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Balkan Report: March 27, 2001

27 March 2001, Volume 5, Number 23

HATE SPEECH POISONS THE ATMOSPHERE. Some journalists and politicians in Macedonia and Kosova have reacted to the recent armed clashes between government forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas by using less-than-responsible language and sometimes outright hate speech. In many instances the terminology used seems clearly designed to aggravate tensions between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians rather than to ease them.

In one example, the Macedonian-language weekly newspaper "Makedonija-Europe" of 23 March described the guerrillas not only as "terrorists" -- a term commonly used in the Macedonian and Serbian media -- but as "the black plague." It used this term in huge letters on its front page. The daily also referred to snipers, who shot at policemen in Skopje, as "monsters." Furthermore, the paper included the rubric "War in Macedonia," in which it sought to sensationalize the violence.

In a similar fashion, the Albanian diaspora daily "Bota Sot" of 24 March wrote that a particular district of Tetovo "is standing in flames," a dramatic description that is more than likely an exaggeration.

And rather than reporting professionally in a crisis situation, the daily clearly misrepresented a well-documented incident in which Macedonian police officers shot and killed two Albanians at a checkpoint. According to police sources, one of the victims attempted to throw a grenade at the police seconds before he was killed. The grenade was clearly recognizable in various press photos taken on the spot. Some ethnic Albanian media and politicians, however, hardly gave any credibility to the police claims and presented the incident as the "execution" of a man who was about to throw -- his mobile telephone.

Thus "Bota Sot" wrote that the two men killed were "Albanian victims of...Macedonian terror." The daily also claimed that most people who fled from Tetovo after that incident did so out of "fear of being executed." Thus the daily implied that the Macedonian security forces behaved in a way similar to Serbian forces in 1998 and 1999 in Kosova, namely expelling civilians by first deliberately spreading fear.

There is little evidence, however, to suggest that the Macedonian authorities pursued or pursue a policy of "ethnic cleansing" or arbitrary killings aimed at driving civilians out because of their ethnic origin. Most evidence suggests that the refugees fled areas that were immediately affected by fighting or that were close to the areas in which the guerrillas were operating. Thus the refugees appear to have been afraid of being caught in the crossfire.

In more moderate papers like "Koha Ditore" of 25 March, several Kosovar politicians expressed their concerns about the conflict but took an often ambiguous stand towards the armed fighters. Thus the leadership of the pacifist Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) passed a declaration that puts the main blame for the events in Tetovo on the Macedonian authorities, rather than on the guerrillas who started the conflict few weeks ago. The declaration says that "the LDK denounces the continuous violence used by the Macedonian government." Furthermore, the declaration urges the government to start a dialogue and only thereafter does it "call on all sides not to resort to arms to solve problems."

The Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), which is made up mostly of former members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), issued a statement denouncing the violence but supporting the demands of the fighters. Finally, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK) accused the Macedonian government of using "Macedonian state terror" against civilians.

These ambiguous statements and dubious journalistic practices contribute to a climate in which it will be difficult for ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians to start serious negotiations. At demonstrations in support of the Macedonian Albanians, protesters in several Kosovar villages shouted slogans in support of the Macedonian Albanian guerrillas. But few, if any, ethnic Albanian commentators or politicians have so far raised their voices on behalf of a Macedonian democracy that might have a right to defend itself against armed insurgents.

The perceptions of the conflict by these ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians thus seem to be as contradictory as if there were two different truths. This does not bode well for a climate conducive to political dialogue and compromise. (Fabian Schmidt)

WILL TANUSEVCI BECOME A SYMBOL? Every Balkan state -- or should one say, every nation-state in the world -- has its national symbols and places that stand for the struggle for freedom of the respective nation. The reasons why places became national symbols differ across a wide spectrum from a lost historical battle (like Kosovo Polje in 1389) to unsuccessful uprisings against empires.

Such an unsuccessful uprising took place in the small Macedonian town Krusevo almost 100 years ago, in 1903. The rebels set up a provisional government and declared a republic, independent of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman authorities, already alarmed by terrorist acts in the port town of Salonica earlier the same year, reacted harshly and crushed the rising after a short time. Krusevo and the date of the uprising -- 2 August, which is St. Elijah's Day or Ilinden -- nevertheless became powerful symbols for the struggle of the Macedonian nation for its independence.

It is doubtful, however, that the small mountain village of Tanusevci right on the border with Kosova will ever become a national symbol for the struggle of the ethnic Albanian people for independence. One needs to go back about one year for the background to the current developments, or perhaps farther to see whether it was merely by accident that the revolt began there (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 March 2001).

Some analysts in Macedonia say that there is no doubt that the "Albanian terrorists" recent simultaneous attacks in northern Macedonia and southern Serbia were aimed at blocking the intersection of the main north-south and east-west motorways between Serbia and Greece, and between Bulgaria and Albania, respectively.

The Tanusevci imbroglio began with the kidnapping of four Macedonian border guards just outside the village on 2 April 2000. The guards were held hostage for one day -- inside Kosova. After their release, the Macedonian authorities said that the former Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) was responsible for the kidnapping. The Macedonian government, though, could never explain why the UCK would abduct Macedonian border guards.

The Macedonian press, on the other hand, very quickly constructed another hypothesis. The kidnapping, Skopje newspapers said, was part of a deal to release from prison an ethnic Albanian, Xhevat Hasani. He was allegedly guilty of murder and illegal possession of arms. An international arrest warrant had been out for him for about two years when the Macedonian police finally arrested him. In the meantime, Hasani served as an officer in the UCK.

Even though the government denied any link between the abduction of the border guards and Hasani's release on bail, it is interesting that Hasani was reportedly visited in jail by the ethnic Albanian Justice Minister Xhevdet Nasufi and some deputies from the governing Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH).

The killing that Hasani was accused of, on the other hand, seems to have had no political background. As he later said during the trial, he had fired in the air to drive away the construction workers who were demolishing his Illegally-built house in a Skopje suburb. The demolition had been ordered by the city authorities, even though Hasani had paid a "fee" to one city officer and to the deputy minister for urban affairs and construction. Hasani argued that he had to build that house in Skopje because his house in his home village is now only 50 meters away from the Serbian border. The village is Tanusevci.

Three months later, at the same place where the soldiers were kidnapped, an anti-tank mine went off and destroyed an armored personnel carrier of the Macedonian border guard. Another mine explosion in September last year left two soldiers badly wounded. These incidents -- along with a series of border violations and shootouts between border patrols and smugglers -- added to the atmosphere of tension in the Tanusevci area.

One cannot say with any certainty that there is a direct link between the abduction of the Macedonian soldiers, the Hasani case, and the subsequent mine explosions that led up to the January attacks in the area. Nevertheless, it should not be surprising that criminals might sense that blackmail and violence could pay off there. This is especially so if one also recalls the Macedonian government's reputation for corruption or ineffectiveness, its unimpressive response to the initial violence in the area, and its seeming loss for words when accused by the press of having swapped the soldiers for a murderer.

The government's response to its difficulties was fairly predictable. It turned to the West if it needed financial, economic, and military assistance. At the same time, it lashed out at "dark" -- that is, foreign -- forces as being responsible for the country's miserable state.

If Tanusevci becomes a symbol some day, it will not be as the symbol of somebody's heroic struggle, but as a symbol of the weakness of the Macedonian government and its inability to set up the rule of law and effective control over its territory. This is a weakness that threatens and will continue to threaten the country's very existence. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, the author, is a Ph.D. candidate at the Free University of Berlin. He specializes in Macedonian and Bulgarian history.

TETOVO ALBANIAN LEADER TALKS TO RFE/RL. Abedin Imeri, who is the Tetovo leader of the PDSH, spoke on 26 March with RFE/RL's Ron Synovitz in Tetovo and by phone with Melazim Koci of our Albanian-language broadcasters. Imeri responded to questions on several themes.

On the Macedonian military offensive: "We were against the offensive, but fortunately, the offensive is over, and it has not caused civilian casualties...Serbian methods were not used. There are no victims on either side."

Responding to our correspondent's report that he saw four ethnic Albanian civilians wounded at a Macedonian army checkpoint in Tetovo over the weekend: "That is true. We know that there are not four but seven civilians wounded. But there are no deaths. Only three of the injured have more serious wounds. We have done everything to prevent casualties among civilians, and we have been successful in this. There were no mass killings."

Regarding his party's political plans: "After the offensive, we will not leave the government. We will try to calm the situation and create the conditions for a normal co-existence. So we will stay in the government, because the success of the offensive is the success of the PDSH.

"We are trying to calm the situation down as soon as possible and take care of those who have been displaced from their homes. Then we will ask the government to [discuss?] questions regarding Albanian-Macedonian rights. We would like to find a solution through dialog, not under any pressure or with weapons. We are waiting and we are calling on the international community to be more active in finding a solution for Macedonia."

Replying to reports from the Macedonian government that "aggression" is coming from the Kosova side of the border, he said: "It is not true. They [the government] want to involve Kosova, but it is not true that [the fighters] are coming from Kosova. They are lying." (Edited by Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA'S GLIGOROV: HIT REBELS HARD. Former Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov told "Vjesnik" of 22 March that one must "not negotiate with terrorists" lest one give them political legitimacy.

He stressed that the rebels' goal is to provoke a general uprising of the Albanians in Macedonia but that, so far, most Albanians are not willing to risk their lives and property for the rebels, regardless of how much they might sympathize with the them. He argued that nobody has a right to demand reforms by force of arms and that he suspects that the rebels' current demands are only the beginning of a longer, hidden agenda.

Gligorov claimed that the Albanians already have sufficient rights and that there is no need for the Albanian language to be declared an official language in areas where few Albanians live.

He warned the international community against insisting on a peaceful solution to the crisis, adding that no government can allow others to shoot at its forces without returning fire. Gligorov stressed that the way to end the insurgency is by "nipping it in the bud" militarily. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Macedonia has started to build a multiethnic society, and it is in all our interests that the country succeeds and does not polarize into separate Slav and Albanian communities." -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Quoted by RFE/RL in London on 26 March.

"I must say that the [military] action that was undertaken [on Sunday] was a function of protecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Macedonia. It was [aimed at] avoiding losing control of interethnic relations and keeping the republic and the international community from becoming hostages of these [extremist] groups. This was an operation that was in the interest of interethnic relations." -- Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. Quoted by RFE/RL on 26 March.

"We're going to kill Turks." -- Macedonian soldier in Tetovo. Reported by an RFE/RL correspondent on 25 March. [Editor's note: "Turk" is a pejorative used in many parts of the Balkans for any local people of Islamic heritage.]