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Balkan Report: February 25, 2000

25 February 2000, Volume 4, Number 16

Three Cheers For The Montenegrin Language! As the decolonization process took shape after World War II, a pattern soon became evident that each newly emerging state had to copy in order to gain full international respectability. This included acquiring a flag, a national anthem, a seat in the UN, and where possible a national airline.

This has been repeated in the former Yugoslavia and with one important addition: a national language in the cases of groups whose language was formerly called Serbo-Croatian. For most non-nationalists--and in moments of candor, for many nationalists as well--Serbo-Croatian is one language with a set of dialects based on geography, not ethnicity. It was thus that many rural Croats from Kosova had to take language training after they were resettled in distant Croatia in the course of the 1990s. More to the political point, the speech of the Bosnian Serb is virtually identical to that of his Croatian and Muslim neighbors but noticeably distinct from that of the Serb of Belgrade or especially Nis.

This state of affairs has not gone down well with many insecure nationalists over the years. They have hence gone to great pains to create or exaggerate real or imagined differences between the "language" of their people and those of the neighbors. During World War II and in the early 1990s, Croatian nationalists were best known for such efforts. The results were often the butt of jokes, even among many very patriotic Croats.

One should not forget the actions of others, such as the Bosnian Serbs, whose leadership has had voting ballots printed only in Cyrillic in spite of the fact that many Serbs cannot read that script. One may also recall the wartime vogue in Pale and Banja Luka of using Belgrade speech, so that the Sarajevan Biljana Plavsic often spoke on television with a Belgrade affectation that would be roughly equivalent to Hillary Clinton using the accent of her husband or to an Austrian politician trying to force the pronunciation of Hamburg or Berlin.

The Republika Srpska leadership has slowly retreated from Belgrade linguistic as well as political models. But Bosnian Muslim nationalists still like to show off their "Bosnian language" with its real or forced Turkish or Arabic borrowings.

If this model of language creation were applied elsewhere, German and French could easily break down into dozens or hundreds of languages, and Spanish and English into even more. But no one feels the need to proclaim a distinct national language in the case of Austrian German, U.S. English, or Mexican Spanish. In those countries it is recognized that independent statehood does not necessarily require a distinct language.

This is not, however, appreciated by many nationalists in the former Yugoslavia. It therefore came as no great surprise when last week the Matica Crnogorska cultural society demanded that "Montenegrin" be named the official language in that republic in place of "Serbian." The society's statement showed that it believes in a clear link between linguistic and political sovereignty. Ergo, the reference to "Serbian" in the Montenegrin constitution is evidence of submission to Belgrade's political ambitions and of inferiority complexes and a loss of identity, Matica Crnogorska maintains.

One wonders which "language" will be the next to emerge. In any event, your editor has never been able to get a clear answer from nationalists as to why their respective leaders do not need interpreters to speak to each other. When Presidents Milosevic and Tudjman had their famous walk at the Wright-Patterson airbase in Dayton, or their secret meetings to partition Bosnia, no translator was present. (Patrick Moore)

Artemije Urges World To Heed Moderates. On 21 February, Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije, who is one of the main political leaders of the Kosovo Serbs, said at the UN in New York that it is necessary to break "the spiral of violence" in the province. He added that a "peaceful new beginning" is necessary to build a multiethnic and democratic Kosovo, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.

The archbishop blamed "Albanian extremists and the Belgrade autocratic regime" for the current conflict, "Vesti" noted on 23 February. The Kosovo problem has existed "for centuries, but it will most likely be solved in our time," Artemije said. He noted that "all cities" in Kosovo have been "ethnically cleansed" of Serbs, and that the 100,000 Serbs remaining in the province face an uncertain future. (Patrick Moore)

Albanian Gangsters Declare Businessman Dead, Plunder His Bank Account. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently told Albanian listeners in Tirana that "the old ways of doing business are no longer acceptable." At least one recent incident suggests, however, that there is a long way to go before certain old Balkan attitudes and practices become history.

Albanian police arrested 20 suspects, including bank officials, in a major fraud case on 18 and 19 February. Those arrested are believed to have forged a coroner's report to declare dead a living businessman from the southern city of Berat, Ylli Agolli. Subsequently they withdrew his entire savings--worth 25 million lek ($250,000)--from the Savings Bank by bringing in his "widow," who had a forged passport to "prove" her identity, "Shekulli" reported on 21 February.

The head of the gang is 30 year-old Kejdi Kote. "Shekulli" stressed that Kote "is infamous among police in the capital for having pulled off several previous scams." He had been sent to prison in the early 1990s but was one of the thousands who fled their cells during the 1997 unrest and were later amnestied. Previously, he had sold flats in Tirana that he rented but did not own. He forged documents "proving" that he was the landlord.

For his latest coup, Kote recruited a woman from Durres as the actress for the role of Agolli's "widow." But before she could play her part, Kote first had to "kill" the businessman, who was registered at a local registry office in Tirana. Therefore, with the support of his friends, Kote forged a Berat coroner's report for Agolli to verify his death. He then sent the widow to report Agolli's death to the local authorities in Tirana, as required by law. She then received an official death certificate.

The second act took place at the Tirana district court, where the woman showed up all dressed in black and with a forged passport. Considering her pitiful and sorry state, the judges accelerated the procedures for handing over the possessions of the "late husband" to her, thus giving her the authority to withdraw the money from the bank.

Apparently fearing that the coup could fail at the local branch of the Savings Bank in Tirana, Kote bribed some of its employees in order to make sure that the money handover took place without difficulties. Among those suspected of accepting such bribes is the driver of the bank's General Director Artan Santo. Investigators believe that the driver's intervention on behalf of the widow helped convince bank employees that the cash handover was legitimate. Santo, however, told "Shekulli" that he does not believe his driver was involved in the scam. He stressed that the bank acted in accordance with the law when presented with the documents from the court.

Agolli learned about his death shortly after the money was withdrawn. The 20 suspects were caught largely because investigators from a police unit specializing in combating organized financial crime launched investigations immediately after the withdrawal of the money. Some bank employees were stunned by the large amount of cash that had been withdrawn and reported the case immediately to the investigators.

Police officials in Tirana told "Shekulli" that they believe they have caught most of those involved in the fraud, adding that it was one of the largest and most successful police operations in recent months. Police found a large part of the money and ample evidence, including forged documents. Among those arrested was a student at Tirana's police academy. Kote however, is still at large. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Employers, Unions, And Government Form Joint Council. Representatives of Albania's employers, the trade unions, and the government met in Tirana on 19 and 20 February to discuss what the role of the newly-created National Labor Council (KKP) should be. They agreed to cooperate in the council to improve social protection and create jobs during the privatization of the remaining state-owned industries and to cooperate in drafting labor legislation, "Shekulli" reported on 21 February.

The creation of the KKP, a body that will include representatives of the three groups, goes back to an initiative by the UN's International Labor Organization (ILO). It will function merely as a round table and does not give the government the right to interfere in wage negotiations between employers and trade unions. At this point, wage negotiations in Albania are unregulated, and job security for most citizens is almost non-existent.

Behind the creation of the council stands the idea of "social partnership" between the unions, the entrepreneurs, and the government. These three groups agreed to coordinate their efforts in order to boost employment and economic prosperity.

While trade unions and entrepreneurs in many western countries would probably fear that such a council could undermine their independence, all three groups in Albania welcomed the idea. Indeed, the participants agreed that similar councils should operate not only on the national level, but also on regional and local levels. The reason for the positive reaction stems largely from the weakness of the trade unions and of the associations of entrepreneurs, which have only recently begun to coordinate the activities of their respective interest groups.

In such a situation, the government can provide support for the development of stable labor relations and a common perspective. The three "social partners" issued a joint declaration expressing their hope that through this institution and with the help of the EU's Stability Pact, they can raise the level of social relations to at least that of some of Albania's neighbors.

The three groups argue that stability in the region--and a good framework for investments--requires social stability, peace, and long-term cooperation to tackle poverty. They pledged to "harmonize their interests in order to avoid conflicts, and to contribute to sustainable development" and to "work hand-in-hand to achieve democracy, economic and social development, and respect for human rights." This is a remarkable statement in a country known for the political polarization of public life and a lack of civic consciousness. (Fabian Schmidt)

Tall Tale Of The Week. Interfax reported from Moscow on 21 February that Yugoslav Ambassador to Russia Borislav Milosevic--the brother of Slobodan--does not exclude the possibility that several Chechen field commanders plan to move to Kosova in the future. "Boro" added that the Yugoslav press has published reports to this effect. The ambassador stressed that the involvement of mercenaries from Chechnya in the Kosova conflict on the side of "Albanian terrorists" is a "fact." In his opinion, it is quite possible that Chechen field commanders are considering Kosova as their future refuge. He did not offer any facts or hard evidence to substantiate his claims. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week "I think the situation in Mitrovica is dangerous and requires the immediate attention of all the countries concerned. I think there is no question who's responsible for it. It's Belgrade. The leadership in Belgrade is fomenting trouble north of the Mitrovica bridge. There's no question. The problem here comes from Belgrade." -- U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke, on 21 February.

"There's no doubt that Milosevic will have a hand in some of the provocations being organized on the Serb side. That is, in many ways, to be expected." -- NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson, in Brussels on 21 February.

"There are political forces behind this which have an interest in violent unrest. As long as there is no democracy in Belgrade, there will be no real dialogue between Serbs and Albanians." -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, to the new "Financial Times Deutschland" of 23 February.

Troops are unwelcome in Kosova Serb neighborhoods "because people don't like the Americans. We have much suspicion when they are 'protecting' us. They haven't done much to protect Serbs." -- Local Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic to AP on 22 February.