Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: December 19, 2003

19 December 2003, Volume 7, Number 41

The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 9 January 2004.

THREE WAR SCENARIOS FOR KOSOVA. Kosova now has a clear road map to follow regarding standards it must meet before talks on its final status can begin. This does not necessarily mean, however, that Kosova's peaceful development is assured.

Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), made public the long-awaited program called "Standards for Kosovo" in Prishtina on 10 December. Three days later, the UN Security Council formally endorsed the package.

Representatives of Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority immediately hailed the document, and leaders of the Turkish, Romany, and Bosnian Muslim minorities endorsed Holkeri's proposal.

But representatives of the Serbian minority boycotted the 10 December meeting and rejected the plan, saying that it does not go far enough to enable Serbs who fled the province with Serbian forces in 1999 to return. The real reason for their objections is probably that the Serbs realize that any steps toward resolving the status question will sooner or later mean an end to even the formal links between Belgrade and Kosova mentioned in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 1999. This was designed to provide a face-saving concession to Serbia and satisfy Belgrade's friends in the international community, as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated in her recent memoirs.

Holkeri's document on standards lists targets that must be met in key areas such as democracy, the rule of law, the economy, and the Serbs' return before talks can begin on the final status of Kosova, perhaps in mid-2005. All Kosovar political parties agree that independence is the only option and that they want no political links to Belgrade.

Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova told Holkeri's meeting that "we give our support to these standards and we shall work and be committed to implementing them." Kosovar leaders have long asked for a clear road map for status talks, arguing that delays promote insecurity and impede progress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 15 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001, and 1 August and 17 October 2003).

The presentation of the document and the widespread endorsement -- except from the local Serbs and Belgrade -- does not mean that the doubts and fears of the ethnic Albanian majority have been put aside, however. Some Albanians say that they fear that their own parties and leaders could start fighting among themselves if UNMIK leaves. Many more Albanians argue, however, that the present regime, which is widely seen as colonial, can be tolerated for a maximum of just two or three more years.

In fact, there is a surprising amount of agreement among prominent Kosovar Albanians that any one of three scenarios could lead to the resumption of mass resistance and guerrilla war at some point.

The first would involve UNMIK seeking to extend its presence indefinitely, thereby relegating Kosova to a semi-permanent colonial or protectorate status. This is widely perceived as intolerable, because it would mean denying Kosova the right to self-determination and majority rule that was granted to Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Macedonia (under the 1974 Yugoslav constitution, the provinces of Kosova and Vojvodina had rights virtually identical to those of federal republics). Kosova, moreover, has a population more than twice that of Montenegro and roughly equal to that of Slovenia.

UNMIK, furthermore, is rightly or wrongly regarded as inefficient, as well as heavy-handed and overpaid. It seems scarcely possible to have a conversation with Kosovars for very long before they tell the visitor that UNMIK has spent hundreds of thousands of euros on ostensibly renovating the electrical power system but has little to show for it. Blackouts and power failures are still a regular occurrence.

Some Kosovars blame inefficiency for the continuing problem, others suspect corruption. Many tell U.S. visitors that they do not understand why numerous West Europeans criticize the U.S.-led administration in Iraq for failing to do in a country of 27 million in six months what experts from EU countries have not been able to do in a country of 2 million people in four years.

A second scenario that makes prominent Kosovars more than somber would involve the partition of the province into Serbian and Albanian regions. Over the years, several Serbian leaders have produced plans aimed at partition. Most focus on granting Serbia the mines in northern Kosova rather than the famous Serbian medieval cultural sites located in several different parts of the province. The existence already of a de facto separate Serbian regime in northern Mitrovica and beyond to the Serbian border prompts many ethnic Albanians to argue that partition has already begun.

Were any Belgrade leaders to convince the international community of the advisability of partitioning Kosova -- either as part of a settlement affecting the province or as part of a more comprehensive redrawing of Balkan borders -- leading Kosovar politicians say that they would insist on new frontiers, too.

This would probably mean opening the broader issue sometimes called the Albanian question. Most certainly, Kosovar leaders would demand those areas of southern Serbia with large ethnic Albanian populations, generally known to Albanians as eastern Kosova or referred to abroad as the Presevo Valley. Some Kosovars would go further, saying that time would have come for all ethnic Albanians in the Balkans to be united in a single state, even though no mainstream ethnic Albanian political party anywhere currently advocates that as a serious goal.

A third scenario that many prominent Kosovars say would lead to renewed fighting would be the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the province (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 September 2003). In short, Kosovars tend to blame the EU countries for sitting by while former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic oppressed, expelled, or killed Albanians from the late 1980s until the NATO intervention of 1999. Conversely, Kosovars generally credit the United States with the successful military intervention that freed the province from Serbian control.

The widespread fear in Kosova is that a U.S. withdrawal would mean the exit of the Kosovars' only trustworthy and reliable protector. No amount of assurances would likely dispel fears that any residual EU force would be unable or unwilling to prevent the return of Serbian forces, which Kosovars say would lead to a new war of self-defense. That, in turn, would undo much of what the international community has achieved since 1999 in the province, leading to a new bloodletting and probably an even more costly foreign intervention and occupation than before. (Patrick Moore)

EU KICKS OFF POLICE MISSION IN MACEDONIA. On 15 December, a 200-strong EU-led police mission called Proxima officially replaced the EU's current Concordia military mission, thus ending a decade of foreign military presence in Macedonia, Macedonian media reported.

The new mission includes police advisers and civilian staff from the 15 EU member countries, several candidate states, and the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 September and 27 October 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003).

In a 14 December interview with RFE/RL's broadcasters, Proxima head Bart D'Hooge from the Netherlands described the mission's main aims. It "will be a mission of police, cooperating with the authorities of the Interior Ministry and, of course, with the government," D'Hooge said, adding that "[The] fight against organized crime is one of the five objectives of the Proxima mission."

According to D'Hooge, Proxima will support the Macedonian authorities in implementing the comprehensive reform of their police and promoting "integrated border management," meaning the transfer of authority along the frontiers from the Defense Ministry to the Interior Ministry. In addition, the EU-led mission will help build confidence between the police and population, and encourage regional cooperation.

Speaking in Skopje on 15 December, EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana said, "The process of stabilization in Macedonia has reached a point when Skopje can say good-bye to the EU's peacekeepers."

In the Berlin daily "Tagesspiegel" of 15 December, Solana wrote that this day was a "good day" for Europe, as it marks the successful end of the EU's first-ever military mission, which proved that the EU is able to deploy a powerful military mission. Solana added that it was a good day for the United States, NATO, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), too, because of their role in securing peace and stability in Macedonia.

D'Hooge seems to be well aware of the problems facing the new police mission. He feels that both the citizens and the police must change their attitudes; they should accept each others as partners rather than regard each other as enemies, he noted.

Apparently alluding to problems with criminal gangs that almost caused a government crisis in September, D'Hooge said the government and the police should be aware of early warning signs and deal professionally with such situations (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5, 12, and 19 September 2003). (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

COLLECTING WEAPONS IN MACEDONIA. Also on 15 December, a six-week, no-questions-asked operation to disarm the civilian population ended. Estimates by the United Nations Development Program, which sponsored the disarmament, put the number of illegally held arms in the small Balkan country with its 2 million inhabitants as high as 170,000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October, 3 and 12 November, and 5 and 15 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 August 2003). It was the government's second arms-collection effort after the NATO-led Operation Essential Harvest in the fall of 2001.

Although the government put considerable effort into making the operation a success -- even handing out lottery tickets in exchange for surrendered weapons -- it apparently did not yield the expected results. This may be due to the lack of support from the political parties and religious communities, as Colonel Blagoja Markovski of the body coordinating the operation complained (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2003).

But the low turnout may also be due to the old and deeply rooted gun culture as well as to the persisting mistrust among the country's major ethnic groups -- the Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority.

Between 1 November and 15 December, according to figures provided by the dailies "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" on 17 December, about 7,500 firearms were handed over. These firearms include some 2,300 pistols and revolvers and about 3,600 rifles, many of which were air guns, small-bore and hunting rifles, and also historic firearms from previous wars. A smaller share of the firearms were larger ordinance and rocket launchers.

However, as a recent report in "The New York Times" noted, the guerilla fighters' weapon of choice -- the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle -- was widely absent from the arms collections points that had been set up throughout the country. As the disarmament operation also included the possibility to legalize illegally held arms, almost 4,400 persons applied for a license for their weapons rather than surrender them.

It thus seems that Macedonia will have to follow the examples of other states in the region, like Croatia or Bosnia, where several weapons amnesties were needed to reduce the number of arms. In the meantime, Macedonia's government has threatened persons found in possession of arms after 15 December with draconian measures. They face heavy fines up to $10,000 or prison terms up to 10 years. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

ST. NICK, SANTA, AND FATHER FROST DUKE IT OUT IN SLOVENIA. Back in the "good old days" before World War II, they say, things were simple in Slovenia. St. Nicholas -- known locally as Miklavz -- visited children on 6 December. The good bishop rewarded the well-behaved children, while the demonic "parklji" threatened to carry off the others. Later, a Christmas tree -- a custom that spread after World War I -- might be set up to decorate the house.

When the communists took power in 1945, public celebrations of such Christian holidays were no longer seemly (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 October 2001). Simply banning public celebrations and requiring people to work was not enough, so the authorities looked to the Soviet model for further inspiration.

After the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks had shifted the season's focus from Christmas to New Year's Day, creating the Russian "New Year's fir" and "Ded' Moroz" (Father Frost). These were adopted wholesale in Slovenia, where "Dedek Mraz" openly hailed from Siberia.

Following the 1948 break with the Soviet Union, it was no longer politically correct to link Dedek Mraz with Russia. The Slovenes adopted him as their own, endowing him with local character. In the Ljubljana region, children were told that Father Frost lived on the slopes of Triglav, Slovenia's highest mountain. Further from the Alps, in the eastern city of Maribor, he was said to live on the Pohorje massif.

Most Slovenes continue to picture Father Frost as painted by the postcard illustrator Maksim Gaspari (1883-1980), who outfitted him in a cap made of dormouse fur, exploiting a centuries-old cultural tradition. Gaspari -- ever the opportunist -- simply recycled his older drawings, removing religious symbols and adding a red star to Father Frost's satchel.

Although St. Nicholas and Christmas were banned publicly, these traditions continued privately. According to a colleague who grew up in the 1950s, one of the more bizarre aspects of this ban was that bakeries could sell traditional holiday breads in the form of "parklji," but not those shaped like St. Nicholas.

In the darkest days of Slovenian communism, Father Frost also administered political "justice," notes the website of the Nova Slovenska Zaveza (New Slovenian Testament, an organization dedicated to Slovenia's noncommunist resistance in World War II). When Father Frost visited schools, the children of Domobranci (Home Guard) members were taken aside and denied the gifts the other children received (see

As Slovenia emerged from communism, St. Nicholas was rehabilitated. From the capital Ljubljana, where he ascends the steps of the Franciscan Church, to small villages such as Ponikve, where the parish priest organizes the entire event, St. Nicholas Day is in ascendance once more, with strong links to Catholic traditionalists.

After independence and the penetration of Western capitalism, it was inevitable that Santa Claus -- known in Slovene as "Bozicek" -- be added to the mix. Today Santa Claus is an omnipresent figure, and his trademark red hat trimmed with white fur is repeatedly encountered on posters, at markets, and on children's heads.

Admittedly, Santa Claus was not completely unknown before 1991. One acquaintance, a child of the 1970s, confided that she and her siblings knew all about Santa, the Easter Bunny -- and any other gift-giving figure that they could turn to their advantage.

The restoration of St. Nicholas and the increasing appeal of Santa Claus have resulted in setbacks for Father Frost. By the time late December rolls around, Slovenes are experiencing holiday fatigue. Although his popularity has declined, he nonetheless remains a contender. Throughout the postwar period, Father Frost became firmly entrenched in institutional life -- from preschool icon to the bringer of workplace year-end bonuses.

The present result is a saturation of December iconography. Retailers liberally sprinkle their ads with all three figures, while parents debate whether to buy one, two, or three sets of gifts for their children.

Inevitably, some of the traditions are merging as well. Father Frost recently appeared at a local Ljubljana preschool on 10 December -- three weeks premature -- and made a joke about Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer. Some younger Slovenes assert that Father Frost has a workshop with elves, while others pen letters to St. Nicholas detailing their wishes.

The three figures are also emblematic of politics in Slovenia today. Conservative political forces, often allied with the Catholic Church, are regaining a foothold in public life and calling for the preservation of traditional values. On the other side are liberals, embracing globalization and Western integration -- and the changes these entail. The old guard of reformed communists is slowly fading under pressure from both.

And, as always, some continue to look back to the "good old days" of their youth. "Before 1991, things were simple," a leading newspaper publisher recently commented, lamenting today's commercialization. "We worked up through Christmas, took a week off, partied for New Year's, and went back to work." (Donald F. Reindl,

YOUNG KOSOVA MUSLIMS JOIN IN CHRISTMAS MASS. Dom Nosh Gjolaj, a priest at St. Ndou Roman Catholic Church in the Kosovar capital, Prishtina, expects overflow crowds this Christmas for the traditional midnight Mass celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

This may not seem like anything unusual, but what is remarkable is that about 10,000 members of Father Gjolaj's midnight congregation will be young Kosovar Albanian Muslims. Thousands more are expected at Catholic churches in other towns and cities across Kosova.

What's more, the custom is welcomed by the Catholic clergy and generally smiled upon by Muslim religious leaders.

Father Gjolaj says he does not know how or precisely when the custom of interfaith visitation began in Kosova. He said he would like to see the phenomenon studied by social scientists. "When it started, I don't know, [at least] since I've been here for the past 11 years," he said. "But it is obvious that massive participation began before the 1999 war. I think we're talking about approximately 10,000 people, most of them standing inside the church's front yard, since there was not enough place for all of them inside."

More than 90 percent of Kosova's 2 million people are Muslim. Kosova has been under UN administration since 1999, when a NATO air war ended a Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing aimed at Albanians in the province.

The Kosovar Muslim interest in Christmas signals neither an abandonment of Islam nor the adoption of Christian belief. Blerta Krasniqi plans to attend Christmas Mass at Father Gjolaj's church this year. She's a Muslim who lives in Prishtina. "It is a fact that I will participate because I have friends who are Catholics. It doesn't have to mean that since I'm a Muslim I won't go. I go because of my friends and that's it. Our religion teaches us not to hate other religions, but we go to celebrate together because Catholics are Albanians just like us," Gjolaj said.

Albanians in both Kosova and in Albania proper have long expressed pride in their religious tolerance, a tolerance that survived more than 50 years of communist rule, when the official religion was atheism. And that flourishes even now when Islamic terrorism and the Western war on terrorism have given new currency to fears of a "clash of civilizations."

In any event, Islam came to the Balkans from the Ottoman Empire and not the Middle East. Balkan Islam is a relatively flexible, borderland faith, not generally known for dogmatism. Many Muslim Kosovar Albanians are aware, moreover, that their own ancestors probably were Roman Catholics before the Turks came to the Balkans.

The president of the Islamic Union in Kosova, Naim Ternava, says he regards the Christmas custom as benign, an honoring of both faiths by youthful churchgoers. "Their participation at Catholic churches speaks of tolerance fed by Islam toward other religions. Religiously, we are allowed to be present inside the churches, not to do Christian ceremonies, but only to be present, to respect other religions. Therefore, the participation of Muslims on Christmas Eve gives a strong message that Islam is a religion of peace, tolerance, respect, and honor towards other religions," Ternava said.

Other signs that ethnic Albanian Muslims are comfortable with the Catholics in their midst stem from both recent and more ancient history. Among the two most important historical personalities to Albanians are the 15th-century national hero Gjergj Kastrioti-Skenderbeu, a Catholic who first embraced Islam and then returned to his original faith and fought for liberation from the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and the Catholic nun Mother Theresa, the world-famous ethnic Albanian who was beatified at the Vatican earlier this year.

Kosovar Albanians also remember that it was the United States and NATO -- and not other Muslim states -- who came to their rescue in the 1999 war over Kosova.

Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova, who keeps a portrait of Pope John Paul II on his office wall, has won both Muslim and Catholic support for a proposal to build a Roman Catholic cathedral in central Prishtina. At present, most religious buildings there are mosques, along with some older Serbian Orthodox churches and the abandoned shell of a Serbian Orthodox cathedral begun during the rule of Milosevic.

The warmth shown by Muslims toward Roman Catholics is reciprocated. A young Albanian Catholic spoke to our correspondent in Prishtina: "I am Nyrton Dedaj, a Catholic from Peja. Not only now, but even before the war, a large number of Muslims took part during the Mass. After the war, the participation has grown, and this is a very nice custom. We celebrate together, contributing to each other. After all, we're one nation. We don't look at our religious differences. We respect them, be they Catholic or Muslim. It is tolerance."

Father Gjolaj says he thinks Muslims in Kosova began attending Catholic Christmas as a kind of entertainment, a social happening that grew into a powerful statement of brotherhood and unity. "I think that at some point [ethnic] Albanian youth in Kosova didn't have any kind of entertainment, and they didn't spend much time together. So through Christmas they got together at the church's front yard. In this way, a custom was achieved. Another element is also important -- the fact that this nation lives in and is a part of Europe. Even more, it shows that Ilyrians, Albanians, are the seedbed of European culture. This is where European civilization and culture got started," Gjolaj said.

Islamic Union President Ternava concurs: "I wouldn't say that is only a custom, but then again, it's something that came out of our past, although not 100 percent. It is also something that came out of our religious lessons, as well, having in mind that Christian teaching also proclaims inter-religious tolerance. It depends on church or mosque leaders -- how much do they respect the principles of the Bible or the Koran?"

Whatever the motive -- entertainment, social custom, or religious statement -- the interfaith visitation appears to have taken tenacious hold in Kosova. It has grown year by year and shows no sign of abatement. (Don Hill and Melazim Koci, with contributions by RFE/RL's Prishtina bureau and Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Germany's help for our EU aspirations...should be seen in a wider historic context. Germany, after all, built its prosperity thanks to membership of the Western bloc, from which Poland had been excluded for decades. We simply want to show that we will not blindly follow orders from bigger countries. It's a question of respect for our point of view to build a Europe comfortable for all." -- Jozef Oleksy, chief of the Polish parliament's EU committee, quoted by Reuters in Warsaw on 14 December.

"The discussion showed there are two approaches to European politics. One is to defend legitimate national interests, but to give priority to the European cause. The other is to defend national interests over and above the European interest. If we don't manage in the foreseeable future to reach a consensus, then there will emerge a Europe of two speeds. That would be the logic of such a final failure." -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 13 December.

"It is not a wise thing to do. We do not want to go that way." -- Unnamed Dutch diplomats in Brussels on the two-speed concept, quoted in the "Financial Times" on 17 December.

"[The attempt to push through a European constitution was a radical step towards forming a European superstate.] He who did not know this, knew absolutely nothing." -- Czech President Vaclav Klaus, quoted by CTK in Prague on 13 December.

"Today is a great day for the free world and all people aspiring to freedom and progress." -- Croatian Prime Minister-designate Ivo Sanader in a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush on 14 December, hailing the capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Sanader also pledged to promote good relations with the United States and cooperate in the war on terrorism. Quoted by Hina.

"We want to lift relations [with the United States] to a better-than-ever level. The U.S. role in Europe is irreplaceable, and we want balanced relations with the EU and the United States. I do not believe Croatia has to choose between one of them." -- Miomir Zuzul, who is expected to be Sanader's foreign minister, quoted by Reuters in Zagreb on 16 December.

"On this basis and with the same indictment, every [Serbian] army and police officer could find himself on the list of Hague indictees." -- Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, explaining why he will not extradite two generals indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Quoted by RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Ovcar Banja on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003).

"If [Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav] Seselj is responsible [for war crimes], then all Serbs are. The world will learn many truths from his mouth." Bogoljub Zec, a Radical leader in Temerin, Vojvodina. Quoted by Reuters on 17 December.