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South Slavic: April 13, 2000

13 April 2000, Volume 2, Number 14

Interview With Macedonian President Trajkovski. Part I

The RFE/RL South Slavic Service's Recent Interview with Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski (Part I -- Part II will appear on 20 April 2000).

The leaders of five Balkan states signed in Bucharest recently a Charter of Good Neighborly Relations, Stability, Security, and Cooperation in the Region. Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and Albania committed themselves to preventive measures aimed at stopping any possible crisis. Balkan experts emphasize that such an act is a landmark in the history of relations between Balkan states. Do you think that this document might start a new era in the Balkans, marked by peace and tolerance instead of conflicts and hostilities, as has been the case so often until now?

Trajkovski: Yes, the summit in Bucharest certainly had a very important role, first of all because it sent a clear message that the states of the region have had enough of divisions, conflicts, and wars, and that they are ready to cooperate and think about it in a broader context. They are ready for initiatives aimed at changing all those things that characterize the Balkans and southeast Europe in a negative way.

The Bucharest summit, where the Charter was signed, showed the readiness of the five countries not only to start a political dialogue, but to make efforts to strengthen regional cooperation. The states have unambiguously confirmed their European orientation. The document is almost identical to a previous charter signed in Thessaloniki and stresses the readiness of the five countries to carry out economic and pro-democracy reforms in their own states.

The summit also confirmed their commitment to respect the principles of the 1975 Helsinki agreement. This includes, first of all, the development of good neighborly relations, the principle of non-intervention, and respect for the rights and liberties of every single individual, particularly respect for minority rights.

Nevertheless, a dark shadow is hanging over all our efforts because of the recent events in Kosovo. I can also say that it is a shame that Yugoslavia does not participate in all these initiatives and efforts of the international community and its neighbors to change the situation in the region. I hope that Belgrade will eventually show its readiness and accept the invitation of its neighboring countries to join regional cooperation.

I believe that Serbia will finally experience change. What I am talking about is a democratic transition of power. It means that democratization in Serbia must come as soon as possible, in order to help Yugoslavia join all the processes of cooperation in the region. I also find very important that the states that participated in the summit have clearly shown that they do not want to be an object of somebody else's foreign policy but want to shape the course of regional cooperation themselves.

The economy of Macedonia suffered heavily during the Kosovo crisis. The West promised to compensate Macedonia partly for the damage. Have they fulfilled any of their promises?

Trajkovski: You know, a good banker would never suggest that money be printed, which does not mean that the idea does not come from Milosevic himself. The question is what sort of a banker he is. It is too difficult to pass judgment on his banking competence. Only those who used to work with him could talk about him as a banker.

However, the response of the international community did not correspond to the contribution of the Republic of Macedonia. Our estimates of the direct damage that Macedonia suffered are some $660 million. Keeping in mind that some of Macedonia's foreign economic relations were interrupted because of the Kosovo crisis and that many international contracts were canceled, the damage is much greater than that figure. I did not even mention the damage that Macedonia is about to suffer thanks to the fact that [certain] international economic publications now categorize it as a state with a high political risk factor.

This is why we have high expectations of the EU's Southeast European Stability Pact projects. We hope that the international community will work toward the realization of these projects. The economic component is particularly important, meaning that the economic reconstruction of the region should start now. That would accelerate other changes in the region. Cooperation between the countries would develop, as would perspectives for the economic and political development of each and all of them.

There are NATO bases in Macedonia with several thousand troops of the western alliance. There were also protests against NATO in Macedonia. How would you respond to those who criticize the NATO presence in Macedonia, claiming that it infringes Macedonian sovereignty?

Trajkovski: The NATO troops belonging to KFOR are, of course, in the Republic of Macedonia with the approval of our government. Special arrangements regulate their presence in accordance with our commitments as a partner of the international community in its efforts to resolve the situation in our neighborhood--in Kosovo--as soon as possible.

Their presence here is aimed at giving logistical support to the KFOR troops in Kosovo, and the forces in Macedonia are used when Kosovo troops need to be replaced. It is known that NATO has also used our roads as agreed with the government of Macedonia.

I think that the NATO presence in the Republic of Macedonia has had positive effects not only on the situation in Kosovo, but also on security and stability in the region in general. As far as disapproval is concerned, Macedonia is a democratic state, and everybody has the right to express their attitude about the presence of the NATO troops, individually or in an organized manner.

However, I can say that last year's protests actually expressed the discontent of one political party, the one of the Serbian minority. They were, probably, motivated by the events in Kosovo, or by the NATO attacks [on Serbia], and this is why they decided to do as they did. They even attacked the U.S. Embassy, which certainly was a wrong thing to do. Nevertheless, Macedonia has shown that it is a state that is able to come to grips with such things and to preserve its stability and security.

Arben Xhaferi, who is president of [the Democratic Party of the Albanians, which is] the most important Albanian party in the Macedonian government, said that Albanians do not agree that Macedonia is a country of "one people." Instead, they want it to be a country of "all its citizens." What do you think about his statement?

Trajkovski: According to the constitution, all citizens of Macedonia have equal rights, which secures them the right to be politically organized, the right to the free use of their own language, to promote their own culture, and everything else. All our citizens enjoy rights that are up to international standards, which are incorporated into our constitution and our laws, in accordance with international agreements.

Is the Macedonian government ready to allow the legalization of the Albanian University in Tetovo? [ed.: The previous Social Democratic-led Macedonian government would not allow higher education in Albanian except for teacher training. The Albanians, who make up about 23 percent of the population, responded by setting up an illegal university in Tetovo. Its legalization is a central demand of most ethnic Albanian political groups. The current government, which was elected in the fall of 1998, promised to remedy the situation.]

Trajkovski: The most important thing is to have the education in the Republic of Macedonia institutionally organized. This goes in particular for the university level of education, which has to be in accordance with the law.

I think that demands of the ethnic groups, like the one you are talking about, will be met with the new university law that will respect international experience and standards. I find this issue less of a political and more of a practical nature. What should be discussed more is the quality of the education, i.e. what is being offered and what is needed. There is openness for a dialogue about the demand of the Albanians in the Republic of Macedonia, and I believe that this problem will soon be resolved.

The leadership of the Kosovo Albanians wants Kosovo to become an independent state, and their request is supported by the leaders of the Albanians in Macedonia. Are you afraid that an independent Kosovo might endanger the stability in Macedonia?

Trajkovski: The attitude of the international community concerning Kosovo was defined by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, by which the future of Kosovo has been determined in terms of broad autonomy inside the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This includes the establishment of a high level of democracy, respect for the human rights and liberties of every individual, as well as for the rights and liberties of all the ethnic groups in Kosovo. We are talking here about the development of a multi-ethnic society.

One should bear in mind the sovereignty and integrity of Yugoslavia. What I find the most important thing to be done in Kosovo right now is to organize normal civil and political life. Conditions must be secured for the development of democratic processes and a democratic civil society, as well as for the development of a multiethnic society.

At the same time, conditions must be secured for the return of the refugees, regardless of their ethnic origin. The economy should be made to start functioning, since otherwise people there have nothing to do and are simply waiting for humanitarian aid to come.

This is why there is a risk of social disintegration in Kosovo. Criminal groups are being organized and incidents occur every day. I do not think that KFOR and UNMIK are enough to control the situation. This is why political life should be organized there as soon as possible and conditions for a normal way of living should be secured. That would contribute to the stability and security of the region.