Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: July 31, 2001

31 July 2001, Volume 5, Number 53

A SPOOKY CAMPAIGN IN THE BALKANS? Press reports have appeared in Macedonia and elsewhere in the Balkans in recent weeks suggesting that NATO is actively helping the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK). The U.S. is often singled out as playing a particularly active role.

One recent anti-NATO report claimed that a KFOR helicopter landed arms for the UCK on Macedonian territory. This story brought a protest to NATO from the Macedonian authorities -- and a swift denial from Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. He called the account "entirely and totally false."

Even some Western publications have suggested that NATO's policies are not all that they seem. In its 30 July issue, the German weekly "Der Spiegel" argues in the article "The Americans' Hidden Agenda" that the U.S. is aiding the UCK. The article adds that this alleged American role in fomenting the conflict in Macedonia is irritating "the Europeans," meaning the EU or parts of its establishment.

The story is cobbled together into what one German expert calls a collection of old information from the 1999 Kosova conflict, more recent statements by unnamed "leading German military personnel," and things that can politely be described as hearsay. The CIA is mentioned as playing a role, and there are other references to "secret services."

The article adds that the German government in general, and Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping in particular, are upset with Washington's extensive but unpublicized support for the rebels.

In yet another twist, the Serbian news agency Beta reported over the weekend that the U.S. authorities recently approached two top Serbian officials to request a "99-year lease" on the Camp Bondsteel area in Kosova and on several Yugoslav military facilities, including a radar base. The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade and Yugoslav Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic denied the report. Unfortunately, the Beta story had already appeared as a front-page headline in "Danas," which is Serbia's most reputable newspaper.

Is it by accident that all these "leaks" and stories are appearing at a time when tensions continue to mount in Macedonia -- and ethnic passions with them? Might anyone have an interest in polarizing the Macedonians -- and perhaps other Orthodox peoples of the Balkans -- against the U.S. and NATO?

This kind of campaign is nothing new to the region. Following the Atlantic alliance's entry into Kosova in 1999, the propaganda machine of former President Slobodan Milosevic regularly reported on alleged collusion between Western peacekeepers with local ethnic Albanian guerrillas. One also recalls the anti-NATO and anti-U.S. "Balkan syndrome" campaign at the start of 2001 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report, 9 and 12 January 2001). And in any event, Belgrade's propaganda mills have long played up almost every case of violence against Serbs by ethnic Albanians in the province as evidence of NATO's incompetence -- or worse.

The bottom line from Belgrade, both under Milosevic and under the present leadership, is that Serbian troops should be allowed back into the province. There is very little chance of that happening in the near future, as Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic recently acknowledged. So the ongoing campaign against NATO troops and UN administrators seems to have only one purpose: to maintain and intensify tensions and polarization.

Is it too far-fetched to ask if anyone in Moscow might have an interest in all this? Russia (and earlier the Soviet Union) has long regarded the Balkans as perhaps the one place where its role as a great power is unquestioned. Moscow made this clear even during the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when its influence was rapidly receding everywhere else.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited the Balkans in March. His message was vintage Gromyko: militantly negative and anti-Western (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 March 2001). He stressed unswerving support for Belgrade, and has more recently expanded his message to be firmly pro-Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 25 July 2001).

Russia has little or no influence among the ethnic Albanians of the region, nor has it shown much interest in cultivating any. Is Moscow unwittingly making the same mistake as Gromyko made in the Middle East and allying itself so strongly with one side so as to preclude any influence with the other?

Or might it believe that its future as a great power in the Balkans lies in promoting rifts between the region's Orthodox countries and the West? The idea might sound old-fashioned, but with communism dead as a exportable ideology and the Russian economy bankrupt, perhaps the Third Rome does not have any other option to pursue. (Patrick Moore)

KOSOVA WAR CRIMES COVER-UP. AP reported on 29 July from Petrovo Selo, which is the location of a Serbian police camp and mass grave site (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001), that details of the former Serbian regime's 1998-1999 campaign to remove evidence of war crimes in Kosova are now emerging.

The operation was ordered by President Slobodan Milosevic and called Depth 2. Loyal police and other security forces removed bodies from mass graves in Kosova. The bodies were either reburied in smaller graves, sent to Serbia proper for burial near police compounds with restricted civilian access, or burned at the Bor and Trepca complexes, the news agency reports.

The secret first came out in April 1999, when a freezer truck containing bodies of Kosovars was found floating in the Danube. Diver Zivadin Djordjevic, who opened the truck's doors at the time, told AP recently: "We were told to spread a rumor that some Kurds were trying to get into the country illegally, but that their truck plunged into the Danube. It was almost unbearable to live with that awful secret for two years." He added that one of the two doors on the back was damaged from the inside. "Someone, or more people, were obviously still alive and were trying to get out," he added. (Patrick Moore)

A DIVIDED MACEDONIAN SCENE. A recent article in the Berlin daily "Die Welt" described Macedonia's Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski as a nationalist who became liberal in order to form a coalition with the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), only to turn into a nationalist again when it seemed politically opportune to do so.

Boris Kalnoky, the author of the article, concluded: "Only when Georgievski makes it clear that people will not take the situation lying down, will the West -- out of fear of a popular uprising -- strengthen its pressure on the Albanians. [Georgievski] sometimes appears to be mad, [but] in actual fact he is the most capable of the UCK's opponents. The West would be ill-advised to underestimate him."

Whether or not Kalnoky's assessment of Georgievski's abilities is true, public opinion in Macedonia seems to be becoming more anti-Western by the day, thus strengthening Georgievski's position.

This shift in public sentiment took place recently, after the OSCE mission to Skopje confirmed reports that the UCK had driven Macedonians out of their villages near Tetovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2001). When the villagers arrived in Skopje, they set up a camp in front of the parliament, where they were ignored by the politicians. But there were also moments when some politicians tried to profit from the displaced persons' fears.

This opportunistic behavior contributed to a rising disappointment with the ruling parties among many segments of the population. Comments in last week's newspapers create the impression that sentiment is rising not only against the West but also against the government.

Especially revealing in this respect were some commentaries in the independent Skopje daily "Dnevnik." Under the headline "The peak deeper than the bottom," Katerina Blazevska asked on 26 July: "Does Macedonia have a state leadership? Does it have a government? Does it have a parliament?" By posing these questions, the author strongly criticized the Macedonian political class, which, in her view, lacks true leaders.

The comment was written at the height of the controversy stemming from Georgievski's most recent anti-Western outburst, in which he accused "the Western democracies" of supporting the UCK (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 July 2001). On 24 July, government spokesman Antonio Milosovski repeated at a press conference Georgievski's accusations that NATO and the Western democracies support the Albanian rebels.

Georgievski's coalition partners from the (ethnic Macedonian) Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the (ethnic Albanian) Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) quickly denied that Milosovski spoke for the whole government. The following night, a number of Western embassies were attacked by rioters, who also set fire to some cars belonging to the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2001).

Eventually, Georgievski sent an open letter to President Boris Trajkovski, asking for a military solution rather than negotiations. But in the end, Trajkovski made a speech stressing the importance of NATO's role in resolving the current conflict.

The way Georgievski put forward his demands raised questions among commentators as to whether open letters contribute to a further weakening of the Macedonian position in the peace talks.

Viktor Cvetanovski wrote in "Utrinski vesnik" on 26 July that Georgievski's renewed call for a "state of war" could bring unwanted results. "Georgievski is right when he says that the terrorists kill Macedonians and carry out ethnic cleansing in Macedonian villages.... [But] the drama of the people who lost their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers [in the armed conflict] is much greater than the drama in front of the Macedonian parliament, [where people gathered after being driven out of their homes by Albanian rebels]. Did the prime minister ever attend the funeral of any soldier or policeman killed in the line of duty?" Cvetanovski went on to say that any military option would lead to a civil war, with many more victims.

Other comments argued that after the Albanian rebels had "ethnically cleansed" a number of villages, the West finally stepped up its pressure on the UCK. The fact that NATO representatives were able to negotiate a withdrawal of the rebels from those villages seemed to support this view.

Georgievski's latest call for a state of war resulted, as in previous cases, in the arrival in Skopje of EU security policy chief Javier Solana and of NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, this time on 26 July. It was clear that the peace talks would resume in some form -- as in previous cases.

From politically tense Skopje, the talks moved to a former presidential retreat on Lake Ohrid. The negotiations on the weekend of 28-29 July concentrated on the question of whether and how the Albanian language might become an official language in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2001).

The talks were widely seen as a "last chance" to reach some agreement, but political infighting continued behind the scenes among the ethnic Macedonian parties. On 30 July in "Utrinski vesnik," Olivera Vojnovska accused Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of having tried to exploit the displaced people for political purposes. She claimed that instead of supporting them, the two leading figures of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) had staged a badly organized meeting. The audience, which was brought in by the organizers, loudly booed at each mention of Trajkovski, Solana, or Social Democratic Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, who were blamed for the ethnic cleansing of the protesters' villages.

At the end of her commentary, Vojnovska appeared very pessimistic about the future of Macedonia. "Even if Solana comes to Skopje a hundred times more, or [NATO negotiator] Peter Feith leads new convoys of refugees, this will not help much as long as here, in Macedonia, the political elites do not send out clear signals and demonstrate that they are willing to put an end to this war madness." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Look what is happening. Albanians want territory. Macedonian people are getting thrown out. The only way [to reverse the trend] is through the army." -- Unnamed 63-year-old woman in Tearce, Macedonia. Quoted by "The New York Times" on 30 July.

"The police and the army [must] establish control over all of Macedonia's territory.... No intelligent man can trust the terrorists any longer. We have to prepare and be ready to regain lost territory. No one can allow terrorists to conquer parts of our land and to perform ethnic cleansing." -- Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, after the UCK attacked his convoy on the Tetovo-Skopje highway. Quoted by AP on 30 July.

"As so often before in the Balkans, the price in diplomatic and military resources will seem high. And as before, a failure to pay that price now will probably mean paying a still higher one later." -- "Saving Macedonia," an editorial in "The Washington Post," published on 27 July.