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Analysis: Macedonian Albanian Leader Takes Stock

  • Ulrich Buechsenschuetz

http://gdb.rferl.org/0ED7741B-7804-40C6-A2CD-27B91AD49064_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/0ED7741B-7804-40C6-A2CD-27B91AD49064_mw800_mh600.jpg Ali Ahmeti in 2002 On 4 June, Ali Ahmeti, the chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), addressed a press conference to mark the second anniversary of the BDI's foundation. The press conference highlighted a remarkable transformation -- from an armed rebel organization to a moderate governing party.

In June 2002, the National Liberation Army (UCK), which had conducted an insurgency against Macedonian government forces in early 2001, transformed itself into a political party.

The BDI's founding marked the end of a transition from a rebel organization demanding greater rights for the large ethnic Albanian minority to the major political force among the country's ethnic Albanian parties. Ahmeti decided to form a political party of his own after the failure of his attempts to bring together the existing ethnic Albanian political parties in the Coordination Council of the Albanians in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 February 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2002).

"The party will stand for a multiethnic Macedonia, decentralization of power, eradication of corruption and organized crime, and for a stable Macedonia that is integrated in the Euro-Atlantic structures," Ahmeti said in his opening speech before the founding convention in Tetovo on 5 June 2002.

Only three months after its founding, the BDI scored a victory in the September 2002 parliamentary elections, becoming the country's strongest ethnic Albanian party. However, the new party's past as a rebel organization made it difficult for the victorious, mainly ethnic Macedonian Social Democratic Union (SDSM) to accept the BDI as a coalition partner.

This reluctance mirrored widespread dislike of the former rebels among many Macedonians, who felt that the UCK/BDI had forced the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement upon the majority, who allegedly received nothing while the Albanians obtained a package of new rights. But in the end, the SDSM agreed to form a government with the former rebels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 September 2002, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 October and 1 November 2002).

For Ahmeti, the formation of the coalition government, which also includes the Liberal Democrats (LDP) and some smaller parties, was the result of a confidence-building process. "The way [to forming the coalition] was not easy; we put together a coalition of two elements that did not know each other," "Nova Makedonija" of 5 June quoted Ahmeti as saying. "We needed time to build confidence among the partners and to provide stability throughout the country," he added.

But it was also necessary to build confidence among the ethnic Albanians themselves, Ahmeti said, that they "will not be discriminated against by the state, and that they should have confidence in [state] institutions."
It remains to be seen how the cooperation between the BDI and the new prime minister, Hari Kostov, will develop. In September, when Kostov was still interior minister, he clashed with leading BDI members over the handling of a crisis set off by the kidnapping of police officers.


Underscoring the positive achievements of the BDI's participation in the government, Ahmeti mentioned the voluntary disarmament of the rebels and the civilian population carried out in two separate operations in late 2001 and in late 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November and 1 and 5 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 August and 18 September 2001 and 29 August and 19 December 2003).

As another positive result of the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement, Ahmeti noted that the representation of Albanians in the state administration has become closer to their share of the overall population. And he announced that further improvements will be made. "The Finance Ministry has approved [money] to employ more than 400 Albanians as doctors and administrative officials in the health-care system," Ahmeti said.

However, sometimes the BDI's efforts to improve the representation of Albanians in the state administration require a very liberal interpretation of the existing laws. Thus, the Albanian-language weekly "Lobi" on 4 June slammed the BDI's announcement that it has reached a "political agreement" with the SDSM over the nomination of three ethnic Albanian secretaries of state in as many ministries. Such a "political agreement" contradicts legal provisions that are designed to protect the administration -- and the secretaries of state are the highest-ranking officials in the ministries -- from political influence, "Lobi" wrote.

It also remains to be seen how the cooperation between the BDI and the new prime minister, Hari Kostov, will develop. In September 2003, when Kostov was still interior minister, he clashed with leading BDI members over the handling of a crisis set off by the kidnapping of police officers. The disagreements within the Interior Ministry at the time led to a government crisis (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5, 12, and 19 September 2003).

Ahmeti, for his part, said the government's agenda can be realized. He said key issues will be the decentralization of the state administration and carrying out the government's redistricting plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 20 February and 22 April 2004). For the BDI, the laws on the use of languages and state symbols will also be important, Ahmeti said.
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