Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: November 23, 1999

23 November 1999, Volume 3, Number 49

Suspicious Incidents In Montenegro. Serbian Orthodox Father Dragan Stanisic repeatedly hit Montenegrin Orthodox Metropolitan Mihajlo in the face on a mountain road near Cetinje on 21 November, the independent news agency Montena faks reported. AP added that Stanisic's entourage thereupon "trashed" Mihajlo's car. Stanisic told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that no such incident took place.

Police confiscated what was allegedly a video tape of the clash on the mountain road from a local television crew and are investigating.

In Cetinje, some 250 angry demonstrators immediately protested the incident. The authorities sent out an unspecified number of helmeted riot police and called in reinforcements from Podgorica in an apparent attempt to prevent matters from getting out of hand. (The Montenegrin Orthodox Church was founded in 1991, but the Serbian Church does not recognize it.)

The incident follows by just two days another curious development. On 19 November, an unspecified number of persons hit Yugoslav army Lieutenant-Colonel Radovan Aleksic with batons in front of his home in Podgorica, where he headed army intelligence, Reuters reported. A statement from the Second Army said: "Since the incident involves a high-ranking army officer, it could have much greater implications, and the army demands an urgent investigation by Montenegrin authorities." The statement did not specify what the implications might be.

It is not clear whether there is a connection between the two incidents. But the Montenegrin authorities appear to be vigilant lest such developments spin out of control. Meanwhile, President Milo Djukanovic and some of his aides have been repeating to the European media their message that they do not actively seek independence from Belgrade, but will take that path if they feel it is the only realistic option they have left. (Patrick Moore)

Shades Of Gingric? Mladjan Dinkic, who is a spokesman for the G-17 group of independent economists, said in Belgrade on 21 November that his group is preparing a document called a "Contract with Serbia" as a joint platform for the opposition. He stressed that the opposition parties have failed to unite in a single coalition, but hopes that perhaps they can agree at least on a common platform. Dinkic noted that the opposition must somehow pool its forces if it is to defeat the three-party governing coalition. (Patrick Moore)

Seselj Calls Private Media 'Fascist.' Belgrade's private Beta news agency carried the following report on 11 November: Belgrade, 11 November. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj today accused the Belgrade-based [private] daily "Glas javnosti" and the Beta news agency of being "fascist" media. Seselj told a news conference convened by his Serbian Radical Party (SRS) that "it is a well known fact" that "some newspapers and agencies are fascist," singling out "Glas javnosti" and Beta. He said these two media "lead in spreading lies," and that "using lies in politics is a characteristic feature of fascism." Seselj said that to call media "fascist" was not slander, but "an ideological description."

He also said "Glas javnosti" had previously published incorrect information. [He charged] that Beta "is a U.S. subsidiary in our country" and that "it spreads lies, thus serving its U.S. mentors." (Patrick Moore)

Row Over Setting Up Kosovar Mobile Telephone Network. A controversy has broken out over the proposed granting of a lucrative mobile phone contract to a company from France, which happens to be the home country of the chief civilian administrator in the province. Some key issues for Kosova's future are involved.

On 13 November, General Director of the Kosovar Post and Telecommunications (PTK) Agron Dida criticized a decision by the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK) to give a contract for establishing a mobile phone network in the province to the French company Alcatel. He told "Koha Ditore" that the approval by UNMIK of the contract was a "serious violation of procedure, which was designed to ascertain the best offer."

Dida pointed out that UN Special Representative Bernard Kouchner had initially agreed to conclude a contract with a foreign company only after the Joint Civilian Commission on Telecommunications (KPC), which functions as the PTK's board of directors, reached a consensus about the issue following a public tender. Dida, who is a member of the KPC, stressed that a professional group of PTK experts objects to the Alcatel proposal and wants to conclude a contract with the German company Siemens instead. And he added that KPC had ignored the recommendations by that expert group.

On 15 November, Pascal Copin, who is the UNMIK official in charge of telecommunications, gave a press conference rejecting the charges of violating procedure. He stressed that the KPC is a superior authority over PTK and makes key decisions in the field of investment. He also argued that Alcatel had provided the best offer. Copin stressed that unlike Siemens, Alcatel will "finance the system without money of the Kosovars and on the contrary, will bring much money into Kosova."

Furthermore, he stressed that Siemens was not certain it could install the system in seven key cities and at the airport of Slatina within a timeframe of twelve weeks, as Alcatel has promised. Alcatel, furthermore, pledged to cover the entire territory of Kosova within one year. Copin pointed out that with its decision, UNMIK has chosen to solve the telephone problem in Kosova quickly, rather than developing major long-term projects. He stressed that the German offer would have been much more ambitious, but that it would have taken longer to carry out.

But for PTK, a part of the share of revenues from operating the mobile phone system is at stake. The difference in the contracts offered by Alcatel and Siemens lies in key details. The Alcatel contract envisages that the company will provide antennas and transmission equipment, basic logistical equipment, cellular phones, and a system for accounting, which PTK will manage. Alcatel will merely expand its own cellular phone network, and PTK's role in the deal will be to manage the sale of the phone cards and the maintenance of the equipment. According to the deal, all cellular phone calls, even those made within Kosova, will run through a central Alcatel switchboard in Monaco. Thus PTK will not be the owner of the cellular network, but only Alcatel's contractor for customer services.

Dida argued: "We want to build our own telephone network in Kosova, which we will control ourselves, and the revenues from which we will reinvest inside Kosova." The dean of the electrotechnical faculty of Prishtina University, Ilir Limani, also objected to the deal. He said that Alcatel's offer is no different from that of the Macedonian Mobile Telecommunications, which had offered to expand its own network into Kosova. He also stressed that PTK will lose its ability to function as an equal and economically independent operator. Furthermore, he noted that the interest payments proposed by Siemens were lower.

Observers note that while the PTK officials fear losing authority over the lucrative cellular phone business, only a liberalization of the telecommunications market in Kosova will bring real benefits for the customers. As the example of neighboring Albania shows, a monopoly position of only one cellular phone company (or another) is not necessarily a boon for consumers. The cellular phone network there was opened in 1996 by the state-owned Albanian Mobile Communications (AMC). To date there is no competition on the mobile phone market--and AMC is dictating the prices. Accordingly, international mobile phone calls from Albania are about twice as expensive as similar calls from Italy. And they cost over one-third more than those from the Czech Republic, another Eastern European country that has liberalized its telecommunications market. (Fabian Schmidt)

Anti-Corruption Commission: Yet Another Issue to Divide Albanian Opposition. Some independent-minded, younger members of the largest opposition party continue to take stands differing from those of the establishment.

A group of reformist opposition legislators of the Democratic Party (PD) have welcomed an invitation by Prime Minister Ilir Meta to participate in a parliamentary commission working to fight corruption in the administration, "Albanian Daily News" reported. The legislators, however, stressed that their cooperation will depend on the sincerity of the government in tackling the problem and whether the commission will have teeth. With their expressed willingness to participate, the legislators openly opposed the Democratic Party leadership around former President Sali Berisha, which has turned down the invitation (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," No. 48).

The party leadership issued a statement in "Rilindja Demokratike," saying that "it is crystal clear that the commission Meta [set up] is sheer propaganda. It is Socialist demagogy to claim that a government that is itself directly involved in corruption can also fight corruption.... Only early elections and the removal of corrupt government officials can end the corruption in Albania." PD Secretary General Ridvan Bode said that "corruption cannot be fought by experts who are directed and monitored by the government, but only by institutions and organizations that are independent of government."

But Arben Xhaferri (not the same man as Macedonia's Albanian leader), speaking for the reformist legislators within the Democratic Party, told the "Albanian Daily News" of 19 November that "we should prove that we understand the new realities and cannot go on with the psychology of boycotting [legislative committees].... We think that there is no time to lose." He argued that the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe needs the cooperation of all political forces. Xhaferri stressed that "the opposition should take part with experts in the anti-corruption commission to voice its objections and to show that it also has responsibilities in governing the country, especially when its stability is involved."

And the reformers received support from a small opposition group, the United Right coalition, which includes the Republican Party. Legislator Sabri Godo said nonetheless: "We are willing to offer our cooperation to tackle the problems, but we cannot support something if we are not sure of what it is and what it will achieve. The commission should have a clear-cut program regarding the issues to be dealt with and with clearly defined powers.... So far we have seen only fireworks, only spectacular statements." (Fabian Schmidt)

Quotations Of The Week. "Traitors! Thieves! Are the Albanians going to elect our president?" -- Demonstrators in Skopje on 18 November, protesting the election of Boris Trajkovski as president. Trajkovski's winning edge came from the ethnic Albanian regions of western Macedonia. Two years earlier, Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic broke a dead heat with Momir Bulatovic thanks to votes from Albanians and Muslims. Bulatovic's supporters at the time reacted similarly to the current Skopje protesters. Quoted by Reuters.

"For the purpose of studying the current Balkan conflicts, the most relevant period of history is that of the former Yugoslavia over the past 10-20 years." -- British historian Noel Malcolm, at a recent conference in Tutzing, Germany. He was debunking the myth that the recent conflicts are the result of ingrained "ancient hatreds."

"Serbs today might recall that a key reason why Serbia went to war with the Ottoman Empire in 1878 and 1912 was to protect innocent civilians on humanitarian grounds." -- Noel Malcolm.