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Macedonia: Why Can't They Get Along? (Part 1)

  • Jolyon Naegele

Social anthropologists, historians, linguists, and crisis-prevention experts met in London last week for a three-day conference on Macedonian identity issues. In the first of several reports, RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports on the findings regarding why Macedonians and Albanians are not getting along.

London, 20 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The conflict in Macedonia has been brewing ever since the collapse of Yugoslavia a decade ago. Yet armed clashes only erupted this year -- despite the active presence of conflict-prevention experts.

Dejan Jovic, a professor at the University of Stirling in Scotland, was among the participants at a three-day conference on Macedonian identity held last week (June 14-16) at the University of London's Center for South-East European Studies. He said that external factors are the main reason why Macedonia did not experience war as early as 1992, shortly after it declared independence from Belgrade:

"Macedonia now for the first time has no hostile enemies on the borders, has no hostile neighbors. While in 1992, Macedonia lived in a situation of a near-Cold War and could be compared to being a sort of Yugoslavia in [miniature] -- much smaller than Bosnia -- and its internal stability very much dependent on being [different] from Greeks, different from Bulgarians, different from Albanians, and certainly different from Milosevic in Serbia. Now this argument, this excuse for not addressing domestic issues, has actually gone."

Jovic says the fall of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has destabilized Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and is likely to destabilize Montenegro and Serbia as well:

"What has happened since the fall of Milosevic in the Balkan part of ex-Yugoslavia was the beginning of the war in Macedonia, the national question re-emerging in Montenegro, the question of whether Serbs are Serbs or Yugoslavians emerging in Yugoslavia, the Mostar crisis [and] the Banja Luka crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And also what happened was that, for the first time, now less than 50 percent of the Slovenes are interested in getting into the European Union. In Croatia, a similar trend -- just a bit slower, of course -- follows."

Jovic says that Macedonia, like Yugoslavia, has until now survived and based its internal stability on the existence of perceived enemies close to its borders. Now that these enemies are gone, he argues, Macedonia has no choice but to face internal issues.

Another participant who emphasized external factors is Kyril Drezov, a native of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, who is a lecturer at the European Research Centre of Keele University in England.

Drezov argues that NATO's intervention in Kosovo two years ago, and its occupation of Kosovo since then, "inadvertently [but] radically diminished the survival chances of the Republic of Macedonia." He says NATO, like a bull in a china shop, brought about "the opposite of its intentions" and "destabilized the precarious status quo that since 1991 had underpinned the survival of an independent state in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."

Alice Ackermann is a Lancaster University-based conflict-prevention expert who has been working in Macedonia. She says that with the violent clashes between the National Liberation Army, or UCK, and the Macedonian security forces, her job could now be better described as "escalation prevention":

"We are in an escalation prevention mode [in Macedonia]. Although I would say that nobody has recognized that, because all the international actors, as well as the Macedonian government, are [still] in the crisis management mode and containment mode, and this sort of influences the whole decision-making process [of] what is to be done."

Ackermann notes that many of Macedonia's current problems have been exacerbated because UN monitors on Macedonia's border with Albania and Yugoslavia were removed in early 1999. That was due to China's refusal to allow the force's mandate to be renewed after Macedonia granted Taiwan diplomatic recognition.

Ackermann offers three theories, largely based on domestic issues, to explain the original source of the tensions.

One theory is that the conflict revolves around unresolved grievances, including demands by the UCK and the mainstream Albanian political parties for political, linguistic, and cultural equality.

Another theory, she says, suggests that the conflict is actually a power struggle within the Albanian community between relatively moderate forces and more nationalistic forces -- including between the Albanian parties in parliament and the government. But Ackermann notes that the Macedonian parties are also divided, and that even President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski differ markedly in their visions of a viable solution, with Trajkovski offering a peace plan, while Georgievski favors a military solution.

A third theory, put forward by some of the local news media and the Macedonian government, is that the conflict is part of a larger ethnic Albanian movement aimed at building a Greater Kosovo. Ackermann says the evidence supporting this theory is that the UCK is using the same tactics as the Kosovo Liberation Army did in the late 1990s, including demands and grievances generally acceptable to the international community.

The problem now, she says, is to find a solution before the situation slips completely out of control:

"There is, of course, some attempt not to find a political solution. Now that is really difficult, once you start off right away with the military option. And that is one of the divisions between the president and the prime minister at this point -- how best now to get the crisis to end. I mean, are you going to create channels to get [UCK] representatives at the negotiating table, or are you going to just get everybody into the position of a mutually hurting stalemate, or are you going to fight them until the end, which of course will continue to escalate [the conflict]."

Ackermann says efforts must be made by the Macedonian side not to lose the moderate Albanian parties, as this would only exacerbate the situation. She says Macedonia's broad coalition government, formed May 13, is not functioning successfully.

What needs to be done now, Ackerman suggests, is to bring someone in from outside to set up what she calls a "problem-solving workshop environment to get all the sides involved in talking."

She says a multinational monitoring mission is also necessary, to monitor not only the border, but the interior of the country as well.

Another step Ackermann says is needed is creating a multiethnic party system, since all the parties are at present ethnically based.

She notes that party leaders in the coalition government -- and the international community as well -- have faced a dilemma for several months now:

"The dilemma is as follows. On the one hand, the government argued, you want to weed out those insurgents -- whatever name you want to give them, rebels. So you don't want to include them at the negotiating table, because if you do then you give them legitimacy, which then also means that you undermine the legitimate ethnic Albanian leaders that are in the government. It pays to use violence ultimately, and you don't want to spread that message -- in Macedonia or globally."

Nevertheless, Ackermann says, there must be some informal channel created to talk with UCK representatives, without the news media -- "not [for] dialogue or negotiations," as she puts it, "but for some talks." She notes the same thing was done earlier this year in bringing peace to the Presevo Valley of southern Serbia. The only alternative, she says, is a fight to the finish.

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