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Balkan Report: August 17, 2001

17 August 2001, Volume 5, Number 58

MACEDONIA: A TIME FOR TRUTH. Macedonia faces tough challenges in the weeks and months ahead. It must simultaneously implement sweeping constitutional reforms, work for an end to the insurgency, and experience a national election campaign.

No one is under any illusions that the political settlement signed on 13 August will provide an instant end to the young country's problems. An illustration of the difficulties came at a press conference right after the signing, when Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski walked out to protest Albanian political leader Arben Xhaferi's speaking in Albanian -- now an official language -- without a Macedonian translation.

But the leaders of the two main ethnic Macedonian parties and the two largest ethnic Albanian parties have put their signatures on the agreement hammered out in Ohrid the previous week. The mainstream political leaders have thereby accepted responsibility for implementing it.

This means that the Macedonians accept an improvement in the legal status of the Albanian language, an increase in the role of the Albanian minority in the police force, and an extension of the Albanians' rights to higher education in their mother tongue and to the use of their national symbols. It means that the Albanians, having obtained more rights, accept that Macedonia is their state, and that the Macedonians believe the "constitutional question" is settled.

Whether this indeed proves to be the case depends first and foremost on ending the insurgency. The immediate issue is setting up and maintaining an effective cease-fire. The main obstacle to this is the presence of rough-and-ready elements in both major ethnic groups who have had a taste of the power that comes from guns and may be reluctant to go back to quieter pursuits. They may also be tempted to expand the territorial boundaries that they have set up in the recent fighting.

Most observers have suggested that the Macedonian military and police will be able to control the Macedonian paramilitaries. But it is not clear if that will always be the case when the "paramilitaries" -- who intimidate or brutalize local Albanians -- are also members of the armed or security forces.

On the other side, perhaps the biggest question is whether Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and Imer Imeri of the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) can ensure that the various commanders of the National Liberation Army (UCK) will observe a pact that they did not help negotiate directly. A further problem is the possible presence of rogue armed Albanian elements. But it is difficult to imagine shadowy guerrilla bands posing a threat for long if the mainstream political leaders and UCK commanders pool their efforts to make the political settlement work.

A more serious, if long-term, military issue will be the temptation for political and military leaders on either side to try to turn the much-awaited NATO presence to their own advantage. The Atlantic alliance maintains that its role will be to collect and destroy the UCK's weapons once a cease-fire is in place, and that Operation Essential Harvest will last about 30 days. But is it too far-fetched to imagine that elements on the Macedonian side may try to involve NATO in dealing with real or imagined violations of the cease-fire by the UCK? Might some of the Macedonian authorities continue to blame NATO for the UCK's presence? And might some individuals or groups on the Albanian side come to view NATO as a shield, "protecting" the territories the UCK has recently taken and ethnically cleansed?

This leads to the third main set of problems facing Macedonia, namely political ones in the run-up to legislative elections that will take place in early 2002 at the latest. Several observers have suggested that the campaign has already begun and point to the frequent posturing and militant rhetoric by Georgievski of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) as the best example. Indeed, Georgievski seems to be seeking to win as much of the Macedonian vote as possible by playing on voters' fears more than on their hopes.

Branko Crvenkovski's Social Democrats (SDSM) have taken a more moderate approach to winning Macedonian votes. They may also be counting on making themselves attractive as coalition partners to the Albanian parties and to the international community as the "more reasonable" element among the Macedonians.

The electoral contest will bring to the fore a number of problems that have bedeviled the political scene in recent months. One is the question of leadership and the tendency of some politicians to engage in inflammatory rhetoric rather than take a more statesman-like approach.

A second matter is the unmistakable degree of hatred present on both sides of the ethnic divide. Will political leaders try to channel voters' energies into more constructive directions, or will vote-hunters try to capitalize on fears and hatreds?

One thing, at any rate, is clear: the leaders of the four main parties have committed themselves in writing to making the settlement work. If the agreement proves to be just one more "Balkan scrap of paper," blame will lie not only with the men with the guns or the bigots in the cafes. (Patrick Moore)

THE MACEDONIAN PEACE AGREEMENT, PART I. After they signed the peace deal on 13 August in Skopje, Macedonian and ethnic Albanian politicians -- as well as representatives of the international community -- hailed the framework agreement. There were some cautious voices as well, but the overall mood was very positive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 August 2001).

The negotiations and public discussions leading up to the agreement concentrated on improving the legal status of the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about one-third of the Macedonian population. Among the most contentious issues were: rewording the preamble to the constitution, especially the section referring to the character of the state; devising a mechanism to protect the representatives of the Albanian minority from being outvoted in parliament; granting rights for using the Albanian language in local and national government institutions; and increasing the representation of Albanians in the police force.

Another cornerstone of the framework agreement is expanding the role of local self-government and the municipalities to areas previously handled by the central authorities. A draft law on local self-government had already been proposed by the government in March 2001. Annex B to the new agreement states that any "revised law shall in no respect be less favorable to the units of local self-government and their autonomy than the draft law [was]...." Many improvements in the Albanians' legal status demanded by the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the leaders of the ethnic Albanian political parties will be set down as amendments to the current constitution and as new laws. These constitutional changes and laws will deal with specific issues, such as the use of languages, matters concerning local self-government, and the functioning of the parliament. The most important aspects are as follows:

1. The Preamble of the Macedonian Constitution and the character of the Macedonian state. Representatives of the Albanian minority have long criticized the original preamble for stating: "Macedonia is established as a national state of the Macedonian people, in which full equality as citizens and permanent co-existence with the Macedonian people is provided for Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Roma, and other nationalities living in the Republic of Macedonia...." Thus, the minorities claim, the constitution makes a distinction between first- and second-class citizens.

The new preamble, as published in "Utrinski vesnik" on 14 August, does not refer to any specific ethnic or national groups. Instead, it calls on the citizens of Macedonia to defend the territorial integrity and future development of the country.

The change of the preamble in effect marks a change in the official character of the Macedonian state. The authors of the framework agreement aim to transform Macedonia into a civil society of equal citizens, without reference to ethnic background.

Some articles of the constitution will therefore be changed in order to remove references to nationalities. Article 48, for instance, regulates the freedom of expression of identity. The original wording of the first sentence, "Members of nationalities have a right freely to express, foster, and develop their identity and national attributes," is to be replaced by: "Members of communities have a right freely to express, foster, and develop their identity and community attributes, and to use their community symbols."

It is interesting that the new approach is already applied in the framework agreement itself. There is no more mention of nationalities or minorities. There is also no reference to Albanians or the Albanian or Macedonian community. The agreement simply refers to communities.

2. The new mechanism to protect the representatives of the national minorities from being outvoted in parliament. The constitution and the law dealing with passing legislation will be changed. To this end, a system of "double majorities" is to be introduced. That means that laws affecting the minorities can only be approved by a parliamentary majority that includes "a majority of the votes of representatives claiming to belong to the communities not in the majority in the population of Macedonia."

Macedonian media have begun to call this new mechanism of double majorities the "Badinter-mechanism," after the French legal expert Robert Badinter, who allegedly invented it.

It can easily be overlooked that the framework agreement calls for "double majorities" of varying sizes for different types of laws. For instance, two-thirds "double majorities" will be necessary to approve constitutional changes and changes to the Law on Local Self-Government. The proposed amendment to Article 69 of the constitution regulates the process for enacting other legislation that "directly affects culture, use of language, education, personal documentation, and use of symbols...." In such cases a double majority of the representatives present is necessary. The public attorney (ombudsman) can only be elected by an absolute double majority of all members of parliament.

The amendments also provide for any dispute about the mechanism to be resolved in a newly created institution, the Committee on Inter-Community Relations. A similar institution exists under the current constitution -- the Council for Inter-Ethnic Relations -- but it has very rarely been convened.

Unlike the old institution, the newly formed committee will have more prerogatives, which will be set down in revisions to Article 78 of the constitution.

Some critics of the new parliamentary mechanism fear that the potentially complicated system of double majorities could hamstring the lawmaking process. Other critics believe that introducing the "Badinter mechanism" places undue emphasis on ethnicity and thereby runs counter to the aim of transforming Macedonia into a civil, non-ethnically based society. (Part II will appear in the 21 August issue.) (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The council rejects any attempt to use violence, including the use of land mines, to undermine the [Macedonian] Framework Agreement." -- UN Security Council statement on 13 August. Reported by RFE/RL.

"On behalf of my country, Romania, [I say that] we are longing for good news from Southeast Europe. Macedonia's success will be the success of the region as a whole." -- OSCE chair and Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, speaking in Skopje on 13 August. Quoted by RFE/RL.

"The faster the [Macedonian] agreement is implemented, the more rapidly our assistance will flow." -- EU Commissioner Chris Patten, quoted in the "Financial Times" of 15 August.

"Not a single criminal now has or will ever have a shelter in Montenegro." -- Vinka Jovovic, an adviser to President Milo Djukanovic. Quoted in the "Financial Times" of 15 August.