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Balkan Report: April 27, 2001

27 April 2001, Volume 5, Number 31

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO: THE 'GREAT GAME' BEGINS. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic experienced what the Belgrade weekly "Vreme" calls a "victorious defeat" in the 22 April early parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 April 2001). He and his backers won a majority in the legislature but did not receive the clear mandate they wanted to pursue independence.

For the immediate future at any rate, Djukanovic will have to place his plans for independence on the back burner and at least go through the motions of trying to negotiate a new relationship with Serbia. If he balks, he risks being unseated by others in his own Democratic Party of Socialists (DSS), because coups against stubborn party leaders have become something of a Montenegrin political tradition in recent years. But Djukanovic seems prepared to draw the necessary conclusions from the parliamentary election and act accordingly.

The Montenegrin president told a press conference in Podgorica on 25 April that the election "demonstrated that Montenegro has a [growing] front of those forces that advocate restoration of Montenegrin statehood and a redefinition of our relationship with Serbia," the "Financial Times" reported. He told visiting British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that "there can be no hesitation in the basic national strategic road for Montenegro," which leads to independence via a referendum.

Djukanovic made it clear, however, that he is prepared to negotiate with Serbia and not to rush matters. "What lies ahead of us are weeks and months of initiatives. Of course I recognize it is of strategic importance that we seek common ground with Serbia." He also noted that "the election demonstrated that Montenegrin society remains politically divided, which imposes a particular obligation on the government to continue pursuing a cautious and prudent policy."

The president added that he will negotiate with Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, whom he called "the man who really represents the future of Serbia," "Vesti" reported. Djukanovic added that Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica is a "man of the past" and not an acceptable negotiating partner.

For his part, Djindjic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that he is sure that he and Djukanovic "can find the necessary formulas" to define a new relationship between the two republics. Djindjic added that he expects to meet with the Montenegrin leader "soon." Djindjic took shelter from the Milosevic regime's police in Montenegro in 1999 and is well acquainted with political conditions there.

One reason for Djukanovic's cautious tone is that he wanted to convince his British guest that he is not being "hasty" -- to use the favorite word of the Swedish EU presidency -- in pursuing independence. The Montenegrin leader appears to have achieved his aim. Before departing Podgorica, Cook said: "I leave confident that the approach to constitutional change will follow the European route of dialogue to reach agreement and support through democratic consent," Reuters reported. An unnamed "British official" told reporters that the Montenegrins have backed away from their plans to hold a referendum in July. The official added that he hopes that the referendum will not take place until after serious negotiations with Serbia.

For now, it appears that Djukanovic and Djindjic may seek to cut a deal of some sort. Both men are wise in the ways of politics, and each, in his own way, is a survivor. One possibility that they may be considering is constructing a weak federal structure that would be topped by a council of the two republican presidents and perhaps some additional officials. The federal presidency would thus disappear, and with it Kostunica's job. So long as indicted war criminal Milan Milutinovic -- another survivor -- remains president of Serbia in a term that runs out only in 2002, Kostunica would have to return to the life of a private citizen, at least temporarily. This is a possibility that is unlikely to sadden either Djukanovic or Djindjic. (Patrick Moore)

ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS TO CONTINUE COALITION? Officials from the Socialist Party (PS) and from the Democratic Alliance (AD) told "Shekulli" of 26 April that the two parties are negotiating about forming a coalition before the upcoming general elections in June. The two sides reportedly agreed in negotiations in Tirana on 25 April that candidates from the liberal AD will run in at least five electoral districts on a joint list with the PS. Initially, the PS offered the DA seats in only three districts.

According to "Shekulli," PS officials apparently realized that they need to increase their voter support by continuing the cooperation with the AD, which has been in the governing coalition together with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the mainly ethnic Greek Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ) since 1997. Socialist officials hope that AD candidates may appeal to the voters in northern districts, in which the opposition Democratic Party has had solid majorities in the past. "Shekulli" noted that AD candidates "will have the necessary intellectual qualifications and reputation to compete in the north."

Prominent AD leader Gjergj Zefi will run in his hometown of Shkodra -- a stronghold of the opposition -- where a center-right coalition of smaller parties, including the Christian Democrats, traditionally has a strong showing. Party Chairman Arben Imami and Secretary Gramoz Pashko will run in Tirana.

The coalition between the PS and AD was never without frictions. The AD repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the coalition during government reshuffles after the Socialists kicked AD ministers out of the cabinet. Altogether four AD ministers lost their jobs within the last four years. More recently, the AD embarrassed the government in April by promoting the idea of a union between Kosova and Albania, which is not official government policy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2001).

The AD currently holds only one position in the government. But there is great pressure on the Socialists to offer the AD a more serious role in the cabinet. The main political rival of PS leader Fatos Nano, namely PD Chairman Sali Berisha, has invited the AD to join an opposition coalition (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 April 2001). (Fabian Schmidt)

WHAT COMES AFTER TIRANA'S KIOSKS? City officials in Tirana estimate that the reconstruction of the central Youth Park will cost about $600,000, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 April 2001). The city started removing illegally built restaurants, cafes, shops, and gambling halls from the park on 20 April and intends to restore flower beds and plants by June.

The cleanup campaign goes back to a decision by the Council of Ministers, which declared the center of Tirana, including the Youth Park, a cultural monument. This obliges the owners of buildings in the area to restore them to their historical appearance and gives the building police a free hand to tear down illegal buildings.

City officials intend to bring the park back to its original appearance, using old photographs from the 1950s, when the communists built the park at what was then the edge of the old town.

Tirana's Director of Public Works Dashamir Peza told "Shekulli" that the concrete foundations of the buildings pose the most serious challenge for workers cleaning up the park. So far workers have removed about 1,000 cubic meters of rubble.

In other news, the Tirana city council issued a series of decisions on zoning on 21 April. The city will now turn unused land close to the student housing area into a residential neighborhood. One central closed street will be reopened to pedestrian and car traffic, and sidewalks will be widened in other streets, "Shekulli" reported. (Fabian Schmidt)

HUMAN RIGHTS IN BULGARIA - 2000. During the past decade since the fall of communism, Bulgaria has shown good progress in the democratization process. The economic transformation, however, proved to be very slow and did not yield the results the population had hoped for. It is estimated that about three-quarters of a million Bulgarian citizens have left their homeland since the previous census in 1992 as a result of the difficult economic and social situation.

Under these circumstances, it is remarkable that the human rights situation has steadily improved. Being a hard-line communist state until the end of Todor Zhivkov's rule, Bulgaria always had a bad record in human rights. After 1989, some citizens felt that it was necessary to found organizations to closely monitor the behavior of state institutions in respect to citizens. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) was one of the first human rights organizations of the Balkan state.

The latest annual report of the BHC, issued in March 2001, suggests that there have been improvements on a number of human rights issues during the past year. Among the improvements the BHC mentions is the adoption of a number of laws that could provide the foundations for a more democratic and transparent legal system, like, for instance, the "Access to Public Information Act."

There are, however, also a number of problems that still seek a solution. These problems include shortcomings in judiciary and law enforcement institutions, minority and gender issues, freedom of speech, and children's concerns.

A large part of the annual report is dedicated to the behavior of judiciary and law enforcement institutions. The Helsinki Committee states that there is still a very high number of cases in which suspects held in police custody or detention are severely beaten up or even tortured. The report also mentions some cases of people being killed in police custody.

Together with the section that deals with the conditions in prisons and correctional institutions, the BHC paints a gloomy picture that includes the state of special boarding schools for mentally retarded children, or for juvenile delinquents. All these institutions clearly suffer from neglect by the government.

And just as there are institutions in Bulgaria that are neglected, there are entire parts of the population that suffer from the state's neglect, while others suffer from intolerance.

Reading the annual report, one gets the impression that there is one ethnic minority in Bulgaria that suffers the most -- the Roma. Not only do they represent a large part of the inmates of the above-mentioned institutions, they are also overrepresented among the victims of police brutality. This minority, which make up about 3 to 5 percent of Bulgaria's population, is nonetheless neglected in educational, social, and housing questions.

The largest minority, the Turks, now has its own TV program of some 10 minutes daily. But another minority is in a state of permanent conflict with the state authorities -- the Macedonians.

The Bulgarian state has long refused to recognize the existence of a Macedonian minority in Bulgaria; the official point of view is that the Macedonian language is just a Bulgarian dialect. The foundation of an organization of Macedonians was seen as an act of separatism, and in previous years the state's negative behavior towards the United Macedonian Organization Ilinden (OMO Ilinden) was mentioned regularly in human rights reports. This is true not only of the BHC, but also of organizations like Amnesty International.

In particular, the right to assemble peacefully has been restricted for this organization. It came as quite a surprise that the organization succeeded in registering as a political party in 1998, because ethnically based parties are not allowed under the constitution. But it was no surprise when the Constitutional Court ruled in February 2000 that "the party is a threat to national security through its activities, which are separatist�."

The BHC sees the ruling as politically influenced. OMO Ilinden - PIRIN, as the party was called, then took the Bulgarian state to court before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The suit is still pending.

Religious intolerance seems to have been on the rise in the past few years. It is interesting that there are many cases in which one political party is involved, namely the right-wing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Movement (VMRO -- not to be confused with the ruling party in former Yugoslav Macedonia of a similar name). Being a nationalist Bulgarian party, some of its members have displayed a growing intolerance, especially towards Protestant churches and sects.

State interference in the media is another perennial problem. The BHC reports a number of cases in which journalists were intimidated or sacked from their positions. From the report it seems clear that the ruling party is trying to closely control the electronic media.

On the whole, it is all too obvious that Bulgarian democracy is still in a state of transition. There are many remnants of communist-style intolerance and volatility. It will take a lot of time and money to overcome the shortcomings that the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee documented in its report. Above all, however, it will require that the ruling elites and the population find the political will to build a civil society with equal rights and liberties for all citizens. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz. e-mail:

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The election results in Montenegro give no clear mandate for continuing with a referendum on independence. Montenegrin society is obviously divided on the issue of Montenegro's future status." -- Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, quoted by Reuters in Podgorica on 23 April.

"The elections have shown the vitality of the idea of Serbia's and Montenegro's joint state." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, in a statement published by Tanjug in Belgrade on 23 April.

"Montenegrin secession would, however, have important knock-on effects, which neither the Montenegrins nor the rest of the world should ignore. It would give a green light to the Albanians in Kosovo, officially still part of Yugoslavia. An independent Kosovo, in turn, would encourage Albanians in Macedonia to break up the fragile Macedonian state; Albanians in Montenegro would not wish to be left out; and then, how could Bosnia survive?

"�.The malign legacy of Milosevic in an already fragile region means that the possibilities of international cooperation are smaller than ever. Each splintering encourages a further splintering, until all stability is destroyed." -- Editorial in London's "The Independent," 24 April 2001.

"Let us count Balkan blessings. Belgrade no longer regards violence as a preferred option for dealing with problems." -- ibid.