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Balkan Report: October 13, 2000

13 October 2000, Volume 4, Number 76

Kosovars Reject Deal With Serbia. Reactions in Kosova to the changes in Serbia vary between indifference and cautious apprehension. "Koha Ditore" reported on 6 October that the citizens of Prishtina are generally skeptical about the possibility of any quick change towards genuine democracy in Serbia.

The key question for most Kosovars remains whether the new leadership will release Serbia's remaining Kosovar Albanian prisoners. As if to underscore Kosovar apprehensions, the daily published a picture on 7 October showing Kostunica holding a Kalashnikov machine gun (Zagreb's "Jutarnji list" ran the same photo on its front page on 23 September). Reportedly, the picture was taken during the Kosova crisis in 1998 or 1999.

For his part, UNMIK Administrator Bernard Kouchner, suggested that lifting the sanctions should be linked to the release of prisoners. He said: "I don't want the release of all [Kosova Albanian] prisoners, no, but a symbolic gesture, yes, that would open the hearts of the people." Kouchner made the remarks at a news conference after briefing EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 9 October, Reuters reported.

He stressed: "To offer a lifting of the sanctions and, in parallel with that, the release of some prisoners would be something very important." Kouchner said that the issue of the long-term future of Kosova should not come on the agenda anytime soon: "Every Albanian whom I meet, moderate or not, wants independence. Therefore, to try to solve the final status of Kosova now could lead to a new open conflict." Kouchner added: "It would be childish to pretend that [the Kosova Albanians] have been fighting only against Milosevic�. They have also been fighting against a regime, against the way in which the two communities have been unable for centuries to establish a relationship of equality."

He stressed, however, that he is keen to establish a working dialogue with the new administration in Belgrade. Kostunica had previously called for Kouchner's removal in favor of someone "more understanding" of the Serbian position and who "knows our history." In any event, the EU foreign ministers ignored Kouchner's plea.

For most Kosovars, Kostunica's political attitude towards Kosova is not too different from Milosevic's. Galip Ramadani, a 32 year old salesman in Prishtina, told the daily: "Look, maybe [Kostunica] presents himself as a democrat, but I think that he is the same type of nationalist as Milosevic. Kostunica will simply replace him, while their policies towards the Albanians are going to remain the same on about 80 percent of the issues."

A 34 year-old goldsmith, Luan Kantarxhiu, added that "this is of little interest to us right now. The time will come when the people [in Serbia] will have to realize what has happened, and only afterwards we can seriously talk about democracy. May be this will happen after ten or fifteen years with a new generation."

Others expressed concern that international pressure on the Kosovar Albanians to give up their struggle for independence will increase. Mala Kingji, who works in the statistical office in Prishtina, said that "the general feeling here is that the victory of Kostunica is worse than if Milosevic had ruled for a couple more years. That would at least have enabled Kosova to break away from Yugoslavia." She added that "the West is going to be softer on Serbia now, and this will be at our expense."

The political representatives of the Kosovar parties also expressed caution. Kole Berisha, who is the deputy chairman of the Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), said that his party welcomes every change for the better, but added that he does not expect any positive changes soon. Berisha said that "this is a change of people only, but not of Serbian policies� I do not expect great changes, since Serbia has never had a diverse opposition. It is one policy and one general platform [to which all parties agree]." He added "this was a pretty soft landing for such a dictator." Berisha suggested that the change was "a trick of Serbia to get rid of the international sanctions. But very soon the international community will realize that in Serbia there were no positive changes."

Naim Maloku, who is a former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) commander from the Liberal Center Party of Kosova, warned that the international community should set conditions when dealing with the new Yugoslav leadership. He said: "I am very concerned about the carte-blanche promises given to Kostunica about the lifting of sanctions, without waiting first to see which steps he will take." Maloku added that "the problem was not Milosevic or Kostunica, the problem was Serbia. And the problems in Serbia have not been solved. They continue with the existence of a military force and an appetite for [the territory of] other, neighboring countries. The applause that the Serbian protesters gave to the police [on 5 October] shows that the Serbian people have toppled Milosevic because they believe that Kostunica can return Serbian police to Kosova."

Maloku demanded that the lifting of sanctions on Serbia be made conditional on the release of all ethnic Albanian prisoners from Serbian jails, the disclosure of details about missing people, and the arrest of "war criminals who took part in massacres in Kosova."

The publisher and journalist Veton Surroi was similarly wary of Kostunica's intentions. Surroi argued that "the euphoria in the EU and in the international community [over Milosevic's ouster] will change in the following weeks and months, with the [growing] understanding that things in Serbia have changed only to the extent of [replacing] the leader. The real test will be whether policy has changed."

Surroi told Reuters on 10 October that Serbia and Kosova "are both, curiously enough, in the state-building process. We will need to communicate, but I think first we will need to communicate as equal partners--and certainly within international fora," and not on a bilateral level.

The military, for their part, have let it be known that there will be no compromise. Agim Ceku, who is a former Kosovar guerrilla commander and now head of the civilian Kosova Protection Force, said in Ferizaj that "no Serbian leader and no Serbian government, no matter how democratic, can block Kosova's path to independence," Hina reported on 12 October. He stressed that the Kosovars are determined to be masters in their own house and have their own military organization, with Albanian as the language of command and under their own flag. (Fabian Schmidt)

Dinkic's Economic Challenge. At a parking lot on the outskirts of Belgrade, loud music plays and cars from a nearby highway screech past. For vendors who gather here daily to sell their wares, it's not a particularly busy day.

They are a mixed crowd: war refugees from Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova, single mothers, blue-collar workers. But all share a common fate: they lost their jobs and livelihoods under Milosevic's 13 years of misrule.

Dragan is a refugee from western Slavonia in Croatia. He used to work in an insurance company there, but after war broke out in the early 1990s, he was forced to take his family to Serbia where he found work in a private firm. Dragan, who still does not have Serbian citizenship, says he quit that job because the salary was low and irregular. "I've been selling merchandise on the street for four years now. I'm married and have two kids. We rent an apartment. My wife is unemployed, [but] I earn enough to survive."

Getting by--in other words, earning enough to survive--in Serbia has become a skill in itself. Because of the problems of supply and distribution, goods from abroad typically cost much more in Serbia than in far richer countries in western Europe. A pair of fashionable jeans in a Belgrade shop sells for 4,000 dinars--that's about $100, or twice the average monthly wage.

While some Serbs in the capital city seem well-off, the evidence of extreme poverty is unavoidable. On busy streets, young children sleep alone on pieces of dirty cardboard, sheltered from the cold autumn evening by only their torn sweaters and patched jeans.

The standard of living during Milosevic's rule plummeted as a result of both bad economic policy--applied to an unreformed communist system--and international sanctions imposed to punish Milosevic for stirring up four wars in the Balkans. The jobless rate is estimated at around 50 percent, and the economy was said to have contracted some 30 percent last year.

A leading Serbian economist says the international community must lift sanctions immediately and give Belgrade at least $500 million in aid if democracy is to survive in Yugoslavia.

Mladjan Dinkic, head of the G17 Plus group of independent economists, spoke last weekend at a press conference in Belgrade. He says the economy has been crippled by more than a decade of economic misrule, hyperinflation, and last year's NATO bombing, which he says caused $4 billion in damage. Dinkic says the international community must move fast: "Lifting the sanctions is the first pre-condition. The second pre-condition is quick donations [sic] for the first months of the new government, because the old Milosevic government destroyed the economy and the legal system of the country. Our first estimate before [the September 24] elections was [$500 million] for the first year [of the new government.]"

Dinkic is widely expected to be appointed head of the central bank. He says Milosevic's government ruined the economy by gearing it to the black market and other illegal activities.

But he adds that the new government has begun to exert its control. His think tank now oversees the country's currency reserves, which may hold as much as $500 million. This admittedly won't go far in paying off the country's estimated external debts of $13 billion.

Dinkic nonetheless maintains that by being in charge of the reserves, his group was already able to stop money from being taken by Milosevic: "We [received information] that people employed in [Milosevic's] political establishment [intended] to take a huge amount of foreign currency out of the country or to make some other machinations. Last Friday, we stopped [the] withdrawal of around DM 50 million ($23 million) from the national bank. A part was supposed to be withdrawn in cash and part was supposed to be sold through accounts at the [very favorable] official rate."

The Serbian dinar is commonly valued in terms of German marks, as has long been the case throughout the former Yugoslavia. The so-called "official" rate set by Milosevic's government was six dinars for one mark. The street rate is about 40 dinars for one mark.

This weekend, the G17 Plus set the new "official" rate at 22 dinars for a mark. Dinkic says strengthening the dinar in this way will help stabilize the economy.

Already the international community has begun to lift sanctions and channel aid from the Balkan Stability Pact and other sources toward Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2000).

But Dinkic says this is not enough. He says Serbia will need a long-term plan of its own, bolstered by financial commitments from the international community. Milosevic may be technically gone from power, but the legacy of his rule will last for a long time (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 September and 10 October 2000). (Alexandra Poolos)

Albania's Berisha Threatens Election Boycott. Opposition leader Sali Berisha continues to play the gadfly of Albanian politics. He has made the participation of his Democratic Party (PD) in the 15 October run-off local elections conditional on changes in the composition of the Central Election Commission (KQZ) and the publication of new voters' lists, "Albanian Daily News" reported on 8 October.

Berisha said that "we decided not to recognize the vote in areas [where it has] been manipulated. But the [degree of] manipulation was not the same everywhere. It was large-scale in Tirana, Berat, Fier, Korca, and Vlora." Berisha claimed that the government took voters off the voters' lists (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 October 2000), but officials and international observers denied the charges.

OSCE Chair Benita Ferrero-Waldner appealed to Berisha in a telephone conversation to respect the results. She stressed that "according to all international observers, the elections were conducted in a free and fair manner."

Pressure on Berisha to respect the election results is also coming from within his own party. Genc Pollo, from the Reform Movement within the PD, said that the PD should accept the election results. He also called for Berisha's resignation. Pollo said: "Berisha should leave by accepting the responsibility for the loss�. Nobody has the right to keep the voters hostage for the sake of one's own political survival."

Pollo said that said the PD will have a strong chance of winning the general elections next summer if its members remove Berisha from the leadership.

Ferdinand Xhaferri, another member of the PD's reform movement, said that making charges of irregularities is "Berisha's trick to shy away from a process of seriously analyzing the defeat and accepting responsibility." Xhaferri said that his group, which includes four legislators, will start campaigning nationwide within the party against Berisha.

Meanwhile, the PD's daily "Rilindja Demokratike" targeted the reformists in an editorial, claiming that the "government and secret services" used "the manipulation of the 1 October elections�most unscrupulously to eliminate the real democratic opposition and replace it with an appointed or fictitious one."

The daily also claimed that the media have "declared war on the opposition," and that unspecified members of what it calls "the anti-PD front" are making "attempts to eliminate the anti-communist opposition in Albania." (Fabian Schmidt)

Albanian Central Bank Expects Low Inflation. The Bank of Albania has lowered its estimates for inflation in 2000 from 3 percent to 2 percent. Bank officials issued a statement on 6 October, saying that consumer prices had fallen 0.7 percent by the end of August compared to the beginning of the year.

Production in agriculture, state-owned industries, and private investment grew in the second quarter of the year. GDP growth is forecast at 7 percent this year compared to 7.3 percent in 1999. Net foreign exchange reserves rose to $568 million by the end of September, up from $482 million at the end of 1999, "Albanian Daily News" reported. (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "Arrests will be made wherever there have been war crimes." -- Croatian Interior Minister Sime Lucin. Quoted by AP in Zagreb on 9 October.

"The prospect of further ties with Yugoslavia depends on the pace and quality of processes within the country, and particularly the abandonment of key elements of Milosevic's aggressive regime, which spawned so much evil against other former Yugoslav republics." -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic.

"These authorities, like any other authorities, will need police to maintain law and order and to catch thugs." -- Belgrade policeman, to AP on 10 October.

"[The opposition] controls the presidency. They do not control Serbia." -- French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine to the French parliament on 11 October, after his return from Belgrade. Quoted by Reuters.

"All the crooks in the [Serbian] economy are still in charge." -- Jerome Booth, head of research at London's Ashmore Investment Management. Quoted in the "Independent" on 12 October.