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Balkan Report: June 22, 2001

22 June 2001, Volume 5, Number 44

MACEDONIA'S 'BIG BROTHER' -- WITH TIED HANDS. Most Bulgarians might have spent the week before election day on 17 June wondering whether or not to vote for the National Movement of former King Simeon II, but some government officials were busy laying down plans for a possible refugee influx from neighboring Macedonia. This is just one aspect of the difficulties that the Macedonian unrest poses for Bulgaria.

According to Luise Druke, the UNHCR representative in Bulgaria, about 12,000 people left Macedonia for neighboring Kosova between 8 and 11 June. Druke said on 20 June that the situation is very tense, and that the organization wants to be prepared, bearing in mind that some 34,000 people have arrived in Kosova recently. The number of crossings from Macedonia into Bulgaria also rose steadily, reaching a peak on 12 June, when 19 busses filled with ethnic Albanians entered Bulgaria on their way to Turkey.

The ongoing tensions in Macedonia gave rise to concern among Bulgarian officials. Maybe out of fear of a scenario similar to that during the Kosova war in 1999, when Macedonia was flooded by almost half a million ethnic Albanian refugees, an Interim Coordinating Council on Refugee Problems under the chairmanship of Minister Without Portfolio Aleksandar Pramatarski was set up, BTA reported on 15 June.

This newly founded body, which will work together with international organizations like the UNHCR or the Red Cross, has prepared an action plan for the accommodation of up to 5,000 refugees from Macedonia. Experts put the costs of housing and caring for one refugee at about 1,000 leva (approximately $435) per month.

This contingency planning by the Bulgarian government could be expected to go down well with the EU and NATO, as could that of the Bulgarian military (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 2001). But the outgoing government, as well as its successor, will face a serious problem from other sources, a problem that is deeply rooted in the country's troublesome past.

Most Bulgarians have a romantic picture of Macedonia. This picture mainly stems from the accounts of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Macedonia who came to Bulgaria in the course of the 20th century. As a matter of fact, almost all Bulgarian families have direct or indirect ties to Macedonia. In addition, Bulgarian historians have done their best over the years to argue that Macedonia was and is overwhelmingly populated by Bulgarians.

It is thus not surprising that several different 20th-century Bulgarian governments fought in three wars to unite Macedonia with the Bulgarian kingdom. All three cases -- the Second Balkan War in 1913, World War I in 1918, and World War II in 1944 -- ended in disaster for Bulgaria and resulted in waves of refugees coming to Bulgaria.

Ever since the end of World War II, Bulgarian governments -- be they communist or democratically elected -- have struggled to come to terms with this difficult heritage.

Attempts by Yugoslav communist leader Josip Broz Tito and his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Dimitrov to find a solution to the Macedonian Question shortly after World War II were doomed to fail -- not only because of Stalin's meddling, but also because of the refugees and their descendants. It was (and still is) almost impossible to explain to them why their former neighbors in Macedonia should now be considered members of a different nation, speaking a completely different language, one that was once perceived as a mere dialect of standard Bulgarian.

During the Cold War the difficult relations between Yugoslavia and Bulgaria led to regular polemics between politicians and scholars of both countries about the nature of the Macedonian nation.

Immediately after the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the declaration of an independent Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the new state -- without ever recognizing the existence either of a Macedonian nation or of the Macedonian language.

For all the reasons already discussed, Bulgarian politicians see Macedonia as a junior partner that has to be looked after. Since the national-conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) took office in 1998, relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria have steadily improved.

After the outbreak of violence in the former Yugoslav republic, Bulgarian politicians found themselves in a difficult position. On the one hand, they certainly were willing to support the Macedonian government in its fight against the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK). On the other hand, they were constrained in practical terms by Bulgaria's aspirations to join NATO and EU at the earliest possible opportunity.

The two possible poles of Bulgarian policy towards the Macedonian issue are personified by President Petar Stoyanov and outgoing Prime Minister Ivan Kostov. In an interview with the Sofia weekly "Kapital" on 14 June, the Bulgarian political scientist Kiril Drezov said that Kostov's and Stoyanov's positions are complementary: "Stoyanov, who does not formulate foreign policy, can allow himself to make public declarations about the traditional relations between Bulgaria and the Slav population in Macedonia, whereas Kostov, who bears complete responsibility for Bulgaria's foreign policy, has to act as a realistic politician and maintain a balance in his relations [between] the two main ethnic groups" in the neighboring country.

In Drezov's view, Kostov's only mistake in his policy towards Macedonia was his partisan approach, which excluded the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). "After all, one has to admit that the prime minister's approach was more flexible in comparison with that of [President] Stoyanov, whose romantic position could make Bulgaria a hostage of some adventure in Skopje."

Whether the new Bulgarian government will be as realistic as Kostov's administration in its policy towards Macedonia has yet to be seen. Most observers regard the large vote for the candidates of former King Simeon II as a protest against Kostov's social policies and mushrooming corruption, not against his foreign policy.

As Simeon of Saxony-Coburg-Gotha is said to be a man with an excellent memory, he will not have forgotten that one of the reasons for Bulgaria's joining the Axis powers in 1941 was the prospect of gaining large parts of Yugoslav and Greek Macedonia, and that it was his father, King Boris III, who reigned in Bulgaria then. And he will hardly have forgotten that this was the third time that Bulgaria lost a war in the 20th century. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

BOSNIA: PLUS AND MINUS. The UN special representative in Bosnia, Jacques Klein, says the country remains a test case for the international community's treatment of Balkan disputes. Bosnia is making steady progress in establishing rule of law, Klein says, but extremists and wavering international support can still undermine the country's peace plan.

Hours before departing on a mission to Kosova, the UN Security Council heard a warning about threats to the peace process in nearby Bosnia. Klein told the council on 15 June that a series of violent disturbances in recent months shows that ethnic extremists remain a force in the country.

Klein predicted further disturbances this summer instigated by nationalists retaliating against what they see as more intrusive implementation of the Dayton peace plan. In incidents this spring in Trebinje and Banja Luka, for example, Bosnian Serb crowds disrupted ceremonies intended to mark the beginning of reconstruction of mosques -- a key part of reconciliation efforts.

Klein said the international community needs to maintain a forceful presence for the sake of Bosnia, and the region. "Bosnia and Herzegovina is the test case. If international intervention fails there, we abandon the hopes of a new generation that is just beginning to exercise democracy. And more importantly, we sound the death knell for multiethnic states anywhere in the Balkans, with grave implications for peace and stability in the former republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, and elsewhere."

He received broad expressions of support from the council. Klein told that body that he aims to finish the mission's core objectives at the end of next year, in particular in the area of police reform and restructuring. But he said political interference by the country's different ethnic leaders is obstructing broader reforms.

He cited attempts to establish a Croat self-government in parts of Herzegovina, the failure to reach agreement on a permanent law on elections, and the failure to implement the Constitutional Court's decisions on equality of citizens throughout the country. "The new leaders have shown little will to move away from the personal and sectarian positions in the interests of the citizens and the country as a whole. Their failure to exercise real leadership is directly contributing to the turbulent political climate," he said.

But progress in other areas has been encouraging. Displaced persons and refugees continue to return in high numbers. The UN refugee agency says more than 22,000 returned during the first four months of this year, an increase of 100 percent over the same period last year. Repossessions of prewar homes is also taking place at a steady rate.

The state border service is now a multiethnic state-level institution deployed along nearly two-thirds of the country's border. Klein says it has made strong progress in reducing illegal migration and trafficking, and in anti-smuggling measures.

The director of the border service last month signed an agreement with Yugoslav and Croatian officials on a new regional cooperation arrangement combating illegal migration and organized crime. Klein says the local capacity to fight international crime will be further strengthened by the opening of an Interpol office in Sarajevo, which took place on 19 June.

But Klein said without a sustained and consistent international strategy for bringing Bosnia closer to Europe, the country will not achieve meaningful reform. The UN envoy criticized what he called a "piecemeal" approach involving a loose coordination of multiple agencies involved with Bosnia.

He appealed to the Security Council to become involved in long-range planning for Bosnia. "What is most needed is what has been most lacking -- a credible, and practical vision to assist the region, shed its Balkan past, embrace its European future, and move from the Yugo to the Euro."

The acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, James Cunningham, said on 15 June that with the end of the UN mission's mandate in sight, it is time for the council to review an exit strategy for Bosnia. "I urge all council members and governments present today to take heed of Mr. Klein's comments about the need to plan ahead, and to ensure the most effective international and regional cooperation possible. That indeed will be essential, not just [for] meeting that goal, but [for] meeting the aspirations we have set for ourselves in supporting Dayton and in supporting Bosnia."

U.S. leaders as well as UN officials see U.S. engagement in Bosnia as crucial. U.S. President George W. Bush repeatedly assured European leaders during meetings with them in early June that the United States remains committed to contributing to Balkan stability. The United States deploys about 3,500 troops in the 22,000-member NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia. It also contributes about 150 officers to the 1,800-member international police task force there. (Robert McMahon)

RED LIGHTS AGLOW IN BOSNIA? "Oslobodjenje" reported on 20 June on the latest installment of what is shaping up to be a major scandal involving many of the well-paid foreigners in Bosnia. At issue is the relationship of an unspecified number of officials of the UN police, the Office of the High Representative, the OSCE, and other international bodies to the booming sex trade.

It is not news that peacekeepers and police have patronized Bosnian bordellos. This has been going on since at least the days of Sonia's Kon Tiki during the war. But what seems new is the extent to which the foreign community is allegedly linked to the commercial sex business. It also seems clear that many bordello patrons knew that many of the prostitutes had been, in effect, sold into slavery. Such women are usually reported to have come from Moldova, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, and other former communist countries.

Jacques Klein, who heads the UN mission in Bosnia, has denied charges that the UN police have been major culprits, saying that the UN police have attracted attention simply because they have been the most efficient in identifying and disciplining individual police officers caught breaking the UN's rules. In any event, "Oslobodjenje" expects that the UN's home office in New York will soon launch an investigation of its own. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The Balkans are for good reason named among regional priorities in the Russian foreign policy concept. [Not only geopolitical factors] but historical traditions [and] the geographic proximity of the region to Russian borders" determine the strategic importance of the Balkans for Russia. -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, to Russian peacekeepers in Kosova. Quoted by Interfax on 17 June.

"The situation in Kosovo cannot be settled without the Yugoslav authorities' participation. Kosovo is an inseparable part of Yugoslavia [and] therefore the Yugoslav authorities should settle the situation ... together with KFOR and representatives from the UN Security Council." -- Chief of the Russian General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin. Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 19 June.

"Russia's presence is the alpha and omega of stability and balance in Southeastern Europe.... To avoid new crises, Russia should share responsibility for the Balkans' fate equally with the U.S. in both diplomatic and peacekeeping aspects." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 20 June.

"We have no intention of giving in to their demands. They have to compromise." -- Unnamed "senior Macedonian party official." Quoted by Reuters from Skopje on 19 June.

"Talks can resume any time provided the Albanian side displays some good will." -- Unnamed "senior Macedonian official" quoted by AP from Skopje on 21 June.