Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: November 27, 2001

27 November 2001, Volume 5, Number 78

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS QUIT MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT. In a widely expected move, the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and the Socialist Party (SPM) have decided to withdraw their ministers from the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 26 November 2001). On 22 November, Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski (both SDSM), Deputy Prime Minister Ilija Filipovski, Health Minister Petar Milosevski (both LDP) resigned, as did the deputy ministers of transport and communications, economics, and culture, who are from the SPM or the SDSM.

In their resignation letters, the SDSM ministers stressed that the main reason for their move is that the security situation in the country has improved considerably, and that the 13 August Ohrid peace agreement has been ratified by the parliament. Thus, they argue, the so-called "government of national unity" has fulfilled its main objective: to overcome the danger of an all-out civil war in the tiny Balkan state.

But in a speech to the parliament, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) slammed the resignation of the ministers as a childish and irresponsible act. The ministers decided to leave the government at a time when parts of Macedonia are still outside state control, he added. Georgievski stressed that "this government was not put together [in May] out of [mutual] love, but due to Macedonia's interests," MIA reported.

VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Vladimir Gjorcev found harsher words for the now-opposition SDSM: "With their resignation from the government coalition, they committed an act against Macedonian national unity and of desertion," the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" quoted him as saying on 24 November.

Gjorcev added that talks are going on to form a new government -- which will be the seventh in a row headed by Georgievski since the fall of 1998. But the would-be coalition partners seem to driving hard bargains.

During a meeting with Georgievski, Arben Xhaferi, who leads the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), set down a number of preconditions for his party to stay in government, "Dnevnik" reported on 23 November. These preconditions included a tight time frame for implementing the remaining reforms set down in the Ohrid agreement.

The PDSH wants the new government to pass a law on local self-government within 10 days of its formation. Within 20 days, new rules for parliamentary procedure must be adopted, which will allow minority deputies to speak in their mother tongue in parliament.

Within a month, a new election law should be passed. There have been discussions over whether the complex mixed voting system -- which has elements of both the majority and proportional systems -- should be replaced by a more transparent and ostensibly fairer system. There have also been discussions about possible electoral reapportionment.

Whether the ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) will follow its former coalition partners of the SDSM into the opposition is not yet clear. But as the state-run news agency MIA reported on 23 November, it has been suggested in the Albanian-language press that both the PDSH and the PPD will try to enter the government in order to strengthen Albanian influence within it.

The smaller, "real" VMRO -- hard-line former members of Georgievski's VMRO-DPMNE -- are also unsure of their plans. "There are good reasons to remain in government, but there are also good reasons to leave it," spokesman Oliver Romevski is quoted by "Dnevnik" as saying.

It is obvious that if the "real" VMRO is to stay in government, it will ask for more posts: "The new government has to have clear priorities, and we will insist that we get [control of] vital sectors, by which we can contribute to the stabilization of the situation after the disappointing decision by the SDSM" to leave the government, Romevski said. Other reports suggest that the leadership of the "real" VMRO might reunite with Georgievski's VMRO-DPMNE.

Speculation has already surfaced in the press about who will replace the departing ministers. "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 23 November that former Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim of the Liberal Party (LP) has a good chance of taking over his previous job again. Since the government reshuffle in May 2001, Kerim has been ambassador to the UN. Some sources in President Boris Trajkovski's office suggest that Slobodan Casule could become the new foreign minister, but add that he would also be happy to replace Kerim in New York. Casule heads the small "Nova Demokratija" party.

The post of outgoing Defense Minister Buckovski could be filled by his personal rival in the current government, hard-line Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the VMRO-DPMNE. If this happens, Georgievski would thereby be keeping one of his most loyal followers in the government -- and defying the international community, which seeks Boskovski's replacement. Another possible candidate for the job is current Deputy Defense Minister Boris Zmejkovski of the "real" VMRO. The new health minister will likely come from the VMRO-DPMNE, although smaller parties, especially Xhaferi's PDSH, have also shown interest in that post. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "I am trying to reconcile the people to a healing process.... If all succeeds, there will be no more ethnic boundaries, only a common interest in economic progress." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, to Reuters' Mark Heinrich in Skopje on 25 November.

MASS GRAVES FROM THE COMMUNIST PAST HAUNT SLOVENIA'S PRESENT. A small, gravel road in central Slovenia ends abruptly at an abandoned mine shaft. Behind its steel door lie the victims of political purges carried out after World War II. Located near the aptly named village of Huda Jama ("bad cave"), a memorial chapel was erected at the site in 1997. After its dedication, unknown persons defaced the chapel and scrawled slogans on its walls, including "Death to traitors." According to Franc Perme, president of the Society for the Regulation of Suppressed Graves, renovation is not feasible at this time. The society, which has erected two other chapels to postwar victims, has received threats that any renovation will be countered by blowing up the chapel.

Recent media attention has heightened discussion of the approximately 100 postwar mass graves in Slovenia. Ironically, most of the dead are probably not Slovenes, but Croats and Germans. The latter are mainly persons who were not able to retreat quickly enough from Yugoslav territory at the end of the war. The former are largely Croatian Ustasha troops who had escaped to Austria but were forcibly repatriated by the British army along with Slovene Domobranci (home guard) troops. As Yugoslavia's northernmost republic, Slovenia was simply their first -- and last -- stop on the journey back.

Estimates of the number of dead vary widely. Tine Velikonja, president of the New Slovene Union, which is composed of 700 former Domobranci or their family members, says the organization has collected the names of 8,250 Slovenes executed after the war, both soldiers and civilians. The Slovene Institute for Modern History estimates the total number of postwar victims at 12,000, whereas Croatian estimates range as high as 60,000 to 100,000. In any case, the numbers are high. Seventy meters of a 3-kilometer-long antitank ditch near Maribor -- recently excavated during highway construction -- yielded 1,179 skeletons alone. Velikonja estimates that 30,000 may be interred there altogether.

Slovenia's coming to grips with its mass graves is not an isolated phenomenon in Central and Eastern Europe. Russians are still coping with Soviet responsibility for the 1940 massacre of Polish officers at Katyn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2000), while Poles are struggling with their role in the 1941 massacre of Jews at Jedwabne (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2001). The recent vandalism at the Kurapaty mass grave in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August and 13 November 2001) recalls the vandalism at Huda Jama. Other atrocities -- such as the postwar killings of Hungarians in Serbian Vojvodina or the thousands who perished in postwar Soviet concentration camps in East Germany -- often remain primarily local stories.

There are reasons for the lack of public enthusiasm for addressing the issue in Slovenia. As elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, two generations grew up playing their own version of cops and robbers -- partisans and fascists -- and accusations that tarnish the previously unassailable images of their childhood heroes are not welcomed. In a 22 October article in the weekly "Mladina," Bernard Nezmah argues that the graves testify to several troubling facts: not only did the communists secretly execute their opponents and hide the corpses, but the absence of any valuables in the graves brands the partisan executioners as thieves. Moreover, from 1945 to 1990 the Slovenian authorities imposed a silence regarding the killings.

Addressing the issue not only concerns national reconciliation, but also has practical ramifications, such as the issuing of death certificates. Years of calls for government action have met with a slow response. However, on 21 November the daily "Delo" reported plans for a special working group to deal with the graves, and the following day the government adopted an official statement expressing its regret on the issue. On All Souls' Day this year, President Milan Kucan commemorated both sides in the war by laying a wreath in Ljubljana's central cemetery and later visiting two mass graves. In a similar gesture, the president of the National Assembly, Borut Pahor, laid wreathes at the Teharje mass grave of postwar victims near Celje as well as at a memorial to the victims of fascism.

Meanwhile, nongovernmental commemoration of the dead is much in evidence. On 7 October, 3,000 people gathered for a memorial service at Teharje. Long a chemical-waste dumping area, part of the site is now covered by an illegally built golf course. Similar commemorations took place throughout Slovenia, particularly on 1 November.

Nonetheless, efforts to defame the postwar victims persist. The sentiments expressed by the vandals at Huda Jama are not isolated, and Slovenian society appears unlikely to reach any consensus on the issue soon.

In the meantime, the scattered graves lie mostly untended and, at least officially, unrecognized. A thought penned by Mark Twain in 1875 still has resonance in Slovenia today: "The community that can stand such graveyards...can stand anything a body can say about the neglected and forsaken dead that lie in them." (Donald F. Reindl is a free-lance writer and Indiana University Ph.D. candidate in Ljubljana,