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Balkan Report: November 22, 2002

22 November 2002, Volume 6, Number 43

THREE PARTNERS FOR NATO. The presidents of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia participated in a panel at RFE/RL on 21 November on their countries' aspirations for NATO membership in the next round of expansion. The three made it clear that they intend to work together to promote regional cooperation and integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Presidents Alfred Moisiu of Albania, Stipe Mesic of Croatia, and Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia participated in RFE/RL's panel entitled "The Next Round of NATO Expansion: A Southeast European Perspective." Each president stressed what his country has to offer the Atlantic alliance and why it seeks NATO membership.

President Moisiu noted that Albania has long conducted its foreign and security policies as though it were already a member of NATO. He added that Albanian commandos went to Afghanistan in August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 August 2002).

Moisiu argued that Albania and the ethnic Albanians of the region have shown that they are a factor for regional stability and cooperation. He noted the recent meeting between himself and Trajkovski, during which they worked out a joint plan to promote their membership in the Atlantic alliance, a program to which Mesic has agreed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002). Moisiu said that a new and deeper form of regional cooperation has been launched.

Mesic stressed that membership in NATO and the European Union are two sides of the same coin. He noted that only a united Europe can be a good partner for the United States and an effective actor in the international arena, as well as a serious participant in progress in science and technology.

Mesic argued that NATO membership would make the countries of the region participants in a security system and help develop values and standards that would improve their chances for EU membership. He added that the EU -- particularly through the example of Franco-German reconciliation -- has shown that it is possible to end Europe's age-old problem of frequent wars for territory or political gain.

Trajkovski pointed out that Macedonia's peaceful political solution to its crisis in 2001 strengthened its own democratic institutions and regional stability alike. He added that Macedonia's international democratic credentials have been enhanced as a result. Trajkovski argued that the role of small countries in promoting peace and stability is considerable, and stressed that his country is ready to do its part.

The Macedonian president noted that the countries of the region need to speed up the reform of their military and defense systems, as well as promote more "strategic thinking" in line with the latest trends in NATO. He said that it does not make much difference whether the important Western security presence in his country is under NATO or EU supervision, because these are all allied forces that have played an important part in stabilizing Macedonia.

When asked about the fact that Serbia seems a long way from Partnership for Peace membership because of its illegal arms sales, its failure to reform its military, and its lack of cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, each president noted that Serbia still has much work to do (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 November 2002). Moisiu stressed that Serbia caused a decade of wars in the Balkans, but pointed out that one must look to the future rather than to the past. He noted that Serbia must meet the prerequisites for Partnership for Peace before it can become a member, but its neighbors should try to help it through cooperation. He added that he hopes and believes that the forces of democracy in Serbia will eventually prevail.

Mesic argued that it is important for Serbia to have a "catharsis." He argued that it must face up to its past and to having started and lost four wars if it is to move forward. It must try to punish war criminals, he added.

Trajkovski said that security and defense issues still remain a problem for Serbia. He added, however, that one should look at the bigger picture and note the "courageous steps" that the current leadership has taken toward democratization.

Turning to the matter of regional cooperation, Moisiu noted that one can choose one's friends but not one's neighbors. He argued that it is important to promote the free movement of people as well as cross-border projects, such as in tourism. The president proposed regular meetings in each of the three countries' capitals, adding that "regional security, economic market reforms, military reform, and the fight against terrorism can all be better resolved through closer cooperation."

Mesic again stressed the importance of a European dimension to regional cooperation. He noted that the EU could help set up joint business ventures and infrastructure projects.

Trajkovski highlighted the military and security aspects of cooperation, noting that NATO's values and thinking can help play a role in regional integration. He added that: "The Balkan region today still is not safe, it is not yet a place of decent life. We are surrounded by a large arsenal of weapons, and a large number of people who are getting rich through smuggling, corruption, and murder." He strongly argued that regional cooperation is the best approach to deal with regional issues. (Patrick Moore)

THE INS AND THE OUTS IN MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS. The Parliamentary Commission on Election and Nomination Questions is one of the country's busiest institutions at the moment. The commission nominates and dismisses not only all high-ranking government officials but also the directors of state-owned companies. In an age-old tradition, the newly elected ruling parties seek to gain political control over important state institutions by means of a change of personnel. As a side effect, they also create new jobs for party members.

Within the commission, the ruling Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats (LDP) and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), have a majority. The opposition -- the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the Liberal Party (LP), and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) -- does not have the possibility to veto the majority's decisions.

The commission's work highlights a problem that is common to all Balkan states (and to many outside the region as well). After parliamentary elections, the winning parties place hundreds of their members and followers in important strategic positions within the state administration and state-owned companies (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 May 2002). At the same time, prior appointees close to the previous government are either demoted or dismissed. Such changes have far-reaching consequences in a society of only 2 million people.

The media also criticized another aspect of the government's personnel policy: the ethnic makeup of the nominees. The Albanian-language daily "Fakti" wrote on 13 November that there are almost no Albanians among the new officials within the Foreign Ministry and among the future ambassadors. The article recalled that Macedonia borders two territories with an Albanian majority: Albania and Kosova. The author asks: "How can Macedonia conduct a regional foreign policy if the Albanians are not represented in the Foreign Ministry?"

The commission's recent nominations for the state-owned Macedonian Radio and Television (MRTV) and the MIA news agency are a case in point. Gordana Stosic, a television editor, will become MRTV's new director-general. Her predecessor recently resigned, saying that he was unable to carry out his duties after the change of government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 2002).

Zoran Ivanov will be the new director of the MIA news agency. The new government has thus secured its influence over these two main information sources.

Another sector of major political importance is the judiciary. The government is planning to dismiss Prosecutor-General Stavre Dzikov, claiming that he is incompetent, and is looking for an adequate replacement for him. Possible candidates include Dzikov's predecessor Stevan Pavlevski, former Interior Minister Jovan Trpenovski, and Lence Samoilovska, who is a former president of the Skopje Court of Appeal.

A major reshuffle is also going on within the Interior Ministry, which had been the power base of hard-line VMRO-DPMNE Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. Vlatko Gjorcev, spokesman of the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, said that the government has so far either dismissed or demoted about 200 officials within the ministry. "This is very brutal revenge taking against professionals [who] are thought to have ties to the VMRO-DPMNE," Gjorcev said.

Similar criticism came from the Liberal Party. Its spokesman Ivon Velickovski said changes in the leadership of the ministry are normal after a change of government, but the depth of the reshuffle can only be interpreted as a struggle among political parties. This will have negative effects on the state of security within the country, he added.

The nomination of Zoran Verusevski as new director of the Interior Ministry's Administration for Security and Counterintelligence has raised other concerns. Verusevski headed that department until 1998 when the newly appointed Boskovski dismissed him. Recent newspaper reports claim that Verusevski bought a second apartment from the state under favorable conditions during his first term. Many people accept that officials may obtain one apartment on special terms but not two.

The discussions about Verusevski's nomination show that the public has become increasingly aware of, and sensitive to, corruption and nepotism within the state administration. Slagjana Taseva of the anticorruption nongovernmental organization Transparency International demanded that Verusevski turn down his nomination.

Verusevski, however, said, "I do not feel that I have broken the law." Nonetheless, he added that unspecified "legal services" investigated the case and concluded that his acquisition of the second apartment was legal. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

THE FORMER YUGOSLOVAKIAN REPUBLIC OF WHAT? Slovenia is again considering changes to the country's flag, which many find resembles that of some other countries, particularly Slovakia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 January 2002). The issue is not new, and one argument keeping it alive is that Slovenia needs to raise its low-profile image in the world.

Mike Von Thielmann of San Diego-based Thielmann Tours offers travel packages to Slovenia, but notes that the country's image is poorly developed among the American public. Many Americans, he said in a 30 October article in "Vecer," believe that Slovenia is still part of Yugoslavia.

This will come as little surprise to most Americans living abroad -- in Slovenia or elsewhere. Many have humorous anecdotes on the topic. In 1995, this writer met an American Peace Corps volunteer in Slovakia who had reassured his parents that he was not going to a breakaway republic from "Yugoslovakia." When he told them it was a country bordering the Czech Republic, their concern doubled: "Chechnya?!"

Geographical confusion is not the exclusive purview of Americans. On 11 October, two days after an EU report endorsed Slovenia's bid for EU accession (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 October 2002), "Delo" reported that most Italian media had referred to Slovenia as a former Soviet Republic or as part of the former Soviet bloc.

Even if one can locate Slovenia on a map, there remains the problem of describing its location. Every term is politically charged -- none more so than "Balkan." Slovenes insist that the Balkans begin at the Kolpa River, i.e., the Croatian border, while the late Croatian President Franjo Tudjman pointed farther south. In 1997, both countries refused to attend the Balkan summit in Crete, arguing that they are not Balkan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 1997). (One also recalls the old Viennese adage that the "the Balkans begin at the Ringstrasse.")

This stance resembles the notorious detail opposite the celebrated "danse macabre" in the 15th-century frescos at Hrastovlje, Slovenia. A flatulent servant has just committed an indelicacy, while another looks at him indignantly, wrinkling his nose in disgust. The accused responds by pointing his finger at the next in line.

"Eastern Europe"? Not even Ukraine wants anything to do with the gray images evoked by this term, preferring "Central Europe." However, this is becoming a crowded club, and some Slovenes are impatient to move on. A 5 October article in "Delo" noted that in 2000 Slovenia "ranked highest among Western European countries" in suicide rates, although "the Eastern European countries rank higher."

The "Heart of Europe" is a popular moniker as well -- "The Green Heart of Europe" was selected some years back as Slovenia's new tourist slogan, replacing "The Sunny Side of the Alps." The latter apparently connoted too much "south" and was not particularly relevant in attracting Italian tourists. Unfortunately, a dozen other countries also feel that they are the "heart of Europe" and use the slogan in their advertising materials. Clearly, the issue is not one to be resolved by geographers.

Is Slovenia's image really so obscure? One rough index to public knowledge is the frequency with which one feels compelled to explain where or what a place is. For example, the number of Internet hits for the expression "Former Soviet Republic of Russia" is insignificant. In contrast, with .37 hits per 1,000 including the tag "Former Soviet Republic of," Tajikistan ranks lowest among ex-Soviet states (after Georgia, of course). If one regards this as reflecting an identity problem, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan all rank quite low, whereas Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia are most frequently cited without the tag.

How does Slovenia measure up? For political reasons, the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" receives an aberrantly high rate of hits (44.80 per 1,000). (This is because of Macedonia's endless name dispute with Greece, thanks to which the country is known in official international parlance as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM.) Macedonia is followed by Bosnia and Herzegovina (.14), Serbia (.09), and Croatia (.04). At only .03 hits per 1,000, Slovenia has a relatively independent identity by this measure.

Another issue is the quality of the image that Slovenia presents. In general, this is a positive one, at least when the country makes the radar screen. Still, one encounters singular statements, such as that uttered by Matt Salmon at a 2000 subcommittee hearing of the U.S. 106th Congress: "I am nervous about the future when I see that American children scored math and science, behind war-torn Slovenia." Policy director John Dawson's comment after the poor 2002 safety report on London's Blackwall Tunnel is no less humiliating: "Seeing the Blackwall Tunnel right down at the bottom..., alongside something in Slovenia, is not what we expected."

Does a new Slovenian flag hold the key to world recognition? Probably not. An informal survey of 100 university students in Ljubljana showed that almost none could recognize the distinctive flags of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, or Moldova -- countries approximating Slovenia in population and area.

Whichever way Slovenia finds its identity headed, its success in approaching Western institutions such as the EU -- and, with this week's Prague Summit invitation, NATO -- ensure that the country's path is oriented toward the future and not the past. (Donald F. Reindl,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "There is no political will to arrest [Mladic]. Mladic is still protected -- for sure from part of the army. He is moving freely in Belgrade and Serbia. Neither the military nor the police are doing anything to arrest him." -- Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, after speaking to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in Belgrade on 20 November. Quoted by AP.

"Yugoslav officials have no knowledge of Mladic's whereabouts." -- Yugoslav Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandra Joksimovic. Quoted ibidem.