Sunday, October 24, 2010

CORRUPTION 101: Citing “lack of evidence” Podgorica court frees officers accused of torturing Albanians

Due to lack of evidence, Montenegrin police officers Kalezić Marko, Darko Šekularac, Nenad Scekic, Milorad Mitrovic and Branko Radičković were set free last week by order of the Court of Appeals and released of all charges stemming from their conduct in the “Eagle’s Flight” arrest in 2006. The police officers were accused of using excessive force in the arrests of several Albanian nationals in the Malёsia region, including three American citizens. The arrests followed suspicion that a group of Albanians were planning to destabilize the Montenegrin government by “terrorist” means.

Although international monitoring agencies cited numerous incidents of police brutality during the arrests, the appeals court did not refer to any such evidence in their final conclusions.

Facts that were ignored centered on details that the entire process was marred with inconsistencies and corruption. Immediately following the arrests, Amnesty International reported that the prisoners were subjected to “repeated beatings, including with the intension of forcing a confession, using hands, fists, feet, sticks, and on one occasion a computer cable.” The report went on to assert that “beatings were allegedly conducted by both individual and groups of police officers at the police station, by the antiterrorist police involved in the arrest and by police escorting the men to court” (eye-witness reports named Scekic, Mitrovic and Marko leading the way). Amnesty concluded that “one individual reported that a hood was placed over his head; another that he had a gun held to his head; all were subjected to racist threats on the basis of their Albanian ethnicity” (10/17/06).

In the same vein, the U.S. State Department in a recent Country Report cited the Helsinki Committee of Montenegro that “police had used disproportionate force against some of the arrested persons and their family members during the arrests and subsequent interrogations.” Concurringly, Freedom House reported similar abuses and stated that “the hospitalization of prison inmates after a police raid raised questions of brutality and resulted in a change in prison administration…accusations of political interference and complaints of lengthy judicial processes continued to plague the judicial and prosecutorial systems.”

According to a 2009 Report by USAID (Corruption Assessment: Montenegro), Montenegro’s police system has been criticized with having little independence from judicial and legislative influence. As with many political institutions in Podgorica, corruption continues to be a problem:

- The conflicts of interest law is too limited, the local self-government law is inadequate, and whistleblower protection is insufficient;

- Judges are insufficiently trained;

- Trials take too much time, in part, because the courtrooms are not equipped with, and the judges do not use, any form of court-reporting mechanism;

- Defendants who have insufficient resources to hire their own defense attorneys are given appointed counsel; appointed counsel does not necessarily have any experience or specialized training in criminal defense matters;

- There appears to be little or no communication between prosecutors of the Basic Courts, the police, and building inspectors at the local level;

- Political and economic elites as connected by durable networks based on sharing the benefits of corruption. Corruption is controlled from above with the spoils shared within clans based on family, friendship and regional ties – especially in the banking and construction sectors. They act with perceived impunity – there are few controls to detect and prevent corruption, and there is insignificant enforcement and prosecution of high-level corrupt acts. Corruption is seen as a high reward-low risk activity;

- The leading political party (DPS) has minimal competition, with the opposition parties severely fragmented along ethnic, religious or economic lines and no reasonable possibilities for coalition building;

- Public officials can act with impunity. There are minimal controls and oversight to ensure their accountability and, despite access to information laws, there are sufficient loopholes available to minimize government transparency;

- Weak oversight can be seen in the relatively ineffectual efforts by the criminal justice system to identify, prosecute and sentence corrupt officials, whether they are on the national or local scene;

The Directorate for Anticorruption Initiative (DACI) recently completed a survey research study of the justice sector (2008) where more than one-third of all interviewed parties (1788 respondents) and one quarter of companies had the perception that the judicial system in Montenegro is often or always corrupt.

Contributing to this lack of adequate political will is the minimal nature of political competition in Montenegro. Essentially, the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS), as the successor to the League of Communists, has served as the ruling party for 60 years. The opposition parties appear to be hopelessly small and fragmented, with few proponents of coalition building. Without political competition from other parties or from the legislature or judiciary, the ruling party feels empowered to wield its authority without need to modify its grip on the spoils of power.

If this corruptive behavior in Montenegro is not overhauled, the paternal relationships between the DPS, judicial and police apparatus’ will continue to function unabridged for many years to come.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Does Skopje need a "Skenderbeg Square"?

The Macedonian government is spending millions to renovate a square in Skopje. Now the mayor of an ethnic Albanian majority municipality wants to construct a competing square across the river. Are things getting out of hand?

By Klaudija Lutovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 08/10/10

Izet Medziti, mayor of the Chair district in Skopje, has an ambitious plan for his predominantly ethnic Albanian municipality. He wants to build a massive new public square honouring the 15th-century hero Skenderbeg.

At 29,000 square metres, it will be larger than the existing Macedonia Square, just across the River Vardar, which bisects the city. Constructing it could cost as much as 50m euros.

Because it would be located on a legally protected national landmark, Skopje's Old Bazaar, a state permit is required. "The Chair municipality has not asked for such a permit," Culture Minister Elizabeta Kancevska-Milevska told SETimes.

Nevertheless, the government has allocated an estimated 356,000 euros to draw up an architectural plan.

Albanian intellectuals seem divided over the issue. Many question the need and cost, saying it is a costly example of urban planning being used for political ends.

Others argue the new square will reflect Skopje's multiethnic reality -- something they say the government's "Skopje 2014" project, aimed at renovating Macedonia Square, failed to do.

"Is the square necessary at a time when the citizens have many more urgent needs?" asks journalist Nazim Rashidi, summing up the reaction of many.

Dzabir Dervala of the NGO "Civil" describes the plans as "megalomanic" and "on par with the other party across the bridge". Both, he says, are unproductive.

"From a political aspect," Dervala said, "the square is a reflection of what is happening in the country and is arrogantly forced by the governing elements [upon the citizens]."

Politicians, he says, would do better to propose infrastructure projects that "deal with poverty and address security challenges".

Monumental works can be a positive thing in normal circumstances, writes analyst Alber Musliu, but not in a time of economic crisis. The rush to propose competing squares is like "creating feuds", he suggests.

Sociologist Hasan Jashari, however, believes the new square will help ease interethnic tensions, though at a steep cost. "It is a compromise solution by the coalition partners to achieve peace in house. It is not a product of the real needs of the population, keeping in mind the essential problems of the citizens with regard to food, health care, education and housing," Jashari said.

Analyst Artan Sadiku disagrees. "The suggestion to build a square around the Skenderbeg statue is being exploited by [the Democratic Union of Integration party] to fulfil its party goals, as well as to stir up ethnic tensions in Macedonia," said Sadiku.

By naming this project "Skenderbeg", DUI is trying to position itself to Albanians as a history maker in its competition with its coalition partner, VMRO. "In order to stay in power, the parties use the same methods to create a nationalist fetish through which the state budget is spent on construction," he said.

Others, like Union of Albanian Intellectuals Avzi Mustafa and journalist Daut Dauti, are enthusiastic. They argue the project is well thought out and links the modern and the traditional.

It will also allow easier access and freer communication between Skopje's two parts bisected by the Vardar, they say. After all, "this space belongs to us all," Dauti concludes.

Ka nevojë Shkupi për një "Shesh Skënderbeg"?
Izet Mexhiti, kryebashkiaku i lagjes Çair në Shkup, ka një plan ambicioz për komunën e tij me mbizotërim etnik shqiptar. Ai do që të ndërtojë një shesh të ri masiv publik për të nderuar heroin e shekullit të 15-të, Skënderbeun.

Me 29,000 metra katrore, ai do të jetë më i madh se Sheshi i Maqedonisë, vetëm përtej lumit Vardar, që ndan qytetin. Ndërtimi i tij mund të kushtonte deri në 50 milion euro.

Për shkak se ai do të vendosej në një vend kombëtar të mbrojtur me ligj, Pazarin e Vjetër të Shkupit, kërkohet një leje shtetërore. "Bashkia e Çairit nuk ka kërkuar për një leje të tillë," i tha SETimes ministrja e kulturës Elizabeta Kançevska-Milevska.

Megjithatë, qeveria ka ndarë rreth 356,000 euro për të hartuar një plan arkitekturor.

Intelektualët shqiptarë duken të ndarë lidhur me çështjen. Shumë vënë në pikpyetje nevojën dhe koston, duke thënë se është një shembull i kushtueshëm i planifikimit urban që po përdoret për qëllime politike.

Të tjerë argumentojnë se sheshi i ri do të pasqyrojë realitetin multietnik të Shkupit, diçka që siç thonë ata, projekti i qeverisë "Shkupi 2014" që kishte për qëllim rinovimin e Sheshit Maqedonia, dështoi ta bënte.

"Është sheshi një domosdoshmëri në një kohë kur qytetarët kanë nevoja shumë më urgjente?" pyet gazetari Nazim Rashidi, duke përmbledhur reagimin e shumë vetëve.

Xhabir Dervala i OJQ-së "Civil" i përshkruan planet si "megallomane" dhe baraz me palën tjetër përtej urës". Të dyja, thotë ai, janë jofrutdhënëse.

"Nga një aspekt politik," tha Dervala, "sheshi është një pasqyrim i asaj që ndodh në vend dhe është detyruar me arrogancë nga elementë qeverisës [mbi qytetarët]."

Politikanët, thotë ai, do të bënin më mirë të propozonin projekte infrastrukture që "të merreshin me varfërinë dhe t'i drejtoheshin sfidave të sigurisë".

Veprat monumentale mund të jenë një gjë pozitive në rrethana normale, shkruan analisti Alber Musliu, por jo në kohë krizash ekonomike. Nxitimi për të propozuar sheshe konkurruese është si "të krijosh hasmëri", sugjeron ai.

Sociologu Hasan Jashari, megjithatë beson se sheshi i ri do të ndihmojë të zbuten tensionet ndëretnike, ndonse me një kosto të lartë. "Është një zgjidhje kompromisi nga partnerët e koalicionit për të arritur paqen në vend. Nuk është produkt i nevojave reale të popullsisë, që ka parasysh problemet thelbësore të shtetasve lidhur me ushqimin, kujdesin shëndetësor, arsimin dhe strehimin," tha Jashari.

Analisti Artan Sadiku nuk është dakord. "Sugjerimi për të ndërtuar një shesh rreth statujës së Skënderbeut është shfrytëzuar nga [partia e Bashkimit Demokratik për Integrimin] për të përmbushur qëlimet e partisë si dhe për të nxitur tensionet etnike në Maqedoni," tha Sadiku.

Duke e qujtur këtë projekt "Skënderbeg", BDI po përpiqet ta vërë veten ndaj shqiptarëve si historibërëse në konkurrim me partneren e saj të koalicionit VMRO. "Me qëllim që të qëndrojë në pushtet, partitë përdorin të njëjtat metoda për të krijuar një fetish nacionalist nëpërmjet të cilit shpenzohet për ndërtimin buxheti i shtetit," tha ai.

Të tjerë si Avzi Mustafa i Bashkimit të Intelektualëve Shqiptarë dhe gazetari Daut Dauti, janë entusiastë. Ata argumentojnë se projekti është i menduar mirë dhe lidh modernen me tradicionalen.

Ai do të kejojë gjithashtu akses më të kollajtë dhe komunikim më të lirë midis të dy pjesëve të Shkupit të ndara nga Vardari, thonë ata. Gjithasesi, "kjo hapësirë na takon e gjitha ne," përfundon Dauti.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

EU Waits for Milosević's last Disciple to leave ...

BRUSSELS, 09/29/2010 -- Parliament's president Jerzy Buzek has warned that Montenegro still has to allay serious concerns over reform of its judicial system before it can be considered suitable for EU membership.

The Polish MEP was speaking after a meeting in parliament on Tuesday with Ranko Krivokapic, speaker of the Montenegrin parliament.

The Balkan country has not yet formally been recognised as an official EU candidate, nor have accession negotiations started.

However, it is expected to gain such status next spring although some believe that could be conditional upon the early departure of Montenegro's Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic.

Major EU capitals have signalled the country's path towards the EU might be easier without the veteran leader.

Addressing journalists after his meeting, Buzek tried to tread a fine diplomatic line by both praising Montenegro's EU integration efforts while at the same time warning that it still needs to do a lot in tackling organised crime, corruption and strengthening its administration and judicial reform.

Buzek said, "Our cooperation has been strengthened. I welcome the overall reform progress of Montenegro. In this regard, cross-party support is essential.

"I hope that the commission will give a positive opinion with a view to granting candidate country status to Montenegro in November.

"More work needs to be done. This includes strengthening public administration, the fight against corruption and organised crime as well as reform of the justice system.

"Regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations are crucial for the future of the Western Balkans. I am very pleased to hear that bilateral relations between Montenegro and its neighbours are very good."
Krivokapic was in parliament to discuss the status of EU-Montenegro relations.

On Tuesday, he attended the first meeting of the stabilisation and association parliamentary committee between the European parliament and the Montenegrin parliament

By Martin Banks - 29th September 2010