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Macedonia: Intra-Party Clashes Rattle Ahead Of Fall Elections

Eight months after Macedonia's Ohrid agreement laid the groundwork for peaceful coexistence between the country's ethnic Albanians and Macedonians, some analysts suggest that interethnic violence has in fact subsided. Instead, they say, the country has returned to the earlier status quo of squabbling and violence breaking out within ethnic groups, not between them. As RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports from Skopje, such intra-ethnic strife now threatens the stability of many of the country's political parties.

Skopje, 16 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Divisions within both of Macedonia's two main ruling parties -- the traditionally fractious VMRO-DPMNE and the more tightly run Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSH) -- appear to be growing. The fighting could weaken the coalition even before parliamentary elections in September.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, both of VMRO-DPMNE, are sidelining and attacking moderates in their own party -- including the president, Boris Trajkovski, and former Deputy Prime Minister Dosta Dimovska. They have also lashed out at intellectuals and members of the media who have challenged the party's authority.

Georgievski and Boskovski are targeting those people who have been the most cooperative in helping the international community to reach and implement the Ohrid framework peace agreement. The Ohrid accord last August ended a seven-month insurrection by the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK).

On the Albanian side, the split within PDSH stems from Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci. Following allegations from other Albanian parties that a recent shoot-out at a popular PDSH gathering place was rooted in criminal activities, Thaci attempted to suspend his party's role in a joint council grouping the three main Albanian parties and the former UCK command.

This weekend, however, PDSH Chairman Arben Xhaferi blocked Thaci's move, suspending his deputy's participation in the Albanian council but leaving the party's role intact.

The problems don't end there. Interior Minister Boskovski has also drawn international criticism for pursuing the arrest of a top Trajkovski adviser, who has been charged with providing a passport to a suspect in the 1995 assassination attempt on former President Kiro Gligorov, among other crimes. Western diplomats describe the charges as false. A Macedonian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, calls the accusations "completely groundless stupidities."

Some observers say the case is an attempt by Boskovski to divert public attention from more pressing political issues. One such matter is the recent exhumation of 10 Albanians from a mass grave at Ljuboten, north of the Macedonian capital. The 10 are alleged to have been killed last summer by Macedonian security forces under Boskovski's command.

Another issue Boskovski may be hoping to avoid is the long-standing question of corruption. Ahead of last month's international donors conference for Macedonia last month, the International Crisis Group (ICG), a private international advisory body based in Brussels, warned that corruption "threatens the viability of the state" in Macedonia. The ICG statement did not limit its criticism to the Macedonian majority. "Both Macedonian and Albanian political leaders flirt cynically with ethnic extremism, deepening communal divisions and corroding the rule of law and public trust in institutions, [as] they connive at siphoning off national assets."

Vladimir Milcin is the head of Skopje's Open Society Institute. He says last year's ethnic fighting saw a surge in corruption-related profits for those in power, particularly the leaders of VMRO-DPMNE and PDSH. As early parliamentary elections loom, he says, both Georgievski and Boskovski may see their reputations as loyal patriots erode as news of their alleged wartime gains begins to spread through the media: "That war had a lot to do with corruption and organized crime -- arms, drugs, cigarettes. So the whole story, about Ljube Boskovski and Ljubco Georgievski -- their patriotism and so on -- and Arben Xhaferi and Menduh Thaci being the exclusive protectors of Albanian interests, is going to be diminished."

Former Interior Minister Pavle Trajanov says corruption is rife in Macedonia and poses an enormous danger to the state: "I can freely say that state-organized crime in the Republic of Macedonia and the government of Ljubco Georgievski are marked by instability and criminalization, particularly the army of the Republic of Macedonia. At the highest levels of Georgievski's government, a large number of ministries are occupied by ministers coordinated by VMRO-DPMNE. Another large share is coordinated by the PDSH structures. Georgievski and Xhaferi have divided up business and criminal activities."

As September's elections approach, some analysts predict a stormy campaign -- pitting VMRO-DPMNE and PDSH against the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM) and the relatively moderate ethnic Albanian Democratic Party of Prosperity (PPD).

SDSM has stayed out of the public eye in recent weeks as the problems within VMRO-DPMNE mount. In the words of one Western diplomat, "SDSM is lying low, letting VMRO-DPMNE beat itself to a pulp."

Milcin of the Open Society Institute notes the elections are the last tenet of the Ohrid accord to be realized: "Early elections are the only part of the Ohrid agreement which haven't been fulfilled yet. The obligation was [to hold elections by] 27 January [2002], so we are a couple of months behind schedule. The constitution was changed and the law on local government and the amnesty law were adopted by the parliament [in accordance with the Ohrid agreement]. Only this issue [of elections] was pushed [away] with the explanation that 'we still have incidents on the ground, there is fighting, we do not have control on the territory, and so on."

Milcin and other analysts say the timing of the elections has also come under dispute. Parliamentary speaker Stefan Andov favors holding elections on 22 September. But the international community and human rights monitors oppose that date, which comes one day after local elections in neighboring Kosovo. They argue there are not enough international monitors to observe both elections. Some observers have called for the poll to be held a week earlier, on 15 September.

Milcin says recent violence during student elections at Skopje University -- in which ballot boxes were destroyed and some students were threatened or arrested -- may be a foretaste of the parliamentary elections: "I'm also expecting a repetition of something that took place during the local elections [in 2000] -- armed people coming here from Kosovo to help Menduh Thaci and PDSH. That's a concern among Albanians, especially among Albanian intellectuals, who are under threat."

But Deputy Interior Minister Refet Elmazi, a high-ranking member of PDSH, says the police will work together with the international community to ensure the elections are peaceful and fair. Elmazi rejects accusations that his boss, Interior Minister Boskovski, could pose a threat to the polls: "No one single person can endanger the free vote and process of the election. The minister of the interior, I as his deputy, and others -- none of us can act against the constitution and legal framework. All of us will work to provide proper security conditions that will help the elections and not the opposite."

Boskovski declined repeated requests over the past week for an interview with RFE/RL.

Former UCK chief of staff, General Gezim Ostreni, spoke to RFE/RL in his headquarters in the mist-enshrouded mountain village of Sipkovica. Ostreni warned against foot-dragging in implementing to Ohrid accord, which he says could create a dangerous political vacuum in the country. He also dismissed the notion of a special relationship between PDSh and VMRO-DPMNE, saying the time has come to put an end to "business as usual" for the country's political parties.

"Prewar coalitions are prewar coalitions. The political party leaders believed that through coalitions they could form political forces that would succeed in creating more democratic conditions for Albanians in Macedonia. But as you know all these coalitions failed. They didn't contribute to an improvement in conditions so the conflict developed."

Ostreni warns that failure to develop democracy sufficiently may result in citizens once again resorting to "negative actions."