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Balkan Report: January 16, 2001

16 January 2001, Volume 5, Number 4

GENERAL ELECTIONS FOR KOSOVA? The new UN Special Representative Hans Haekkerup told Danish television that the international community should clarify what competencies a parliament of Kosova will have before holding general elections there, "Koha Ditore" reported on 13 January. Asked whether the elections will be held in the first half of the year, Haekkerup avoided giving a clear answer. He pointed out, however, that he will start negotiations with all sides involved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2001).

Daan Everts, who is the head of the OSCE mission in Kosova, told the UN Security Council in November 2000 that elections should be held around spring 2001 to accelerate the process of returning autonomy to Kosova. More recently, however, he indicated that this may be too soon, and now elections are unlikely to take place before summer.

Everts said that he regarded last October's local elections in Kosova as a successful test case. Giving a report to the OSCE Council in Vienna on 12 January, he stressed that the OSCE in cooperation with the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has managed to build democratic institutions from scratch.

Everts recalled the successful voter registration, the creation of a Central Election Commission, and finally the local elections, which proceeded in a surprisingly peaceful way.

He also highlighted the work done in building up a police force, setting up a judicial system, supporting the creation of a pluralistic media landscape, and developing a school system. But Everts also said that the overall security situation is far from satisfactory, especially as far as the protection of minorities is concerned.

He stressed that the process of institution building in Kosova must not end with the development of local government. Everts argued that UN Resolution 1244/1999, which established the international civilian presence in Kosova, also requires the OSCE and UN to develop central institutions of self-government.

Everts told "Koha Ditore" of 13 January that he urged the ambassadors from the 54 OSCE member states to organize general elections within the year 2001. He argued that holding general elections is necessary also because the Albanians must elect people who can represent them in negotiations with Belgrade and with the international community about a final settlement of the status of Kosova.

He stressed that "nobody was against [holding elections], but some countries did not agree with the [proposed] timeframe [July or August], and demanded that first conditions be created in which all [ethnic] communities can participate, including the Serbs."

Some ambassadors also demanded that no general elections should take place unless there are stable conditions for refugee return to Kosova. Nonetheless, the OSCE Council agreed to give the go-ahead for election preparations, albeit without setting a clear date.

Everts told "Koha Ditore" that from a technical point of view, it will hardly be possible to hold the elections before the end of July. There will have to be a new registration process involving all minorities, such as the Serbs and Turks, who refused to participate in the local elections.

The competencies of the new central parliament and government will have to be laid down in a provisional constitution, which international, Albanian, and Serbian legal experts will draw up under UN guidance.

Everts expressed hope that the Serbs will participate in the vote: "Last year there were different circumstances... Milosevic was still in power. The changes in Serbia will also reflect on the Kosovo Serbs, who will have to be included in the institutions of Kosovo and play a constructive role there."

The OSCE Council furthermore decided to open a mission in Belgrade in the coming week. Among other tasks, the mission will monitor the situation in the Presevo valley and work towards a political solution there. (Fabian Schmidt)

PROMINENT LEADER LEAVES KOSOVA LIBERALS. Naim Maloku, a former senior commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), has quit his Liberal Center Party of Kosova (PQLK) and joined the Civic Alliance of Kosova (AQK), which is part of the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 January 2001). He announced his decision to resign all PQLK party offices and give up his seat in the Kosova Transitional Council, "Koha Ditore" reported on 13 January. Shortly before that, Maloku had suggested merging the entire PQLK into the larger AAK but apparently could not gather enough support for that idea within his own party.

Maloku made his decision public at a joint press conference with AAK leader Ramush Haradinaj, but he did not inform his own party leadership beforehand. The AAK, which gained about 7 percent of the vote in local elections, has better chances of winning parliamentary seats in general elections than the tiny PQLK. (Fabian Schmidt)

KOSTUNICA MEETS WITH MILOSEVIC. President Vojislav Kostunica met in Belgrade on 13 January for one hour with his predecessor, Slobodan Milosevic, whose Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) requested the meeting. As might be expected, the encounter has led to a flurry of speculation and controversy.

The state-run Tanjug news agency said in a statement that the two men discussed the general situation in the country, the situation in Kosova, and the future of Serbian-Montenegrin relations. An unnamed individual "in Kostunica's office" told AP on 14 January that Kostunica wanted to show that he had broken with Milosevic's policy of not meeting with opposition leaders. Kostunica said that "the president is obliged to talk to party leaders, in this case with the leader of the largest opposition party."

SPS spokesman Branislav Ivkovic hailed the meeting, saying that it was "quite normal" for two presidents to discuss affairs of state. (Milosevic's own predecessor, Ivan Stambolic, disappeared under mysterious circumstances in August [see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2000]. He has not been heard from since.)

Speculation has been rife as to what Milosevic and Kostunica actually discussed. One theory is that indicted war criminal Milosevic wanted assurances from Kostunica that he will not be turned over to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, or even to domestic courts. Milosevic, who has more than his share of enemies, may also have asked Kostunica to continue his official police protection, which is about to end. Another theory is that Kostunica tried to persuade Milosevic to go to The Hague voluntarily, as former Bosnian Serb leader Biljana Plavsic did the previous week.

Kostunica himself told "Glas Javnosti" of 13 January that he considers that tribunal to be a "political rather than legal body." He added that reopening the court's Belgrade office "does not automatically mean accepting all demands of the court." Kostunica noted that Yugoslav law does not allow for extradition of citizens to foreign courts. He acknowledged that the Dayton agreement committed Belgrade to cooperate with the tribunal, but added that the Yugoslav parliament never ratified the document. Kostunica stressed that "we will cooperate to the extent that our laws allow and that [it] does not insult [our] national dignity."

Serbian Prime Minister-designate Zoran Djindjic said in Belgrade that he learned of the Milosevic-Kostunica meeting from a radio broadcast and wants an explanation. He added that the government should do exactly the opposite of whatever Milosevic advised. Djindjic stressed that he sees no purpose in getting advice on the future of the federation from the man most responsible for alienating Montenegro to begin with, "Vesti" reported on 15 January.

Zarko Korac of the Social Democratic Union told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 13 January that "Milosevic belongs in jail." Korac added that the former dictator should not be treated like a legitimate politician "with whom one is obliged to consult." Korac argued that the fact that Kostunica is willing to talk to Milosevic about Montenegro is in itself a warning to the citizens of Montenegro.

The small Sumadija League said in a statement that "it is unbelievable that anybody, especially the president of Yugoslavia, consults...with the man who brought us all to the brink of bare survival and disgraced us before the whole world."

Florence Hartmann, who is a spokeswoman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, told AP on 14 January that Kostunica "knows that Milosevic is a fugitive and [Kostunica] is aware of the obligation to arrest him." In Belgrade, Justice Minister Momcilo Grubac said that "the Hague tribunal is a UN body, which means that the constitutional ban on extradition does not apply," AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 2001).

But Kostunica is sticking to his position on the court. His deputy Aleksandar Popovic told a news conference on 15 January that Kostunica will not meet Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte when she visits Belgrade next week. Popovic noted that the president receives heads of state and premiers and that Del Ponte "is not in any of these offices." He repeated Kostunica's view that the court is a "political institution," adding that it "is not a relevant international institution." (Patrick Moore)

BULGARIA TO INVESTIGATE 1980S ETHNIC CLEANSING. A documentary film depicting the forced assimilation campaign of ethnic Turks in Bulgaria in the 1980s has prompted strong reaction from political and judicial authorities. Prosecutors say they will reopen an investigation into the last communist prime minister on charges he was among those who ordered the campaign. The film, which was based on investigative reports by RFE/RL's Tatiana Vaksberg, was broadcast on national television on 9 January. Here is a report by RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz:

Bulgarian prosecutors say they are reopening an investigation into the country's last communist prime minister on charges that he was among those who ordered the forced assimilation of Bulgaria's ethnic Turks during the 1980s.

Forced assimilation was a program of massive repression. About a million ethnic Turks in Bulgaria were required to accept a Slavic name -- many at gunpoint. Some who stubbornly refused were beaten and had their identification papers confiscated. This meant they could not leave their villages.

Islamic religious practices were forbidden, as were Turkish cultural traditions. Severe fines were imposed for speaking Turkish, and even for failing to erase Turkish names from the tombstones of ancestors.

The assimilation campaign came to a violent conclusion in 1989, when riots broke out among ethnic Turks. Communist Party (BKP) leader Todor Zhivkov first deported thousands of alleged ring-leaders and then gave ethnic Turks the right to emigrate to Turkey. Ankara estimates that it took in 370,000 ethnic Turks from Bulgaria in 1989. All the while, communist officials and state media continued to insist the campaign to eliminate Turkic names and culture was a voluntary act by the country's Muslims.

Even today, many backers of the Bulgarian Socialist Party -- which is the BKP's successor -- support Zhivkov's view that there is no such thing as an "ethnic-Turkish Bulgarian" -- only Bulgarian Slavs who are Muslim.

The prosecutors' announcement last week followed the publication of previously undisclosed documents showing that Georgi Atanasov ordered the assimilation of ethnic Turks in northern Bulgaria on 18 January 1985. Atanasov was secretary of the Central Committee of the BKP at the time he issued the order. He later became prime minister under Zhivkov.

In 1999, the military prosecutor for the Sofia district closed an investigation into those believed responsible for the assimilation campaign. The prosecutor said at that time there was no clear evidence showing who had issued the orders.

But RFE/RL journalist Tatiana Vaksberg discovered the order by Atanasov in the Communist Party archives after researching state and party files. It was her material that was presented in the latest documentary.

Vaksberg also found an order from Zhivkov Interior Minister Dimitar Stoyanov that called for secret service agents to launch the ethnic cleansing campaign. Although Vaksberg did not discover any direct orders from Zhivkov, she did find records from Politburo meetings showing that Zhivkov approved of the program.

Bulgarian prosecutors say they will not investigate Zhivkov or Stoyanov further because both are dead.

Last week's broadcast was the first opportunity for many Bulgarians to hear a full account of what happened to ethnic Turks in their country during the 1980s.

Prime Minister Ivan Kostov -- who is a member of the anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces -- said after seeing the film that it is high time the country face the truth in the matter. "The [forced name-changing and] deportation program itself, called 'assimilation,' is a word that all Bulgarians use with sarcasm. But we should start calling it 'deportation' or 'attempted ethnic cleansing,' and simply use the exact name of these things."

Surprisingly, leaders of a political party that claims to represent Bulgaria's Turkish minority have criticized the film. Ahmed Dogan, the leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, said the film is an attempt to spoil relations between his party and the former communists in the renamed Bulgarian Socialist Party.

Dogan has been negotiating with the Socialists in an attempt to create a parliamentary alliance after elections due between April and June. Political analysts predict the two parties could win enough seats to control a parliamentary majority--forcing Kostov's Union of Democratic Forces out of power.

Socialist Party leader Georgi Parvanov said Vaksberg's findings are not the most important documents related to assimilation. He says any disputes between the Socialists and Dogan's party in connection with the issue have been resolved.

The daily "Duma," which is the official newspaper of the Socialist Party, has attacked Vaksberg as a "fascist." In an unsigned article, the newspaper claimed she was "ordered" to make an anti-communist film.

But Prime Minister Kostov defended Vaksberg's five years of archival research for exposing what he described as "evil": "The ethnic Turkish victims interviewed in the film have allowed the whole Bulgarian society to observe this evil in its complete sinister scale. It has obviously been hidden, and is still being hidden. This evil changes its form, searching for insolent, cynical ways to disguise itself as good." (Ron Synovitz)

TITO'S CAR FINDS A BUYER, BUT NOT HIS YACHT. Zagreb lawyer Sanja Matovina-Lulic was successful with a bid of DM 30,005 (circa $14,000) for Josip Broz Tito's Mercedes 280 S car, dpa reported from Zagreb on 12 January. Meanwhile, at Brijuni National Park, organizers of a similar auction for Tito's yacht rejected a top offer of DM 30,001. They said it was far less than what they were expecting. It is not clear what will happen next with the vessel. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "I believe that the story in the Balkans is not finished, and that the next administration needs to keep in mind that our presence there is very important." -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at her 9 January press conference. Quoted in "The Washington Times."

"We will cooperate [with The Hague] to the extent that our laws allow and that [it] does not insult [our] national dignity." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, to "Glas javnosti" of 13 January.

"Just like in real life, where individual people are concerned, only one person can inherit grandpa's best armchair. Those who didn't get it can nonetheless always buy a new one that is more beautiful and better." -- Croatian economic commentator Viktor Vresnik. He was warning his countrymen not to expect too much from the negotiations about dividing up former Yugoslavia's assets among the successor states. Quoted in "Globus" of 22 December.

"I wonder whether you have a position where the three major parties have just decided to split up the country and split up the booty and the spoils." -- U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, referring to Bosnia. Quoted by Reuters in Sarajevo on 14 January.