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Balkan Report: July 4, 2000

4 July 2000, Volume 4, Number 50

Three Overlooked Stories. Much of the international media's attention to developments in the former Yugoslavia continues to be devoted to low-level violence in Kosova, to the extent that the media are paying the region any attention at all. Three stories emerged in recent days, however, which could help change the face of the region.

The first story involves Macedonia's long-standing attempts to conclude an agreement with the EU. Much is at stake here, first because Macedonia wants to be rewarded for its good behavior during the Kosova crisis of 1999, and second because Macedonia and several of its neighbors want assurances that they will not be left in the EU's antechamber indefinitely.

Chris Patten, who is the EU's commissioner for external relations, said in Skopje on 30 June that he expects that Macedonia will sign an Agreement on Stabilization and Association with Brussels before the end of 2000. Patten praised Macedonia's progress in recent years and noted that the EU has accepted the arguments made by Macedonian leaders for concluding the agreement. He added: "For us, the European Union, [the agreement] will be the centerpiece of our strategic partnership and relationship with the region. What we have done with you we hope to be able to do with others, beginning with perhaps Croatia," Reuters reported.

The government of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, which was elected in 1998, regards the agreement with Brussels as a top priority. Patten's remarks suggest that he has made his point in Brussels. Now it remains to be seen when the agreement will actually be signed, and what its practical outcome will be. Skopje sees it as a first step towards full EU membership and will want assurances that membership is a real possibility at some point in the future. So do several of its neighbors.

The second major story is one that could go a long way toward making Dayton's multi-ethnic Bosnia a reality. Bosnia's joint Constitutional Court has ruled that Serbs, Croats, and Muslims must enjoy full legal equality everywhere on Bosnian territory, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 2 July.

At present, Serbs enjoy a special legal status--"constitutive people" status in the legal language of the region--in the Republika Srpska, while Muslims and Croats have a similar position in the federation.

Observers note that the effects of the ruling could be highly significant, provided, of course, that it is enforced. Its potential impact on the practical legal status of all Bosnian citizens is immense, and this includes the right to vote and hold office anywhere, regardless of one's ethnicity (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 24 February and 2 March 2000).

The third story stems from the interview with Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic in the latest issue of the Belgrade weekly "NIN." The loquacious Djukanovic discussed a wide variety of subjects, but perhaps most interesting was his explanation for his recent apology to Croatia for Montenegro's role in the 1991-1992 campaign against the Dubrovnik region (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 June 2000).

In giving his reasons, Djukanovic used words like "civilized" and "moral," which are not necessarily everyday expressions in the political discourse of the region. He noted nonetheless that his apology is not an attempt to gloss over or analyze the origins of the recent conflicts, "in which the responsibility of Montenegro is without doubt marginal, " he argued.

The reason for his apology, Djukanovic stressed, is that endless mutual accusations of guilt and responsibility will keep the people of the region forever prisoners of the past. Time has come to break this vicious circle and promote ever closer cooperation throughout the region, which is in keeping with contemporary European trends, he added.

He has said much of this before, but his remarks take on added weight in the context of his apology to Croatia. Djukanovic further noted that he does not want Montenegro to remain any longer a prisoner of Belgrade's foreign policy, "which is just an extended arm of the regime."

These were thus three positive and potentially important stories: Macedonia and some neighboring countries on the road to the EU, Bosnians slated for full equality throughout their own country, and a regional leader with a complex past who is nonetheless very determined to look only toward a future of regional cooperation. (Patrick Moore)

Multi-Ethnic Living In Kosova (Part II; Part I appeared on 30 June 2000). Binaq, like Viti district as a whole, experienced relatively little violence and destruction last year. But as elsewhere in Kosova, the violence it did see did not cease with the departure of Serbian forces, but rather switched to Albanian retribution against Serbs.

Binaq's Serbian Orthodox church is ringed by barbed wire and guarded by three U.S. KFOR vehicles. As with other Serbian churches in the area, there is no resident priest. The bishop of Viti comes as needed.

Serbian inhabitants, though polite toward a visiting reporter, are cautious and decline to give their last names. One Serb, an unemployed worker who calls himself Markus Dragan, lives with his family in an old farmhouse near the Orthodox church. His family can feed itself thanks to a vegetable garden and orchard. A young pig--next winter's meat ration for the family--wanders around the patio sniffing for scraps of food.

Markus insists the situation in Binaq is normal. "The atmosphere here is normal. So far there have not been any tensions. We live normally." Markus says there have been no provocations against Serbian residents, either after the war or at present. But when asked how he views the future, he says: "Fine--once the violence ceases."

Fear plays a role in how he and his neighbors respond to a foreign correspondent's questions. Neighbor after neighbor urges the reporter to speak to the local Serbian leader, Mr. Djuric--who they say is at the Serbian school, which operates in a private home. Seven children attend morning classes there.

Just 15 meters from the school, an elderly Albanian resident when asked where the Serbian school is, responds: "This is the Muslim neighborhood, there is no Serbian school here."

At midday in the house that serves as a school, several Serbs sit around in a gutted room upstairs, smoking and waiting. No one is willing to admit just which one of them is Djuric. Finally, one of them, who says his name is Dragan, nervously speaks up: "The situation is quite tense here. Life here is difficult. I think we don't have--how shall I put it--a way out. If we go to Viti, we are taking a risk, someone could target us along the road, so I just stay at home. That's the way it is."

Dragan, like many other Serbs in Kosova, says that before KFOR peacekeepers arrived, Serbs worked together with Albanians and life was good. But he adds, all that changed after the NATO airstrikes last year.

But Dragan's version of the past ignores the institution of a de facto system of apartheid by the Belgrade regime in Kosova throughout the 1990s, in which Albanians were fired en masse from jobs from the civil service and state-owned enterprises and were replaced with Serbs. That decade of oppression culminated in the forced exodus of nearly 1 million Kosovar Albanians last year.

Now it is the Serbs who are most victimized. Dragan says Serbs' homes have been blown up at night and two Binaq Serbs have been killed, one in July, the other in November. Dragan says he is afraid. "There are provocations. They attack old women with stones. There is heckling. God, it's hard for us. God help us."

Dragan says that a week ago, after he mowed his field, Albanians burned the hay. He says cannot let his three children play in the road because their former Albanian playmates taunt them with slogans like "UCK" and "Go Back to Serbia!"

Dragan says he has had no work or income for a year. He says he might be able to hold out a few more months, but then he may have to leave for Serbia. He says the Orthodox bishop of Viti, Dragan Kojic, is the one who decides whether the Serbs will stay or leave. (The bishop was away when RFE/RL tried to visit him).

Dragan says he has nothing against the KFOR peacekeepers, that their presence ensures peace and the security of his eldest child, whom KFOR escorts every day to middle school in Viti. But he says it is now up to Kosova's Albanians whether someday everyone in Binaq will be able to live together as before. (Jolyon Naegele

Priests Ordained In Albania For First Time In Decade. Archbishop Angelo Massafra ordained five priests in the Shkodra cathedral on 29 June. He said: "This is an historic day, especially for the younger generation in Albania.... [The ordinations are] a sign of hope that shows how the Albanian church is growing rapidly after so many years of state atheism and martyrdom," AP reported.

The last time Roman Catholic priests were ordained in Albania was 1991. All religions were ruthlessly persecuted under the communists, who in 1967 declared Albania to be the "world's first atheistic state." Places of worship were destroyed or desecrated after that date, and the Shkodra cathedral became a sports center.

Islam, Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and the Bektashi sect have reemerged with new vigor in the past decade but still require financial and other forms of help from abroad. The Bektashis, for example, maintain close links with the Bektashi community in Detroit in the U.S., which has long had a relatively large Albanian community. The Orthodox receive help from Greece as well as from Albanian Orthodox communities abroad. A number of charities from Islamic countries are active in Tirana in particular. The Vatican has shown a keen interest in reviving Roman Catholicism in Albania, which Pope John Paul II has visited.

Islam has the most adherents of any religion in Albania, but there are no accurate figures of practitioners of any faith. The four religions have traditionally coexisted reasonably well in Albania. (Patrick Moore)

Another Black-Eye For The (Slobodan) Milosevic Era. Politics, culture, civil society, the economy, and the environment are not the only victims of Milosevic's 13 years of rule. As was evident during the Euro 2000 soccer championships in June, Yugoslav soccer is also but a pale shadow of its former self. Indeed, as "Vesti" put it, the performance of Bosnian Serb striker Savo Milosevic was "the only bright spot" for the troubled team.

It thus came as no surprise when on 28 June--Vidovdan--a committee of experts including former coaches released a very critical statement in Belgrade. The text read: "Results have constantly fallen over the previous decade. Players are leaving to play abroad without any control because of deteriorated conditions at home. Yugoslav clubs have to play three rounds of qualifications for European cups. But not even that has apparently been enough to prompt [federation chairman] Miljanic and others responsible to offer resignations," dpa reported.

The experts minced no words: "Time has run out for coach Vujadin Boskov. Some of the players don't belong there, the preparations were wrong...but that all is just a consequence [of major failed policies.] The time is short for Yugoslav football, and can be measured by days." (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "Milosevic's rather rancid regime has a strong history of trying to stamp out democratic movement within Yugoslavia." - State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker about the "anti-terrorism" law, on 27 June. Reported from Washington by RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams.

"As we speak, Milosevic is poised to ram so-called anti-terrorism legislation through Serbia's puppet parliament. Unfortunately for him, an anti-terrorism statute authored by a terrorist regime will have no credibility. Its transparent purpose is to provide a respectable cover for repressive policies." - Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in Berlin on 29 June. Quoted by Reuters.

In 1999, "we [Serbs] didn't have a noble prince but a criminal" as leader. "Kosovo belongs to [all] the people who live here. It cannot belong to only Serbs or [only] Albanians." - Father Sava Janjic, at ceremonies in Obilic on 28 June to mark Vidovdan (St. Vitus' Day) and the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. Quoted by AP.

"The Balkans 'have become our top foreign-policy priority,' says Lucio Caracciolo, the editor of 'Limes' magazine. Older Italian concerns--North Africa, the Middle East, Somalia--have taken a back seat. The Balkans are just too close and too troublesome not to have Italy�s full attention." - "The Economist," 30 June issue.