|Wednesday, 21 October 2020|
OMRI: Pursuing Balkan Peace, Vol. 2, No. 4, 97-01-28
From: Open Media Research Institute <http://www.omri.cz>
Vol. 2, No. 4, 28 January 1997
 Worst Riots Since Communism Shake Albania
by Fabian SchmidtTens of thousands of Albanians, desperate after losing their savings in collapsed pyramid investment schemes, have put the blame for their failure on the Albanian government. This weekend, riots broke out all over the country, and parliament has authorized the use of military to safeguard public buildings, roads and infrastructure. The ruling Democratic Party promised to pay the cheated investors with frozen assets from two of the ten pyramid schemes. Tensions, however, are at a boiling point, with the opposition pledging more demonstrations and calling for new elections. The government may now be forced to either give in to opposition demands, or to crack down on the protests, hoping to contain the unrest.
After earlier demonstrations and smaller clashes with police last week, protests got out of hand on Saturday and Sunday. The government had hoped it could restrain them by fining heavily participants in "illegal" demonstrations, and at the same time calm tensions by arresting owners of pyramid schemes and freezing their assets. But the response from the angry investors dashed these expectations.
In one case, massive rioting broke out when Democratic Party (PD) Chairman and Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu visited Lushnja to try to calm a protest there on 25 January. Having apparently misjudged the public mood, he failed to make himself heard. Protesters then attacked him, causing him severe head injuries. A police force that had brought him to the town by helicopter fled from the crowds, who also set three police trucks on fire and blocked Albania's main north-south road for hours. Shehu himself was caught in the local stadium's locker room with a small police force and managed to flee only at night during a power outage. In Berat that same day protesters stormed the local police station, freed prisoners and seized arms. They later set fire to the police station, town hall, the prosecutor's office and court buildings.
The following day the protests spread, despite calls from President Sali Berisha for restraint and promises to find a solution to the crisis. In a television address, the president called "on all citizens to calm down" and assured them "that we're doing our utmost to find the right solution so that (investors) can retrieve their money as soon as possible." In another effort to appease enraged investors, Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi assured them they would get their money back beginning 5 February. Authorities have seized around $300 million in two pyramid scheme accounts but it is unlikely to be enough.
The opposition Socialist Party (PS), however, sees a situation emerging in which it can press forward with its demand for new elections. It thus called for another demonstration in Tirana on Sunday, and about 30,000 people turned out. A hard core of 3,000 protesters tried to advance towards parliament, smashing the windows of the Palace of Culture on the central Skanderbeg Square. Police then fired their pistols in the air and later used water cannons and dogs to disperse the crowds.
But outside the capital, developments got out of hand again. Protesters torched the PD headquarters and government buildings in Korca, Fier and Vlora. They also set two offices of the oil company Albpetrol on fire in Patos. Protests were also reported from Fushe-Kruje, Memaliaj, Saranda, Mallakaster, Gramsh, Skrapar, and Polican. Two people died in the night to 27 January when a prison revolt broke out in the Bardhor prison near Kavaja. About 230 rioting inmates set fire to the prison, but Justice Minister Kristofer Peci claimed the situation had returned to normal by early morning.
Berisha tried to convene a crisis meeting of parliamentary parties on Saturday. But the Socialists, who refused to take their seats in the legislature after disputed general election, declined to attend. Instead, the PS called for the resignation of Meksi's government and new general elections. This, however, was unacceptable to the Democrats who put the blame for the riots on "Marxist extremists." The way out of the immediate crisis was an emergency meeting of parliament on the evening of 26 January. Legislators present voted 96-2 to give Berisha special powers to use military units to restore law and order.
The parliamentary decision specified that "a limited number of army units will be temporarily engaged alongside police forces to protect the state and public institutions and to ensure the free flow of traffic on national roads." Shehu claimed that "this decision has nothing to do with a state of emergency." Berisha, for his part, on 27 January rejected suggestions that martial law be imposed, and Defense Minister Safet Zhulali has said the military will "never be used against the people." The army was nonetheless on alert in Tirana over the weekend, guarding ministries, the central bank and other strategic points. But whether this move will quell the protests remains doubtful.
 Serbian Regime Wages Psychological Terror
by Stan MarkotichOther kinds of tactics are being used in Serbia to deal with those who take to the streets. In recent weeks, President Slobodan Milosevic has refined his approach for dealing with mass protests. It hinges on the use of low- level violence against largely peaceful protests, or even at random on the streets.
Events that took place on 23 January are illustrative. Tensions and the violence level escalated in several parts of Serbia on that date, Nasa Borba reported the following day. At the epicenter were developments in and around the city of Kragujevac. Protesting motorists blocking access roads there were clubbed by baton-wielding riot police. Radio B92 reported that at least several people were seriously wounded, including an opposition member of parliament. Leading members of the opposition were, in fact, among those seemingly singled out for physical abuse and detention. And that was the regime's ploy -- the seeming targeting of individuals for serious assaults in order to have their example serve to intimidate the broader population.
Triggering that day's developments was a decision by the ruling Socialists to retain control of local Kragujevac electronic media, and to do so by ordering local police to occupy a local radio and television facility in the city. In response to the several hundred police officers' barricading themselves inside the building, several thousand demonstrators against the regime encircled the facility, threatening to enter. This helped provide the police with a pretext for resorting to violence.
This past weekend, a number of additional beatings by riot police were reported, notably in Belgrade. The regime's tactic of instilling fear in the population seems to be increasingly evident. The Bosnian news service Onasa on 27 January reported that some individuals who have been the victims of riot police beating are refusing to seek medical help, for "fear that, by revealing their identity, they will continue to suffer police torture." OMRI has been told of plans to leave Belgrade being made even by families who had stayed there throughout the five-year war and who had urged relatives to stay, too. Such reports speak of arbitrary violence used against individuals, even away from the demonstrations.
Milosevic's selective -- arguably strategic -- use of violence to create a mood of public fear does not appear to have escaped the notice of international observers. For his part, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns on 27 January said Washington had delivered a protest to Belgrade, Reuters reported. At issue was specifically what Burns described as the Belgrade regime's "systematic use of the police to intimidate."
And Milosevic has hinted at the use of large-scale force as well. On 18 January, some 1,000 Serbs held a demonstration in Pristina, capital of the largely ethnic Albanian province of Kosovo. The occasion was to protest an assassination attempt against the head of the state-run university, an ethnic Serb, in the city (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 21 January 1997). Vuk Draskovic, one of the leaders of Serbia's Zajedno coalition, said Milosevic and his wife and political ally, Mirjana Markovic, were planning to use events in Kosovo as a pretext for escalating tensions and introducing violence that could result in a vast "blood bath" in the province.
To be sure, Milosevic has alluded to the possibility of mass violence in Kosovo. However, for him to set it off may suggest he has run out of options, seizing the Kosovo card in a last-ditch bid to cling to authority. As long as Milosevic believes he can cow the Serbian population by instilling a widespread climate of fear, he may not yet play that card.
 REHN WARNS OF "CIVIL WAR" IN KOSOVO.Others are not so sure. The UN's special reporter for human rights, Elisabeth Rehn, said after a visit to the former Yugoslavia that Kosovo is heading for "a real explosion, a fire. We can fear anything, even civil war, " Reuters quoted her as saying on 21 January. She added that Washington is aware of the possibilities of "a new conflict," but that Europe has been caught napping. Rehn was referring to the new campaign of assassinations by the shadowy Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) against Albanians regarded as collaborators and against prominent Serbs. The Serbian authorities have tried to link the Serbian opposition to the UCK. Controversy persists among Albanians, Serbs, and outside observers alike as to what the UCK actually is and who is behind it, AIM news service added. -- Patrick Moore
 ALLEGED HEAD OF KOSOVO LIBERATION ARMY ARRESTED.But Serbian police now say they have arrested the alleged head of the UCK, Reuters reported. Police claim the 31 year-old Avni Klinaku was arrested on 26 January along with several other members of the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo. It remains unclear whether that organization is indeed behind the UCK, but police claimed that they found "arms and ammunition of various calibers, drawings and plans for attacks on facilities, and other means for carrying out terrorist actions." Police in the past have arrested Albanians or "confiscated" arms that had been planted or that the Albanians had been forced to buy. -- Fabian Schmidt
 YES, SOMEBODY SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES.Back in Bosnia, some 11 Muslims returned to the village of Gajevi just inside Serb lines in the northeast on 23 January. They began removing mines and preparing for 36 families to arrive later, international and regional media reported. Muslims started last August to try to exercise their right under the Dayton agreement to go home, but the Serbs charged that the move was a military provocation. The current group has completed a formal procedure sponsored by the UN and agreed to by all sides to ensure that those taking part are only bona fide refugees from the village in question. Several incidents involving explosions or protests by angry Serb crowds delayed the return to Gajevi, which was to have started on 20 January. U.S. and Russian SFOR troops, for example, on 23 January surprised ten Bosnian Serb police in the act of setting an anti-personnel mine in the area. SFOR then restricted the movements of the police.
But local Serb crowds then attacked Muslims who were attempting to deliver construction materials and otherwise help the Gajevi people. (The 36 families will be housed in prefabricated buildings because the old village was destroyed.) Some 100 men armed with crowbars on 25 January attacked and injured Semsudin Mujic (34). He was driving a tractor hauling prefabricated building materials, some of which the attackers stole or destroyed, AFP wrote. A Muslim witness said that SFOR soldiers stood by and watched the beatings but did nothing. U.S. spokesperson Sgt. Marianne Mirabella said, however, that "security in the Republika Srpska is surely not the responsibility of SFOR. That's the responsibility of Republika Srpska police. They ought to be ashamed."
The refugee program was then placed on hold for 48 hours while the international community's Carl Bildt held talks with Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic on 27 January. State Department spokesman Burns said the Bosnian Serb authorities "clearly reneged" on commitments made in the Dayton agreement "to facilitate the return of refuges and to avoid the destruction of property." -- Patrick Moore
 U.S. TO SET UP SPECIAL FORCE TO CATCH WAR CRIMINALS?But good news may be on the way for those who feel that the international community has failed to enforce key provisions of Dayton. White House press spokesman Mike McCurry said on 27 January that the administration is looking at options for catching indicted war criminals and bringing them to the Hague-based tribunal, U.S. media reported. "We've said for some time we're looking at ways of making that tribunal more effective. One possible option is to set up some type of special police force. We haven't made a decision on whether that's the best way to help the tribunal, but it does suggest itself as an option." NATO peacekeepers and UN police take the position that it is not in their mandate to go after war criminals, although they may detain ones with whom they come into contact. There is, however, ample evidence to suggest that the peacekeepers have frequently looked the other way and let such individuals slip past rather than risk casualties. Any new force would presumably be created with the clear understanding that it could expect to suffer casualties in carrying out its mandate. The new U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once asked Gen. Colin Powell what is the purpose of America's having such a fine military if it is not "allowed" to use it. -- Patrick Moore
 UN TELLS FEDERAL POLICE TO FREE WAR CRIMES SUSPECT.Police from the mainly Croat and Muslim federation on 26 January arrested Velimir Przulj, who is suspected of heading a Bosnian Serb wartime prison, when he crossed into federal territory to sell his house. The Bosnian Serb member of the joint presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, protested that the man must be freed lest the arrest jeopardize the functioning of joint institutions. The UN-sponsored international police pointed out that Przulj has not been indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and that he should go free. Last year, the three sides reached an agreement in Rome to the effect that only those persons indicted by the court can be held on suspicion of war crimes. Federal police accordingly released him on 27 January, news agencies reported. -- Patrick Moore
 OSCE LAUNCHES BOSNIAN LOCAL ELECTION SEASON.Turning to politics, the OSCE-sponsored all-party Political Party Consultation Council (PPCC) said on 23 January that registration for parties and candidates for the July local elections will run from 9 February to 8 March, AFP reported. The lists of those certified will be published on 7 May. The thorniest question -- voter registration -- remains open, however. The local elections were postponed from 14 September last year because the Serbs in particular had systematically abused a loophole in the Dayton agreement and registered thousands of refugees to vote in formerly mainly Muslim or Croat areas where those refugees had never lived. The Muslims and Croats have demanded that the loophole be closed, while the Serbs insist that it remain. The issue must be clarified by the end of January. -- Patrick Moore
 MORE MUSLIMS EVICTED FROM MOSTAR.But there seems to be little else that many Muslims and Croats agree on these days. Croatian gangs on 21 January evicted two more Muslims from their apartments in west Mostar, bringing the total of such illegal moves to 82, AFP reported. Muslim and international officials have protested the often brutal evictions, but threats and cajoling by international representatives have come to nothing (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 21 January 1997). Muslims control east Mostar, which is sandwiched between traditional strongholds of the Serbs and Croats, respectively. The internecine war of 1993 generated bitter animosities between the Muslims and Croats, who had often been historic allies. The Muslims now charge the Croats with trying to expel remaining Muslims from the Mostar area, while the Croats say the Muslims have destroyed Croatian communities in central Bosnia, which date back to the Middle Ages. -- Patrick Moore
 CROAT-MUSLIM COALITION ON VERGE OF C0LLAPSE?And the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) made good on its threat to boycott parliament and government sessions of the mainly Croat and Muslim federation, pending a clarification or renegotiation of power-sharing arrangements with the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA)Oslobodjenje wrote on 23 January. Some opposition politicians spoke of a "collapse" in the coalition between the two nationalist parties. Matters were further complicated when Muslim Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic pressed for the removal of his deputy and finance minister, the Croat Drago Bilandzija, Dnevni avaz said. Bicakcic has accused Bilandzija of giving special treatment to a Herzegovinian Croat company that cost the government $23 million in lost revenue, Onasa added. Political as well as economic motives may well be behind Bicakcic's move, given the generally poor relations between the SDA and HDZ. -- Patrick Moore
 MUSLIM-CROAT TENSIONS CONTINUE.The Croatian member of the Bosnian presidency, Kresimir Zubak, then accused the Muslims of still harboring foreign Islamic fighters, AFP reported on 25 January. And in reply to Bicakcic's charges, Bilandzija told Oslobodjenje that a major public sector company is laundering money and evading taxes on a grand scale, apparently to the benefit of Muslims. Leaders of the SDA and HDZ nonetheless met over the weekend and issued an 11-point program aimed at harmonizing their relationship, Oslobodjenje wrote on 27 January. According to that text, the presidency and vice presidency of the federation will rotate annually between Croats and Muslims. The president for 1997 will be a Croat. Various other procedures have been outlined as well to facilitate power-sharing. What will happen in reality is, of course, perhaps another matter. -- Patrick Moore
 "A COMMUNITY OF CIVILIZED MEN AND WOMEN."And on the other side of the frontier, Jean-Marie Le Pen of France's far- right National Front continued his Balkan tour on 23 January by meeting with the Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale, AFP wrote. He told Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the Bosnian collective presidency: "I have come to express to you the greetings of French patriots. All the patriots of the world have in common a set of identical values which makes us all a community of civilized men and women. People today no longer know what attachment to the land and the country. We understand this very well." Krajisnik replied: "We very rarely hear such words. Usually what we here are criticisms." -- Patrick Moore
 FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER DIES.Nikola Koljevic (60) died on 25 January in the Belgrade military hospital as a result of a suicide attempt in Pale on 16 January, AFP said, quoting Tanjug. As a vice president of the Republika Srpska, he had helped negotiate the Dayton agreement, but was pushed to the political sidelines by the Bosnian Serb leadership after the 14 September elections. He reportedly became depressed as a result, a point he made clear in a suicide note left for his family (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 21 January 1997). -- Patrick Moore
 BOSNIA'S IZETBEGOVIC LEAVES HOSPITAL.Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim member of the three-man collective Bosnian presidency, left Sarajevo's Kosevo Hospital on 22 January after a five-day stay. He underwent a planned checkup approximately one year after he suffered a heart attack that removed him from public life for some time. His doctor said that tests showed that his "condition is satisfactory," Reuters reported. -- Patrick Moore
 GRIM PICTURE ON UNEMPLOYMENT.Turning briefly to the economy, the Bosnian Statistics Bureau reported on 15 January that at least 177,000 citizens of the mainly Muslim and Croat federation have no work, and that a third of them are demobilized soldiers. The Bureau added that those figures represent only those jobless who have registered, and that the real figure for the unemployed is probably around 650,000, Onasa wrote on 16 January. By all estimates, the situation in the Republika Srpska is even worse, especially where demobilized solders are concerned. International aid officials have blamed the Bosnian Serb leadership for the fact that only a tiny percentage of the total reconstruction assistance has found its way to the Republika Srpska. This is, of course, of little comfort to those with no work and little hope. -- Patrick Moore
 BOOK PUBLISHED ABOUT SERBIAN LOBBY IN BRITAIN.Meanwhile in London, The Guardian reported on 16 January that it has published a book entitled Sleaze, which details how the Serbian government hired British lobbyists during the Bosnian conflict and used MPs to promote a non-interventionist policy. The lobbyists put forward an image of the conflict as one of "warring factions" and "ancient hatreds," thereby masking its real nature as one of aggressors and victims. The alleged result was that London followed a policy of "even-handedness" that helped prevent the international community from taking action on behalf of the Muslims and Croats. -- Patrick Moore
 TOP CROATIAN OFFICIALS VISIT EASTERN SLAVONIA.One legacy of that five-year conflict is the continuing Serb occupation of eastern Slavonia. Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak, Interior Minister Ivan Penic, and intelligence chief Miroslav Tudjman held talks there with the UN's chief administrator, Jacques Klein, Reuters wrote on 21 January. Susak is widely regarded as the second most powerful man in the Croatian government, while Tudjman is the son of President Franjo Tudjman. The three Croats made explicitly clear that the region will fully return to Croatian control by mid-July, as is slated under current agreements, Vjesnik said the next day. The Serbs have sought a delay and have complained about the Croatian draft proposal for the region's future. Klein, however, praised the Croatian document, saying it goes farther than might have been hoped for. The Croatian delegation did not meet with local Serbs. Susak warned the Serbs that there will be no new talks and that they should concentrate on becoming full-fledged Croatian citizens. Klein later told the Serbs to stop trying to obtain territorial autonomy, since this was something they never enjoyed in the past and is not included in any of the current agreements on eastern Slavonia. In his annual state-of-the-nation address, President Tudjman on 22 January urged the Serbs to vote in the local elections scheduled for 16 March. -- Patrick Moore
 CROATIA'S TUDJMAN GIVES MAJOR SPEECH . . .In that address before parliament on 22 January, the Croatian president said that presidential elections should go ahead in the second half of 1997 as scheduled but did not say whether he would seek a third term. Vecernji list ran the full text of the speech the next day. Independent newspapers had suggested that his health problems are so serious that he would try to postpone that vote and would propose sweeping constitutional changes to prevent any future head of state from having the French-type presidential powers he enjoys. Instead, Tudjman did not even mention such changes. Western news agencies suggested that he looked thin but not as gaunt as immediately following his week-long stay at Washington's Walter Reed Army Hospital last November, at which time U.S. diplomats said he has inoperable cancer and perhaps only months to live. -- Patrick Moore
 . . . AND SLAMS BALKAN INTEGRATION . . .Tudjman saved his fire to attack recent attempts by the EU and the U.S. to persuade Croatia to join regional cooperation arrangements for southeastern Europe (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 21 January 1997). For most Croats -- and for most Slovenes -- such groupings are anathema as they smack of an attempt to resurrect some form of Yugoslav state. Tudjman thus got hearty applause when he said: "Reintegration of Croatia into the Balkans is totally unacceptable for the Croatian people... Croatia belongs to Central European and Mediterranean circles. A short Balkan episode in Croatian history [i.e. its inclusion in Yugoslavia] must never be repeated ... We should add a new article -- a constitutional ban on attempts to merge Croatia with any Yugoslav or Balkan state or federation." He warned that any ostensibly economic regional project could lead down a slippery slope toward unacceptable political links. Tudjman said that Croatia would enter into agreements with Balkan countries only once it was a member of the EU and together with its EU partners. -- Patrick Moore
 . . . WHICH NONETHELESS HAS SUPPORT IN BOSNIA.Oslobodjenje on 26 January ran a commentary that took quite a different view from Tudjman's regarding regional integration projects. It said: "In these plans, it is basically Bosnia and Herzegovina that can profit the most. Or, to be exact, it has nothing to lose. Transformed into an awkward national conglomerate, crowded between equally dangerous neighbors, it must seek a more bearable and efficient model of coexistence. That can hardly be worse than what we have now." Such regional plans, the commentary concluded, show that the U.S. and the EU are not basing their hopes for the Balkans exclusively on the two pillars of the Dayton agreement, "Milosevic and Tudjman, the main perpetrators of the bloody disintegration of the old Yugoslav community." -- Patrick Moore
 CROATIAN INDEPENDENT RADIO KEEPS ITS LICENSE.Returning to Croatian affairs, Zagreb's Radio 101 won a round in a prolonged legal battle with the authorities on 24 January, Reuters stated. The National Telecommunications Council extended the station's license for five years. The authorities tried to take the license away late last November but backtracked when the largest crowds in years turned out in central Zagreb in support of the station. The Radio 101's fight is far from over, however: it must settle an alleged "ownership dispute" by 31 October. The government of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is generally intolerant of independent media. It has hounded the few independent dailies and weeklies with law suits (Feral Tribune, Globus, Novi List) and take- overs (Slobodna Dalmacija), or driven them out of business altogether (Danas). The HDZ is particularly tough where the electronic media are concerned and allows no independent television. Outside of Radio 101, most independent broadcasting centers on music and entertainment. -- Patrick Moore
Edited by Patrick Moore
This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media
Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in
Prague, Czech Republic.