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Balkan Report: December 7, 2001

7 December 2001, Volume 5, Number 81

NANO-META SPLIT CONTINUES TO PLAGUE ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS. Finance Minister Anastas Angjeli, Privatization Minister Mustafa Muci, and Minister of Social Affairs Bashkim Fino offered their resignations to Prime Minister Ilir Meta on 3 December, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The three Socialists took the step at a two-day meeting of the 119-member Socialist Party (PS) steering committee in Tirana, which was broadcast live on Albanian Television. With their offers to resign, they apparently hope to prevent a possible breakup of the PS as a result of the bitter power struggle between Meta and party Chairman Fatos Nano.

Angjeli said he offered his resignation "to help prevent a crisis and the holding of early elections." Muci said he refused to become part of a "dirty political game," adding, "This attack is made not against Mustafa Muci, but against the country's stability and the prime minister."

Since his own resignation as prime minister in late 1998, Nano has repeatedly tried to regain control over the policies of his younger successors, Pandeli Majko -- who governed for less than a year -- and Meta. Both successors are in their early 30s. Nano and his supporters argue that the government's priority should be to implement the policies of the party and support the interests of the party's rank and file.

Meta, Majko, and other younger PS politicians believe that the government needs to have more independence in decision making in order to be able to launch necessary reforms in the administration and economy.

Nano counters by suggesting that some government members are corrupt and show a lack of commitment to solving the country's problems. In a heated debate in the steering committee on 4 December, he said that the party should fight "against corruption, misuse of office, [and] vote buying" -- as well as against pork-barrel projects and arrogant behavior -- by ousting those responsible for such things.

Nano rejected the notion that there is a conflict between his supporters and those loyal to Meta. Instead, he stressed that the crisis is due to the presence in high places of politicians who have strayed from the PS's values and beliefs.

Nano said that his move is not primarily directed at Meta. He added that "it is a fight between two governing mentalities and programs..., over caring about the law and people, or [just] about oneself." According to Nano, the latest debate will lead to new demands by citizens and party members for more grass-roots control over policy.

By targeting controversial government practices, Nano apparently hopes to improve his image among party members and legislators to gain their support for his widely expected presidential bid 2002. In 1997, Socialist legislators elected Rexhep Meidani, a physicist who called for reconciliation with the rival Democratic Party (PD) and who saw the role of the presidency as primarily symbolic.

Observers suggest that should he win, Nano is likely to introduce a more activist presidency that would try to involve itself in government decisions. Such a move, however, would evoke memories of the era of President Sali Berisha of the PD, who overshadowed Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi.

But despite the attacks by Nano, Meta told "Albanian Daily News" on 4 December that he does not intend to resign. He added that he is confident that the steering committee supports him, and he blamed Nano for triggering the party crisis. Meta said he is willing to make changes in the government, but stressed, "I have not made a decision on the new names [yet], but I will not have consultations with the party chairman." Rather, Meta added, he will speak with party's entire leadership on that issue. In any event, President Meidani must approve the resignations before they can take effect.

For his part, Fino called on steering committee members "to show courage and patriotism. Let us work to take Albania towards Europe by correcting the government's mistakes and flaws." But he criticized Nano harshly, saying that Nano's move against the government was not aimed at just himself or one of the other two ministers who offered to resign. Fino stressed that "Nano's solution would be the appointment of a puppet premier -- so that the PS chairman can lead both the party and the government." And Fino added that the crisis within the party will not be solved just by sacking some ministers.

Political analyst Remzi Lani also told Reuters on 3 December that the resignations will not end the conflict within the divided party: "This can be a temporary solution, but the roots of this conflict are deeper."

At the end of the conference, the PS issued a declaration in support of Meta: "The Socialist Party backs the activity of the government of Ilir Meta in achieving European integration and political stability and in fighting corruption." But this move probably signifies that the final showdown between the two wings of the party has simply been put off, rather than that the differences have been resolved. (Fabian Schmidt)

MACEDONIA'S REFORM OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT. One of the key components of the peace plan for Macedonia is likely to be endorsed by the parliament soon -- the reform of local self-government. It is aimed primarily at giving the Albanians a greater say in running their own affairs.

Ever since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, there have been discussions about how to organize local self-government. The ethnic Albanian political parties in particular demand a reform of the centralized state administration. The current law on local self-government, which was enacted in 1995, gives only limited rights to local communities.

Albanians felt underrepresented in local administrative bodies and said that the centralized state administration do not do enough for the development of overwhelmingly Albanian-populated regions in northern and western Macedonia.

The parliament is soon expected to discuss a new law aimed at decentralizing large parts of the administration. According to the new regulations, the municipalities will not only control their finances, but will also be in charge of elementary schools, the basic health care system, rural and urban planning activities, and cultural and social matters. Albanian will become an administrative language in municipalities where at least 20 percent of the population is Albanian.

The national defense and police forces will remain under the control of the central state administration. The central state will also retain some checks on the powers of the municipal councils and mayors.

The law also provides for the formation of a Federation of Municipalities, which will act as a mediator between the central authorities (specifically the Ministry For Local Self-Government) and the municipalities.

Of special importance for the future of the ethnically divided country will be the introduction of so-called interethnic commissions in the municipalities. Members of all ethnic communities living in a given municipality will be equally represented in its commission. The members will discuss any problems specifically affecting the various ethnic groups there.

According to the government's plans, once the local government law is passed, the number of municipalities will be cut from 120 to 80 or 90 to reduce costs. The government will also enact a law on financing the municipalities.

Advisors from the Council of Europe and other international institutions advised the legal experts of the Ministry For Local Self-Government in preparing the reform. The Skopje weekly "Zum magazin" of 30 November quotes an unnamed representative of the Council of Europe as saying that "Western European countries did not achieve in decades what you will achieve with a single change in the law."

The Macedonian government decided to enact this far-reaching law with a special, quick parliamentary procedure. The media suggest that there is a connection between the government's haste and a donors conference, which is scheduled for mid-December.

The new regulations will come into force by 2003 at the latest, as the minister of local self-government, Faik Arslani, told "Nova Makedonija" of 3 December. He explains the time gap between passage and enactment as being due to the need to train and secure funding for the local administrative personnel.

In the meantime, Arslani wants to iron out some inconsistencies in the law. Conflicts could easily arise between central institutions and the new municipalities. Health Minister Gjorgji Orovcanec has already criticized the transfer of the basic health care to the municipalities as "unnecessary." He believes that this will only hamper planned reforms in the health system as a whole.

Critics of both the law and the hasty procedure -- such as journalist Igor Panov -- regret that a law of such central importance to the country's future must be passed within a week and without public discussion.

In "Zum magazin" of 30 November, Panov quotes unnamed experts who compare the law with the 1974 Yugoslav regulations on self-administration. Those measures gave far-reaching rights to the municipalities -- but also hamstrung the state administration.

As his ultimate argument against the changes, Panov states that the decentralization of the state could sooner or later lead to a federalization of the country -- something that most Macedonian nationalists fear could be the first step towards the country's administrative division along ethnic lines. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "To my knowledge, Mladic is not in our country." -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Quoted by Reuters in Brussels on 3 December.

"A legal framework for cooperation with The Hague tribunal is going to be adopted in Yugoslavia." -- Kostunica in Brussels.

"The fact that this assembly will not have the authority to take many decisions is a consequence of the stage of history we are in. We are at the ABC stage of democracy. Like all pupils who need to learn more, our parliament and the institutions springing from it will be our special schools." -- Kosovar publisher Veton Surroi. Quoted by Kosova Crisis Center in Prishtina on 28 November.

"Like it or not, the big Albanian parties will have to form a coalition with the Serbs. If not, the LDK will have to negotiate with other parties to form a coalition and elect Ibrahim Rugova as president." -- Surroi.