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Balkan Report: June 28, 2002

28 June 2002, Volume 6, Number 24

The next issue of "RFE/RL Balkan Report" will appear on 12 July 2002.

ALBANIA GETS A NEW PRESIDENT -- AND A NEW ERA? On 24 June Albania's parliament elected 73-year-old Alfred Moisiu as the country's new president. Moisiu is a former defense minister and current head of the association spearheading Albania's bid to enter NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 June 2002). The outcome of the parliamentary vote was virtually assured after ruling and opposition factions agreed to put forward a single candidate to replace the incumbent, Rexhep Meidani. Some observers are hailing Moisiu's compromise nomination and election as spelling the end of 12 years of political deadlock.

The decision to put forward a single candidate for the presidential election was made the previous week under international pressure in response to chronic political infighting that has left Albania in a political deadlock. The agreement, forged after four days of negotiation, barred from the race the leaders of the country's two main political parties -- Fatos Nano of the ruling Socialists and Sali Berisha of the opposition Democrats.

Nano and Berisha backed Moisiu for the presidency after the previous consensus candidate -- Artur Kuko, the Albanian envoy to the European Union -- turned down the nomination. The firm backing for Moisiu has not, however, stopped critics from questioning whether he is qualified to hold what is admittedly a largely ceremonial position, or whether his only real strength is that he has few enemies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2002).

But Moisiu said the strong support from both sides of the political divide convinced him to accept the nomination. He applauded the consensual-candidate system as a positive sign of change in Albania: "I have been of the opinion that Albanian political parties used to let their partisan interests prevail above the nation's interests. Now it seems they have realized that this was wrong."

Just before he was elected, Moisiu told RFE/RL he has a clearly defined agenda he aims to pursue. He said that in addition to supporting Albania's further integration into NATO structures, he will also work to further unify political forces and establish rule of law: "Let me tell you sincerely, as a citizen of this country, that I would never undertake this burden if both sides didn't ask me to. So I want to support even further the development of an Albanian political consensus, because it's of paramount importance for the future of this country, the future of the nation, and its further integration and development. [As president,] I will focus mainly on stabilizing the Albanian justice system, because too many things depend on that -- the fight against corruption, organized crime, illegal migration, and so on. What is crucial to me is the creation of a climate that will attract foreign investors and fight the unemployment that is forcing young people to leave Albania."

Albanian political leaders praised the agreement that allowed the election to proceed with a single compromise candidate, saying it marked a historic change. Democratic leader Berisha voiced his unqualified support for the new system as his long-time rival, majority leader Nano, sat nearby: "We're trying hard to make a radical change, through a process that without a doubt reflects a need to correct our mistakes and [put things right] from now on."

For his part, Socialist leader Nano said he considers the political shift both correct and irrevocable: "I share the same view and have the same confidence as Mr. Berisha, our opposition leader -- that we have already entered onto an irreversible path of cooperation...[to achieve] national development and Euro-Atlantic integration."

Andrea Stefani is the country director of the U.S. International Research and Exchange Board (IREX), which in Albania concentrates on free-press issues. Stefani praises the willingness of ruling and opposition parties to find a common language as a positive achievement: "If all these measures [prove long-lasting], if Albanian politics were to continue along this fresh path, it would mean [that] a very positive event has occurred -- something that will distance Albanian politics from the psychology of war and confrontation. It will mean a return to the normal parameters of normal [political] competition, of normal pluralism."

Other analysts, however, believe that the dirtier side of Albanian politics -- which has been plagued by chronic waves of corruption and infighting -- may still keep the country's political parties from enjoying true cooperation for some years to come. (Alban Bala)

IS THE LANGUAGE ISSUE RESOLVED IN MACEDONIA? On 19 June, when the parliament adopted the last package of laws envisioned in the Ohrid peace agreement of August 2001, two of the three major Macedonian-language newspapers did not cover the story. This is quite amazing, since the laws deal with a number of key issues that helped spark the ethnic Albanian insurgency in early 2001.

Perhaps most importantly, the package included new rules regulating the use of the Albanian language in all government institutions as well as in taking the census, which is slated for November 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2002). The legislature did not, however, adopt the draft law on parliamentary rules or a new passport law.

Nevertheless, Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti praised the parliament's work. "According to the laws, [the position of the] Albanian language is on the rise as an official language. According to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia, Albanian is a language that will be used in all judicial and administrative work," Mehmeti said (see "Macedonia: Parliament Adopts Albanian-Rights Laws, Proposes Dual Passport,", 20 June 2002).

But before all constitutional provisions come into effect, the parliament has to adopt its own new rules that regulate the use of the Albanian language in its debates as well as in the written communications of the legislature. Here, however, the compromise that is necessary to pass the measures seems elusive.

On 22 June, many dailies reported that it is likely that the parliamentary procedures will have to be adopted after the parliamentary elections slated for 15 September. According to reports in the Macedonian-language press, ethnic Albanian politicians of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) told the parliamentary commission dealing with procedural questions that the draft rules are unacceptable. At present, the draft rules allow the use of Albanian only in spoken but not in written communications.

The second point at issue is the new passport law. On 21 June, the government withdrew its first draft regulation, which envisaged the issuing of two different passports for ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians. The decision came after not only President Boris Trajkovski and the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), but also some members of the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) announced that they oppose the new regulation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 21, 24, and 26 June 2002).

In the meantime, the government came forward with a new proposal. Unlike the first draft, it uses only the Macedonian language on the covers of all passports. Inside the passports, personal data can be in the Albanian language as well.

Both issues are complicated by the ethnic Albanian politicians' unwillingness to make more compromises and by what the Albanian-language daily "Fakti" called the ethnic Macedonian politicians' "aversion to the Albanian language." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

DAILY INCIDENTS IN MACEDONIA -- A REASON TO WORRY? Ever since leading ethnic Albanian and Macedonian politicians signed the Ohrid peace agreement in August 2001, violent incidents have taken place on a regular basis. Border shootouts, bomb blasts, and constant nocturnal gunfire prove once again that the small Balkan country has not yet returned to peace. However, many of the incidents reported by the Macedonian media have not been confirmed by international observers.

Both the opposition daily "Utrinski vesnik" and the independent "Dnevnik" recently reported an interesting detail that provides insight into the government's information policy and the relations between the army and the Interior Ministry.

On 19 June, "Utrinski vesnik" quoted Interior Ministry spokesman Voislav Zafirovski as saying that the army had informed the Interior Ministry about a group of uniformed and armed persons who had crossed the Kosova-Macedonian border and set up camp in the nearby the village of Vejce. Later, again quoting army sources, the Interior Ministry stated that a tractor carrying armed men had been spotted.

The Defense Ministry, however, denied that it had reported anything about the movement of armed persons, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 20 June. The ministry stated that it had informed the official center for crisis management about a tractor and about 20 uniformed but unarmed persons, but without mentioning where these people came from.

"We do not know where the 'additions' to the information came from, and we -- both the army and the Defense Ministry -- cannot be the source of the information," the ministry's press release said.

Since most of the "incidents" are reported by the Interior Ministry, it might well be that the ministry is the source of such disinformation. But despite renewed speculation about the likelihood of his dismissal, Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski remains in office. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

SLOVENIA'S VANISHING CASTLES. Back at Rice University in Houston, my classmates and I made an observation while reading Hittite texts. The "Annals of Mursilis II" and other ancient accounts of royal exploits read like Mesopotamian travelogues, as the king lays waste to various strongholds. Inevitably, however, each account ends with the note: "And I burned it down."

When it comes to castles, Slovenian tourist literature is starting to resemble these ancient records. During Yugoslav times, Tito's Partisan forces' destruction of numerous castles during and after World War II was a taboo topic. Increasingly, however, both print and electronic media are beginning to note the damage wrought by communist forces on Slovenia's castles. And, increasingly, these descriptions contain the note: "The castle was burned by the Partisans."

According to Ivo Zajdela, who researches communist-era crimes in Slovenia, Partisan forces destroyed some 75 castles across Slovenia. Only a few of these acts were connected with military objectives.

In the rare cases when Partisan destruction of castles was mentioned before the fall of communism, military necessity was cited as a justification. Most commonly, guidebooks and brochures would say that a castle was burned to prevent enemy forces from occupying it. Admittedly, the exigencies of guerrilla warfare sometimes compelled this.

However, Slovenes are increasingly acknowledging that many of these buildings fell victim to ideology. As elsewhere in Yugoslavia, World War II in Slovenia was simultaneously an international war, a civil war, and a revolution. These fault lines spawned conflicting allegiances and compounded the war's destructive impact. Revolutionary fervor spurred on the destruction of symbols at odds with communist principles, and the feudal castles of the former nobility made prime targets. The destruction of castles, monasteries, and churches even after the war evidenced this most clearly.

The encyclopedic, 700-page guide to Slovenia published by Mladinska Knjiga in 1995 prefers to skirt this ideological issue. In detailing the history of damaged castles such as Hmeljnik, Otocec, and Ribnica, the guidebook uses passive or impersonal descriptions, such as "the castle was burned" or "they plundered and dynamited the castle."

In contrast, a perceptible eagerness identifies foreign perpetrators of offenses. Indeed, the description of the fate of Rihemberk Castle, the largest and oldest in the coastal region, is indicative. Perhaps misleadingly, one reads that "the occupiers burned the village of revenge for a Partisan attack a few days earlier. In addition, they dynamited the castle after the war." Today the blackened, crumbling ruins of castles such as Soteska in southeast Slovenia, a corner of which serves as a stall for cattle, mutely testify to the events of 60 years ago.

Some castles experienced a more ignominious fate, becoming poorhouses and mental hospitals. Even the Ljubljana Castle lodged the homeless until the 1960s, when it was realized that the building could better serve as a tourist attraction. Today the restored Ljubljana Castle houses a swanky bar and functions as a fashionable venue for weddings.

The mental hospitals, however, remain. One of them is Hrastovec Castle in eastern Slovenia, touted as one of the most beautiful in the province of Stajerska. Below its graceful, pentagonal layout and gleaming white walls, sheep graze on a hill gently descending to the blue waters of a pond.

Visitors, however, soon realize that something is amiss in this fairy-tale image. The throngs of inmates who press close, begging for cigarettes, and the cries echoing from behind the barred windows make it clear that there are no tours scheduled here. Despite attempts to refit these castles to their new purpose, critics still fault their inadequate heating, poor lighting, and drafty rooms.

The communist leaders may have deemed it appropriate that the homes of their former overlords were converted for the use of society's most disadvantaged. However, this did not prevent them from saving a few select castles for their own personal use. The most famous example is the castle at Brdo pri Kranju, which was the venue for last year's Bush-Putin summit. Tito entertained foreign dignitaries and other guests here, with a lavish bar displaying his hunting trophies and a smaller building discreetly set near a pond, reserved for romantic encounters.

The Brdo Castle is still used for government functions today, but has recently featured in the news as the object of a court claim, currently under way in Strasbourg, by representatives of the prewar Karadjordjevic dynasty of Serbia. As kings of Yugoslavia, the Karadjordjevic family enjoyed ownership of the Brdo Castle for over two decades, but in 1997 the Slovenian Constitutional Court dismissed their claim.

Since independence in 1991, Slovenia has found new significance in the cultural heritage represented by its castles, and it has made investments accordingly. Many now contain museum collections, and the renovated Otocec Castle houses a luxury hotel and casino.

Sadly, however, many castles are doomed to further decay because of insufficient resources, and some have disappeared completely. Locals used the stones of Krupa Castle, burned by the Partisans in 1942, for their houses, and today hardly a trace remains of what was once the largest castle in the province of Bela Krajina. The task Slovenes face today is to preserve what remains and acknowledge the fate of the cultural heritage that has been lost forever. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "U.S. relations with Albania are excellent, the level of cooperation and friendship we enjoy there is hard to match anywhere in the world. If confirmed I intend to build on this excellent relationship." -- U.S. Ambassador-designate to Albania James Jeffrey at the U.S. Senate on 25 June. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"I will be brutally open, because nobody else will: Croatia has still a lot to do to meet criteria that would qualify the country to enter NATO. With a politicized army, [Croatia] will never become a NATO member." -- Lord George Robertson after talks with President Stipe Mesic. Quoted by dpa in Zagreb on 24 June.

"Yugoslavia is a mirror, in which we, the Russians, should see ourselves, i.e. the same lawlessness can happen in our country." -- Former Russian Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, quoted by the Armenian independent news agency Noyan Tapan on 20 June.

"They started fighting all of a sudden. I was amazed. There was glass flying all around." -- Stevo Vancov, a waiter at a Lake Ohrid hotel. A dinner was held there to end a three-day seminar of soccer fans aimed at preventing soccer violence. Quoted by AP on 24 June.