Saturday, June 23, 2007

U.S., Russian lawmakers feud over status of Kosovo

By Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A historic first public session of U.S. and Russian lawmakers turned into a bitter clash over the status of Kosovo on Thursday, with accusations flying of slander and rewriting history.

Amid a rocky period in U.S.-Russian relations, House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Lantos organized the get-together to try to set the stage for President George W. Bush's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin early next month.
Lantos insisted after the 2-1/2 hour open session that there was more common ground than disagreement between the two sides -- six from the Russian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and a similar number of Americans from Lantos' panel.

"We do not sweep our differences under the rug," the California Democrat said.
But one Russian, Natalia Narochnitskaya, irked the Americans by questioning Lantos' statement that there had been ethnic cleansing in the 1990s in Kosovo, a Serbian province of 2 million people dominated by ethnic Albanians.

There had been cases where corpses of people who died in various circumstances in the province were gathered together to make it look like mass killings, Narochnitskaya said, noting for the record that she was a history professor.
"You have to doubt that there were mass cleansings," she declared through a translator. "Of course, some Serbs shot at Albanians."

"Nobody in their right mind would deny that ethnic cleansing happened in Kosovo," said Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat. "She may be a professor of history but she doesn't have the right to rewrite history."

Kosovo says 12,000 Albanian civilians were killed in ethnic warfare between Serbs and Albanians in the province. Serbia puts the toll of civilians and combatants at 9,000, of which 6,500 were Albanian.

Independent tallies range from 7,500 to 12,000 victims, mostly Albanian civilians who were murdered.

The province has been under U.N. administration for almost eight years, but Europeans and the United States are pushing for Kosovo's independence from Serbia.
Russia, an ally of Serbia which has veto power on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council, opposes independence for Kosovo.

Narochnitskaya said the Kosovo Albanians were Muslims and warned: "You are creating a militant Islamic state ... in the center of Europe."
"It's slander," Engel shot back, saying that the Albanian population were secular Muslims and not militants.

Before the talk turned to Kosovo, discussions had politely covered other areas of dispute, from Russia's human rights record under Putin to missile defense, where the two sides disagree over Bush's plan to put a missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Like a mini-superpower summit from the Cold War era, the two sides exchanged gifts and professions of admiration for one another's peoples. Large Russian and American flags decorated the meeting room.

The Russians' chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, said he was open to a suggestion from Lantos that Russian and U.S. lawmakers try to visit Iran together for meetings with the Tehran government.

Lantos has tried in vain to get a visa to Iran and he appealed to Kosachev for help.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Kosovo status talks: Serbia wins the second round

By Ferik F.
Balkan Update
Another round of International negotiation to determine the status of Kosovo has essentially ended, and Serbia won this round. Credit be given to whom it’s due, Serbia, who managed to postpone the independence of Kosovo, yet again, despite repeated promises by the E.U and the U.S that Kosovo would become independent this summer. Russia actually did the deed, but the fact that Serbia stood up to the E.U and U.S pressure is pretty amazing. Or another conclusion one could come to is that the E.U remains a spineless ‘superpower’ and does not dare challenge the rouge nation of Russia, while the U.S doesn’t really view the Independence of Kosovo as much of a big deal. Whichever conclusion you come to, either way, Serbia is the winner of this round.

As we all know, Kosovo was the winner of the first round when Ahtisaari recommended essential Independence a few months ago. This was not due to the skills of Kosovo leaders but a merely a recognition by Ahtisaari that Independence was the only realistic solution. But despite that, all Kosovo leaders were happy to claim credit. Some of them even promised Independence by May; while other insisted June was the correct month. Nobody really knows why on earth they would promise something they could not deliver, but it appears the U.S UNDERSECRETARY of State Chris Burns was the culprit. In numerous occasions he explicitly told Kosovo leaders that Kosovo would become independent by June. Long behold Mr. Burns is nowhere to be found now, while all Kosovo leaders are running for cover. They really look like the idiots they are. These people actually thought that Europe and U.S was going to deliver Independence on their plates, just like that. I have never seen such lack of leadership and gutlessness in my life.

Now, all it’s not done and Kosovo will probably become Independent this fall, but when it does, it will be despite of these leaders and not because of them. The third round of negotiation is critical in that it will determine whether Kosovo will actually become a real country or a banana republic. Serbia knows that it cannot really rule Kosovo again, but it will try to chop up the Ahtisaari plan as much as possible. Any further erosion of the Ahtisaari plan is a win for Serbia and a disaster for Kosovo. The question is whether the leaders of Kosovo have any guts in their stomach to say no to further compromises? I am convinced they don’t, but I hope I will be proven wrong. If EU tries to sweeten the deal for Serbia by watering down the Ahtisaari plan, it’s Kosovo’s turn to say no. After all Serbia did it (said no and nothing happen to her), why can’t Kosovo do the same?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Scandal: Greek Police caught maltreating Albanian emigrants

…………..beating them with baseball bats and making them hit each other. As if one needed another proof of Greek racism.If you remember a few moths back, Greek soldiers were caught in a similar scandal signing hateful songs while training.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kosovo war crimes suspect seized

Montenegro has arrested a former Serbian security chief accused by the UN war crimes tribunal of ordering the killing of Kosovo Albanians.

Vlastimir Djordjevic is due to be transferred to The Hague where he is one of four Serbian generals accused of crimes in the breakaway province.
The arrest may mark another step by Serbia towards better ties with the EU.
Earlier in June, Belgrade helped arrest Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Zdravko Tolimir, who is now at The Hague.

Mr Djordjevic was for a time thought to be hiding in Russia.
A tribunal spokesman, Anton Nikiforov, told AFP news agency that his arrest in Montenegro had come about with Serbia's co-operation.
"His transfer to The Hague is under way," the spokesman added.

Mr Djordjevic's arrest leaves only four suspects wanted by the UN court on the run: former Bosnian Serb figures Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Stojan Zupljani, and former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic.

The EU has been putting pressure on Serbia, which wants closer ties, to ensure that any of the remaining suspects found on its territory are arrested and handed over to the tribunal.

The indictment against Mr Djordjevic alleges that his police units, with his support or encouragement, created an atmosphere of fear and oppression through violence that forced 800,000 ethnic Albanian civilians to flee their homes.

These units are also accused of murder, rape and the destruction of ethnic Albanian and Muslim cultural and religious monuments in Kosovo.

The violence in the Serbian province of Kosovo in 1999 ended with the intervention of Nato military forces. Since then it has been administered by the UN.

The UN Security Council is currently examining plans to grant Kosovo a form of supervised independence.
This is fiercely rejected by Serbia, which sees Kosovo as the cradle of its culture and history.
Fair use from BBC.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Kosovo must be independent

By Former foreign ministers
Published: June 15, 2007- International Herald Tribune
Kosovo is back in the headlines. President George W. Bush says that it should become independent soon. President Vladimir Putin of Russia opposes independence and prefers time for more talks. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has suggested that we move forward, with a six-month delay.

This has a familiar ring to it. Eight years ago, many of us - then foreign ministers - put in place an international process to decide who should govern Kosovo. We believe that the only viable option is for Kosovo to become independent under strict supervision. That is the proposal that is currently before the UN Security Council and is part of the process that the Council, including Russia, agreed upon and has implemented since 1999.

Kosovo is the last substantial territorial issue remaining from the violent collapse of Yugoslavia. In 2005, as called for by decisions of the Security Council, the UN secretary general appointed a special envoy - former President Martti Ahtisaari of Finland - to achieve a political settlement.
After 14 months of negotiations with the leaderships of Serbia and Kosovo, Ahtisaari announced that the irreconcilable positions of the two parties had made consensus unattainable and that no amount of additional talks would overcome the impasse. In lieu of a negotiated agreement by all sides, Ahtisaari proposed that Kosovo receive independence supervised by the international community (primarily the European Union and NATO) and provide strong guarantees for the Serbs who live in Kosovo.

Now is the time to act. Tensions are likely to rise, and they certainly will not cool. Moreover, without a resolution on Kosovo's final status, the future of Serbia and Kosovo will remain uncertain.
Some may say that Russia would prefer this limbo to a situation where Serbia and Kosovo join the European Union and NATO. Serbs and Kosovars should prefer otherwise. They deserve to be in the European Union. And Kosovo cannot develop as things stand. It has been unable to gain access to international financial institutions, fully integrate into the regional economy, or attract the political capital it needs to address its widespread unemployment and poverty.
Russia has complained of not being included in talks. It should participate, but constructively and not just to block it. What may be needed is a formulation that allows Russia to acquiesce without having to break openly with Serbia. Russia can reassure Serbs and emphasize that Kosovo is a unique situation, without precedent for other regions.

The Ahtisaari plan has several advantages. It gives rights to Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs to manage their own affairs within a democratic Kosovo, which will be protected and monitored by the international community. It also requires protection for Orthodox and Serbian cultural and religious sites. Finally, it provides for an international presence that will oversee Kosovo's institutions and monitor the settlement's implementation. It also places Kosovo on the road toward EU integration.

The European Union has agreed to supervise Kosovo during the transition period and deploy a police mission alongside the current NATO peacekeeping force. An indefinite delay caused by continued confusion over Kosovo's status could jeopardize a smooth transition to European oversight.

Kosovo is a unique situation that has required a creative solution. It should not create a precedent for other unresolved conflicts. When the Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 in response to Milosevic's actions in Kosovo, it laid the groundwork for a political process that would ultimately determine Kosovo's future.

We know that all decisions on Kosovo are difficult. Some of us kicked the issue down the road eight years ago. Today, the international community faces the hardest issue of all. But the decision is necessary, and it is the result of eight years of international collaboration.
Serbia must recognize, however, that greater stability in the Balkans promoted by the Ahtisaari plan will allow it to use its location, resources and talent to become a major regional player and a constructive force in European politics. The Serb people deserve a legitimate place in Europe and Serbia could also begin to move towards possible EU membership.

Our goal remains a Europe whole and free, with all the people of the western Balkans participating fully as EU members. The benefits of a concerted EU effort in Kosovo, backed by the UN and NATO, are enormous. As such, Russia and the other UN Security Council members should follow through on the promise that the Council made in 1999 and agree to complete the process of self-governance in Kosovo. This is the best option at this stage of a very difficult history of the whole region. Viable alternatives do not exist.
Madeleine Albright, United States
Lloyd Axworthy, Canada
Jan Eliasson, Sweden
Gareth Evans, Australia
Joschka Fischer, Germany
Bronislaw Geremek, Poland
Niels Helveg Petersen, Denmark
Lydie Polfer, Luxembourg
Jozias van Artsen, Netherlands
Hubert Vedrine, France

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Direct flights from Pristina to New York

"A direct flight from the U.S. to Kosovo has been established with one Kosovo and two U.S. companies handling flights. From Tuesday, travelers will be able to fly directly between the U.S. and Priština.Priština airport officials and companies that will participate in maintaining the flight are counting on many regional travelers, as this is the first direct flight established with the U.S. in the entire region. " [From B92, picture from the airline's website]

Oh, by the way tickets are cheaper then flying via Austria and Hungary. Bye bye Malev and Austrian Airlines.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


The competition for Kosovo’s flag and emblem is open to all those
interested, without restrictions.

Entrants should bear in mind that the people of Kosovo should be
able to identify with their flag and emblem. Accordingly, the flag
and emblem should reflect a commitment to a common future in a
spirit of respect and tolerance in Kosovo.

Flag and emblem entries will be accepted provided they arrive
within and not beyond the deadline set in this announcement and
that they fully comply with the regulations contained within this

Criteria for Proposals to Determine the Flag and Emblem of

Participants in the competition are encouraged to submit proposals
for a flag and emblem of Kosovo that:
— are simple in design and color scheme, without words, slogans,
or mottos;
— are unique and original:
— are easily recognizable; and
— reflect the aspirations of the people of Kosovo for integration
into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Any submission must adhere to the spirit and letter of the
Comprehensive Proposal for Kosovo Status Settlement.

To comply with the Comprehensive Settlement Proposal in specific
terms, all submissions:
— must not represent or approximate the flag or emblem of any
state, or the flag or emblem of any political party, movement or
institution of Kosovo, or imply any allegiance to any ethnic community
of Kosovo;
— must not utilize the representation of any eagle symbol, particularly
with regard to such depictions in the symbols of other
states; and
— must not solely utilize red and black color schemes, or red,
white and blue color schemes.
The flag should be rectangular and of the proportions of 2:3

The following regulations for the flag and emblem competition
Competition entries must be submitted in a sealed envelope
as follows:
Flag and emblem designs in full color on an A4 sheet of paper (only
one flag or emblem design per sheet). The design may be drawn by
hand or using a computer. Name and contact details must not be
written on these sheets.
A separate A4 sheet of paper containing the following information:
first and last name, address, telephone number, date and place of
birth of the entrant, as well as a reduced copy of the submitted flag
and emblem design on the same sheet, placed inside a separate
closed envelope and sent together with the flag or symbol design to
which it refers.

A declaration by the entrant as follows: “This is my own work. I
authorize the selection committee to publish or display the design both
during and after the competition. If my design is selected, I authorize its
use as the flag and emblem of Kosovo without restrictions of time or
form, and without claims for royalties or other remuneration, apart
from the rewards that are contained within this announcement.”
If more than one design is submitted, each individual design must
be shown on a separate A4 sheet. The designer’s name and contact
details must be clearly marked on one or more additional A4 sheets
together with reductions of all the designs submitted, placed inside
separate closed envelopes.

Flag and emblem designs may be accompanied by a brief description
(no more than 150 words) of the rationale behind the concept,
written on a separate sheet of paper in any of the official languages
of Kosovo.

Once an entry has been submitted, it becomes the property of the
competition commission. Thereafter the entrant(s) may not publish,
show or use the design in any public display until after the competition
has been finalized and a flag and emblem selected. Failure to
comply with this regulation may result in immediate disqualification.

The three proposals that are selected will be awarded:
1st place: 10,000 €
2nd place: 7,000 €
3rd place: 5,000 €

The competition organizers will not accept responsibility or liability
for any legal action arising from the submission of plagiarized
materials, or otherwise arising from the conduct of the

Entries for both competitions must be received no later than
5:00 p.m. on June 27, 2007.
Competition entries may be delivered in person from 8:00am
until 5:00pm, or by posted mail, in a plain envelope clearly
marked as follows:

Kosovo Unity Team
Competition for the Flag and Emblem of Kosovo
Rr. Nene Tereza
New Government Building
8th floor, nr. 803
10000 Prishtina, Kosovo
Applications sent electronically will not be accepted in order to
preserve confidentiality.
The competition will remain open 15 days from the date of
publication of the announcement.

Questions pertaining to this competition can be addressed by electronic
mail to: or telephone:
038/200-14-208, 044/929-600, 044/165-765. Fax: 038/200-14-202.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Who said Serbia has no Friends? With friends like these who needs America?

Havana, 12 June (AKI) - Cuba's leader Fidel Castro has issued a stern rebuke to United States president George W. Bush for remarks he made over the independence of breakaway Kosovo last Sunday during his visit to the Albanian capital, Tirana.

In a statement headed 'The Tyrant Visits Tirana' carried by the Cuban news agency, Castro slammed Bush for voicing support for Kosovo's independence "without the least respect for the interests of Serbia, Russia and the various European countries all sensitive to the fate of the province which was the scenario for the latest NATO war.""He lectured Serbia that it would receive economic aid if it would support the independence of Kosovo, the birthplace of that country’s culture. You can take it or you can leave it," the statement of the octogenarian Castro continued. Fiar use.

Press cheers Bush over Kosovo

Newspapers in Kosovo are delighted at President George W Bush's backing for the Kosovo Albanian independence bid, calling it an "historic moment".
One commentator points out however that efforts should now be made to accommodate Serbia and its backer Russia.

There is a tone of bitterness in the Serbian press, with one commentator accusing President Bush of making a complicated situation even more difficult.

Only an American president can do something like this: declare Kosovo independent in the centre of Tirana... This is an historic moment for all Albanians.
Thank you President Bush! See you soon in the independent and sovereign Kosovo!
Kosovo political leaders called Bush's statement that "Kosovo's independence will be the final result" a historic one.
The issue now is how to find a path to accommodate Russia and Serbia. If diplomacy takes too long, the US will say "enough". This resolution should be taken forward.
Maybe, as the worst of pessimists are predicting, Russia will give up on us and accept that Kosovo will be independent... But it is somehow unrealistic. Because, realistically, America has a lot to lose by aggravating the situation, and Russia, realistically, can gain a lot.
The statement George Bush gave in Tirana... has complicated the Kosovo knot which was already tangled enough. Everything is aimed at satisfying the Albanians' appetite for an imposed solution, and calming Serbia down with unclear promises about a speedier European association.
Hysterical Tirana citizens were literally throwing themselves at Bush during his tour of the capital, hugging and kissing him, just as they used to do with the great dictator Enver Hoxha in his time.
Americans defend their interests in Kosovo, Russians defend theirs in Serbia, Serbs defend theirs in The Hague.
Bush is trying to present Kosovo's independence as his aim. But this is actually motivated by US political in-fighting, because the Democrats are criticising him for being incapable of making Kosovo independent.
While the G8 summit in Germany may have brought the Russian and American positions slightly closer on missile defence, it would appear that, over Kosovo, they remain diametrically opposed... The Albanians heard from Bush what they wanted to hear. Bush made it clear that, if Kosovo doesn't gain independence soon, the United States will recognise its independence unilaterally.
Belgrade may now create the impression that it believes in EU membership soon and will therefore agree to sovereignty for Kosovo. Moscow wins out in any scenario. After all, that's what we've been saying: no independence without the agreement of the country from which you are seceding. Another source of irritation will have been removed, and on Russia's terms.

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bush greeted as hero in Albania

President George W Bush has become the first US leader to visit Albania, where he has enjoyed a hero's welcome.

The Balkan country is a staunch ally in America's "war on terror", and Mr Bush met Albanian soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr Bush reiterated his support for the UN plan for Kosovo's independence, adding it was time to "get moving" despite opposition from Russia.

He expressed worry about the effect on Kosovans of expectations not being met.
"The question is whether there's going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we've already made up our mind on," he said, after meeting with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

"We need to get moving and the end result is independence," he added.
He also called on the Albanian government to help maintain calm and peace in Kosovo, most of whose people are ethnic Albanians.
The Albanian capital, Tirana, is celebrating Mr Bush's visit, although he is spending just seven hours in the city, says the BBC's Jonathan Beale, who is travelling with the US president.

The city's streets have been cleaned, US flags draped over buildings and a commemorative set of stamps issued for the occasion.
This welcome is in stark contrast to the protests that have followed Mr Bush elsewhere in Europe. [BBC]
Mr. Bush said Washington would continue to seek a solution through the United Nations but , "if it is apparent that [an agreement] is not going to happen in a relatively quick period of time, in my judgment, we need to put forward the resolution. Hence, [the] deadline." A day ahead of his visit to Albania, Bush said in Rome that "no more time should be wasted in solving the issue of Kosovo's status."
Bush said he also discussed the issue with Prodi and agreed with the Italian prime minister that there was a need to make sure the Serbs saw a way forward, such as with potential European Union membership. Bush said, nonetheless, he "did not have a say in that." “But, I can talk to the Serbs about economic development, and can talk about a better relationship with the United States" he said. [B92]
Fair use from BBC and B92. Pictures from Top Channel TV.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Grand Illusion: Europe wakes up to a rogue Russia

By Ferik F.
Balkan Update
Cartoon from The Economist.

The recent summit in Samara, Russia between EU leaders and Putin, by all accounts, didn’t achieve anything meaningful. There was no agreement in any of the points of contentions the parties were supposed to discuss: Human Rights, Kosovo and the American plan to set up rocket interceptors in Poland. By all traditional measures the summit was
a miserable failure and a useless one. Or was it?

Yes the summit was a failure in the traditional sense, but it actually served a very good purpose: it helped the European leaders to finally realize that Russia is not a democracy and there is no point in accommodating her anymore. Judging by their public comments, European leader were really ticked off. Chancellor Merkel of Germany publicly chided Russia for the deficit of democracy and lack of independent media, something no other major European leader has done while in Russian soil. European Commission President Jose Barroso warned Russia that if it has a problem with one member of EU (alluding to Poland and Estonia) it has a problem with all. These are unusually candid and pretty tough remarks by European standards of diplomacy.

This same disagreement was also apparent during the G8 summit in Germany. Russia continued with her belligerent attitude towards anything proposed by the EU and US, including the status of Kosovo and the rocked shield. Putin even threaten to point his nuclear warheads towards Europe if US goes ahead with the plan to install the defense shield in Easter Europe. The question is how did we get here?

Grand illusion

There is no black and white answer here, but most experts agree that Europe had this coming. For the last 17 years Europe has been living under an illusion that Russia is going through a normal democratic transition like other Eastern European countries. The E.U has bended backwards many times trying to accommodate her eastern neighbor in the vain hope that it will eventually become a “normal” democratic country. Left leaning governments have never missed a chance to show “understanding” for their former enemy no matter the offence. Even American diplomats until recently have been giving Russia a pass over its horrific human right abuses that compare unfavorably to those committed by Saddam Hussein.

Time to confront the bully

After what happen in Samara and Germany, the question one has to ask is this: will Europe and US finally face the reality and confront the increasingly rouge Russia, or will they continue to hope against hope that Russia can be reasoned with? Only time will tell, but there is reason for optimism. All indications are that the new leaders of Germany and France are far less sympathetic towards Russia then their predecessors. Tony Blair of England never really had a good vibe about Putin, but it is hard to say how his successor, Gordon Brown, feels about this subject. Additionally, all the Eastern European countries that joined the EU a few years back are openly hostile to their eastern neighbor. The President of Poland recently said that it is none of Russia’s business what Poland does on her territory (again referring to missile shield). Finally, the US has indicated that despite harsh rhetoric from Putin it will continue with the missile shield and it will do everything to push for Kosovo’s independence.

Myth vs. Reality

Since it so “easy” to confront Russia, why is the West still reluctant to do so? The answer again lies in illusions that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with when in fact it is not. Some in Europe argue that they should cuddle Russia because it has a strangle hold over the continent because it supplies it with the majority of its gas and oil. The plain reality is that Russia can ill afford to stop selling gas to Europe. The economic reality of Russia indicates that she is heavily reliant on gas/oil sales to Europe to generate the majority of government revenues. There simply isn’t another readily available customer to buy the Russian natural resources. The hard truth is that Europe has much more leverage against Russia then they realize.

What about United States? Why are they reluctant to confront this rouge regime? It mainly has to do with Iran and spread of dangerous weapons. U.S, unlike Europe, has realized that Russia is a rouge nation and it wants to keep her “in the system” rather then out. This is a rational decision, but the reality has shown that Russia “in the system” may not be that different from the Russia “out of system”. The Putin regime has continued supplying Iran with conventional and nuclear material despite claims to the contrary. Additionally, Putin has constantly threatened the small neighbors precisely because they are pro U.S and Europe (Estonia, Ukraine and Poland). The hard truth is that giving in to Russian demands has not produced any positive results for the US. Why not then call Russia’s bluff (it is a bluff, that’s all- they can do nothing about it) and go ahead with the missile shield and independence of Kosovo? There is really nothing to be lost here.

Paper tiger with no influence

The little secret that everybody knows is that Russia has virtually no influence anywhere in Europe with the exception of Serbia (which in context of things is really irrelevant). All the Eastern European nation are openly hostile to Russia and are more then willing to side with the US if it decides to confront Russia. The western European countries are still living in illusion, but they are starting to wake up to the fact that there is nothing to be gained by cuddling Russia. Europe and U.S need to call Russia’s bluff and confront it head on. Go ahead, build the missile shield, recognize the Independence of Kosovo and confront the Putin regime about the horrific human rights record. Russia has no means to do anything significant. Let her direct the “missiles” towards Europe. Rest assured she will not dare fire any rockets towards Europe because she is indeed a paper tiger. Russia needs to be told that she does not have any moral or other right to have a say in European affairs, and that includes Kosovo. Will Europe have the guts to confront the bully or will they continue to live in illusion that that they can reason with the likes of Putin? Only time will tell.

Bush calls for action over Kosovo

The two leaders had lunch together in RomeUS President George W Bush has said a plan for Kosovo's UN-backed independence should take effect now, despite Russian and Serbian opposition.

Mr Bush was speaking after holding talks with the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, during a visit to Rome.

Mr Bush said he discussed Kosovo with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G8 summit, and it was "time to bring this issue to its head"

Earlier Mr Bush had his first audience with Pope Benedict XVI.

The Pope raised his concerns about the plight of Christians in Iraq, and expressed hopes of a "regional and negotiated solution to the conflicts that afflict" the Middle East, the Vatican said.
Mr Bush will be continuing to Albania on the next leg of his European tour, which has already taken him to the G8 summit in Germany and Poland.

The G8 summit failed to reach consensus over Kosovo, in the face of strong opposition from Russia to independence for the province, which is still part of Serbia.

UN Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari put forward a blueprint for Kosovan independence in April.
"It's time to move the Ahtisaari plan forward," Mr Bush said.

He also discussed the situation in Lebanon with the Italian prime minister.
"It's very important that foreign influences like that of Syria not be continually disrupting the Siniora government," said Mr Bush.

Security concerns

Visiting the Vatican earlier in the day, Mr Bush and the Pope shook hands and posed for photographs ahead of talks in Pope Benedict XVI's private library.

President Bush said the two had discussed the situation in Iraq.

"He was concerned that the society that was evolving would not tolerate the Christian religion, " said Mr Bush.

"He's worrisome about the Christians inside Iraq being mistreated by the Muslim majority."
The Vatican said that "the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian question and Lebanon" were other topics at the talks.

The BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says President Bush told the Pope about his plans for increasing American aid to Africa and particularly for increasing help to Aids sufferers.
President Bush said talking to the Pope had been a "moving experience."
"I was talking to a very smart, loving man," said the US president. Fair use from BBC.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Crimes and misdemeanours

From The Economist print edition
Serbia tries to please the European Union—but Kosovo still waits

FOR months, diplomats said that this would be the week when Russia's Vladimir Putin and America's George Bush struck a deal: not about Kyoto, but about Kosovo. The hope was that Mr Putin would assent to Kosovo's independence in exchange for a concession elsewhere. Yet this is clearly not now going to happen.
Kosovo is still technically part of Serbia, though it has been run by the United Nations since 1999. Some 90% of its 2m people are ethnic Albanians who want independence. A plan drawn up for theUN by a former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, proposes this with minor constraints, but also gives concessions to Kosovo's Serbian minority. The problem is that, without Serbian agreement, Russia will remain opposed to the Ahtisaari plan—and seems ready to veto it at the UN Security Council.

American diplomats have hinted that, if this happens, they might encourage the Kosovo Albanians to declare independence anyway, and then recognise their new state unilaterally. This may still be the plan, but it will meet resistance from the European Union. The Ahtisaari plan proposes to replace the UN structure in Kosovo with an EU one and an international governor, as in Bosnia. But without a UN resolution, such a change may not be legal.
That is why some diplomats now reason that it would be better to postpone the whole issue until September. But since September is even closer to Russia's parliamentary election (in December) and presidential one (next March), there seems no good reason to expect the Russians to change their minds. At least the talk of postponement is not yet stirring trouble in Kosovo. Far from reaching for their guns, says Visar Reka, erstwhile spokesman of the guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army, those who might be tempted to return to war are, for now, happy to wait.
This will obviously come as a relief not only to Western diplomats, but to the Serbs. If fighting broke out again in Kosovo, its Serbs would surely be among the first victims. Besides, Serbia's new government has its own EU ambitions to attend to. On these, it has played a shrewd game. In May 2006 the EU suspended talks with Serbia on a stabilisation and association agreement, widely seen as a first step towards membership, because of its failure to co-operate with the Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal in The Hague. But now talks with the EU are about to resume, boosted not just by the new government but also by its arrest on May 31st of Zdravko Tolimir, one of six Serb war-crimes suspects who were still at large.
Mr Tolimir, who is charged with genocide, was living in a flat in Belgrade. After the decision to arrest him, police piled into his flat and bundled him out in a body-bag, according to some reports, and then spirited him to the Serb part of Bosnia, where he was officially arrested. This way Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, who dislikes the tribunal, appears not to have betrayed his principles.
EU officials insist that talks with Serbia cannot be completed without the arrest of General Ratko Mladic, Mr Tolimir's wartime superior. Whether that happens remains to be seen—Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the Hague tribunal, now speaks of its being done within weeks. If Mr Kostunica wanted to weaken EU resolve over Kosovo, he would do well to arrest the general. Those against Kosovo's independence might then argue that even a co-operative Serbia was being punished. The trouble is that if Kosovo loses any prospect of independence, war and instability could return. Politics in the Balkans, as elsewhere, is about hard choices.Fair use.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Another possible mass grave probed in Serbia

Picture: Yet another possible mass grave in Raška, Serbia with Kosovo Albanians? (From Kosovo daily Express; Kosmet Put refers to the name of the company that owns the pictured property). According to B92, the examination of this suspected mass grave that "allegedly contains up to 500 bodies" begun June 5th. The examination of the site is still continuing.

According to B92, "several witnesses claim that at the beginning of June 1999, during the NATO bombing campaign, as many as 350 bodies were transported in four trucks from unknown locations in Kosovo and buried in the Raška region in southern Serbia."

Eight years after NATO saved the people of Kosovo from the jaws of Serbia, mass graves are still found in Serbia, yet Serbia still has the “audacity” to insist in ruling the people of this small territory. News like this reminds me why Serbia finds no sympathy in the world today. Sadly the majority of this nation is still in denial about its recent dark past.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Kosovo contest for state symbols

By Nick Thorpe BBC News, Pristina, Kosovo

Starting today, the people of Kosovo have two weeks to come up with new state symbols, in a competition announced by the Kosovar government.

Picture:could this ancient goddess serve as a politically neutral symbol for Kosovo?

At 0800 sharp each morning, the commanding officer barks orders, the troops salute, and the Albanian flag, the black double-headed eagle, rises over Pristina.

The Albanian national anthem roars from the loudspeakers. This is the headquarters of the Kosovo Protection Corps, set up under UN auspices in September 1999.

The ceremony only takes three and a half minutes, but it is rich in symbolism.

The flag and the anthem are Albanian, in this 95% Albanian province.

But as Kosovo edges towards independence, Kosovo's international minders are doing all they can to make its minorities, first and foremost the Serbs, feel included.

According to Article 1 of UN mediator Martti Ahtisaari's comprehensive proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement: "Kosovo shall have its own, distinct, national symbols; including a flag, seal and anthem, reflecting its multi-ethnic character."

Under his proposal, the KPC is due to be disbanded, and replaced with a Kosovo Security Force, with less historical baggage. Many KPC members are former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) fighters.

The journey from Pristina to the Serb enclave of Gracanica only takes 10 minutes by car.

There is a lot of building going on in the meadows to the right of the road, and from the unfinished timber beams of one roof, the Albanian flag flutters proudly in a strong breeze.
Beyond, to the west, the mountains of Albania and Montenegro are clearly visible, still covered with patches of snow.

The team of workmen on the roof are unanimous in their attachment to the Albanian symbols.
"Many of my generation sacrificed their lives for this flag," said one man. "We grew up with it. We wouldn't want any other. I could never love another flag."

An older man, cutting beams with a chainsaw, agrees, but predicts that the people of Kosovo will be forced to give it up by the international community.

Who decides?
Further down the road in Gracanica, two boys are playing football next to a monument to Serb losses in World War I.

A large tricolour Serbian flag, also with a double-headed eagle, flies in the same breeze on one side of a model of the town's famous monastery.

On the other side is the egg-shell blue flag of the UN.

"Unfortunately there isn't much rational thinking on either the Serbian or the Albanian side. And that is a big problem," says Rada Trajkovic, head of the local health clinic, and a member of the Serbian National Council in Kosovo.

"I don't think they will be able to agree on shared symbols. The international community should impose a flag. As they did in Bosnia."

Back in Pristina, Veton Surroi, veteran Kosovo Albanian commentator, and now head of his own party Ora (Hour), is more optimistic.

"I'm actually quite excited about the fact that we will open a competition for the symbols. We have to see how much creative capacity there is within the artistic community to present something that is a vision of the future."

Goddess potential
There has already been one exhibition of potential designs.

These mainly alternate between variations of the Albanian black and red, and the Serbian tricolour, with a few others more neutral blues and whites, sometimes with the diamond-shaped map of Kosovo superimposed.

A more original idea is the Goddess on the Throne.

A small terracotta piece, beautifully preserved, she was unearthed near Pristina in 1960 - one of a number of important finds from the late Neolithic period, around 6,000 years old.
Other Neolithic objects uncovered in Kosovo are still in Belgrade, where they were being exhibited at the time of the Nato bombing in 1999.

But the goddess herself was returned, through the personal intervention of the then UN administrator, Michael Steiner.

On the second floor of the museum today is an exhibition dedicated to the KLA. The battle flags, guns, even a motorbike and a satellite phone used by the guerrillas.

On the ground floor is a very different atmosphere. The goddess stands, big-eyed, with a sharp, bird-like nose and hands on hips. There are small holes in her elbows, where it is believed feathers were once placed.

"This masterpiece of our collection symbolises the cult of fertility and the cult of worship of ancestors," says Arber Hadri, the museum director.
"It doesn't have any ethnic background." Fair use from BBC

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Speak truth to power

May 31st 2007
The Economist
Changing Russia's behaviour is devilishly difficult. But that is no excuse for not trying

DEMONSTRATORS thrashed on the streets of Moscow; the impending mugging of another big energy firm, this one part-owned by BP; cyberwarfare against a small neighbour; the bellicose testing of a new ballistic missile, supposedly able to bypass the American missile-defence system about which the Kremlin fulminates—and all that was only in the past fortnight. When the G8 group of rich countries meets next week in Germany, one of its biggest if unadvertised concerns will be the snarling behaviour of one of its own members, Vladimir Putin's Russia—and the urgent need for a more coherent Western policy towards it.

The behaviour, and the dilemma, stem from Russia's explosive combination of strength and weakness. High oil prices, and the world's largest oil-and-gas reserves, have helped pay off most of Russia's debt. They have also fuelled Mr Putin's increasingly assertive diplomacy, while boosting the living standards of many Russians. In some ways, the seven years of his presidency have been among the least bad periods in Russia's history, which helps to explain his popularity—but so does his neutering of the media, strangulation of political opposition and suborning of parliament and elections. That grip counts as a strength in Mr Putin's book; in fact, the authoritarian system he has built is corrupt and unstable—witness the Kremlin in-fighting and increasingly paranoid repression of dissent ahead of his departure from office next year. The economy, meanwhile, is over-reliant on natural resources and perilously unequal. Add to that a demographic catastrophe and continuing trouble in the north Caucasus (see article), and the picture darkens further.

This new Russia, strident but erratic, requires a subtler approach than either the straightforward rivalry of Soviet times or the handouts and advice (not always very helpful) offered to Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. The inclination of most Western leaders most of the time has been to coddle or appease Mr Putin, rather than confront him—because they have been deluded about his real goals and motives, or distracted by other crises, or divided by the Kremlin's gas deals.

So it was that at last year's G8 summit, in St Petersburg, Mr Putin openly derided both George Bush and Tony Blair, while precious little was said in public about Russia's obvious abandonment of democracy or its abrasive foreign policy. Compared with that, Britain's decision to press for the extradition of the ex-KGB officer suspected of committing radioactive murder in London last year represents a welcome stiffening of tone. More stern talk at this year's G8, from more leaders, about the Kremlin's threats to Western interests and to those of its own citizens—the expropriation of energy assets harms both—would be better than diplomatic platitudes.
But the truth is that, with the Kremlin in its current mood, even robust tickings-off will not change Russia's trajectory. Censorship will prevent most Russians from hearing them; with their zero-sum attitude to diplomacy, some in the Kremlin interpret criticism as evidence that its policies are biting. Yet the harsher measures that some, especially in America, advocate—such as keeping Russia out of the WTO, or kicking it out of the G8 itself—are more likely to do harm than good. They would feed the widespread belief that the encircling West is bent on weakening Russia (Mr Putin himself avowedly sees complaints about his human-rights record as disguised efforts to impede his pursuit of greatness). They would probably encourage even more draconian measures at home; and they would reduce Russia's incentive to co-operate on difficult issues, such as Kosovo and Iran, where its weight could help.

The Russia beyond
There are other possibilities between cringing platitudes and pyrotechnic rows. The Kremlin needs to be told that it does not have an automatic veto in global diplomacy, even in its old sphere of influence, and even if such a veto is attempted in the United Nations Security Council, as it may be on independence for Kosovo. Neighbouring countries such as Georgia (victim of an unjust trade embargo), Estonia (cyberwar) and especially Ukraine, with a crucial parliamentary vote later this year, must be helped to fend off Russian bullying.

Given Mr Putin's power to select his own successor, the West also needs to concentrate on longer-term measures, such as supporting those independent media and lobby groups that still exist in Russia—even when the Kremlin denounces them as spies. The aim must be to ensure that whatever comes after Putinism is better for Russia, and for the world.
Fair use.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Interview of President Bush by Andi Bejtja of the Vision Plus TV from Albania

Not exactly the most inspiring interview ( GW style), but here it is:

Q Mr. President, first of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity you give to me and to Albanian public for this interview. And I have just a simple question in the beginning. What is the reason of including Albania in this European tour this time?

THE PRESIDENT: That's a fascinating question. First of all, I want to make sure the Albanian people understand that America knows that you exist and that you're making difficult choices to cement your free society. I'm coming as a lover of liberty to a land where people are realizing the benefits of liberty.
Secondly, I've been impressed by your leadership. I have met your leaders at different times --
Q Impressed in what sense?

THE PRESIDENT: In the sense that they're committed to common values with the United States, that they believe in certain freedoms, and that people ought to be given a chance to live in a free society. And so my message is that we welcome our friendship, that I'm proud of the hard work that you're doing, and I'm particularly grateful to be the first sitting President ever to come to Albania.

Q Yes, this is a historical visit. And Albanians hoping to get a -- to receive an invitation at summit to join NATO in 2008. How realistic this Albanian expectation is, according to you?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, my message to the Albanian government and the Albanian people is, first of all, thank you for your interest in joining NATO. But like I said to other countries that are at this stage in the process, if there's -- there's a certain map that has to be followed, a certain way forward; there are certain obligations that have to be met. And my only -- my only advice is, work as hard as you possibly can to achieve the different benchmarks that would cause the NATO members to accept Albania.

Q And let's get to the hardest point: Kosovo. I mean, in the beginning of the week, you just had a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin, and you agreed with him to rediscuss Kovoso's future once again. And people are worried about that. Do you expect any compromise with Russians that may affect our desired plan as it stands now?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me make it clear what I did say.

Q Because everybody is worried about that.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, they ought to be worried about it. It's a difficult issue. But they ought not to be worried about my position. My position is that we support the Ahtisaari plan, and that's the instructions that I have given to Secretary of State Rice, who totally agrees with me. And those will be the instructions we give to the United Nations.
And so I don't know who characterized my phone call with Vladimir Putin, but as I told him on the phone, look, we don't want to -- we would hope to avoid a major conflict in the area, but we feel strongly that the Ahtisaari plan is the right way to go, it's the right way to move forward. And that's the U.S. position.

Q So in case of a Russian veto next month at Security Council, does U.S. have a plan B for Kosovo?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, plan A is to try to make plan A work.

Q Yes, but is the plan A --

THE PRESIDENT: I know, but you're asking me to think hypothetically. It happens, by the way, with the United States press, too. They say, if something doesn't happen -- my job is make it happen in the first place. So we're working to try to convince all members of the U.N. Security Council to support the Ahtisaari plan, and we're out making our case as to why it makes sense and why this will make -- yield peace. We would also hope that the EU would continue and NATO would continue to work with Serbia, to give them a way forward, as well, that there be an opportunity for them to become participants in some of the European structures, and in this case, in NATO's case, an opportunity, perhaps, to join NATO and have U.S. as a partner.
Q Let me put another question. I mean, to be honest, it's very easy in the region to find pro-American governments, but it's not as easy to find so-called pro-American nations, or better saying, pro-American public or people. Does U.S. have any strategy to reverse this trend, to make U.S. policy more effective in long-term?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it's like -- people ask me the question about popularity, whether it be overseas or at home. You can't make decisions and try to be -- and want to be popular. You make decisions because you want to be right. I make decisions for what's best for the United States of America. Sometimes that makes me popular, sometimes it doesn't.
But popularity comes and goes, but certain principles should never leave. And I believe firmly the United States must confront tyranny and disease and hunger. And I believe the United States must secure our homeland from further attack. And I will take the actions necessary to do so. I hope others understand why. I would like for people to understand the decision-making I've done. I want people to respect my country and to like the American people. And most people do like the American people. Sometimes they like the American President and sometimes they don't. But popularity is -- I would ask the question, are you still going to make decisions based upon solid principles? And the answer is, absolutely.

Q Yes. And let me ask one childish question, because it is your first time in Albania, and everyone is wondering, what does come to your mind when you heard the word, Albania?

THE PRESIDENT: Beautiful coastline, interesting history, Muslim people who can live at peace. That's what comes to mind. I'm excited to go. I'm -- I must confess that I also thought about the dark days of communism, when the society was a closed society. I'm looking forward -- I met many Albanians who are excited to be living in an open society. And I can't wait to come to your country. I've heard great things about it, and it's going to be an exciting trip for me and Laura.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President, and welcome.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir, thanks.
From the White House Website.

Montenegro, one year on

The birthday country
May 31st 2007 PODGORICA From The Economist print edition

On its first birthday, Montenegro looks reassuringly normal

AN EXTRAORDINARY change has come over Montenegro since it voted for independence a year ago. For a decade its 650,000-odd people talked of little else. In the cafés of Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, debate still centres on issues left unresolved after the collapse of Yugoslavia. But Montenegrins have escaped from all this—to talk instead of such mundane matters as house prices, jobs and stockmarkets. “Now there is no excuse,” Milka Tadic, a journalist, adds. “We cannot say things are Belgrade's fault any more.”

A year ago dire predictions were made that the one-third of Montenegrin citizens who declared themselves Serb would resist the proclamation of the new country. Yet the parties that fought to stick with Serbia have since been in disarray. Public discussion on a new constitution has just concluded. Outstanding issues include the place of the Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox churches, and the language people speak: Serbian, Montenegrin or Serbian-Montenegrin. Since either a two-thirds majority in parliament or a referendum is needed to replace the present constitution, more horse-trading is in prospect.

For 15 years the most powerful man in Montenegro was Milo Djukanovic, either as prime minister or as president. Yet after winning the referendum and the subsequent election, he stepped down, to the anger of those who might have voted differently had they known of his plans. Since then he has stayed officially only as head of his party. Yet he is believed still to exercise huge influence over the running of the country, not least because Zeljko Sturanovic, the prime minister, is suffering from lung cancer.

A tiny elite in Montenegro has profited from privatisation to become rich and powerful. The price of property in Podgorica and elsewhere is shooting through the roof as Montenegrins sell scraps of land near the sea or ski resorts to British, Irish and Russian investors. Sanja Elezovic of the Open Society Institute frets that there is “no strategic thinking about the environment” and that, unless planning controls are strictly enforced, much of the beautiful coastline will be wrecked.

Nepotism is another concern. It is hard to get ahead without connections. Organised crime and corruption are also a worry; appointments to the judiciary can be dubious. Ethnic minorities complain that, although the government courted their votes before the referendum, it is reneging on promises to improve their lot.

Despite such grumbles, real GDP growth is put at 6.5% for 2006, much of it driven by tourism, construction and services. Infrastructure is cracking at the seams, but roads are being resurfaced and a campaign has started to clean up this often garbage-strewn country.
Montenegrins moan about their standard of living, but few think they are worse off than a few years ago. Official unemployment is 14.6%, although the figure is unreliable. What is clear is that there are plenty of jobs Montenegrins will not do. Every year thousands of Bosnians, Serbs, Kosovars and Albanians pour in to work in construction, the tourist industry or agriculture.
Montenegro has joined the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF, and initialled an agreement with the European Union. It has taken the first steps towards joining NATO. Slowly it is becoming normal—which is more than can be said for most of its immediate neighbours.