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Balkan Report: December 23, 1998

23 December 1998, Volume 2, Number 50

Rugova Talks to RFE/RL. Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova said at RFE/RL in Prague on December 18 that the Serbian forces �will be able to exterminate [the Kosovars] in the spring in a couple of days if they want to.� For that reason, he stressed, the shadow state is concentrating its efforts on obtaining a negotiated interim political settlement with the help of the international community. He said that the Kosovars will display �maximum flexibility� in the talks, and that they realize that they have no alternative but to deal with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as the chief Serbian representative. Rugova argued that the Serbian opposition is �fragmented,� and that it has the same policies toward Kosova as Milosevic. He added that the Montenegrin leadership is standoffish toward the Kosovars. Time is of the essence in solving the Kosova question, he stressed, and the Kosovars cannot wait for the democratization of Serbia.

Rugova also said that his Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) remains committed to achieving independence. He denied that an independent Kosova would soon join Albania to form a greater Albania because, as he put it, Kosova is multi-ethnic and has Serbian, Montenegrin and other minorities. Rugova added that independence would be best �for Kosova, for the local Serbs and for Serbia.� He argued that Kosova in practice had the status of a republic in the former Yugoslavia and that it consequently has the rights of a republic, including that of secession. Rugova pointed out that regional integration is a timely topic throughout Europe, and that he can envision groups of Balkan states joining together in regional cooperation projects.

In response to a question as to whether the LDK has been sidelined as a political force by the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), Rugova argued that the guerrillas are made up of fragmented and widely dispersed groups, including some extremists who are not controlled by anyone. He stressed that some observers have greatly overstated the strength of the UCK because those observers mistook farmers taking up guns to defend their homes for organized guerrillas. Those farmers, he added, have now gone home.

Rugova defended his long-standing policy of non-violence and said that it has achieved much, including the organization of extensive education and health care systems. He added that Kosovar society and his shadow state are secular and religiously tolerant. Rugova pointed out that Kosova�s ethnic Albanian population has a Roman Catholic minority in addition to the Muslim majority and that Orthodox ethnic Albanians there have, for the most part, opted for Serbian nationality.

In responding to a final question, Rugova clarified a mystery that has long baffled most observers of the Kosova scene, namely why he nearly always wears a silk neck scarf. Rugova said it is a symbol of his and Kosova�s links to the West and dates from his student days in Paris. He added with a laugh that another reason that he keeps it is that he knows that it has become his trademark.

Serbian Interior Ministry Clamps Down on Albanian-language Press. �Bujku,� which is the oldest Albanian-language daily still published in Prishtina, did not appear on December 18 after unidentified persons cut off the electricity at its printing plant and offices. The previous day, Serbian Interior Minister Aleksandar Vucic warned �Bujku,� the other main independent daily, �Koha Ditore,� and several other Albanian-language periodicals in a letter that they risk legal measures under Serbia�s recent media law unless they change their editorial policy to �respect the territorial integrity� of Serbia (see �RFE/RL Bosnia Report,� no. 42 and �RFE/RL Balkan Report,� no. 46). Vucic also charged that some periodicals �directly instigate terrorism,� which may refer to the policy of the two dailies to publish declarations issued by the UCK.

Veton Surroi, who is Kosova�s best-known journalist and the editor-in-chief of �Koha Ditore,� pointed out in a statement on December 17 that Vucic in his letter did not give concrete examples of wrongdoing by the Kosovar periodicals. Surroi added that Vucic criticized one periodical that has not appeared for months, as well as another one that is slated to begin publishing only in March. The editor also noted that Vucic�s letter to the Kosovar journalists sounded very similar to one he sent to independent Serbian newspapers before he shut them down. Surroi concluded that Vucic�s real goal is to shut down �Bujku� and �Koha Ditore� as soon as possible.

Speaking at RFE/RL in Prague, Rugova said that the Kosovars do not recognize the Serbian government�s authority over the Albanian-language media. He stressed that the Kosovars will find a way to circumvent any measures that Vucic might take against them. He may have been thinking of the example of the former Prishtina daily �Rilindja,� which in 1990 fell victim to one of Milosevic�s earlier crackdowns. It now appears out of Zofingen in Switzerland and out of Tirana. Its front page often features a picture of Rugova � wearing his silk scarf.

Is Tudjman Playing an Old Balkan Game? The U.S. State Department said in a statement on December16 that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman was wrong to threaten to use force against NATO peacekeepers in the disputed Croatian-held, Bosnian border town of Martin Brod. The statement added that Tudjman's remarks on December 14 at the opening ceremony for the Ban Josip Jelacic military academy in Zagreb prompted SFOR to "change its plans" but the State Department did not elaborate.

The statement also accused Tudjman of engaging in "scare tactics for partisan political ends" when he told officers that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has prepared secret indictments "against you, against all of us." The tribunal has since denied Tudjman's claim. Tudjman also said that "no country in the world is as riddled with a network of agents as is Croatia," by which he was referring to journalists, diplomats, NGO representatives and aid workers. (Tudjman is well known for making ill-considered remarks, which the weekly "Feral Tribune" collects and publishes in a regular column.)

Tudjman subsequently paid a two-day visit to Russia, which he had previously postponed on account of Boris Yeltsin�s legendary health problems. After returning home, Tudjman said in Zagreb on December 19 that his trip does not �mean turning our back on the United States.� He added, however, that remarks critical of him made by U.S. Ambassador to Croatia William Montgomery in the wake of the Jelacic academy speech are �out of the framework of normal diplomatic relations� [and constitute] far-fetched observations.� Tudjman added that Croatia will not allow any country to �treat us like a colony.�

In Moscow on December 18, Tudjman praised Russia�s �constructive� role in international relations while his aides signed several agreements, including ones on arms purchases and defense. The independent daily �Jutarnji list� wrote on December 21 that Tudjman is deliberately promoting ties to Russia in the face of growing U.S. criticism of his policies in Bosnia and at home. The daily added that any effort to offset problems with Washington by flirting with Moscow is �unproductive� in the post-Cold War world. The commentary might also have pointed that among the subjects in the core curriculum at the Jelacic academy are the old Balkan favorites �geostrategy� and �geopolitics� (see �RFE/RL Bosnia Report,� no. 45).

Hair of the Prophet Survives Fire in Albania. Workers in Shkodra on December 19 found unharmed a reliquary containing some hair of the Prophet Mohammed in a historic building, which burned down accidentally on December 12, ATSH reported. The Tabak House, named after the family owning it, was built in 1784 and later became part of the museum area of the ancient Rozafa castle. It contained a library of over 2,000 books in Arabic, Persian and Albanian, most of which were destroyed in the fire. The Tabak family had kept the hair of the Prophet for the last 250 years in a silver box.

Quote of the Week: An unnamed Western diplomat in Tirana, to Reuters on December 21, referring to the UCK: "I don't know who the hell they think they are or who they think they're dealing with, but for guys who haven't done anything on the battlefield but embarrass themselves they are incredibly arrogant."