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Balkan Report: September 9, 2005

9 September 2005, Volume 9, Number 25

A CRISIS OF LEADERSHIP IN KOSOVA? Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova announced on 5 September in Prishtina that U.S. military doctors have diagnosed him as having "localized lung cancer." Should he lose his fight against the disease or choose to leave office, Kosovars will be hard-pressed to find a suitable successor.

Rugova, who was hospitalized at a U.S. base near Heidelberg, Germany, from 27 August to 3 September, said in Prishtina that "with the help of God, I will overcome this battle and continue to work...for the recognition [of the independence of] our country Kosova." He did not indicate that he has considered stepping down. If he resigns or is unable to carry out his duties, parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci of his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) would carry out the presidential duties.

Rugova's announcement confirms what many have long suspected, namely that he has a serious medical problem that might make it difficult for him to lead Kosova through the negotiations with the international community, which are expected to start before the end of 2005. Since the late 1980s, Rugova has been the symbol of passive resistance to Serbian rule through the shadow-state he helped build up in response to former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's destruction of the province's autonomy. The Serbian leader's violent crackdown and ethnic-cleansing campaign in 1998-99 discredited pacifism among many Kosovars in favor of the militant resistance led by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). But the Sorbonne-educated writer nonetheless remains a father figure to most of his countrymen.

In fact, Rugova has been their virtually unchallenged leader for the past two decades, and it is difficult to imagine anyone easily stepping forward to fill his shoes. Adem Demaci, who is known as "Kosova's Mandela" for the long years he spent in communist prisons without compromising his principles, is one of the few other people who probably enjoys almost universal respect among Kosovars. Demaci, however, is elderly, has generally shunned active politics, and might not seek or accept the post. He seems to enjoy speaking critically from outside the political establishment and would probably regard public office as a constraint on his political independence.

In any event, it would not be easy for the LDK to find a replacement for the president, and Rugova has not groomed a successor. Other prominent government leaders besides Daci include Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi of the smaller Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), who took up that post to replace AAK founder Ramush Haradinaj. Haradinaj cannot hold office because the Hague tribunal has indicted him for war crimes.

The main opposition leaders are Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) and publisher Veton Surroi of the relatively new ORA party. Thaci and Haradinaj have their respective political bases in different branches of the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). Surroi is well known both at home and abroad but lacks the sort of large power base that Rugova, Thaci, and Haradinaj have.

In fact, part of Kosova's potential leadership problem at this difficult time on the presumed eve of status talks is that the province has passed from oppressive rule from Belgrade to a semi-colonial government by the UN's civilian administration (UNMIK) without having had time to develop the kind of institutions from which new leaders might emerge, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Consequently, most politicians like Thaci or Haradinaj have their power bases rooted not in institutions but in their home regions, their clans, or their old UCK networks -- or a combination of the three.

If Rugova departs the scene, it might be possible for the parties to agree on a neutral figure like a senior university professor to succeed him, but would that person have the necessary political authority to conduct negotiations on Kosova's final status? Or might it not be time to take a different approach and select a young leader not linked to the power struggles of the 1980s and 1990s? Kosova has one of the highest birthrates in Europe and consequently a very young population. Some of those people might favor one of their own for Kosova's leadership, someone like former student leader Albin Kurti, who spent several years in Serbian prisons.

Regardless of who leads Kosova in the coming months and years, it appears headed for a prolonged troubled period even if the status question is resolved to the satisfaction of a majority of its citizens -- which, in their view, can only mean independence.

First, its elected institutions remain shaky and untested, which is a problem that has confronted many newly independent countries over the past 60 years. The only real solution to the problem, however, seems to be learning by doing.

Second, there is virtually no issue on which the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority and the Serbian minority agree. This is bound to lead to prolonged quarrels or even violence, which Belgrade might be quick to exploit for its own political purposes.

Third, UNMIK is widely seen as discredited and having outstayed its welcome, even though KFOR and NATO continue to command the majority's respect. Because UNMIK enjoys so little credibility, any attempt to delay resolving the status issue can only make political tensions worse (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, 17 December 2004, and 20 May 2005). Some observers have gone so far as to suggest that if violence breaks out among the ethnic Albanian population again, it might be directed not at the Serbs this time but at UNMIK and perhaps some Kosovar politicians regarded as corrupt. (Patrick Moore)

ALBANIA'S NEW LEADER SETS OUT HIS GOALS. Sali Berisha, who is Albania's new prime minister, stressed in a wide-ranging interview with RFE/RL on 26 August that his new government's priorities will be fighting corruption, setting up a state based on the rule of law, and establishing the basis for economic development. Berisha is a former president who heads the country's conservative Democratic Party.

Berisha said he wants to see Albania integrated into NATO and the EU and known as a country that welcomes foreign investment, although he admitted those goals will not be easy.

On the subject of Kosova, Berisha noted that he is opposed to any change of international borders in the Balkans, including those of Kosova. A lasting solution to the Kosova question must take into account the wishes of its citizens, Berisha stressed, as well as the views of local officials and the international community, including the UN Security Council. He said that delaying talks on Kosova's final status is not in the interest of Kosova or the region, and those talks must respect the Kosovars' wishes for self-determination, which means independence.

Berisha added that his government will stress the importance of ensuring minority rights in Kosova, including those of the Serbian minority, as a guarantee of independence, peace, and stability for Kosova. It is important to treat the local Serbs as citizens of Kosova with full equality before the law and the right to develop their national and cultural identity, he stressed.

Dialogue between Prishtina and Belgrade on the many bilateral questions affecting them is of great importance, Berisha argued. But he added that Belgrade should not be involved in Kosova's status talks, which are the business of the citizens of Kosova, the local authorities, the major international powers involved in the region, and the members of the Security Council, led by the United States.

Berisha made it clear in no uncertain terms that his party and its coalition partners intend to maintain Albanian's involvement in the struggle against terrorism. The government will stand firmly beside the United States and other countries on such issues, he said. (Edited by Patrick Moore)

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT CRISIS SUGGESTS EARLY ELECTIONS. A crisis has emerged in Serbia's six-party minority government that has led to the expulsion of one of the smaller parties. Speculation now centers on whether the latest developments will lead to the early parliamentary elections that many observers have long predicted for later in 2005.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 24 August that the small Social Democratic Party (SDP), which belongs to his minority government, should either support the government or leave it, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. His remarks were triggered by the recent decision by the SDP not to back the government's proposal for a restructuring of the state-run Oil Industry of Serbia (NIS), which is the first step in the privatization of the company as called for by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Kostunica managed to put together enough votes to pass the measure but called on government officials belonging to the SDP to resign their posts.

Prominent SDP members include Slobodan Orlic, who heads the government of Serbia and Montenegro's information department, and Nebojsa Covic, who is that government's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova. Covic recently made political overtures to former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) to work together in support of leftist positions.

In response to Kostunica's challenge, Orlic said that no Social Democrat will resign of his own accord and that Kostunica will have to fire any SDP member whom he wants out of office. Orlic also challenged Kostunica to see if he can muster enough votes in the legislature to govern without the SDP, which has two parliamentary seats. Orlic said that he doubts that the prime minister can command the necessary 126 votes to stay in power in the 250-seat legislature. Kostunica has governed since early 2004 only with SPS parliamentary support.

The Serbian government reacted quickly to Orlic's tough stance and decided on 25 August to sack Covic. He held office by the mutual agreement of Serbia, Montenegro, and the joint state, so Serbia's withdrawal of its backing is sufficient to oust him. The cabinet also "recommended" to the government of the joint state that it fire Orlic.

Meho Omerovic, who is a top official of the SDP, said that it seems clear that Kostunica was targeting Orlic and Covic. Some SDP backers suggested that Kostunica wants Covic out of the way because the two men often compete for the same nationalist voters. Orlic took a similar position, pointing out that the government moved against him and Covic but left it up to other SDP members serving in lesser offices to declare whether they want to support the government or not. He said that the party leadership would meet on 27 August to decide its next move and inform party members in government institutions what they should do.

The members of the SDP steering committee agreed in Belgrade on 27-28 August to leave the government and join the opposition. The party leadership called on all SDP members working for the government to quit their posts. The SDP will consider those who do not do so as having resigned from the party.

This crisis has attracted attention because its potential implications could go far beyond the ability of the SDP to affect parliamentary decisions with its two votes. Kostunica formed his minority cabinet in early 2004 after refusing to bury his differences with the reformist Democratic Party. His deal with the SPS for legislative support has been called by many a Faustian pact (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2005). It was generally assumed from the outset that this is a temporary arrangement, and that Kostunica at some point will call new elections in hopes of getting a working majority by relying on his incumbency and personal popularity.

In June 2004, however, the Democrats' Boris Tadic won the Serbian presidency by about eight percentage points over the Serbian Radical Party's Tomislav Nikolic. That election left the impression that Serbia is moving from having a truly multiparty political landscape to having something more like that of Germany, in which there are two main parties and two or three lesser ones in the parliament. Subsequent opinion polls have confirmed this trend, with Tadic and Nikolic far outpacing Kostunica in ratings for Serbia's most popular politician (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July and 8 October 2004).

Consequently, it is not surprising that Kostunica lost much of his enthusiasm for early elections. Recent polls showed that not only would his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) probably finish third, but most of his coalition partners probably would not clear the 5 percent hurdle. Furthermore, Tadic proved to be an articulate and media-conscious reformist political figure who could also play the nationalist card, which had hitherto been a strong point of Kostunica's among reformist politicians.

The SDP might therefore be in a better position to drive a hard bargain than its legislative strength of two votes might indicate. (Patrick Moore)

SERBIA CONFRONTS ITS 'ROBBERY OF THE CENTURY.' Serbia's special prosecutor's office for combating organized crime told the police on 5 September to begin collecting documents relating to the recent decision by Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic to award a $370 million contract to the Mile Dragic firm in Zrenjanin for apparently unnecessary and overpriced equipment, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 September 2005). The Serbian government called on the relevant government bodies not to carry out the agreement.

Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic disclosed on 2 September that the contract requires the government to buy over a five-year period 74,000 combat helmets and 69,000 flak jackets for an army of 28,000 at a time when a former manager at Mile Dragic said that the army already has 50,000 Dragic-supplied helmets and a similar number of flak jackets in its warehouses. The new contract also calls on the military to buy 500 pilot's jackets for an air force of about 30 planes, many of which are probably not operational. Dinkic called the affair the "robbery of the century."

Davinic thereupon accused Dinkic of "high treason" for revealing "military secrets." Some media reports suggested that part of the payment to Mile Dragic would be in real estate, of which the military owns some choice parcels.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on 2 September that the wastefulness attributed to Davinic cannot be allowed in a country where "every single dinar" must be spent wisely. Serbian President Boris Tadic, who is a former defense minister, said that Davinic's position has become untenable, adding that the scandal must not be allowed to weaken the joint state. Zoran Sami, who is speaker of the joint state's parliament, said on 4 September that Davinic should resign.

Only that legislature and the joint state's President Svetozar Marovic have, however, the power to remove him. Dinkic argued that Serbia pays 94 percent of the defense budget and appealed to Montenegro's leaders not to try to keep Davinic in office. The Democratic Party of Serbia, (DSS) the Democratic Party, the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), and Davinic's own G-17 Plus party have called for his resignation. G-17 Plus, of which Dinkic is also a member, has expelled Davinic from its ranks.

But Davinic said in Belgrade on 2 September that he has withdrawn his previous offer to resign and will not step down voluntarily. On 5 September, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told reporters in Niksic that the controversy surrounding Davinic shows that Serbian leaders want to control the joint state in order to "preserve their greater Serbian illusions." On 3 September, the joint state's Deputy Foreign Minister Predrag Boskovic, who is from Montenegro, dismissed calls to replace Davinic, saying in Podgorica that "a rotation of ministers is not a priority for Montenegro."

Borislav Banovic, who is deputy leader of the Social Democrats (SDP), who are the junior partners in Montenegro's governing coalition, said that the ministry should go to a Montenegrin if Davinic is ousted. The Belgrade daily "Glas javnosti" reported on 4 September that Deputy Defense Minister Vukasin Maras of Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) is the most likely candidate to replace Davinic.

The controversy shows no signs of abating, despite a statement by Marovic on 6 September that it could cause "the collapse" of the joint state.

Dinkic said meanwhile that Defense Ministry officials continue to deny his investigators access to documents relating to the deal. He added that Serbian tax police have nonetheless determined that the company overcharged the government by about $100 million over the firm's usual prices. For example, he noted, Mile Dragic billed the ministry $312 per helmet instead of the usual $206, and $2,121 per flak jacket rather than $780. Elsewhere, the Mile Dragic company again denied that the charges it agreed with the ministry were excessive.

Djukanovic said in Podgorica that Dinkic is wrong in asserting that the equipment deal was largely the work of Montenegrin officials in the Defense Ministry. Djukanovic said that Dinkic used a "tired argument" in suggesting that Montenegrins enjoy parity with Serbs in decision making in the ministry even though Serbia pays nearly 95 percent of the costs.

Meanwhile, in Belgrade, Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, who heads the G-17 Plus party, denied recent charges by Djukanovic that the Davinic affair amounts to an attempt by Serbia to take control of the joint state's institutions. Elsewhere, the opposition Serbian Radical Party (SRS) called for an investigation of the affair by the joint state's parliament.

Some observers dismissed the scandal as typical in-fighting among coalition partners vying for posts. Other suggested, however, that the Davinic affair shows that the military is finally being made accountable to civilian authorities and is no longer allowed to spend as it pleases.

The Belgrade-born Davinic is a specialist in nuclear disarmament and international relations with degrees from former Yugoslav and U.S. universities. He worked for the United Nations from 1976-99. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "But [Serbian President Boris] Tadic's proposal [of more than autonomy and less than independence for Kosova] is probably not workable. Albanians constitute 90 percent of [Kosova's] population, and almost to a man they demand independence. If their national aspiration is blocked now, on the cusp of fulfillment, it will be felt as a kind of coitus interruptus. A violent backlash will almost surely follow." -- Jason Lee Steorts in "National Review," 12 September.

"I've lived for 25 years in the EU, and it's better that we don't join." -- Unnamed Zagreb resident interviewed by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 31 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 August 2005).