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Balkan Report: February 10, 1999

10 February 1999, Volume 3, Number 6

Finally, the 'Hour of Europe'? French President Jacques Chirac told the Serbian and Kosovar delegations on February 5 in Rambouillet that "the world is watching and waiting" for a settlement of the Kosova dispute. He stressed that "peace is in your hands. I call on your sense of responsibility and your courage. Not the courage that leads to war, to revenge and an endless cycle of violence, but to true courage ... the courage to accept negotiations and make peace." The French leader noted that "there are rare moments when history is in the hands of only a few men. This is the case today as you take your places at the negotiating table."

Two days later, the two delegations to the proximity talks agreed to accept ten basic principles on the future of the province. An unnamed Western mediator observed, however, that "the devil is in the details." And how those details will be worked out remains to be seen. The 13-member Serbian delegation includes representatives of tiny ethnic minorities and pro-regime Albanians, who may be of propaganda value to Belgrade but have little or no political influence. Neither Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic nor Serbian President Milan Milutinovic went to Paris. But the Kosovar delegation includes, among others, such heavy-weights as the UCK's Jakup Krasniqi, the shadow-state's Ibrahim Rugova and Bujar Bukoshi, and the outspoken Rexhep Qosja and Veton Surroi.

The conference is managed by a collection of foreigners carefully selected to ensure that the Contact Group maintains a united front and to assuage hurt French and Russian feelings over American diplomatic preeminence in the Balkans. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and his British counterpart Robin Cook are the sponsors of up to two weeks of talks in a chateau setting. U.S. mediator Chris Hill, the EU's Wolfgang Petritsch, and Russian envoy Boris Mayorskii will play key roles in shuttling between the rival delegations. Hill will represent the power and influence of the U.S.. Petritsch, for his part, is a member of Austria's Slovenian minority with a sensitivity for minority concerns and with good relations to the UCK. Mayorskii can be counted on to make sure that the Serbs stay on board.

But the sailing will not be smooth. Hill noted that "this isn't fun" and "there is not going to be any free time." Cook remarked that posturing by both sides could lead to "daily dramas." And this has already been the case. The Serbs prevented the UCK representatives from leaving Prishtina airport on February 5 until last-minute telephone calls from Chirac ensured that they would arrive in Rambouillet on time. Once the talks began, the UCK refused to place its arms under NATO control and demanded the same legal status as the Bosnian Serb army. Since then, the UCK has reportedly insisted on a formal cease-fire agreement -- which would mean Belgrade's acceptance of the UCK as a legitimate negotiating partner -- while the Serbs demand an official statement that independence for Kosova is not an option.

Arben Xhaferi Says Macedonian Albanians Want No Border Change. Xhaferi, whose Democratic Party of the Albanians (DPSH) is part of Macedonia's new free-market governing coalition, recently visited Bulgaria, where BTA interviewed him. He said that the ethnic Albanians are a factor for stability in Macedonia for two reasons. First, they do not seek a border change because they have "never been administratively separate" from the rest of Macedonia. Second, "we are united, which makes us a major factor for stability. Imagine that it was Serbs, not Albanians, who constituted the same percentage of the population. Would Macedonia be stable, would there be a Macedonia at all, or maybe we would witness processes similar to those in Croatia and Bosnia? I definitely believe that the Albanians have made a great contribution to the stability of Macedonia."

Turning to the subject of President Kiro Gligorov, who is close to the defeated Social Democrats and who has tried to make a political issue out of the new government's recognition of Taiwan, Xhaferi said that Gligorov will not leave his post before his term runs out because he still has a lot to carry out on his political agenda. Xhaferi did not elaborate. He argued that "Gligorov does not want to cause a crisis over Taiwan or the amnesty law, but wants to provoke dissatisfaction with the new government." (See "RFE/RL Balkan Report" 3 February, 1999, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February 1999.)

Whether the new government will be able to hold together is, of course, a matter of debate. Xhaferi told BTA that "strangely enough, we have no differences whatsoever" -- but that remark indeed rings "strange." Both the DPSH and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's VMRO-DPMNE have deep nationalist roots. Before the elections, Georgievski told "Balkan Report" that he does not like it that the Albanians maintain a separate society unto themselves. He said that he wants integration, particularly in the schools. He also stressed that Macedonian-Albanian social structure needs some modernizing. Georgievski remarked that Macedonian Albanian men treat women "like in the Middle Ages."

But in his election campaign, his theme was that most of the population -- regardless of nationality -- is tired of poverty, corruption, and nationalism. Georgievski, Xhaferi and Vasil Tupurkovski eventually formed a government based on the principles of a free market, clean government, and a civil society in one of the last truly multiethnic states in southeastern Europe. Many will be watching to see whether they prove that it is possible to build a prosperous, multiethnic democracy in the region, or whether some Balkan states are condemned to remain in a permanent and unhappy state of post-communist transition.

Quotations of the Week. French President Jacques Chirac, opening the Rambouillet talks on February 5: "You must set your sights on a new horizon: that of Europe ... because you represent peoples who are fully European. That is why the war [in Kosova] is unbearable to us."

Reuters' Kurt Schork, on February 8: "Dayton, Ohio, was wilderness for hundreds of years after the chateau in Rambouillet was built."

"The mandate of the Yugoslav delegation to Rambouillet gives it the right to conduct negotiations on the Kosovo problem, but the ultimate decision will be made not there, but in the only possible place -- Belgrade." Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic, on February 8.

President Bill Clinton said in Washington on February 4 that he is prepared to send ground troops to Kosova if a settlement is reached. He argued that "the Balkans are an explosive area. They touch other difficult areas, and unless we can contain and ultimately defuse the ethnic hatreds in that region they can embroil us ... in a much larger conflict ... The time to stop [the Kosova] conflict ... is now, before it spreads and when it can be contained at an acceptable cost. If a settlement is reached, a NATO presence on the ground ... could prove essential in giving both sides the confidence they need to pull back from their fight. If that happens we are seriously considering the possibility of our participation in such a force."

"You have to get across the message that you mean business and that there is international resolve behind you, and that there will be a price to be paid for a lack of seriousness." -- Unnamed, senior Western diplomatic official quoted in Belgrade by "The New York Times" on February 4.

The Yugoslav ambassador in Ankara, Darko Tanaskovic, dismissed claims that the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, will go to Serbia: "We have enough trouble of our own and we do not want to court any more trouble." (Quoted in "Turkiye," February 5, 1999.)

Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Vuk Draskovic on February 6: "I can see Serbia as a member of NATO. I would like my country to join Partnership for Peace even now ... If world powers say there will not be a disintegration of the Serb state, then it will not be necessary for our army and our police to maintain a large presence in Kosovo. As soon as they realize there will not be an independent Kosovo or a Greater Albania, the Albanians will renounce the use of bombs and rifles."

Marinko Liovic, who heads Croatia's Society of Veterans and Invalids from the 1991-1995 war (Udruga HVIDRA), told "Novi List" of February 8 that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is the creation of "American Masons and Jews." He added that he does not think that any Croats who fought during that war could be considered war criminals, since they were simply defending their homes. Liovic added that his association maintains contacts with indicted war criminals in The Hague, because "they continue to wage a difficult struggle for an independent Croatia." Liovic did not rule out a future cabinet position for himself as Minister of Veterans' Affairs.

"Anti-Semitism under state protection." -- The Istrian Democratic League's Damir Kajin on Liovic's remarks, the next day.