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Macedonia: President Strives For Ethnic Harmony

  • Askold Krushelnycky

The recent fighting in Macedonia between security forces and ethnic Albanians has increased pressure on the Macedonian government to make legal and cultural concessions to the country's ethnic Albanian minority. Over the weekend, RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky spoke with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, who says he will never negotiate under threats from the insurgents but wants a dialogue with all the country's ethnic groups.

Skopje, 2 April 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski has for weeks been working to prevent his country from sliding into the kind of ethnic conflict that has brought tragedy and thousands of deaths to other former Yugoslav republics over the past decade.

Macedonian armed forces have been clashing with ethnic Albanian fighters from the National Liberation Army who have demanded equal rights for the country's mainly Muslim ethnic Albanians.

The Albanians comprise around 30 percent of the population in a country of two million people dominated by a Slav, Orthodox Christian majority.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Trajkovski said discussions with all the country's groups are the key to achieving harmony and that he would never halt the dialogue that had started many years before.

This, he says, has now been interrupted by gunmen, whom he calls "300 terrorists." He says that the gunmen do not enjoy the support of most of Macedonia's Albanian population.

But Trajkovski cautions that any dialogue will take time. He says the government has to create better civic institutions to represent all citizens. He says, "if we create strong and efficient democratic institutions, they will provide rights for every citizen in this country. But if we create institutions on an ethnic basis, this will pave the way for resentments and troubles."

Trajkovski -- a 44-year-old law-school graduate who is married with two children -- says that if future talks only addressed Albanian grievances that would cause resentment among the country's other ethnic groups -- Turks, Serbs, Greeks, Roma and, of course, Macedonians.

He says he cannot ask for EU or other international mediation in the talks -- as ethnic Albanian political leaders want -- because he thinks Macedonia should be able to tackle its problems on its own.

Trajkovski is a Methodist, one of Macedonia's tiny number of Protestant Christians. Before the present troubles began, he used to preach most Sundays at the Methodist church in Skopje.

Trajkovski says his father was sentenced to hard labor for his religious beliefs under the communist regime. Now, as president, Trajkovski can stay in the villa for Marshal Tito that his father helped construct as part of his punishment.

Trajkovski says because of his family's own experience, he knows what religious and ethnic persecution can feel like.

He told our corespondent that his faith has been an important support to him during the present crisis. He says: "I'm not a Muslim or an Orthodox Christian. I'm a good choice for this country because I am independent. I'll fight for this country, but not on an ethnic-religious basis."

Trajkovski says ethnic Albanians already enjoy rights that guarantee education in Albanian, a large Albanian press, and the opportunity to preserve and develop their cultural heritage. But he says he wants ethnic Albanians to view themselves as Albanian Macedonians and not as a totally separate community.

Trajkovski says the only way to build a stable and peaceful future for Macedonia is to pursue a West European model of government and that he hopes the rest of the continent will help Macedonia to achieve that.

Like many Macedonians, Trajkovski says he is disappointed that the United Nations and NATO did not step in earlier to help Macedonia in its present difficulties.

He points out his country provided refuge to tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians fleeing persecution in the Serb province in 1998 and 1999 and then was a forward deployment base for the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping forces.

But he thanks NATO for reinforcing its troops along Kosovo's border with Macedonia to try to stop Albanian fighters from infiltrating into Macedonia.