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Balkan Report: August 3, 2001

3 August 2001, Volume 5, Number 54

SLOVENIA AND CROATIA REACH BORDER AGREEMENT. After 10 years of negotiations, Slovenia and Croatia have concluded a border agreement, initialed on 19 July by prime ministers Janez Drnovsek and Ivica Racan. Both parties are hopeful that ratification will take place this fall.

The most publicized aspects concern Slovenia's access to international waters and the ceding to Croatia of four disputed villages, but the agreement also affects the entire 670-kilometer border and opens the way for setting up 27 new border crossings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2001). The deal was initialed on the same day as the long-awaited Slovene ratification of a previous agreement on cross-border traffic and cooperation, and the announcement of a draft agreement on the jointly owned Krsko nuclear plant, which is located in Slovenia and dates from communist times.

The maritime border agreement grants Slovenia a 3.6 kilometer by 12 kilometer passageway to international waters -- while retaining Croatia's maritime border with Italy -- and territorial rights to 80 percent of the Piran Bay. Understandably, Slovene fishermen have welcomed the deal, while their Croatian counterparts are less enthusiastic. The sea agreement secures a strategic objective for Slovenia and officially confirms its status as a maritime country.

The land negotiations proceeded from the border as of 25 June 1991, the date both countries declared their independence from Yugoslavia. This border was based on internal Yugoslav and earlier Austro-Hungarian administrative boundaries. It has now been adjusted most significantly in Istria, to correspond to the course of the Dragonja River. This resulted in the ceding to Croatia of the settlements of Skodelin, Buzini, Mlini, and Skrili, including 20 houses and 58 residents, most of whom have declared themselves to be of Slovene nationality. They will receive special privileges, including tax exemptions, rights to Slovenian education and health care, and the opportunity to apply for Slovenian citizenship.

The agreement also deals with changes in traditional border patterns because of natural developments. No matter how well a border is surveyed, natural forces can sooner or later set the results in disarray. This is currently the case with some of Slovenia's Alpine borders with Austria, originally set along watershed lines that erosion has since shifted several meters.

A comparable phenomenon has occurred along the Mura River border with Croatia. Years of meandering left pockets of Slovene territory on the Croatian side of the river and vice-versa, and the convoluted traditional border bears little resemblance to the current course of the river. But the latest agreement creates a more natural boundary along the Mura.

The new agreement has assigned to Croatia outright one additional disputed area, namely Trdinov vrh/Sveta Gera in the Gorjanci Mountains, where Croatia has received a former Yugoslav military facility. The pact also deals with the Snezniski gozd, a disputed forest, which is now split between the two countries.

The final demarcation process will be slow and involve a standing commission that will take into account regional, economic, and geographical factors with a latitude of 50 meters deviation from the negotiated line. The daily "Vecer" pointed out on 27 July that the negotiated line was drawn on a 1:25,000 map, on which a 1-milimeter-wide line corresponds to a 25-meter swath on the ground -- a source of potential difficulties for even the best of neighbors.

The reaction in Slovenian political circles to the agreement has been largely positive. Most parties have expressed satisfaction at putting a host of problems aside and getting on with improving life for people on both sides of the border. The government points out that the border agreement, made quietly and without international mediation, helps pave the way for EU accession and could serve as a model for similar sea access issues involving Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Croatia and Yugoslavia. However, Zmago Jelincic's Slovene National Party (SNS) sounded a characteristically sour note, labeling the cooperation agreement a "big bungle." Janez Jansa's Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (SDSS) expressed concerns about some alleged long-term negative consequences.

For some local residents as well, the loss of 113 hectares of Slovene territory has left a bitter taste. One vocal opponent is Josko Joras, a Piran town councilor who led a 10-year legal battle to keep his property south of the Dragonja in Slovenia. Although there was initial talk of excluding his property from the transfer, his house and 1.7 hectares were ceded to Croatia. Joras has condemned the agreement as the result of a "flabby" foreign policy on the part of Ljubljana. He characterizes the pact as just the latest in a series of territorial "losses": the 1918 loss of Carinthia to Austria, the 1945 loss of Trieste and Gorizia to Italy, and the 1954 loss of Slovene ethnic territory north of the Mirna River to Croatia (after the dissolution of the Free Territory of Trieste).

Ultimately, it is such small-scale human terms that the border issue comes down to. Whether it is the Cmager family home -- which was located on Slovene territory but accessible only from Croatia -- or the cemetery near the Slovene village of Hrvoji -- traditionally used by families from neighboring Croatian settlements but recently inaccessible to them due to the lack of a convenient border crossing -- people on both sides have largely welcomed measures designed to ease their lives.

The settlement also has its lighter side: the Kalin Restaurant in Obrezje will continue to have the border running through the middle of its building -- with the cash register on the Slovene side. (Donald F. Reindl. The author is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana.

ALBANIAN DEMOCRATS ANNOUNCE PARLIAMENTARY BOYCOTT. The opposition Union for Victory coalition, which is dominated by the Democratic Party (PD), has decided not to recognize the election results of 24 June's general elections and to boycott parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2001). PD leader Sali Berisha charged the government with manipulating the elections and using police intimidation during the voting process.

PD International Relations Department Secretary Besnik Mustafaj said on 31 July that the decision to boycott parliament was the "result of discussions within the party and it is not a decision taken only by the five leaders" of the group.

Petro Koci, who is the Socialist Party's (PS) organizational secretary, told "Albanian Daily News" of 1 August that the opposition's move was "a hasty and immature decision, [which] will not bring anything good to the opposition." Putting the blame for the boycott on Berisha, Koci warned that the former president's decision will serve to isolate the opposition. But Koci expressed his conviction "that the opposition will find a way to save itself from Berisha." He added that "the opposition boycott shows that the PD has failed to keep promises made to the voters and the international community [that it will assume the role of a] constructive opposition and accept the results" of the elections.

The New Democratic Party (PD e Re) is likely to play such a "constructive opposition" role in the future. Dashamir Shehi, one of the senior leaders of the party, said that he agrees with most of the PD's complaints about the electoral process, adding however, that this does not justify a parliamentary boycott. Shehi stressed, "It is time to deal with the country's major problems and not boycott the parliament."

Meanwhile, according to Koci, the PS intends to continue its Alliance for the State government coalition with several smaller parties for the next four years. Koci added that "there has never been any doubt about the continuity of the coalition."

The PS formed the Alliance for the State after the general elections in 1997, together with the Social Democrats (PSD), the Democratic Alliance (AD), the mainly ethnic Greek Human Rights Union Party (PBDNJ), and the Agrarian Party (PA). The PS had an absolute majority in the legislature but wanted to promote the image of being inclusive.

In this year's general elections, in which the PS again won an absolute majority of parliamentary seats, the PA failed to get into parliament, while the other three coalition partners just managed to pass the 2.5 percent hurdle. Some PSD and AD politicians have recently questioned whether their further participation in the coalition makes any sense.

In any event, the PS leadership will make public its nominations for prime minister on 3 August, while the party's steering committee will select its candidate within two weeks of that date (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 July 2001). Among the most prominent challengers to current Prime Minister Ilir Meta are former Minister for Public Order Spartak Poci, who now has the public works portfolio, and Finance Minister Arben Malaj.

Since the fall of communism nearly a decade ago, both of the country's two large rival parties -- the PS and the PD -- have offered participation in government to smaller and often numerically insignificant parties. This practice was designed to present an image of inclusiveness, but it may become increasingly anachronistic as Albania moves toward a two- or possibly three-party system. (Fabian Schmidt)

RELIGION AND THE MACEDONIAN CONFLICT. Veteran Balkan correspondent Erich Rathfelder wrote in Vienna's "Die Presse" on 26 July that Macedonia's two most important religious organizations -- the Macedonian Orthodox Church and the Islamic Community -- are unlikely to provide much help in bridging the ethnic divide.

The Orthodox Church received separate autocephalous status in 1957 as part of Josip Broz Tito's policy of promoting a distinct Macedonian nation (as opposed to treating the Macedonian Slavs as Serbs or Bulgarians). This move has not been recognized by Orthodox churches in neighboring countries, and the Serbian Orthodox Church still believes that it is the "rightful" church in Macedonia.

Although the Macedonian Orthodox Church claims to be the oldest church in the region by tracing its roots to Saints Cyril and Methodius, Rathfelder argues that, in reality, the church feels isolated and insecure. Its proudest achievement was acquiring the status of "state church" under Article 19 of the 1994 changes to the constitution. The church is therefore very much conscious of its role as a defender of national pride.

The Muslims argue that the title of "state church" is not justified by the number of Orthodox believers. The Muslim leaders say that only 40 percent of the population is Orthodox, while some 50 percent are Muslim. These include not only Albanians, but also Turks, most Roma, and even some Slavic groups. (Muslim officials apparently did not tell Rathfelder how they arrived at their figures.)

The Muslims recently sought to draft a joint declaration on the current conflict with the Roman Catholics and other religious groups in Macedonia, but the Orthodox Church declined to take part. In the draft text, the signatories condemned the UCK's use of violence but also demanded more legal equality for the ethnic Albanian population.

One Muslim official told Rathfelder that he opposes the violence, adding, however, that he can understand how some people became frustrated after 10 years of peaceful political activity failed to produce sufficient redress for the Albanians' grievances. The official added that the Macedonian forces, moreover, are making war not only against the UCK "but also against God": he claimed that the security forces "have destroyed 47 mosques since the beginning of the conflict" in the spring. Again, Rathfelder's interlocutor did not provide evidence for his figures.

The Islamic theologian noted that "the Orthodox" under Milosevic used religion to mobilize their followers and "destroy Yugoslavia." He charged that the Macedonian church is now mobilizing its followers, and that the result will be to "destroy Macedonia."

Rathfelder concludes that the Orthodox Church is too insecure to take the lead in seeking reconciliation across the ethnic and religious divide. He also believes that the Islamic Community has not sufficiently distanced itself from the UCK to win credibility among the Orthodox as a force for peace. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "But signing that document [for a political settlement] while our territories are occupied by terrorists would be a shameful agreement for Macedonia. We must take back our occupied territories because we can't close our eyes to the fact that we are talking under the threat of guns. Macedonia has the military equipment and able police and soldiers who are ready to implement the [law as set down in the] constitution." -- Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. Quoted by Reuters at the Prohor Pcinjski monastery on Ilinden, 2 August.

"Despite the great challenges and suffering that all people from both sides of the River Drina have faced, the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) and the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) have managed to preserve their original principles. We in the DSS and the SDS are persistent in our claim that there is no democracy without a national element, and vice versa." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Quoted in "Politika" on 31 July in conjunction with the signing of a cooperation pact between his DSS and Radovan Karadzic's SDS.

"The current leaders of Serbia and Yugoslavia are CIA stooges." -- Russian State Duma Defense and Security Committee member Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist). Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 1 August.