Sunday, December 31, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
The event, which was hosted by the Albanian-American Association “Malësia e Madhe,” raised approximately US $37,500 which upon will be dispersed among the neediest families in the Malësia region. Given recent political developments in the region, the Association will also extend portions of the funds to the families of the political prisoners who are fatefully spending their holidays behind prison walls.
In addition to the funds collected, the Farmington Public Schools donated an electric wheelchair (estimated cost $4,500) that will be contributed to a 27-year old man from Bajza who is paralyzed from the neck-down after being struck by a petrol boat five years ago while fishing on Scutar Lake.
The funds will be delivered to the Tuz municipal offices where they will be proportionately dispersed, hence once the recipients are notified, members of the municipal offices will personally hand-deliver the monies accordingly.
Friday, December 15, 2006
The demonstration, which was organized by the families of the prisoners currently detained on illicit “terrorism” charges, was intended to heighten awareness of the cover-up operations that Montenegrin security forces are conducting during the discovery phase of the judicial proceedings. Since the formal charges were read on December 8th, the prosecutor’s office has mysteriously obtained more material evidence in the form of arms and explosive devices from locations unspecified. The evidence, which will undoubtedly be admitted during trial, has yet to be linked to the detainees, but family members fear the worst given that the conduct of the prosecutor’s office during discovery will go unregulated where any means of gathering “bogus” facts will be vigorously pursued to built the strongest possible case, without compliance to the rule of law.
In an attempt to underline these developments, the family members assumed their constitutional right to appeal to state and international agencies, but contrarily to democratic principles of assembly, were abruptly denied this freedom, which is a breach of Montenegro’s own constitution under several provisions:
Article 39 – Freedom of Assembly: “Citizens shall be guaranteed the right to peacefully assemble without prior approval, subject to prior notification of the competent authorities. Freedom of association and other peaceful assembly may be provisionally restricted by a decision of the competent authority in order to prevent a threat to public health and morals or for the protection of human lives and property.”
Article 17 – Right of Appeal: “Everyone is guaranteed the right to an appeal or some other legal remedy against the decisions deciding on his rights or interests based on the law.”
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Source: SEE Security Monitor
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Congressman Sander Levin of Michigan and the staff of Eliot Engel of New York joined the protesters, which included family members of those being held in prison. Congressman Levin assured the families that his office, along with the office of Senator Carl Levin, will continue its efforts to ensure that Montenegro follows all domestic and international laws with those under arrest, and that the U.S. Congress will not tolerate any abuse or unlawful conduct upon the prisoners, while encouraging the U.S. Embassy to look into any violations of human rights abuses. Eliot Engel’s office demanded that Montenegro grant Albanians their inherited rights as human beings and stop the abusive tactics that are only adding to the growing frustration that could possibly lead to destabilization in the region. Engel’s office supports the concept of granting Malësia a full and distinct municipality in accordance to domestic laws and statutes, which would go a long way in alleviating most of the problems facing Albanians in Montenegro today. Engel promised to continue his endeavors in working along side the Albanian Diaspora in an effort to pacify the situation that has flared and threatens to spin out of control.
This demonstration marked the three-month anniversary since Albanian and American citizens were taken into custody on bogus and illicit charges of “terrorism,” where they continue to be beaten, tortured and psychologically battered in an authoritarian system that shows no mercy for its own citizenry, where just four months prior helped usher in its independence. Instead, Montenegro has pushed forward the perception that Albanians are “terrorists” and along with it has infected the majority non-Albanian populace in believing that Albanians are destabilizing the country, a mindset that will cause divisions and strife between ethnic groups throughout the country.
The American Diaspora will not tolerate this behavior and vows to aggressively exploit Montenegro’s oppression and abusive tactics to all international institutions and policy makers in an effort to prove that Montenegro has no place in a democratic Europe until it affords its Albanian citizens basic human rights and stops its campaign of abuse, discrimination, intimidation and expulsion.
VIEW PICTURES at: http://www.malesiaemadhe.org/documents/washington%20pics.htm
Friday, December 08, 2006
Doda Lucaj (55)
Gjon Dedvukaj (31)
Anton Sinishtaj (47)
Viktor Sinishtaj (42)
Zef Berishaj (43)
Sokol Ivanaj (51)
Gjergj Ivanaj (42)
Gjon Lucaj (34)
Viktor Dreshaj (38)
Pjeter Dedvukaj (38)
Rrok Dedvukaj (48)
Kol Dedvukaj (58)
Gjon Dedvukaj (60)
Nikola Lekocaj (26)
Mark Ivanaj (53)
Vaso Kolicaj (39)
Malota Bojaj (38)
Thursday, December 07, 2006
ALBANIAN DIASPORA DEMONSTRATES IN FAVOR OF POLITICAL AND CIVIC RIGHTS FOR ALBANIANS IN MONTENGRO
WASHINGTON DC, December 8, 2006 – Today the Albanian American Diaspora is holding a peaceful rally in protest against the Montenegrin Ambassador, Miodrag Vlahoviq, participation in a Diplomatic Credential-Breakfast meeting with President Bush at White House. The objective of this protest is to condemn, in the strongest terms, the maltreatment of Albanians in Montenegro, especially the torturing of political prisoners, and violations of civic, economical, political and social life. The Albanian-American Diaspora has debated and successfully revealed how Montenegro has continually failed to adhere with European principles for minority rights; Moreover, they are infringing upon their own constitution.
The current Montenegrin regime has trampled on Albanians pursuit of civil, social, political and economic interests. The Montenegrin Government has repeatedly failed to understand the concept of decentralized government, enabling local citizens to participate and be part of society as a whole. Furthermore, they have stalled on implementing any development of social and academic institution-building to enhance the minority citizenship. In furthering this inequity, the Montenegrin Government has implemented inequitable procedures, hindering the development of its minorities. Despite outrage from the international and European community, Montenegro continues to deny any wrong-doing in Malesia e Madhe and continues to claim that ethnic relations are harmonious. Contrary to the evidence, the Albanian political prisoners are tortured, harassed and denied the basic necessities, which are prohibited by the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and are also prohibited under the Montenegrin Criminal Code.
Wherefore, The Albanian-American Diaspora demands the following political and civic rights:
Immediate release of all Albanian political prisoners;
Equal access and proportional representation at national, regional and local levels of government institutions;
Respect for self-determination as a genuine right of Albanian minorities in Montenegro, guaranteed by the European and international standards for human and minority rights;
Investigate all collaborators that support discriminatory programs that are geared toward ethnic minorities, who are not representatives of the constituents they claim to represent;
Revisit all state-controlled laws and systems on privatization, where new approaches on privatization should be initiated based on legitimate ownership in accordance with local and European laws;
Establish academic institutions responsible for creating school programs and curriculums that meet the educational needs of Albanians;
Grant a comprehensive autonomous status for the Albanian regions guaranteed by international law, which would prevent the further partition of Albanian lands;
Decentralize the authoritarian control of the central government and create a self-administrative regional government where Albanians are proportionally represented.
Many outlets in Europe and in the United States have reported that the Montenegrin government has deliberately thwarted Albanians attempts to participate in political activities. This can only be seen as denying basic human and political rights, which further, is a direct violation of the Articles of the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights (ICCPR), the European Charter for Minority Rights and other supplementary international and European laws that protect minorities.
Montenegro has chosen an erroneous path, using Albanians as pretext for division, manipulation, leading to meaningless promises and unequal economic opportunities. Throughout history Montenegro has favored individuals that collaborate at the expense of Albanian rights, creating a suspicious environment where Albanians are forced to emigrate or assimilate into the majority group.
Therefore, the observance and implementation of European norms for minority rights would serve as a precursor for reducing the inequities and ethnic conflicts that continue to be the rule of law in Montenegro.
Today, we urge the Montenegrin government to completely abandon their inherited discriminatory policies and allow Albanians to practice their freedom without impediment. Furthermore, we call upon European democracies and the United States to oppose Montenegro’s institutional structures that are fundamentally inequitable and that have discriminated against its Albanian minorities.
To date, the Montenegrin government mistakenly believes that their current institutionalized discriminatory arrangements against Albanians will allow them to enter Europe’s proven democracy. Conversely, they commit an authoritarian act of aggression, securing all political power in the hands of the central government of Podgorica. The political elites are architects of an illegal institution-building political system designed to exclude Albanians from legitimate participation in society.
The Albanian-American Diaspora continues to demand the rights of Albanians in Montenegro. We are determined and committed to tirelessly and diligently working until Montenegro grants and legally recognizes complete political, civic and social rights for all ethnic Albanians in Montenegro.
“Building Hope away from Home”
For more information, please visit “Malesia e Madhe” at http://www.malesiaemadhe.org/
The letter, which is directed at Principle Officer Arlene Ferrill, requests that the Embassy follow up on reports that the detainees have been physicall abused "during and after their arrests" while in police custody. Although the letter references the detention of U.S. citizens only (Sokol Ivanaj, Rrok Dedvukaj, and Kol Dedvukaj), it is without question that the rest of the detainees are suffering much greater harm in the hands of the Montenegrin authorities than what was first reported. The physical abuses are wounds that will heal with time, but the mental torture and psychological insults are internal scars that are strategically inflicted as a tool of moral degradation in an attempt to break the spirits of an individual (in this case the prisoner) and stagnate the proliferation of a community (in this case Albanians in Malesia).
As members of these communities, we should be very concerned with the approaches we are embarking upon in the Diaspora, and the blurred vision that has bestowed upon each and every one of us. The Albanian Question in Montenegro is far greater than these arrests, and it will be a devastating failure to pin our hopes on them alone. One must step out of the box and look at the situation from the outside looking in, because in doing so you can see first hand the campaign being waged against Albanains.
For Montenegro, their strategy is working -- (1) no more are Albanians appealing for their legal and guaranteed right for an autonomous and representative municiple district of Malesia, that has fallen to the wayside; (2) since the 10 September elections (which were marred by the arrests), Albanians have yet to absorb their victory to place representatives in Parliamant and at the local level, something we campaigned for and even risked our freedom for; and instead (3) our attention has been diverted from taking notice of what Montenegro is pushing for, unobstructed memberships into the institutions of Europe -- ratification of the Stabilitization and Association agreement, EU preliminary sessions; the writing of the Montenegrin Constitution in Vienna; Partnership for Peace meetings; Euro-Atlantic integration meetings -- all of which are meant to prove that Montenegro is making progress in all aspects of social, political, civil and economic life, which includes pacified relations with its ethnic minority to the South. This is happening right below our noses.
Any amateur can point out numerous abuses to any of the aforementioned activities, but we have failed to pursue our duties as informed citizens, and instead we have been diverted into a situtaion that will eventually be resolved by forces outside the Diaspora and U.S. Congress. As citizens of a state, Albanians are obligated to keep the government of Montenegro in check, because it is these forces that have any chance of making changes, unfortunately our communities in Malesia lay dormant.
Levin' letter fails to recognize this, and the Diaspora has failed to highlight them; because minority rights abuses in Montenegro is a phenomenon much broader than just detention of U.S. citizens in a foreign jail -- its a phenomenon about the future of Albanians in Montenegro and what is to be done with them. The immediate answer is evident: persecution, forced assimilation and forced emigration. The long term solution is what we need to pin our hopes on, for it will be that solution that will answer the Albanian Question in Montenegro and save a people from complete extinction.
You can read the letter at: http://www.malesiaemadhe.org/documents/wwashingtondemo.pdf
Monday, December 04, 2006
Rochester Hills, Michigan, 26 November 2006 – In response to the Montenegrin state campaign against Albanians, the Albanian-American Association “Malësia e Madhe” has a compulsive and mandatory commitment to unveil the vicious and atrocious propaganda against Albanian citizens in Malesia...the Montenegrin Government [has] wrongfully imprison[ed] Albanians, but then having them subjected to torture and abuse while in jail is absolutely deplorable...
Read the entire editorial at http://www.malesiaemadhe.org
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
U.S. Expert Warns That Kosovo Independence Would Affect Montenegro
November 29, 2006
Washington. U.S. political analyst John Zevales on Wednesday warned that a possible independence of Kosovo would have an effect on the demands of the Albanians in Montenegro and the government of the Republic of Srpska (RS), whose aspiration is to get united with their motherlands, the Serbian Tanjug agency comments.
Earlier he has stated that if the European Union soon assumes formal responsibility for Kosovo, one should not rule out a possibility that Brussels may have its own plan for the future status of the province.
Source: Focus News Agency
Friday, November 24, 2006
When: Friday December 8, 2006
Time: 8:00 a.m.
Venue: White House, Washington, DC
Come join the Albanian-American communities of the Diaspora as they converge in Washington, DC on Friday December 8th to protest against the maltreatment of Albanians in the Malesia e Madhe region of Montenegro.
The timing of this rally was coordinated to coincide with the arrival of Montenegro's newly appointed ambassador to the United States, Miodrag Vlahovic, who is scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House in the early morning of December 8th.
Given the venue of this event, notices have been distributed to various Members of Congress welcoming them to join the demonstrators in a show of support for causes they are all too familiar with: freedom, liberty and justice for ALL citizen-members of a state.
In the interim, it is obligatory that all Albanians who have ever experienced persecution and injustice in the hands of majorities and/or repressive regimes (i.e., ALL ALBANIANS) come join the cause and DEMAND (1) an end to the continued subjection to unfair and discriminatory policies against Albanians' political, social, economic, and civic ways of life, and (2) the release of all prisoners who are being illegally detained and tortured without cause and due process.
As a newly independent state, Montenegro is vigorously pursuing membership into elite European institutions in an effort to prove that their democratic credentials are consistent with other member states of the European Union. Paradoxically, they are not! And if recent events in Malesia are any indication of how Montenegro will behave in the "new Europe", then it is destined to spiral out of control similar to what we witnessed in the Yugoslavia of the 1990s.
It is therefore our inherent right, as Albanians, to exploit these inconsistencies against democratic traditions and protest the international community to demand that Montenegro fulfill all preconditions in protecting, promoting and sustaining minority rights prior to any association with European treaties, pacts, and/or memberships!
It is thus for the reasons stated herein that these basic demands will be echoed off the walls of Washington monuments and the halls of justice come December 8th.
Get off your asses and come join the Pursuit of Freedom!!
Montenegro's democracy was ranked 58th according to a survey of 167 countries by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
Montenegro was placed in flawed democracy section, and the country is behind Croatia and Serbia.
With countries ranked according to their electoral process, government functioning, political participation, political culture and civil liberties, 17 EU member states made it on to the 28-strong 'full democracies' list.
The rankings of Balkan countries: Serbia is ranked 55, Macedonia 68, Croatia 51. Bosnia and Herzegovina 87 sit in hybrid regime section.Sweden has a near perfect democracy, followed by Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark.
Over half of the world's population lives in some sort of democracy, but just 13 percent in full democracies, according to this study. Meanwhile, with 55 countries falling in the worst category, almost 40 percent of people live under authoritarian rule.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Arrest of "Terrorists" Sows Discord in Montenegro
16 November 2006
Claim that Albanians plotted revolt ends political honeymoon with minority. By Petar Komnenic in Podgorica (Balkan Insight, 16 Nov 06)
A high profile case has cast a shadow over relations between Montenegro and its Albanian minority, since police arrested a group of Albanians on September 9 on terrorist charges.
The chief prosecutor Vesna Medenica last week said the men had set up a secret organisation, The Movement for Ethnic Albanian Rights in Montenegro, with the help of former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters, to create an autonomous Albanian region in Montenegro using force.
Medenica claimed the 14 suspects - 11 of whom are in detention, the other three are on the run - planned to carry out terrorist outrages in the mainly Albanian Malesija area using arms smuggled in from Kosovo.
Their defence lawyers deny the charges, saying the authorities lack evidence for their claims and that the suspects made incriminating statements under duress in police custody. Albanian political leaders are also sceptical.The 11 suspects in custody have been named as Anton Sinistaj, Sokolj Ivanovic, Djordje and Kolj Rok, Pjetro Dedvukaj, Djona Dedvukovic, Viktor Sinistaj, Zef Berisaj, Vaso Koljcevic, Viktor Dresevic and Maljota Bojovic. The other three are Doda Ljucaj, Vaselj Dedvukaj and Djon Ljucovic.
The Albanian community numbers about 40,000 out of a total population of about 620,000. Most live in the resort of Ulcinj, on the border with Albania, while around 12,000 live in Malesija. Many work abroad in Western Europe and the United States.
Historically, relations between the Albanians and Montenegrins are good and Albanian parties strongly supported the republic’s successful drive for separation from Serbia.Hitherto, Albanian parties have limited their demands to the field of minority rights as opposed to territorial autonomy or border changes.
Attempts to stoke separatist agitation among Albanians have fallen flat. A movement launched in 2004 to demand special status for an Albanian region including Malesija, Tuzi, Ulcinj, Plav and Gusinje drew little response. As a result, the chief prosecutor’s claim that a secret society aimed to use violence to create an Albanian region in Montenegro has caused some surprise.
In a statement last week, Medenica said that "intensive communications in the areas of Malesija, Albania and Kosovo suggested this organisation persisted in its intentions… to procure significant amounts of weapons, ammunition, military equipment and counterfeit documents, to carry out violent terrorist acts. "
In September 2006, a decision was made to launch a campaign of violence… in ….the area of Malesija, aimed at intimidating the non-Albanian population and seizing vital facilities in the Tuzi area. "Their estimate was that the most convenient moment to spring into action was immediately after the closure of polling stations on the day of parliamentary elections held on September 10."
The arrests took place in the early hours of September 9, a day before the parliamentary elections in Montenegro, when police stormed houses in Tuzi and Malesija and arrested the 14 people.
Just days after the arrests, local media reported of possible police abuse when the arrests were made. Dragan Prelevic, the lawyer for Kolj and Rok Dedvukaj, both US citizens, told Balkan Insight the allegations were "exaggerated and contrary to the collected evidence".
Prelevic said the only real evidence was a diary that the police claimed to have found in a search operation - without the presence of any independent witnesses.
"Except for the diary they have no any other piece of evidence," said Prelevic. "The fact [is] that the suspects gave their statements under torture."Vaselj Sinistaj, a deputy in parliament for Albanian Alternative, also put little faith in police allegations."Those people, some of whom I know personally, cannot possibly be terrorists," he told Balkan Insight.
"Time will tell but this has caused polarisation in Montenegro, which can be only overcome by telling the truth." Mehmet Bardhi, leader of the Montenegrin Democratic Alliance leader, agreed, saying the real problem in Montenegro was not Albanian terrorism but their marginalisation in society. "
If Albanians had all their rights, I would never have set up a political party," he said. "The democratic pursuit of political ideas ought not to be a problem, including the idea of regionalisation."Bardhi went on to say that his party did not advocate regionalisation but special status for Albanians in the territories in which they lived.
Nik Djeljosaj, former chair of the NGO Unitas, which publicly demanded regionalisation in Montenegro two years ago, said it was not terrorism but regionalism that was on trial in Montenegro. "If some people believe people should go on trial over regionalisation, they have a problem with European standards and decentralisation," he said."This is an inevitable process. The allegation that we wanted to partition Montenegro is ludicrous."
Families and lawyers of the suspects, meanwhile, accuse the police of physical and psychological abuse of the men. "During the three days spent in police custody, our clients were beaten, intimidated, insulted and denied drinking water and food," a statement from Prelevic’s office read.
Human rights activist Aleksandar Zekovic last week urged the chief prosecutor to investigate whether the police had exceeded their lawful powers in the course of the arrest operation, codenamed Eagle’s Flight. "
The state organs enjoy the support of society in their efforts to maintain and preserve constitutional order, peace and safety," he said."But this does not mean we should ignore serious objections to the actions of the police and law enforcement officers in the premises used by the police and judicial organs."
Medenica said she would look at the complaints, making it clear she regretted what she saw as attempts to undermine public faith in law enforcement."Such a public campaign has a detrimental effect on the investigation itself, inducing a public sentiment of insecurity, which is why I have estimated it is necessary to make these proceedings open to the public," she said. "
The Podgorica state prosecutor has been requested to gather up all the complaints made by the accused concerning the instances of law enforcement officers' exceeding their official powers."
Petar Komnenic is a journalist with the Podgorica weekly Monitor. Balkan Insight is BIRN`s online publication.
Former Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic has been approved as the new Montenegrin ambassador to the United States, MINA reported on Tuesday (November 14th). He is expected to go to Washington early next month (December 2006).
Vlahovic was active member of the Dukanovic government during Montenegro's campaign for independence, visiting the United States on several occasions to trump up support in the Diaspora. It was in Detroit last Novemeber that Vlahovic met strong resistance from the Albanian Diaspora where a demonstration was staged against the treatment of Albanians in Malesia e Madhe. Although Vlahovic was not at the rally, a strong message was sent to Montenegro, where for the first time, disgust and frustration bellowed through media channels that independence without minority rights would not be tolerated.
Vlahovic's visit to Washington early next month almost certainly guarantees more demonstartions on the way, but it will be interesting to see if his previous comments on "great" ethnic relations in Montenegro are reiterated to Washington officials. Developments since independence would seem to discredit his previous assertion.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Name: Zeljko Sturanovic
Post: Prime Minister of Montenegro
In office since: November 15, 2006
Preceded by: Milo Dukanovic
Born: 31 January 1960 -- Niksic
Political Party: Democratic Party of Socialists
Sturanovic was formerly the Minister of Justice in Milo Đukanović's government. After Đukanović's 3 October 2006 announcement that he will not accept the nomination for the Prime Minister again, Šturanović was picked as a Candidate for the Prime Minister the day later by the leaders of his party. Šturanović was welcomed as a PM Candidate even by Montenegrin Opposition, which is otherwise known to be a harsh critic of the ruling coalition.
Željko Šturanović and his Government were elected by the Montenegrin parliament on November 10, 2006. The 14-member Government, which also have two deputy premiers, was approved by a 42 to 28 vote. Šturanović was also sworn on November 10, 2006.
The Albanians of Montenegro have taken a keen interest in the selection of the new PM and have vowed to assert pressure on him to recognize the immoral treatment of Albanians with respect to human rights abuses, as evidenced by those being detained in prison today.
In a letter emailed to Željko Šturanović, the Albanian Diaspora in Detroit welcomed his ascend to office and promised to be a thorn in his side until all appeals for enhanced human treatment are met under the guise of local, regional, state, European and international laws.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
A group of ethnic Albanians arrested during Montenegro's recent elections had plans to destabilize the young Balkan nation just months after it became independent, the state prosecutor said Monday.
Revealing details of a newly declassified investigation, Prosecutor Vesna Medenica claimed that the group of 14 ethnic Albanian men had "detailed plans for terrorist attacks ... aimed at intimidating non-Albanian population" in a southwestern region close to neighboring Albania.
The group -- including three U.S. citizens from the state of Michigan and two U.S. residents of ethnic Albanian origin -- was arrested on the eve of Montenegro's Sept. 10 general elections, on suspicion of threatening the ballot with violence. Authorities seized a cache of weapons, including rifles, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from the group.
Ethnic Albanians are about 7 percent of the republic's 620,000 people and generally have good relations with the government of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who led Montenegro to independence from Serbia in June.
The ethnic Albanians have long had their representatives in Montenegro's parliament and government, but the small and apparently renegade group, conspired to "commit acts against constitutional order and security in Montenegro," the prosecutor said.
The suspects' aim was to win autonomy for the small, southeastern area where the ethnic Albanians form a local majority, the prosecutor said, adding that the clandestine plan was code-named "Eagle Flight" and was partly financed by ethnic Albanians living in the West.
Leaders of the ethnic Albanian community have dismissed the accusations as unfounded and politically motivated.
Five of the 14 jailed men have complained of being tortured while in police custody. Amnesty International has urged the authorities to investigate those allegations.
Medenica pledged that prosecutors will look into the torture allegations and that police officers will be punished if the suspects were mistreated.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Nutritionists say that fish is “brain food,” that by consuming small portions at least once a week it increases one’s memory significantly. As a result, it would be fitting that fish be a required dietary alternative for those who experience short-term memory loss. This assertion can be safely attributed to Montenegro’s outgoing Premier, Milo Djukanovic, who for the past decade has seemed to forget the promises he made to Malësia, promises that he hoped Albanians would also forget.
Let us not forget that it was our popularly-elected Milo that promised Malësia the fruits of fortune, progress, stability and proliferation in 1997; it was Milo that pledged to Malësia comprehensive forms of self-determination and self-representation in 2002; it was Milo that assured Malësia enhanced minority rights, economic development, political accommodation, civic-ness and civility in 2004; and who can forget when in 2006 Milo promised Malësia the world by granting her an autonomous Commune with all the benefits of the previous 21 before her?? Promises they were, realities they were not.
In fact Malësia should not forget any time soon, because like any good Fisherman you have to attach the right bait on a fishing line, throw it out into the waters and wait for something to bite. Milo proved to be a Master Fisherman – for the bait he chose to cast into the waters of Malësia from 1997-2007 fetched him a lot of quality fish; and with every new season Milo would select his bait carefully so he would have enough to show the international community that the fish in Malësia bite every time he throws bait their way.
But something strange happened in September 2006: The fish stopped biting. Perhaps they got sick of the same bait, or was it the same lies? The fish craved a new flavor, something that would keep their bellies full without getting them hooked and taken away from their autonomous waters; perhaps the fish decided to eat from their own territory and not swim outside their boundaries where danger always persisted, where so many of them were caught and eaten, often depleting the waters of the best and tastiest fish of them all.
This scared Milo, because no fish means no power, and no power in the Balkans means the start to a political downfall. Even with the fish he caught in the past, problems will come to light. We know what happens to fish out of water, they flip, twist and jump frantically until they are let back into their environment, and by keeping them locked up for too long, they attract a foul smell that will poison anyone that dares to taste it. Milo understands that the 15 fish he is keeping locked up in Podgorica will eventually destroy him, and the only way to prevent harm is to let them back into their waters.
Today we see “No Fishing” signs all over Malësia; not because the fish are no good, but because it is time to remind the new Fisherman that the waters of Malësia are forbidden for fishing anymore, and those that dare to cast a line into her waters will be pulled in and drowned!
An old Albanian lives in Malësia close to Tuz. He would love to plant potatoes in his garden, but he is old and weak. His son is in college in Detroit, so the old man calls him on his cell phone.
"Beloved son, I am very sad, because I can't plant potatoes in my garden. I am sure if you were here you would help me dig up the garden."
The following day, the old man receives a voice-mail message from His son at 3:45 p.m.:
"Beloved father, please don't touch the Garden. It's there that I have hidden ‘the THING’, Love Besnik".
At 4:02 p.m., the Montenegrin police, along with the special anti-terrorist unit, UDB-a, and the national army, visit the house of the old man, take the whole garden apart, search every inch, but can't find anything. Disappointed they leave.
A day later, the old man receives another voice-mail message from his son:
"Beloved father, I hope the garden is dug up by now and you can plant your potatoes. That's all I could do for you from here, Love Besnik."
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic declared Tuesday that he will resign his post despite his coalition's victory in last months parliamentary elections.
Although President Filip Vujanovic stated that Djukanovic is resigning for "personal reasons" many believe that his decision to leave after 15 years in power is largely due to the growing unrest surrounding the Albanian region of Malesia and the failure to bring unity and cohesion between ethnic and religious groups in Montenegro.
His record as President and Prime Minister has been plagued with problems since he took office. In Italy prosecutors are still investigating allegations that Djukanovic was a ring-leader in a multi-million dollar cigarette smuggling racket. This stemmed when in 2002 the European Union accused tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds in a lawsuit of selling black-market cigarettes to drug traffickers and mobsters, helping them launder profits from their illegal activities.
Among the other allegations in the lawsuit, RJR moved its cigarettes through the Balkans in the 1990s by means of illicit payments to corrupt government officials, including Milo Djukanovic, and the deceased former head of the Montenegro's Foreign Investment Agency, Milutin Lalic.
The suit said payments came from a company founded by Italian organized crime figures that had the official sanction of the investment agency and operated under the protection of Djukanovic. The company, Montenegrin Tabak Transit, was granted exclusive rights to move cigarettes through the Port of Montenegro, and over time made millions of dollars in payments to members of the Yugoslav federal government and Montenegrin regional governments, including Djukanovic and Lilic, the lawsuit states.
It says RJR executives and distributors were well aware that such "licensing fees" were being paid to facilitate the movement of their brands. They "traveled to Montenegro on a regular basis to inspect their cigarettes and service their customers and, as such, were well aware of these practices," the lawsuit states.
According to European press reports, Italian authorities had opened a criminal investigation into alleged involvement by Djukanovic with Mafia-run smuggling operations.
Also suspect is his quick rise to fortune, where Djukanovic and everyone close to him have become suspiciously rich over the years. Since he took office, Montenegro bacame a haven for tycoons wishing to launder money through fraudulant banks where anyone with $10,000 could create their own bank and funnel bogus money without undergoing verification checks.
In Montenegro you can create your own offshore bank for only $9,999, in eight weeks or less and without a background check.
The offshore status of the banks means their foreign owners benefit from tax breaks, exemption from currency controls and confidentiality (Wired News).
Senate investigators (including Carl Levin of Michigan who in 2001 spoke on this behalf in a Senate committee hearing) who say many large U.S. banks have unwittingly become conduits for dirty foreign money, see the ads as a new money-laundering danger because the "personal" banks may offer links to accounts at American institutions.
The new banks licensed by Montenegro, for example, are touted as offering correspondent accounts at the national Bank of Montenegro, which in turn is said to have accounts with major banks in Switzerland and other countries.
Today Djukanovic is facing growing pressure from ethnic Albanians in the Malesia region, who deamnd he pay more attention to minority rights and adhere to appeals for greater self-representation in all spheres of life. The arrests of Albanians made last month in Tuz also triggered an outcry from Albanians in the Diaspora calling for Djukanovic to step down after Albanians were rounded up, beaten and tortured just 24 hours before national and local elections were to take place. Many still believe that these actions were politically motivated to scare Albanians from participating in those elections.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
This masked gunman participated in the violent raids in the Albanian-dominant region of Malesia where he and dozens of other policemen viciously beat, arrested and tortured numerous Albanians for alleged acts of terror. To this day no evidence has linked any of those arrested to any crimes, however the abuses continue inside the prison walls and in the villages surrounding Tuz, where daily life has changed considerably. Fear of state suppression is once again making a comeback in this former Yugoslav republic, which has minorities fearing that the independent Montenegro that they voted for has turned the tables against them.
These were the same units that operated under Slobodan Milosevic during the wars with Croatia, Bosnia and parts of Kosova, which left thousands dead and many more displaced. Today Montenegro has created an atmosphere that is damaging inter-ethnic relations, something that has plagued the Balkans for the past 15 years and now continues via the political apparatus in Podgorica.
Podgorica's control of all media outlets has enabled these illegal interrogations to proceed unchallenged, given that any media detractors willing to challenge the legitimacy of the arrests will either be permanently shut down or arrested for "treason."
Moreover, because Montenegro does not have an independent judiciary, one that repects the rule of law in the domestic and international realm, the chances that those being held in jail to receive a fair and speedy trial is nullified. Any and all evidence brought before them, however fabricated it will be, will not be dismissed but used to levy the harshest penalties available. This is an incredulous contradiction to the postulates of democracy and democratic transition. It is imperative that a state claiming to practice democratic traditions and appealing to join the family of Europe must also exercise an independent judiciary that has no influence from other state institutions (ie, Parliament, PM, etc.). This is not the case in Montenegro; what we have in Podgorica is a parallel government that shadows that of Belgrade during the era of the communist party.
State terrorism thus is nothing new in Montenegro. Its hold on the Albanian minority population through oppressive and fear tactics is crucial for them. Over the past several months Albanian nationalism has finally made its way from Kosova to Malesia, evidenced by the unified campaigns to elect members of local parties and oust those that have hindered their progress and development. This show of force has caught the attention of Podgorica and has caused discomfort in Djukanovic's party; the fear of an Albanian (political and social) uprising where the several regions of Malesia e Madhe would socially, ideologically and politically unite would spell trouble in the eyes of Montenegrins. The prospect of an "Ethnic Albania" has caused many sleepless nights in Podgorica, and those prospects drew a bit closer on September 10th when Albanians catapulted their own representatives into Parliament and local offices for the first time ever.
What is important now is to see how Podgorica handles two issues, (1) the victory of Albanians in Malesia with representatives in Parliament and in the urban municipality, and (2) the handling of the prisoners. International pressure on the latter will continue to mount, and Podgorica must be very careful on how they act during their "face-saving" plans.
Viktor Ivezaj -- "Standards Before Referendum: The Content of Montenegro’s Future Status Will Depend From the Approach of Majority Towards Minorities"
Commentary by Viktor N. IVEZAJ
Department of Political Science
Wayne State University
Detroit, Michigan USA
29 March 2006
If history has taught us anything over the past fifteen years, we now know that if a state wants to hold its entire society together, the majority must acknowledge the right of minorities to be treated equally both as individuals and as communities. These lessons have demonstrated that effective representation of minorities on all levels of decision-making, the existence of strong self-governments with minority representatives or special minority self-governments, and even power-sharing within the institutional state structure, will improve the deficiencies of democratic, multiethnic states. Throughout Eastern Europe, the new wave of democratic transition is coming to mean the acceptance of the majority’s decisions by the minority, a now popular concept gaining momentum throughout the European Union and suddenly making its presence felt in the former communist states of Eastern Europe, including Montenegro.
Developments in Montenegro have triggered discussions as to whether the country is prepared to ride this wave of democracy and shed away its turbulent past. The focal point of these debates have largely centered on the fate of the Belgrade Agreement (which recently celebrated its third birthday) and whether it should be sustained or dissolved. Contrary to Serbia’s pro-union aspirations, Montenegro is campaigning heavily to break the bitter marriage and pursue independence as the only remedy for political and economic success, a unilateral move that has drawn criticism from EU officials, opposition parties in parliament, and multi-ethnic groups throughout this tiny republic. Although success will largely depend on Montenegro’s capacity to strengthen and manage its economic and governing institutions, including its community development, and local governance, it will also require observance to the growing demands of its multiethnic citizenry to be incorporated into its political, economic, social and civic processes. To declare that Montenegro has realized these objectives would be an exaggeration, to say the least. In fact, nowhere else has it failed more miserably in its sociopolitical reforms than its handling of minority rights, and without exception the Albanians in the southern region of Malësia e Madhe continue to be victims of neglect, disenfranchisement, and assimilation.
Without dedicating much thought into its dissipating inter-ethnic relations, and consequences that may arise thereof, Montenegro’s political elites have decided to ignore the warning signs from the agitated opposition and rush for a referendum while blindly assuming that all of its domestic tribulations will be swept under the rug. One of the most surprising moves has been the reluctance from Podgorica’s politicians to step back and assess its handling of Albanian affairs before it continues in what it falsely believes to be a pacified situation with its largest ethnic group. Although the outcome of the referendum will draw much dispute from the large Serbian and Bosniak communities, it is also worth noting that failure to also appease the demands of its multi-ethnic citizenry preludes a much-feared consequence that has the international community fearing the worst: a disputed outcome that may trigger a movement to split the country geographically along ethnic lines. The remedies to prevent this from happening were carefully outlined in Vienna, but the Solana and Lajcak proposal that suggests the country be allowed to secede from the federation if 55 percent of voters choose independence and 50 percent of the people entitled to vote take part in the vote is primarily designed to maintain the marriage between Montenegro and Serbia, given that it is nearly impossible for this divided country to muster enough votes away from the opposition. But the logistics of the referendum are only part of Montenegro’s growing pains. In addition to the politics being played out in Podgorica, a growing concern is developing south of the capital where a disenfranchised Albanian minority is seeking alternatives to the failed sociopolitical and economic policies that have for so long stagnated their development and continues to threaten their very existence.
In the Albanian community in and around Tuz, or Malësia e Madhe, a substantial level of political and administrative decentralization will be a decisive component in reassuring the nearly 13,000 Albanians that they have a place in Montenegro’s future, regardless if the referendum passes or fails. The lack of responsiveness to Albanian demands for an urban restructuring plan where Malësia would be recognized as a distinct municipality has drawn sharp criticism from Albanian political elites in Tuz where countless demands have been submitted calling for reforms in education, employment, healthcare, housing and criminal justice. Albanian elites and political representatives have warned Podgorica that their reluctance to address these demands will contribute to the growing discontent towards the majority and threaten to alienate them from the political process. With these appeals entering deaf ears, intellectuals have decided that under the decrees of international and domestic laws, the most feasible solution to the problems facing Albanians today is to empower local citizens to handle their own affairs, which means decentralizing Podgorica and creating a separate commune that would be better suited to handle the most salient issues pertaining to Albanians. Montenegro’s proposal of last year’s Capital City Bill, which suggested that Tuz remain a sub-unit of Podgorica, was largely considered a failed scheme that was designed to temporarily “hush” local Albanians until the referendum was passed. The adverse effect of this move have caused Albanians to become skeptical of Podgorica’s motives, and as a result has discouraged Albanians from involvement in the political decision-making processes, which could be detrimental for the majority party in the days leading to the referendum.
One way that Montenegro can successfully deal with such diversities in its society is by lessening control from the center (Podgorica) and assigning more institutional and political control at the local level (Malësia). A constitutional structure where Albanians have a veto in policies that affect them most would alleviate some of the problems between majorities and minorities. The significance of decentralization has gained so much attention lately that even the negotiations on the future status of Kosova will depend on empowering local communities to participate more in all bodies of the government, especially the legislative branch and police.” Kosova’s Minister of Local Government, Lutfi Haziri, announced recently that local government is an important feature of a state’s political structure, and rightfully asserts, “it will be a serious offer [local-government control]…to the Serb ethnic community, so they can integrate and become part of the process and lead on the local administration level. This means they would govern on the local level and handle the organization of life and services.” In Macedonia, the conflict that almost thrust the country into all out civil war was diverted under conditions that the Albanian minority have increased power in areas they occupied as a majority, thus much of Macedonia’s municipalities were geographically restructured to compliment its ethnic makeup. These regional measures clearly demonstrate the direction the international community is embarking upon in efforts to maintain peaceful transitions of government, which renders the situation in Malësia perplexing when considering the developments taking place in regions that were once marred by ethnic war.
In Montenegro, the politics of municipalities have been made out to be so complex that even realignment specialists are confused as to how to depict them. Most of the municipalities in Montenegro are considerably large and disproportionate when compared to other European nations, where inhabitants range from 2,947 in the municipality of Savnik to 169,132 in Podgorica. According to the 2003 census the ethnic composition of Albanians in Montenegro was 47,682 (7.09%), and in the Podgorica municipality it was 12,951, nearly all living in the Malësia region. Albanians do not see the question of decentralization as being purely in the interest of Albanians, but of crucial importance for all ethnic communities, for overall democratization of Montenegro and for efficient institutional minority protection.
Throughout their appeals for a municipality, Albanians have maintained they do not imagine themselves as an "independent entity" but want to be part of a Montenegro where representation of all groups at all levels of public administration and government are at the core of any power-sharing arrangement, which is an essential aspect of their guaranteed rights as a minority. Exercising freedom through participation in public affairs is extremely important, because it gives people a personal interest in thinking about others in society. Local self-government forces the people to act together and feel their dependence on one another. These demands fall under the sphere of European laws specifically designed to protect ethnic minorities. The European Charter of Local-Self Government, which Montenegro is a signatory, clearly defines the laws regulating conditions and procedures for the foundation, abolition and integration of municipalities. When assessing these requirements, it is clearly obvious that Malësia meets all the necessary requirements for classification into a separate commune.
The starting point is historical development and tradition, which can be done after a local community [in this case Malësia] has declared its interest to do so. According to Montenegro’s Constitution and European laws attributed to local self-government, “a municipality represents a geographically and economically integrated entity for the local people, which is reflected in the integration of urban areas, the number of inhabitants, the organization of the services of immediate interests for local people, gravitation towards the center, the development and ecological conditions of the area and other questions important for the citizens of a certain area and for the realization of the mutual interests and needs.” By looking at it from this context, it is an enigma why Malësia has remained without a municipality for so long. However, most urban analysts, and including myself, would argue that local government institutions would help solve only some of the problems facing Albanians in Malësia, and that a broader analysis reveals deeper complexities that exist in society that are beyond the scope of a commune.
Albanians need not be deceived into thinking that a commune will solve all their problems. In the municipality of Ulqin, where Albanians make up 85% of the population, the head of police and head of the municipal court has never been held by an Albanian. As such, a commune should be welcomed as a means to overcoming the various difficulties facing them at the local level, and not as the ultimate end to their problems. The danger presents itself as a double-edge sword: First, it is under the nature of negotiations that Podgorica may bring forth. Montenegro’s political elites should refrain from using the granting of a commune as an “end all” bargaining chip, but instead think of the Albanian problem as a Montenegrin problem. Isolating Malësia will only contribute to the growing disparities in economic, political and social development. Second, the bigger troubles that face Albanians go beyond anything a commune can solve, and they lie within the enclaves of the community.
First, the bigger crisis facing Albanians in Malësia is not the reluctance of Podgorica to grant them more control of their sociopolitical affairs via a commune; instead their dire situation is linked with the sharp cleavages that exist inside Albanian communities. When assessing the treatment of Albanians in communities throughout the Balkans, Albanians in Malësia have been the least discriminated against, and as a result they never considered it a burning issue to challenge the status quo. With the absence of an Albanian national awakening in Montenegro, the cleavages have continued to create sharp divisions between those Albanians, on the one hand, insisting that the status quo not be disrupted and those, on the other, realizing that the status quo is a pre-determined strategy to completely wipe out an entire people by forced assimilation and emigration. Whether these claims are correct or not, what it is true, however is that some of the most talented Albanian minds from Malësia have opted to focus their intellectual strengths for the Montenegrin cause, where they have been on record to support policies that have obstructed development in the very places they were nurtured. Podgorica has consistently rewarded these sympathizers by appointing them to high-ranking positions, a practice that sounds all too familiar when thinking back to the days of Ottomans rule. Those intellectuals that have refused to be recruited inside the corruptive circles have decided to either initiate change from within or emigrate abroad and consequently never return. The question that is often taken for granted nowadays is one that needs to be revisited: “What does it mean to be Albanian?” But seeking the answer to this question may produce disturbing affects because when the Albanian consciousness finally awakens, it will be startled to realize that what it means to be Albanian in Malësia has suddenly taken Slavic nuances.
Second, Albanians must recognize that false convictions attached to the popular thought that an independent Montenegro will improve their socio-economic and political status are misguiding. With or without Serbia, the Albanian situation will not improve unless the Montenegrin parliament takes the initiative to seriously draft proposals outlining projects designed to specifically expand Albanians’ role in society. Gjukanovic’s primary goal is to secure his position of power, and it is within his best interest to maintain the status quo in a way that will not threaten his party’s hold of the republic. Keep in mind that the question of the referendum did not materialize as a will of the people, but the will of Montenegrin political leaders led by Gjukanovic, who thus wants to extend his unlimited power with the alleged will of the people. His campaign for independence centers on the hope that the international community will accept Montenegro into the family of western democracies once it has done away with Serbia and her treacherous past. This is the same rhetoric he is using to lobby Albanians for their votes in the coming referendum, including promises similar to those he made during his re-election bid for president in 1997 where Albanians were decisive in his slim 5,000 vote victory over Bulatovic. Nevertheless, Albanians continued to be underrepresented in all spheres of public employment, where, according to the Helsinki Committee For Human Rights in Serbia, “only 0.03%--0.05% of Albanians are employed in state bodies and public services in Montenegro.” What the international community needs to realize is that no civic programs have been initiated to alleviate the disproportionate representation of Albanians in the public sector, “despite the fact that the Constitution of the Republic of Montenegro clearly specifies that members of minorities should be employed in civil services in proportion with their share in the total population.”
Third, existing institutions must be modernized to operate within the framework of the federal republic and under European guidelines. One of the most noticeable disparities in Montenegrin institutions is the lack of minority representation in the police, judiciary, bureaucracy, media and academia. One of the key anecdotes that Montenegro must implement is how to resolve the dismal social conditions and ethnic relations that are always in danger of spinning out of control. Programs in civic leadership and law enforcement need to be introduced in the Albanian community so that citizens at the local level can participate in the criminal justice system and not be a victim of it. Albanian media outlets should be extended outside the Albanian viewing areas in an effort to illustrate the cultural diversity to those unfamiliar with the uniqueness of Albanian culture and tradition, a project that could perhaps replace the majority public’s negative perceptions that are usually associated with ignorance and lack of contact. Academic programs at the university level where Albanian cultural studies are offered as a course credit would strongly contribute towards familiarizing tomorrow’s leaders with the history and distinctiveness of the largest minority group in society. The reality is, Albanians are not going anywhere, and their continued presence and contribution in all spheres of society deserves recognition.
Fourth, the most dangerous feature of Montenegro’s government is the corruption of individual office holders and government agencies. Let us not forget that many of the conflicts Yugoslavia endured in her history were identity-based and manipulated by cynical politicians wishing to reach their own ends. Thus the bloody struggles that raged in Bosnia and then again in Kosova were kindled by politicians like Milosevic who sought to increase their personal power. Today, those memories are difficult to erase because the ideologies of the old regime are still alive and functioning under the guise of Gjukanovic’s so-called “democratic” transition, a misguided ideology that has thus far fooled the international community into thinking that the status quo does not threaten peace and security in the region. It is for this reason that minorities are cautious to accept any change that does not include them as active participants in the political system. By suppressing minority participation in spheres of government activity, the risk of social and political upheaval is eminent.
On the other end of this political cauldron exists a much more puzzling aspect of corruption that is even harder to comprehend by western democratic standards. Much of the grievances by Albanians have gone unnoticed by their own elected political representatives, most notorious being the head of the Albanian Political Party, Ferhat Dinosha. From a democratic standpoint, the fact that Dinosha was popularly elected into office demonstrates that he deservingly represents his constituency, a reality that cannot be denied. If he deviates from the will of the electorate and legislates in a way that undermines his constituents’ consent, the most logical remedy provided by democratic theory is to remove him from office via the next electoral cycle. To argue anything contrary to this is useless because it defies popular belief that an elected politician can legislate against the wishes of the very same people that put him in office. The problem that also arises is where to find competent candidates that would (legitimately) win the consent of the people and generate enough votes to pull ahead of the Dinosha and Gjukanovic charade. Now that Dinosha has revealed his vulnerability to Albanians and Montenegrins alike, his continued stay will only strangle any attempt for Malësia to move forward since his legitimacy has forever been tainted. If the coming elections fail to upend this controversial figure, then Malësia seems to have been depleted of candidates capable enough to successfully represent the will of the people. Regardless of one’s profession, it is absurd to believe that legislating as an Albanian in a Slav-dominant parliament is anything but easy, but that should not be a deterring factor given that even one vote in parliament can be so vital that it can determine “who gets what, when, and how;” otherwise Gjukanovic would not lobby Dinosha for his vote each time legislation is introduced that might cause an adverse reaction in Malësia. In this context, it is important for Gjukanovic to secure the “Malësia vote” so that he can defend any controversial legislation as an agreed upon policy accepted by Malësia’s duly elected representative. As long as Dinosha continues to wear the glove that keeps him “warm,” the hand will always move in the direction the glove wants it to.
Finally, international law does not favor the current condition of Albanians in Montenegro. Unless for the improbable chance of genocide, ethnic cleansing or massive repressive tactics from the state, international and European law will be slow to hear challenges that it believes should be handled at the local level. The Council of Europe in its 1995 Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, in compliance with the OSCE standards, became a requirement for a country to “join the West,” and in particular to join the European Union. However, there has been far less agreement about what exactly these standards should be. There is no debate of how to resolve claims relating to territory and self-government or how to allocate official language status. Montenegro has claimed that it fully respects these standards, but yet continues to centralize power in such a way that all decisions are made in forums controlled by the dominant national group. What is more disturbing is that Montenegro has also prearranged higher education, professional accreditation, and political offices so that members of minority groups must linguistically assimilate in order to attain professional success and political influence. Hence, these legal norms do not address the clash between minority self-government claims and centralizing state policies that generated the destabilizing ethnic conflicts in the first place. For these reasons the prospects for change are more likely to achieve an effect by either (1) utilizing local political channels where grievances are received and resolved in a manner that does not discriminate on the basis of an ethnic and/or religious group, or (2) collectively organizing the community to publicize the grievances by way of protests, rallies, meetings, and so on. Because Albanian culture has now shown signs of being embedded in structural change, the social conditions in Malësia appear ripe for collective action. The demonstrations that took place in Tuz last October and again on 21 March should have caught no one by surprise, and should have signaled a warning to Podgorica that the Albanian question needs immediate inquiry. In the same vein, the Albanian Diaspora organized its own demonstrations at a much grandeur style in Detroit and Washington, DC. The Albanian-American Association in Detroit, the largest and most assertive organization in the United States dealing specifically with Albanian rights issues in Montenegro, was conceived with a purpose of highlighting the disparities and troublesome human rights policies that continue to be practiced by Montenegro’s political elites. Their success has earned the attention of numerous Washington officials and non-governmental organizations, which are beginning to realize that an independent Montenegro does not necessarily spell a democratic Montenegro. With the referendum fast approaching, Albanians in Malësia are expressing a desire once again to petition the government en-masse in an effort to elevate their grievances beyond the local level.
On the other hand, let us not be fooled, Montenegro is no Kosova – where the rallying cry was well-defined for the international community. Nonetheless, what is happening in Malësia today takes on similar connotations to what played out in the 1990s. The social, economic, political and civic repressions have reached a point in Malësia where citizens are forced to abandon their ancient homeland for a better life abroad. There should be no wonder then why there are more Albanians from Montenegro living in Detroit than there are in all of Montenegro. This form of “bureaucratic ethnic cleansing” has drastically changed the composition of Albanians, where once densely populated lands such as Koja and Trieshi are now virtually emptied. The long-term effects have taken its toll; the Malësia e Madhe that was once saturated with Albanians from the Gruda, Hoti, Trieshi, Koja and Luhari regions is now being contested by Montenegro as only consisting of Gruda and Hoti, a dangerous assertion that has many Albanians furious. Any attempt to divide these historic Albanian lands under any administrative or geographic circumstances threatens to undermine any reasonable negotiations between Podgorica and Malësia.
An additional element to this argument has been the trouble dealing with war refugees. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there were 28,493 displaced persons in Montenegro as of August 2004. Out of this number, 4,400 are Roma; 6,483 Serbs; and 4,074 Muslims. The UNCHR also claims that nearly 50,000 are living throughout Serbia and Montenegro who have not been officially registered, and who would thus have to be added to the overall figure. A large number of these displaced persons have crossed over into Malësia and settled in the Konik and Vrella regions and are currently funded by the Montenegrin government. These majority Bosnian-Muslim settlements have significantly destabilized the ethnic composition of the region where the Albanian communities come in danger of falling below the majority threshold. Under these conditions, Albanian historic settlements are in jeopardy of falling under the ownership of members of a foreign group. Any deliberations on Malësia’s future must incorporate the question of how to deal with displaced persons.
Balkan history has clearly demonstrated that when minorities feel powerless and left out of the power-sharing arrangement of society, they will try to gain local autonomy and break away in an effort to change their minority status into a majority. As a consequence, the longer minorities feel excluded, the stronger those aspirations become. These are precisely the concerns that continue to cause havoc to international observers and scholars seeking to find solutions to how to deal with bastions of repressive governments. Montenegro is no exception. Many of the issues commented here have been subject to scholarly research and have begun to make their way to international conferences around the globe. Research on the Albanian situation in Montenegro was presented last summer at the First International Global Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, where a special session dealing with minorities in Eastern Europe included a paper entitled, “Political Integration of the Albanian Minority in Post-Communist Montenegro.” In a similar vein, some of the themes presented in this commentary have been prepared for the upcoming 20th World Congress in Fukuoka, Japan in a paper entitled, “Failing to Meet Europe’s Demands on Minority Rights: The Case of Montenegro’s Albanians.” The research examines Montenegro’s policies towards its Albanian minority and touches upon three key issues that will be vital in assessing its progress towards European integration: (1) the role of political elites, parties and institutions, (2) political infrastructure: decentralization and municipal government, and (3) the influence of nationalism and ethnicity on political representation.
But academic inquiry into such areas only help us begin to understand the vast problems that exist in societies, it does not provide a clear-cut solution. For Albanians and Montenegrins alike, the first step is to agree what the problems are that exist (where some have been briefly touched upon here), and then a decision has to be made on how to tackle them. Nonetheless, if Albanians do not consent that infringements such as the right to use their language in courts and local administration; the funding of minority schools, universities, medical clinics, and media; the extent of local or regional self-government; the guaranteeing of legitimate political representation; and the prevention on settlement policies intended to engulf minorities in their historic homelands with settlers from the majority group is not reason enough to stand up and demand protection, then this author can assert that assimilation has achieved its ultimate goal, and Malësia e Madhe north of the Albanian border has vanished. If Montenegro does not consider the consequences of this evolution detrimental to its future, then history has taught her nothing, and it will continue to repeat itself in the most profound and catastrophic ways.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN, September 29, 2006 – Today the Albanian-American Association “Malёsia e Madhe” in conjunction with the Albanian communities of Greater Detroit, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and New Jersey came together to protest the cruel and inhumane treatment of the ethnic Albanians of Montenegro, where just three weeks ago, in the Albanian-dominant region of Malёsia, Albanians became victims of brutal state aggression that has not been witnessed since the conflict in Kosova.
In the early morning of September 9th masked gunmen from the Montenegrin special police units were ordered, without warning, to break into the homes of several Albanian families while they slept, and arrest individuals that according to P.M. Milo Djukanovic “posed a threat to national security.” In fact, before the arrests were made and without examining one piece of evidence against them, Podgorica had already labeled these people as “terrorists”, an accusation that has caused havoc throughout the country.
During their round-up procedures, police severely punished those who questioned their motives by beating them in their own homes where no one was spared – the victims included the elderly and women. Included in the arrests were three U.S. citizens that were in the country visiting family.
In prison, the detainees were beaten and tormented on a daily basis. No access was given to family or outside sources, Montenegro controlled all the media reports, which continue to stress to this day that those arrested were planning to participate in terrorist acts against the state.
However, no evidence has been brought forth to this point, no witnesses to these accounts have been named, and every Albanian detained continues to deny their involvement in these fallacious accusations.
In the mean time, the detainees continue to be harassed and persecuted for crimes they did not commit.
The following is a list of the innocent prisoners being wrongfully charged for crimes they did not commit:
1. Lek Bojaj
2. Malot Bojaj
3. Mark Ivanaj
4. Gjergj Luca Ivezaj
5. Nikoll Lekocaj
6. Anton Pjetri Sinishtaj
7. Viktor Pjetri Sinishtaj
8. Viktor Luli Dreshaj
9 Gjon Nika Dreshaj
10. Kole Toma Dedvukaj, US citizen
11. Rrok Gjergji Dedvukaj, US citizen
12. Sokol Luca Ivanaj, US citizen
13. Pjeter Frani Dedvukaj
14. Gjon Frani Dedvukaj
15. Zef Kola Dedvukaj
What we do know is this – most of the suspects were either party supporters or candidates to the up-coming national and local elections that were held the very next day.
Most political polls and media forecasts were predicting a sweeping victory for the Albanian parties where they are the majority, and losses to the Montenegrin party in Malёsia would threaten the authoritarian grip Podgorica had on Albanians for so long.
As a result, and immediately following these polls, the vicious arrests took place and most analysts of the events agree were politically motivated.
With victory in the local elections of Tuz, Albanians for the first time will control their own political, social and economic affairs. This created a threat for Podgorica, because up until September 10th, the state controlled all local affairs that Albanians engaged in, for the most part denying Albanians social and political freedoms that are customary throughout Europe. This, according to local analysts, was an opportunity for Podgorica to generate chaos where the state would re-establish its control and influence on all aspects of life in Malёsia.
How soon Podgorica has forgotten that it was the Albanian vote that brought independence to this tiny country. In fact, the number of pro-independence votes in Malёsia alone made all the difference to secure Montenegro’s fate as an independent country.
Today Montenegro has carelessly accused these same people of terrorism, BUT realizes that these allegations are only as true as the motives behind those detained. There are no such motives, for if there were, then the recent visit of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday would have brought some of these incidents out.
However, in an effort to prove itself as an ally against the war on terror, Djukanovic mentioned nothing to Rumsfeld that Montenegro is undergoing any threats itself, leading to conclude that these accusations may have been premature and unjustifiable.
What Djukanovic did say is that Montenegro was prepared to "accept all responsibilities of a nation to join Europe".
One responsibility that he is not prepared to accept is following international standards on human rights and the protection of ethnic Albanians.
Any chance that Montenegro has to join the family of Europe and make strides toward Euro-Atlantic integration can only be achieved through incorporating its ethnic minorities into the socio-political mainstream and stop what Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) recently referred to as “Quiet Ethnic Cleansing” in Montenegro.
By following the historical events in Montenegro throughout the 20th Century and into the 21st, it is clearly apparent that Podgorica has a vision for Albanians, the same vision that guided Slobodan Milosevic all through the 1990s:
1. Montenegro has made the political, social, economic and civil conditions for Albanians so deploring that they are forced to leave their homeland for opportunities abroad. (it should be no wonder why there are more Albanians in Detroit from Montenegro than in all of Montenegro).
2. Any opportunity that Albanians have to advance in society is coupled with their willingness to shed their ethnic culture and assimilate to the Slavic way of life.
This is a dangerous model for building a nation, one that the EU should recognize and address, especially now where we have witnessed a 3rd vision of Montenegro – to brutalize and intimidate an ethnic minority in an effort to introduce fear, confusion and chaos where the state portrays itself as the protector and legitimate actor for the people.
Along with Milosevic, Djukanovic has become the only president to have ever labeled Albanians as terrorists, thus introducing fear within this tiny state where the threat of inter-ethnic conflict and discrimination is all but evident.
The Albanian-American Association “Malёsia e Madhe” of Detroit has done its part and continues to lobby Congress to assess the volatile situation in a region that has been tabooed with ethnic wars, and now with the recent oppression of Albanians in Malёsia, Montenegro is threatening to bring back these ghosts of the past.
The US Congress has taken notice. In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Congressman Sander Levin (D-MI) appealed that…
- “The United States must make clear to Podgorica that we expect them to abide by international standards of human rights, especially the treatment of ethnic minorities”;
- “We urge the Department of State and the new Ambassador to press the government of Podgorica to take concrete steps to ensure the equitable treatment of ethnic Albanians”;
- “The United States has a special responsibility to be an advocate for the rights of Albanians who are subject to discrimination and oppression in their native lands”.
On this day in Detroit, the Albanian-American Association “Malёsia e Madhe” along with 1500 supporters in attendance demand the following:
We appeal to the US government to keep its pressure on Montenegro and demand that theses innocent victims be immediately released and allowed to return home to their families.
We appeal to the European Union to seriously assess the inter-ethnic relations in Montenegro prior to any negotiations on associating Montenegro with the family of Europe.
We appeal to the Montenegrin government to stop tormenting its ethnic Albanians and respect the diversity of its minority population, and a reminder that without its vote would not have become the sovereign state it is today.
We also appeal to Milo Djukanovic to remember the lessons learned from the past 15 years in the Balkans, and that although a peaceful minority brought stability and independence, a disturbed minority can challenge that same stability if not respected.
And finally we appeal to YOU… Albanian-Americans and human rights activist throughout the Diaspora to take a stand and let yourselves be heard, that you will not tolerate the repressive behavior any longer and that we will continue our efforts to rightfully proliferate as an ethnic group and demand that our ancient homeland be free from oppression once and for all!
The Albanian American Association “Malёsia e Madhe” is committed and determined to work diligently and tirelessly until the Montenegrin government stops its discriminatory policies aimed at Albanians and their families, and demand that all imprisoned Albanians be immediately freed.
In jail, Pjeter was relentlessly punched, kicked, and spat at without knowing why he was detained. After 48 straight hours of torture he was taken to his village in Malesia and dumped on the street without any explanation of his detention.
Today there are 14 Albanians still detained in Montenegro's prisons for crimes they did not commit, but instead falsely accused of "terrorists acts" by the Montenegrin state. Three of the detainees are American citizens that were in Montenegro visiting their families.
In an interview with Berishaj, he insisted that the police never explained why he was being taken away that Saturday morning, but was insulted the entire time of his incarceration, and was specifically warned that if he spoke out against the tactics of the state that those same masked police units would detain him again.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Washingtoni Reagon ndaj Trajtimit të Shqiptarëve në Mal të Zi
WASHINGTON, DC, 18 Shtator, 2006 – Si rezultat i takmit të 9 Qershorit, 2006 ndërmjet Shoqatës Shqiptaro – Amerikane “Malësia e Madhe”, Iniciativës Qytetare dhe Kongresit të Shteteve të bashkuara, Senatori Carl Levin (D-MI) dhe Kongresisti Sander Levin (D-MI) sot së bashku dorëzuan një peticion formal pranë Sekretares së Shtetit Condoleezza Rice në lidhje me trajtimin e Shqiptarëve etnik në Mal të Zi. Së bashku me peticionin, anëtarët e Kongresit bashkangjitën edhe letrën e nënshkruar nga delegacioni Shqiptarë e cila i ishte dorëzuar më heret Charles English nga Departamenti i Shtetit e cila nenvizonte keqtrajtimet të cilave u nënshtrohen Shqiptarët në Mal të Zi.
Peticioni i dorëzuar kërkon nga Sekretarja e Shtetit që personalisht të angazhohet në shqyrtimin e situatës në Mal të Zi para vendosjes së marrëdhënjeve diplomatike. Theks i veçantë i kushtohet përfaqësimit tepër të ulët në punësim/burime dhe krijimin e aprovimin e “statusit të komunës së plotë të regjionit të Tuzit”. Implikimi për formimin e komunës së plotë të Tuzit në asnjë mënyrë nuk nënkupton që komuna urbane plotëson këtë qëllim. Për këtë arsye, veprimet e Shoqatës Shqiptaro – Amerikane “Malësia e Madhe” nuk do të ndalen përderisa e drejta për komunë të plotë dhe të pavarur të Malësisë/Tuzit të mos legalizohet dhe qytetarëve të Malësisë t’u sigurohen të drejtat e plota politike, ekonomike, sociale, dhe mbrojtje qytetare sipas ligjeve ndërkombëtare për mbrojtjen e minoriteteve dhe tokave të tyre.
Këto kërkesa janë të justifikuara më shumë se kurrë veçanarisht duke marrë parasysh brutalitetin shtetëror ndaj qytetarëve të Malësisë kohët e fundit. Rritja paqësore e unitetit Shqiptarë për të drejta më të mëdha dhe përfaqësim denjësor para zgjedhjeve të 10 Shtatorit kan rrezikuar kontrollin e Podgoricës ndaj minoriteteve, dhe si rezultat, ekspeditat e policisë shtetërore kan kërcënuar, burgosë e keqtrajtuar Shqiptarët lokal për të zbehë aspiratat e tyre për zgjedhje korrekte dhe të lira, përfaqësim, si dhe të drejta elementare njerëzore. U bëjmë thirrje të gjitha agjensive Europiane për monitorimin e të drejtave të njeriut që të vazhdojnë shembullin e Kongresit të Shteteve të Bashkuara dhe të kërkojnë që shqiptarëve në Mal të Zi t’u sigurohet e drejta e barabartë para ligjeve që dalin nga Karta e Kombeve të Bashkuara si dhe ligjeve të tjera nga doktrina e ligjeve ndërkombëtare.