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Balkan Report: April 6, 2001

6 April 2001, Volume 5, Number 25

COALITION GAMES IN SKOPJE. It seems very likely that an institution from the early days of Macedonia's independence will be revived: all-party talks under the auspices of the president.

When Kiro Gligorov was still in that office, all manner of topics were regularly discussed. Some authors -- like Stefan Troebst and Heinz Willemsen in the latest issue of "Osteuropa" -- even go so far as to suggest that Gligorov led a kind of government by consensus. They argue that this system of governing ensured that the ethnic tensions that undeniably existed in Macedonia during the early 1990s did not lead to an armed conflict like in some other former Yugoslav republics.

For the almost two years since Gligorov left office in 1999, the talks have been suspended. Only the outbreak of violent clashes between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian fighters has prompted a revival of these discussions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2001). Now the initiative lies in the hands of President Boris Trajkovski. Even though not all parties came to the first rounds of the talks, Macedonian as well as European politicians -- like Javier Solana or the coordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, Bodo Hombach -- have hailed them as a first step toward easing the tension and reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Parallel to the beginning of the all-party talks earlier this week, another idea from the early 1990s has reemerged: that of a broad coalition. The government led by Nikola Kljusev (March 1991-July 1992) had been described as an "expert government," with a strong anti-Albanian stamp. The "expert government" was made up almost exclusively of non-Albanian party members from the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), the ex-communist Social Democrats (SDSM), and the Movement for All-Macedonian Action (MAAK). It was eventually brought down by a vote of no confidence and replaced by a coalition government formed by the SDSM and the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), which lasted until after the fall 1998 elections.

Today, Macedonia again is ruled by a coalition government. The biggest party -- the VMRO-DPMNE -- and its leader, Ljubco Georgievski, refrained from making the openly anti-Albanian sentiments of earlier times. This made possible the coalition with the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) led by Arben Xhaferi. This party and its leader similarly ceased making radical statements in exchange for political offices. The third original coalition partner, the Democratic Alternative (DA), has been replaced by the Liberal Party (LP) in the meantime.

Shortly after the armed conflict between the Albanian guerrillas and the Macedonian security forces broke out earlier this year, the opposition Social Democrats as well as the ruling VMRO-DPMNE started to look for ways to form a "government of national unity" based on a broad coalition. After having exchanged bitter accusations this past weekend, the leaders of the major Macedonian parties -- Georgievski of the VMRO-DPMNE and Branko Crvenkovski of the opposition SDSM -- now agreed to meet on 5 April for a first round of talks.

The mutual accusations drew attention to the deep rift between the two parties' views on a number of issues. First, SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE disagree on the origin of the current crisis. Whereas the government says it is imported by "terrorists" from Kosova, SDSM is of the opinion that it is an internal problem of Macedonia. According to the Social Democrats, the recent violent clashes were orchestrated by the PDSH.

Second, the government officially does not show any inclination to change the constitution to meet key Albanian demands because this step might be seen as weakness by the electorate. On the other hand, there are some discussions going on in the press as to whether and how the constitution could indeed be changed. This may be seen as a sign that the government could eventually back down on the issue. This possibility seems even more likely if one keeps in mind the calls by the international community for greater equality for the Albanians, and Xhaferi's virtual ultimatum to the same effect.

Changing the constitution is exactly what the SDSM wants to avoid by entering a government coalition. On 30 March, Crvenkovski told a press conference that if Georgievski does not give way to a broader coalition -- Crvenkovski did not specify how broad this coalition should be -- his party would have to resort to street protests either to force its way into a coalition or to bring down the government.

In response to Crvenkovski's claims, Georgievski first reacted by accusing Crvenkovski of "diversionary acts against the Macedonian state." He nonetheless then offered talks on forming a coalition. On the agenda are the demands of the SDSM for two key ministries (Interior and Justice) and for holding parliamentary elections before the end of this year.

While the smaller parties generally agree to the creation of a broad coalition, some of them do not, such as the Liberal Democrats led by Skopje Mayor Risto Penov.

Whether a broad coalition will be formed or not will be decided by the current junior coalition partner, the PDSH. Party Vice President Menduh Thaci already signaled that he is not willing to cooperate with either the "former UDBA [Yugoslav secret service] members of the PPD" or with the SDSM. To the SDSM offers to form a "coalition for national salvation," he replied: "The SDSM and PPD have saved Macedonia enough. With their criminal activities and the torture of Albanians that took place during their government [before the 1998 elections], they sowed the seed for the grain that the current government has to harvest." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz. His email is

WHAT'S IN A NAME? Albania's New Democratic Party -- headed by Genc Pollo -- is challenging the claim of the Democratic Party -- led by former President Sali Berisha -- to its initials, "Koha Jone" reported on 5 April.

Pollo's reform movement, which left Berisha's PD at the beginning of the year (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2001), had initially chosen the name New Democratic Party (PD e Re). On 4 April, however, the party voted to change its name to the Democrat Party (PD) and to register under that name for the 24 June parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 April 2001). Thus both parties will likely appear with the same initials in the election campaign and on ballot papers.

The daily stressed that under these circumstances, "the voters will have to look very carefully for whom they vote," adding that "it is very likely that candidates from Pollo's party will get votes from Berisha sympathizers and the other way around." But the reformers are not afraid of such a situation. Dashamir Shehi, a parliamentary deputy who co-founded Pollo's PD, said that "the candidates of the Democrat Party are educated people and the electorate is unlikely to confuse them [with those of Berisha's PD]."

Furthermore, the new party will change the design of the PD emblem only slightly. Pollo's party will simply take the old PD emblem, which consists of a stylized P and D, and add the letter "R," which stands for "reformers." They will also add the number 2001, indicating the year of the party's founding.

Pollo explained why he did not want to invent a completely new design: "We remain committed to what we say and we will defend the identity of the PD, which was created 10 years ago. But we are a political force that wants to bring Albania into the new millennium." (Fabian Schmidt)

BERISHA LAUNCHES COALITION CAMPAIGN. Berisha and his counterpart from the Republican Party (PR), Fatmir Meidiu, invited district party chiefs from several center-right parties in their efforts to form a broader coalition for the upcoming elections, "Shekulli" reported on 5 April (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 April 2001).

No representatives from other opposition parties attended the session, however, which took part on the premises of Tirana's national history museum. Officials from the other parties, including the monarchist Legality movement, excused themselves by saying that they stayed away for "technical reasons." In any event, Legality officials have made it clear that they are still keeping their options open.

Berisha has called on opposition parties to join forces in a spirit of cooperation and understanding. Currently no single opposition party is likely to win the upcoming elections except as part of a coalition.

Meanwhile, Berisha again accused the government of trying to deprive "Albanians of the right to vote." He has criticized the government repeatedly since the local elections in October 2000, arguing that up to 300,000 voters had been left off the voters lists. Officials are currently checking the lists for problems, following a request from the parliament. Berisha's charges have little credibility, however, since in the year 2000 there were more registered voters than ever before in Albania's history.

Berisha dismissed the government's claims that he has been preventing a dialogue about the election process. He replied: "We offer dialogue, while they offer fraud. We want a free and honest election process. They want an electoral farce." Observers note that Berisha used similar rhetoric in the past to justify a post-election boycott of parliament following an election defeat. (Fabian Schmidt)

WHO WANTS THE DAJTI? An official from the National Privatization Agency told "Albanian Daily News" of 5 April that the agency has postponed the tender for the privatization of Tirana's central Dajti Hotel (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). The previous bidders -- including Mabetex Engineering of the Albanian-Swiss businessman Bexhet Pacolli and Dajti Travel Lodge International, an Albanian-American consortium -- failed to produce acceptable bids. Both bidders failed to present the tender warranty fees, acceptable bank documentation, and bid presentations.

The Dajti Hotel was built by the Italians in the 1940s and reconstructed in the 1950s in the spirit of Stalinist Gothic. It was Tirana's main hotel for foreign diplomats and official guests during the communist period, and many people regard it as a piece of living history from those years. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The road of violence in the Balkans has been a dead-end road -- a road leading only to further violence, to misery, and to death." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, speaking in Prishtina on 4 April. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"We are ready to cooperate [with The Hague], but cooperating doesn't mean accepting everything. It doesn't mean putting state dignity [below] a handful of dollars. Some things have more lasting value than money." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, quoted by the "New York Times" on 4 April.

"...Mr. Kostunica is a man in a muddle, a man whose patriotic, nationalistic reflexes often seem to get the better of his common sense. Serbia cannot afford such self-indulgence any longer. Chauvinism and sentimentality have caused too much damage in the past -- and Serbia's past still very much threatens its future.... Mr. Kostunica must surely also know that western help to advance Serbia's economic regeneration is a necessity, not an option. He is not in a position to dictate terms, nor can he responsibly allow continuing arguments over Milosevic's fate to imperil this assistance. And when Mr. Kostunica speaks of catharsis, he must surely see that this means catharsis for all. Yugoslavia owes everybody an explanation, not just the Serbs." -- Commentary in "The Guardian," 4 April.