Issue No. 296 - November 13, 2002


by Zoran Senkovic

by Zvezdan Georgievski

by Peter Karaboev


by Zoran Senkovic

        On Sunday, November 17, Slovenians participated in the first round of presidential elections to elect a successor to the charismatic Milan Kucan, the man who has led his country since its independence from former Yugoslavia and brought it to the very door of NATO Alliance and the European Union as a model transition country.

        Polls correctly predicted the outcome: the two candidates succeeding to the second round were the current prime minister, Janez Drnovsek, the candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Barbara Brezigar, the candidate of New Slovenia and the Social Democratic Party. However, not everything went as expected, as Drnovsek and Brezigar captured 75 percent of the vote against seven "outsider" candidates, much higher than the polls indicated and much closer between the
two main candidates. The prime minister won slightly over 44 percent and his main opponent more than 31 percent.

        The main question is where the 25 percent of the vote that went to the seven "outsiders" will go. Center and right voters would rather see a president from their own ranks instead of the former, albeit popular, communist Kucan (who clearly would win if he was allowed to run again). Voters of the left and center left generally support Drnovsek, but are not as disciplined as right and center right voters. The latter, encouraged by the unexpectedly good result of Brezigar, see the possibility of finally getting at least the presidency if not the government and showing finally a turn in the "right direction." Still, the average Slovenian voter is still rather socially conservative, meaning that he does not lean too much towards women in politics. This has been seen both in parliamentary elections as well as in the composition of the government. Compared to Western and some Central European countries, Slovenia is last in the number of elected women in politics. Slovenian voters are also not inclined towards a deep change and like moderate and modest seasoned politicians, which is suitable for Drnovsek. Since Slovenian independence in 1991, Drnovsek led as many as four different governments and has remained prime minister for ten years.

        Barbara Brezigar, former public prosecutor and, for a short while, minister of justice, successfully compensates her "flaws"—that is, being a woman without much experience as a politician—with her simplicity of approach, moderate conservativism, emphasis on traditional values (family, work, tolerance . . .). These attributes are the basis of her election campaign. Different from other defeated "outsiders," Brezigar started her campaign very early, patiently building up her image and surpassing many much better known names. While other candidates tried to speak more about Drnovsek, criticizing him as prime minister at various opportunities as in several TV duels, Brezigar avoided it and talked more about herself.

        Some analysts say that her success was most helped by her strongest opponent, Drnovsek himself. According to the law, the office of president has little authority and is more or less symbolic. Consequently, it is a position in which personal character is highlighted more than political viewpoints --- and that is Drnovsek's weakness. He is someone who must be appreciated as a politician but is hard to love. A smile rarely appears on his face; his statements are short and dry; and he cannot hide embarrassment, even anger, when asked about his private life. He appeared to give public appearances during the campaign only because he had to; probably thinking that years of success in running the Slovenian government speaks enough. Many criticize him for accepting the nomination for president after many months of thinking it over, and then taking it as a necessary evil and assuming his victory to be clear.

        However, in the second round Drnovsek will have to invest much more energy into his personal and political image. It will not be a simple task since despite the limits on the office there are more and more people who think that Drnovsek's victory would invest him with too much political power, since there is a fear that Drnovsek, as the long-term prime minister and leader of the ruling Slovenian Liberal Democrats, will continue to dictate key political processes from the background.

        The elections have shown other interesting characteristics of Slovenian voters. Eager for elections and believing it their duty, as much as 71 percent of the registered voters cast their vote. Democrats and intellectuals were concerned by the 8 percent of the votes that went to right-wing nationalist Zmago Jelincic. However, his popularity has always been around 10 percent in surveys. He is acceptable to many because he publicly defends the partisan fighters against fascism, unlike most other right-wingers who believe that the Partisans are the cause of many evils during the communist period of Yugoslavia. His nationalism also shows sympathy for Serbia and Serbs living in Slovenia, which gave him their vote.

        Slovenia is in many aspects a well-governed Central European democratic country. Citizens do not expect dramatic changes in politics whoever wins the second round of presidential elections, and want the new president to introduce them into European Union already in the first round of new accessions in 2004.

• • •

by Zvezdan Georgievski

        It seems that the formation of the new Macedonian government, led by Prime Minister Branko Crvenovski, head of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), and joined by the strongest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) of former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti, has significantly improved the security situation in the country.

        So-called urban terrorism still hasn't quieted down (almost every week there are car-bombs exploding, luckily without victims), and there was one ethnic Macedonian high-school student killed while playing basketball in Tetovo, a town with an Albanian majority. (Children in the playground were randomly shot at from a moving car.) This case has caused some protest of Macedonian youth, who have fought with their Albanian peers as well as taken revenge actions towards casual passers-by of Albanian nationality. The Macedonian public feels that children are being manipulated as a last-ditch effort to prevent a lasting peace in the country, since the formerly ruling nationalistic Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) openly supported the aggressive actions of these youths.

        That the overall security situation is calming down is illustrated by the appointment of Hari Kostov as the new minister of interior. Hari Kostov is highly respected as one of the most successful bank managers in Macedonia, having directed the Commercial Bank in Skopje and worked as former executive director of the World Bank. His appointment clearly says that the priority of the new government will be fighting corruption. Hari Kostov said that at least ten percent of the national GDP ends up in corrupt waters. It is also peculiar that during his first meeting with the press, which lasted several hours, Minister Kostov didn't mention a word about security.

        The announcement on launching a fight against corruption, however, did not seem entirely sincere. The non-government organization Macedonia Free of Corruption warned the public that some high-ranking officials in the Ministry of Interior don't have clean hands and that courts are dragging their feet on all cases that might show abuse of political power. Representatives of Macedonia Free of Corruption announced that they would demand an official response from the Macedonian government and Prime Minister Branko Crvenovski to these findings on the new authorities in power as a test of whether it is competent to fight corruption.

        Meanwhile, the new government is trying to shift the focus of attention to corruption committed by the former government. New ministers are sifting through their ministries and have already made public the fact that the former government had already spent at least a fifth of the next year's budget, leaving the new government to face bankruptcy. In its review, the government found the highest corruption in the custom service, followed by the health system and tobacco industry, as well as the office of privatization.

        Regarding privatization, the greatest impression on the public was the privatization of the largest news-publishing house in the country, Nova Makedonija. It is suspected that the firm was bought by a shady Slovenian company called Jug Storitve with money the government kept for itself for late wages and taxes. Employees who had not received their meager wages for the past five months began a general strike for the first time in Nova Makedonija's history. Four newspapers published by this firm (Nova Makedonija and Vecer in Macedonian, Flaka in Albanian, and Birlik in Turkish) were printed in smaller editions. It was the first time since 1963, when an earthquake hit Skopje, that Nova Macedonija had to be published in reduced size.

        In addition to these current problems, the new government will soon have to face old problems of political and ethnic relations between the Macedonian majority and Albanian minority. Leaders of Albanian parties have recently re-stated their old demand to change the Macedonian flag with a new one acceptable to everyone. This demand has coincided with a statement of Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Redzepi that the border issue between Macedonia and Kosovo was still open. [Redzepi was referring to the dispute over areas placed within the Macedonian border that some consider part of Kosovo in the recent Belgrade-Skopje agreement, formally rejected by the Kosovo parliament for bypassing its consideration but reaffirmed by the UNMIK mission chief Michael Steiner. see NIJ issue 263--Editor's Note]. Representatives of the new government immediately responded by saying that Macedonia considers the issue of borders to be closed and that no negotiations concerning them are acceptable. The High Representative of the European Union, Javier Solana, said in Brussels that the border agreement between Skopje and Belgrade would be respected.

        Albanian parties in Macedonia are openly supporting the idea of an independent Kosovo, as well as the proposal to re-open the border agreement between Macedonia and Yugoslavia regarding the Kosovar part of the border.

        "Independent Kosovo poses no risk to the stability of Macedonia. On the contrary, such a Kosovo will reflect stability throughout the region," said Teuta Arifi, one of the vice presidents of the ruling coalition member Democratic Union for Integration. As to the initiative for changing state symbols, Jani Makraduli, a spokesman of the ruling Social Democrat Alliance of Macedonia, said that the design of state flag is a closed issue and cannot be a subject of discussion. Razif Aliti, also a vice president of DUI, said to the Albanian newspaper Fakti that "the state flag needs to be changed. We have declared Macedonia our country, so its flag should be a symbol of all its people, not just one nation living in Macedonia."

        Analysts following the political situation in Skopje think that these new Albanian demands will be the first serious test for the new SDSM—DUI coalition. A new supra-governmental institution called Council for Partnership has been formed made up the leaders of parties in the ruling coalition. It should "iron out" differences between the two parties in implementing government's ideas. But there is speculation also that it will be used to promote Ali Ahmeti, the controversial former guerilla leader and head of DUI, who has not appeared in public since the elections, not even to take up his seat in the Macedonian parliament.

• • •

by Peter Karaboev

        For the Bulgarian Defence Ministry, the Prague NATO Summit is being awaited both for the long-expected invitation to join the NATO club and as a signal to "un-freeze" the army's restructuring, stalled since last year. The surprising truth is that NATO itself is partly to blame for the stalling of reforms, since Sofia is waiting to hear exactly what Bulgaria's role in the pact will be so that it can be instructed on how it should model its defence forces. These two facts will determine how far and which way security reforms will go.

        This road will require a completely new law on defence and defence forces as well as a new national defense doctrine of Bulgaria. This will be the final turning point in the change from the Soviet to NATO type of security structure.

        Now, four years after real changes in the army were begun in 1997 (former communists ruled Bulgaria mostly until then) you can hardly find a representative of the Ministry of Defense of the General Staff who disagree with the proposed joining of NATO and the reducing and reforming
of the army.

        A number of visits by U.S. and Western military officials this year created the impression that army reforms already are showing great achievements and Bulgaria is ready for the awaited Prague invitation. In fact, a review of the so-called Action Plan 2004 shows that reform is limited only to reducing the number of personnel, units, and weapons. In addition to total reductions in personnel, units, and weapons, the showcase this year was the decommissioning of dozens of Soviet era missiles, including more than 20 SS-23s. In the years 2000 and 2001, around 1,300 units were reorganised, reduced, or relocated. The Bulgarian air force expects to complete restructuring by the end of 2003 having a total of 130 aircraft and 43 helicopters based on 5 airfields. The army decommissioned more than 250 tanks, over 430 armored personnel carriers, and 405 artillery pieces. At the same time, Bulgaria is upgrading its fleet of MiG-29s, three air bases, and a communication system for the Rapid Reaction Forces. Sofia has successfully participated in some international missions on the Balkans and in Afghanistan.

        The problem lies in the lack of a clear idea what Bulgaria's defense structure should look like. The reason is not that the Bulgarians are incapable of drawing up a picture of their army, but that they lack any clear signal from NATO. The General Staff tried to structure the army in corps units, but NATO rejected this plan despite it having been consulted first with Brussels. NATO then "advised" Bulgaria to create East and West army command headquarters, thus throwing away two years of reforms, the reason being that NATO's corp numbers 40,000 to 50 000 people, or the equivalent to Bulgaria's entire army.

        Sofia began to think twice before enacting any locally taken decision. The draft of the new Defence Law was ready this autumn but now is postponed for consideration until next spring at the earliest. Similarly delayed were some army plans—like the Modernisation Plan-2015, which was supposed to be ready 10 months ago covering the period in which Bulgaria is supposed to be already NATO member. Some "refreshments" in doctrine were made but they concerned more general topics like fighting international terrorism. In fact, the spirit of the doctrine looks better than for almost any other NATO member state.

        When NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson was in Sofia this year, he asked Bulgarians to modernize not only the army but the way of thinking. This will be the hardest part.