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Balkan Report: September 26, 2000

26 September 2000, Volume 4, Number 71

Serbia Votes For Change. Final and official returns will not be available for some time, but it appears that opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica has trounced Slobodan Milosevic in the race for the Yugoslav presidency. The margin seems to be too large for even the veteran dictator to try to hide. Outspoken Montenegrin Prime Minister Dragisa Burzan says he expects Milosevic to be gone from power within one month. Where he lands after that is anybody's guess.

If Milosevic does indeed leave office--and that remains to be seen--Kostunica will have his work cut out for him. He is committed to carrying out the pledges in the opposition's "Contract With Serbia," which focuses on making Serbia a democratic country based on the rule of law. Certainly one of his priorities will be to depoliticize the police, army, judiciary, and media.

But it may be unwise to expect too much, too soon from the new Serbian leadership, as "RFE/RL Balkan Report" suggested on 22 September. Kostunica will replace Milosevic's elite with his own people, but it is not clear whether they will all prove to be civic-minded democrats and supporters of good government. The record of many opposition-run municipalities gives rise to doubts on that score.

Kostunica has, moreover, repeatedly shown himself to be a Serbian nationalist, whose problem with Milosevic is that the latter betrayed the Serbian cause by losing wars. Kostunica will try to succeed where Milosevic failed, namely to make the Serbian position on Kosova internationally respectable and to drive a wedge between Washington and Brussels on Balkan policy.

The government in Podgorica, moreover, can expect little sympathy from Kostunica in its call for a renegotiation for the terms of the federal relationship between the two republics. The relations between the Serbian opposition and Podgorica are cool and are likely to remain so for at least the foreseeable future.

In short, Serbia is likely to get change, but much of it is more likely to be in the realm of style than that of substance. One should not expect much more than that. (Patrick Moore)

Albania's 'Culture Of Conflict.' In an editorial in the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" on 18 September, the Tirana-based writer Fatos Lubonja described Albania's "culture of conflict" as "the most serious illness from which post-communist Albanian society has suffered over the last ten years." He added that it has had great "economic, psycho-social, and political effects," by which he probably means Albania's slow progress in a number of fields.

Lubonja argues that until 1997, the Albanian public perceived "the political activities of the parties as a conflict between them rather than as a competition. This was reflected in the domination of the smaller [parties] by the big [parties], which served to turn pluralism into an empty phrase." During 1997 after the collapse of pyramid investment schemes, "the culture of conflict expressed itself in the form of instability and anarchy," according to Lubonja. After the center-left coalition came into power in July of that year, its performance often did not inspire confidence, which in turn "often brought the country to the brink of instability."

Even though Lubonja recognizes both of the main political parties--the governing Socialist Party (PS) and the opposition Democratic Party (PD)--as the main protagonists in the "conflicts," he does not assign the blame equally. He differentiates between the PD--which "continuously plays the role of the attacker"--while the PS "plays defense." Lubonja, who spent many years in prison under the communists, argues that "paradoxically [the PD] began with the dream of [bringing] democracy to Albania, [but] degenerated into the most aggressive party in this country, with [a base of support including] the most ignorant [former politically] persecuted persons, and the poorest provincials."

On the other hand, "the PS kept the children of the former communists from [dictator] Enver Hoxha's times in its ranks. They had belonged to the most privileged layer of society. At the same time, the PS formed an alliance with and ended [Hoxha's] hostilities against�intellectuals and the civil society."

The two main political leaders played a central role in the culture of conflict. Lubonja writes: "[PD leader] Sali Berisha stood out with his primitive�patriarchal behavior, his emotional extremism, and his vision of politics as a battlefield for life and death, 'honor' and 'dishonor,' and with an ethos that justified every means to avoid losing one's 'honor.'"

While stressing that Socialist leader Fatos Nano also played a crucial role in fueling the conflict with the PD, Lubonja acknowledges that the PS leader did not consider politics as a battlefield for life and death. The proof, he argues, were Nano's resignations as prime minister in 1991 and 1998.

Lubonja warns nonetheless that the politics of conflict now are as dangerous as they have been in the past. In the runup to the 1 October local elections, Berisha has used harsh rhetoric and turned the question of winning or losing the ballot into a question of "life and death" again. Lubonja recalls that the PD leader at recent rallies threatened to throw his opponents--whom he frequently refers to as "criminals"--out of the country or into the prison. Thus, Lubonja argues, Berisha has also forced his rivals to perceive this conflict as a question of "life and death" themselves.

At their rallies, Socialists have begun to chant "beast--Berisha" (a rhyme in Albanian), indicating that they are leaving their defensive position and to confront their main rival on his own terms. But ordinary citizens are afraid that this confrontation may once again turn into unrest and anarchy as it did in 1997, Lubonja argues.

He stresses that the Albanians need to leave the conflicts behind them and form a real community, beginning in the stairwells of their apartment houses, and in their immediate neighborhoods.

Accordingly, he sees the candidacy for Tirana mayor of Culture Minister Edi Rama for the PS and former Ambassador to Paris Besnik Mustafaj for the PD as a sign of hope (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 and 11 August). Both politicians promised to base their election campaign for the 1 October ballot on issues rather than on personal slander and accusations. Rama and Mustafaj, moreover, are not members of the parties for which they are running.

But this peace did not last for long. Berisha did not keep himself out of Mustafaj's election campaign and insulted Rama as "Mister Grease." His party paper "Rilindja Demokratike" wrote that "Rama herded pigs in Paris" in the mid-1990's, not giving any evidence to substantiate that claim. Lubonja suggested that Mustafaj should urge the PD to return to reasoned debate or pull out of the race.

Nor have the Socialists played by Rama's rules. The PS daily "Zeri i Popullit" wrote that "Berisha and Mustafaj are going to turn Tirana into a village like Tropoja," referring to the remote northern place of origin of both PD politicians. Rama earlier rejected suggestions that he may try to use Mustafaj's provincial origin as a card against him.

Lubonja concluded: "Those who believe that they can win these elections by promoting such a culture of conflict, hate, and exclusion of Albanians by Albanians will be proven wrong. The ones who will win the elections are those who show that they are critical of themselves, reasonable, convinced in their programmatic aims, and committed to keeping their promises." (Fabian Schmidt)

Tensions Rising In Bajram Curri. Unidentified gunmen fired shots in the evening of 18 September in the northern Albanian town of Bajram Curri and the nearby village of Markaj, "Albanian Daily News" reported.

PD officials reported that unidentified attackers fired shots at the house of local PD chairman Azgan Haklaj. They also reported artillery fire, but the reports could not be independently confirmed.

Even though nobody was injured in the incidents and the origin of the shots remained unclear, Socialist leader Nano cancelled a planned election rally in the remote town on 19 September, Klan TV reported. Local elections in Albania take place on 1 October.

PD spokesman Edi Paloka, speaking in Tirana, accused secret service chief Fatos Klosi of masterminding the incidents. Paloka claimed that Klosi had been in Bajram Curri on 18 September.

Klosi denied that he was in Bajram Curri and charged Paloka with slander. He suggested that "hooligans from the Democratic Party" were behind the incidents. Bajram Curri, the hometown of opposition leader Sali Berisha, is notorious for lawlessness harsh political conflicts, widespread vendettas, and crime.

Berisha himself has not yet held an election rally in his hometown, apparently fearing violence. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Supreme Court Paves Way For Pyramid Scheme Trials. In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled on 18 September that individual victims of fraudulent pyramid investment schemes have the right to file fraud charges on an individual basis, the "Albanian Daily News" reported. Following the collapse of seven large pyramid investment schemes in 1997, courts rejected considering individual charges brought against the owners of the schemes.

So far, courts have accepted only cases brought forward by the Prosecutor General's office. Prosecutors Bilbil Mete and Ajaz Gjeta welcomed the Supreme Court's decision, but added that it comes very late. In any event, trials on an individual basis are likely to lead to tougher prison sentences than the previous trials.

The operators of two pyramid schemes--Vebi Alimucaj of VEFA and Mustafa Leka--have already received five-year sentences, but in new trials the maximum sentence could be as high as life imprisonment. VEFA had 66,000 investors and accumulated debts of $108 million. Leka had 3,400 investors and accumulated debts of $9 million.

The largest pyramid scheme was Gjallica. Its owner, Shemsie Kadria, faces up to 25 years in jail if sued directly by the 75,000 investors in her scheme. She has debts of $372 million. Altogether, investors lost an estimated $1.5 billion in pyramid schemes. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Parliament Passes Laws Against Speedboat Traffic. Parliament passed a law on 18 September imposing harsh fines for people illegally using speedboats for trafficking in human beings, the "Albanian Daily News" reported. The law allows police to confiscate speedboats without proper papers. Their owners may be fined up to $50,000 and face jail sentences ranging from six months to two years. Italian officials have given advice in drafting the law.

Opposition Democratic Party legislator Pjeter Arbnori, however, said that the law is too soft and argued that privately-owned speedboats should be banned outright.

Three days earlier, smugglers transporting illegal immigrants from Albania to Italy threw an explosive at an Italian coast guard vessel and subsequently fled back towards Albania. The explosive missed its target. (Fabian Schmidt)

Albania Agrees To Oil Pipeline. Minister of Public Economy and Privatization Mustafa Muci signed a memorandum of understanding with the Albanian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian Oil Corporation (AMBO) in Philadelphia in mid-September, the "Albanian Daily News" reported on 20 September.

The memorandum gives AMBO exclusive rights to build a pipeline linking the Bulgarian Black Sea port of Burgas with Albania's Adriatic port of Durres. AMBO financed a feasibility study that it completed in August (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 August 2000). Albania agreed not to disclose some confidential information contained in the report. Over the coming three years, AMBO will try to find investors interested in financing the project.

AMBO intends to start work in 2001. The underground pipeline will be 913 kilometers long and carry 750,000 barrels a day. It will ship Russian, Azerbaijani, Kazakh, and Turkmen oil from the region of the Black Sea to the markets of Western Europe and North America. It will also bypass Turkey's heavily-traveled Bosporus Straits.

Big tankers carrying 300,000 tons can anchor at Albania's port of Vlora, while the largest tankers transiting the Bosporus can only carry 150,000 tons, according to AMBO officials. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "The giant rusting skeleton coated in thick lunar dust might be a cinematic backdrop for some Steven Spielberg space thriller. Solidified rivulets of metal, ghostly bundles of clothes hung high on chains, an abandoned control room of smashed glass, dripping water and blackened walls suggest a Mad Max post-Armageddon movie." -- Reuters' Douglas Hamilton, describing the Trepca complex on 20 September. He added that the average age of the dead in the neighboring cemeteries is 46, and that workers in the lead dust-ridden complex received $30 per month.

The Serbian manager of Trepca, Novak Bjelic, "had the cheek to assert that the plant was meeting all European environmental norms..... It would probably cost more money to shift this stuff and pay for it to be processed than it would to repair. You couldn't just put a bomb under it or bury it, there's too much pollution." -- Carron Brown, of International Mining Consultants (IMC), the firm in charge of rehabilitating the smelter and assessing the economic viability of Trepca for future investment. From the same report.

"The border with our northern neighbor is heavily guarded by Macedonia, but that is not the case from the other side [of the border], which led to such frequent incidents." -- Macedonian government statement on 19 September, announcing tougher security measures on the Kosova frontier. Quoted by AP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2000).