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Macedonia: Did Nationalist Leaders Plan To Divide Country Along Ethnic Lines?

Ever since fighting broke out between the ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces in early 2001, there have been persistent but unconfirmed reports that some politicians in Macedonia had a hidden agenda to partition the country along ethnic lines in order to consolidate their own power.

The most prominent politicians widely suspected of working on such division plans were former Prime Minister and former Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) Chairman Ljubco Georgievski, who governed the country from 1998 until 2002. The other main suspect was Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) Chairman Arben Xhaferi.

When the VMRO-DPMNE and the PDSH formed a coalition in 1998, there was speculation about what prompted two rivals like the Macedonian Georgievski and the Albanian Xhaferi to collaborate. Both had a reputation of being nationalists, and analysts have repeatedly raised the question whether there was more to cement their good working relationship outside their shared conservative, strictly anticommunist ideologies.

At the height of the conflict, in May 2001, the Georgi Efremov, then-president of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU), proposed to cede the heavily Albanian-populated areas of western Macedonia around Debar and Tetovo to Albania, while Macedonian-populated areas on the western bank of Lake Ohrid in Albania were to be added to Macedonia. The scattered Albanian population living throughout Macedonia was to be "resettled."

At that time, there were widespread rumors that Efremov's plan was a trial balloon launched on Georgievski's behalf. Given the openly hostile public reaction to that plan, Georgievski subsequently denied that he considered any territorial swap or the division of Macedonia along ethnic lines.

But in late March 2003, Georgievski himself wrote in a column that changing the existing the borders in the Balkans might be a way to resolve interethnic problems. Shortly after that editorial, he followed with another, in which he discussed the question whether Albanians should be "resettled" in order to "save" the ethnically mixed cities of Skopje, Kicevo, Kumanovo, and Struga for the Macedonian nation.

Two years after these editorials appeared, in late June, Xhaferi told Kosovar television broadcasters that he and Georgievski repeatedly discussed the issue of dividing Macedonia along ethnic lines while they were in power. The interview was subsequently republished by two Kosovar dailies.

Xhaferi reportedly said that already in 1998, he and Georgievski started to talk about a plan to peacefully divide Macedonia. Both agreed that that a multiethnic society could not function and that such societies were "fictions" of the international community.
Georgievski has denied that he and his colleague discussed the division of Macedonia before the 2001 conflict.

Xhaferi also said they discussed a possible division with politicians from neighboring countries, most notably with the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Xhaferi added, however, that he and Georgievski did not agree on concrete modalities, not least because of the war in neighboring Kosova in 1999. From Xhaferi's point of view, the peaceful division would have avoided bloodshed in Macedonia.

In a press release in response to Xhaferi's interview, Georgievski denied that he and his colleague discussed the division of Macedonia before the 2001 conflict. "We talked about the issue for the first time when the daily 'Vecer' published a text on the 'Exchange of Territories and Populations between Macedonia and Albania' in May 2001," Georgievski said. "At that time, Mr. Xhaferi did not want to discuss this problem and the conversation was over."

Georgievski's new party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- People's Party (VMRO-NP), said it does not support any division plans. For VMRO-NP acting Chairwoman Vesna Janevska, Xhaferi's interview was simply the beginning of the PDSH's campaign for the 2006 parliamentary elections. Janevska added that the VMRO-NP supports the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement as well as a multiethnic Macedonia. "This is the party's one and absolute position," she said. "Multiethnic states are a reality, and we are convinced that radicalism does not have a place in Macedonia any longer."

Xhaferi's interview seems to have taken even his own party by surprise. A PDSH spokesman said his party will wait for the video recordings to arrive from Prishtina to see whether the reports in the print media correspond with what Xhaferi said on TV or whether his interview could be interpreted in a different way.

Ermira Mehmeti of Macedonia's governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) said if Xhaferi now believes that a multiethnic Macedonia has no future, he must explain why he signed the Ohrid peace agreement -- which provides for the consolidation of a multiethnic society -- in the first place.

In the meantime, Public Prosecutor Stavre Zikov said his office will scan Xhaferi's interview to see whether there is any reason to take legal action against the PDSH leader.