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Balkan Report: September 12, 2003

12 September 2003, Volume 7, Number 30

GOVERNMENT CRISIS LOOMING IN MACEDONIA? A massive police operation aimed at the "neutralization" of armed groups recently shattered the unstable peace in northern Macedonia. It also sparked a controversy within the governing coalition that could have easily turned into an all-out government crisis.

The police operation started after two persons were kidnapped on 27 August and a series of explosions took place the following day. Initially there were few results in the large-scale manhunt for the main suspect in the kidnappings -- Avdil Jakupi, who is also known as Commander Jackal, as well as for members of the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH), which took responsibility for the grenade attacks.

On 3 September, police decided to dismantle their checkpoints near the village of Vaksince after the local people assured them that the armed men were not in the village. The involvement of ethnic Albanian lawmakers in persuading the police to withdraw also contributed to easing the tensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August, and 2 and 3 September 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003).

Although Interior Minister Hari Kostov reportedly said that he does not want to use "atomic bombs to fight ants," the first part of the operation recalled the security forces' heavy-handed tactics in the 2001 conflict with the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK). That is why many villagers fled settlements that were besieged by the police over the weekend of 30-31 August.

But the police did not retreat from the entire region. While the initial operation concentrated on the village of Vaksince on the Macedonian-Serbian border, international news agencies reported a clash between police forces and unspecified armed groups in the village of Brest (northwest of Vaksince) on 7 September. After the operation, the Interior Ministry confirmed that two ethnic Albanians were killed and one detained by the security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2003).

The news about the results of the dragnet prompted serious discussions within the governing coalition. On 7 September, the leaders of the ethnic Albanian Union for Democratic Integration (BDI) gathered for an emergency meeting to discuss the question whether or not the BDI deputy interior and defense ministers had been informed by their superiors about the planned operation. During the meeting, BDI Chairman Ali Ahmeti -- the former UCK leader -- reportedly threatened to leave the coalition because of a lack of coordination among the coalition partners.

This point was confirmed by BDI lawmaker Hysni Shaqiri. "We are not satisfied with the way the coalition works," Shaqiri told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters. He added that consultations should take place before the police are sent out on such missions, which should be conducted so as not to alarm the civilian population.

In a separate statement, Shaqiri told "Utrinski vesnik" of 9 September that "neither the state institutions, nor the government, nor the citizens are satisfied with the situation, [since any] misuse of force is incompatible with the citizens' interests and the democratic processes." He also stressed that "all problems must be resolved through political means and dialogue."

Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski indirectly denied charges that the BDI deputy ministers were not informed, saying that BDI representatives participated in every government meeting on the security situation. But he confirmed that the BDI members were "nervous" about the police operation. Crvenkovski stressed, however, that there were no differences between the SDSM and the BDI regarding the long-term objectives of the government.

To overcome the disagreements between the SDSM and the BDI over the use of force in dealing with militant groups, Crvenkovski and Ahmeti met on 8 September with Kostov and his ethnic Albanian deputy, Hazbi Lika. Together with Deputy Prime Minister Musa Xhaferi and BDI Deputy Chairman Agron Buxhaku, they reviewed the effects of the dragnet. A report by an ad hoc commission set up immediately after the operation, however, did not record any civilian casualties, saying that the operation was carried out in a professional manner. After the meeting, Buxhaku denied that there was any government crisis.

For the time being, the coalition partners seem to have overcome any "misunderstandings." But given their different approaches on how to cope with militant groups -- the SDSM is willing to use the police, while the BDI prefers dialogue and negotiations -- there is enough room for future conflicts.

If one takes a look at the opposition's reaction to the dragnet, one can even see that the political class as a whole is divided on this question -- not along political, but rather along ethnic lines. While the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) supported the operation, the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) condemned the use of army units. As long as this dividing line exists, it will be easy for any militant group to foment interethnic tensions. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL WANTS SERBIAN TORTURE CHARGES INVESTIGATED. Amnesty International is asking for an investigation into allegations that Serbian prison authorities tortured suspects arrested in connection with the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on 12 March (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March, 9 May, and 8 August 2003). In a report released on 4 September, the international human rights watchdog group says accounts by victims and their lawyers suggest a pattern of widespread torture of detainees.

Allegations of torture include asphyxiation by taping bags over the head, beatings, electric shocks, and mock executions. Testimonies also concern nonphysical violence, such as sleep deprivation. The report is based on interviews with victims and their lawyers.

Hugh Poulton is a researcher on the Balkans for Amnesty International in London. He visited Serbia in July and met with lawyers and relatives of those detained in connection with the Djindjic assassination. "We came across about 15 to 20 serious cases [of abuse and torture]. We believe this could possibly just be scratching the surface," Poulton said. "It seems to be particularly on what were perceived as low-level criminals or 'small fish,' who were unlikely to get anybody's interest or much public sympathy."

Poulton said most of the reports of torture and ill-treatment occurred during Operation Saber, launched by the Serbian authorities after a state of emergency was declared following the assassination. At the end of April, the Interior Ministry announced that more than 10,000 people had been detained, of whom some 4,500 remained in custody.

Charges have since been filed against 44 suspects. Trials are expected to start in October.

The Amnesty report follows a similar investigation by the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The IWPR report, released in June, also gathered testimony that pointed to the mistreatment and torture of suspects by Serbian authorities.

Serbian authorities have repeatedly maintained there have been no significant breaches of human rights in connection with the Djindjic case. Rasim Ljajic is minister for human rights and minority rights for Serbia and Montenegro. He told RFE/RL that international organizations were given the possibility of visiting prisoners in the country's jails and discussing their treatment. "I cannot rule out the possibility that during the [Djindjic] arrests, there was [use of force]," he said. "But in jails, [I can say that] there has not been any use of force by guards. To the contrary, reports from international organizations noted that prisoners had told them that prison guards were behaving correctly."

In April, in response to increasing external pressures, Serbian authorities allowed representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to visit Serbia's central prison and the main police station in Belgrade. In a joint report, the two groups documented two cases of possible torture.

Amnesty's Poulton said accusations of torture and ill-treatment by security forces have long been issues in Serbia and have again been highlighted by Operation Saber. "There have been repeated cases of ill-treatment and torture over the recent past and before that. They were very rarely seriously investigated," he said. "We notice, for example, that the recommendation, which is many years old now, from the United Nations' Committee Against Torture to have torture [mentioned] as a crime in the Criminal Code is still yet to be [carried out]. Penal punishments for police officers who use force against detainees are very low. Very few are prosecuted, [and] when they are, they're quite often given suspended sentences and remain in the police force."

Amnesty International is asking for an investigation into the torture reports. The organization says human rights groups should be given access to interview detainees privately about the allegations. (Antoine Blua)

MORE ON THE BOSNIAN EDUCATION REFORM. Until 1 September, Muslim and Croatian children in dozens of schools in Bosnia-Herzegovina entered school buildings through separate entrances to go to separate classrooms with different teachers. Children from Bosnia's three main ethnic groups -- Croats, Muslims, and Serbs -- studied under different curricula from different textbooks, which sometimes included ethnically offensive terminology or controversial interpretations of events.

All this, officials say, is coming to an end. The Council of Europe has made eliminating ethnic discrimination in education a postaccession condition for membership. Officials say they are confident the reforms will begin as planned during this school year, although many observers remain skeptical (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003).

Safet Halilovic, the Bosnian minister of civil affairs, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that Bosnia has already overcome "bottlenecks" on the way to education reforms. "In my opinion, the preparation for the new school year has been going along rather well. We will achieve the most important goals and requirements under the commitments that we undertook to the Council of Europe in November 2002."

Just before the school year began on 1 September, not everything seemed to be going smoothly when the international community's High Representative Paddy Ashdown fined the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) for failing to issue instructions in two cantons on unifying ethnically divided schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2003).

Robert Beecroft, the head of the OSCE mission in Bosnia, spoke of a "blatant violation" of Bosnia's commitments to the Council of Europe. "The continued existence of 52 schools of the '[two] schools under one roof' [type] is a blatant violation of this commitment. I urge the authorities at all levels, and especially in Cantons 6 [Central Bosnia] and 7 [Herzegovina-Neretva], to end this practice as a matter of urgency."

The unification process would see the "two schools under one roof" register as single legal bodies with one director and one school board. In ethnically divided Mostar, where the reforms have been especially problematic, the municipal assembly of the Croat-populated section of the city approved the administrative unification of the local secondary school with a school from the Muslim-populated eastern part of the town.

Other reform efforts have proceeded more smoothly. Blair Blackwell of the OSCE mission's education department told RFE/RL an agreement between authorities of Bosnia's two entities to implement a common core curriculum throughout the country would make it easier for students and teachers to transfer from one school to another, facilitating the integration of returnees' children. He stressed that "the purpose and the essence of the common core curriculum is to ensure student mobility, to ensure that a student anywhere in [Bosnia and Herzegovina] has access to quality education, has access to the schools and can attend classes.... It also provides a common foundation for the further modernization of the curriculum."

Authorities of the Muslim-Croat federation and Republika Srpska agreed during the summer on a new school curriculum that would have students spend more time together studying a group of designated highly sensitive "national" subjects -- like language, literature, history, and geography. No new sets of textbooks to go with the new curriculum have been prepared at this stage. Local media report that teachers have yet to receive instructions on how to implement the curriculum.

In a separate move, a commission of experts earlier this year agreed to remove ethnically offensive terminology from some textbooks and to revise maps to accurately present Bosnia as a single state.

The commission decided that the interpretation of controversial events from the past 10 years will have to wait and opted instead for listing events in chronological order. "The historical events of the past 10 years are something that is a very difficult thing to address and a very contentious issue right now. Basically, it was decided by the commission for historical events to present in the history textbooks only a chronological event list for the time period of the last 10 years," the OSCE's Blackwell said.

Zijad Pasic, the education minister for the Muslim-Croat federation, told RFE/RL that revised textbooks will be ready for the new school year. "For the first time...textbooks have been printed in accordance with all European criteria and standards. All unacceptable text has been removed from textbooks. In all main subjects, we have more authors and more textbooks at the disposal of students and teachers so that they can have a wider choice of authors and books. I think this year we have the greatest variety and the best textbooks in Bosnia and Herzegovina," he said.

Officials also pledged to bring to an end the earlier practice in some Serbian and Croatian areas of using textbooks printed outside the country. The Sarajevo daily "Dnevni Avaz," however, reported recently that at least one-fourth of some 420 titles used in schools are still printed outside the country. (Julia Geshakova)

AGRICULTURAL WOES IN SLOVENIA. "Every Slovene has a little mud on his boots," says my friend Peter, indicating that the farm is not so distant a way of life. Although increasingly fewer Slovenes grow up on farms today, most come from recent farming, or at least rural, stock.

In many ways, the farm has stubbornly refused to yield to the city. Subtle reminders abound even in Ljubljana's neighborhoods, where housewives walk up the street, metal pot in hand, to collect milk from the local farmer. Although a casual visitor may never realize it, Ljubljana is riddled with small farms -- complete with cows, pigs, and chickens -- hidden away behind plastered walls, some only minutes from foreign embassies and upscale restaurants.

This lingering connection to the land makes more acute the news that Slovenia's farms are facing a crisis. Some 3,000 farms go bankrupt annually, said Branko Kelemina, a deputy from the conservative opposition Social Democratic Party (SDS) in comments in "Delo" on 12 August.

Slovenian farms are simply too small, with widely scattered fields, to be able to compete in modern European agriculture. The average Slovenian farm measures only 4.6 hectares, compared to the EU average of 20. Kelemina faulted the government for failing to assist farms in restructuring to meet the demands of the new economy.

Slovenia's farms also lag behind technologically, producing less per hectare. In the summer, many families cut and rake hay by hand, and hang it on the same traditional racks depicted in 17th-century woodcuts. Autumn reveals barn walls hung with thousands of ears of corn, individually tied to dry. This is picturesque, but it cannot compete with a silage blower.

In 2003, a series of natural disasters compounded this crisis. Total agricultural damage assessed through the end of July amounted to nearly 32 billion tolars ($149 million), "Delo" reported on 6 September. Damage to crops harvested in the second half of the year -- including hops, corn, grapes, pumpkins, and sunflowers -- will raise the total substantially.

The year started on a poor note with an April frost that damaged cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, persimmons, and kiwi fruits in the coastal region. Damage ranged from 10 percent to 100 percent, and amounted to 817 million tolars ($3.8 million).

This was followed by an epidemic of fire blight in June that spread throughout the country, weakening and killing pear trees. For a while the articles in the papers read like war reports, identifying dozens of epicenters and struggles by forestry workers to hold the line at strategic creeks. Volunteer firefighters mobilized to cut and burn vulnerable trees -- by mid-July 138,000 trees had been destroyed at a cost of 112 million tolars ($520,000).

The high temperatures and drought that afflicted much of Europe this summer did not spare Slovenia, and accounted for the bulk of damage in 2003, at nearly 31 billion tolars ($144 million). Of Slovenia's 193 local municipalities, only Bovec -- notorious for wet weather -- did not report drought damage. Elsewhere, crop loss ranged from 20 percent to 80 percent.

Adding insult to injury were several hailstorms, with stones inevitably characterized as "hazelnut"- or "walnut"-sized (standards closer to Slovenia's rural soul than the typical American "marbles" and "golf balls"). Wounded trees were more easily infected by the fire blight, and stunted fields of barley, rye, and wheat were pummeled into the dust.

Forebodings about accession to the European Union are adding to the concerns of Slovenia's farmers (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 August 2003). They already anticipate cuts in agricultural subsidies and a flood of inexpensive foreign food products entering the Slovenian market.

Wine producers are particularly pessimistic. The grape harvest this year has been advanced by up to a month because of the drought -- a recent headline joked that this year's vintage will be pressed from raisins. The largest producer in the Koper region, Vinakoper, expects the 2003 grape yield to be down from 5,000 tons to only 3,500, "Delo" reported on 31 August. To top things off, prices will be undercut by the glut of wine on the EU market (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 May 2003).

The state commission charged with assessing this year's damage will resume its work in late September, and then propose a relief program to the government. However, the Chamber of Agriculture doubts aid will be forthcoming this year because of the time required for the Agriculture Ministry and the local municipalities to work out a deal.

Relief aside, Slovenia's agricultural crisis has deeper structural roots. Ljubljana is a European capital, but when was the last time drivers in Paris or Berlin saw the grass in the median mowed with a scythe? Or waited to pass a tractor on a major street? Perhaps these sights are due to fade from Ljubljana as well, but until progress supplants them, they will be appreciated with those with an eye for the rural heritage. (Donald F. Reindl,

BULGARIAN HISTORIAN AND POLITICIAN DIES. On 27 August, Academician Nikolay Todorov died in Sofia, aged 82. Todorov, who was born in Varna on 21 June 1921, was a well-known scholar of Balkan history and one of the founding fathers and directors of the Institute for Balkan Studies at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

In the 1970s, he became famous for his ground-breaking book on Balkan urban history (originally published in Bulgarian in 1973, later translated into English as "The Balkan City. 1400-1900," Seattle: University of Washington, 1983) and for his studies in Balkan economic and social history.

Apart from his scientific career, Todorov also served his country as ambassador to Greece (1979-83) and as speaker of the constituent Grand National Assembly in 1990-91.

His daughter, Maria Todorova, who is a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, followed her father's path as Balkan historian ("Imagining the Balkans," New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Belgrade lost a lot in the 1990s. I'm especially sorry for the tens of thousands of young people who had to flee a Serbia where the self-proclaimed "man of peace," [former President Slobodan] Milosevic, offered them only death, suffering, and no hope.

"The young people who stayed were deliberately and cynically driven into a lifestyle that began at midnight and ended in the early morning in discos, cafes, and dives.

"In this way, Milosevic achieved his purpose. The young people, who were his greatest potential enemies, spent their days sleeping and were simply too tired for any demonstrations. He deliberately made it easy for them to get drugs, alcohol, and tobacco because a dazed brain can neither think nor protest.

"He presented criminals to the young people as role models.

"All of this is a crime, the calculated and self-serving murder of a city and a country. As the father of two children who went through all of this, I will never forgive him for it." -- Stevan, a 60-year-old mechanical engineer, quoted by Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service in Belgrade on 26 August.

"The EU and the U.S. have agreed that the former should take the primary political role in the long-term stabilization of the Balkans. The EU has an excellent track record in helping to reconcile and advance divided societies, such as Spain, Portugal, and Greece.

"But on Kosovo, it appears to be asleep at the wheel. The Kosovo conundrum is at the heart of a wider Balkan gridlock that affects Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"The EU's strategy is piecemeal, focused on a deal which means countries in the former Yugoslavia (except Slovenia) and Albania may entertain little hope of EU membership in the near future. The EU has a golden opportunity to guide (not instruct) the resolution of outstanding constitutional issues in the Balkans. But it has no strategic vision of how to move, beyond applying first-aid to the wounds.

"Europe is constantly berating the U.S. for its policy of pre-emptive force. But what alternative does it offer? Here, the EU has an opportunity to defuse the powder keg of the Balkans once and for all. Now that would be an advertisement for the superiority of European values over America's.

"The prospect of EU membership is a mighty lever in southeastern Europe -- used imaginatively, it would solve not only the Kosovo problem, but all others once and for all. For too long, the EU's Balkan policy has been in the hands of bureaucrats. If Europe wants to show its vision, the Balkans could be its big chance." -- British journalist Misha Glenny, in "The Guardian" of 9 September.