Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: June 13, 2003

13 June 2003, Volume 7, Number 18

THE STATUS OF KOSOVA REVISITED. The future status of Kosova has returned to the international political agenda. Some basic issues nonetheless remain unchanged since the province became an international protectorate in June 1999.

About two months before his 12 March assassination, the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic broke with the play-for-time approach of most Serbian politicians and called for talks on the status of Kosova as soon as possible (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 January 2003). Most observers suggested that he did so in order to outflank other politicians in competition for nationalist support amid expectations that Serbian general elections will be called in 2003 or 2004.

Few other Serbian leaders have chosen to demand immediate talks, but many have repeatedly raised the question of Kosova. To name but three, they include Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic, and Minister for Human and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic, all of whom have high profiles in Belgrade party politics.

Serbian politicians stress that any final settlement of Kosova's status must be based on UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which states that Kosova is part of Yugoslavia. Prior to the formal dissolution of that state in 2003, Belgrade and Podgorica agreed that Serbia should replace Yugoslavia in the wording.

This was done although all political parties representing Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority oppose any link with Serbia -- or Serbia and Montenegro, for that matter. The Albanians -- and many foreign observers -- also argue that the reference in Resolution 1244 to Kosova being part of Yugoslavia was not intended by the international community to give Belgrade a right to reoccupy the province some day, but rather to provide a legal cover under which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic could withdraw his forces from the province without a total loss of face after his military defeat by NATO.

Another point heard in Belgrade is that the status question requires a "regional" or "European" solution, aimed not at creating "new states" but at tackling regional issues such as "organized crime."

Kosovar opinion is wary of such ideas, sensing that they are a ploy to buy time until the EU can pressure Kosova into a political relationship with Serbia and Montenegro, much as Brussels forced those two republics in 2002 to set up a joint state. Kosovars also note that "combating organized crime" is a phrase often used by Serbian (and Macedonian) nationalists to mean "cracking down on Albanians" the same way that some Western politicians talk about "law and order" as a euphemism for cracking down on their own ethnic minorities.

Some Kosovar commentators argue that countries that start and lose wars can expect to lose territory, and that is the case where Serbia's relations with Kosova are concerned. Such Kosovars also caution that encouraging Belgrade to think that it has any role in the province would only cause its politicians' appetites to grow with the eating.

Kosovar fears have not been dispelled by the seemingly secretive way in which the outgoing head of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), Michael Steiner, and EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana have dealt with the composition of Kosova's delegation to the 21 June EU summit in Thessaloniki.

After some reluctance, Steiner agreed to include unspecified elected Kosovar officials in his group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 6 June 2003). Speaking in Podgorica on 6 June, Solana said he "expects" that Prishtina and Belgrade will "begin a dialogue" at the summit. One observer remarked that the secretive approach recalls that of parents with their children on the eve of a trip to the dentist.

In the course of discussions on both sides of the Atlantic and across the Balkans in recent months, several observers have pointed out that the status question should be settled sooner rather than later in order to provide a clear perspective and hence a secure political framework for the province (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001).

According to this argument, the international community must continue to insist on standards of democracy, a market economy, and minority rights, while at the same time acknowledging that these standards are best achieved when the future status of Kosova is clear and fixed. Kosova's elected president, Ibrahim Rugova, explicitly supports this view.

And about the status itself, all Kosovar Albanian parties are unanimous: Independence is the only option. They stress that a joint polity involving Serbia is out of the question following Milosevic's crackdown of 1998-99, and that any attempts by the EU or anyone else to force such a solution on Kosova is likely to lead to renewed armed violence.

Furthermore, vague talk about "European solutions" does not inspire much confidence on the ground in the Balkans, even if the speaker is someone like Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta.

Some Kosovar commentators also point out that independence for the province should not be seen as a generous gift by an all-powerful international community, but rather as the logical continuation of the dissolution of former Yugoslavia and the post-1945 worldwide trend toward decolonization based on self-determination and majority rule.

The international community has made it clear that the final status of Kosova -- whatever it may be -- must include guarantees for the Serbs and other minorities. These include freedom of movement, the right to return to one's former home, and the basic security enjoyed by all citizens in democratic countries. The Kosovars have been put on notice repeatedly that they must do more to ensure such rights for the Serbs and control ethnically motivated violence by ethnic Albanians.

But the Kosovars are unlikely to move beyond the dependency mentality that is often evident in Bosnia unless they are allowed to take more responsibility for their own affairs (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2003). Steiner has, in fact, begun to devolve some -- but not all -- of UNMIK's powers to Kosova's elected institutions.

His insistence on maintaining control over the Thessaloniki delegation, however, as well as the seeming secrecy surrounding Brussels' plans for Kosova, have led more than a few Kosovars to feel they are still being treated like a colony.

Another concern in Prishtina is the foreigners' continuing attempts to involve Belgrade in talks regarding Kosova's future, even if it is clear that Kosova will not be returned to Serbian rule outright (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 May 2003). One school of thought in the international community argues that no solution regarding Kosova's status can be lasting if Serbia does not play a role (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002).

But while most Kosovar politicians are willing to discuss "technical issues" with Serbia -- and with all of Kosova's neighbors -- they make it clear that Serbia forfeited any political role there during the 1998-99 conflict.

Some observers argue that encouraging Serbia into thinking it has a future in Kosova is a bad idea for at least two reasons. First, it channels energies in Serbia away from that country's truly important concerns, which are crime, corruption, and poverty. The killing of Djindjic left no doubt as to how deeply rooted and serious these problems are (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003).

Second, it encourages Kosova's Serbian minority to seek political solutions in Belgrade rather than in Prishtina, with the international institutions there and with their ethnic Albanian neighbors. In late December, Djindjic told a delegation of visiting Serbs from Kosova that they should look for answers to their problems in Prishtina, not just in Belgrade. (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S NEW NATIONAL SECURITY CONCEPT. About three weeks after its first presentation by the government's security adviser Lazar Kitanovski, the new National Security and Defense Concept is being discussed not only in parliament but also in the media. The draft concept contains an analysis of possible threats to the country's security and provides a plan to modernize the security forces and reform the government's approach to crisis management.

The authors of the project adopted a broad definition of threats to national security, ranging from nationalist, ethnic, or religious extremism and transnational organized crime structures to economic problems and natural disasters. During his presentation on 14 May, Kitanovski stressed that Kosova does not pose a security problem to Macedonia. For him, the activities of unnamed secret services of unspecified foreign countries pose a more dangerous threat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003).

A key element of the draft proposal is the formation of a Crisis Management Center (CMK) under the direct authority of the prime minister. The center's exact responsibilities have yet to be defined by law, but it seems clear that the prime minister and the ministers of interior and defense will be members of the new body, as will an unspecified number of presidential advisers.

The CMK will coordinate the efforts of the various branches of the police, army, civil defense, and other bodies. The formation of the CMK is also intended to overcome the confusion regarding each agency's responsibilities, which is due to a lack of clarity in the constitution.

At present, the president is the commander in chief of the army, while the prime minister is in charge of the police forces. This division of powers greatly impeded the country's defense capabilities during the 2001 interethnic conflict (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 June 2001). Some observers note that the idea of introducing a crisis management center is not new, because a similar body already existed under the previous government, although apparently without a legal basis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 July and 16 November 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 December 2001).

Being still a draft version, the plan prompted mixed reactions among experts and journalists. The weekly "Puls" on 26 May published three interviews with experts who broadly agree that the adoption of such a plan is necessary, but who also identify a number of issues that need to be changed before it can become law.

In one of the interviews, Trajan Gocevski of Skopje University's Institute for Defense and Peace Studies strongly endorsed centralizing crisis management by forming the CMK. He warned, however, that the center must not become a super-institution of its own, but rather something that unites all crisis-managing efforts.

Biljana Vankovska, who works at the same institute, was more critical. She argues that the authors failed to make up their minds whether to opt for a pro-European or a pro-U.S. position (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 June 2003). Reacting to a comment by a government representative to the effect that if necessary, a small country like Macedonia must endorse six different positions at the same time, Vankovska said: "I cannot agree with this: If they want Macedonia to be taken seriously, it has to act seriously on the international scene and take its international obligations seriously."

Among the detailed criticisms provided by the third expert, Zoran Ivanovski of the Military Academy, two points deserve mentioning. The first is his proposal to add an appendix to clearly define the responsibilities of the most important institutions. His second point contradicts Kitanovski's statement that Kosova is not a security threat to Macedonia. Ivanovski believes that the following sentence should be added to the concept: "The undefined status of Kosova presents a potential threat to the national security."

But perhaps the most negative comment of all came from a journalist, not from a defense expert. In the 23 May issue of the bi-monthly "Forum," Editor in chief Saso Ordanoski slammed the concept as "dangerous." His verdict is based on his finding that "on the twenty-something...pages..., the only world power and the most important factor for security and stability in the world, the United States, is not mentioned a single time, not even as a geographical term!"

Ordanoski argues that this was not a simple mistake, but a deliberate ideological decision, which could have far-reaching consequences for Macedonia. He also believes that a centralized institution such as the planned CMK runs counter to the division of powers as provided for in the constitution. "Think about the existence of such a Crisis Management Center under the authority of an anti-Western prime minister, such as Ljubco Georgievski, or of an anti-American premier, like [incumbent] Branko Crvenkovski." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

WILL THE EU DISAPPOINT THE BALKANS? European Union leaders met Balkan leaders on 21 June at the EU's Thessaloniki summit for a gathering that should usher in a new phase in mutual relations (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 February, 28 March, 4 and 25 April, and 30 May 2003). The gathering is the culmination of the six-month presidency of the EU by Greece, which has sought to build new bridges between the EU and the volatile Balkan region.

But amid so many other developments, can the EU stay focused in the coming years on stabilizing the region? Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic has already suggested that the western Balkan countries are in for a disappointment in Thessaloniki.

Roussos Koundouros, a spokesman for the Greek Presidency, says the enlarging European Union must take up its responsibilities toward countries like Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro: "The EU has a special responsibility and has made a commitment to help these [Balkan] countries integrate with the EU, further integrate, with the perspective of them becoming members when the time is right."

Koundouros says Greece wants existing links between the European Union and the Balkans, such as association and stabilization agreements, strengthened: "We thought of borrowing elements from the experience the EU gained while negotiating with the 10 acceding countries and adding them to our relations with the five countries of the western Balkans."

He explains this will include opening participation in various EU programs to the five countries, plus introducing a twinning mechanism so as to help those countries adapt their administrations to European standards. Athens also foresees hundreds of millions of euros in extra aid money. It wants agreement on these measures at the Thessaloniki summit.

Koundouros says the countries of the region will, of course, have to "do their part" to prepare their political and economic structures for EU membership. His remarks echo those of Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who said in May that the Balkan states should maintain the momentum of reform to dispel EU doubts about the pace of enlargement.

Papandreou referred to a phenomenon among existing members that he called "enlargement fatigue," and he said the EU states must be convinced the Balkans are doing enough to prepare themselves if they are to take the membership bids seriously. The fight against organized crime is a particular priority.

The Greek Presidency of the EU is coming to an end, but the spokesman says it is "essential" for the Brussels-based bloc to remain focused permanently on this region: "Greece, of course, has a special responsibility concerning its immediate neighbors. We will certainly be an advocate of closer links with the EU. We believe that what we are doing now is in the interests of the EU as a whole. We should not forget that these are European countries and that Europe will never be complete without their accession."

Not all political analysts believe the road ahead will be smooth. London-based analyst Heather Grabbe of the Center for European Reform says other matters are pressing on EU leaders, and they may not be able to devote so much attention to the Balkans: "The Balkans are not at the top of the agenda for any EU leaders at the moment. They are much more bothered about things like trans-Atlantic relations and other matters, and I think that is a problem in itself."

Grabbe says one dilemma for the EU is the time scale for prospective membership for the western Balkan countries. The EU will be preoccupied for years to come absorbing the 10 new mainly Central and Eastern European members, plus -- in the mid-term -- Bulgaria and Romania.

However, Croatia has already filed an application for membership. "Should Croatia have to wait for the other countries of the former Yugoslavia? That's the big question for the EU at this point. Is it better to have a regional approach, or is it better to admit countries one by one? And that's very tricky because it's a big dilemma in policy for the EU, whether it's better to stick to the principle of encouraging regional integration and sub-regional groupings first, with a view to acceptance later, or whether to take [individual] applications on their merits," Grabbe says (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003).

Meanwhile, leaders in the region are clearly impatient (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2003). In an interview with the "Financial Times" on 10 June, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski compared the coming Thessaloniki summit with the 1993 Copenhagen summit at which the EU set out the political and economic criteria for former Soviet bloc states to join. That expansion should come to pass next year.

He added that the government in Skopje may soon ask the EU to "transform" its Concordia peacekeeping mission into one of advising on border controls and police affairs, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April and 30 May 2003). He stressed that "what is important is that we contribute to the creation of a common European foreign and security policy on our own soil," adding that "the whole European project will be of lesser historical importance if the Balkans are not included." Trajkovski also called on the EU to change "the language of stabilization and the language of integration." (Breffni 0'Rourke)

WORLD WAR II EXPELLEES MEET IN SLOVENIA. Slovenia commemorates 7 June as "Expellee Day," remembering the day in 1941 when mass deportations of the Slovenian population by the Axis powers began. This year, World War II expellees, forced laborers, refugees, and other victims of war gathered at Ljubljana's Mostec Park to mark the anniversary, "Delo" reported on 7 June.

Even though the events happened six decades ago, their repercussions are ongoing. Many experienced exile as children, and some were even born in exile. The president of the Slovenian Society of Expellees, Ivica Znidarsic, observed that only now has Slovenia finally implemented legislation providing expellees with annuities and special benefits for health care and retirement. Over 9,000 Slovenes have taken advantage of the law to supplement their pensions.

In addition, German and Austrian compensation is being paid to about 9,300 Slovenes. Even so, said Znidarsic, more remains to be done. She noted that no compensation for damage to property has been arranged.

Most of those expelled came from Slovenia's north-central province of Stajerska, which was incorporated into Germany after the attack on Yugoslavia on 6 April 1941. Wasting no time, Hitler himself visited the provincial capital of Maribor on 26 April and made his famous declaration in a speech at the town hall: "Make this land German for me once again."

The plan was to Germanize as many Slovenes in the annexed land as possible, and to expel those judged unsuitable for assimilation. Altogether, some 63,000 Slovenes -- over 4 percent of the total population -- were forcibly resettled from their homes, especially from the Sava and Sotla River basins. Initially many went to Serbia, and later waves ended up in Bosnia or Croatia.

The Nazis drew up elaborate plans to resettle ethnic Germans from the Kocevje (German "Gottschee") enclave in the basin, but these were never fully realized. Most Kocevje Germans were put in camps before dispersing as refugees after the war (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 March 2002).

Mihaela Kramljak's story is typical of many from Stajerska. Her father worked as a revenue officer in the northern town of Radlje ob Drave. However, because the family originally came from the southern province of Dolenjska, they were forced to leave by the German authorities in July 1941.

The family was exiled to German-occupied Serbia, where they spent the next four years living with a Slovenian timber merchant near Belgrade. Her six-month-old brother died en route. Her older brother happened to be vacationing with an aunt in Ljubljana that summer, and he spent the war first under Italian, and then German, occupation.

Today, few would guess at Mihaela's tumultuous childhood. A retired doctor in Ljubljana at the age of 64, she spends her time gardening, taking foreign language classes, and traveling the world. This year's itinerary included Egypt and Cuba.

However, not all of the expellees ended up south. The majority -- some 45,000 -- were sent deep into German territory, to camps or large agricultural estates as forced laborers. Here they shared the mixed fates of forced laborers from across occupied Europe.

The Slovenian society organizes annual trips for its members. During last year's trip, according to a "Vecer" article of 8 June 2002, a bus tour took participants to eastern Germany to visit former labor camps at Buchenwald, Chemnitz, Jena, and other sites. The journey brought back painful memories for many.

Zdenka Kaplan recalled how her father and brother, injured during forced labor, were then killed by hospital staff. Viktor Kotor, expelled from Slovenia at the age of 11, found himself imprisoned in a manor house with 18- to 25-year-old women. The women themselves were victims of the Nazis' Lebensborn program designed to "breed" a master race, and young Viktor spent the war cleaning their shoes and tending the heating system.

For many, the end of the war did not finish the story. Leopold Marincek, recalled how his father, on returning to Slovenia from Buchenwald, recognized a familiar face. One of his prisoner overseers at the camp had transformed himself into a Yugoslav communist official.

Nor were all of those removed from Slovenia victims of the Germans. On 22 June 1942, Hungarians -- who in World War II annexed Slovenia's easternmost province of Prekmurje -- transported 568 Slovenes from four villages to the Sarvar concentration camp in western Hungary. Another 300, mostly from the Murska Sobota and lower Lendava area, joined them in the following years. Most of these Slovenes were actually from the westernmost province of Primorska, but had fled to Prekmurje from the Italians.

Parliamentary representative Janez Komljanec -- who himself was a child in exile with his family -- addressed those at this year's commemoration. "May this gathering serve as another reminder of the misfortune of war and its consequences, " he said. "You are witnesses to the most cruel violence of war.... [and] have become a living memorial to politics gone awry." (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Our basic political, economic, cultural, and virtually every other interest is linked to Europe, and precisely to that Europe which opposed the American war against Iraq and which the Americans mockingly called 'old Europe.' Our entry into NATO, coupled with subordination to America, will not speed up our entry into the European Union. If someone thinks that it will, let him ask the French and Germans. Entry into NATO can even delay our admission to the European Union, which is far off enough as it is. Acquiring NATO military equipment is very expensive, but we need [our] money for reforms that will bring our economy closer to European standards." -- Belgrade writer Aleksa Djilas. He was quoted in the weekly "NIN" of 9 May and later in the weekly "Vreme's" EU-linked supplement "Evropski forum" in its May issue.

"NATO's decision to launch a military operation against Serbia in 1999 and the Bulgarian government's decision to grant overflight rights to NATO aircraft were mistakes." -- Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic. Quoted by RFE./RL in Sofia on 6 June.