Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: June 6, 2003

6 June 2003, Volume 7, Number 17

WHICH WAY FOR MACEDONIAN FOREIGN POLICY? On 31 May, the daily "Utrinski vesnik" published two articles on the future course of Macedonian foreign policy. Former parliamentary speaker Tito Petkovski of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and Ljubomir Frckovski, who is a former foreign minister now advising President Boris Trajkovski on foreign and security affairs, discussed the best path for Euro-Atlantic integration. Both authors focus on the question of how the Balkan state can balance the strategic interests of the United States on the one hand and of the European Union on the other (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003).

Petkovski stresses that Macedonia has a geopolitically important position in the central Balkans, at an important crossroads between Europe, Asia, and Africa. He believes that any national security or defense strategy for a small country like Macedonia must be based on international and collective security systems, as it cannot cope with the new challenges of transnational organized crime and terrorism without the help of the international community.

Petkovski doubts, however, that an "international community" in the real sense of the word exists -- at least at the moment. He says that the U.S. pressure on the Central and Southeast European states to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) has deepened the already existing disagreements between "old Europe" (primarily France and Germany) and the United States over the Iraq war. The EU has repeatedly warned candidates for EU membership not to sign such agreements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, 19, 21, 27, 29, and 30 May, and 2 and 4 June 2003).

If the government wants to resolve this dilemma, Petkovski says, it must bear in mind that signing an extradition-immunity agreement would mean running afoul of international and domestic legislation.

At the same time, not signing the agreement would not only mean losing U.S. military aid, but also risking a new rift along ethnic lines in Macedonia. This is because most ethnic Albanians support U.S. policies, as do most ethnic Albanians throughout the Balkans, regarding the United States as their staunch friend.

While Petkovski does not propose a way out of this dilemma, Frckovski makes a clear choice. For him, it is more important for Macedonia to have good relations with the United States than with the EU.

Based on his own experiences as foreign minister, Frckovski accuses the EU of not being able to curb anti-Macedonian tendencies in Greece. In his view, the EU has done more damage than good to his country.

Greece imposed a two-year embargo on its northern neighbor in 1994-5 to protest against Macedonia's constitutional name and state symbols. The embargo severely damaged the country's fragile economy, and thanks to the Greek pressure, Macedonia was admitted to the UN under the cumbersome name, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and not under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2002 and 1 April 2003).

Frckovski cites a number of reasons why Macedonia should follow the United States rather than the EU: the recently signed U.S.-Adriatic Charter that would help Macedonia join NATO; reported U.S. plans to remain engaged in the Balkans and move military bases from Western Europe to the new allies in Central and Southeast European countries; and superior U.S. military capabilities for crisis management in the face of potential threats to regional stability from neighboring Kosova. He also notes that U.S.-Russian cooperation appears to have acquired a new lease on life, and that supporting Washington does not therefore automatically entail alienating Moscow, which many Macedonians would be reluctant to do.

In Frckovski's view, U.S. support for EU candidate states will not have any negative impact on their chances to join the Brussels-based bloc, "because some of [the EU members] have neither the power nor the will to punish EU candidate states. That is because [these same EU members] will be busy mending their own relations with the United States (as could be observed after the U.S. victory in Iraq), and because of the new division and balance of influence and power in Europe."

Frckovski also recalls the importance of U.S. influence on European integration. As Washington is able to divide the EU into "relevant" and "less relevant" parts, it has the power to force EU members to overcome their internal divisions over key issues. "The logic of this process strengthens the U.S. position instead of weakening it," Frckovski writes.

He concludes that a proper balance for Macedonian policy would be to be as pro-American as possible and as pro-European as necessary. Asking rhetorically whether Macedonian politicians have taken the necessary steps to achieve this balance, Frckovski's answer is clear: the ruling elites do not understand the situation. Instead, they allow their policies to be determined by chance rather than by clear decisions, thus reducing the country's chances of early accession to NATO and EU. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ROMA REFUGEES FROM KOSOVA STAGE PROTEST. Nearly 700 Roma refugees from Kosova are spending their third week living in the open at the Macedonian-Greek border. Saying they see no future for themselves in Macedonia, they are determined to seek a fresh beginning in a Western country. But Macedonian authorities have not allowed them to leave -- and no Western country, including Greece, has yet offered to take them in.

In May, Macedonian authorities stopped their convoy of buses at Medjitlija, some 210 kilometers south of the capital Skopje, saying they could not allow the Roma to leave the country as they had no passports or other valid travel documents. The refugees -- including children -- refused to turn around and set up an improvised camp at Medjitlija.

The Roma refugees fled Kosova after the 1999 NATO campaign, fearing reprisal attacks by ethnic Albanians who accused them of collaborating with Serbian forces during former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's 1998-99 crackdown on the ethnic Albanian majority. They say the West is now responsible for their fate -- since it was a Western war that drove them away from their homes.

The Roma have been living in Macedonia for the past four years, surviving on humanitarian aid. But the aid came to an end, and earlier this year, authorities closed down their refugee camp in the Skopje neighborhood of Shuto Orizari, citing deteriorating sanitary conditions.

Ahmet Naser of the Skopje-based Republican Organization for the Protection of Roma Rights told RFE/RL that the Roma refugees simply see no future for themselves in Macedonia because of the country's poor economic situation.

The United Nations refugee agency offered the Roma financial aid and help in finding them a place to live with local residents. The Roma refused the offer, saying the help would soon come to an end and that the authorities wanted simply to disperse them. They also refused the authorities' offer to request that they receive asylum in Macedonia.

Goran Momirovski, a spokesman for the UNHCR mission in Skopje, says that before thinking of moving someplace else, the Roma must first clarify their legal status.

As for resettlement in a Western country, that -- at least for now -- seems an unrealistic option. Momirovski told RFE/RL that according to the agency, the only solution for the Roma refugees is to accept the UNHCR offer: "About the possibility of solving the situation, we at UNHCR can see only one option so far, which means that the refugees should go back to Skopje and accept the offer by UNHCR which contains material and financial assistance for their accommodation in private houses, private accommodation, which is so far the only solution they have."

Kosova, meanwhile, is only a few hours' drive away. But the Roma refugees say they fear harassment by their former ethnic Albanian neighbors.

Naser of the Organization for the Protection of Roma Rights adds: "They have currently no wish to return for a number of reasons. In the first place, because they are afraid. Secondly, because their houses have been razed to the ground. And third, because they have no confidence in the international organizations which are there. Currently they are not willing to return to Kosovo. As for the future, this is an open question."

But for now, the question on everybody's mind is: how long can the hundreds of Roma stay on at Medjitlija, living in vinyl tents -- and in legal limbo? Spokesman Momirovski says the UNHCR is trying to prevent a possible use of force by authorities -- but does not exclude that happening.

There are concerns, meanwhile, that unless the situation is resolved quickly, another several hundred Kosova Roma refugees could soon join those already at Medjitlija. There have been several Kosova Roma protests -- the latest one on 2 June -- in front of EU headquarters and Western diplomatic missions in Skopje. So far, there has been no Greek or EU decision on the refugees' fate. (Julia Geshakova)

LJUBLJANA CLEANS UP ITS ACT. This summer in Ljubljana, a new sound is disturbing the evening quiet. There are footsteps in the dark, perhaps the bark of a vigilant dog, and then the notes of breaking glass. It is not a new crime wave gripping the town, but increased environmental awareness in the form of community recycling bins.

For some years the city already had collection devices for paper and glass, but the hulking metal containers were unsightly, had to be lifted by cranes, and were often inconveniently located. The new system uses sturdy color-coded plastic bins on wheels: green for glass, blue for paper, and yellow for stiff plastics and metals. In all, some 1,200 "ecological islands" of three containers apiece will be set up by the end of 2003, with special emphasis on locations near schools, shopping centers, and parking lots.

The primary motivation for the program in Ljubljana is that the municipal waste landfill in the marshland south of town is expected to reach full capacity by 2009, said Deputy Mayor Stane Brezovar in "Dnevnik" on 29 March.

Expanding the landfill is not an option. These lowlands not only provide much of Ljubljana's drinking water and serve as valuable agricultural land, but harbor many endangered species. Plans are in the works to protect the area as a future regional park.

Diminishing landfill capacity and increasing amounts of household waste are a growing problem throughout Slovenia. Although the average household still produces less waste than the EU average, this gap is narrowing as prosperity and urbanization increase. In the eastern city of Maribor, the city council is grappling with the scheduled closure this year of its Pobrezje landfill on the banks of the Drava River. Meanwhile, Slovenia's only hazardous waste dump, across the Drava River at Metava, urgently needs to be closed down and cleaned up, according to a 14 May article in "Dnevnik."

Ljubljana's waste separation program will not only reduce landfill waste, but also provide raw materials for industry and even generate some revenue. The program represents a good start, although more could be done. For example, the recycling of plastic bags remains an unresolved problem. Some smaller towns have been also separating waste for years, and in some cases more effectively. In Vrhnika, for example, compostable waste is collected separately.

Despite the fact that Slovenia's capital city is only now starting to catch up with such a basic program as community recycling, environmental awareness resonates more strongly here than in some other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The lower scale of industrial development in Slovenia largely spared it the industrial wastelands that scar the landscape across much of the former communist bloc.

It was in Slovenia that the first progressive environmental measures in communist Europe were taken in the 1980s, with the setting up of an environment fund and a tax making polluters responsible for the waste they produced. An EU working paper on environment policy in Slovenia (available at: blames the political barriers under communism for blocking the adoption of more stringent legislation. One need only recall the old coat of arms of communist Bosnia-Herzegovina -- twin chimneys billowing dark smoke -- to understand why.

Popular sentiment also promotes tidiness. Along the many trails cutting through the forests and mountains, signs remind hikers to pack out what they pack in. In general these are heeded, and the natural beauty remains relatively unsullied, if not absolutely pristine.

A Slovenian friend who participated in a Partnership for Peace program in Romania recounted how he and his Romanian colleagues relaxed over cans of beer at a mountain lodge. "When I asked where the trash can was," Tomaz recalls with indignation, a Romanian "just laughed and threw the cans into the woods." More recently, while serving on a peacekeeping mission in Kosova, he sent back digital photos of sheep grazing in stony pastures. Later he explained: "Those aren't stones, they're plastic bags. Thousands -- everywhere!" (And visitors to Albania could tell many similar tales of ubiquitous car wrecks and plastic bottles.)

While Tomaz shook his head at this un-Slovenian disregard for nature, I could not help silently recalling my family's train journey from Vienna to Ljubljana two years earlier. In the clammy, gray dampness of that January morning, we passed mile after mile of trees along the Sava River, their low branches festooned with plastic bags, waste paper, and other trash lodged there by high waters.

Although such waste is unsightly, hidden pollutants represent a more serious threat in Slovenia. Sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants are dropping, but nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide levels in the air are increasing with more vehicle use. Soil pollution is a concern not only in industrial areas, but also in farmland, where nitrates and pesticides affect groundwater.

It is only fitting that Slovenia's largest city has finally organized a community recycling program. Although this alone will not solve the landfill problem, it will contribute to instilling environmental consciousness as a part of everyday life. (Donald F. Reindl,

RFE/RL BOSNIAN BROADCAST RECEIVES OSCE PRIZE. On 3 June, the OSCE awarded first prize in its Bosnian media competition to RFE/RL Sarajevo Bureau editor Danijela Bozic for her 14 February televised roundtable conference of officials and experts, the bureau said in a statement. The roundtable on the lack of a unified education system in Bosnia was rebroadcast by 22 television stations across the country. There were 96 entries in the contest from all parts of Bosnia.

In presenting the award to Bozic, OSCE Ambassador to Bosnia Robert Beecroft congratulated her "for the extraordinary quality and professionalism in covering [Bosnian] education reform issues...[and] setting a high journalistic standard for the media."

A full English-language transcript and other information about the conference and its participants is available at (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April 2003). (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: The EU is "not a prison." -- Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, announcing an "exit clause" in the proposed constitution enabling any EU member to leave the bloc. Quoted by RFE/RL on 30 May.

"In the new European Union, we will be interested in keeping good relations with the United States. France and Germany need to accept this new state of affairs." -- Bronislaw Komorowski, former Polish defense minister and deputy chairman of the parliament's National Defense Committee. Quoted by Brian Whitmore from Warsaw in "The Boston Globe" of 31 May.

"It will no longer be possible for Germany and France to issue statements saying that 'Europe thinks this, or Europe thinks that.'" -- An unnamed "senior Czech official," speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted in ibid.

"A united Europe working with America can do a lot of good." -- U.S. President George W. Bush, quoted by dpa in Evian, France, on 2 June.

"If anyone doubts America's staying power in Iraq, they should look at what our staying power is in the Balkans. September 11 has clearly changed the stakes for the United States in dealing with security issues in those areas that could be sanctuaries for terrorists. [Were Bosnia to fail as a state, it would not be] just any failed state around the world, but one with a Muslim population in the heart of Europe." -- U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, quoted by the "International Herald Tribune" in Washington on 23 May.