All happened already? (context 2017)

Has all of this happened already? (about Kosovo)

*This article was written by our associate Maja Fićović in September 2017. Meanwhile, while we were preparing the Annual Report 20, in January 2018, in Kosovska Mitrovica, Oliver Ivanovic, a politician from Kosovo, who is mentioned in the text, was killed.

I was born in the north of Kosovo where I have lived all my life. Never having moved, either willingly or – which is quite a blessing in these parts given everything that has happened – unwillingly, when I was invited to write about my perspective of the past 12 months in Kosovo, a simple task by all accounts, I asked myself, what on earth will I write about?

The past few years in Kosovo seem like watching the same film over and over again, sometimes with new actors in old roles, so that your sense of time becomes distorted, you have trouble remembering what happened when, whether it had already happened before, and when will it happen again in some new form?

These past years in Kosovo are not life, but merely subsistence. No one got what they wanted, and the people are torn apart between their possibilities and their desires. They argue, sling accusations, bicker, and it all reminds me of children getting into a row, but when their parents show up, for fear of faring even worse, they act all nice or pretend nothing happened. That is how both the Serbs and the Albanians act when negotiating with the EU, with the embassies and all the powers that be of the international community, in an attempt to get the best deal for themselves and make the most of everything on offer.

The “parents” also prefer this feigned peace, so they turn a blind eye, but actually, sometimes they should look up and see that the situation in Kosovo is very fragile and will remain so in the years to come.

Serb list

Although I wanted to start off with the events of September last year, I cannot shake the impression that in September of this year, the Serbs in the Kosovo Parliament, those on the Serb List supported by the Serbian Government and President Aleksandar Vučić, supported the ruling PAN Coalition, which nominated Ramush Haradinaj for Prime Minister, and thus became part of the Kosovo Government.

The decisive votes were cast by representatives from the Serb List, who, on the same day that they gave their support to this government, previously visited Belgrade to consult with Serbian officials, although we all knew the “deal” had been made much earlier.

Although they had announced that they would consult the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, before making any decision, they only actually met with the Director of the Kosovo Office, Marko Đurić. It is surprising that Vučić had no time for such an important question, as he revealed a few days later in a speech to the nation, and that Đurić told him, “Boss, it has to be that way in order for the Serbs to survive over there”. At the same time, the President of Serbia publicly announced that he supported the Serb List becoming part of Haradinaj’s government, although he still remains a war criminal in the eyes of Serbia.

The Serbs did not stage protests this time, as they had in the previous months for seemingly lesser offences than the support of Haradinaj whose extradition Serbia requested from France this spring in order to try him for war crimes committed against Serbs for which he has been indicted in Serbia. Nothing happened in Kosovo after this. The Serbs did not protest, there were no gatherings, nothing, the reports were lukewarm, and the top story was that Haradinaj spoke in Serbian. The support of the Serbs was consciously pushed to the background.

Within the previous assembly convocation, his party was in the opposition and staunchly against the establishment of the Community of Serb Municipalities. This Community was precisely what was at stake for the Serbs, it was the main message of their election campaigns, the crown of all their demands, and it was guaranteed to them under the Brussels Agreement for the normalisation of relations signed in April 2013. The new government cabinet was sworn in a few days ago following the intonation of the Kosovo anthem.

Oliver Ivanović and Trepča Mines

All the fuss surrounding the constitution of the Kosovo Assembly and Government, which had almost turned into a deep institutional crisis after several unsuccessful attempts to form the Assembly, is already being forgotten, because Kosovo is to have its local elections on 22 October. The campaigning will go on for 30 long days, but it seems that it is well under way already. The way things stand right now, it will be difficult, dirty and possibly dangerous. Some candidates from the Serb community saw their cars go up in flames over the summer. Namely, Oliver Ivanović and Dragiša Milović, mayoral candidates in Severna Mitrovica and Zvečan. They are not part of the “Serb List” party.

Goran Rakić, the current mayor of the largest Serb municipality of Severna Mitrovica is running for re-election, and as of a few moths ago, he is also the president of the Serb List. The trial of Oliver Ivanović at the Kosovo Court for crimes against Albanians, in which his detention was waived pending a judgement, is still under way.

The animosity between the two candidates is evident, and when he withdrew his candidacy Ivanović cited threats, intimidation and blackmail, stating that he had filed criminal charges against persons unknown.

The end of last year was marked by the situation surrounding what was once a mining giant – TREPČA. The workers of Trepča spent days in protest and blocking roads over a draft law submitted to the Kosovo Government, wanting to express their dissatisfaction with the Government’s decision to forward the Law on Trepča to the Assembly for consideration. The Kosovo Assembly adopted the Law foreseeing 80 percent Pristina government ownership over Trepča and possible government partnerships with the private sector.

The President of the Serb List at the time, Slavko Simić, pointed out in the Kosovo Assembly that the whole of the Serb community in Kosovo, as well as the representatives from the Serb List, are deeply convinced that the Law, whose drafting did not include an expert team from the Serb community, would seriously threaten the livelihoods of the workers from Trepča and the majority Serb populations of municipalities where the greatest mineral and ore deposits are located.

The Albanian workers of Trepča believe that the adoption of the Law supports development, because Trepča as the owner of mineral resources can be in the interest of all citizens of Kosovo.

The Serbs were unanimous in saying that the adopted Law on Trepča was not in the interest of the Serb community, and Serb representatives boycotted the Assembly for a time, until they discretely returned into the institutions. No one mentions the Law any more, work has resumed as before, and it seems the Law is not being implemented.

Integration of judges and prosecutors

The February 2015 Justice agreement from Brussels on the integration of Serb judges and prosecutors from the north of Kosovo into the Kosovo justice system has still not been implemented, and the last agreement reached in Brussels indicated 17 October this year as a realistic date for the start of implementation.

On the other hand, the Serb judges and prosecutors who are to be integrated and continue working within the Kosovo justice system expect a change in the legislation of Serbia to resolve their status prior to integration and enable them to receive pensions from the Republic of Serbia. Such legislation has still not been adopted. The implementation of this agreement would see judges and prosecutors working together after 18 years, and Serb courts in Kosovo shutting down.

The main bridge over the Ibar, a symbol of division of the city, is still not open to vehicle traffic, although there had been multiple announcements this past year that it could be opened. The European Union has invested considerable funds into its reconstruction. During the reconstruction, a wall was built on the north side, with the Mayor of Severna Mitrovica Goran Rakić saying that it was meant to serve as an “open amphitheatre”. Following harsh reactions from Pristina and objections to what was called an “illegal wall not foreseen by the design plans”, the wall was demolished at the beginning of this year. It was replaced in the design plans with a new structure. The agreement on removing the wall was reached by representatives of the European Union, Serbia, Kosovo and the US Embassy. After a number of incidents on the north side of the bridge, Rakić halted the reconstruction works, which have not been resumed since due to “security concerns”.

Natalija Apostolova, the Special Representatives of the European Union in Pristina, said that the bridge would be opened when the conversion of the main street in Severna Mitrovica into a pedestrian zone is completed, as well as all the related procedures.

Russian train

The impression of the year, apart from the constant elections and election campaigns butting in for attention, is the “famous Russian train” that set off this winter from Belgrade boud for Kosovska Mitrovica. According to the announcement of the Serbian Government, the train was meant to set up regular rail services. It was halted in Raška, the last station before the border with Kosovo, and after turbulent events surrounding its arrival, it returned to Belgrade.

The prime minister at the time, and today the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, said that he had made the decision to halt the train that had set off from Belgrade in Raška in the interest of the passengers’ safety and to avoid conflict, while the Kosovo special police was deployed to the north of Kosovo with seven armoured vehicles. Vučić stated that their intention was to arrest the passengers and engine driver, and create large-scale conflict. It was further stated that a great catastrophe had been averted. The citizens of Mitrovica were not thrilled with the idea of a train whose insides were covered by frescoes, and whose outside had “Kosovo is Serbia” written in more than 20 world languages. They realised it may be seen as a provocation, with extensive potential repercussions against the Serbs, and no one wanted a new outbreak of violence.

War games

At the time, Vučić said that apart from the EU, he would also be informing Russia, China and the US that “Pristina was playing ‘war games’“, while Serbia wanted peace. He warned the Albanians to refrain from any attempts to attack the Serbs, because Serbia would not stand for it. This unsettled some of the local population, while those who did not keep up with the media in those days never got he impression that anything special was going on.

After Vučić’s press conference, the Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa convened an urgent press conference where he stated that “Serbia caused an unnecessary situation as part of its unfair games.”

Kosovo also “threatened” that the international community would be informed about these latest events. The Prime Minister of Kosovo also saw the return of the train as the right move, saying its arrival in “independent Kosovo” would not have been allowed. The President of Kosovo Hashim Thaçi also said that the train would definitely not be entering Kosovo, and the Kosovo Minister of Interior Skënder Hyseni had issued an order to stop the train coming from Serbia.

In Severna Mitrovica, the Serbs organised another protest over the “attempt to oppress and intimidate Serbs in the north of Kosovo”.

Broken telephone  and (non) valid documents

The spring was no less tumultuous. After the Serbian presidential elections, which were also held in Kosovo, on the first day of May, the signal for Serb mobile operators Telenor and Vip, which mostly functioned in Serb areas, was shut down. This was foreseen in the Brussels agreement on telecommunications, and Kosovo considered these companies to be illegal operators. Users were transferred under identical conditions to the newly formed company MTS d.o.o., which the state Telecom of Serbia said was its “daughter company” registered under Kosovo law.

Subscribers  who had been out of the country and unable to submit a request to transfer to MTS were left without their phone numbers, because the deadline for the request was only three days. All subscribers of Telecom Serbia were automatically transferred to the new company and started receiving their bills in Euros.

At the same time, holders of Serbian passports with residence in Kosovo faced even bigger problems. In may this year, the Kosovo Government invalidated Serbian passports issued by the Coordination Directorate, 98,000 of which had been issued by July last year. The non-governmental sector warned that “pursuant to Article 3 of the Kosovo Law on Citizenship, which defines the right to multiple citizenship, every citizen of Kosovo” was eligible for these passports. Apart from the fact that a Serbian passport issued by the Coordination Directorate is not valid for leaving Kosovo, the use of Serbian identification cards is also limited to just three border crossing points in Kosovo.

Serbian driving licences have been considered invalid already since 1999 and their us in traffic is punishable by a fine of up to EUR 1500. In view of the population estimates for the four northern Kosovo municipalities, ranging from 50,000 to 70,000, and the data from the Kosovo Ministry of Interior, only about 60% of the citizens of the northern Kosovo municipalities hold identification cards, and only three percent have driving licences issued by Kosovo. These figures clearly indicate that a large majority of the population faces serious administrative obstacles to freedom of movement. This is not a subject of negotiation, and it is mostly ignored.

Next up, we had the parliamentary elections in Kosovo. Six political parties from the Serb community competed with 99 candidates for 10 guaranteed seats in the Kosovo Assembly. Serbia decided to support only the Serb List, so the other Serb community representatives held that the dirty campaign was influenced by the decision of Belgrade to support just one list.

For the previous elections, the Serb List had gathered all the Serb political parties, but this time they split. Still, nine of the 10 seats went to the Serb List.

Everyone’s and no one’s problem

Over the summer, the municipality of Severna Mitrovica with a majority Serbian population was left without EUR 7.8 million of financial aid from the European Union, which had been planned for the construction of a new five-storey building of the University and Cultural Centre in Severna Mitrovica, because of what the EU called the refusal of the local self-government to meet certain conditions, referring to the “unlawful construction in the vicinity of the planned construction site”. They stated that access to the site necessitated the removal of the unlawfully constructed buildings.

On the other side, the Mayor of Severna Mitrovica, Goran Rakić, disappointed by the decision, said that the real reason for the project’s cancellation was that the EU Special Representative, Natalija Apostolova, had demanded that the municipality enable continuation of the bridge reconstruction without, as he said, “any guarantees for the citizens’ safety”.

Apart from the political context which is inevitable if you live in Kosovo, citizens are also concerned over the economic crisis, high unemployment, corruption, lack of perspective for young people, scarcity of cultural and sports events, concerts, regular repertoires, development opportunities and all the things that would make for a decent life in Kosovo in the 21st century, especially for young people. At the same time, the shadow economy, drug smuggling and increasing numbers of young addicts are constantly on the rise. There is no strategy for real solutions to the serious problems of life and development of young people.

It is not easy to be “of Serb birth in Kosovo and Metohija” today. Not for ordinary people. From whatever angle you look at it. You feel like you’re everyone’s and no one’s problem. Everyone lays claim to you, while at the same time washing their hands of you. In what seems like an eternal struggle to maintain national identity, language, culture, customs, it is as if we are slowly losing ourselves, the right to just be ourselves, to live a life unencumbered with the past and without fear for the future. As if we were dealt roles, life missions, responsibilities we are aware of en masse. To escape the mould and the shackles and try to change things won’t be easy, but I’m convinced it’s worth it.

Maja Fićović

 

A Treacherous Clique – Press Release by the War Veterans Organisation (OVL) of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UÇK) – Who’s to blame? (about Kosovo)

At the recently held constitutive session of the Kosovo Assembly, adjourned for the fifth time in a row due to lack of quorum, individual representatives had the opportunity to take the floor and address those present, as well as those watching the live coverage.

Among them was a representative of the “Self-determination” Movement who criticised the coalition of the Democratic Party of Kosovo–Alliance for the Future of Kosovo–Initiative for Kosovo (PDK-AAK-Nisma), the so-called war “wing”, for their refusal to take part in the session. He criticised individuals from this coalition, saying that they had committed all manner of evil in the name of their “commanding” and the recent war in Kosovo.

Needless to say, the representative’s speech was met by objections both within the Assembly (with a number of responses) and outside it. In the afternoon, the War Veterans Organisation of the Kosovo Liberation Army issued a press release saying, among other things:

“Let it be known that, in the event of a threat, we will once again be UÇK veterans, again under the command of those insulted in the Assembly today, those that have put themselves at the disposal of this country; while the clique of waiters, translators and commissaries will run to the nearest hole to hide, as they did during the Liberation War.”

This reaction, although it seems hastily put together and impulsive, aptly reflects the gloomy reality of Kosovo. It testifies to the social stratification and deep divisions that someone seeks to maintain in Kosovo and present to the public. The division is clear and familiar. It is the division into “us” and “them”, the “good guys” and the “bad guys”, into “patriots” and “traitors”, etc.

I hadn’t come across the word “clique” in a while. So, I looked it up and found this definition:

CLIQUE f. pej.

A small group of people, brought together by ambition, interest and ulterior motives, engaged in harmful activity. Treacherous (larcenous) clique. Military clique. Revisionist clique.

Let’s take a closer look at the above cliques.

A clique of waiters

Being a waiter in Kosovo means working for a pittance, under terrible conditions, without a contract, with extended working hours and with many, many other hassles. I know waiters who have worked for less than the minimum wage foreseen by collective bargaining in Kosovo, and who were both manning the bar and serving the guests. In English (given that there is also a clique of translators), this might be called a one-man show.

Many young people work as waiters and waitresses, either while at university, or until they find another job, or simple because our factories and other public enterprises have been privatised at tragicomic prices and transformed from production resources into ruins or construction plots (preferably without a permit).

Waiters and waitresses work in this occupation in order to pay their bills, electricity and water, and their tuition fees, hoping to one day find a better job in line with their abilities or dreams.

A clique of translators

Translators usually take the blame. For untranslatable statements of “our political leadership” that likes to open brackets and never close them. For working with foreigners, and with the enemy. For causing misunderstandings at meetings and other important encounters, because “you didn’t translate that right”. For the fact that Kosovo is Kosovo in English, and not Kosova, etc. It’s all their fault, of course!

This unsympathetic attitude towards translators developed in Kosovo already at the end of the war. One of the reasons translators are frowned upon in Kosovo since the end of the war is that they mostly work for foreigners, and since the government presumes that “foreigners wish us no good”, translators are considered collaborators.

Translators, and especially interpreters (those providing verbal translation) are always in the shadows, in the background. As a rule, they are not considered equal participants at meetings, they must suppress their own opinions and views, because their profession requires confidentiality, impartiality, ethics, fairness, etc. Also, it should be noted that translation is an intellectual pursuit. To be a good translator, you must be fluent in at least two languages, familiar with a wide range of terminology, and you must also have a lot of experience, because it is a very stressful and responsible job. Unfortunately, this profession is abused and undervalued under the assumption that anyone can do it.

Instead of treating them with due respect and making use of this clique to achieve their own glorious ends (given that this clique also speaks the language of the “enemy”), members of the above-mentioned organisation turn their backs on this resource!

As I said, I am myself a member of this clique.

A clique of commissaries

Who are the commissaries? What are the commissaries? This word sounds like it comes from some crime film, series or novel. I must reach for my dictionary again to look up its meaning. And I fear that our dictionary (from those bygone times) will give this word a positive spin, for all too familiar reasons. Let’s see… I can’t find the word “commissary” because the statement was written with (at least one) typo. Perhaps the error was intentional, sarcastic even?!

The dictionary has the following entry:

COMMISSARm.

Head of the political organisation in a military unit, the command chief responsible for political and military education. Political commissar. Red commissars (partisans). A squadron (battalion, brigade, division, unit) commissar.

Since this word has military connotations, I will retreat and surrender. I don’t think I can deduce or make sense of what was meant by this epithet. Perhaps the insinuation was that the “Self-determination” Movement is positioned as a social-democratic party, perhaps because it opposes right-wing politics, who knows…

In conclusion, many statements by politicians, and by various organisations and associations in Kosovo, often – intentionally or unintentionally – tend to unfortunately contain offensive language towards entire social groups. And they are mistaken when they assume that the people are uneducated, that ordinary people cannot understand, that these words are note meant for them, etc.

It is lamentable that such a statement depreciates the occupations of a large segment of society. What is more, it is lamentable that this depreciation comes precisely from an organisation that is supposed to represent the ideals of freedom and independence of the entire people, including all the waiters and waitresses, translators, labourers and the legions of others making an honest living.

I do not regret having chosen this profession. And you, what do you do?!

Qerim Ondozi

A Rubicon with hundreds of tributaries (about Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Božo Ljubić, formerly of the Council of Ministers of BiH and currently a member of the Croat National Assembly, threatened at the end of August that BiH may very well cross the Rubicon already next year, unless the current Croat question is resolved through changes to the BiH Constitution and Election Law. “And what lies beyond the Rubicon, we shall all see together and it should leave no one in BiH feeling indifferent,” said Ljubić, who usually says what the “first among the Croats” Dragan Čović is thinking, but prefers not to say in order to maintain his “promoter of European values” image. The Rubicon in BiH has hundreds of tributaries, and our caesars proclaim: The bone has been cast.

Victory over anti-fascism

“I think 2016 will be better than 2017,” a BiH politician confided to me between two political crises at the end of 2016. That each passing year is better than the next is one of the rare promises our politicians manage to fulfil. Some will say it was just a slip of the tongue and the rest is pettiness. It is a slip of the tongue, perhaps, but only perhaps, when the mayor of Sarajevo states on 9 May that “today we mark Victory Day over anti-fascism. However, events in 2017, when a primary school in Sarajevo was named after someone who in 1942 welcomed the disappearance of the Jewish spirit from the down-town Čaršija make it seem less likely that it was just a slip of the tongue.

2017 also saw us go headlong from one crisis into another, and any attempt to count all the crises would be pointless. It is worth noting just the few that reminded us how frail the (absence of) peace we are living is.

The crisis surrounding the marking of 9 January as Republika Srpska Day, which the Constitutional Court of BiH had ruled unconstitutional, and the lining up of the Armed Forces of BiH on that occasion, set the tone for the year that was just beginning. A parade of all things in uniform in the RS (from the police to firefighters and rescue workers) organised on the occasion in Banja Luka served as an opportunity for the entity’s president to show how, though he may not have an army, he certainly had a base that could easily be transformed into an armed force. Just eight months later, it would turn out that those same firefighters had not even the basic means to do their jobs, so the wildfires in Herzegovina raged for days while the only effective measure the authorities could come up with was to pray for rain.

The decision to apply to the International Court of Justice for revision of its Judgement in the case of BiH v. Serbia, and reactions to the Court’s rejection of the Application for Revision as invalid because it was initiated by one Member of the Presidency of BiH (Bakir Izetbegović) and not the whole of the BiH Presidency, showed how irresponsibly politicians behave towards war trauma, victims and their families, and peacebuilding in the region. The decision to apply for revision was made completely outside any institutional framework, at a kind of consultation among tribal leaders, within a small circle of political party supporters, despite clear warnings from experts that it would end in fiasco and have long-term negative consequences. In just a few days, the Court rejected the application for revision without going into the merits, which took the Bosniak politicians by surprise, since they had hoped the revision process would drag out for at least a few years. Mutual accusations were hurled among political leaders, victims’ associations were once again exploited to discredit the International Court of Justice, only to have it all be forgotten just a few months later. But this finally brought the full circle in BiH to a close: Along with extra-institutional actions undermining the little of the state left standing, dissatisfaction with the work of international tribunals and allegations of conspiracy against us are now a common heritage to all peoples in BiH.

The Judgement of the ICTY in the case of Prlić and other leaders of so-called Herceg-Bosna is expected at the end of 2017 and will probably cause a crisis, whatever the final outcome. We already hear comments ranging from justice has been done to the ICTY made a political decision: the lines and props, the whole text of the play has already been written, now it’s just a matter of casting the actors.

Our little Himmelreich

The previously started carving out of our little Himmelreich, also translated as lebensraum continued in 2017. (E.g.: Čović: I will always consider Stolac a Croat space; Dodik: The Muslims have occupied the Drina again.) At the same time, members of all three peoples, as well as the left-behinds, continue to line up in front of foreign embassies hoping to sign out of being Bosniak, Croat or Serb and apply for Gastarbeiter status. Except that, as opposed to the 1970s and 1980s, this time around, they are leaving for good. The emptying country is then eagerly bought up at a bargain by foreigners who show us nothing new, save for confirming what we already know:  that the BiH authorities would happily sell off God and his Father for the right kickback, and just the other day sold off part of the river Bosna springs, the plains of Mount Bjelašnica, the valley of the river Buna.

BiH is a prime illustration of the difference between negotiating and deal-making. Political leaders negotiate about solving problems of vital importance to ordinary people, while stoking fears, opening up old wounds and hiding behind the pronoun we. On the other side, they make deals very politely, quietly, behind closed doors, always in the first person: about taking out new loans, divvying up public enterprises and other public resources. The state, or the part of it that is supposed to provide care for those in need, is dying off each year; maternity and children’s benefits have all but disappeared, hospitals, subjected as of this year to a new round of self-serving reforms, no longer offer even ordinary bandages and compresses free of charge, daycare fees are through the roof… Increasingly empty primary schools, especially those outside urban areas, are literally collapsing in on themselves; almost every city is struggling either with water supply, or waste disposal, or public transport, and Sarajevo, presumably because it is the capital, struggles with all of the above. At the same time, just this year, the state has found various ways to force citizens to shell out an additional BAM 50 each month for different types of taxes, surtaxes, fees and other administrative carbuncles.

The Hagiography of the Three Kings

Nothing explains the state of affairs in the legal order better than the situation in the law enforcement and judicial system. Police agencies do not cooperate, they often obstruct each other’s activities, and the complete politicisation of prosecutors’ offices and courts at all levels testifies to the failure of justice system reforms. Daily media reports on the work of the prosecutors’ offices increasingly resemble TV soaps with bad acting and worse scripts. And when nothing is going right, at least you can never go wrong with historical spectacle. Take it from the Turks making the TV series Alija, such an idyllic hagiography that even the Izetbegović family was compelled to tell them to turn it down a notch. The making of a film about Radovan Karadžić has already been announced (my proposal for the title: Radovan I) and the trilogy could be nicely rounded off with a film about Mate Boban.

The structural organisation of BiH and the all-pervasive political promiscuity make it difficult to clearly distinguish between the opposition and those in power:  It’s hard to avoid, what with 10 cantons, two entities and (not) one state, being in government somewhere. The nominal opposition in FBiH, guided by the principle of divide in order to unite, is trying to gather around SDP, a party that first splintered off giving us DF, and then DF had its own splinter in the form of GS… The tactics and political strategy of the left are simple and unique:  in 2018, we’ll forgive the people for not voting for us in 2014. New parties with old faces, built around vanities, and popularly referred to as PokemonGo parties because of their tendency to hunt for new members before quickly retreating back to the Poké Ball whence they came, are hardly worth mentioning. The opposition in RS, embodied by the Coalition for Change, rife with intra-party and intra-coalition frictions, under constant heavy artillery fire by the regime media, can hardly be expected to stand up to Dodik, especially when they assent to the game of Who’s a Bigger Serb, where Dodik gives them a three-round head-start only to catch up with them without even breaking a sweat. Still, a noteworthy paradox is that, especially among the Bosniaks, the two most popular ministers, and by relevant evaluations considered also the two most useful within the Council of Ministers, come from SDS.

No People, No Problems

A number of important steps forward in peacebuilding should be noted. The BiH Interreligious Council organised a joint visit to sites of suffering, with the Deputy Grand Mufti, Husein ef. Smajić, Bishop Grigorije, Cardinal Vinko Puljić and the President of the Jewish Community paying their respects at Kazani, Križančevo selo, Kruščica and Korićanske stijene, together. Although this is an important symbolic gesture, even without delving deeper into their motives, we are left with the hope that religious communities will recognise the potential they have not just for dismantling, but also for building peace. Together with veterans that used to be on warring sides, CNA visited Zavidovići and the so-called Vozuća battleground, to pay respects to the fallen and call for finding the missing and marking the sites of suffering. Zavidovići and its local authorities are slowly but surely, and, fortunately or unfortunately, far from the public eye, making seven-mile strides. Mayor Hašim Mujanović invited Serb refugees to return, and shortly thereafter visited one of the returnee villages to attend Slava festivities, he supported the returnees and condemned the desecration of monuments, and then, finally, 22 years after the war, approval was given for a monument to mark one of the unmarked sites of suffering of Serbs. It is encouraging that Hašim Mujanović is not a lone example:  On the other end of BiH, the Mayor of Rudo has been laying wreaths at the memorial to Bosniak victims, and this year he said:  I am glad that as Mayor, I can send a message of understanding another’s pain and sorrow and a message for a better life of future generations.

Rudo is an illustrative example for another problem (de)facing BiH: the departure of the most vital part of the population. To date, there is no study on why people are leaving, and in recent years it has become apparent that even those that had jobs and could make a basic living are still leaving. For a government that sees the people as a problem, this seems like a win-win situation:  No people = no problems.

Nedžad Novalić

The stormy years are not over (we havent seen anything yet) (about Croatia)

The boss and the collapse of the state of Croatia

Strange things have started to happen in this 2017, which is drawing to a close. By happen, I refer primarily to the collapse of Agrokor, the business empire of Ivica Todorić, the man to whom the state of Croatia, had been mother for a long time, and then all of a sudden become stepmother, to use the vernacular.

Since the financial wrongdoings of Todorić family have started to rise to the surface and the Croatian Democratic Union’s (HDZ) government adopted the infamous Lex Agrokor in order to save what can be saved and prevent the implosion of the entire economy, proportions of criminal wrongdoings under the high patronage of the state were disclosed, uncovering that within their capillary branched business empire, Todorić family had their hands in an incredible amount of various business sectors.

Todorić, known to the people as the Boss, who is now enjoying luxurious comfort of London where he is writing his blog, regularly sends threats to the HDZ’s government, while being aware that it will be difficult to bring him to a justice system of Croatia, which was disgraced long time ago. His story began at the same time as the one of the independent state of Croatia and from the very beginning those two have been almost touchingly, inseparably interconnected. It was an open secret for a long time, a secret that only a few media reported on. I say a few, because most of them lived off the advertising of countless companies of Agrokor corporation. Ignoring the reality – a small price to pay for expensive media advertising. In addition to that, the biggest advertiser at the same time ran a monopoly in press distribution, which completely cemented whatever chance there was for criticism in mainstream media.  (Link)

It was only last year that the public gained insight into the Croatian success story, with the release of the documentary The Boss, by filmmaker Dario Juričan, whose linear narrative also offered details on how Todorić family members had acquired public property just so they could convert it into a private one for shamefully little money, or no many at all, and made then state owned companies part of their own business apparatus, all under the high patronage of Franjo Tuđman. The state favoured them right from the beginning and let them expand, so much so that in more than twenty years of the independence of Croatia no government dared to deal with this matter. It wasn’t until recently that it became impossible for them to keep their head above water when foreign creditors discovered the extent of financial disaster which was presented by Agrokor as the prettiest and most successful story of Croatian business, the one that allegedly enabled thousands of Croatian workers to make a living.

The story about Tuđman’s plan to have 200 rich families upon which the state will rely was rehashed long time ago, but remains relevant, while the consequences of such policy are more obvious than ever. The state that triumphantly made a transit to a market economy in the nineties, never really tasted the market, for what it takes to be successful in business is to be a part of the clientelist networks, tightly connected with politics and corrupt state structures. “Those who are fit, instead the competent ones” – it is the catchword that all of us adopted long time ago. Everything is the same now except that Todorić is gone, and the Croatian media can finally open their hefty files on the wrongdoings and lavish lifestyles of Todorić family members and their minions, files that also contain secrets that were deliberately kept under the carpet for such a long time. An excellent example of one such leap from total ignorance to in-depth knowledge is an article recently published in The Morning Paper that enlists everyone who had profited in one way or another from Agrokor’s privileged position. (Link)

About Tuđman being the beginning and the end of everything

Yet another one of the disillusioned Croatian war veterans, who tend to take their own life quite often during the few decades of Croatian independence, recently committed suicide at the grave of the first Croatian president dr Franjo Tuđman, as he is fondly referred to. Until now no veteran has gone as far in expressing their disappointment to the very spring of the independent state of Croatia. Except for the scratchy description of the tragedy in the media, nobody, neither from the left nor from the right, at least not within public political space, directed their attention to the huge symbolism of this suicidal act.

It’s not surprising at all, because in 2017 Croatia one can sense the nineties are back again in the air, hence it seems that no one dares to look through what Franjo Tuđman means to us or what he means to them. Just when we remember that during the tenure of Zoran Milanović as prime minister, then SDP’s government renamed the Pleso Airport to dr Franjo Tuđman Airport. Tuđman is the last defence of Croatness even when you disagree with everything about it. People died for him, therefore it’s better not to mess with him. An article reminded me that during his regime, even with all the demographic-reproductive hysteria produced by the likes of don Ante Baković and his slogans, like the legendary one that goes: „Croatian mother, give us a child“, there weren’t any even remotely serious attempts to reduce women’s reproductive rights as is the case today, with conservative revolution in full swing. (Link)

So, instead of going to the future, we rapidly travel to the past in these millennial years, carried by the wings of conservative revolution, which is not happening only to us, but elsewhere in the region and the world. In the context of Croatia, Catholic fundamentalist are running amok, various initiatives funded by the Catholic Church are teaming up with each other and organising rallies, i.e. ”walks for life”, for the unborn, the embryo, the foetus. Should we even add: all that, while caring less than ever before for those already living.

In defence of unborn life

Social tensions and polarisation in Croatia remain on a high level, economic and worldview differences are growing ever bigger, while right-wing clerical forces are growing stronger, and more ambitious than ever, which is especially worrying. Last year, Zlatko Hasanbegović, during his short tenure as culture minister, literally finished off non-profit media, which was the only real opposition to the omnipresent social regression, embodied both in fanatical defence of homeland as if it were constantly in danger and creation of rather strong fundamentalist Catholic movement, origins of which are in the In the Name of the Family Association. Their great success was the amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia with the definition of marriage that implies that the only possible marriage is the one between a man and a woman. Then there’s a recent attempt to amend the Family Law with the definition of family which comprises only heterosexual marriages with children (thus excluding even single mothers and fathers, children born out of marriage, unmarried couples and all kinds of combinations of human coexistence, not to mention LGBTIQ persons). It goes on, all the way to long-term campaigns for the abolishment of abortion and frantic battle against the notion of gender and the gender ideology created for those purposes, consequentially resulting in being against the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women because it comprises the definition of gender conditioned violence.

Conservative revolution amongst Croats is similar to the ones in Poland or America. Pro-life movement has its Croatian version in the form of an obscure Vigilare Foundation and its main representative, diaspora returnee Vice Batarelo, who stated that raped women should give birth, too because „who are we to decide which child should be born and which not“ when he delivered almost 170 thousand signatures of support to the Parliament for „protection of unborn life“. On top of that, he also said that it was scientifically proven that the percentage of abortions was smaller amongst women who had been raped“ (!) Logically, woman’s body is once again used as a battlefield, a territory to be conquered, disciplined and harnessed for the purpose of breeding of the nation. Women are again forced, by way of their own bodies, into the chains of religion and nation, so that they could be deprived of their right to decide autonomously, that they had already won in the socialist Yugoslavia.

On HDZ not being neither right-wing enough nor catholic enough

Hasanbegović, Batarelo and the rest of their fundamentalist, ultra-nationalist lot are the representatives of a strong new course for whom HDZ is not even nearly radical enough in defending Croatian and Catholic values, while current HDZ’s PM Andrej Plenković is unacceptably (too much of a) liberal. How will HDZ deal with growing extremism within what has been their own electorate until recently, remains to be seen. They were much better in harnessing radicals in the dark nineties, which is something I don’t want to think through.

2017 is the year in which HDZ’s outcast Zlatko Hasabegović managed to do in a few months what many could not achieve in decades, after having finished his successful offensive against non-profit media. It’s the man who is the president of a newly formed party: Bruna Esih and Zlatko Hasabegović – Independent for Croatia, and holds a PhD in history, but publicly denies the existence of the Ustaša concentration camp in Jasenovac, stubbornly repeating that “For homeland – ready!” is an old Croatian salute. Namely, he managed to stop the sore spot of Croatian nationalism from dripping any longer, because one prominent town Square in Zagreb which was called The Marshal Tito’s Square all this time became the Square of the Republic of Croatia, just in case we don’t forget where we are.

So, happy New Year 2018 to all of us.  It will certainly be the year where one hundred flowers of conservative nationalistic revolution will bloom in the conditions of clientelist capitalism.

Jelena Svirčić

 

To Have Your Cake and Eat It Too (about Serbia)

Autocratic practice

The current President of Serbia, and until recently its prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, likes to compare himself to the late president of SFRY, Josip Broz Tito, a statesman of great international renown wielding absolute authority within the country. Tito was, among other things, president-for-life of SFRY. To be fair to Mr Vučić, we would have to give him more time, because, after all, Tito was in power for almost 40 years, whereas Vučić has spent the past five as deputy prime minister and prime minister and has a previous stint as minister for information from 1998 to 2000, i.e. before, during and after the war in Kosovo (a time of mass human rights abuses and mass repression by the regime). In some respects Mr Vučić has already surpassed his incomparably more esteemed and well-known predecessor, e.g. in media presence. If you watch the central news programme on the public broadcasting service, it is by no means unusual to see the President talk for twenty minutes at a time, asking himself questions and answering them, responding to accusations whose original form we never hear and making fun of the opposition who never get a chance to respond, and in general to engage in “dialogue” with himself. These twenty minutes are usually followed by news about what the president did that day and with whom he met. It’s enough to make you think the man was all powerful, being in several places at once, solving the problems of each individual citizen and overseeing the work of every single government official, despite this not being within his mandate. Tito never managed to dominate the media landscape to such a degree, though he was not modest himself.

The president has his newspaper whose headlines “reveal traitors”, paint targets on people’s foreheads, shoot off affairs, assassination attempts, declarations and threats of war, coups, but whenever it suits him, he pretends he has nothing to do with it. To clusters of front-page articles about how weapons were found near his home, that an assassination was attempted with a car, etc. he responds demurely and humbly that he is not afraid for his life and is readily willing to sacrifice himself for the citizens of Serbia.

But apart from the evident self-enamourment—which, to be fair, few politicians in Serbia are immune to—Mr Vučić’s rule is also interesting in terms of how he endeavours to be his own opposition. And a much better opposition, in fact, than the actual opposition. That is one more area where he excels.

Thus, as he commits to dialogue with the Albanians and invites the opposition to engage in dialogue, independent reporters are exposed to attacks left uninvestigated by the police and the shady dealings they discovered are covered up with stories about foreign centres of power from the West making up such allegations and paying reporters to disseminate them. At the same time, without batting an eyelash, he receives politicians from those same Western countries, swears by the rule of law, human rights, media freedoms, his commitment to the EU. At the very same time, his right hand man is the defence minister who swears an oath of loyalty and cooperation to Russia, and the previous president from the same party is the president of the newly invented Council for Cooperation with Russia and China, supported by a monthly budget of about a million Euros.

Vučić supports historical dialogue with the Albanians to ensure lasting peace, but only provided that Kosovo is Serbian, which he will continue repeating as soon as he leaves Brussels. And, of course, he is against unconstitutional solutions. At the same time, a demonised image of the Albanians as centuries-old bitter enemies is carefully nurtured by media close to the government and individual officials, so that any contact with Albanians gives rise to suspicions that a plot is being hatched against Serbs. I don’t remember the president ever opposing hate speech, except when he claimed he or those close to him had been the targets.

An opposition to himself

When public service workers go on strike, the minister, a close collaborator of the president, gets upset at them for being ungrateful and undermining the government’s efforts towards stabilisation, while the president shows understanding and promises to raise the standard. Most often, though, he explains how they are already doing better than before, they’re just not aware of it.

When he claims that Serbia is a regional leader in economic growth, then the public broadcasting service and the unofficially co-opted private TV stations omit independent data indicating the opposite and instead simply repeat what they have been told. This is not just a matter of wishful thinking, there is also the very real risk that those claiming otherwise will be targetted by tabloids and other mercenaries working for the powers that be. The president is well aware of this, but he has not been properly informed and is prepared to protect each and every citizen from abuse by state services, although he never does anything to punish those responsible and enforce implementation, because, after all, this is not within his mandate. He is against overstepping the mandate, but favours it when the country and its citizens need it. He gets upset when the rare courageous (meaning ill-intentioned) reporters ask him how he can be both “for” and “against” something and when they remind him of all his broken promises, because he is so well-intentioned all the time that those who can’t see it must be ill-intentioned.

When two specialists from the ministry of education approved a primary school manual with guidance on how to avoid discrimination against children of minority sexual orientation, the church promptly exerted pressure to have them fired. On the other hand, the president appoints a lesbian who came out publicly as prime minister. He has his cake and eats it too. And round and round it goes. What is the opposition to do when he is already the opposition? And though it may seem funny from a distance, when you watch the news programmes on the public broadcaster, there is nothing unclear or illogical. Why should it be strange that the president likes to ask himself questions, “criticising” and commending himself, being “for” and “against” something at the same time?

Neighbourly relations

When violent demonstrations broke out in Skopje in late April, with the demonstrators breaking into the parliament, the footage showed a member of the secret service from the Serbian Embassy. His presence and role were never explained, but the newly constituted Macedonian authorities did not seek to deport him from the country. In late August 2017, a sudden and dramatic decision was made to evacuate and close the Serbian embassy in Skopje, Macedonia, citing “hostile, offensive actions against Serbia”. Social networks were immediately flooded with jokes about this alleged animosity, poking fun at the Serbian diplomacy for this ridiculous move, but just a few days later, without publishing any explanation, the staff were returned to the embassy, because apparently Vučić had made a deal with the Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev. This constant generation of apparent dramas where Vučić comes in to save the day is his habitual model of behaviour. He is the one to propose a joint session to the Macedonian government, without anyone asking, wait a minute, he’s the president, how is he proposing this, isn’t that the job of the prime minister? Having built up a personality cult around his leadership, with ample help and support from others, including the prime minister, issues of competences and rule of law fall by the wayside, investigations into misconduct and abuse of authority are not carried out, independent mechanisms for government control are marginalised and rendered powerless, all the while, in the background, financial power is amassed in the hands of the government’s collaborators.

During this period of rule by the party belonging to the president, relationships with neighbouring countries deteriorated drastically, especially with Croatia, but also with Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The foreign minister, Mr Dačić, has distinguished himself by presenting conspiracy theories, while the most powerful man in Serbia is, by all accounts, quite pleased with what the minister is doing. This same minister for diplomacy, Mr Dačić, speaks with no shame about previous governments, that he himself was part of, as pestilent, has only the best to say about the time of Milošević’s rule, conspiracy theories form the foundation for all his knowledge, and he excels at spoiling relationships with neighbours at every opportunity. But, if it weren’t for him and the defence minister, president Vučić himself would appear much worse than he does by comparison with the two of them – that is why they are as they are. Perhaps this is the reason why the EU, currently involved in membership negotiations with Serbia, has not come out with any unambiguous criticism. Although it is clear that without normalising relations with Kosovo, there can be no prospects for membership, tolerance for government actions undermining the foundations of legal certainty and equality of citizens, fostering impunity and facilitating a lynching climate with respect to the opposition, can prove fatal in the long run when it comes to the culture of democracy in Serbia.

In July 2017, the only trial in Serbia for crimes committed in Srebrenica was suspended for formal reasons, namely, because at the time of the indictment there was no mandate for a war crimes prosecutor. Intentionally or not, this vacuum was created by the current government, and the outcome is that a trial is terminated, which may also happen with other prosecutions. This, of course, contributes to widening the gap and distrust between Bosniaks and Serbs and creates tensions in the relationship between BiH and Serbia.

Further consequences for the whole region are terrible and dangerous, because they incite fear, hatred, unscrupulously open up old wounds and hamper creating conditions for better and safer living.

The Macedonian Scenario

Civil servants live in fear of being let go if they publicly express their oppositional political leanings and it is yet to be seen how far that pressure can grow before it explodes in dissatisfaction and liberation from fear.

Public figures who raise their voice against autocratic rule, unfree media and the brainwashing by regime media are proclaimed enemies of the state by state and/or party officials, they are removed from public broadcasters, their appearances are cancelled, any institutions intending to go against this ban are punished and fear rules supreme. In TV appearances, lists are read of people accused of being foreign mercenaries and enemies with links to war criminals and organised crime.

The past year has seen many big leaps backwards, a decline in democratic culture, critical awareness, institutional autonomy, freedom from government control and corruption, and this is what discourages young people and forces them to seek their future outside the country. It is clear that this system cannot be maintained indefinitely and that sooner or later it will collapse in on itself. I have no fear that it can remain as it is for long, but we are losing whole generations and that is the damage that will remain.

During his campaign this spring, the current presidents talked about how “someone is preparing a Macedonian scenario to bring down Serbia” and how he would not let that happen at any cost. The Macedonian scenario is when citizens protest against the privatisation of the state for criminal purposes: against illegal surveillance and intimidation, against election fraud, against corruption and a system of impunity that the VMRO government had implemented in Macedonia. The current president seems to think that bringing down that kind of system would be a bad thing, but fortunately it is inevitable, because people were not born to be slaves, obedient servants or poltroons, although some find themselves in these roles.

Nenad Vukosavljević

 

 Çka tash? / What now? (about Macedonia)

Too much has happened in Macedonia in the past year to fit into a short account, especially since all these events seem to be important parts of the mosaic I am trying to assemble in order to understand the processes at play and create a perspective for myself that would allow for more than just reacting to daily events and shocks.

Two years after the opposition published intercepted communications, the long awaited parliamentary elections were finally held on 11 December 2016, bringing both difficult and unexpected results.

The incumbent Christian Democrats VMRO DPMNE, despite a huge drop, still remained the biggest party. The ruling Albanian DUI lost half their seats, but still remained the biggest party in the so-called Albanian bloc. Two new Albanian parties were formed – the Alliance for Albanians and BESA – and made their way into parliament. The Social Democrats won just one seat less than the VMRO-DPMNE, but the surprise (not just for them, but generally) was that for the first time they won tens of thousands of Albanian votes.

It is even more surprising to see which Albanian towns they won: apart from urban areas, there were many smaller towns that had suffered the most during the 2001 war, places that, for the most part, have an (ethnic) Albanian majority. In essence, if the Albanians hadn’t voted for SDSM in such numbers, the difference between the SDSM and VMRO would have been dramatically greater and deposing VMRO would have been – if not impossible – much more difficult, and it was hellish as it is. How is this possible, what happened?!

More on that later.

Things only got heated up after the elections. Due to a particularly vile anti-Albanian campaign conducted by the VMRO, it now found itself in a situation where, despite being the biggest individual party and having thus received the president’s mandate to form a government, it was unable to find an Albanian partner. The president remained loyal to his party boss from VMRO and compounded the situation by unconstitutionally refusing to grant the mandate to the second biggest party, i.e. the Social Democrats.

Captured state

Due to the ongoing state capture situation (term used in the last European Commission report) the crisis only deepened. City streets were seeing regular nationalist processions under the direction of VMRO.

Finally, the president yielded and SDSM announced they had secured agreement with all the Albanian parties for participation in or support for the new government. This was the situation that saw that dramatic 27 April 2017, when a mob of a few hundred people burst into the barely held constitutive session of the Sobranie (where for the first time since the country’s independence an Albanian speaker was elected) and attacked the delegates from the new parliamentary majority. Images of the dramatic violence probably made their rounds in the region. We saw them while at the regional basic training organised by CNA in Ohrid (where I was a member of the training team). We watched the dispatches from the Sobranie expecting that the truly tragic caricature posing as the country’s president would proclaim a state of emergency and herald in an even more dramatic period for the country. This did not happen, however, and he gave in at the end (or he got scared, or someone warned him that this would be a bit too much for his and Macedonia’s capacities, whatever he may imagine while standing alone in front of a mirror).

The violence has never been legally clarified, but from a number of investigative reports and testimonies of those present, it is quite clear what happened. The former prime minister and VMRO leader was out of the country (as he habitually has been in the past decade whenever something dramatic is taking place in Macedonia – the recognition of Kosovo, the two-day war in Kumanovo in 2015, etc.). The few hundred demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament were let in by a few VMRO delegates (as can be seen from the interior video surveillance footage). The smaller gang of assailants that burst into the hall where delegates of SDSM and the Albanian parties had barricaded themselves, was made up of 20 to 30 people, half of whom were criminals and thugs from different cities and the other half (those wearing masks) were various police and army officers that had, most probably, been to the parliament building before; they were brought in through a side entrance, knew the layout of the halls and were able to direct the mob.

The story going around is that the plan was to create a massive incident (perhaps even to liquidate someone, ideally an Albanian delegate, Zijadin Sela barely made it out alive, namely, the assailants stopped beating him only because they thought he was dead), which would spill over into unrest on the streets and enable the president to proclaim a state of emergency. I don’t know what was happening behind the scenes, but I know for certain that the delegates who were there, along with a few security guards who remained loyal to them (or rather, remained loyal to their profession) took it all stoically and prevented their adherents, who had started gathering at a number of locations around Skopje, from coming to the parliament to defend them. It was hours before the special police were ordered to break into the parliament and bring out the injured. Once again, we were all made to walk the edge of the precipice.

Setting up the government proceeded (and is still going on) slowly, with daily acts of sabotage. Eleven years of rule makes for deep and widespread placements, there are many who are loyal or blackmailed, especially in the justice system. Very quickly, before the new government was constituted, they made sure that those participating in the violence in the parliament got “convicted” of the minor offence of “participation in a mob” with conditional sentences, which is preposterous. To this day, the justice system remains largely loyal to the old ruling power and when it comes to their prosecution, everything is either terribly slow or completely impossible.

Hopes and disappointments

We are now awaiting local elections (scheduled for 15 October) and the VMRO (which, by the way, is the richest party in the whole of Europe according to a European study conducted last year) have a campaign going, promising new parliamentary elections if they win the local elections.

I would now like to go back to that question from the beginning of this text: how come so many Albanians voted for a “Macedonian” party in the parliamentary elections, where in a society such as Macedonia it is very important to identify yourself ethnically and count how many of “you” (us, them…) there are in the country. Like many in the country who were not part of the clientelist (and intimidation) system, the Albanians were very dissatisfied with the way DUI contributed to the government, either through corruption, adopting the same practices or by turning a blind eye. They saw in SDSM a very real possibility to punish “their own” political elites. These initial ethnic intersections within the anti-government movement appeared in the past few years and grew through the protests and other actions.

In the past years, as a society, we were pushed to the brink of ethnic conflict (sometimes with casualties), but we withstood these pressures. There was also a growing awareness that these conflicts were largely fabricated by the elites used to ruling, each in their own ethnic corpus, on a ticket of supreme patriotism. This made ethnic conflict super profitable for them. And then somewhere along the way this awareness crossed a threshold that I myself cannot precisely locate. Those of us engaged in activism, and especially in peace work, watched this growing energy overcoming ethnic boundaries as potential cooperation was put into practice. This cooperation was truly established at the protests and it ceased to be a spectre or even big news. And now, after the elections and this tortuous start to the post-VMRO transition, expectations are high.

However, for the local elections the SDSM have decided to enter into an arrangement with the DUI (which, though not an official coalition, is the first instance of public cooperation between an Albanian and a Macedonian party since the start of democratic elections). Still, many Albanians who voted for SDSM or other opposition parties due to their disappointment with DUI are now in a situation where they feel they may be betrayed. They believe this is a political deal that will absolve DUI of responsibility in exchange for a win at the elections. And not just that. There is a whole set of political manoeuvres that are expected and the wrongs of the past that had previously been buried under a mound of nationalism to justify them, as well as potentially innocent people put in prisons. All these are cases we are very much interested in bringing to light.

Bitter aftertaste

There is somewhat of a bitter aftertaste when you look closely at their “opening up” to new Albanian voters. It is clear how this is completely new ground for them and all doubts about their honesty or even understanding of the situation and the people seem justified to me. As if they had received unconditional support, which they haven’t! I see this development as a regression, because this sort of composition pushes us back into ethnic positions.

And once we had felt the liberating energy of overcoming ethnic walls, where maybe for the first time we felt we were in a good place for a new beginning, the possible outcome, at least in the short run, seems disappointing. I don’t know if it could have been otherwise. I don’t know if they could have done it differently even if they wanted to, I am aware of the resistance and the ignorance that abound. I am disappointed that they do not recognise their big chance. I’m not a pessimist (I wouldn’t know how to be) and I don’t believe the VMRO will win the local elections (though they are very strong, they hold almost all the financially and politically powerful municipalities), but I do know that many, many people see this year as the last chance they are personally prepared to give the country to start establishing itself as at least decent towards its citizens. And these are not people who spent the past years sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else, on the contrary!

P.S. By the way, only 5.3% of the mayoral candidates at these elections are women. Most likely, as with the above Macedonian-Albanian relations, this issue is also subordinated to more important priorities.

Boro Kitanoski