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Balkan Report: April 17, 2001

17 April 2001, Volume 5, Number 28

CHANGES FOR MACEDONIA'S CONSTITUTION? Until the violent clashes between the armed forces and ethnic Albanian fighters in northern Macedonia first spread from the border village of Tanusevci to the vicinity of Tetovo in March, it was still unclear what exactly the guerrillas were fighting for. Only then did they issue a list of demands that very much resembled what the ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia have been seeking for the past ten years.

Among these claims was the demand for equal job opportunities in state institutions for Albanians, equal constitutional status for both Macedonians and Albanians, and, consequently, that the Albanian language should be made an official language. The reactions from the public to these demands range from outright rejection to cautious approval.

It is especially the question as to whether and how the constitution should be changed that is now being discussed at length in the Macedonian media. The commentators include journalists as well as university professors and politicians. The comments cover a wide range of topics. There are remarks about the possible practical consequences of a change to the constitution, but there are also abstract discussions of legal and philosophical issues connected with constitutional law in general.

Two points are under particular scrutiny. Most comments involve the preamble of the constitution. The preamble is a general description of the history of the Macedonian state and contains a number of arguments for the existence of a Macedonian state.

Ethnic Albanians criticize especially the statement that "Macedonia is established as the nation-state of the Macedonian people, in which full equality as citizens and permanent co-existence with the Macedonian people is provided for Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Roma, and other nationalities living in the Republic of Macedonia," because they interpret this as dividing the population into between first- and second-class citizens.

The second point of discussion is the practical application of the legal provisions in the constitution regarding the languages to be used in official communications between citizens and state institutions.

But in an interview with the Hungarian newspaper "Magyar Nemzet" of 9 April, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said he does not think that the constitution should be changed now. There are more urgent problems to be solved than the question of whether the Albanian minority will be recognized as a second "people of the state" in Macedonia. The truly urgent tasks for Macedonian politics include improving in the standard of living as well as the solution of various cultural and educational problems, Trajkovski said.

Trajkovski's predecessor in office, Kiro Gligorov, responded in a similar way to the questions of the Skopje daily "Utrinski vesnik" of 3 April 2001 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 March 2001). Gligorov stated that nobody talks about the material situation of individual people and their individual rights. Gligorov, however, went further. For him, what the Albanians demand is really the introduction of collective rights for the nationalities. This will lead to a dead end and the undermining of democracy, he argues.

More liberal authors like the editor in chief of the Skopje daily "Dnevnik," Branko Geroski, or Zvonimir Jankulovski, who is a professor at Skopje University, also support Gligorov's rejection of the concept of "collective rights." Geroski is of the opinion that the preamble to the constitution has to be revised because it is an unfortunate compromise between the concept of the nation state and that of a civil state in which all citizens enjoy equal rights. As it will be almost impossible to revise the constitution, he proposes the drafting of an "official interpretation" of the document, which will have legal status and define the problematic issues in a way that is acceptable to all Macedonian citizens.

Jankulovski says the struggle for minority rights is justified because it is part of the universal struggle for human and civil rights, but he strictly rules out the use of force in the process. He says that he can understand why some people still cling to the "outdated concept" of collective rights. But as a long-term solution to the current crisis in Macedonia, Jankulovski demands the introduction of a modern legal concept -- that of individual rights.

While both those authors agree that the constitution should be changed in order to improve the status of the minorities and of individual persons as a way of reducing ethnic tensions, others dismiss the idea of tampering with the constitution altogether.

The Macedonian Orthodox Church issued a statement on 5 April, saying that The Holy Synod of the Macedonian Orthodox Church "absolutely opposes any change or amendment of the constitution and its preamble." Instead, the bishops asked all concerned at home and abroad to show understanding for the "historical and national identity" of the Macedonian people.

But there are also more radical arguments against any change in the constitution. Most authors in this camp are of the opinion that to touch the constitution would mean to give in to the extremists' demands. The fact that the guerrillas' goals are not new at all but resemble the demands that the mainstream ethnic Albanian parties have made for years is seen by these authors as "proof" that one cannot find any real difference between the parties and the "terrorists."

To these authors, a change in the constitution would also mean that Macedonia itself would be lost. They argue that although Macedonia is constantly threatened by its neighbors Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece -- who allegedly plan to divide the country among themselves -- it will be hard to find any legal reason to provide for the country's defense if the preamble is changed. "By what right will the Macedonians defend their state, their language, their history?" asks Dimitar Culev in "Makedonija europe" on 6 April. And Gordana Duvnjak argues in her article "The Constitution Trap" in "Utrinski vesnik" on 3 April that if one gives "them" an inch they will take a mile, meaning both the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and Macedonia's neighbors. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

BULGARIA'S EX-KING RETURNS TO POLITICS. The election puzzle in Bulgaria became more complicated after the exiled monarch Simeon II returned from Spain to Sofia recently to take part in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 June. He is the first former Eastern European monarch to become actively involved in politics in his native country. Thousands of people gathered to join his new political party, named the National Movement for King Simeon II.

The former king, who will turn 64 the day before the general elections, left Bulgaria in 1946 after the communists abolished the monarchy, killed his regents, and nationalized royal property. He visited Bulgaria again for the first time in 1996 and was welcomed by thousands of people on the streets of major Bulgarian towns.

His entering politics creates a serious challenge for the major rivals on the political stage -- the reformist ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which is the successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party. The two major political players were running a close race before Simeon's arrival in Sofia, but the establishment of his party is expected to change voters' attitudes dramatically (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 March 2001).

Although the new party's platform has not been announced yet, it has already attracted support from a large number of Bulgarians, who perceive the former king as the nation's savior. Opinion polls conducted immediately after his return showed that almost half of the electorate might vote for the former king.

By founding his own political grouping, Simeon II distanced himself from the numerous competing monarchist organizations and from some compromised political figures who have long hoped for his support. He established full control over the new party not only by becoming its leader, but also by reserving for himself the right to choose all candidates for the legislature and even to strip them of their parliamentary mandates in the event that they do not fulfill their obligations.

Despite the fact that the movement was named after him, Simeon II declared that his party's priority is not to restore the monarchy but to introduce new ethics in politics and present new solutions to economic problems. He said that his movement will work to improve the standard of living by creating a functioning market economy in line with the EU membership criteria and through an increased inflow of foreign investments. He also promised to combat corruption by introducing new rules and institutions.

"It is neither morally nor politically justified that most Bulgarians live in misery while certain politicians are drowning in opulence; nor that tens of thousands of our sons and daughters flee Bulgaria because they see no prospects here," said Simeon.

The former king targeted a large number of voters by expressing concern about three issues of importance for ordinary Bulgarians: corruption, political ethics, and declining living standards. The ruling reformist coalition failed to address these problems and left many people disenchanted. Simeon also targeted young people and women by announcing that he will include more representatives of these two groups in the candidates' lists than has been the case with the other parties.

Despite his criticism, the ex-king recognized some of the achievements of the incumbent government, especially in foreign affairs and European integration. This created the impression that the king and the UDF might be able to cooperate after the elections.

With few exceptions, the ruling coalition demonstrated surprisingly positive reactions to Simeon's return to politics. The speaker of the parliament, Iordan Sokolov (UDF), expressed confidence that the new party's program will be pro-Western and aimed at achieving EU and NATO membership for Bulgaria. The chairman of the parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, Asen Agov (UDF), also saw in Simeon II a partner in the process leading to membership in the EU and NATO.

Dimitar Abadjiev from the UDF went further by saying that the goals of the National Movement for King Simeon II are the same as the UDF's goals. He added that his coalition is not worried about losing votes, because the important thing now is to increase voter participation. In previous elections, up to one-third of the people refused to vote, mainly because they are disappointed in politicians. The leader of the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom, Ahmed Dogan, said that Simeon provides a new opportunity to mobilize Bulgaria's political elite, construct a new political space, and change the bipolar political landscape. "The [post-election] formula this time is going to be a coalition [government]," said the Turkish leader, whose strained relations with Prime Minister Ivan Kostov led earlier to Dogan's negotiations with the Socialists.

The Turks in Bulgaria are traditionally loyal to the monarchy, viewing the king as the protector of all ethnic groups living in the country. The UDF on the other hand, consists of monarchists and republicans, but they are unlikely to fight among themselves at a time when their support among voters is hovering around 20 percent. However, the traditionally republican Agrarian Party, which is a member of the ruling coalition, was quick to condemn any eventual restoration of the monarchy.

The Socialist Party seems to be threatened with isolation again. With the arrival of Simeon, the Turkish party has obviously abandoned any plans for a joint government with the Socialists. It will be impossible for the BSP to form a coalition with the king since it would first have to admit to crimes committed against the royal family and acknowledge that the abolition of Bulgaria's monarchy in 1946 was illegal.

Quite predictably, the BSP insisted that Simeon register as a political leader according to the provisions of the republican constitution and thus recognize it. Leftist leader Alexander Tomov also called on Simeon to give up any claims to the crown and acknowledge the present constitution. He went further and requested a referendum on the form of governance -- to be held simultaneously with the general elections.

The king may play a crucial role for the continuation of Bulgaria's pro-Western policies, which were the major goal and the most significant achievement of the ruling reformist coalition. Since he seems more likely to cooperate with the UDF than with the Socialists, this will prevent the establishment of a leftist or even pro-Moscow government. If the reform process continues uninterrupted, Bulgaria could well reach its goals of EU and NATO integration by the time of the next general elections in 2006. (Kathryn Mazur is an independent analyst based in the U.S.,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "There is no end point [to the U.S. commitment]... We are looking for opportunities to draw down [the size of the American force in the region] but not for opportunities to bail out." -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Quoted by AP in Paris on 11 April.

"We do intend to remain engaged politically in the Balkans." -- Powell.

"[The killing of a Russian sergeant on the Kosova-Serbian border] is another confirmation of the [impact] of the Kosovo rebels' possession of more than one million...firearms." -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Quoted by AP in Moscow on 12 April.

"[The UN Security Council] should adopt a statement with the harshest confirmation of the new explosion of violence in southern Serbia, directed this time against international peacekeepers." -- Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko. (ibid.)

BANNING THE BLIGHT OF ILLEGAL BUILDINGS IN TIRANA. Police have ordered all bar and restaurant owners in the city's central Youth Park to close shop immediately, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 11 April. Following the end of communism, the government allowed individual entrepreneurs to open non-permanent structures in the park, regularly issuing licenses for up to two years. Within a few years, however, most of them illegally constructed solid buildings up to two stories in height and with large rooms. Currently there are over 90 entertainment businesses operating in the park, including music stores, gambling halls, and restaurants.

Officials from the city hall said that they intend to restore the park to its original purpose by the end of May. Mithat Havari, who heads the police unit dealing with buildings, had his officers storm the park on 10 April and ordered the immediate suspension of all commercial activity there. The shop owners must vacate the buildings within five days, and police will knock down all buildings starting on Easter Monday.

The daily "Korrieri" observed that the operation is "a demonstration of power by a weak state." The paper added that the government apparently intends to "demonstrate" its ability to solve concrete problems ahead of the general elections in June.

In fairness, it should be noted that the Socialist-run Tirana city administration took office only after elections in October 2000. The clean-up campaign marks its first large operation to improve the urban environment. The previous city administration ordered numerous illegal buildings to be removed last year. In the event, however, police removed no more than 10 to 15 structures at a time. The city hall remained reluctant to clean up what has become the most problematic area in the center of the city, even though many shop owners were aware that they would have to close at some point.

This is probably one of the reasons why the hundreds of people employed in more than 100 structures over the past 10 years did not actively protest against the planned destruction. The daily observed that they "merely uttered the old saying that 'one cannot play with government, fire, water, and God.'"

Observers noted that Havari launched this clean-up campaign in close cooperation with Minister for Public Works Spartak Poci. Following the 1997 anarchy after the collapse of fraudulent pyramid investment schemes, both Poci and Havari made their names as officials who did not hesitate to take decisive steps in law enforcement. Havari has been successful in cracking down on numerous criminal gangs as police chief in several successive Albanian cities since 1997. Poci managed to reestablish basic law and order in the northern trouble spot of Bajram Curri after taking office as minister for public order in 1999.

Poci told "Shekulli" that "the state has taken action and will restore the park regardless of the cost." The Institute of Urban Planning has pledged to prepare a development plan and also consider improving the sewage system, which has long been a source of pollution.

The press has largely welcomed the move, even though the Bar West -- known as "Fidel's" and a well-known meeting point for Tirana's journalists -- is going to be pulled down as well. (Fabian Schmidt)