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Balkan Report: September 15, 2000

15 September 2000, Volume 4, Number 68

The Gordian Knot Of Piran. One particularly thorny dispute divides Slovenia and Croatia. Important issues are involved for both parties, and finding a solution remains difficult.

Slovenian President Milan Kucan recently told Radio Maribor that he is concerned about the state of his country's relations with all of its neighbors (with the notable exception of Italy). Difficulties with Austria have grown since the success of the far-right Freedom Party in the October 1999 elections, but Kucan's primary concern, he stressed, is Croatia.

The reasons are not hard to find. There are at least five problems bedeviling relations between Ljubljana and Zagreb, some of which have been around since the two countries became independent in 1991. The first is the question of funding, management, and use of the Krsko nuclear power facility. It is on Slovenian territory but was built during communist years with partial funding from Croatia. Several times since 1991 a solution seemed to be at hand but in the end proved elusive.

The second issue is the fate of the deposits by Croatian citizens in communist-era accounts of the Ljubljanska Banka. This issue, like Krsko, has been on the table since 1991.

The third problem is more recent and involves the stationing of Slovenian troops on Sveta Gera mountain, which overlooks Croatian territory. Zagreb wants them off the mountain, but a mutually agreeable formula that would save face for Slovenia has yet to be worked out.

Fourth is the matter of a Slovenian van filled with intelligence-gathering equipment that Croatian forces captured on Croatian territory a few years ago. At first glance, the incident appeared to be the result of a bungled, third-rate spying mission. Slovenian authorities soon claimed, however, that a corrupt official or officials "sold" the van to Croatia for personal gain. Ljubljana wants the van and equipment back.

But the main problem involves delineating maritime boundaries in the Gulf of Piran. Indeed, many observers suspect that Slovenia in particular has postponed solutions to other outstanding problems--including ratification of an agreement on cross-border traffic--lest its position on Piran somehow be jeopardized. Ljubljana has repeatedly rejected Zagreb's calls for international arbitration on Piran.

The issue is simple. The present regional maritime borders give a common frontier to Italy and Croatia that prevents Slovenia from having an outlet to the open sea. Ljubljana argues--not very convincingly--that Slovenian-based patrol craft were responsible for the entire gulf in communist times, and that the body of water should be its preserve now. The main Slovenian argument, however, is that Croatia has long coastline and should not feel put out by letting Slovenia have "a few hundred meters" in Piran. Either argument would help give Slovenia an outlet to the open sea.

For Croatia, however, the matter goes well beyond the "few hundred meters" of maritime space. First, letting Slovenia have access to the Adriatic would affect Croatia's economic zone in an area where natural gas deposits are believed to lie, "Vjesnik" reported on 10 September.

Second, many Croats fear that Italian rightists would use the change in the maritime frontiers as an excuse to reopen a whole host of questions that were ostensibly settled in the 1975 Osimo agreement between Rome and Belgrade. Since conflicting Italian and Croatian claims in Istria and Dalmatia were one of the dominant issues in Croatian (and Yugoslav) politics between the two World Wars, the possible reopening of the Dalmatian question is a prospect that no Croatian government or political party can take lightly. For this reason, the new government of President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan has proven no more accommodating to Ljubljana than the late President Franjo Tudjman was.

Similarly, the need for an outlet to the open sea in the Gulf of Piran is recognized and endorsed by all Slovenian political parties. With elections just a month away, it is not surprising that some Slovenes' thoughts are turning to Piran and a possible need to show one's patriotism by raising the subject. (Patrick Moore)

Violence Mars Macedonian Vote. Macedonia's 10 September municipal elections had little to do with local issues but rather were marked by the opposition's attempt to force the ruling three-party coalition into early general elections.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski pledged during the campaign that if support for his coalition fell by more than 10 percentage points, he would call early parliamentary elections. But preliminary results suggest a fairly close race with the opposition and the ruling coalition each winning 25 mayoral races. In Skopje, the opposition trounced the ruling coalition. On 12 September, the Macedonian Central Election Commission announced that after counting votes from 96 out of 123 municipalities, the opposition had won 36.69 percent backing and coalition 36.60 percent. The following day, the commission issued results for individual municipalities but did not sum them up according to party affiliation. It said full results would be released only after the Sept. 24 mayoral run-offs in 73 municipalities. Town council elections require no run-off as those bodies are elected in accordance with a proportional system based on party lists.

The OSCE, which deployed 17 election experts and 130 short-term observers to monitor the 10 September balloting, is incensed at what occurred. A preliminary report issued by its election-observer mission charged that the polling fell short of international standards for democratic elections and did not fully meet Macedonia's OSCE commitment to conduct elections free of violence and safeguard the secrecy of the ballot.

The OSCE report alleges that violent incidents were committed by individuals and supporters of political parties at polling stations in some western municipalities, where the ethnic Albanian minority is concentrated. The organization's observers noted numerous instances where an individual cast ballots for family members--a not uncommon practice in some parts of the Balkans--as well as other examples of proxy voting. In addition, the OSCE recorded what it terms "a very high number of invalid ballots." It has called on the Macedonian government to investigate "vigorously and immediately" these and other breaches of the criminal code related to election violations.

The head of the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights' Election Observer Mission in Macedonia, U.S. Ambassador Charles Magee, told RFE/RL by telephone on 12 September that he is confident the run-off elections on 24 September will go better than last weekend's ballot. He cited incidents in the municipality of Debar where organized groups invaded individual polling stations, threatened the polling officials with weapons, and then trashed the places and destroyed ballot boxes, forcing the closure of all 24 polling stations in that one municipality. Such incidents, he commented, "go beyond what has happened here before." Nonetheless, he added, he hopes the violence does not threaten the stability of Macedonia or the region at large, where ballot stuffing and violence are part of the political culture.

Macedonian police say violence was reported at six locations on 12 September, resulting in one death as a result of manslaughter, six injuries, and some 20 detentions. Most of the violence appears to have been between activists of Macedonia's two main ethnic Albanian political parties: the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH), which is part of the ruling coalition, and the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD). Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's population.

A Skopje-based ethnic Albanian political analyst, Kim Mehmeti, told RFE/RL that in Macedonia and throughout the Balkans, people view elections as an opportunity to unleash their frustrations, as if they were attending spectator sports. He added that "our politicians perceive democracy as a battleground between two enemies. Most of our democrats perceive democracy as the creation of [Albanian Stalinist dictator] Enver Hoxha, for whom all instruments were acceptable to liquidate his enemies and win."

Mehmeti also said that while policymakers fight for power, ordinary Macedonian Albanian voters are left with the task of electing community leaders, who, he says, have no real political authority. Nearly 10 years after the collapse of socialist Yugoslavia, most local authority in Macedonia remains with the Interior Ministry, rather than with municipal councils and mayors.

The opposition, led by the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM), used "Albanophobia" in a bid to attract votes, according to Mehmeti. He noted that the SDSM warned that a vote for the coalition parties would be a vote for the hard-line deputy chairman and heir apparent of the Democratic Party of Albanians, Menduh Thaqi. Mehmeti said that Thaqi's hard-line reputation irritates many Macedonian voters, who may have been swayed to cast their ballots for the opposition instead.

Opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity leader Imer Imeri blames the PDSH for the violence. "Weapons were used, funds were misused. They anticipated losing the election, so they resorted to all means in a bid to win," he told RFE/RL.

But PDSH leader Arben Xhaferi points his finger at the PPD. In an interview with RFE/RL, he said he regrets the violent incidents: "My party was the last to have to resort to violence because we enjoy widespread support among Albanians." This was borne out by the preliminary election results, with the PDSH winning two-and-a-half times the number of votes that the PPD obtained.

It remains for Macedonian police investigators to determine to what extent election-day violence was linked to political parties as opposed to criminal elements who merely took the opportunity to settle accounts. (Jolyon Naegele)

Polarization Overshadows Albanian Elections. A delegation from the U.S. National Democratic Institute (NDI) issued a statement on 11 September raising concern over the high degree of political polarization before Albania's local elections scheduled for 1 October. The NDI warned that "the circumstances are fragile" and that "electoral and governmental authorities, as well as the country's leadership--across the political spectrum--must act quickly and prudently to resolve problems facing the election process."

The delegation acknowledged that "there appears to be a general acceptance among political leaders of the need for a normal democratic process." It also noted that "the adoption of a new Electoral Code, establishment of a permanent Central Election Commission (KQZ) and a new voter registry indicate a desire to regularize the election process."

But problems nonetheless remain. According to the statement, "the KQZ has yet to gain broad public confidence in its ability to perform impartially and effectively." The delegation also noted that the KQZ will have difficulties gaining such confidence because conservative opposition representatives regard KQZ members as political appointees of the current Socialist-led government.

Under the 1998 Constitution, the KQZ is a permanent, independent body. Nonetheless, the delegation noted, its chairman represented the Socialists in a previous election commission. Also, six of the seven members of the KQZ were appointed before the parliament passed the Electoral Code. Even though subsequent negotiations led to the replacement of two KQZ members--in part to address opposition concerns--the opposition Democratic Party in the end refused to nominate representatives to the KQZ. Therefore, the seventh member of the KQZ was appointed upon the private initiative of one member of the opposition.

Opposition politicians have alleged that the KQZ has deleted voters from the registration lists for purely political reasons. Opposition leader Sali Berisha claimed on 12 September that up to 200,000 voters are missing from the lists, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The NDI delegation stressed that "if true, [such reports] pose a serious challenge to the credibility of the election process." It added, however: "the credibility of those making the charges will be questioned should they prove to lack substance."

The NDI representatives concluded: "Albania's new Electoral Code compares favorably with international standards," but found "shortcomings in implementation of the code."

For example, the process of establishing the Local Government Election Commissions has been slow. Furthermore, the delegation noted that "their impartiality is questioned because a transitory provision of the new Electoral Code changed the method of appointment to the advantage of the governing coalition."

The statement also noted that there have been problems in registering candidates as well as technical errors in creating the country's first voter registry. The delegation stressed that it will be "difficult to ensure that all eligible voters will be allowed to cast ballots, even though the KQZ has announced that it is to take measures that should address this problem."

Comparing the pre-election situation to the 1997 general elections, the delegation found that "although there have been some instances of violence and intimidation against public personalities and candidates, the campaign environment thus far has been generally peaceful."

The NDI also observed that "freedom of expression for citizens is generally respected, and there is political diversity of news sources. Civic organizations are actively promoting voter education, including candidate forums, and are engaged in nonpartisan election monitoring." Finally, the delegation concluded: "Overcoming Albania's extreme political polarization is a critical component for the country's progress."

But this will be difficult to achieve. Berisha at a rally in Durres on 12 September warned "that there will be no elections but [only] general protests if Albanians are deprived of their right to vote." He added that his protest would be peaceful. But Socialist spokesman Luan Rama accused Berisha of trying to "inflame" the electoral campaign, adding that "Berisha's idea of peaceful protests [means] bloody riots." (Fabian Schmidt)

Djordje Martinovic Dies. "Vesti" reported that on 6 September one Djordje Martinovic died peacefully in the village of Citluk, near Krusevac, at the age of 71. Many Serbs regard the former Kosova Serb farmer and Yugoslav army civilian employee as a martyr for the Serbian cause in Kosova, while many non-Serbs view him and his supporters as objects of ridicule.

The controversy stems from 1 May 1985, when Martinovic entered a hospital for treatment of wounds from a broken beer bottle in his anus. He claimed that he had been brutalized by ethnic Albanians, who wanted him and other Serbs to leave the province. He became an overnight national hero for many Serbs.

Subsequent investigations suggested, however, that he inflicted the wounds upon himself in an unsuccessful attempt at sexual self-gratification. Croats, Slovenes, and Albanians in particular turned the name Martinovic into an object of ridicule, and Slovene fans used it as a taunt against Serbian teams in soccer games.

Martinovic and his supporters subsequently tried in vain to justify his claim in the parliament and in court in order to win damages. The late former Yugoslav Interior Minister Stane Dolanc, who was Slovenian, told Ljubljana Television that police investigations showed that Martinovic's account of his injuries was a fabrication. Dolanc added: "Martinovic is the first Serbian samurai who committed hara-kiri." (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "This is our answer to violence and injustice, a proof of the civilization [and] superiority of our nation, undefeated and unconquered by evil. I believe our people will best be able to differentiate between our interests and those of others, between our own heroes and foreign traitors." -- Milosevic inaugurating a new part of the Djerdap hydroelectric power plant complex. Quoted by AP on 12 September.

"We want all Balkan peoples to be free....Sooner or later, the Balkan nations will realize that their survival depends on their readiness to establish firm links among put an end to the past in which they hated each other and waged wars...." Ditto, quoted by Reuters.

"Milosevic is a cancer for the Balkans and I would like to see him go, but I don't see any other figure in Serbia who has taken a different stand to his on Kosova. The international community knows that Milosevic is a bad man. But an opposition victor, who shares the same attitude towards the Albanians as Milosevic, could end up receiving support from the international community." -- Bajram Rexhepi, mayor of the Albanian half of Mitrovica. Quoted in London's "The Times" on 13 September.