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Analysis: Macedonian Leaders Talk To The Media

  • Ulrich Buechsenschuetz

http://gdb.rferl.org/6284E9CB-77BB-4609-A2FC-57F3CBA20290_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/6284E9CB-77BB-4609-A2FC-57F3CBA20290_mw800_mh600.jpg In the midst of a tense political situation, three of Macedonia's most influential politicians recently decided to grant interviews to the media. While President Branko Crvenkovski talked to RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 29 August, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski answered questions from the daily "Dnevnik" of 28 August. That same day, "Utrinski vesnik" published an interview with Ali Ahmeti, who chairs the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI).

Since his election as president in April, Crvenkovski has been widely regarded as the gray eminence in Macedonian politics. Although he has little formal power and resigned as chairman of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), he still wields great authority within his own party.

Buckovski, for his part, is one of Crvenkovski's possible successors as SDSM chairman.

Unlike Crvenkovski and Buckovski, Ahmeti does not hold any government position. As former leader of the Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), which staged an uprising in early 2001, he is considered the most influential Albanian politician in Macedonia.

The interviews with Crvenkovski, Buckovski, and Ahmeti focused on the referendum against the government's redistricting plans as well as on relations among the coalition partners.

Ethnic Macedonian opposition parties succeeded in gathering the necessary 150,000 signatures for the referendum, and legal experts have made it clear that the parliament has no alternative but to call the referendum.
The big question now is how the governing parties will deal with the referendum that will be held in late October or early November.


Crvenkovski stressed that a referendum is one of the most democratic ways for citizens to express their will, adding that, "from this point of view, it may not be bad that the citizens have the opportunity to express their opinion on such an important question [as the redistricting plans]." However, Crvenkovski also criticized the organizers of the referendum drive for offering only "catastrophic scenarios" instead of sound arguments.

The president said he supports the redistricting plans, arguing that a failed referendum will not lead to partition and a successful one will not produce a "new civil war."

Crvenkovski thereby alluded to a recent statement by Ahmeti, whom some Macedonian media quoted as saying that a successful referendum drive might lead to a civil war. In his interview with "Utrinski vesnik," Ahmeti said his statement to the Prishtina daily "Bota Sot" was misquoted. "This was not meant as a threat. I tried to express my concern about any step backward that could endanger the future of Macedonia," Ahmeti said.

But the BDI chairman warned of the dangers posed by referendums backed by only one ethnic group. "We have to convince [all] citizens that this is our country [too]. Initiatives for referendums must be supported by all citizens. We have to explain that referendums supported by one nationality alone can cause conflicts," Ahmeti said. "However good an initiative may be, if it is started by Albanians [alone] it will cause dissatisfaction among the Macedonians, and vice versa."

The big question now is how the governing parties will deal with the referendum that will be held in late October or early November.

Crvenkovski stressed that he opposes it because it will not help Macedonia in its quest for NATO and EU membership. But he refrained from telling voters what to do. "I believe in the...maturity and responsibility of our citizens and am convinced that they [will] make the right decision," Crvenkovski said, adding that Macedonia is up to the challenge.

Buckovski, for his part, was more outspoken, and not only on the referendum. For him, the referendum is the democratic way "to channel the negative energy that resulted from the [discussion about the] Law on Territorial Organization." According to Buckovski, this negative energy also stems from the government's failure to address pressing issues such as the economic and social situation. "The way this [governing] coalition behaved gave the impression that [its only task was to] implement the [2001 Ohrid peace agreement]," Buckovski said, blaming Ahmeti's party for the situation.

But Buckovski also made it clear that the SDSM is considering boycotting the referendum and thereby causing it to fail because a successful referendum would mean the end of the Ohrid agreement. For the referendum to be valid more than half of all registered voters must take part. And only if a majority of participants vote against the redistricting plans will the opposition succeed. "We all know that it will be a devilishly difficult trick to meet the threshold if the Albanians and the SDSM do not take part in the referendum," Buckovski said.
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