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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    THU, 17 JUL 1997 23:13:22 GMT

    Albanian-Serbian Dialogue in Ulcinj

    A CASUAL GET-TOGETHER

    AIM Podgorica, 14 July, 1997

    The recently held Albanian-Serb dialogue of free intellectuals, public and political workers from Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Macedonia, with massive participation and support of representatives of foreign embassies from Belgrade, international organizations and institutions for human rights and democratic freedoms, confirmed once again that only a dialogue can lead to unravelling of the Kosovo knot. After three-days long talks, despite manifested differences, the impression is that the participants of these talks could easily reach an agreement - but, as they themselves stressed, power of decision-making is unfortunately in somebody else's hands. And how these powerful decision-makers look upon resolution of the problem is best illustrted by the fact that this dialogue had to be held in Ulcinj, in the town farthest to the south of Montenegro, because previously Serb authorities banned its convening in Pec in Kosovo.

    The result of the dialogue, or more precisely of the exchange of opinions, in the ambience of the touristic loneliness of the Albatros Hotel, is an important document - the Ulcinj Statement. Its importance is not in big decisions (since there was no decisions), but primarily, in the appeal and request of the few democratic forces in Serbia and Kosovo to those who the Kosovo issue depends on that its resolution cannot be postponed any more, because by postponement the situation in this region is just becoming more complex. It was indeed a practical demonstration of good will to listen with respect to a different opinion, with no accusations, nervousness, replica or polemic.

    The Albanian "party", headed by Adem Demaqi, president of the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo, in the beginning of the session repeated its unwavering intention to reach independence of Kosovo by means of practising the "natural and inalienable right of the people to self-determination" peacefully. Demaqi stressed that in "this phase neither the position nor the opposition" in Serbia, but nor "the European and American friends realize the necessity of meeting the Albanian demands for freedom and a sovereign state of their own". According to Demaqi's words, the Albanian people can do nothing but wait for a "third force" to appear in Serbia, which will, along with having understanding for the Albanian interests, "know how to change the situation in favour of true interests of the Serb nation". According to Demaqi's words, the Albanian nation "can do nothing else but persevere under discriminatory and destructive blows of the Belgrade regime, giving in this way its very expensive contribution to full democratization in the remaining space of former Yugoslavia".

    Contrary to Demaqi, who sees the beginning of a realistic consideration of the issue of Kosovo in the appearance of a "third force" in Serbia, Azem Vlasi, leader of Kosovo communists until Milosevic's populist movement, thinks that the process of normalization of Albanian-Serb relations and final solution of the issue of Kosovo by political means may begin at the moment when the Serbian authorities "unconditionally give" Kosovo back to the Albanians and give back the Albanians their rights whiich they had pursuant the 1974 Constitution. "An almost equal position will be created in this way and more favourable political conditions for the beginning of an official political dialogue about the future of the Albanian-Serb relations", says Vlasi. Without abandoning even for a moment the idea of sovereign Kosovo (based on self-determination), his compatriot Bajazid Rushi sees all other solutions as "closing of the Albanian issue within the existing borders and gradual suppression of the Albanian political movement by various threats".

    To the firm commitment of the Albanian "party" to the sovereign state, the Serb "party" responded with various solutions. There were different "offers": a federation, lose federation, confederation... A solution was sincerely sought which would enable the optimum independence for Kosovo in the existing borders of Serbia (and Yugoslavia) and under its formal sovereignty. The man who gave the introductory speech for the Serb "party", Novak Pribicevic, believes that for "Kosovo, with undisputed Albanian majority, a solution should be sought within the Yugoslav federation through the status of equal federal units". He admitted that his opinion was not shared by the majority of the Serb nation and that it would "encounter with sharp criticism of some of them", but that this was not a reason why "a man would not persist in seeking the solution on this basis". He was joined, as he himself introduced himself, by "Voivodina autonomy-lover", Dragan Veselinov, who was inclined to give additional arguments for the mentioned idea.

    However, Milan Popovic, professor of Podgorica Law School, considers Demaqi's idea presented in the project of Balkania about a confederation of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo more suitable, but another "Voivodina autonomy-lover" Nenad Canak obviously did not like it. He warned the organizers against the wrong title of the gathering. "I am a Serb by birth, but not by profession", said Canak, noting that "Voivodina autonomy-lovers cannot agree to any kind of ethnic relations in the talks".

    Unfortunately, the plan of David Philips, representative of the USA Council for International Relations, called Confidence Building Measures got lost somewhere in the gap between the Albanian and Serb stands. The realistic American has managed to get a very good insight into the situation in Kosovo and concluded that what it urgently needed was to be placed into receivership with bankruptcy manager called the international community. Philips's plan must have been approved by American administration: it is precise, clear, all-inclusive, consisting of several phases. It suggests that the first thing be convening of an international conference on Kosovo and that the international community be given all (available) authorization in carrying out the agreement. Apart from the role of an observer and controller, to the "acting administrator" of Kosovo the plan also assigns the authority to award the cooperative and punish the others. The pragmatic American diplomat has not forgotten to remind the gathering in Ulcinj of the stance of his country that lifting of the "outer wall of sanctions" depended on cooperativeness with the international community, mentioning by the way also the assumed obligations to the Hague Tribunal by signing the Dayton accords. Apart from sporadic disapproval expressed by both parties on the beach, in the lobby and in the restaurant (the Serbs received it as "just another order of the world policeman", and the Albanians as "persistent imposing of the American stance and proof of lack of understanding of their demands for their own independent state"), Philips's plan passed without serious comments and confrontation of opinions. Nevertheless, his proposal to convene an international conference about Kosovo was supported and accepted by both sides.

    It should be said that a few Albanians from Montenegro occasionally attended the sessions, but did not take the floor, manifesting that they had been asked to be only good hosts here and that they had no problems like the Albanians in Kosovo. Slobodan Franovic, representative of the Montenegrin Helsinki Committee for Human Rights spoke about "some good solutions in Montenegro", which, according to his opinion, could be an example for resolving Serb-Albanian conflicts in Kosovo.

    Everything in the end was brought down to the main question: who should be the ones to lead the expected dialogue and negotiate? It is believed that the answer is simple - when speaking of Belgrade (hoping that it will not be Slobodan Milosevic) they must be legitimate repersentatives of the authorities, and when speaking of Kosovo, the ones who the Albanian people choose to do it. It will not be possible for the dialogue (as the only road to solution) to begin before repression is abolished, which is, as it was said, "for a long time cruelly and massively applied against the majority Albanian population by the Belgrade regime". According to the words of Novak Pribicevic, "this repression is applied by the police, the judiciary, the military" and it is manifested in everyday life of every citizen in his contact with the administration.

    After three or four days spent in Ulcinj, participants of the Albanian-Serb dialogue parted obviously both satisfied and dissatisfied. Satisfied because they have opened (although frequently interrupted by cooling down in the blue waters of the Adriatic) a burning topic and moved it from a standstill; dissatisfied because they did not have the role of true negotiators. The following words of Ivan Djuric, president of the Movement for Democratic Freedoms, sounded sincere: "Allow me to rouse you from day-dreaming you might have fallen into, not one of us here has the opportunity to be a negotiator, especially not to reach decisions. The only thing we can do is talk, propose and shorten the distance which separates us".

    That is how a casual get-together and conversation resulted in the Ulcinj Statement, with a promise that it will not be the last.

    Bozidar I. Milicic