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Balkan Report: January 4, 2002

4 January 2002, Volume 6, Number 1

A MACEDONIAN RADIO DISPUTE -- DEEPLY ROOTED IN HISTORY. In recent weeks, the Balkan country's road traffic has been largely paralyzed by heavy snowfalls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2001). But while some mountain villages were completely cut off from the outside world, behind the doors of the Skopje radio and television building, journalists staged a protest against the editor-in-chief of the Radio Kultura program, Simjon Simev.

Newspaper journalists of the two main dailies -- "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" -- extensively covered the struggle of their colleagues against Simev's "acts of censorship" and his "attempts to Bulgarianize" the radio program.

According to a report in "Dnevnik" on 28 December, Simev provoked a quarrel over the title of a collection of folk songs. The songs were collected by the Miladinov brothers in the 19th century and are seen as an important part of the Macedonian national heritage. Originally published in Zagreb in 1861, they have been published in Macedonia under the title "Macedonian Folk Songs."

The problem is that Bulgarian historians regard the Miladinov brothers as preservers of the Bulgarian national folk heritage. That is why the book in Bulgaria was published as "Bulgarian Folk Songs" -- its original title. Simev sees nothing offensive in this and was quoted by the daily as saying: "Why are you afraid to mention the original title of the book?"

But one journalist responded that he "has enough of these Bulgarians," using the derogatory term "Bugarasi." "Utrinski vesnik" of 29 December cited several other angry journalists, who accused Simev of having broken the law on radio broadcasting or of having violated the constitution. They also claimed that Simev has forbidden the broadcasting of programs by "eminent authors who cultivate the Macedonian national identity and promote Macedonian culture, language, and history."

In short, the journalists maintain that their duty is to promote what they regard as the truth about Macedonian history, in the same fashion as Macedonian academics do.

To understand the reasons for the controversy, it is necessary to take a closer look at Macedonian national identity and some recent discussions about it.

Macedonian national identity is based on three elements -- the Macedonian language, the Macedonian Orthodox Church, and Macedonian history. During the 20th century, Macedonian national identity (and nationalism) evolved mainly in opposition to concepts espoused by neighboring nations -- Albanians, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Serbs.

In communist Yugoslavia, Macedonian scholars created and promoted a national ideology. Institutions like the Institute for National History had as their sole purpose the writing -- some would say the creation -- of a distinct Macedonian history.

The role of the communist Partisan movement during World War II in the formation of the Macedonian nation was disproportionately emphasized. At the same time, historians largely ignored the history of ethnic and religious minorities.

Bulgarian academics were among the most fervent critics of Macedonian scholarship because it sometimes denied what Bulgarians took for basic historical truths -- such as the title of the Miladinov collection.

When Macedonia became independent in 1991, each of the two main ethnic Macedonian political parties tried to show that it represents the "true Macedonians."

During its years in power, the post-communist Social Democratic Union (SDSM) continued to pursue the "politics of difference" officially promoted since 1945. That means that Macedonians are different from Serbs, Bulgarians, and other Slav peoples because Macedonian history, language, and culture are different from the neighboring peoples' histories, languages, and cultures. The "politics of difference" went hand-in-hand with a foreign policy built on the dogma of "equal distance" in regard to neighboring -- and potentially hostile -- countries.

By contrast, the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) adopted a slightly pro-Bulgarian and decisively anticommunist, anti-Serbian ideology. As a result, Bulgarian-Macedonian relations improved considerably when that party came to power in 1998. That is why opponents often refer to the VMRO-DPMNE politicians as "Bulgarians."

Simev reportedly got his job thanks to his VMRO-DPMNE connections. He is said to be close to Ljupco Jakimovski, the program director of Macedonian Radio and Television (MRTV). "Dnevnik" writes that unconfirmed reports also suggest that Simev made his career due primarily to his close ties with Snezana Georgievska -- Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's wife. (Georgievski himself had his first name changed: from the Macedonian form Ljupco to the Bulgarian Ljubco.)

Georgievski and his party have tried to revise history-writing as well. After their accession to power, a VMRO-DPMNE member became director of one of the most important institutions -- the National Archive. Since then, numerous books have been published playing down the role of the Communist Party in the formation of the Macedonian nation. Other books support the idea that Macedonian history has long been linked to Bulgarian history, a line of reasoning which would have been taboo under the communists.

In other words, when radio journalists now object to Simev's views about history, they are protesting against the views of the VMRO-DPMNE and its taking over important positions in the state administration and state-run media. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

OECD LITERACY REPORT STUNS SLOVENES. Many Slovenes were dismayed when the latest report from the International Adult Literacy Survey, sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), appeared in mid-November. The report compares 20 countries and indicates that 70 percent of Slovenian adults have only an elementary level of "document literacy," the daily "Delo" reported on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001). Document literacy is the ability to access and use information contained in forms, schedules, and so on.

The notion of a universally high literacy rate represents a significant, almost mythic, element of the Slovenian national self-image -- and the report thus came as a rude awakening. Popular guidebooks often gush that literacy is engrained in Slovenian culture, citing ubiquitous monuments to poets and novelists. The webpages of the Government Public Relations and Media Office (available at are awash with earnest literary statistics, and Slovenia used to claim to publish more book titles annually per person than any other European country -- a position now held by Iceland.

In an interview published in "Delo" on 10 December, Dr. Miha Kovac, chief editor at the Mladinska Knjiga publishing house, points out that Slovenes borrow, on average, 8.5 library books per person annually, far exceeding the English rate of 2 and the French rate of 2.5. However, despite the fact that Slovenian publishing of new titles per capita remains one of the highest in Europe, Kovac says that the number of copies published per capita is one of the lowest.

The factor behind both statistics may well be the prohibitively high cost of books. Kovac points out that in the U.K. a new paperback costs approximately the same as a movie ticket. In Slovenia, where hardbound editions are the norm, a new book costs seven times the price of a movie ticket.

One of the more morbid manifestations of the obsession with literacy is the literacy-GNP-suicide theory, advanced by Dr. Andrej Maruai, a Slovenian psychiatrist. Slovenia has one of the highest suicide rates in Europe -- a dubious distinction shared with the three Baltic countries and Hungary. According to Maruai, countries with high literacy rates and low GNPs have proportionally high suicide rates. Unfortunately, the latest low assessment of literacy in Slovenia has not meant a drop in the alarming rate of suicides.

Reaction to the OECD report ranged from skepticism to suggestions for remedies. Dr. Stane Pejovnik, a state secretary for post-secondary vocational and higher education, proposed that the study should be run again before concrete action is taken. The minister for education, science, and sport, Dr. Lucija Cok, faulted the university system for not developing new study programs quickly enough, and for being more concerned with its autonomy than with its responsibilities.

Suggestions to reduce the value-added-tax on books, or to use it to promote books, have not borne fruit. Olga Drofenik, deputy director of the Slovenian Adult Education Center, says that portion of the budget earmarked for adult education -- set at approximately $5.3 million for 2002 -- is only half of what is really needed.

It is difficult to define, let alone quantify, a social construct such as literacy. The OECD report utilized a sophisticated method: literacy was measured on a scale of 0 to 500 in three domains: prose (newspapers, fiction), documents, and quantitative (arithmetic). The three domain scales were then broken into five levels of literacy, ranging from "very poor" to "higher order." In contrast, the United Nations Development Program simply defines literacy as the ability to "read and write a short, simple statement" on one's everyday life. Slovenia has a 99.6 percent literacy rate by this criterion, and correspondingly ranks 29th out of 162 countries on the UN Human Development Index (see

Slovenes might take some small comfort from the fact that the OECD report notes that all of the countries in the survey have a large percentage of the population with low literacy. This includes top-ranked Sweden, where 28 percent of adults do not meet minimum skill levels in prose literacy. Germany similarly fared much worse than most Germans would have expected, which touched off a national discussion on education and the role of parents in promoting literacy.

Slovenia, which sometimes bills itself as the "Slavic Switzerland," might also note that it ranks only two places behind 15th-place Switzerland on this scale. The report also groups Slovenia with Canada and the U.S. in having a large discrepancy between people with high and low levels of literacy.

It is true that some media tend to sensationalize studies such as this year's OECD report. The "Delo" headline of 15 November read: "Catastrophic picture of Slovenian literacy." This is similar to the headline that appeared on the BBC website after a similar OECD report last year about "UK's 'serious' adult literacy problems."

Nonetheless, such sobering reports can draw attention to real problems by debunking national myths, however cherished they may be. (Highlights from the OECD report can be found at the following website: (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana,

WHAT'S IN A NAME? The UN-administered protectorate of Kosova is undergoing a subtle transformation as Albanian residents replace place names of Slavic origin with Illyrian and Albanian names. Changing toponyms in the Balkans is a centuries-old tradition.

Ever since the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosova two and a half years ago, a move has been under way by local politicians and intellectuals to change Slavic toponyms to names of Illyrian origin or to patriotic-sounding Albanian names.

The first thing to go were street names that the Serbs had named after Serbian and Yugoslav towns and national heroes. Soon, whole cities, towns, and villages began changing their names.

Adem Demaci, the province's leading communist-era Albanian dissident and a prominent human rights activist, says historical grounds exist for the name changes. "The arrival of the Slavs in the Balkans [in the 8th century] was closely connected with changing toponyms. So I don't feel that people are taking the wrong step now if they are changing names that remind them of the occupation. What surprises me is that the international community is trying to prevent people from choosing names for their own hometowns or even their streets."

The Ottoman Turks renamed many places during their more than five centuries of rule in the Balkans, but the Turkish names largely vanished or were modified with the gradual collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Serbian authorities -- in their effort to colonize Kosova between the two world wars with settlers from Serbia and Montenegro -- founded villages that exist to this day with Serbian patriotic names, including Srbobran, Srbovac, Sumadija, and Devet Jugovica. Moreover, the Serbs changed a number of town names. Ferizaj became Urosevac and Skenderaj became Srbica.

The Albanians are descended, at least in part, from the Illyrians and possibly from the Dardanians, an Illyrian tribe also related to the Thracians, who inhabited parts of present-day Kosova. Illyrian names, while existing in the region for more than two millennia, are now being adopted by places other than the locations they originally described. Among the changes of Slavic to Illyrian toponyms -- Kamenica was renamed Dardana, Novoberda/Novo Brdo became Artana, and Suhareka/Suva Reka became Theranda.

Other new toponyms include Drenas, after the surrounding Drenica region, for Gllogoc; Burim, meaning "spring" or "source," for Istog; Sharr, after the nearby mountain range, for Dragash; Qendresa, or "center," for Bellacerkva; and Miras, "well" or "fine," for Dobratin.

Even overwhelmingly Serb-inhabited towns in the north of the province have received new Albanian names -- Caber for Zubin Potok and Albanik for Leposaviq.

At least one community has opted to use its old Latin name on official seals rather than the Albanian or Serbian equivalents. Vushtrri/Vucitrn is calling itself by its Latin name, Vicianum.

The new Albanian patriotic place names include Besiana after the Albanian "besa," or pledge, for Podujeva; Shqiponja or "eagle" -- the Albanian national symbol -- for Jablanica; and Kastriot after the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastriot, best known as Skanderbeg, for Obiliq. Serbs had named the community after a Serbian deserter, Milos Obilic, who murdered the Turkish sultan hours before the battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, which launched Turkish rule in much of the Balkans.

While the name changes had the backing of the self-styled government of Hashim Thaci in the first months after the Serbian withdrawal, the joint administration of local political leaders and international community representatives established in December 1999 did not accept the new toponyms.

About a year ago, academics discussed a systematic Albanianization of toponyms at a seminar at the University of Prishtina's Institute of Albanian Studies. However, Kosova is an international protectorate, and the international community continues to use the standard Albanian and Serbian equivalent toponyms in effect prior to the Serbian military withdrawal. Last March, the UN civil administration, or UNMIK, demanded a halt to the name changes. Nevertheless, the new names are gaining currency in daily use in the local Albanian-language news media and in conversation.

Human rights activist Demaci says the international community may be acting under Yugoslav pressure in refusing to accept the new toponyms. "I am surprised that the international community would block [the new names].... Maybe Yugoslavia is insisting, and the international community may be making major concessions to the Yugoslav government."

However, the changes do not enjoy universal support in the Kosovar Albanian community, and there has been some moderate criticism from the province's largest political party, Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK).

LDK deputies have abstained when the issue has come up for a vote in municipal assembly sessions. The party won the largest share of seats in local elections last year and in parliamentary elections on 17 November. The LDK does not use the new toponyms, and so LDK-led towns continue to use the original Albanian names -- Podujeva rather than Besiana, Novoberda rather than Artana, and Kamenica rather than Dardana.

Ramush Haradinaj is a former commander of the insurgent Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). He heads the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, the third-largest Albanian political party in the province. Haradinaj sees the name changes as a popular attempt to "repair" past injustices. "[Over] a period of let's say 15 years [during Slobodan Milosevic's rule], there were some injustices. There were names being changed. There were identities being forced or damaged, and I think people are [trying to impose] justice, to repair things done wrongly. They [opted for] changing the names. I'm not always in favor of that, but I think in a few cases there was a need."

But Haradinaj says that while some changes were justified, such as dropping the adjective "Tito's" from Mitrovica, others were unnecessary. "I don't justify all of the changes, but there was a need for a few changes, and they probably went too far."

Haradinaj notes that two villages close to each other in western Kosova have the same name -- Gllogjan. After the residents of one of the two Gllogjans decided to change the name of the village, some residents of the other Gllogjan also called for a change. However, Haradinaj -- who is a native of the second Gllogjan -- persuaded his neighbors not to change the name on the grounds that "we are used to the old name."

Belgrade's policy of modifying or changing toponyms was not limited to Kosova or to the interwar period. During the rule of Josip Broz Tito in the decades after World War II, every Yugoslav republic and province named a town or village after Tito. In addition to Titova Mitrovica in Kosova, Vojvodina had Titov Vrbas, and Slovenia had Titovo Velenje. There was Titova Korenica in Croatia, Titov Drvar in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Titovo Uzice in Serbia, Titograd in Montenegro, and Titov Veles in Macedonia.

With the breakup of Yugoslavia a decade ago, all eight towns and villages shed the Tito appellation and reverted to their pre-Titoist names. Titograd is once again Podgorica.

Then, during the 1991-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Bosnian Serbs dropped the prefix Bosanska/Bosanski that had been used to differentiate the Bosnian half of towns that straddled the northern border with Croatia. In Serbian eyes, the term Bosnian had taken on an ethnic connotation, implying the unwanted presence of Muslims.

Suddenly there were two Krupas, two Kostajnicas, two Gradiskas, and two Brods with the exact same names facing each other across the Una and Sava rivers. A few of these place names were further modified, so Bosanski Novi became Novi Grad and Bosanska Dubica became Kozarska Dubica.

Bosnian Serbs also renamed towns that had Turkish-sounding names as a part of a program of ethnic cleansing that included destroying virtually all mosques and killing or sending into exile the overwhelming majority of the non-Serb population from Serbian-controlled areas. Thus Foca became Srbinje and Gornji Vakuf became Uskoplje.

The name Uskoplje fell into disuse after Croatian troops forced the Serbs to withdraw from the town during the war. Some postwar Serbian maps of the Republika Srpska show Uskoplje blacked out and the name Gornji Vakuf restored, since it now belongs to Bosnia's Muslim-Croat entity.

Nevertheless, on 15 September 2001, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, issued a decision declaring: "The name of the municipality of Gornji Vakuf and the name of the settlement of Gornji Vakuf shall be changed to Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje." The decision was part of an attempt to engage Bosnian Serbs in the municipality's administration. Petritsch appointed 16 Serbian councilors, in addition to the 23 non-Serbs already elected. Petritsch's declaration could conceivably serve as a model for communities in Kosova with multiple names. (Jolyon Naegele)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: Washington is behaving as though "nothing has happened here, as if [former President] Slobodan Milosevic is still in power." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Quoted by AP in Belgrade on 27 December. He was alluding to recent U.S. warnings that financial assistance to Yugoslavia will be contingent on Belgrade's cooperation with The Hague, which Kostunica called "blackmail."

"He was behind all that has happened." -- Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, referring to Milosevic. Quoted by Reuters in London on 27 December.

"We need to prevent acts of vengeance, hatred, and any kind of violence. That is how our country will convey that it is civilized and organized." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. Quoted by Reuters in Skopje on 21 December.