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<nettime> IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, NO. 20
info on Thu, 15 Apr 1999 07:23:57 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, NO. 20


WELCOME TO IWPR'S BALKAN CRISIS REPORT, NO. 20, 15 April 1999

COMMENT: IT'S A SERBIAN THING. NATO says that it is not at war with the
Serbian people. They beg to differ, says Aleksandar Ciric in Belgrade.

WHERE NEXT FOR THE DISPLACED?. About 110,000 refugees remain in Macedonia,
and the hard questions begin: what will they do, where will they go, will
they ever return? And, asks Iso Rusi in Skopje, will last week's promises
of help ever materialise?

LEAVING HOMES, SEEKING FUTURES. IWPR senior editor Fron Nazi makes a
personal connection amongst the tens of thousands of lost souls being
forced across the Kosovo-Albanian border.

*****************************************************

IWPR's network of leading correspondents in the region provide inside
analysis of the events and issues driving crises in the Balkans. The
reports are available on the Web in English, Serbian and Albanian;
English-language reports are also available via e-mail. For syndication
information, contact Anthony Borden <tony {AT} iwpr.net>.

The project is supported by the European Commission and Press Now. For
further details on this project and other information services and media
programmes, visit IWPR's Website: <www.iwpr.net>.

Editor: Anthony Borden. Assistant Editing: Christopher Bennett, Alan
Davis. Internet Editor: Rohan Jayasekera. Translation by Alban Mitrushi.

The Institute for War & Peace Reporting (IWPR) is a London-based
independent non-profit organisation supporting regional media and
democratic change.

Lancaster House, 33 Islington High Street, London N1 9LH, United Kingdom
Tel: (44 171) 713 7130; Fax: (44 171) 713 7140 E-mail:info {AT} iwpr.org.uk;
Web: www.iwpr.net

The opinions expressed in "Balkan Crisis Report" are those of the authors
and do not necessarily represent those of the publication or of IWPR.

Copyright (C) 1999 The Institute for War & Peace Reporting <www.iwpr.net>.

*************************************************

COMMENT: IT'S A SERBIAN THING

NATO says that it is not at war with the Serbian people. They beg
to differ.

By Aleksandar Ciric in Belgrade

The initial effect of the NATO bombing was relief. Since the first threats
of air strikes last October, the Yugoslav population has been under
extreme psychological pressure. On the night of 24-25 March, when the
bombing began, the situation finally became clear: the country was under
attack and the enemy was identified.

In short, NATO has done an incalculable favour to Slobodan Milosevic, who,
whether we like it or not, is president of the Federal Republic of
Yugoslavia. At the same time, the NATO attack has--probably in the long
term--shaken to the foundations, if not destroyed, both the civic
opposition in Serbia and Yugoslavia, that has been built with much effort
over the years, and the room for manoeuvre for independent media and their
associations.

Paradoxically, those Serbs who follow world news with the help of
relatives abroad, the Internet or satellite dishes are much better
informed than ever before. But alongside the programming of the state
Radio-Television Serbia, the news from CNN, SKY, BBC and other European
networks looks like poorly disguised propaganda. Viewers in Yugoslavia
react with a shrug of the shoulders, or even outright laughter. When, on
the night of 3-4 April, a heating plant in New Belgrade was hit, the
question on the streets was: "How will [NATO Gen.] Wesley Clark explain
this 'military' target?" Attitudes hardened noticeably when on 12 April a
NATO war plane destroyed a passenger train killing 11 and wounding 20
civilians.

In Belgrade, more than 100,000 people have each day flocked to open-air
concerts despite air raid sirens. Similar rallies have been held in other
cities and towns of Serbia, as well as Montenegro. Sometimes, the
demonstrators visit places that have already been hit, such as the bridges
in Novi Sad over the Danube. They leave messages, bouquets and candles--as
if mourning family members. Bridges in Belgrade, and manufacturing plants
elsewhere in the country, have been "defended" by human chains or
shields..

These are not gatherings in support of Milosevic. As Vlade Divac, a
Yugoslav player in the US National Basketball Association, explained to
CNN's Larry King, "It is not about our president, it is about all of us."
Nor are these the gatherings of Serbs who are uninformed about what is
happening in Kosovo, since the citizens of Serbia believe they know very
well about the plight of refugees.

It is not that people are not afraid. Fear exists, and people don't hide
it. There have also been many civilian casualties. At night, one can hear
shouts in the big residential blocks, after a bombing: "Cowards! Come down
here . . ." A rich repertoire of Serbian curses follows.

But the dominant feeling is not fear but anger, and defiance. Before the
outbreak of fighting in Kosovo in February 1998, the Yugoslav army had
been reduced by the regime to being little more than a police service.
Now, however, it is an unchallenged leader and hero defending the country.

The explanation for the Yugoslav response is not hard to find. People may
be behaving defiantly because they know that the attacker is trying to
avoid civilian casualties; therefore, statistically at least, they should
be safe. They also view the entire matter as somewhat infantile: Bill
Clinton's "bombing for peace" is similar to "smoking but not inhaling," or
having an affair but not "sexual relations" or many of the other logical
absurdities of his presidency. But most of all, Yugoslavs gain a sense of
strength because NATO is so vastly superior, that survival itself is a
great victory.

Many people in Belgrade--children but also their parents--cover their
heads at night. They hope that the warmth and the darkness of their
blankets will protect them from NATO's "democratic bombs". Under those
covers, they are aware of the humanitarian catastrophe--even if the
reasons and specific details seem unclear. To them, NATO is shielding
behind a humanitarian disaster that it produced itself. And as the
estimates of refugees constantly shift, change and are corrected, they
wonder what is wrong with the calculations of the joint NATO/CNN
information effort?

For Yugoslavs, the issue is not human rights. The air strikes have not
been approved by the UN Security Council. NATO has abandoned its defensive
posture for an aggressive approach. And Europe, as seen from here, has
abandoned the principles of dialogue and consensus enshrined in the
founding documents of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in
Europe. Thus Yugoslavia (and its personification in Slobodan Milosevic) is
not defending the corpse of communism, but the principle of sovereignty.
They believe they are simply defending their country--something they feel
everyone should be concerned about.

The suffering produced by the air strikes will no doubt continue. And
Serbs will continue to endure it. Seen from here, martyrdom and a glorious
death in defeat does not seem too bad a solution. These days, when a
Belgrader asked: "How are you doing?" the answer is: "I'm waiting."

Aleksandar Ciric is an independent journalist from Belgrade.

WHERE NEXT FOR THE DISPLACED?

About 110,000 refugees remain in Macedonia, and the hard questions begin:
what will they do, where will they go, will they ever return? And will
last week's promises of help ever materialise?

By Iso Rusi in Skopje

Less than a fortnight ago, Blace was a swamp on the Kosovo-Macedonian
border, packed with tens of thousands of Kosovo refugees waiting to enter
Macedonia. Even now, who remembers?

Blace became a global symbol of humanitarian catastrophe, a graphic
measure of the scale of the ethnic cleansing underway in Kosovo. Images of
the depredation were broadcast hundreds of times daily around the world
and reprinted in thousands of daily papers.

Yet the media failed to answer the question why getting into Macedonia had
become so hard, why it took days to get desperate families out of the mud
and into the homes of relatives and friends or properly provisioned
refugee camps. Nobody knew whether to blame the Macedonian government, or
the UNHCR and the humanitarian aid organisations.

In the end it didn't matter. The swamp--where the refugees stood for days
in the cold driving rain, denied proper food, water and sanitary
facilities--has been cleared. Now the bulk of the original 110,000 are in
refugee camps built by NATO, with a further 10,000-14,000 in Albania.

Seven thousand more are Turkey, Germany or Norway. Presently about 1,500
refugees leave Macedonia daily, a small dent in the total 100,000 that the
European Union and the US have promised to take. Turkey has offered refuge
to 20,000 and Germany has taken 5,000 from the 40,000 it says it can
accommodate. Millions of dollars worth of aid has been pledged but as of
the start of this week, only two million dollars' worth delivered.

And this is all for now. After announcing that 20,000 refugees will be
placed at a US naval base in Cuba, Washington now holds silent. Countries
such as Greece and Denmark, which were supposed to take 5,000 refugees
each, say nothing.

Thus the largest refugee camp in Macedonia, in Stenkovec, near Skopje,
where 30,000 refugees are placed, is becoming a reception camp, instead of
a transit one. And this requires a lot more than a town of tents.

Meanwhile the 'disappearance' of 10,000 refugees during the clearance of
Blace--triggering Western fears of forced return to Serbian hands, even
secret massacres -- has been solved. EU European Commissioner Hans van der
Broek told A1 TV that the refugees had been 'found' and the UN refugee
agency (UNHCR) informed.

However, the panic created by the clearance of Blace, overnight and out of
sight of international agencies, indicates the nervousness of all
involved. With NATO intending to see control of the camps fully handed
over to Macedonian civilian control within a week, some refugees fear
mistreatment by Macedonian officials.

As for the government itself, it admits difficulties with the West's
refugee plan. Citing statements by western and UNHCR officials, Macedonian
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Boris Trajkovski said he now
understood that the west and UN were rethinking plans to move 100,000
refugees from their Macedonian camps to new refuges across Europe and
North America.

Instead, it seemed they now intend to keep them as close to Kosovo as
possible, in anticipation of their early return home. The matter is
causing disagreement between the three coalition partners in the
Macedonian government.

The differences over NATO intervention are clear: the Democratic
Alternative (DA) wants the operations halted; the Democratic Party of the
Albanians (DPA) continues to back both NATO air and land attacks; and the
coalition leaders, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary
Organisation--Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE)
is somewhere in between.

The refugee issue splits them along the same lines. The DPA wants the
refugees to be placed with families and to stay close to Kosovo; the DA
wants the numbers in Macedonia to be limited to 20,000, the number that
Skopje agreed to before the refugee issue became a regional crisis; and
VMRO-DPMNE is again somewhere in between.

The differences have given rise to fears of a government collapse, even
talk of a 'government of national salvation' led by the present main
opposition, the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM)--without
the ethnic Albanian DPA taking part.

All told, Macedonia lives on a knife-edge, fearful that the fragile
multi-ethnic balance in the country will be tested to breaking point by
the desire of its ethnic Albanian community to help their brethren in
Kosovo.

Tensions are rising internationally too. Albanian Minister of Foreign
Affairs Paskall Millo has publicly criticised the Macedonian treatment of
Kosovar refugees at camps like Blace. And when Macedonian President Kiro
Gligorov suggested that the Kosovar refugees concentrate in Albania on the
grounds that 'Albania was their home country', Albanian President Rexhep
Mejdani accused him of chauvinism.

But Mejdani then stoked the fears of the Macedonians by adding "wherever
the Albanians live in the region, they live on their ethnic territory". A
statement with similar sub-text from Albanian Prime Minister Pandelli
Majko, on the lines that nobody should be "afraid of the idea of a united
Albania" was also strongly criticised by the Macedonian language media.

Meanwhile a steady stream of foreign politicians pass through the camps
for the benefit of photographers and TV crews, if not always for the
benefit of the refugees themselves. They come through in unknowing echo of
the 'Sarajevo tours' organised by the West's great and good during the
Bosnian war. Then few Sarajevans felt much better after their visits.

It took the members of a Berlin theatre company to make a difference.
Distressed by the snail-pace of the bureaucracy, they came to the camp
with the addresses of temporary homes for 200 refugees in the new German
capital. All they need to do was to find the 200 refugees and they could
be whisked away to safety in no more than the two days it takes to drive
to Berlin from Skopje. That was the theory at least. At time of writing
they were still waiting.

Iso Rusi, IWPR's Skopje correspondent, is a journalist with Focus.

LEAVING HOMES, SEEKING FUTURES

An IWPR senior editor makes a personal connection amongst the tens of
thousands of lost souls now being forced across the Kosovo-Albanian
border.

By Fron Nazi

A family of seven led by an old man in his late fifties slowly trudged
across the Albanian border with Kosovo near Kukes. I asked in Albanian
where they had come from. The old man sighed and answered: "We have been
walking for three days. We come from the small village of Janjevo."

I was startled by his answer. Janjevo was my boyhood home.

Janjevo (pronounced Yanyevo) is 20 kilometres south of the capital,
Pristina. In times past the village was mostly populated by Croats and
Albanians. Janjevo's 5,000 or so residents were known for their
handicrafts.

The village centre consisted of shops and a Catholic Church. We used to
play on the hills around the village, each holding the iron rim of an old
wagon wheel, and rolling it to the bottom as fast as we could. One day my
older brother Leks raced his iron wheel down the hill and accidentally
caught my elder sister's left elbow. Thereafter wagon wheel racing was
banned.

My mother and father arrived in Kosovo from their native Albania in 1952,
leaving behind my two elder sisters, Lena and Deila, then aged six and
eight, with our grandmother. They were part of the first and last wave of
refugees fleeing Enver Hoxha's communist regime and had hoped that Kosovo
would be a temporary haven.

We settled in Janjevo in 1962, the year I was born. In 1968, my father
moved the entire family, via Italy, to the United States. We eventually
settled in the Bronx, where I grew up in a five-floor block of flats on
Arthur Avenue, a neighbourhood that soon became home to thousands of
Albanians.

When, in 1991, Albania's communist system finally collapsed, I took the
first plane from New York to Tirana. I met my elder sisters for the first
time and we spent our first week together learning about each other's
lives. One subject we did not talk about was Janjevo.

Our journey in 1968 -- by train via Beograd, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Sezana,
Poggiorre Ale, Trieste, Venice, Bologna, and Florence -- was long and
exhausting. But it was nothing compared with the 200 kilometre trek
through Serb checkpoints endured by the family I had just met.

When the Janjevo family crossed into Albania to be faced with a barrage of
questions from the more than 100 journalists present, I did not tell them
that I too came from their home village. I did not even ask their name.
Given the circumstances -- they had obviously walked for days -- such
questions seemed inappropriate.

The family's children -- three girls and two boys -- are all aged between
five and fourteen. The girls were wearing floral dresses over loose
trousers and knitted brown sweaters. Both boys were dressed in dirty
jeans, tennis shoes and blue winter ski jackets, zipped-up to their chins.
Their faces were red and dirty. Their father wore a dusty grey suit, white
shirt and ragged brown shoes. All had dark circles under blood-shot eyes.

The father looked into my eyes and asked: "Where can we get water and
food?" The little boy held his father's hand, his eyes wide open, his face
without expression. I put my pen and paper away and escorted the old man
and his family to the food and water stations.

He thanked the aid workers with a smile and a bow of the head. With the
little boy in hand and the rest of the family in toe, they set off on foot
for the town of Kukes. After about 100 metres, the little boy turned to
look back. We made brief eye contact. He smiled and waved goodbye.

That night it rained in Kukes. Like the other 30,000 refugees, the family
from Janjevo had to sleep outside in the cold and rain. The next morning I
walked among the refugees looking for the family. I found them next to the
main square. The little boy appeared tired and worried. He looked my way
but didn't recognize me. On the third day, I searched all over Kukes for
them with no luck. How long, I wondered, before they would see Janjevo
again?

Fron Nazi is an IWPR senior editor.


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