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Balkan Report: November 19, 2004

19 November 2004, Volume 8, Number 41

PREMIER'S RESIGNATION HIGHLIGHTS PROBLEMS IN MACEDONIA. After a weekend filled with rumors that he might step down, Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov announced his resignation on 15 November. Kostov, who does not belong to any of the governing parties, led the government for little more than five months. He replaced Branko Crvenkovski, who exchanged the prime minister's job for the presidency following the death in a plane crash in February of President Boris Trajkovski.

It is unlikely that Kostov's resignation will trigger a major political crisis. It will, however, prolong the current paralysis of the political process caused by the lengthy discussion about the government's plans to cut the number of administrative districts and to streamline the state administration.

Kostov's decision to stand down also highlights a number of weaknesses and problems within the governing coalition that contributed to the current paralysis. These weaknesses -- if not addressed in the near future -- may in the long run lead to political destabilization.

Speaking at a press conference on 15 November, Kostov said he feels that the governing coalition lacks a consensus and is not capable of the teamwork necessary to attain the country's strategic goals. Although he did not mention any names or parties, Kostov implicitly blamed the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) for the lack of cooperation among the coalition partners.

Specifically, Kostov said "one of the coalition partners" understands its role in the government to center exclusively on the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, and is demanding that "one of the ethnic communities" be proportionally represented in the state administration. (Kostov himself is a member of the well-integrated Vlach minority.) At the same time, Kostov said the unnamed political party promotes only its national and party interests and does so through nepotism and corruption.

According to Kostov, the BDI has refused in the cabinet sessions to approve a number of draft laws regarding privatization of state property and budgeting, demanding that the Finance Ministry change its employment rules to allow the employment of 15 new officials. "I am not prepared to work under such conditions," Kostov said. "I am not prepared [to accept] inefficient work in the government, setting preconditions, and blocking the reform process in the political and, above all, in the economic sphere because of daily political horse trading." Kostov underscored that he does not consider his resignation as a personal defeat or weakness, adding that he is a fighter who does not easily compromise his political principles.

BDI representatives reacted to Kostov's resignation with a mixture of surprise and defiance. BDI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti said her party did not expect Kostov's move. Reacting to Kostov's criticism that the BDI blocked the government's work with its demand for the employment of ethnic Albanian officials, Mehmeti said: "We do not consider the debates in the cabinet to represent [serious] differences or blackmail, but [only] an exchange of views." BDI legislator Rafis Aliti told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 15 November that his party will not give up its demand for proportional representation of ethnic Albanians in the state administration.

Such tensions between Kostov and the BDI are nothing new. In September 2003, when Kostov was still interior minister, he clashed with the BDI over the handling of a police operation to arrest ethnic Albanian suspects. And in July, Kostov faced stiff resistance from the BDI when he wanted to dismiss Transport and Communications Minister Agron Buxhaku over corruption allegations. At that time, Buxhaku reportedly said the only person qualified to decide on his resignation was not Kostov but BDI Chairman Ali Ahmeti.

In addition to his problems with the BDI, Kostov is said to have had problems with Economy Minister Stevco Jakimovski of the other small coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats (LDP). The LDP, for its part, claimed that Kostov has more problems with Finance Minister Nikola Popovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), which is the largest coalition partner. But SDSM spokesman Boris Kondarko said his party regards Kostov's withdrawal as a personal move and declined to comment. Kondarko stressed that the SDSM has always supported Kostov.

Media reports suggest that Kostov's position in the cabinet was weak from the beginning of his tenure. Kostov entered Crvenkovski's cabinet as an independent minister, without the support of a major political party. His previous experience as a bank manager was little help in balancing the interests of the coalition partners, as "Utrinski vesnik's" Erol Rizaov put it.

Whoever is chosen as Kostov's successor, he or she will need both the backing of a political party and the support of the other coalition partners to revive the political process and to carry out the necessary economic reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SERBIAN ARMY SCANDAL RAISES QUESTIONS. The killing of two conscripts has raised questions about the possible role of Serbia and Montenegro's military in protecting war crimes indictees. The scandal has also served to further unsettle an already volatile political situation.

On 5 October, two young soldiers on guard near Belgrade's extensive Topcider military complex died in a shooting incident. The army subsequently announced that the two had shot each other, but many Serbs suspected that there was something more involved than a tragic accident, or even an incident of bullying or hazing, which are no rarity in the Serbian military. Some journalists pointed out, moreover, that conscripts Dragan Jakovljevic and Drazen Milovanovic had apparently Serbian names, whereas bullying incidents often involve members of ethnic minorities.

The army made an initial report on the incident, and on 21 October Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic sacked Colonel Radomir Cosic as commander of the Guards Brigade, to which the two young recruits belonged. For its part, the Supreme Defense Council, which is headed by Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic, subsequently named an independent commission to conduct an investigation, but it was not completely independent of the military.

Some critics suggested that the guards were shot because they discovered the presence of one or more indicted war criminals at the facility, which is a cavernous command post dating from the era of Marshal Josip Broz Tito. It reportedly contains a six-floor-deep bomb shelter under the capital's Dedinje district, where many of the elite live. Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, and many critics inside Serbia have long argued that the Serbian military and some of the civilian authorities are protecting former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and some other indictees, a charge that the Serbian government denies.

The growing scandal over the Topcider killings quickly took on a political dimension. Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic and former Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac suggested in Belgrade on 7 and 10 November, respectively, that the soldiers were shot because they had indeed seen someone they were not supposed to see. Korac echoed Draskovic, who charged that the authorities "are hiding the crime [of concealing indictees] with lies and new crimes." The foreign minister argued that "our soldiers are being killed outside the secret [tunnel] entrances of those [war criminals] whose hostages we are [in the eyes of the international community], and then [the authorities] say those young guards shot each other."

About this time, the Serbian media reported that Draskovic also held secret talks with Serbian President Boris Tadic in Belgrade aimed at bringing down the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, to which Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) belongs, and forcing early elections. The outspoken Draskovic has publicly criticized the Serbian government over a variety of issues ever since it was set up early in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February and 19 April 2004).

Tadic told reporters on 12 November that his talks with Draskovic were about Kosova and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, on which the two men share identical views, and not about electoral politics. But Tadic's Democratic Party and Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) are bitter rivals. Recent public opinion polls suggest that Tadic is Serbia's most popular politician, whereas Kostunica and the DSS finish a poor third after the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and Tomislav Nikolic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 8 October 2004).

On 13 November, the SPO called on parents of draftees not to allow their sons to report for duty until the Topcider incident is clarified. Defense Minister Davinic criticized the SPO's appeal as senseless.

Former Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic of the Democratic Party then wrote in the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 14 November that the Topcider incident and the ensuing scandal show that "the army is running the country," and that General Aco Tomic is the power behind Kostunica. "Look at whose reports Kostunica bases his decisions on. I repeat, Aco Tomic is the chief of state [hiding] in the wings," Zivkovic charged.

Elsewhere, lawyer and prominent human rights activist Biljana Kovacevic-Vuco told the German news agency dpa that the army is in need of a thorough-going reform. "The army has not only not reformed [after the fall of communism], it was frozen in the Cold War era, and that on the side of the Soviet Union," she stressed. The army "has never, ever touched and has continued influencing the country through manipulation, intimidation, blackmail, even murder," she said.

Meanwhile, the army has apparently succeeded in blocking the release of any findings by the independent commission that would contradict its own version of the Topcider incident. Lawyer Bozo Prelevic, who heads the commission, said in Belgrade on 13 November that that body did not reveal its findings the previous day as planned because it and the army failed to agree on their findings.

President Marovic then stated that outside experts might be called in to assist in the investigation, suggesting that he had unnamed foreign experts in mind. But General Branko Krga, who heads the army's General Staff, said on 16 November that any "supervision" over the commission must not come from abroad, only from within Serbia and Montenegro. He repeated the military's position that "we are hiding no fugitives."

For now, it remains unclear whether the scandal will lead to further revelations about abuse of power within the military and perhaps to some reforms, or whether it will only serve as a political football between the Kostunica government and its opponents. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "The new [EU and NATO] member states are on the fringes of Europe. They have a band of potentially unstable states to their east -- being Belarus [and] Ukraine, not to mention Russia. And they simply have a keener appreciation for the sort of geopolitical thinking that comes from Washington rather than [from Western] Europe." -- Slovak security expert Tomas Valasek, who is director of the Brussels office of the independent Center for Defense Information, to RFE/RL in Prague on 12 November.