Kosovo Embroiled in Wine Label War Producers Don't Want Yugoslavia on Bottle

Article excerpt

ORAHOVAC, Yugoslavia -- The reds are full-bodied, the whites tart and crisp. But for Kosovo's fine wine, success or failure seems less a case of what's in the bottle than what's on it.

Although ready and eager to resume exports a year after the end of bloodshed in the province, Kosovo's wine producers say they can't -- because their main buyer insists on having Yugoslavia as the country of origin on the label.

Racke, the German importer, did not comment on the claim. Employees answering the telephone yesterday said the executive dealing with the case would not be in until Monday.

Legally, the German buyer is on solid ground.

Kosovo remains part of Serbia, Yugoslavia's largest republic, even though the province is now administered by the United Nations as part of the peace agreement signed a year ago allowing NATO peacekeepers in and forcing President Slobodan Milosevic's forces out. And German wine laws require that labels state the country of origin.

But Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, whose decades of suffering under Serb domination and demands for independence culminated in the explosion of violence that led to the NATO and U.N. involvement, claim they are on higher moral ground.

"Our people don't know resolution 1244," says Ymer Kabashi, the exports manager for the Kosovo wineries, referring to the U.N. resolution that leaves Kosovo part of Yugoslavia and gives the German importers the legal basis for their claim. "They only know that thousands were killed here.

"By putting Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on our labels, we are wading in the blood of those killed by the Serbs."

The dispute caps almost a decade of bad luck for Kosovo's wine industry, which handles 25,000 acres of vineyards and goes back 2,000 years to the time of Roman settlement and grape cultivation. …