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Balkan Report: August 6, 2004

6 August 2004, Volume 8, Number 28

DECENTRALIZATION DEBATE IN KOSOVA. Many observers inside and outside Kosovo have long felt that the communist-era internal administrative units should be broken up into more manageable ones, but there the agreement ends. A recent broadcast by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service made clear that the Albanian and Serbian approaches to the issue seem hard to reconcile.

Political leaders from the ethnic-Albanian majority have criticized a recent Austrian-backed proposal to decentralize the administration by giving the largely rural Serbian minority more control over its own affairs while supposedly strengthening central institutions. Those Albanians feel that the plan will delay clarification of the province's final status while encouraging unrealistic hopes for territorial autonomy among geographically dispersed ethnic minorities.

Some Serbs see the plan as a step in the right direction toward "cantonization," while others feel that it does not do enough to check Albanian aspirations for independence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 July 2004).

Both the Albanian leaders and the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) had previously criticized proposals from Belgrade to "cantonize" Kosovo along ethnic lines on the grounds that this could lead to an unacceptable ethnically based partition. The official policy in Prishtina is to promote a multiethnic Kosovo, as unrealistic as that might seem (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 April and 9 July 2004).

But since the violence of 17-18 March, many Serbs have come to see some form of territorial autonomy as absolutely essential for their security. At the same time, many Albanians have come to suspect any proposal for decentralization to be a thinly disguised form of partition.

These and other hopes and fears were reflected in a recent broadcast of Radio Most (Bridge) moderated by Omer Karabeg of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. He spoke with Aleksandar Simic, who is an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, and Enver Hasani, who heads the Kosovar government's Foreign Affairs Office.

Simic stresses that it is vital in the wake of the March violence to ensure that Serbs remain in Kosovo. He notes that it is not realistic to expect them to be able to return soon to places like Prizren, Peja, or Prishtina, but stresses that the Serbian government's plan to set up several administrative units will give them the necessary degree of self-rule to ensure their future and to go back to their homes where they can. He adds that relations between the local autonomous units and the central authority in Prishtina must be clearly defined so as to prevent one side or the other from acting "arbitrarily."

Simic denies that this is a form of ethnically based partition, arguing that there are too few Serbs in Kosovo to make the situation comparable to Bosnia in 1991. He also notes that the Serbs are too widely dispersed (except possibly for Gracanica and northern Mitrovica) for anyone to regard their administrative units as a threat to Kosovo's integrity. In Kosovo, he stresses, one cannot envision a "San Marino or Monaco" emerging.

Hasani objects, arguing that it is necessary to divide the concepts of territorial and institutional autonomy if Kosovo is to escape ethnically based partition into several mini-states. He calls for multiethnic decentralization based on the civic rather than on the ethnic principle, adding that this is the only way for Kosovo to go forward.

Hasani stresses that the Serbian government's proposal is a nonstarter, because it means partition and would simply establish "permanent frontlines" between Serbs and Albanians, like in Bosnia after the 1995 Dayton peace agreements.

He argues, moreover, that Kosovo's potential for setting up a society based on the civic principle is no better or worse than is the case elsewhere in the Balkans, a point with which Simic disagrees (as would many others).

Hasani fears, however, that the Albanians will remain nervous and prone to "irrational and aggressive behavior" as long as the specter of Mitrovica-style partition remains, just as people in Serbia will remain prone to "irrational and aggressive behavior" as long as the Kosovo issue as a whole remains unresolved.

Melazim Koci, who heads the Kosovo sub-unit of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, recently told "Balkan Report" that resolving the status question is the key to ending the nervousness that could become the basis of future violence. Koci argues that as long as the Albanians fear that Belgrade's rule will return in some form or another -- including a possible joint state imposed by the EU -- they will remain jittery and prone to exploitation by nationalist extremists.

Resolving the status question will not only create the legal conditions for better economic development but will enable the Albanians to define their relations with the Serbs and other minorities in a calm, confident, and generous frame of mind, Koci stresses. He believes that as soon as the ethnic Albanian majority loses its fear of a return of Serbian rule, work can begin on constructing a state based on the civic principle, as has begun in Macedonia, however shakily. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA MARKS 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF STATEHOOD. On 2 August, known locally as St. Elijah's Day or Ilinden, Macedonia marked the 60th anniversary of the first meeting of the World War II Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM). ASNOM is widely regarded as the core institution of the first modern Macedonian state, the People's (later Socialist) Republic of Macedonia within communist Yugoslavia.

ASNOM was set up on the initiative of the Communist Party of Macedonia (KPM) and the communist-dominated Partisan movement, which was under the overall leadership of Josip Broz Tito. Representatives of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) and military envoys from Serbia, the United States, and the United Kingdom attended ASNOM's first session, which took place in the southern Serbian Prohor Pcinjski Monastery on 2 August 1944. During that session, the council declared itself the supreme legislative and executive body of the new state. As such, it laid the legal foundations of the Macedonian state.

The date itself was carefully chosen by the council's organizers, as it was a clear reference to the anti-Ottoman uprising of 2 August 1903, during which a short-lived republic was founded in the central Macedonian town of Krusevo. Accordingly, ASNOM declared 2 August the Macedonian national holiday.

However, celebrating this holiday has not always been easy, especially in recent years. In the postcommunist era, official Macedonian delegations have marked Ilinden in the Prohor Pcinjski Monastery, where a commemorative plaque recalled the historic ASNOM session.

But in 2003, the ongoing dispute between the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) on the one hand and the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) on the other made this seemingly innocuous exercise impossible. Serbian monks from Prohor Pcinjski even removed the commemorative plaque and disobeyed orders from the Serbian government to return it.

The problem is deeply rooted in what historians call the Macedonian Question and interrelated issues involving the traditional Balkan tendency to equate one's nationality with one's religion. The Macedonian Question took shape in the 19th century and hinged on the issue as to whether speakers of Slavic dialects in that region were Bulgarians, Serbs, "Slavophone Greeks," or members of a distinct Macedonian nation.

In a move designed to win local support while curbing Bulgarian and Serbian aspirations, the KPJ and ASNOM firmly supported the idea of a Macedonian nation. In 1967, the authorities took the matter to what many regarded as its logical conclusion and recognized a Macedonian Orthodox Church separate from the Serbian Orthodox Church or even the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which has a much smaller number of Macedonian adherents.

The SPC does not recognize its Macedonian counterpart, regarding it as schismatic. Having gained what the SPC describes as a "far-reaching autonomy" in 1959, the MPC split from the SPC in 1967 without the consent of the Serbian Holy Synod. As a result, the MPC was never recognized by other Orthodox churches.

To avert future conflicts over the celebration at Prohor Pcinjski, the Macedonian government decided to build a new national commemorative center in the village of Pelince, which is close to the monastery but on Macedonian territory.

The new center includes a copy of the room of the monastery where the ASNOM first met. The museum's outside walls of are decorated with a large mosaic, displaying themes from Macedonian history laid out in a chronological order. Construction of the center started in only in May, and the most important parts of the complex were finished just in time for the 2 August celebrations.

But the Macedonian leadership did not want to give up the tradition of visiting Prohor Pcinjski, too. Accordingly, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski wrote Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, asking them to open the monastery to a Macedonian state delegation for this year's anniversary.

Crvenkovski's appeal was successful, at least in part. On 2 August, he led a delegation to Prohor Pcinjski to lay wreaths at a new memorial site outside the monastery. The Macedonian delegation also included Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski, and MPC head Gospodin Gospodin Stefan. They were met in Prohor Pcinjski by a Serbian state delegation headed by Prime Minister Kostunica and Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic.

But the visit to Prohor Pcinjski also provided an unpleasant surprise for the Macedonians, because the Serbian delegation included Bishop Jovan -- a former Macedonian bishop of Veles, who is shunned by the MPC for putting his bishopric back under the canonic jurisdiction of the SPC in July 2002. When the SPC set up an autonomous Archbishopric of Ohrid in May 2003 to underscore its claims to jurisdiction in Macedonia, it named Bishop Jovan its head.

Many Macedonians regarded Bishop Jovan's presence at the Ilinden ceremonies as a provocation. The Macedonian conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) interpreted this -- presumably involuntary -- meeting between Crvenkovski and Bishop Jovan part of an alleged secret deal between the president and the SPC. VMRO-DPMNE Deputy Chairwoman Ganka Samoilovska-Cvetanova said on 2 August that her party boycotted the ceremony at Prohor Pcinjski because it does not want to be involved with any concessions to the SPC, which, she said, border on "high treason," to use a phrase that frequently surfaces in VMRO rhetoric these days.

Crvenkovski himself did not comment on the meeting with Bishop Jovan or on a letter he reportedly received from Serbian Patriarch Pavle. But in a statement he made in Bitola on Ilinden, he stressed that Macedonia is a secular state, and that the state and the various churches do not have the right to interfere in each other's affairs. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA'S EX-PRESIDENT REVIVES WORLD WAR II ANIMOSITIES. It is rare for Slovenia's left-wing and right-wing press to take the same stand on an issue. However, during the week of 19 July, the liberal magazine "Mladina" and its conservative counterpart "Mag" both agreed that former President Milan Kucan has gone too far by appealing to sentiments about World War II in order to influence national elections scheduled for 3 October.

As the last leader of communist-era Slovenia and the first president of the state that declared independence in 1991, Kucan's public statements continue to attract attention. Speaking at a World War II Partisan veterans' gathering on 11 July in Baska Grapa in northwest Slovenia, Kucan commented on the importance of this fall's elections, in which voters will choose between "truth and falsehood." This was an allusion to competing interpretations of Slovenia's communist past and Josip Broz Tito's Partisan movement, as put forward by the center-left coalition government on the one hand and the center-right opposition on the other.

Prime Minister Anton Rop, whose ruling Liberal Democracy Party (LDS) has been suffering an erosion of public support, was quick to agree: "We cannot permit judgments that call into question everything that happened during World War II," he commented.

Political commentators take it for granted that Kucan will have a decisive impact on this fall's elections, and have speculated as to what form his influence will take. Initially there was conjecture that the big-business interest group Forum 21 -- headed by Kucan -- might transform itself into a political party. Now it appears more likely that the group will contribute high-profile candidates to the LDS to help win parliamentary seats.

The public is unsure what role the first ex-president of independent Slovenia should now play in politics. It is no secret that Kucan has aligned himself with the center-left coalition, but whether he is continuing to "call the shots" behind the scenes -- as the right asserts -- is questionable. Charges that Kucan had engineered the recent dismissal of Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004), who had sided with the opposition on some issues, were strong enough that he felt compelled to issue a denial.

Interestingly, Kucan's comments this July echo those that he made 18 years ago, in a 4 July 1986 speech to military reservists in Kranj. There he insisted that "the dust from the past cannot conceal the truth" and that "the sacred moral image and message of our national liberation struggle and socialist revolution will be preserved."

Kucan's black-and-white "truth" recalls the ideological indoctrination of communist-era children's magazines such as "Pionir" and "Ciciban." These praised the Partisans as good, wise, and just, and their opponents -- especially the Domobranci -- as wicked and bent on the destruction of the Slovenian nation.

As usual, the real truth is considerably muddier. In the chaos of a simultaneous world war, civil war, and revolution on Slovenian soil, young men were pressed into service on all sides -- often for the very personal motives of protecting their villages from communist raids or avenging deaths at the hands of the fascist forces. The communists began to liquidate their enemies before the end of the war, while the number of victims secretly killed after the war may reach as high as 200,000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 November 2001).

The leaders of Slovenia's Partisan veterans have sought to distance their wartime activity from that of the communists. "I honestly have to say that during the war we said nothing about a revolution.... Immediately after the war, it was the Slovenian Communist Party that first announced that this had not been a national liberation struggle but a revolution," commented Janez Stanovnik, president of the Partisan Veterans' Association, on 19 July.

While Stanovnik stressed differences between the Partisans and the communists, Kucan emphasized the inclusiveness of the Partisan movement: "They were not only communist Partisans. This was a mass movement for national liberation. This was the liberation front of the Slovenian nation!"

Both reinterpretations of history are fatuous. Well before the end of the war, Domobranci publications consistently referred to their opponents as "reds" and "communists" (among other epithets). The fact that the Partisans' caps bore a red communist star -- as did the crest of the liberation front -- made clear their ideological alignment.

As for inclusiveness, memoirs such as Ljubo Sirc's "Between Hitler and Tito" (London, 1989) clearly show that the communists strove to stamp out all noncommunist resistance to the occupying German and Italian forces. Whether royalist or democratic, other domestic political forces represented a greater threat to the communists' future than did the fascist forces.

As journalist Ivan Puc points out in one of the "Mag" articles, recognizing the historical achievements of the Partisan movement does not preclude acknowledging the crimes committed by its leaders. Defeating the forces of Hitler and Mussolini was commendable, but massacring the Partisans' opponents and establishing a postwar dictatorship was not.

Many Slovenes have now concluded that Kucan might also consider quitting while he is ahead. As the head of Slovenia's League of Communists, he helped the country escape the self-destruction of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia in 1990-91. As ex-president of Slovenia, many feel that he deserves a dignified -- and quiet -- retirement. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Over the last two or three months under [Marcie Ries] and the U.S Office's leadership, there have been more results in stabilizing the political situation, and in presenting a clear perspective for Kosova, than for example over one or two years under the leadership of UNMIK.... A strong presence of Washington and Brussels in Kosova will [accelerate progress] in Kosova and in the Balkans, thus creating a clearer vision for the future." -- Kosova's parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci, at the U.S. Office in Prishtina at a gathering honoring Ries. Quoted by "Zeri" on 28 July.

"After the Dayton Accords in Bosnia [at the end of 1995] and in postconflict Kosovo, reconstruction aid poured in from Saudi Arabia. Much of it went into Wahhabi proselytizing, bullying, converting, and bribing of destitute Muslims. An austere desert sect, Wahhabism cannot abide what it considers idolatry, frippery, or nostalgia for objects in religious places. When forced by locals to renovate rather than supplant, the Saudis obliterated all historical highlights, interior decoration, turquoise tiling, and the like in local mosques, ripping out and whitewashing everywhere. Like the Serbs and Croats, they forcibly purged what they considered alien -- only they did so within the precincts of their own religion. In Kosovo's cemeteries, weeping villagers often witnessed Saudi bulldozers destroying the marble headstones of their Albanian forefathers from the 14th and 15th centuries. UN observers considered it an intra-Muslim dispute beyond their ken." -- Melik Kaylan in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," 3 August.