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Balkan Report: April 13, 2001

13 April 2001, Volume 5, Number 27

ALBANIA'S MEIDANI SAYS SERBIA MUST FACE UP TO WAR GUILT. Albanian President Rexhep Meidani said at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague on 10 April that it will be difficult to uproot the "sick nationalism" that has grown in Serbia "over the years" unless the Serbian leadership publicly condemns the Milosevic regime's policies of genocide and ethnic cleansing. He stressed that Serbia needs to face up to its guilt for starting four wars as a prerequisite for developing a new civil society. Meidani also called on the new Belgrade authorities to release all political prisoners.

Turning to Macedonia, he noted that "military offensives don't resolve the problems in the Balkans." Meidani argued that the Balkan region, with its 50 million people, needs a free-trade zone with common customs and value-added taxes, which he dubbed a "mini-Schengen." Referring to his recent meetings with regional leaders in Davos, Meidani said that he regrets that the Macedonian and Bulgarian presidents shy away from regional integration lest it slow down their countries' progress toward EU membership.

Asked by a Bulgarian journalist which social groups in Albania support a Greater Albania, the president said that irredentism is no more popular in his country than is the concept of a Greater Bulgaria in Bulgaria. Meidani implied that Serbia is behind rumors that allege that Albanians across the Balkans aspire to create a large common state. Meidani charged that "no normal person" in Albania or anywhere else can seriously seek to set up a Greater Albania or a Greater Kosova.

To avoid providing grist to the mills of those who believe Tirana wants a Greater Albania, the Albanian government has not called a roundtable conference of ethnic Albanian leaders from around the Balkans, he added. Meidani said that Kosovar moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova and other ethnic Albanian leaders are "always welcome" in Tirana. He noted that Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta met recently in Prishtina with Rugova, who has not visited Tirana for some time. Meidani added that "we see that they [Albanian politicians in Kosova and Macedonia] need our advice and...cooperation. We are trying to do this [on an] individual basis."

Turning to domestic issues, Meidani said that he expects that the 24 June parliamentary elections will be less troubled than were some of the other ballots in Albania's recent history (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 6 April 2001). The president stressed that the electronic media will likely play a key role in keeping the elections honest and above board.

Meidani was accompanied by a large delegation, including Foreign Minister Paskal Milo and parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Sabri Godo. Godo said that it is "urgent" that the Macedonian authorities launch a dialogue with the ethnic Albanian minority. "We all want Macedonia to maintain its sovereignty and integrity, but Macedonia will be harmed in the future if it refuses to face reality. There is no other way for Macedonia than coexistence between Macedonians and Albanians." Godo ruled out a federal system for Macedonia, which is an idea supported by some Albanian nationalists there but rejected outright by the Macedonian authorities. (Patrick Moore)

DIVISIONS, INSTABILITY IN BELGRADE. The recent arrest of former President Slobodan Milosevic has highlighted a lack of consensus within the Serbian coalition government on how to conduct domestic reforms and on how to deal with the international community, according to a leading French scholar on the Balkans.

Jacques Rupnik told an RFE/RL briefing in Washington recently that even though the new government passed its first political test in arresting Milosevic, it is going to need from the West both "financial incentives" and "a credible political goal" to overcome the "criminalized state" machinery inherited from the Milosevic period.

Rupnik, who is research director at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques in Paris, called attention to the enormous domestic difficulties the new government must deal with: 40 percent unemployment, a $12 billion debt, and a shrinking GDP. He noted that the European Union has promised 240 million euros and the United States $50 million, but stressed that the "window of opportunity" for effective change may be very narrow.

Indeed, Rupnik suggested, the current situation resembles that of a decade ago, when post-communist countries faced massive problems but were divided between those supporting sudden reform and those pushing for a gradual transition. Rupnik stressed that now the West must enter the scene to make sure that a real transition takes place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2001). There remains a real danger that the situation in Belgrade could deteriorate even more and push the region into even greater instability. (RFE/RL)

THE BALKAN ROUTE IN ILLEGAL MIGRATION. For criminals dealing with "human capital," the Balkan region has become an increasingly interesting route for their operations. Waves of illegal migrants pass through Bosnia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, and other countries of the region to Western Europe. The borders of the states in Southeastern Europe are often hard to control, and corruption is rife. These conditions -- and the guerrilla activities in Kosova, Serbia, and Macedonia -- are strategic advantages for the smuggling of Iranians, Kurds, Chinese, Romanians, and others to Germany, Italy, Austria, or Slovenia.

Half a million illegals crossed the Balkan countries on their way to the EU in 2000. This March, Italy, Germany, and Slovenia (which aspires to early EU membership) took steps to deal with the problem. In the castle of Brdo in Slovenia, the interior ministers of these states decided to form mixed police patrols to monitor the borders in a more effective and coordinated way.

Slovenian officials reported that 35,000 people from Iran, China, Turkey, Romania, and Iraq crossed the Slovenian border without permission during 2000. The peak was reached when on one single day more than 300 people crossed the border from Slovenia into Italy in search of the "European paradise" (see the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," 5 March 2001).

The criminal gangs organizing the secret journeys to the West charge up to 10,000 German marks per person. The journey is risky and dangerous: more than 30 Iranians and Turks died on their way to the West via the Balkan route last year.

On the Bosnian route alone, some 50,000 illegals came to Western Europe in 2000. Another way to the West is the so-called Belgrade route. During the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia had friendly relations with China. That was one reason for the numerous Yugoslav "tourist" visas issued to travelers from China. The Chinese migration developed to such an extent that Belgrade got its own "Chinatown." But most of the Chinese eventually left Serbia for Western Europe (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 August 2000).

In Croatia, police stopped more than 20,000 illegal migrants during 2000. At the Croatian-Bosnian border, every day 4,000 people wait to get to the West, as "Globus" noted on 23 February. A study made by the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in Vienna stated that Croatia arrested more illegals from Iran, Turkey, Romania, Bangladesh, and China in 2000 than during the year before. In Bosnia, where the central state is very weak, effective border policing as in Croatia is impossible. And at least some Bosnian politicians and policemen are obviously involved in the smuggling of people, as "Handelsblatt" reported on 5 February and the "Observer" also noted recently.

Because Bosnia is ineffective in stopping illegal migrants, the EU will send teams of specialists to help monitor the border between Bosnia and Croatia. For illegals who are willing to return to their home countries, the EU will pay for their return.

Penalties for the criminal organizers of the dangerous journeys are another European answer to the smuggling of people. The EU states are thinking of penalties of up to 14 years in jail for the smuggling of "human capital," "Handelsblatt" reported on 15 February.

Meanwhile, immigration will remain an issue in West European politics. It promises to play a role in upcoming election campaigns in Germany and Great Britain for sure, just as it did in the recent mayor's race in Vienna. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the question of asylum is one of the biggest problems of the European Union. From the British point of view this is a pressing issue because that country is home to an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants.

Political and economic cooperation between the states of Southeastern Europe and the EU seems the best long-term approach for dealing with questions involving migration. One important lesson learned from the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova is that migration issues are a Europe-wide problem. Germany was the European country that hosted most of the refugees from those wars.

In the future, migration must be considered a European problem, which means that solidarity among and burden-sharing between all EU countries will be crucial. With this in mind, the European Parliament seems inclined to support the German proposal to share the problem of refugees through quotas for all EU member-states, as "Handelsblatt" reported on 14 March.

Meanwhile, the crises in Macedonia and Presevo are evidence that war is possible again in the region and that yet another wave of refugees could be the result. Montenegro is another hot spot that could become even hotter if its peaceful development is derailed by those bent on violence, which could similarly trigger an outflow of refugees. (Christian Buric. The author is a freelance writer and a consultant for business communications based in Munich,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. " prepared to testify again in cases against the former military leadership of Yugoslavia and Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic planned war [and] introduced genocide. I am certain that he will wind up in The Hague." -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic, to "Vecernji list" of 11 April.

"The political system does not correspond to ethnic reality, and that's why our platform suggests changes in the preamble of the constitution and its normative part covering education and public sector." Spokesman Zahir Bekteshi of the opposition ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD). Reported by Reuters from Skopje on 11 April.

"The armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not a Praetorian Guard and should not let themselves be used and abused or marginalized by criminal elements bent on self-destruction." -- The UN's Jacques Klein, on attempts made by Croatian hard-liners to pressure Croatian soldiers in the Bosnian army to desert to the Croatian "self-administration." Quoted by Reuters from Sarajevo on 11 April.