Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: October 31, 2003

31 October 2003, Volume 7, Number 36

The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 14 November 2003.

A NEW STAGE IN THE WAR ON CORRUPTION IN THE BALKANS? A regional anticorruption office was opened in Sarajevo on 27 October within the framework of the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact's Anticorruption Initiative (SPAI). The SPAI coordinates national and regional efforts against corruption. The new office, which will be funded jointly by the Stability Pact, the United States, Germany, and Netherlands, was inaugurated by Stability Pact coordinator Erhard Busek (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2003). It will focus on training judges, prosecutors, and police officers, and developing anticorruption legislation throughout the region.

Busek told RFE/RL that the new office will initially focus on training law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges as well as improving and strengthening anticorruption legislation. But he said it will also contribute to increasing public awareness about the gravity of corruption in the region.

"[The office is necessary in order] to push the countries of the region to develop national action plans, also to develop a legislation which is looking for this and also to report and to create a certain kind of public [awareness], [to ensure] that there is more public awareness [concerning] corruption fighting," Busek said.

Corruption, along with organized crime, has long been seen as one of the main problems in the Balkans. The global corruption watchdog Transparency International ranks the eight member countries of the Stability Pact (Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, and Serbia-Montenegro) among the most corrupt in Europe. According to Transparency's 2003 Corruption Perceptions Index, released on 7 October, Serbia-Montenegro and Macedonia share 106th place with countries such as Sudan, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe, out of a total of 133. Moldova and Albania rank 100th and 92nd respectively, while Romania and Bosnia come in at 83rd and 70th. Best-positioned in the Balkans are Bulgaria, in 50th place, and Croatia in 59th.

Stability Pact coordinator Busek told RFE/RL that corruption in the Balkans has also been connected with terrorism. He said corruption has reached such huge proportions that a regional approach is needed to fight it. "Corruption, I think, is one of the things in the region which [has] great importance," he said. "Because of this, not only [the] political system [is] not working very well, but also, a lot of money is collected, even for terrorism."

He continued: "Therefore, it's quite necessary to develop a regional strategy on the subject and to bring it to a kind [of] regional ownership. That means that the region is taking responsibility, that we are not only advising from outside but that [the countries of the region] are doing the job themselves."

Busek said that throughout the Balkans, corruption stems from different causes, such as the transition from totalitarianism, the slow pace of democratic reforms and even war. But he told RFE/RL that while its underlying causes can be different, corruption can bring equal harm to the entire region.

"I think one of the roots [of corruption in the Balkans] is the transformation of society. Transformation, and making lots of changes, is always a temptation for corruption. There's a special case concerning former Yugoslavia, because sanctions created a lot of corruption, I think, [among the consumers as well], to go around and to bring some goods in -- that's a special case, but concerning the political system in general, I think [corruption] is endangering the situation in every country," Busek said.

One of the stated objectives of the newly established anticorruption office is to help the restructuring of the judicial systems throughout the region and to train new police officers, prosecutors, and judges. Busek said that is necessary to cleanse legal systems of cronyism and corruption. He also said improved cooperation between law enforcement and the judiciaries of the Balkan countries is paramount in the face of cross-border crime.

"I think one of the problems which we're supposed to focus [on] is that the court system is often connected with 'old boys' networks. I think it's easy to change a government, but it's quite difficult to change all the judges and prosecutors. Therefore, we are looking for closer cooperation on this subject, mainly between prosecutors [from different countries]. Because crime is crossing over borders, therefore, the connection with the prosecutors has also to be done over borders," Busek said.

Justice ministers and officials from the Stability Pact member countries, who participated in the opening of the office, issued a joint statement on 28 October called the Sarajevo Declaration. The statement committed governments to develop national and regional strategies against organized crime and to bring their anticrime mechanisms in line with the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. The UN convention, also known as the Palermo Convention, was signed in December 2000 and entered into force in September 2003. It provides for governments to amend their national legislation to criminalize offenses committed by organized crime groups, including corruption, obstruction of justice, and money laundering.

The Balkan governments pledged in the declaration to fight against money laundering, to sign bilateral extradition agreements, to initiate witness-protection programs, and to ensure adequate data protection.

Busek said that while the Sarajevo Declaration is an important step, it must be followed by proper implementation. "I think the document, the so-called Palermo document, [is] very important, because it has some binding obligations," he said. "We have been looking forward not only to the declaration being signed, but that it will also be implemented."

He said some of the member countries "have the feeling that if you have signed [a declaration], the job is done. The job is not yet done, the job is [just] beginning with the signing, because afterwards, the implementation is quite necessary."

Busek also warned that, for the Balkans, fighting organized crime and corruption is more than a judicial necessity. "It is an image issue, directly linked to attracting [much-needed foreign] investment," he concluded. (Eugen Tomiuc)

MACEDONIA'S MAIN PUBLISHING HOUSE FOLDS. On 22 October, creditors of the Nova Makedonija publishing house (NIP) met at the Skopje city court to decide on the bankrupt company's future. The creditors' decision has been long expected -- the publishing will be liquidated and sold in pieces, thus putting an end to a saga of heavy indebtedness, unsuccessful privatization efforts, state interference, and strikes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2003). With the liquidation, the country's oldest and largest publishing house will cease to exist.

NIP was a typical result of communist media politics. Founded immediately after World War II, "Nova Makedonija" was the first regular newspaper to appear in the Macedonian language, starting in October 1944. As such, it had an enormous influence on the development of that language, which was first codified and standardized only at the end of the war.

Like the neighboring Serbs and Bulgarians, Macedonians define themselves mainly on the basis of their language. But many Serbs and especially Bulgarians have long denied the existence of a distinct Macedonian language. Thus, "Nova Makedonija" was also a symbol for the independence of the Macedonian nation.

Over the years, the publishing house developed into a monopoly -- and not only in the newspaper market, which it long dominated with the Macedonian-language dailies "Nova Makedonija" and "Vecer," as well as with the Albanian-language daily "Flaka" and the Turkish-language daily "Birlik."

Nova Makedonija also put out the satirical magazine "Osten," the TV magazine "Ekran," and the sports weekly "Skok." NIP also owned the country's largest printing house for books and newspapers as well as dozens of newsstands. This state monopoly was only challenged after the fall of communism, when a number of private publishing houses were founded, which published serious competitors for NIP's dailies and weeklies, such as "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest."

NIP never managed to cope with the new economic realities. As a result, it turned into one of the country's many loss-making enterprises. When the government of Ljubco Georgievski found a buyer for the publishing house, it therefore seemed like a miracle.

In August 2001, then-Economy Minister Besnik Fetai signed a deal with the Slovenian consortium Jug-Uslugi, which was to take over 70 percent of the company's shares. Jug-Uslugi agreed to pay $2.25 million for the stake and to take over the company's debts of $10.3 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2002).

As it turned out, however, the sale was no miracle at all. Investigations into the case indicate that shady financial transactions were made to conceal the fact that some $2.1 million, which the government assigned for the payment of NIP workers, in reality went into the bank accounts of Jug-Uslugi. The Slovenian consortium, in turn, allegedly used this money to pay the bill for the 70 percent stake in the company's shares.

On 7 December 2002, the Interior Ministry confirmed that it had filed lawsuits against five persons involved in the NIP privatization. They include the former director of the publishing house, 28-year-old Nikola Tasev; the administrator of Nova Makedonija Press, Gjorgji Boskov; and the former deputy director of the state Privatization Agency, Dusko Avramovski (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002).

As a result of the investigations, the new Social Democratic-led government declared the privatization deal null and void (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2002). Months later, on 3 March 2003, Croatian authorities arrested Fetai on the basis of an international arrest warrant issued by the Macedonian authorities in connection with the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March and 23 April 2003).

Under these circumstances, the already heavily indebted publishing house continued to function as a state-owned company, accumulating even more debts in the process. During her presentation at the 22 October creditors meeting, Angelina Goguseva, the company's bankruptcy trustee, said NIP has already lost some $20.9 million, adding that the debts exceed the company's assets by more than 40 percent. "Due to the enormous losses and [the high number of employees], the company cannot be reorganized," Goguseva said.

Some of the brand names of NIP's publications, such as "Vecer" and "Skok" will now be sold along with the company's assets. In order to save at least some of the jobs at NIP, the government has agreed that the dailies should not be discontinued until they are sold in an international tender. This would at least temporarily ensure keeping 600 out of the original 1,400 jobs.

However, it is hard to assess whether the sale of the dailies will be successful. After all, three other major dailies -- "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest" -- were recently bought up by the German WAZ group (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 August 2003). Thus, it is quite likely that the government's temporary measure will only postpone what the creditors have already begun -- to say farewell to a doomed company. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

RESTORING 'THE ERASED' IN SLOVENIA. Slovenian political vocabulary is full of peculiar expressions that in their simplicity belie the historical import packed into them. For example, the "pregnanci" (expellees) are the 63,000 Slovenes forcibly deported by the Axis powers during World War II (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 June 2003), and the "optanti" (choosers) are the 130,000 ethnic Italians who fled to Italy when Zone B of the Free Territory of Trieste was incorporated into Yugoslavia in 1954 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 May 2002).

A new term was added to this lexicon in 1992: the "izbrisani" (erased ones). On 26 February of that year, the Slovenian authorities deleted from the official records all non-Slovenian residents who had not applied for citizenship in the new state. Nearly 30,000 people were affected by the decision.

The reasons for not applying for citizenship were various. Many of those who failed to do so belonged to the social underclass and were ignorant of the requirement. Some had criminal records and were reluctant to make contact with the authorities. Still others opposed Slovenian independence from Yugoslavia on principle, and made a political decision not to comply. Altogether, over one-third of the "erased" left Slovenia permanently and renounced their residency, but 18,000 remained without official status.

Under pressure from the EU, in 1999 Slovenia adopted the Act on Regularizing the Status of Citizens of Other State Successors of the Former SFRY in the Republic of Slovenia, giving the "erased" a second chance to regulate their status. The law required that applicants prove permanent residency in Slovenia prior to independence as well as current residency in Slovenia.

Some 12,000 people took advantage of the new law -- 7,000 received citizenship, and 4,800 obtained permanent or temporary residency. However, critics faulted the three-month deadline, arguing that it was often insufficient to allow time to gather the necessary paperwork from Slovenia's cumbersome public administration system.

An 18 April "Delo" interview with the president of the Society of Erased Residents of Slovenia, Aleksandar Todorovic, revealed the mixed feelings of some erased persons toward their host country. "I didn't apply for citizenship because that would be agreeing to discrimination against myself," he declared. "I'm a foreigner with permanent residency, and that's what I wish to remain."

A new law being debated in the National Assembly this week will grant permanent residency status to nearly all the remaining 4,200 unregulated cases from the 1992 erasure, excepting those convicted of crimes against the state or against humanity. Most significantly, this "third chance" will be a blanket decision instead of applying on a case-by-case basis, and will take effect retroactively.

The erasures have been an embarrassment to Slovenia's otherwise fairly good record on human rights, with unpleasant social consequences for those who refused to comply. Driver's licenses and identity cards were confiscated when presented for renewal, state health insurance was cancelled and free health care denied, and pensions were lost. While this fell far short of the atrocities committed elsewhere in Yugoslavia, critics of Slovenia have used hyperbole to characterize the erasures as "civic death," "administrative genocide," or "soft genocide."

Jasminka Dedic, a researcher at Ljubljana's Peace Institute, recently noted that because the erasures affected almost exclusively non-Slovenes, and particularly nonindigenous Roma and former Yugoslav Army (JNA) officers, the action was ethnically and socially discriminatory. Dedic also observes that Slovenia differs from other postcommunist successor states, where non-naturalized long-term residents (e.g., Russians in Estonia or "Slovak Roma" in the Czech Republic) have not been stripped of their previous status, even if citizenship is difficult to attain (paper available at: publications/Erasure.doc).

On the other hand, many Slovenes are incensed by the concessions being made. The non-parliamentary Party of the Slovenian Nation (SSN) has characterized the erased as traitors who left Slovenia in 1991 in the hope that it would be reconquered by the JNA, only to return later to take advantage of its relative prosperity. Repeated attempts to launch a popular referendum on the issue have also been struck down.

Opposition parties warn that the erased could take advantage of the new law to demand up to 600 billion tolars ($3 billion) in damages, "Delo" reported on 29 October. Majda Zupan of the New Slovenia party (NSi) warned that such a claim would amount to 300,000 tolars ($1,500) per Slovenian citizen -- well over the average monthly wage, the news site reported on 28 October. The right-wing Slovenian National Party (SNS) has condemned the proposed law, saying that it rewards those who gambled against Slovenia's future.

The United List of Social Democrats (ZLSD), along with the other coalition parties, favors resolving the issue once and for all for the sake of "human rights and a state based on the rule of law," according to a 10 October statement from Milan Potrc, the head of the ZLSD parliament group.

Notwithstanding the opposition, the law is expected to pass, finally turning the question of the "izbrisani" from an ongoing civic debate into another footnote in Slovenian history. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "France and Germany are not our enemies." -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, quoted in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" of 25 October.

"One of the greatest dangers to the trans-Atlantic relationship." -- U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns on the EU military plans sponsored by France and Germany. Quoted in the "Financial Times" on 17 October.

"Without America, Europe lacks the capability to project force: it has neither air- nor sea-lift capacity, nor advanced communications satellites, nor modern missile systems. During the Kosovo campaign, Europeans flew only 2 per cent of all missions. In such circumstances, it is provocative folly to pretend that we can manage without the Americans. They may just take us at our word." -- An editorial entitled "The EU's Toy Soldiers" in the "Daily Telegraph" of 25 October.

"This is indictment against all of us, and it comes at the moment when the international community welcomes our involvement in the global anti-terrorist war." -- Serbian police Colonel Srbislav Randjelovic, addressing a Belgrade rally of several thousand police protesting the indictment by The Hague-based war crimes tribunal of their chief, General Sreten Lukic. Quoted by dpa on 24 October.