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Balkan Report: July 30, 2004

30 July 2004, Volume 8, Number 27

TIME TO ACT ON KOSOVA? There is no shortage of ideas these days regarding the future of Kosova. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the discussions, reports, and papers will lead to.

Following the violence that swept Kosova on 17-18 March, numerous papers, studies, and recommendations have emerged like the proverbial mushrooms after a spring rain (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, 2 and 16 April, and 9 July 2004). Most of the authors are nongovernmental organizations, individual experts or pundits, or, in some cases, people involved in government.

Broadly speaking, most of the evaluations fall into one of two basic categories. Some studies stress the failings of the ethnic Albanian majority and its institutions, generally calling for a delay in the clarification of the province's final status and for strengthening or prolonging the authority of the foreigners currently in charge there. The underlying assumption of many such analyses is that the Albanians misbehaved and must not be rewarded.

The second school of thought interprets the disturbances as a wake-up call, and stresses that time is rapidly running out to end colonial rule in Kosova and transfer power to elected representatives on the basis of self-determination and majority rule, however imperfect it is shaping up to be. Reports taking this position note that until the province's ethnic Albanian majority sees a clear route toward independence, there is likely to be further violence stemming from fears of a Serbian-sponsored partition or continued involvement by Serbia in Kosova's affairs. This view assumes that today's Kosova is part of the worldwide decolonization process and the ongoing dissolution of former Yugoslavia.

In addition, two major recent NGO reports faulted the international community, particularly for its failure to protect Serbs and other minorities. In a report released on 26 July, Human Rights Watch argued that "while international actors have been universally and accurately critical of Kosovo Albanian leadership during and after the crisis, the dismal performance of the international community has escaped similar critical scrutiny." A report by Amnesty International came to similar conclusions a few weeks earlier.

But what of people in government? Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner hosted a conference on the future of Kosova near Vienna in mid-July, putting forward a plan "based on the Belgian federal model" that would transfer additional powers from the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) to Kosova's elected officials while offering a large measure of home rule to the Serbs and other minorities.

Some ethnic Albanian officials said that the project is not very appealing because it delays a decision on Kosova's final status, which all Albanian political leaders understand as meaning independence. Other Albanians objected on the grounds that a federal structure is not realistic because most of the ethnic-minority population lives scattered in relatively small communities.

Some Serbs noted approvingly that the home rule provisions are close to Belgrade's plan to "cantonize" Kosova -- a proposal that the UN has already rejected -- while other Serbs argued that the Austrian project moves Kosova unacceptably close to independence.

The Vienna daily "Die Presse" wrote on 23 July that Ferrero-Waldner then tried so hard to reach a common understanding on Kosova with representatives of Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia that her final proposal seemed devoid of any hard substance. The daily suggested this was the result of trying to please countries whose stands on Kosova were sometimes difficult to reconcile.

Some political figures whose parties are not in government seem to have an easier time making bold proposals than Ferrero-Waldner did. Germany's opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) recently suggested placing Kosova under a EU protectorate. This idea met with a very mixed reaction from Albanians and Serbs on 17 and 18 June at an off-the-record conference in Berlin sponsored by the German Foreign Ministry, the Bertelsmann Foundation, and the Munich-based Center for Applied Policy Research, titled "Rethinking the Balkans" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 June and 9 July 2004).

From the other side of the Atlantic, Senator Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in "The Washington Times" of 25 July that it is rather the United States that should take the lead.

He suggested that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) "has done a poor job and lost credibility in the province," adding that "KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force, also showed grave weaknesses in the March riots, with the U.S. troops providing the only major example of professionalism."

As a remedy, Biden believes that "the international community should give the Kosovo Provincial Assembly the maximum authority possible, so it can prove to the world the ethnic Albanian leadership is capable of governing and can guarantee basic human rights for all ethnic groups."

The senator also calls for the United States to take the lead in resolving the impasse in Kosova by appointing a special envoy to the region. He believes there are good reasons for Washington and not Brussels to make the first move. "The [United States] is in a unique position to facilitate negotiations. Bolstered by the image of American troops who protected Kosovo Serbs in the March riots, U.S. credibility has never been higher in Belgrade, which for the first time has a democratic president [i.e. Serbian President Boris Tadic] with cordial ties to Washington. The Kosovar Albanians remain deeply suspicious of other Europeans but still trust the [United States], whom they thank for overthrowing [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic's tyranny."

Biden also believes that "instead of ceding the leadership of Balkan affairs to the European Union, as we are about to do in Bosnia...[the United States should name] a special envoy to the Balkans, a position that proved effective in the 1990s. The special envoy, working with Serbs and Kosovars, with our European allies, and with the United Nations, could make a full-court press to resolve Europe's most volatile dispute."

He also suggests that time is of the essence. The next move, however, is likely to come from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is expected to issue his own report on Kosova soon. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S GOVERNMENT UNDER GROWING PRESSURE. The Macedonian parliament started debating on 26 July the government's controversial plans to decentralize the state administration and to cut the number of administrative districts from the current 123 to 80. The tense atmosphere in the plenary mirrored the controversy that had been going on in public -- and in the streets -- for about two months (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 23 July 2004).

The latest escalation of the controversy took place in the western Macedonian town of Struga on 22-23 July. Struga is one of the administrative districts affected by the government's plan to merge some districts with others. So far, ethnic Macedonians have a slight majority in the Struga District. But with the envisioned merger of Struga with rural areas, ethnic Albanians will be in the majority. In a referendum held in January, a majority of Struga's citizens voted against this merger (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 18 December 2003 and 12 and 20 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003). However, the government did not take into account the referendum result, arguing such referendums are not binding. As a result, Struga declared members of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) unwanted persons.

But on 22 July, Defense Minister and SDSM Deputy Chairman Vlado Buckovski dared to visit the SDSM headquarters in Struga. The news of Buckovski's visit rapidly spread in the small town, and a crowd gathered outside the building shouting, "Buckovski is a traitor," "Struga is a Macedonian town," or "Come out," "Utrinski vesnik" reported. By 2 a.m., the situation outside the party headquarters had escalated to such an extent that the police decided to evacuate Buckovski, using teargas and rubber bullets to break up the demonstration. During the clashes, about 40 protesters and police were injured. Police subsequently filed charges against more than 50 people in connection with the disturbances.

Buckovski himself called the unrest an attempt on his life, claiming that the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) organized the protests. VMRO-DPMNE Deputy Chairwoman Ganka Samoilovska-Cvetanova, for her part, accused Buckovski of having provoked the incident by coming to Struga (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 July 2004).

In the wake of the Struga events, police stepped up security in the capital, Skopje, expecting similar violence during a large-scale demonstration outside the parliamentary building in Skopje in the evening of 26 July. The demonstration was organized by a broad coalition of ethnic Macedonian opposition parties, NGOs, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, and the nationalist World Macedonian Congress.

It seems that the massive police presence in the streets of Skopje and especially around the parliamentary building left their impact on the lawmakers. At the beginning of the debate, Minister for Local Self-Government Aleksandar Gestakovski warned the opposition members not to resort to populism to improve their ratings for the upcoming local elections.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE, for its part, claimed that the government has tried to push through the controversial legislation without debate or taking into account proposed amendments. The VMRO-DPMNE argued that the government's disregard of the opposition became apparent when Gestakovski presented the 29 laws under discussion in just 89 seconds. At the same time, VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers accused parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski of breaching house rules. What is becoming clear after the first day is that the opposition wants to prolong the proceedings -- even by proposing absurd legal amendments to "counter absurd laws," as Gjorgji Orovcanec of the VMRO-DPMNE put it.

While the parliamentary debate ended without any results or clear message, the demonstration later that same day had a clear message: no to the redistricting plans. Interestingly, neither VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski nor the other speakers opposed the decentralization as such, but only the redistricting plans. And they repeated their appeal to the public to sign a petition calling for a referendum on the controversial plans.

Commenting on the demonstrations, Rafis Aliti of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), said they reminded him of the mid-1990s, when anti-Albanian demonstrations stirred-up interethnic tensions. "From what we heard, these protests do not differ from those demonstrations [in the 1990s], when gas chambers were demanded for the Albanians," Aliti said.

Some ethnic Albanian opposition politicians such as Xhezair Shaqiri of the small National Democratic Party (PDK) have made it clear that if the Macedonians succeed in gathering the necessary 150,000 signatures for the referendum and eventually vote down the redistricting plans, the Albanians will call for a referendum, too (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). Zamir Dika of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- the largest ethnic Albanian opposition party -- says that the Albanian minority will not gain anything from the new district borders. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

U.S. REPORTEDLY HUNTING ISLAMIC MILITANTS IN BOSNIA. "American military intelligence and the CIA have deployed hundreds of officers in Bosnia to track suspected Islamic militants amid concern that the country has become a refuge, recruiting ground, and cash conduit for international terrorism," London's "Daily Telegraph" reported on 26 July. The paper added that "Bosnia has become a 'one-stop shop' for Islamic militants heading from terrorist battlegrounds in Chechnya and Afghanistan to Iraq, according to [unnamed] European intelligence officials."

Unnamed "local sources" told the daily that "about 300 [U.S.] intelligence personnel" will monitor suspected militants even after NATO turns command of peacekeeping activities over to the EU at the end of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). According to the paper, the U.S. activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina constitute "one of the biggest deployments by U.S. intelligence anywhere in the world."

A representative of the NGO International Crisis Group told the daily that the U.S. forces are conducting what amounts to a "witch hunt" against suspected Islamic militants instead of concentrating on arresting indicted war criminals. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "To achieve our objectives, we must also project the European Union more forcefully on the world stage. We are stronger when we speak with one voice. As you know, the [European] Commission does not define the European Union's foreign policy, but my firm ambition is to contribute to forge a common vision for Europe in this area." -- Durao Barroso, following his election on 22 July as president of the European Commission. Quoted by RFE/RL in Strasbourg.

The EU "is a very important international power and is going to play a role [in Middle East peacemaking] whether you like it or not." -- EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana to Israeli journalists in Jerusalem. Quoted in the "International Herald Tribune" of 24 July.

"We know that Hungary belongs in the European Union, should be in the European Union, [and] will be an active and contributing member of the European Union. And rather than this being anything that is competitive with Hungary's bilateral relationship with the United States, it's quite the contrary. I think it will strengthen the relationship with the United States." -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the Conference of Hungarian Ambassadors in Budapest on 27 July, from the official press release.

"As with any nation, Hungary's future peace and prosperity will continue to require hard work and sacrifice. But Hungary and its neighbors understand well the meaning of both work and sacrifice.... Hungary is working to bring stability to the Balkans. Hungary is an ally to its European friends and to the United States in the war against terrorism. Hungary is part of the international coalition working to rebuild Afghanistan. And Hungary is part of the coalition that is helping to bring peace and democracy to Iraq." -- Powell in ibid.

"Hungary and its neighbors were once subjugated and tethered to the wrong side of history. Now you are free, and you are an integral and valuable part of the right side of history. We must not be faint-hearted in the face of current challenges. We must not waver or lose patience. We must stay the course for freedom in the course and in the face of danger." -- Powell in ibid.

"Taken together, Hungary and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have the most current successful experience with political transformation. You have earned the confidence to manage economic and social change for your peoples. And these are precisely the skills most in demand today if nations in the Balkans, in the Middle East, and elsewhere are to achieve their own political destinies in peace and freedom." - Powell in ibid.