' call for a boycott of the referendum in order to render it invalid, it was clear that only those who opposed the redistricting plans would participate in the vote. Voting records could thus potentially be used to identify opponents of at least some government policies.
This would not necessarily pose a problem in a state with a working judicial system and effective police service, the alleged lack of which is dealt with in the second section of the report.
Among the shortcomings in the judicial system, the committee lists widespread corruption in the courts; their susceptibility to political influence; other forms of bias by the courts during trials; and the ineffectiveness of the courts. The human rights watchdog also believes that the courts order pretrial detention too often. In some cases, the detention lasts for years, while in other cases, it is used to exert pressure on indictees.
At the same time, the study argues, the police have failed in their main purpose of protecting citizens' human rights and liberties. The reason for the problems within the police service is the delay in implementing reforms, the absence of effective control mechanisms, and the lack of punishment for abuse of office.
In theory, citizens could turn to the National Ombudsman. But, as the Helsinki Committee claims, this institution too largely failed to live up to its responsibilities. The political parties discredited the institution by depriving it of its impartiality and effectiveness when they chose the new ombudsman, the report says.
In other words, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights suggests that Macedonia lacks the basic qualities of a modern, democratic state. The committee consequently concludes its report with a warning to both the governing parties and the parties seeking to gain power, quoting 17th-century English philosopher John Locke: "Wherever law ends, tyranny begins." Neither the government nor the opposition reacted to the report as of 26 January. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, email@example.com)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "In the international institutions where questions regarding our future are being decided, lobbying is permitted. Lobbying costs plenty of money. We as a nation have put not more than $1 million into our lobbying activities. But those nations that have interests different from ours have put about $150 million into their lobbying activities over the past 15 years. We succeeded in parrying the [effects of the] $150 million with our $1 million." -- Serbian President Boris Tadic, in the RFE/RL Belgrade interview on 21 January (see above).
"We've lost three years [in Euro-Atlantic integration by failing to arrest war crimes indictees] and now is the moment for decision.... Let's leave it for another week and see what happens." -- Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, quoted by Reuters in Belgrade on 19 January.
"Kosovo remains one of the most difficult issues we face." -- EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn before the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee on 18 January. From the EU's press release in Brussels.
"In Europe, a seminal event was the German election in 2002. The importance of that election lies in the fact that anti-Americanism turned into a viable political agenda for the first time. The political reality is that neither in the U.S. nor in Germany nor in France can you win an election on a predominantly pro-trans-Atlantic ticket any longer.
"The decline of the pro-trans-Atlantic lobby in Europe is one of the most important political developments in the past few years.... Commentators these days are delighted by the sheer fact that Mr. Bush and Mr. Schroeder, the political leaders of the world's largest and third-largest economies, are back on speaking terms. They are so enthralled by this fact that they no longer seem to care what the two actually have to say to each other.... The disagreement needs to be solved politically if it is to be solved at all. -- Wolfgang Munchau in the "Financial Times" of 24 January.