Hysteria Over Albanian 'Plot'

The murder of a Serb in Montenegro has sparked a wave of anti-Albanian sentiment.

Hysteria Over Albanian 'Plot'

The murder of a Serb in Montenegro has sparked a wave of anti-Albanian sentiment.

Tuesday, 4 September, 2001

The killing of a Serbian woodcutter in the north of Montenegro has prompted anti-Albanian campaigners to whip up a storm of hysteria. The murder was cited as evidence that Albanian terrorists were plotting a rebellion against the Montenegrin government.


The uprising threat was strongly disputed by supporters of President Milo Djukanovic. They say the killing, on August 24, was a straightforward robbery by Albanian criminals, and was unconnected with politics. This view was shared by the local police in Plav, the small town close to the scene of the crime.


The murder victim, Nenad Markovic, had come to Montenegro with his colleague Damjan Bozic from Bosnia and Herzegovina to earn money during the summer felling trees in the border area. After killing Markovic and severely wounding Bozic, the Albanians fled with their cash to Kosovo.


Pro-Serbian writers in the Montenegrin media seized on the incident and started splashing stories about an imminent revolt by "Albanian terrorists". Stark parallels were drawn with the conflict in Macedonia. The language was a replay of the campaign waged during parliamentary elections on April 22 by parties who want to keep Montenegro inside the rump Yugoslav federation.


Supporters of Djukanovic and his drive for independence poured scorn on the notion that Montenegro's Albanian minority, which makes up around 7 per cent of the population, is plotting a rebellion. They insisted that mutual coexistence with the Albanians remains possible.


Following the April election, two pro-Yugoslav daily papers, Dan and Glas Crnogoraca, maintained a drumbeat of warnings about an Albanian terrorist threat. They claimed that Albanians intended to take over chunks of Montenegrin territory as part of a Greater Albania.


These two newspapers, based in the capital, Podgorica, reported the existence of three training camps for Albanian terrorists in Montenegro, located on the Kosovo-Albanian border. The uprising was supposed to be at Plav and Gusinje in the north, and at Ulcinj in the south, both areas with predominantly Albanian populations.


Local politicians, however, told a different story.


Milutin Vujosevic, a senior official of the People's Party from Plav told IWPR, "I think Nenad Markovic's murder had nothing to do with Albanian terrorism. This was an armed robbery."


Adem Dzurlic of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, also from Plav, agreed. Dzavid Sabovic, a Social Democratic Party official and director of a Plav cultural centre, said speculation of terrorism was laughable, but he expressed concern that the robbery would be used to stir up trouble for Albanians.


The citizens of Plav - Montenegrins, Albanians and Muslims - are especially worried. They say many Balkan wars began first in the media and then flared up over seemingly isolated incidents.


In Plav, the main preoccupation now is not terrorism but the poverty of a region where hardly any factories or companies now operate. Because about a third of the population has moved away during the past decade, the municipality has the same number of people it had at the start of the 20th century.


Not far from Plav, near the border with Kosovo, stands a little village called Vusanje which is now inhabited only by old people. Many younger residents moved away to look for jobs, others left in fear of ethnic revenge following the NATO action in Kosovo.


One old Albanian sitting in front of his house scoffed at the stories of terrorism. Pointing his stick at a group of village elders he said, "There are only old people left here and they can hardly hold a glass of brandy in their hands, let alone a rifle."


Besides Plav, the coastal town of Ulcinj is also a focus of Montenegrin media attention. Albanians and Montenegrins have lived peacefully together here for decades. But, according to the newspaper Dan, Ulcinj played host to Albanian radicals this summer, including Hashim Thaci, a former Kosovo Liberation Army commander turned Kosovo Albanian political leader.


A senior official from the ministry of interior who wished to remain anonymous, denied that Thaci had visited Ulcinj. "The only people who invaded Ulcinj this summer were tourists," the official said.


Estimates put the number of summer visitors to Ulcinj at a record figure of more than 100,000, mainly Albanians from Kosovo and Albania. However, people also came from Serbia, judging by the number of Serbian registered vehicle licence plates.


Stories of a looming uprising are rejected on all sides in Ulcinj. "You can see how crowded the city is and yet we did not have a single incident the whole summer," said Gavrilo Subregovic, a Montenegrin who oversees one of the town's most famous beaches.


Most residents seem too busy counting their takings from the tourist trade, believed to be several million German marks a day, to worry about terrorism.


Despite all this, the woodcutter's murder still brings a chorus of accusation against Montenegrin Albanians. "This incident can threaten peace in our republic," stated the opposition Serbian People's Party.


A spokesperson for the Socialist People's Party, Dragan Koprivica, claimed that "secret plans for total Albanian domination of Montenegro are under way".


Montenegro, he said, "could soon experience a similar fate to Macedonia". The pro-Yugoslav Serbian People's Party warned that President Djukanovic's plan for a referendum on independence could deepen the crisis.


In the general hysteria, few people took notice of the police statement that the woodcutter was killed by robbers, not terrorists. The fact that the Montenegrin interior ministry, together with the UN in Kosovo, had already identified five suspects who carried out similar assaults near Pec received scant attention.


"Anti-democratic forces in Montenegro and elsewhere are trying to portray Albanians as a dangerous element, although they are themselves aware this isn't true," Ferhat Dinosa, a spokesperson for the Democratic Union of Albanians, in Montenegro told IWPR.


He noted that an uprising predicted for the summer had not materialised and called on the government to take measures against the perpetrators of these allegations.


The state prosecutor has since brought charges against journalists of Dan and Glas Crnogoraca, accusing them of spreading religious and national hatred.


Petar Komnenic is a freelance journalist in Montenegro.

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