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Balkan Report: August 21, 2001

21 August 2001, Volume 5, Number 59

EXPECTATIONS IN THE BALKANS. The planned NATO mission to Macedonia has awakened a wide range of expectations before it has even begun. It is likely that at least some of these hopes will be disappointed. But the start of a new mission provides an opportunity for the international community to assess its broader agenda in the region.

NATO is preparing for Operation Essential Harvest, the goal of which is to collect and destroy weapons from those members of the National Liberation Army (UCK) willing to surrender them. The alliance is slated to complete the mission in 30 days and then withdraw.

Few observers believe that the mission will be so simple or quick. Macedonian government officials say that they expect that the guerrillas -- whom they call "terrorists," even though the UCK uses guerrilla rather than terrorist tactics -- will bury or hide most of their weapons and go back to fighting when they feel the time is ripe. The UCK fighters, for their part, stress that they do not know who will protect Albanian civilians from vengeful Macedonian security forces once the weapons are destroyed and NATO is gone. Finally, the alliance maintains that it is interested only in carrying out Essential Harvest and leaving, and not in dealing with any wider agenda.

But all these doubts aside, everyone concerned seems anxious for Essential Harvest to get started. Some of the Macedonian government leaders -- perhaps with a view to the January 2002 elections -- frequently criticize NATO and especially the U.S., but at the same time they welcome the NATO presence (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July and 17 August 2001). Their goal is to have on the ground what President Boris Trajkovski's spokesman called a "heavy presence" by members of the international community, including the OSCE and EU as well as NATO. Skopje feels that a large foreign presence is the ethnic Macedonians' best insurance against a revival of hostilities by the UCK. Should the guerrillas again resort to violence, this reasoning goes, the foreigners will be on hand and in a position to stop the UCK.

The guerrillas and the two ethnic Albanian political parties represented in the four-party governing coalition likewise view the NATO presence as an insurance policy against the other side's possible misbehavior. If NATO is on the ground, the Albanians argue, the Macedonian security forces will not dare take revenge on ethnic Albanian communities. And the UCK is probably counting on NATO to provide a physical buffer to ensure that government forces stay out of many of the territories that the guerrillas have captured.

Whether or not NATO will oblige them remains to be seen. It is hard, moreover, to see how NATO can meet either side's expectations if its troops stay for only 30 days. But NATO officials seem concerned to get their forces in place as soon as possible before the recent isolated cease-fire violations become any worse. In the meantime, the Western troops will begin collecting those weapons that the UCK decides to surrender.

It is therefore not too difficult to imagine that NATO will be put under pressures to extend or expand its mission even before Essential Harvest has begun. The most commonly voiced criticism of the mission -- from the region and also from the media in many NATO countries -- is that the 30-day time framework is too short.

Other observers add that NATO cannot expect to carry out a purely military mission. The alliance must also plan on playing a civilian role, because it is unrealistic to expect the two sides to work together without an "honest broker" to help things along. According to this reasoning, NATO should plan on having at least some political role for itself from the very start -- before the alliance is forced by the pressure of events on the ground to asume such a role.

Some observers add that this might also be an opportunity for the international community -- which in effect means NATO and the EU -- to rethink what its goals are in the region as a whole. The jury remains out as to how effective a role outsiders can play in Balkan nation-building or even in promoting civil societies. In the last analysis, it will be the task of the peoples of the region alone to achieve political stability, overcome or neutralize deeply-rooted mistrust and hatreds, and build political cultures that go beyond conspiracy theories, parties based on charismatic leaders rather than programs, and a view that public office is primarily a source of enrichment.

There are probably two things that the wealthy and powerful international community can do to help bring about peace and stability. First, it can promote job creation and prosperity so that people have a productive outlet for their energies and a chance to build a better life. One should not forget that demagogues rose to power and wars began in the former Yugoslavia only after a decade of economic downturn. People who feel they have something to lose will not have much of a stomach for fighting. One factor in preventing the recent Macedonian conflict from getting totally out of hand seems to have been precisely that too many people felt they had too much to lose if it did.

A second thing that the foreigners can do is to maintain some form of effective, long-term military presence. This, its proponents argue, will reassure peaceful citizens and foreign investors, and will provide a deterrent to those tempted to cause mischief. Such a military presence will need to include at least some U.S. forces to be effective. The Americans are the only foreigners whom the ethnic Albanians of the region truly trust, and the foreigners whom potential trouble-makers of any ethnic background are likely to take most seriously. (Patrick Moore)

SURROI'S LETTER TO THE MACEDONIANS. The Kosovar publisher Veton Surroi wrote an open letter to his "Macedonian friends," which appeared in his daily "Koha Ditore" on 19 August.

In the introduction, Surroi says that he decided to write the letter after hearing from unidentified sources that officials within the Macedonian secret police believe him to be "the main ideologist of the UCK, adviser in political military matters to [UCK political leader] Ali Ahmeti and to [the head of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH)] Arben Xhaferi, as well as an adviser to the U.S. and other international mediators." Surroi says that he has therefore decided to publish his views about the conflict in Macedonia now, rather than wait "until rumors about the octopus-man [Surroi] make it into the Macedonian press through the secret police's channels."

Surroi explains that the ethnic Albanians and Macedonians in Macedonia do not consider themselves equals, even though they are very similar in many respects. In his words, "the Albanians look at the Macedonians as people who were equal [to them] over half a century ago, but who have begun to dominate" the country since the creation of the Macedonian nation-state [in 1991].

The ethnic Macedonians, however, "view the Albanians just as they viewed themselves over half a century ago," when the Macedonians were not recognized as a constitutional people within the framework of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Surroi adds that the situation is not unlike that between Israelis and Palestinians. He recalls that once during negotiations in Oslo, an Israeli negotiator broke the ice by telling the Palestinians: "Do you know why we hate you? Because you are so similar to us." A Palestinian responded by saying: "That's the same with us."

Surroi stressed that the Macedonian people still have problems in defining their identity. But he adds that, among all Macedonia's neighbors, only the Albanians have fully recognized the existence of the Macedonian people. In Bulgaria, the term Macedonia traditionally had a geographic meaning, describing a territory populated primarily by people of Bulgarian origin. Bulgaria does not recognize the existence of a separate Macedonian language as distinct from Bulgarian, but it quickly recognized its neighbor as an independent state. Serbia has politically recognized the Macedonians as a people, but not the autocephalous Macedonian Orthodox Church, which was part of the Serbian Orthodox Church until relatively recent times. And despite improvements in the diplomatic and economic relations between Greece and Macedonia in the past few years, Greece does not recognize a Macedonian, but only a Slavophone, community within its borders.

Surroi adds: "Isn't it weird that in the current conflict, [Macedonians] hate precisely those who have no problems with the identity of the Macedonian people? And [that the Macedonians] see the demand for the equality of the Albanian language as threat to the existence of the [Macedonian] state -- [a threat to the] identity of the Macedonian people?"

He argues that the concept and notion of an ethnically based state, rather than the identity of the Macedonian people, is at the core of the problem: "For the political elite...Macedonia is the only state where the Macedonian identity has developed, and that has happened through ... [the] dominance of Macedonians and of the Macedonian language."

But at the same time Surroi recognizes that Macedonia is a democratic country and stresses that the country has moved forward in building democratic institutions and in holding free elections. But these democratic procedures are not enough. Surroi wrote: "In a democratic and multiethnic society, where everything depends on the vote of the majority, those who are in the minority will constantly feel that they lack the power democracy offers. Thus, despite all the benefits that they have had from participating in governing coalitions, the Albanians remained powerless to bring about the changes that they have demanded since the creation of democratic Macedonia. These were demands for the equal use of the Albanian language, university education in their language, and proportional representation in state institutions. They have always been outvoted -- and not along political or party lines, but along ethnic lines."

Surroi acknowledges that "not every minority can expect to get everything it demands, and if it does not get everything, to set off a crisis that shakes the foundations of the state." He adds, however, that "what we see [the result of] a lack of electoral democracy in dealing with the problems of an important group of citizens. Those citizens do not accept domination [by others] as a form of living together and have the force to make their views felt."

He nonetheless believes that "the Albanians and Macedonians are now in a situation where they can take a step beyond electoral democracy to consensual democracy, in which two things must not be allowed to happen: that the one side outvotes the ethnic minority, or that the other side blocks all manner of decisions on the basis of [claiming to protect] the ethnic minority." (Fabian Schmidt)

THE MACEDONIAN PEACE AGREEMENT, PART II. 3. The use of languages. Article 7 of the 1991 constitution regulates the use of languages, stating: "The Macedonian language, written using its Cyrillic alphabet, is the official language in the Republic of Macedonia."

The law that regulated the use of other languages was narrowly interpreted by Macedonian authorities and referred only to institutions of the municipal administrations. Especially problematic was the fact that there was no constitutional or legal regulation for the use of minority languages in institutions of the central state, such as the local departments of the Interior Ministry etc. Some observers said that a more liberal interpretation of existing laws could have made unnecessary the time-consuming constitutional change.

The new regulation is quite complicated. The revised Article 7 says: "The Macedonian language, written using its Cyrillic alphabet, is the official language throughout the Republic of Macedonia and in the international relations of the Republic of Macedonia. Any other language spoken by at least 20 percent of the population is also an official language, written using its alphabet, as specified below." Thus, the Albanian language will be an official language in Macedonia, since no other minority amounts to 20 percent in the country. But the use of the Albanian language in dealings with local and state authorities will be confined to those municipalities where the Albanians make up at least 20 percent of the population.

In municipalities where more than 20 percent of the population belongs to other minorities (which do not make up 20 percent of Macedonia's total population), their language will be in official use as well -- on the local level.

Official in use means that any citizen can approach the authorities in his or her mother tongue, provided it is an official language. The authorities must then answer him or her in this language, as well as in Macedonian.

Official language also means that the authorities will issue documents such as passports in Macedonian and Albanian.

In the draft law on the use of languages outlined in the framework agreement, there are also provisions for the use of official languages in parliament and the publication of laws in Macedonian and Albanian.

The language issue is very sensitive and will presumably be one of the first tasks that parliament will have to deal with when it begins to implement the political settlement.

4. The police issue. Among the basic principles of the framework agreement is the provision for non-discrimination and equal opportunities in the public services. The agreement states: "The authorities will take action to correct the present imbalances in the [ethnic] composition of the public administration, in particular through the recruitment of members of under-represented communities. Particular attention will be given to ensuring as rapidly as possible that the police services will generally reflect the composition and distribution of the population of Macedonia...."

This is to be achieved through the training and employment of 500 police officers by July 2002, and another 500 by July 2003. These officers will be deployed "on a priority basis to the areas throughout Macedonia where such communities live."

Another important aspect of the police issue is the provision that the local "heads of police will be selected by municipal councils from lists of candidates proposed by the Ministry of [the] Interior, and will communicate regularly with the councils. The Ministry of [the] Interior will retain the authority to remove local heads of police in accordance with the law."

This new mechanism for electing the local police chiefs also provides for cases when the municipal council cannot agree on any one of the proposed candidates. The Interior Ministry will then select a police chief after consulting the council of ministers.

In view of the tight time schedule for the changes to be implemented and the problems that could arise in the legislative process in the meantime, it is hard to imagine how all these changes can be enacted within the current deadlines. Moreover, there will be other important matters to occupy the attention of the politicians as well. These include the census scheduled for October this year (see also "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 April 2001), and the parliamentary elections slated for 27 January 2002.

Enacting such fundamental changes to the legal framework of a state would be an enormous task for politicians in quieter times. It will be all the more exacting under the present strained circumstances.

No wonder, then, that the framework agreement includes provisions to ensure that things get done on time. A key element is the role of the international community, which is asked to support the implementation with words and deeds. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "If only Serbs had a leader who knew that saying 'sorry' is a proof of strength." -- International Crisis Group's (ICG) Anna Husarska, writing in the "International Herald Tribune" on 16 August. She was alluding to the recent Jedwabne commemoration in Poland.

"No one who cares about the future of the Balkans is breaking out the champagne.... This is Macedonia 2001, but it looks unnervingly like Bosnia 1992.... It is difficult to see how either side will ever gain enough confidence in the other's good faith unless NATO abandons the stance that it will not stay longer than 30 days.... The West must recognize that resolution of the crisis requires a robust, long-term NATO presence...." -- Former Australian Foreign Minister Garreth Evans, ICG president, quoted in the "Wall Street Journal Europe" of 16 August.

"Macedonia and the Balkans on the whole are realizing that Russia should be more involved in the region. I see [signs] of such an understanding in the EU countries, Germany, France, and Great Britain.... [I hope that] Russia and the countries of Western Europe will cooperate constructively in the Balkans in the spirit of the new times." -- Macedonian Ambassador to Russia Dimitar Dimitrov. Quoted by Interfax in Moscow on 17 August.

"Lasting peace depends on the region's prosperity." -- Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi. Quoted by AP on 18 August.