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Balkan Report: November 13, 2001

13 November 2001, Volume 5, Number 75

MACEDONIA: DECISIONS ON HOLD? While paying a visit to the Makstil steel factory on 9 November, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski took the opportunity to explain to domestic journalists his views on the most important political questions currently facing the country. He spoke both as prime minister and as leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), which holds a relative majority of 40 out of 120 seats in the parliament.

The journalists asked Georgievski about speculation that his party is ready to form a new government without the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM). The Social Democrats had previously announced that they will leave the government as soon as the parliament approves the constitutional changes as set down in the Ohrid peace accord.

SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski told the daily "Dnevnik" of 10 November: "Our continuing participation in this government would mean that we would be covering up for and providing excuses for some other members of the government, who continue with policies that are destructive in every way." As Crvenkovski put it, his party joined the government -- under international pressure -- in order to help overcome the danger of a full-fledged civil war. "We have this danger behind us now," Crvenkovski said.

Many Macedonian observers assume that it is most probable that Georgievski will soon form a government together with the Democratic Alternative (DA) of former Deputy Prime Minister Vasil Tupurkovski, the Liberal Party (LP) of parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov, and the New Democracy (ND). But Georgievski avoided giving a clear answer to questions about his future coalition partners.

Whether former members of Georgievski's party -- who now form the "real" VMRO (VMRO-VMRO) -- will join the new government is unclear. Nor is it clear whether Arben Xhaferi's Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) will again cooperate with Georgievski. "Utrinski vesnik" and "Dnevnik" reported on 10 November that relations between Georgievski and Xhaferi have improved in recent weeks after a frosty period in which the former coalition partners had almost broken off contact.

Another question concerned the amnesty for the former members of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). Georgievski repeated his position that his government will not enact President Boris Trajkovski's amnesty declaration into law, as the Albanians want. "We once again made clear our position [during the recent visit of NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson]...that this government will not enact an amnesty law. We will prepare a [summary] of the essential points of the president's declaration, what has to be done and what must not be done.... We do not know which [foreign or domestic political] structures...constantly promote the idea that there has to be an amnesty law at any price," Georgievski said.

At the same time, "Nova Makedonija" reported on 9 November that Trajkovski's office is working hard to "iron out" unspecified inconsistencies in the amnesty declaration in coordination with ministries and legal institutions. Trajkovski then plans to inform Robertson about the results.

Sasko Dimevski wrote in "Utrinski vesnik" on 9 November that party leaders and the government have been bickering for two months over the amnesty, which most observers see as a key confidence-building element in the peace process. Under the headline "Dangerous games around the amnesty," Dimevski wrote that it does not matter to ordinary people what form the amnesty takes because both Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski and Chief Prosecutor Stavre Dzikov have said they will not prosecute former UCK members.

Legal experts, however, do not agree. Former Interior Minister Jovan Trpenoski told "Dnevnik" of 9 November: "Only the parliament can issue an amnesty, while the president can pardon individuals, in accordance to the law. Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski and Chief Prosecutor Stavre Dzikov...clearly exceeded their authority with their declaration not to prosecute members of the UCK."

For his part, Zoran Sulejmanov of the Institute for Social, Legal, and Political Studies told the same daily: "Without an amnesty law there will be no security for citizens. An oral declaration is no guarantee at all." Ambassador Craig Jenness, who heads the OSCE mission in Skopje, told the weekly "Zum magazin" of 9 November that the amnesty should be seen as an integral part of a package of confidence-building measures. Together with the recently introduced ethnically mixed police patrols and the return of the refugees, an amnesty can help create a favorable climate, Jenness said (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 October 2001). Both the Macedonian government and the international community should make this point clear. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

AUSTRIAN CLAIMS IN SLOVENIAN PROPERTY DENATIONALIZATION. The denationalization process in Slovenia has recently come under increasing scrutiny. This is particularly so with regard to property claims by the Roman Catholic Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 October 2001), as well as by members of the former Italian community. Some U.S. officials have, in fact, suggested that the Italian property issue may become linked to Slovenia's application for NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2001). However, a third element of Slovenia's denationalization process is increasingly coming to the fore: claims by Austrian citizens (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 November 2001).

The property in question was nationalized under the AVNOJ decrees, which provided for the confiscation of property belonging to persons of German nationality who had not fought for the communists (many observers liken them to the Czechoslovak Benes decrees). The 1955 Austrian State Treaty provided compensation to Austrian citizens who had lost property in Yugoslavia, and some in Slovenia insist that this was the end of the matter.

However, many of today's Austrian claimants did not have Austrian citizenship in 1955 and consequently never received any compensation. This issue thus remains very much alive, despite Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel's insistence in a discussion on Austrian television on 9 September that the AVNOJ decrees are simply part of history.

A misunderstanding was created at the European Forum meeting on 26 August in Alpbach, Austria, when Rupel told his Austrian colleague Benita Ferrero-Waldner that Slovenia has already returned 90 percent of residential and 96 percent of business property claimed by Austrian citizens. After a former Slovenian Constitutional Court judge countered that this information was incorrect, the Foreign Ministry stated that the figures applied only to the already-resolved cases involving Austrian citizens, not the total number of such cases.

More detailed information was subsequently published in the daily "Delo" on 30 August. Based on information from the ministry, the newspaper calculated that, as of 22 August, 1,617 claims had been received from Austrian citizens under Slovenia's now 10-year-old Denationalization Act. Courts have handed down decisions relating to 901 cases, but definitive settlements on only 664, or 41 percent, of cases, reflecting a total of 1,191 legal decisions (of which 165 were still being contested). According to the Ministry of Justice, which itself cites a figure of 33.2 percent of all cases settled, the value of these settled claims amounts to approximately $70.8 million.

The denationalization process in Slovenia has proceeded in several stages. Generally, local administrative units are empowered to make decisions, but in special cases authority is assumed in the first instance by the Ministry of Culture (for claims involving items of the national cultural heritage), the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning (for items of natural significance), or the Ministry of Finance (for property of banks, insurance companies, etc.), or in the second instance by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Food (for claims involving woods and farmland). There is a series of courts through which claimants can appeal if dissatisfied.

The apparently slow pace of denationalization is thus partially explained by the fact that it may require several legal decisions to reach a final settlement on any claim. Appeals and the sheer volume of cases have also slowed the process. To accelerate the denationalization process, the government adopted resolutions in February urging ministers to do everything in their power to expedite it. The Ministry of Justice has likewise called upon the courts to give priority to denationalization cases, and the process is expected to be concluded by the end of 2002.

The backers of Austrian claimants, however, have expressed less understanding. The far-right Freedom Party (FPO) has consistently called for the repeal of the AVNOJ decrees, and has attempted to link the issue to Slovenia's admission to the European Union -- as well as demanding a referendum on EU expansion. However, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel's People's Party (OVP) backs neither of these demands.

Similar calls for repeal of the AVNOJ decrees have been raised by Erika Steinbach, the chairwoman of the German Association of Expellees (BdV). On 23 September, Mares Rossmann, the FPO's Austrian government state secretary for tourism, labeled the AVNOJ decisions racist. Nor are Slovenian critics silent; many Slovenes feel the courts have been much too generous, especially when compared with those in Poland or the former Czechoslovakia. Following complaints that property is being returned to war criminals by Slovenian courts, a 1999 decision in Maribor came under review on 11 October this year. (Donald F. Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The people of Kosovo deserve better than they had in the history. They've got the chance, the opportunity, for the first time in history to make a decision about making sure that their children's future is secured.... Children cannot eat constitutions. What matters in this election and for the future of this part of the world is the bread-and-butter issues... This is what this election and the politics of the region got to be about." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson. Quoted by AP in Prishtina on 8 November.

"What keeps Karadzic and Mladic free is not their cunning but our lack of will. If Bonnie and Clyde had gotten the same treatment, they would have died in a retirement community." -- Richard Cohen in the "International Herald Tribune" of 10 November.