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Balkan Report: March 20, 2001

20 March 2001, Volume 5, Number 21

GOING FOR BROKE. Macedonia stands on the brink of a civil war. The fate of that republic lies in the hands of its citizens, primarily the political leaders of the Macedonian and Albanian communities.

The late Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. If one ever needed proof of that maxim, Macedonia has now provided it.

Virtually all observers of the past days' events agree that two points stand out: the emerging conflict came unexpectedly, and the speed at which events have moved has been breathtaking. It is now clear that the National Liberation Army (UCK) is not just a small gang of criminals or some freebooters who snuck in from Kosova or Presevo. The movement is well-organized, well-equipped, and supported by many Macedonian Albanians, not the least of whom are some angry young men (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 March 2001).

The speed and extent to which polarization has taken place make it clear that the mutual mistrust -- and hatred -- have long been just beneath the surface, waiting for the right incident to bring them out into the open. "The Guardian" on 16 March quoted one Macedonian as saying: "We want guns from the government to fight these Albanians. They want our land, our homes, and we need to repel them. Give me a machine gun and I'll go into the woods to fight them. Macedonians cannot wait any longer. This is real war here. I have Albanian friends, but now we must strike back. I'd say 85% of Albanians support these guys." The same paper quoted young Albanians as saying things like: "I don't want people to die, but I can't deny pleasure in having the boot on the other foot," or "We have nothing -- no jobs, no prospects. They've had it well for too long."

Such feelings do not emerge from nothing or overnight. These are two communities that live side by side but not really together. Figuratively as well as literally, they do not speak the same language.

One highly-educated young Albanian told "Balkan Report" that the initial emotion he detected among his family and friends of all age groups was that of fear -- followed by an "enthusiasm" for the UCK, simply because the boot is indeed on the other foot. On the Macedonian side, there is a deep feeling of betrayal by "those Albanians," whom Macedonia took in as refugees by the tens of thousands during the 1999 Kosova conflict. Many Macedonians say bitterly that Albanians have now stabbed them in the back.

Regardless of whether the UCK was or was not originally an import from Kosova or Presevo, the surprising and important fact is that it is meeting with support from at least some Macedonian Albanians. The UCK is no longer a "minority within a minority." It has come out into the open and is going for broke. The next days and weeks will be decisive.

This is the problem that the mainstream parties must deal with, for it is the mainstream parties among Albanians and Macedonians alike that must take the lead if the current violence is not to turn into a real civil war.

The UN's Carl Bildt told the BBC on 17 March that "Macedonia is a functioning democracy," albeit an imperfect one. One of the imperfections perceived by Macedonians and Albanians alike is that their respective parties give the impression of being more interested in offices and patronage than in their voters' problems. The parties on both sides must work very quickly and very convincingly if they are to overcome the cynicism that their approach has engendered among the electorate and prevent the polarization from spreading rapidly.

This will be a tall order. The Albanian parties will have to spread the message that violence has no future and that the Albanians' home is in Macedonia, because nobody abroad will support border revisions. The Macedonian parties will need to curb anti-Albanian rhetoric and avoid the temptation to score points against each other at the expense of national unity and stability. And the Macedonian politicians leading the country will need to make sure that their policies -- particularly where the police and military are concerned -- do not inflame an already explosive situation.

KFOR has a role to play in helping seal the supply routes across the border. There certainly are enough people who think that it has not done so very well so far. But the shrill rhetoric from Skopje, Belgrade, and Moscow against KFOR suggests that at least some actors on the political stage are seeking to manipulate the current crisis to settle old scores with the Atlantic alliance. Some might be hoping to "bully" NATO into making war on the UCK. Others might hope to discredit the alliance enough that it will leave the Balkans humiliated, never to return. Then the way would be open for those forces that want to "solve the Albanian question" throughout the region in a time-honored fashion. (Patrick Moore)

ALBANIAN PARTIES DENOUNCE VIOLENCE IN MACEDONIA. Arta Dade, who is the Albanian Socialist Party's (PS) foreign affairs secretary, told "Koha Jone" of 19 March that the problems in Macedonia should be settled by "political means and through the institutions." She added that ethnic Albanians and Macedonians must cooperate in implementing a "high degree" of minority rights in order to prevent the conflict from spreading. She warned that "avoiding dialogue will make the situation worse, not only in Macedonia, but in the entire region." Dade stressed that "the events in Macedonia...could also have an effect on other countries in the region, with hundreds of people displaced and borders closed."

She stressed that "the problems must be solved in Macedonia, respecting its sovereignty and integrity." Dade welcomed the moderate response of the ethnic Albanian political parties in Macedonia, whose leaders have spoken out "against the use of force." She expressed hope that the government and the ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia will "sit down and discuss [the problems] in good faith so that they can direct their energies towards regional development" again.

Dashamir Shehi, who is the secretary of the opposition New Democratic Party, also said that the crisis in Macedonia should be settled by "dialogue." He argued, however, that the Albanian government has "responsibilities" for the Albanians in Macedonia. But Shehi dismissed the notion of a "greater Albania," arguing that "we do not need to aspire to the unification of all Albanians [in one state]. But something that all Albanians need is...the idea of belonging to a single people." (Fabian Schmidt)

ALBANIAN INVESTIGATORS IDENTIFY HAJDARI KILLER. A team of prosecutors issued a statement on 15 March in Tirana identifying Jaho Sali Mulosmani, a former high-ranking policeman from Tropoja, as the main suspect in the 1998 murder of Democratic Party (PD) legislator Azem Hajdari, "Albanian Daily News" reported.

Mulosmani, a member of the governing Socialist Party (PS), is believed to have shot the charismatic and controversial Hajdari, who was a leader of the student movement that overthrew communism in 1991 and a co-founder of the PD, in Tirana on 12 September 1998. According to eyewitnesses, an unidentified person called Hajdari on his mobile phone at 10 p.m. that evening. Hajdari left with two bodyguards, and all were shot at close to the PD headquarters. Hajdari and one bodyguard died, while Zenel Neza, who was the other bodyguard, survived with several wounds.

The assassination of Hajdari sparked violent opposition protests, during which armed opposition supporters attacked the prime minister's office on 14 September and occupied the public television building. The PD subsequently boycotted parliamentary sessions, aggravating tensions between the governing coalition and the opposition.

Haxhi Ciu, who is the head of the investigating team, said that Mulosmani is believed to have fled Albania.

The investigators also identified at least nine other people close to Mulosmani who were involved in the assassination. Four of them have since been killed in various incidents. Ciu explained that the group around Mulosmani consisted of pro-PS police officials from Tropoja, who had entered into a dangerous competition with Hajdari for control of the region. Ciu added, however, that "we cannot put an exact number on the people who were involved in the murder, because many played different roles in it." What actually triggered Mulosmani's decision to kill Hajdari nonetheless remains a mystery.

PD officials, including Chairman Sali Berisha, said in 1999 that Mulosmani and some of his associates were responsible for the murder. The PD leaders also accused the prosecutors of negligence in failing to catch the killers, and argued that the Socialist-dominated government was not seriously interested in bringing the investigations to an end. Investigators countered those charges, arguing that PD officials, including Berisha, did not submit evidence in their possession and refused to testify.

What complicated the investigations is that Izet Haxhia, a close associate of Hajdari and former bodyguard of Berisha, was apparently also involved in the murder. He is also charged with masterminding the violence of 14 September 1998. Haxhia fled Tirana in 1999 for his native Tropoja, being wanted by the police on charges of organizing an armed revolt. He is now believed to have fled the country. His brother, Isamedin, a former army officer, has already been arrested as a suspect in the murder plot. Also under arrest is Fatmir Meta, who was the police chief of Tropoja during the time of the Hajdari assassination.

The evidence provided in Neza's testimony was essential for wrapping up the investigations, according to the prosecutors, who did not elaborate. Neza fled to Belgium soon after the murder and is still living there. Initially he refused to talk with investigators because of the involvement of Haxhia in the murder plot.

Due to the polarization of Albanian political life between Democrats and Socialists, the OSCE appointed three Norwegian prosecutors to supervise the investigations. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We will not allow anyone to lead us around by the nose, and certainly not Albanian terrorists." -- German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping, to dpa in Berlin, on 16 March.

"We believe in our police and army. I think that the situation will get better, especially after they flush out this group, and everything will be peaceful. But it will never be as before." -- Macedonian woman in Tetovo, quoted by Reuters on 16 March.

"I do not think that you start a war in order to create a political party.... The situation calls for the opening of a dialogue between the two peoples on the mode of co-existence. I hope that both the Macedonian government and the foreign powers will try to launch this dialogue that will benefit all. Nobody will lose." -- Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) leader Arben Xhaferi. Quoted by Reuters on 17 March.

"What is on the scene are people who desperately believe that they should take over the role of the avant-garde of the Albanian population in Macedonia, that they should become the new leadership that will provide Albanians a concept that I would define as: 'Wherever Albanians live [is] Albanian territory.' This is definitely the most wrong of all approaches on the Balkans. We have been facing ten years of crisis and conflict on the Balkans exactly thanks to this approach." -- Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim. Quoted by RFE/RL in Brussels on 19 March. Kerim was presumably alluding to a well-known Serbian nationalist slogan of the Milosevic era: "Wherever there are Serbs, there is Serbia."