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Balkan Report: February 2, 2001

2 February 2001, Volume 5, Number 9

BALKAN LEADERS DISCUSS STABILITY AT DAVOS. An impressive line-up of Balkan heads of state and government debated the future of their volatile region at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 28 January. The forum is famous for the number of prominent people it attracts to its annual meeting in the Swiss Alps. That tradition was upheld when presidents Vojislav Kostunica of Yugoslavia, Rexhep Meidani of Albania, Stipe Mesic of Croatia, Petar Stoyanov of Bulgaria, and Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia all sat on one stage to discuss how to create stability in their region. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou also participated. RFE/RL'S Breffni O'Rourke was on hand. This is his report.

The five Balkan presidents and one prime minister took turns to present their views, while the attention of the audience was focused on Vojislav Kostunica. Kostunica is widely seen as the man carrying the responsibility of bringing Serbia back to good standing in the world community.

In the event, his comments were low-key and cautious. He started by saying that at last the Balkans might be turning a page in its history, moving toward stability thanks to the continuing involvement of the European Union.

Kostunica spoke about the difficulties Yugoslavia faces in trying to contribute to Balkan stability. He mentioned the legacy of a planned economy, the burden of international sanctions, and the damage done by the conflict with NATO over Kosova.

Kostunica said that in view of these circumstances, Yugoslavia's main contribution to regional stability lies in the restraint it is exercising in various situations, such as in the Presevo Valley, where international peacekeepers are trying to contain a guerrilla campaign by ethnic Albanians. He said Yugoslavia also seeks good relations with all its neighbors.

Answering a question from the audience about nationalism in Serbia, Kostunica said Serbia is still able to call itself a multi-ethnic country, unlike Bosnia which has been divided. And he praised the role of Russia in the Balkans, which he said balances the influence of the EU and United States.

By contrast, the comments by Albanian President Rexhep Meidani were more to the point. Meidani, who was sitting next to Kostunica, said the region continues to have a problem of political instability. He referred to Kosova and Montenegro, the independence-minded junior partner of Serbia in the Yugoslav Federation. He said neither Yugoslavia nor Serbia can be truly democratic as long as their leaders seek to keep control of territories whose people want self-determination. He said such a policy would lead to continued instability and possibly to violence. He said the future of Kosova and Montenegro cannot be built on what he called concoctions of federalism.

Meidani said Serbian leaders also needed to be reminded of their international obligations, including those to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Croatian President Mesic said the first condition for stability in the region is to face the truth of what really happened during the past decade. He stressed that full cooperation with the Hague tribunal is necessary. He said that will clear the way for the future to develop.

Macedonia's Trajkovski said that for stability, there must be reconciliation among the Balkan countries themselves. He noted that in Macedonia's view, the Balkan situation is not definitely settled. Trajkovski listed the fragility of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the status of Kosova and the Yugoslav Federation as points in question. He called for dialogue on these matters, and said the region will need constant attention from the EU. He pointed out that regional cooperation is no substitute for eventual EU membership for Balkan countries.

In answer to a question about the risks of rising ethnic tensions inside Macedonia, Trajkovski said his country has a long tradition of inter-ethnic tolerance. "It's a long tradition, and besides that tradition, Macedonia has actively integrated the representatives of ethnic minorities into political and into everyday life. That's a guarantee for he survival of Macedonia and for the concept of inter-ethnic tolerance."

Bulgarian President Stoyanov said he fears the issue of Kosova's status, if it remains unresolved, could be a stumbling block in the way of continued democratization in Serbia. That is because of the tension it would produce in political life. He noted that it was originally thought that democracy in Serbia would solve the problem of the status of Kosova, in that it would satisfy the ethnic Albanian Kosovars. But Stoyanov said that no longer appeared true [after the crackdown and conflict of 1998-1999].

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, who also participated in the debate, spoke of the greater maturity of the whole region, saying that there now exists a political framework for building regional stability.

Speaking in the capacity of Greece as an EU member, he reiterated that the EU is in principle not in favor of further "fragmentation" of states in the Balkans. He said that this is Brussels' position on Montenegro, but that if it and Serbia want to go ahead and separate, then that is up to them.

He also asserted Greece's role as a bridge-builder between the EU and the Balkans: "We have lived through a transition over the past 20 years in becoming part of Europe and recently part of the monetary union. We know both sides of the coin, and I think that is a unique experience from our side to help both Europe and the Balkans in this integrative process." (Breffni O'Rourke)

MORE ON THE DISPUTE OVER ALBANIA'S ELECTION COMMISSION. Albania's rival parties are preparing for the upcoming general elections in July 2001. One of the disputes among them centers on the composition of the Central Election Commission (KQZ). The disagreement already overshadowed the local elections in October 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 October 2000). The opposition Democratic Party (PD) continues to protest that it is not represented in the KQZ in parity with representatives of the governing coalition parties. The seven-member KQZ includes only two opposition representatives. The Socialist Party (PS)-dominated coalition has dismissed the PD's demand for additional political appointments, arguing that the KQZ should include legal experts rather than party-politicians.

Following the resignation on 30 January of KQZ member Shahin Bistri, a compromise may be possible, if difficult. Two other KQZ members -- its chairman Fotaq Nano and Mimoza Arbi -- resigned earlier, and their positions remain open. "Koha Jone" suggested on 31 January that the Democrats may nominate a third opposition representative to one of the vacancies. Furthermore, the High Council of Justice (KLD), which will appoint Nano's successor, might consult with the PD before making the appointment.

In this case the government coalition would have three representatives in the KQZ, the opposition also three, and the KLD would appoint the seventh candidate, after reaching an agreement with the Socialists and the opposition. PD officials have agreed to such a partition in principle.

Socialist Namik Dokle, who is deputy speaker of the parliament, has called on the PD to nominate a successor for Bistri. But Dokle also stressed that "we are waiting for suggestions from all political parties."

Jemin Gjana, who is the head of the PD's parliamentary group, rejected Dokle's proposal, however, arguing that the PD has never formally endorsed the two current opposition representatives in the KQZ. Gjana stressed that only a formal change of the legal framework regarding the KQZ will satisfy the PD. He said: "We will not send any nominations for the KQZ [to parliament] if the [legal] basis on which [the KQZ] rests is not changed."

But the Socialist legislators are not willing to change the constitution, which regulates the composition of the KQZ. They argue that the current rules prevent the KQZ from becoming a stage for clashes between rival political forces, and that the parties should find a solution within the existing legal framework.

Currently the KLD appoints three, the parliament two, and the president two members of the KQZ. A separate law -- giving the right to political parties to nominate, but not to appoint candidates -- could lead to a compromise between the rivals. But PD officials demand that the four remaining members of the KQZ resign beforehand and make room for all new appointees. This will depend on the good will of those who currently hold the office and who enjoy special protection under the constitution.

They include two members appointed by the president, one appointed by the KLD, and one by parliament. Surprisingly, Luan Rama, an influential PS legislator, backed the idea of the four resigning so that an entirely new commission could be appointed, "Shekulli" reported.

The PD has also demanded a round table of political parties to agree on a solution, but PS Secretary Petro Koci stressed that the only institution that can address the issue is the parliament and its commissions. Koci also recalled that last year the PD "in an arrogant way" rejected participating in an OSCE-mediated round table focusing on the issue, and charged that party with "disregard for the state institutions." Koci stressed in particular that neither the legislators, nor the government, nor the political parties have a right to pressure the KLD into making political appointments, since this could jeopardize the independence of the judiciary. If both sides do not reach a consensus on changes by June, the PD is likely to threaten an election boycott. (Fabian Schmidt)

PROSECUTORS WANT LONG SENTENCES FOR ALBANIAN TREASURY THEFT. Prosecutors Njazi Seferi and Petrit Shehu want four to eight years in prison for five suspects believed to be involved in the theft from the Albanian state treasury in March 1997. Arjan Bishqemin, an officer who was in charge of evacuating gold reserves from Tirana during the 1997 unrest, is charged with negligence and failure to guard the treasury. Enver Hyka, Ahmet Hyka, Pellumb Dalti, and Blerim Haka are villagers charged with stealing gold coins from a tunnel near Krrabe between Elbasan and Tirana.

The thieves, who entered the tunnel through an unguarded secret back door, subsequently sold the coins and bought real estate, "Shekulli" reported on 31 January. Investigators noticed the theft only in January 2000 and found some of the missing coins in the homes of individual villagers in the area. The trial opened on 27 October 2000. (Fabian Schmidt)

BULGARIA: THE RUSH TO BUILD COALITIONS Public support for the major political parties in Bulgaria continues to be both low and close. According to BBSS Gallup International, Prime Minister Ivan Kostov's party, the ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF), is backed by 23.5 percent of voters compared to 19.8 percent for the Socialist Party (BSP). Although a date for the parliamentary and presidential elections due this year has not been set, the race for attracting coalition partners has started.

The first battle was for the third major party in Bulgaria--the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF). After unsuccessful talks with the ruling coalition, MRF leader Ahmed Dogan was almost ready to make an agreement with the Socialist Party. His plans were overturned by a documentary on the Communist assimilation campaign against ethnic Turks in 1984 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 January 2001). After the film was shown on national television, it became apparent that Dogan would have lost the backing of ethnic Turks if he agreed to enter a coalition with the former Communists, who were responsible for forcible ethnic assimilation.

The Turkish party decided to run alone, postponing any coalition decisions until after the elections. There is a possibility that the Turkish party may play the role of a kingmaker in the next parliament as it did in 1992.

The UDF turned to its partners in the governing United Democratic Forces to build more stable arrangements for the next elections. There are already indications that the People's Union (the Democratic Party and the Agrarian Union) may run on a single slate with the UDF. This means that the UDF must undertake and keep certain promises after the elections in order to maintain a coalition with its long-time allies.

Encouraged by the success of the Socialists in neighboring Romania, the former Bulgarian Communists started consolidating their base by forming a broad coalition with 14 smaller leftist and nationalist groups. The newly formed "Coalition for Bulgaria" is a strange alliance of former and present Communists, nationalists, Social Democrats, anti-fascists, agrarians, trade-union activists, one women's union, and two Romani organizations.

The differences between their platforms are significant. The basic differences have already resulted in the departure from the coalition of Velko Valkanov, leader of the Bulgarian Anti-Fascist Union, who wanted to be allowed to campaign against Bulgaria's accession to NATO. The Socialist Party leader and official representative of the "Coalition for Bulgaria," Georgi Parvanov, opposed such a campaign, because last spring the Socialists declared their support for Bulgaria's bid to join NATO after years of adamant opposition.

Bulgaria's Socialist Party has tried to regain popular support ever since it lost power in 1997, when its government led the country to the brink of economic and financial catastrophe. The Socialists were severely discredited in the public eye and subsequently were not able to attract significant public backing. Their first chance came during the NATO bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which they vehemently opposed. However, only a limited number of people participated in the protest demonstrations in Sofia in 1999.

The Socialists realized by then that they needed a different strategy in order to regain power. They now sought to open themselves up to EU and NATO integration, to attract diverse allies and thus overcome the isolation of 1997, and to enhance public dissatisfaction with the reforms implemented by the UDF.

Nevertheless, support for the BSP remains approximately the same as in 1997. The party's approval of eventual NATO membership, though positive for the sake of establishing a national consensus, served primarily to alienate some of the Socialist hardliners. The latest tactic of building a broad coalition with partners who have virtually no public support has only served to bring ridicule upon the 110-year-old party, which seems to have a problem finding its identity. But constructing an election campaign around the message that the UDF failed either to raise living standards or to fight crime may yet prove to be a successful strategy for the BSP.

Over the last four years, public support for the UDF dropped by 30 percent and is now just four points higher than that for the BSP. This will make the race very close. The future government will likely depend on a broad and probably unstable coalition of several parties.

Although the ruling United Democratic Forces managed to improve Bulgaria's financial and economic situation, achieve GDP growth for three consecutive years, privatize 70 percent of state enterprises, and launch negotiations for EU integration, the average income remains very low and the level of poverty is high. According to a survey conducted by ALPHA Research last December, 54 percent of Bulgarians said that they would advise their children to emigrate.

The main task before the ruling coalition on the eve of the elections is to regain the trust of the people. In his recent annual state-of-the-nation speech, President Petar Stoyanov said that "until we raise living standards for real, we will disappoint three generations of Bulgarian citizens in their expectations of the advantages of democracy."

The major reasons for disappointment among ordinary citizens have been alleged official corruption and nepotism among some UDF leaders, as well as their internal rivalries in jockeying for power. In recent months, accusations that the Interior Ministry was tapping the telephones of high-ranking politicians, prosecutors, and journalists has contributed to public disillusionment.

Since last fall, several assassinations and bombings have taken place in Sofia and other big towns. Despite the fact that the victims were figures from the criminal underground, the unusually rapid rise in crime makes the population feel threatened and insecure. Some observers suspect that many of these cases are provocations aimed at destabilizing the country and discrediting the government on the eve of crucial elections. In this context, the Bulgarian security services and the government of Ivan Kostov were implicated in a spying scandal involving the telephone tapping of politicians in Macedonia.

In such a climate of uncertainty and public frustration, the upcoming elections are becoming a worrisome event. Undoubtedly, with the start of the election campaign, Bulgaria's political tensions will further increase. (Margarita Assenova. The author is a consultant with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Those who were against the Kosovo war are talking about risks [from depleted uranium] which do not exist at all, and overlooking real risks such as from burned refineries. The goal is to subsequently destroy the legitimacy of the war. But no one will forget about the thousand-fold murders and mass deportations that we, along with NATO, stopped." -- German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, quoted in "Focus" on 29 January (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 January 2001).

"They are making proposals, and they do want changes, and we'll talk about it. This isn't going to be a public negotiation." -- Unnamed NATO official in Brussels on 1 February, referring to Serbian demands for a revision of the 1999 Kumanovo agreements. Quoted by Reuters.