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Balkan Report: December 11, 2001

11 December 2001, Volume 5, Number 82

THE MACEDONIAN GAME GOES ON. When the Macedonian crisis started in February this year, it soon became clear that the international community would have to invest much time -- as well as personnel and financial resources -- to help overcome the interethnic violence.

The major task of the envoys sent by the U.S. as well as by the EU was to facilitate dialogue between representatives of the main ethnic Albanian and Macedonian political parties.

But every time important decisions were to be made, politicians found ways to delay or even block these decisions. Every time, the international community had to step in to help overcome these deadlocks, which in the worst case could have led to a full-fledged civil war.

This was the case in May, when under international mediation (and pressure), a so-called government of political unity was formed. This was the case again during the following months, when a peace agreement was negotiated in Ohrid. This was the case when it came to the ratification of this peace accord by the parliament. And this was the case with the implementation of the constitutional changes, which had been agreed upon in the accord.

Recently, the parliament was supposed to pass a new law on local self-government -- a key element of the Ohrid peace agreement. Thanks to this law and a number of additional measures, the centralized state administration is expected to be decentralized. The municipalities are to be given far-reaching rights in the spheres of budgeting, culture, education, urban planning, and basic health care (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 December 2001).

At first it seemed as if the parliament would pass the law swiftly and without much debate. The minister for local self-government, Faik Arslani of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), even wanted to apply special parliamentary rules that enable laws to be passed very quickly.

But on 6 December, parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov adjourned the session after ethnic Albanian legislators of the PPD and the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) refused to show up in the chamber to vote. This was their protest against some amendments to the law proposed by ethnic Macedonian parliamentarians.

Despite the efforts of EU envoy Alain Le Roy, neither the Albanian nor the Macedonian lawmakers showed any willingness to compromise. Le Roy's argument that an international donors conference will be held only after the parliament passes the law failed to budge them. Originally, the donors conference was scheduled for mid-December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 December 2001).

The Albanian legislators explained their unwillingness to accept any major changes to the draft law by citing the Ohrid peace agreement. "The problem lies with the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE)," Ismet Ramadani of the PPD said. "They proposed amendments that would [fundamentally] change the character of the law," "Dnevnik" reported on 8 December.

Even among the ethnic Albanian politicians, there seem to be differences about the draft law. Iliaz Halimi of the PDSH said, "We believe that some changes to the draft law have to be made, but we were not sure whether our amendments would have found support [in the parliament]."

For the Macedonian lawmakers, the amendments were necessary to avoid the federalization or "cantonization" of the country. This could have resulted from a provision in Article 61 of the draft law, which allows municipalities to form common administrations with neighboring municipalities. This, the opponents of the law say, could lead to the introduction of an intermediate level of administration, which neither the constitution nor the peace accord foresees. These intermediate administrative bodies could then be set up on an ethnic basis and later grow into ethnically based cantons -- as in Bosnia.

Opposition to this provision in the draft law also comes from President Boris Trajkovski: "It is absurd to believe that we will allow a decentralization that would then let municipalities create a state within the state," "Balkan Times" quotes him as saying.

The immediate result of the parliamentary deadlock is clear: the international donors conference is to take place in January (at the earliest), and the country's international reputation remains shaky.

For some, this might not have been an unwelcome development. Violeta Cvetkovska wrote in the opposition newspaper "Utrinski vesnik" on 8 December that the governing coalition might not be particularly interested in a donors conference. Any foreign financial support would be accompanied by strict international control over the government's expenditures. And this, in the author's opinion, could undermine the functioning of the government, which is based on a system of nepotism and corruption.

On 10 December, the leaders of the VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, PPD, and the PDSH unexpectedly met at President Trajkovski's office, Reuters reported. They agreed to invite international experts to revise the draft legislation. "This law on local self-government is [proving] difficult, so we will have international experts from the Council of Europe, World Bank, and USAID draft some proposals, and I hope that they'll all come to agreement in the coming days," Reuters quotes EU envoy Le Roy as saying. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

CROATIA'S BIG STEP TOWARDS EU INTEGRATION. The Croatian parliament has approved the stabilization and association agreement with the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001) which Prime Minister Ivica Racan signed in Luxembourg at the end of October. This is the most important development in the country's relations with European institutions to date.

Croatia has to implement EU legal norms in order to qualify for financial aid from Brussels. Especially in the field of the transformation of the legal system, Zagreb has a lot of homework to do to reach its goal of full EU membership in 2006. In fact, there are more than 300 tasks Croatia has to complete before it will be ready for membership. Racan has already pointed out that this will not be easy, but added that Croatia has no alternative to joining a united Europe. In his view, for Croatia to stay outside the EU would mean decline and isolation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2001).

Despite this success for Croatian foreign policy, many obstacles remain. The long-standing border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia could endanger both their chances of joining Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Visiting Zagreb at the end of November, Slovenia's President Milan Kucan argued that the two countries do not need the help of the international community in resolving their border dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 November 2001). It would be better if the Croatian and Slovenian parliaments ratified the border deal that was formally announced in July, Kucan said (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 August 2001).

Croatia's agreement with the EU will have a positive effect on exports. Custom barriers will be reduced in stages, helping create much-needed jobs in Croatia where the unemployment rate is still close to 20 percent. In this respect, the political elite in the post-Tudjman era has not been able to effect the hoped-for improvement of the situation. The agreement with the EU will help by opening the way for new credits and bringing new confidence to foreign investors as well.

But not all Croatian political parties have welcomed the agreement on cooperation and association with the EU. Deputies from the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and some smaller opposition parties left the parliament before the vote for approval took place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December 2001).

A month earlier, HDZ leader Ivo Sanader said that the pact with the EU does not specify how Croatia is to attain full EU membership (see "Neue Zuercher Zeitung," 31 October 2001). Sanader, who does not generally oppose EU membership, fears that the agreement could lead to some form of a revived Yugoslavia. Such a development would be unpopular in Croatia and is the bete noir of the HDZ in particular. During negotiations on the agreement, there was a lot of talk from Brussels about regional cooperation in the Western Balkans, which raised Sanader's suspicions and those of many others.

It is not only Croatia's opposition that is against a "regional approach." Croatian officials from the ruling coalition of five parties showed in the past that they, too, are unwilling to be treated as a part of former Yugoslavia. Racan has stressed on many occasions that he opposes the "regional approach." He and others seem to feel that the best way for Croatia is to do as Slovenia has done -- seek to meet requirements for EU membership as soon as possible. (Christian Buric. The author is a consultant for strategic business communication and a free-lance writer based in Munich.

SLOVENE AIDS STATISTICS ANNOUNCED. In observance of World AIDS Day, booths were set up across Slovenia to distribute preventative information and condoms, the news agency STA reported on 1 December.

There are currently 105 known HIV-infected persons in Slovenia and 26 with AIDS. In 2001, eight AIDS patients died and 13 new cases of HIV infection were reported. The majority of those infected were men who had sexual relations with other men, followed by intravenous drug users.

Official statistics report 94 AIDS cases in Slovenia over the last 15 years, the majority of which have been fatal. According to the United Nations, over a quarter of a million people became infected in Eastern Europe and Russia this year alone. This represents a growing portion of the 40 million people with HIV and AIDS worldwide. (Donald F. Reindl)

17TH ANNUAL BOOK FAIR HELD IN LJUBLJANA. Slovenia's 17th annual book fair took place from 28 November to 2 December. The event occupied three floors of downtown Ljubljana's Cankarjev Dom and featured 78 exhibitors' booths.

Among the highlights of the fair were the new 2001 Slovenian normative dictionary (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 November 2001) and a copy of what is billed as the world's most expensive retail book -- a $21,000 Swiss facsimile edition of the Lorsch Evangelistary. In addition to such Slovenian classics as the poetry of France Preseren and stories of Ivan Cankar, the fair also offered the latest translations in the "Harry Potter" series and biographies of Madonna and Osama bin Laden.

Programs scheduled at the official "debating cafe" addressed such issues as the future role of a national encyclopedia and the relation of comic book art to literature.

Over time, the fair has become increasingly international. This year's exhibitors included Moscow State University Press, the Switzerland-based Faksimile Verlag, and Microsoft. (Donald F. Reindl)

SLOVENIAN MILITARY ACCUSED OF 'LOOTING.' The daily "Delo" reported on 2 December that the Slovenian military has agreed to return property taken from a municipal hall on the weekend of 22 November.

There had been ongoing disagreements over ownership of the furnishings in the building, located in the southwestern Slovenian village of Tatre. Local residents were shocked, however, when they learned that the military had secretly removed the building's furniture, central heating system, electrical meter and fuses, and disconnected the water supply.

Locals had used the hall for council meetings and ceremonies, and a folklore ensemble used to meet there to practice. In addition, the building regularly hosted children's groups from abroad.

On 24 November, "Delo" published an article characterizing the action as "looting." Marta Mahne, a local resident, scolded the military for being ungrateful. She recalled how locals had helped hide Territorial Defense units and their weapons in haylofts and garages during the 1991 war for independence.

After recent meetings to resolve the situation, the mayor of the Municipality of Hrpelje-Kozina, Albert Pecar, characterized the incident as stemming from a lack of communication between the military, the municipality, and local residents. (Donald F. Reindl)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The Yugoslav army is not protecting any of the indicted persons, therefore it is not protecting [General Ratko] Mladic nor has it any insight into his whereabouts." -- Army Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic, to "NIN." Quoted by Reuters from Belgrade on 6 December.

"What I can say for sure is that, as far as I know, the army committed no crimes in Kosovo nor have I ever issued any such order. If it is a crime that me and my men have defended the country against terrorism and aggression, then it is a completely different issue." -- Pavkovic.

"No law, no conference." -- Unnamed Skopje-based EU diplomat, quoted by Reuters on 7 December (see above).