Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: January 31, 2003

31 January 2003, Volume 7, Number 3

DJINDJIC CALLS FOR TALKS ON KOSOVA'S STATUS. In an apparently abrupt policy shift, Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic recently called for opening talks immediately with the international community and Kosovar Serb and Albanian leaders on the future status of Kosova. His apparent about-face on the issue provoked a lively response from Serbs and Albanians alike, even though Michael Steiner, the head of the United Nations civilian administration (UNMIK) in Kosova, and the U.S. State Department soon made it clear that the status question is not on the agenda for now (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 21, 22, and 24 January 2003).

Djindjic said in Belgrade on 16 January that his "instinct" tells him that "now is the right time for opening the question of Kosovo." He added that, "We do not have any time left to wait for resolving problems in that province, and I request that the debate on Kosovo's status start immediately." He argued that "in two years, it will be too late because Kosovo has already begun to turn into an independent state."

The prime minister continued: "Our strategy is [to seek] a conceptual change in administering Kosovo, as well as some other steps. The question is whether to start now or wait until [international] standards are met, that is, that life returns to normal.... In the past two years, we've tended to wait, and the majority view has been that now is not the right time to raise the question."

UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999, which set the framework for Kosova to be an international protectorate under NATO-led occupation and a UN-led administration, refers to Kosova as a part of Yugoslavia.

Until now, Serbian and international officials have ruled out discussing Kosova's status until certain standards have been met, including security and free movement for all. One of the key benchmarks is the return of more than 100,000 displaced Serbs, Roma, Bosnian Muslims, and others, most of whom fled with the withdrawing Serbian forces in June 1999 and so far have been unable to return.

Steiner has suggested that the UN transfer its administrative functions in Kosova to the European Union. Moreover, UNMIK offered its stock response to Djindjic's remarks, saying the UN Security Council will have the last word on Kosova's status.

Djindjic appealed to the EU to protect Serbia's security and give it the same amount of attention it gives to other countries in the region. Djindjic said that the security of Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and, to a certain extent, Albania is dependent on stability in Kosova.

The timing of Djindjic's comments suggests an attempt to shift the focus of the Serbian public and media away from economic difficulties, Serbia's inability to elect a president, and delays in the replacement of the Yugoslav Federation with a looser state, Serbia and Montenegro.

In all likelihood, general elections will be held in Serbia later in 2003, and Djindjic appears to be getting a head start in appealing to that most patriotic of themes for Serbs: Kosova. However, Djindjic, in remarks at a Belgrade news conference on 16 January, avoided traditional nationalist references to the province as "the cradle of Serbian civilization." Instead, he insisted that Serbs in Kosova must be respected as a "constituent element with collective, and not just individual, rights."

Djindjic's deputy prime minister and point man for Kosova and southern Serbian affairs, Nebojsa Covic, recently advocated opening talks on Kosova's status in 2004, following massive returns of displaced Serbs to the province expected later in 2003. Nevertheless, Covic responded positively to Djindjic's remarks, saying he agrees that "now is the right time for beginning discussions about the final status of Kosovo."

However, the deputy chairman of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Dragan Marsicanin, whose statements invariably echo Kostunica's views, disagreed with Djindjic. "It is unthinkable to open the question of Kosovo's final status under the present circumstances that do not guarantee even minimal conditions for normal life for Serbs in the area," Marsicanin said.

Marsicanin said it is not clear why Djindjic has suddenly changed his stance, and so radically, and asked, "Whose interests does he really represent?"

Rasim Ljajic, Yugoslavia's minister for ethnic and national communities, said he does not expect talks on Kosova's final status to begin for another two years, as they depend on the resolution of specific problems faced by the inhabitants of the province, such as security, the return of displaced persons and the restitution of their property, and economic and other problems. "At the present time, I don't see a real readiness by the international community or from Kosovar Albanians or Belgrade officials that they are ready even to open preliminary political discussions, which I consider necessary to have prior to opening negotiations on resolving the status of Kosovo. Moreover, there is no willingness by the U.S. government, which is the most important player. Consequently, 2005 [at the earliest] could mark the beginning of discussions on the final status of Kosovo," Ljajic said.

Belgrade political analyst Dusan Janjic from the Forum for Ethnic Relations said it is premature to open a dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina on real problems and standards defining the status of Kosova: "No one can predict when the decision on the final status of Kosovo will be made. There is one current in international politics represented by Mr. Steiner, a portion of the [U.S.] Congress, and some Serbian politicians such as Mr. Djindjic who consider that recognition of Kosovo's conditional independence will have to come relatively soon, changing it from a UN protectorate to a protectorate of the European Union. But the mainstream view is that 10 to 15 years are needed before the UN Security Council will be able to decide whether Kosovo should be independent or not."

Janjic wants Yugoslav President Kostunica to organize roundtable discussions on the basic principles of policy toward Kosova. He said Djindjic has prepared an operational plan to do this with the participation of nongovernmental organizations, representatives of Serbs in Kosova, and representatives of all branches of Serbia's government.

Kosovar Albanians were at first unusually slow to react to Djindjic's remarks, perhaps unsure how to respond to what on the surface may look like support for their demands but actually may be the first step toward partitioning Kosovo.

Hashim Thaci, a former guerrilla commander and the head of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), the province's second-largest Albanian party, said that while Kosovar Albanians are interested in building good relations with their neighbors, their first priority is to establish the elements of a state that will be recognized by the international community once they are in place.

He argued that: "There are plenty of ways to achieve independence for Kosova, but first of all we have to fulfill our own obligations domestically, and we have to convince the world that independence for Kosova is a good thing for the region. All citizens of Kosova must have full rights, freedom, and democracy. But when it comes to Kosova's final status, that's a matter for the Kosovars and the international community to resolve -- not that our neighbors will be excluded -- but Kosova's final status will be decided by Prishtina and the international community."

Ramush Tahiri, an adviser to the speaker of Kosova's parliament, Nexhat Daci, said that what is new in Djindjic's remarks is that he is asking the EU to support and protect the Serbs while requesting that the issue of Kosova's status be put on the negotiating table, together with a redefinition of Bosnia-Herzegovina's frontiers.

Tahiri said what Djindjic appears to be pushing for is a division of Kosova between Serbian and non-Serbian municipalities, so that all Serb-inhabited regions -- be they in Kosova or Bosnia -- "would be under Belgrade's umbrella."

Elsewhere, Kosovar Serbs have given Djindjic's remarks a mixed response.

A leading Serbian member of Kosova's parliament, Rada Trajkovic, praised Djindjic's proposal, saying she believes he will not only take care of the interests of the state but also those of the Kosova's Serbian community. Similarly, the chairman of the Serbian parliament's Kosovo Committee, Momcilo Trajkovic (no relation), said this is the right time to open talks.

And a member of the Kosovar parliament's collective presidency, Oliver Ivanovic, said Djindjic's call for talks on Kosova is part an attempt to define the position of Serbia and integrate it into Europe. However, Ivanovic said no one is ready to hold talks yet, "not even the Albanians," and that the danger of making hasty decisions in such talks is considerable. He also branded the Kosovar Albanian call for independence as nothing but an illusion. (Jolyon Naegele)

MACEDONIA'S LIONS -- THE LAST CHAPTER? Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski announced on 23 January that a controversial special police unit, the Lions, is to be dissolved. The decision came after heavily armed members of the unit blocked the major highway between Skopje and the Blace border checkpoint on 22-23 January to demand clarification of their status. The Lions are widely regarded as the hard-line force of former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski and are detested by the ethnic Albanian minority.

The situation on the highway briefly became very tense when regular police tried to clear the road on the afternoon of 22 January. Representatives of the Lions requested a meeting with Crvenkovski, Interior Minister Hari Kostov, and President Boris Trajkovski to discuss the unit's fate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2003).

The Lions' future has been unclear since October, when the Interior Ministry announced that the unit was to be restructured in the wake of the September legislative elections. The plans envisioned that some Lions would join the border police, while others would be retrained as a special antiterrorism unit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002). This announcement was the result of repeated demands made by the international community that the Lions be dissolved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March and 19 April 2002). Nonetheless, no concrete steps were taken.

At first glance, the roadblock seemed to have brought about a solution. After a three-hour meeting with representatives of the special unit, Crvenkovski said on 23 January that the Lions will cease to exist as an organization. He added that the formation of the Lions in the summer of 2001 -- at the height of the interethnic crisis -- was neither necessary nor constitutional.

Those Lions with a valid employment contract will reportedly be given new jobs in the police and the army. Those without valid contracts will be considered for employment if their records are clean.

The others face an uncertain future. According to previous information, some Lions have invalid employment contracts signed only by Boskovski. "This kind of contract is invalid because it is signed neither by the finance minister nor by the [government] Employment Agency," police General Zoran Jovanovski said on 9 November (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002).

However, two open questions remained after the meeting. One question concerned a possible amnesty for those Lions who have committed crimes. Immediately after the meeting, Lions' spokesman Toni Mihajlovski said the government will grant an amnesty to those involved in relatively minor criminal acts but not those involved in murders, rape, or drug trafficking, "Dnevnik" reported.

But the Interior Ministry denied on 24 January that an amnesty was in the works, saying that "neither the prime minister, nor the president, nor the Interior Ministry has the constitutional right to grant an amnesty to anybody." During the unit's short existence, various members of the Lions have repeatedly been involved in criminal acts ranging from bar brawls to shoot-outs and war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March , 17 July, and 1 October 2002).

The other question was whether Crvenkovski's junior coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), will agree to the deal. BDI spokeswoman Ermira Mehmeti told "Dnevnik" of 27 January that her party opposes the solution announced by Crvenkovski. Mehmeti added that the plan to employ Lion members in the army and the Interior Ministry contravenes the Ohrid peace accord of August 2001. "The Ohrid peace agreement stipulates that all armed groups formed during [the 2001] conflict [between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the security forces] must be disarmed and disbanded," Mehmeti argued. She added that under Crvenkovski's proposal, the Lions would not be dissolved but merely reassigned and that the BDI ministers will challenge Crvenkovski's decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2003).

On 28 January, however, the government, including the BDI ministers, unanimously agreed to the formal dissolution of the Lions. He added that a special commission will be set up to decide which members of the Lions will be employed by the Interior Ministry and the army and which will not. Kostov said that the Amnesty Bill passed on 8 March 2002, which was originally designed to pardon UCK fighters, will also apply to the Lions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 27 November and 5 December 2001, 31 January and 8 March 2002, and 29 January 2003). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SLOVENIA MAKES ITS DEBUT -- AMID CONTROVERSY. On 6 January, the Slovenian daily "Delo" published an interview with Alenka Dermastia, editor of the last volume of the Encyclopedia of Slovenia. The publishing firm Mladinska Knjiga recently announced the publication of that volume, which contains an index and 1,579 supplemental entries.

Plans for the Encyclopedia of Slovenia were sketched out over 30 years ago, and the work appeared serially after the publication of Volume 1 in 1987. Mladinska Knjiga first floated the idea of a Slovenian encyclopedia in 1968, aware of the lack of lexicographic and encyclopedic publications in Slovenia. Another six years passed before an editorial board was established in 1974.

Initially, the project was scheduled to include six volumes plus an index. This grew to 12 plus one in 1986, when Dusan Voglar became chief editor. By 1997, when Volume 11 appeared, the plans had expanded to the current 15 volumes plus the index. One obstacle was that there was no previous national encyclopedia of Slovenia to rely on as a model. The best analogy available, said Dermastia, was the Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia and, after that, the Slovak Encyclopedia.

The appearance of 30,000 copies of Volume 1 in 1987 aroused some resentment in Yugoslavia because the Encyclopedia of Yugoslavia project was then in full swing -- an enormous, five-language undertaking that eventually perished with Yugoslavia itself after getting as far as the volume with the letter K. Perhaps, Dermastia added, there was a fear that independent projects would prompt the republics to withdraw from the joint project. In retrospect, she noted, the decision to start the project was an early step toward Slovenia's independence.

The scope of the project was massive. Each volume involved approximately 500 writers, and in the end more than 2,000 contributed. Each 400-page volume is replete with maps, photographs, paintings, woodcuts, and other graphic illustrations of Slovenian life.

The work is not without its critics, though. The greatest general shortcoming of the work, say many, is its overemphasis on Josip Broz Tito's Partisan forces of World War II. The Partisans were elevated to near mythic status in the former Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 June 2002). Criticism of their actions was taboo, and a disproportionate amount of historiography was expended on their activity prior to the collapse of communism.

When the 15th volume of the Slovenian encyclopedia appeared just over a year ago, Justin Stanovnik, president of the Nova Slovenska Zaveza (New Slovenian Testament, an organization dedicated to honoring Slovenia's noncommunist resistance in World War II), said that double standards were all too evident in its composition. Most of the encyclopedia, he said, is sound, but much information relating to the postwar period is "not only untrue, but unjust and insulting," "Delo" reported on 4 April 2002. According to Stanovnik, the work omits unsavory details about the Partisans. In addition, there is a deficit of material on the Domobranci (Home Guard) and other noncommunist forces of World War II.

Bernard Nezmah also referred to this lack of balance in a 7 January 2002 review in the weekly "Mladina." In his review of Volume 16 in "Mladina" on 6 January 2003, Nezmah went on to say that the volumes display cultural elitism as well.

He argued that, although the final volume contains the names of "forgotten Domobranci officers, a Slovenian cardinal, [and] CEOs of major firms," much was left out. Comedians and popular musicians are passed over -- even Vlado Kreslin, a megastar by Slovenian standards, is overlooked. Chess players are listed, but not soccer players. Radio Monoster -- a Slovenian-language station broadcasting one hour daily in Hungary -- is covered, but not legendary popular stations such as Ljubljana's Radio Student.

In addition to politics and popular culture, others point to a deficiency in religious topics. For example, there are no entries for "God" or "Christmas" (both begin with the letter B in Slovenian and would have appeared in the first volume). This shortcoming was ameliorated somewhat after independence with the 1991 appointment of Anton Stres -- now auxiliary bishop of Maribor -- to the editorial board.

Dermastia, who is one of only two people to last out the entire life span of the project, is understandably cool toward the criticisms. Often, she said, a few individuals found fault with items of personal significance. Regarding World War II history, she admitted that many noncommunist events and individuals were overlooked, but she also said that much of this material has not been sufficiently researched. As for criticisms of religious material, Dermastia said that these are relatively few and that God, gods, and Christmas appear within other entries.

At 29,000 Slovenian tolars ($132) per volume, the price for the entire set of 16 books comes to over $2,000, making it a reference work that few will consider purchasing for their home libraries. Bargain hunters can, however, receive a 25 percent discount by buying the entire set at once, according to the publisher's website (

As for what follows, said Dermastia, it depends on Mladinska Knjiga. A digital version is one possibility and, she noted, critical comments will be taken into account when a second edition is prepared. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK: "This cabinet understands full well the political, social, and economic situation of this country. Our fundamental goal is to improve the situation and affirm that Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the road to European integration. We want to carry out economic and social reforms, complete the transformation process, and make Bosnia-Herzegovina a country that is in harmony with European standards." -- New Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic. Quoted by Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service in Sarajevo on 14 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2003).