Click here for the NIJ Archive

Issue No. 162. - February 20, 2000.

By Zoran Mamula
By Peter Karaboev
By Zoltan Mikes
4.Special  addition: NEW AT TOL

By Zoran Mamula

On Sunday morning, 20th February, citizens of Kosovska Mitrovica, a town in Kosovo divided into Serbian and Albanian part after war and arrival of KFOR were awaken by the sound of helicopters and military boots. It was the sign that KFOR search of concealed weapons in this town has begun. The action was carried out by French and British soldiers who have been living in Mitrovica since the start of international presence. However, they were reinforced under order of KFOR commander Klaus Reinhardt by their colleagues from USA and Germany. Reinforcements came after many months of tensions and incidents which have escalated into armed conflicts between Serbs and Albanians, resulting in many wounded and one killed person. while in the southern part of the town the search for concealed weapon went without difficulties, there were conflicts in the northern part, between two members of American contingent and three Serbs. A large group of Serbs stoned Americans saying they "have committed unprecedented atrocities during the weapons search, crashing open apartments and knocking down schools and faculties".

Serbian authorities accused international forces for co-operation with "Albanian terrorists" in the Kosovo ethnic cleansing. "Serbs are nowadays not safe even in their homes, since KFOR members use axes to knock doors down. We have seen whole series of uncivilised actions" - stated Jovica Jovanovic from the Yugoslav committee for co-operation with UNMIK. According to Jovanovic, weapons' search carried out in Mitrovica by KFOR is a "staged action of American and German soldiers". "I have witnessed intrusion into Technical faculty" - he said, adding that "there have been no drawers or boxes left whole". The reason for such an action had been alleged anonymous information that training weapons was found at the faculty, as part of the former General defence cabinet. "Some media will use the fact that KFOR found some weapons to create a story about terrorist base" - said Jovanovic. Still, weapons found in Serbian part of the city can hardly be called a "training" one.

According to spokesman of KFOR's northern sector Patrick Shanley, KFOR seized 10 AK-47 automatic rifles, four M-48 rifles, an automatic pistol, seven packs of plastic explosive, a hand grenade and large amount of ammo. Shanley said that one Serb had been arrested due to seized weapons, and that no arms had been found in the southern part of town. Commenting on accusations of brutality, Shanley said that the international forces would recompense the damage, but he also reminded that KFOR helicopters had flown over Mitrovica and distributed leaflets which had warned citizens about the action. He showed a sample with words: "Open door to the soldiers when they knock. If you refuse, it means you're hiding and then we will use force. If you don't open the door, we will be forced to knock them down." KFOR spokesman also said that the search, with 2300 members of multinational forces, would be continued until KFOR commander and German general Klaus Reinhardt is pleased with the results. That was the result of the first serious attempt of international forces to stop spiral of violence in divided town. Serbs are in favour of division, thinking it is the only way to maintain a kind of multiethnicity in Kosovo after exodus of more than 200,000 Serbs.

On the other hand, Albanians reject division, claiming it represents attempt of Serbian government to separate that part of Kosovo by introducing paramilitary formations in Mitrovica. Both sides, however, agree on one thing: international forces' attempts to alleviate the situation, resulted in fiasco. Incidents between Serbs and Albanians began immediately upon retreat of Serbian forces from Mitrovica, when ethnic rage caused by Albanian suffering especially in past two years, escalated into exodus of Serbs from southern into northern part of Mitrovica. Albanians moved from northern to southern - mostly Albanian - part of the town. French KFOR soldiers and UN police prevented serious clashes several times. When Albanian protesters tried to cross the bridge on the river of Ibar and go into Serbian part of town, French had to use force and pepper gas to stop Albanians from reaching northern part of the bridge with bellicose Serbs waiting for them, teasing them with Serbian folk music from strong loudspeakers. Balance of fear was maintained until 13th February, with armed clashes and serious consequences. Incident started in the morning, when seven Albanians were wounded in the explosion near Railroad bridge in the northern part of town, in Bosnian Mahala settlement. Until that day, approximately 3000 Albanians and Bosniaks had been living there - 1500 Albanians left the northern part after the incident. Not long after, somebody fired from snipers at French soldiers who have been protecting a group of Serbs, also near the Railroad bridge. Two Frenchmen and two Serbs were wounded and transferred to a nearby military hospital. The part of town from where came the shots is not controlled by Serbs. After wounding of two French soldiers, KFOR attacked snipers resulting in wounding of two attackers. KFOR representatives in Mitrovica said French soldiers had wounded three Albanian snipers. Serbs claimed that, around noon, a group of Albanians entered three skyscrapers in the northern part of the town, where there came shots from automatic weapons. One Serb was wounded and one woman beaten.

According to KFOR analyses and Albanian claims, incidents were started by Serbs as revenge for death of two persons in a Serbian bus hit by missile launcher. On the other hand, Serbs claimed that clashes in Mitrovica had been started by Albanians who attacked a Serbian coffee shop. Since that day, ten persons have been killed in Kosovska Mitrovica, and several dozens wounded, so that the arrival of American and German forces seems imminent. Albanian and Serb leaders have different views on who started fighting in "Mostar in Kosovo".

Mayor of the southern part of the town Bajram Redzepi accused UN Civil mission and KFOR; especially French battalion, as being the first to blame for latest upheavals. He mostly blames them for, as he said, "using the old method - Serbs and Albanians will find a common language, with international forces serving the role of middleman, although everybody knew before it will yield no results". "We know that we won't come to terms, so we must have an arbiter in cases where that happens. The international community needs to use its authority and competence, even force, if needed, since our mentality demands it", said Redzepi. He stressed that it is "totally unacceptable for Kosovska Mitrovica to remain a divided town" and added that "image of military and civil rule in Kosovo has been degraded". Redzepi blames Frenchmen for "taking no preventive actions", and 13th February events have been "all wrong - Albanians, who were mostly victims, have been labelled as culprits for the whole situation". He thinks that "leading NATO countries have individual views on how to resolve the crisis in Mitrovica". However, said Redzepi, "most prominent western countries now took this problem more seriously". "International community has to do something to prevent a new war, it needs to use the whole of its power to solve Mitrovica problem". Redzepi is certain that "northern part of Mitrovica is now the stronghold of Belgrade government". "That is for sure. All Kosovo institutions established during Milosevic's regime are now located in Mitrovica, and they get orders directly from him" - says Redzepi. "Definite status of Kosovo will be discussed later. We need to create a tolerant atmosphere, that is now the most important for us. We will not decide what comes next, but foreign forces"

On the other hand, president of the Serbian national council and leader of Serbs in Kosovska Mitrovica claims that organising of Serbs came as a consequence of intention of Albanian separatists to "ethnically cleanse this part of Kosovo". "We have no connections with authorities in Belgrade, but we have to defend ourselves, since practice showed that KFOR can protect only organised Serbs" - says Ivankovic. "We expect that international community will realise that it cannot overlook Serbs in Kosovo and will explain it to the Albanian side. Until now, they haven't even tried to explain to Albanian leaders that the road of violence they took leads nowhere and that Albanian state in Kosovo is an illusion" - warned Ivankovic. And while Albanians in Mitrovica rejoice in arrival of American troops in the town, Serbs fear that arrival, as well as announced manoeuvres of NATO troops in the province, are a preparation for Albanians moving into northern part of the town and exodus of Serbian population. One thing is certain: despite reinforcements of international forces, neither northern nor southern part of divided town will sleep peacefully for nights to come.

By Peter Karaboev
Can you produce an explosive mixture from three party leaders, speaking in party headquarters on foreign policy issues? Certainly, if leaders are Kosovo Albanian leader Hashim Taqi, former Macedonian Deputy Prime-Minister Arben Xafery and Bulgarian Prime-Minister Ivan Kostov. But you need an ignition device if you want a "media-bomb". And suddenly you have it - a few words, coming on a sidewalk of the meeting - from a prominent Bulgarian MP who was on that meeting on 30 January in Sofia. The words were: "We no longer insist on the position Kosovo to remain autonomy in Yugoslavia because there is an evolution in Bulgarian position on Kosovo status. We should be realists - if Kosovo leaders want independence, the things we think about it are not much of value. If we are real democrats, we should leave them to decide their own future. In an other case we might look as a political fools".

The man behind this statement is Assen Aggov - Chairman of Foreign policy committee in Bulgarian Parliament. Political emotions that followed provoked numerous rejections and correct definitions from Bulgarian Prime Minister. President, and the ruling majority group in the Parliament all of them say that there is absolutely no change in Bulgarian position that Kosovo should remain part of Yugoslavia. Aggov was almost forced to resign from his post and the culmination was 2-hours debate in the Parliament on Bulgaria's position on Kosovo. The story begins with an invitation for Taqi to visit Bulgaria in the occasion of the congress of the main party of Bulgarian Turks - Movement for Rights and Freedom (MRF). And Taqi arrived but he never showed on that forum. The reason was that he spent his few hours in Bulgaria talking to politicians from ruling Union of Democratic Forces (UDF). He was accompanied by another prominent Albanian leader - Arben Xafery from Macedonia.

The meeting was strictly on a party level, UDF insists. But both guests were welcomed with official Government cars, escorted by the state protocol institution and were guarded by state security agents. There is an explanation for this - leaders of UDF are at the same time high positioned state officials, but this sounds dubious. So who was siting at that table during 150-minutes talks? Leader of UDF and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, his deputy in the party and former Minister of Justice Vasil Gotzev, member of the UDF executive body and Chairman of Foreign policy committee Assen Aggov and... Deputy Foreign minister Marin Raikov. It looks suspicious that after the meeting no one ever mentioned that Taqi is a leader of party in Kosovo. Bulgarian press was quick to notice that other Albanian at the table - Xaferi is considered to be most influential Albanian leader in Macedonia.He is the man that influeted Albanian community to vote for the new Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. There was no statement by Kostov after the talks, but Taqi behaved like Kosovo Prime Minister and invited Kostov to Pristina. And, of course, he speaks about independent Kosovo. Assen Aggov was not present on the final press conference, but his words were deciphered as a shift in Bulgaria's position on that Kosovo.

During the following two weeks Aggov insisted that this was his personal opinion ("we have pluralism in our party and Bulgarian foreign policy is represented by official positions of the Foreign ministry, Prime Minister and the President") on something that may happen sometime in the future. But it was too late - the bomb exploded. "Kostov met terrorist" was the headline on the former communists opposition's daily front-page. Sofia should not talk to Taqi but arrest and send him at the UN Tribunal in The Hague because he's a war criminal - reacted from Belgrade Vuk Draskovic speaker. We are not planing any contacts with him because his party is terrorist organisation, Ivan Kovacevic said. This is a dangerous precedent and Bulgarian officials are in a very delicate position, ITAR-TASS reported from Sofia. Concerning media reactions from Belgrade - you better don't ask. On 1 February Kostov met US Ambassador in Sofia Richard Miles - the same former second man in Belgrade US Embassy - while at the same moment Arben Xaferi met US Ambassador in Skopie. At both places was confirmed that in Sofia there was no talk on recognition of independent Kosovo.

The very same day Vasil Gotzev visited Russian Embassy to explain Bulgaria's position there. This, many Bulgarian official declarations and even invitation to Kosovo Serbs to visit UDF that followed were not enough to satisfy opposition in Sofia. Former communists wanted Aggov to resign from his post in the Parliament Committee. After 10 days of heated media debate , UDF suddenly allowed vote on this issue in the Parliament. It caught opposition in surprise. The very same day in the evening NATO Secretar General George Robertson was to arrive on his first official visit in Sofia. The vote was in favor of Mr. Aggov but debate in the Parliament was used to show that former communists made public for the last time their anti-NATO position." By Attacking me you are rejecting Bulgaria's foreign policy success" the happy Aggov commented after the vote. In fact with anti-Western rhetoric former communists made a clear demonstration that in the different party headquarters in Bulgaria there is no consensus on Balkans, that there is more than one foreign policy "made in Bulgaria".

To confirm this they sent delegation and congratulation to last week congress of Slobodan Milosevic party in Belgrade. "Kosovo status is the most painful problem on the Balkans. Bulgaria can have a strong position if it is a unison and very well defined", the President Petar Stoyanov said. But the suspicion that something is so-so remains in the media among unconfirmed reports that the meeting in Sofia was initiated by Ljubco Georgievski, Prime Minister of Macedonia. "Don't speculate on this meeting, because it's normal", he said when press in Skopie started to search for a "plot" to recognise Kosovo. But returning from Sofia Xaferi said in "Flaka" newspaper that his visit with Taqi was "important in a political and strategic sense" and that it's very productive that in Bulgaria "the idea for Kosovo independence is taking ground". Meeting in Sofia was aimed at Bulgaria's strategic interest to have stable Macedonia, Aggov said recently. The news was on the front-pages of Albanian newspapers in Kosovo. Baton Xaxhiu, Editor-in-Chief of "Koha Ditore" daily said that "Bulgaria shouldn't continue to follow its standby position". We understand that Bulgaria can't alone recognise Kosovo independence, but after meeting in Sofia we have a new situation in Bulgarian Balkan diplomacy, he said. Back in Sofia journalists continued to look for someone's " hidden hand" behind the meeting and Washington is the main target. USA have unofficial position to support independent Kosovo and in this situation Bulgaria behaves perfectly with a cold-blooded position, said Paul Beaver, chief editor of London "Jane's Defense" magazine. Your Government is in a very difficult situation, but manages to act in a good way that only few in the West expected, he added. There is no doubt that if Bulgaria wants to create a strong and clear position it should meet with all sides of the Kosovo conflict, including people with whom Bulgaria wasn't ready to talk a year ago, Beaver said. Bulgaria should use capital from this meeting with Taqi to prepare itself for future changes.

There are many questions hanging even over UN Security Council Resolution 1244. It states that Kosovo will remain part of Yugoslavia - not of Serbia - but what about if this state no longer exists? UNMIK administration already governs Kosovo as an independent state with its new law, passports, car plates and DEM as currency. So if someday Kosovo becomes an independent state there will acctually be no changes in borders, only in the status of these borders. And this status change have to be secured with guarantees from USA, EU and Russia. At this moment these are only speculations. But tomorrow?

By Zoltan Mikes
 Slovak goverment coallition losing support, Meciar on comeback, great hope for a new political party. Last week, two Slovak polls showed a big disappointment with the ruling Slovak parties. Causes for this disappointment lie in many directions - the most important are the loses of the Slovak goverment parties united into Slovak Democratic Coallition (SDK) the recent biggest govermental party. It was created by the Christian Democratic Party(KDH), Democratic Party(DS) , Democratic Union (DU), Social-democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS) and the Green Party. Not one of these parties have enough percents to enter into the parliament. SDKU, the new political party headed by the prime minister Dzurinda, gained more than 13 percents and is the only political power including the politicians from former SDK which has real hope to get into the parliament in the next elections.

The biggest losers are the Democratic Union with 2,4 percents (in the polls before the elections in 1998 it was 8%) , the Christian Democratic Party of Jan Carnogursky would gain 2,7 percents (in 1998-10,5 %), SDSS 3,7 percents(4,5%), Democratic Party 2,7 percents (4,0%), the Green Party is not published because of rating of below 1 percent (2,5%). Other govermental parties which would enter into the parliament are only Party of Hungarian Coalition (SMK) 8,0 percents and the Party of Democratioc Left (SDL) 5,3 %. The other party of govermental coallition, Party of Civic Understantment (SOP) would get only 4,4 percents and would not reach the 5 percent census votes, needed to enter parliament. The other aspect, which has to worry today govermental parties is support for Meciar´s Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). It increased to 32 percent (in 1998 it was 27,5%). The other oppositional party, the Slovak National Party (SNS) would have 7,5 percents.

But the biggest winner is the new political party Direction (SMER) of Robert Fico, the former parlamentary member of the SDL. It would gain 14,5 percents of the votes. It is very interesting, that Fico did not exclude the possibility of cooperation with Meciar´s HZDS. If it would became reality, HZDS, SNS and SMER could after the next elections create a very strong coallition, which could be the beginning of return of Vladimir Meciar to the position of prime minister. The possibility of cooperation of Fico and Meciar is very strong. Robert Fico is a young, about 30 years old politician, former lawyer, who left the SDL because he declared, that SDL lost its face when it accepted cooperation with SDK of prime minister Dzurinda. In many questions he agrees with Meciar- the populistic ways of solving the problems of Romas, the treating of Hungarian minority from the position of power, the advantagees for Slovak companies by the process of privatisation, etc. Fico met in the last month with Meciar and the ex-prime minister forecasted big political future to Fico. Robert Fico is very popular among the young people, who can not support Meciar but are disapointed by the politics of prime minister Dzurinda and the former supporter of SDL, who agrees with Fico that SDL lost its political face. Fico is for the both group a new politician, not connected with corruption, and clean but with political experience and a good professional- he represented Slovakia at the international court in Strassburg. It is very likely, that public support for Fico´s SMER would raise if the economical situation of the population won't improve.

The first reaction on the polls came only from SDL, the Fico´s former home party. The leader of SDL Jozef Miga threatened, that SDL can step out of the ruling coalition, if the economical situation would not be better. Were it to happen, the whole goverment of prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda would lose the majority in parliament and the whole situation could lead to early elections. The situation became more serious after the Slovak president Rudolf Schuster met with Meciar on Thursday and told him, that the plebiscit about new, early elections, which Meciar wants to stage, is not against the constitution. Meciar now has to collect 350 000 signatures- he began collecting them on Friday and it is expected that he will have them till the end of this week. Then the president has to announce the plebiscit. If more than 50 percent of voters turn out at plebiscit, it will be valid. If more than 50 percents of the voters say they want early elections the Slovak parliament has to vote for a law on early elections. After the poll published on Saturday, only 42 percent of the voters would participate in plebiscit, 50 percents would abstain, and 8 percents were yet undecided.


Special  addition: NEW AT TOL
Transitions Online (TOL) (, the leading Internet magazine covering Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and the former Soviet Union, has moved to a membership-based system. You can still see TOL for FREE, with no obligation. Just fill out our registration form at to receive your free two-month trial membership. If you're a citizen of a post-communist country, go to to sign up for a FREE annual membership.

New at TOL: The OMRI archives are online! An invaluable resource for anyone interested in the region, the OMRI archives comprise a wealth of research materials produced by scores of top analysts from and on the region, from January 1995 to March 1997. At the time, OMRI was the leading resource on the post-communist world, publishing thousands of articles on trends and developments. The OMRI archives include the OMRI Daily Digest, the Russian Regional Report, Pursuing Balkan Peace, Analytical Briefs, and articles from Transition, a biweekly magazine. The archives are fully searchable -- and they're only available through TOL. Find what you need at: Also, check out TOL's new articles, accompanied by our extensive Interactive Bibliographies of relevant links:

FEATURES: Playing the Numbers Game by Peter Schmidt
The much-vaunted governing coalition in Slovakia is splitting at the seams. One of Slovakia's top analysts charts Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's efforts to stay on top -- and describes how his decision to found a new party could put the nail in the coffin of the post-Meciar political euphoria.
OPINIONS: Sullied Reputations by Elena Chinyaeva
Marred by petty squabbling, the newly elected State Duma's first weeks hardly inspired confidence in the body's authority. The Unity party was a poor sport; the Communists proved two-faced; and all the commanding politicians' popularity dropped as a result. The author argues that, in Moscow, personal politics is once again getting in the way of effective governance.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Yugoslavia: The Fifth Column
"Do you journalists think you are holy cows?" ranted nationalist Vojislav Seselj at a 10 February press conference. "You are potential murderers of your people and your country." The full text of his exchange with a reporter from B2-92 is excerpted here.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Bosnia and Herzegovina: Recrafting Dayton
Fed up with the ineffectuality of the Dayton agreement, editors at leading Sarajevo papers propose a ten-step recovery program for Bosnia, centered on suspension of the presidency and a takeover by the High Representative of the International Community in Bosnia.
IN FOCUS: Dividing Lines by Sonja Magdevski
"An [Albanian] man can have a Macedonian girlfriend, but a woman can't have a Macedonian boyfriend -- that is a fact," says Nora, a 22-year-old ethnic Albanian living in Skopje. In TOL's profile, she and her brother Toni talk about relationships, poverty, and day-to-day living in this ethnically divided city. The article is part of TOL's monthly theme "Growing Pains," which examines the problems plaguing youth throughout Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.