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Balkan Report: October 29, 1999

29 October 1999, Volume 3, Number 43

Albania's Prime Minister Calls It Quits. Prime Minister Pandeli Majko announced his resignation on 26 October. His successor Ilir Meta is likely to follow his reformist policies, but he will be in a more vulnerable position than Majko and will face interference by the powerful party leader Fatos Nano.

With his resignation, Majko drew the consequences from his defeat for the position of Socialist Party leader at a congress in early October. There his rival, former Prime Minister Fatos Nano, beat him by a small margin in the race for the party leadership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 October 1999). Majko's resignation nonetheless came as a surprise, since he initially pledged to keep his premiership despite his defeat in the party. He had argued that he still enjoys considerable support from within the party and especially among the Socialist legislators.

But in subsequent days, Nano increased his pressure on Majko, whom he had harshly attacked in the past for his conciliatory political approach. Nano (along with Democratic leader Sali Berisha) is one of the two men most responsible for the polarization of political life between the Socialists and Democrats. He is consequently considerably less willing than Majko to cooperate with the Democrats. He has, in fact, repeatedly criticized Majko for maintaining contacts with opposition politicians. Majko's approach, however, appealed to many voters, who are sick of the bitter polarization that has dominated Albanian politics throughout most of the 1990s.

After the congress, Nano challenged the election of 36 members of the 116-strong Steering Committee, most of them Majko supporters, because they received less than 50 percent of votes. In challenging the original election of the 36, Nano's interpretation of the party rules was correct, because the party statute stipulates that all members of the Steering Committee must be elected with over 50 percent of the votes. Nonetheless, many Albanian political observers and journalists called Nano's initiative an attempt to remove Majko's supporters from the committee and to strengthen his position relative to that of the government. Some observers pointed out that Nano did not call run-off votes during the party congresses in 1992 and 1996, when he was firmly in charge and the candidates were his loyalists.

Subsequently, Majko and another 66 members of the Steering Committee boycotted the ballot on 22 October in Tirana, arguing that Nano called that second part of the congress in order to change the balance of power in the Steering Committee. In the end, about 73 percent of the deputies to the congress took part in the run-off vote, indicating that Nano remains able to mobilize large parts of the party's rank-and-file. The "Albanian Daily News" noted that "the session showed the undisputed authority of Nano in the party." It became clear that the position of the 31 year-old prime minister would therefore seem to remain shaky among his fellow Socialists.

Nano failed, however, to get his loyalists elected at the expense of Majko's. In the run-off, the delegates approved the controversial election of the 36. The vote was an apparent compromise between Majko's backers and the more traditional Nano supporters. The delegates seemed to have realized that the two rival wings need each other. Nano's supporters are more numerous than Majko's within the party, but Majko has stronger appeal to the public than does the combative Nano. Majko, nonetheless, realized that his ability to conduct policy outside the reach of the powerful Nano has been considerably limited after the congress and reacted to that with his resignation.

Majko's resignation, however, does not mark a takeover of the government by the conservative wing of the Socialist Party. "Koha Ditore" on 27 October noted that Majko's successor Ilir Meta is clearly from Majko's reformist part of the party. Meta was deputy prime minister under Majko and is likely to follow his policies. He is also the head of the Socialist Youth Forum, known as the Eurosocialists. But he will have a more difficult position than Majko had before the party congress. Nano is now clearly the most senior party leader and is likely to repeatedly challenge the government on questions of general political strategy in the near future.

The resignation marks the third major government reshuffle since the Socialists took over the government in 1997, and the opposition is likely to repeat its earlier calls for new elections. But the Socialists are unlikely to agree to an early vote. They fear that new elections shortly after the Kosova war would severely hamper the reform plans of their government and might reduce their two-thirds majority in parliament. Meta will now have to prove that he can continue the work of the government without becoming involved in politically-motivated disruptions.

Nano has said that the new government will look very much like its predecessor. But should he be tempted to install some of his loyalists in key cabinet posts, it could undermine the already weak confidence of foreign donors in Albania's ability to run its own affairs. Any substantial changes could also considerably delay the launch and implementation of essential infrastructure projects in the framework of the EU's Balkan Stability Pact. (Fabian Schmidt)

"The Loneliness of Yugoslavia's Foreign Minister." Long gone are the days of Josip Broz Tito and his immediate successors, when Belgrade and even republican capitals regularly played host to a wide assortment of admiring foreign dignitaries. They came from North and South, East and West, to visit the European non-aligned country with a particularly non-dogmatic (at least to outsiders) brand of socialism.

Yugoslavia was a prestigious country, a country with something to offer. This image was not lost on the Yugoslavs, who basked in the attention they received from the rich and powerful, and from lesser but still important centers of power and influence. Yugoslavia stood tall in the Third World as well, and its universities (and military academies) were full of young people from developing countries.

Now the picture has changed. Foreign dignitaries still travel to many parts of the former Yugoslavia, but not usually as supplicants or equal partners. This time, the Slovenes, Croats, Bosnians, Macedonians, and more recently Montenegrins seek contacts to help crack open the doors for them to Euro-Atlantic institutions. Diplomats deflate cocky Slovenes, scold authoritarian or nationalistic Croats, warn unruly Bosnians, and cajole stubborn Macedonians. Kosova has replaced Bosnia as the Balkans' prime basket case, with Macedonia (and Albania) not far behind.

Worse yet is Serbia's international standing. The days when "Belgrade" meant Tito's cosmopolitan meeting place seem a distant memory. Now the image is one of gangsters, bomb damage, shortages, and a motley crew of politicians, including indicted war criminals. More than 300 leading Serbian and Yugoslav officials are under a Western travel ban. And Western leaders shun a country that still labors under extensive sanctions.

This is reflected in the kind of visitors who do come calling. Russian diplomats and Greek students were about as close to respectability that Slobodan Milosevic's visitors this spring and summer came. Perhaps the most notable caller was Belarusian President Lukashenka, who did not stay for long.

It was even "lonelier" for Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic, who recently returned home from the UN in New York. Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" wrote on 27 October that he met no one of international importance at the General Assembly.

The irony is that the Serbian opposition and Montenegrin leadership are as welcome in Western and neighboring capitals as Tito's diplomats once were. But for Milosevic and his allies, the opposition are "traitors" for cultivating contacts with the Western democracies that only recently bombed Serbia to force it to stop its genocide in Kosova.

But friends are where you find them. Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic recently presented Libya's Colonel Moammar Ghadaffi with the Order of the Red Star, which is Yugoslavia's highest award. Sainovic is one of four individuals who has the dubious honor of having been indicted for war crimes at the same time as Milosevic. And earlier this week, representatives of Serbia's governing coalition opened talks with delegates from Iraq about setting up "a united front against American domination." (Patrick Moore)

Quotations of the Week. "We should interrupt the trafficking of guns, drugs, and cigarettes, and the disgusting smuggling of people which offends the conscience of Europe. We should replace that with a safe sea where ships carrying goods travel between the coast of Italy and the fascinating but not [economically developed] Albanian coast. Security and development move together.... We want to make contact with the Balkans and the East through Albania. This is the role that Italy should play in order that the [EU's] Stability Pact does not remain an empty phrase."--Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in Tirana on 21 October, quoted by AP.

"The political crises which have occurred in Albania have influenced its stability. We have paid a very high economic and political price. I resigned so as not to become a part of this heritage."--Former Prime Minister Pandeli Majko, after resigning on 26 October.

"Why not? It would be an honor for the Socialists to back a man with his values."--Socialist Party chair Fatos Nano, commenting on Majko's successor, Ilir Meta.