12 June 2001, Volume 5, Number 41
MACEDONIA: TIME FOR CONTINGENCY PLANNING? The Macedonian crisis threatens to spin out of control. Some argue that the time has come for the international community to make some serious plans about how it intends to deal with it.
Something has gone terribly wrong in Macedonia. What had long been hailed as the one Yugoslav republic that managed to leave the former federation without a bloody conflict now appears headed for a full-blown civil war. This is one conflict in that region that cannot be blamed on Serbia or former President Slobodan Milosevic. Indeed, even though the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK) are clearly receiving some help from across the border in Kosova, it is obvious that this conflict has very deep domestic roots.
The intensity of the mutual hatreds has truly been striking. Mistrust and a lack of mutual comprehension or respect quickly brought about a polarization of the republic's two largest ethnic communities, starting in the spring. The mood has often been ugly; one recalls especially the ethnic Macedonian mobs of Bitola and the calls by some Macedonian leaders to "crush" the UCK (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 June 2001). There is, in fact, language to be heard on both sides of the ethnic divide that seems to describe the other group in terms that are less than human. This is but one more version of the "hate-speech" familiar to students of the previous conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.
Matters have not been helped by the glaring lack of leadership in Macedonia. This is particularly the case among the ethnic Macedonians, because President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski are not only Slavic nationalist political leaders. They are at the same time the head of state and the head of government, respectively, of a multiethnic country.
That means that they have an extra burden on their shoulders to be statesman-like and conciliatory. Trajkovski seems to assume such a role in many of his public statements, but his roundtable talks failed to lead to any practical resolution of the Albanians' constitutional grievances over status and language. This has led some Albanians to conclude that Trajkovski speaks one way but acts another. "Balkan Report" has learned, moreover, that Trajkovski shocked some top U.S. officials on his recent visit to Washington by saying things in private that suggested that he regards the Albanians -- who form at least 23 percent of the population -- as foreigners and interlopers and not as fellow citizens.
This problem of leadership is even more pronounced in the case of Georgievski. Having made apparent concessions to the Albanians on the constitutional issue around two weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 June 2001), he retracted his remarks some days later, claiming that he had spoken ironically or had been misquoted. Indeed, Georgievski has rarely adopted a statesman-like posture in the course of the crisis, preferring instead to rail against "terrorists," whom he will "destroy" (see the article below).
The case of Georgievski illustrates an important aspect of the leadership problem: the prime minister speaks to his nationalist supporters as though he were the head of a national state's government and as though complex social and political issues could be dealt with by force. And matters probably will not become better -- as far as the conduct of any of the major politicians is concerned -- as early elections draw nearer (they are expected either in January 2002 or in the fall of this year).
To single out Georgievski is not necessarily to say that his rivals have been much more prudent. Elder statesman Kiro Gligorov also speaks as though he believes that there is a military solution to the crisis. The Social Democrats, with whom he is closely connected, similarly take an ethnic Macedonian hard line. Of the Albanian leaders, Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) at least chooses his words carefully and talks of a need for dialogue and solutions. But Georgievski has a point when he says that none of the Albanian politicians has sharply condemned the UCK and its resorting to violence in what had been a peaceful country.
Macedonia thus seems to be a country where ethnic tensions are ready to boil over, but where the politicians have their eyes only on the next elections. In a growing realization that this is indeed the state of affairs, some Western commentators have recently called for the international community to think about and discuss what it is prepared to do to help prevent a civil war in this strategically important Balkan country.
The key lesson that was learned in the previous conflicts in the former Yugoslavia is that the international community can be effective only if it speaks with one voice and only if it is prepared to assemble and use a credible amount of force to back up its views. If civil war breaks out in Macedonia or comes much closer to doing so, it thus will not be sufficient for the international community to send individual envoys into the region without a clear plan and without the potential means to bring recalcitrants or troublemakers into line.
Some observers have suggested that the "international community" in the Macedonian case should be the EU for two reasons. First, the EU has become more determined since the Kosova conflict -- in which the Americans dominated the scene -- to show that it can manage crises in its own back yard. Macedonia could give Brussels an opportunity to prove that it can do so. Second, many argue that it is unlikely that the Bush administration would be willing to undertake a new Balkan mission, and that the EU would be best advised not to count on Washington should Brussels contemplate some form of more active involvement in Macedonia.
What the Bush administration is or is not willing to do remains to be seen. But what is clear is that, while the EU may be welcome in the Balkans as a source of money, it has yet to establish itself everywhere in the region as a completely credible military or, for some, even political partner. In concrete terms, no international endeavor is likely to win the confidence and cooperation of ethnic Albanians anywhere in the Balkans unless the Americans are involved. That seems to be a fact of life, at least at present.
What would be the political program on offer? Most observers agree that it would be basically what OSCE envoy Robert Frowick suggested in his recent dealings with the Albanian parties and the UCK, which is similar to the proposals put forward by the EU's Javier Solana. In essence, this would mean constitutional changes making the Albanians and their language co-equal to the Macedonians and their language. A greater role for Albanians would have to be ensured in public service and the economy. There would have to be an amnesty for at least most of the fighters, as was the case in Presevo. In return, the UCK would disarm and end the conflict, returning to civilian life. As in Presevo, the guerrillas would have to be part of the peace process, even if only indirectly.
There will be two big practical difficulties for the international community in bringing such a settlement about, according to many familiar with the crisis. The first is how to bring military muscle into play, at least as a deterrent against any brash steps by extremists on either side. Perhaps the international community -- which probably means NATO -- could start out with a basic peacekeeping force -- a revived UNPREDEP -- and expand it as the situation warranted. It is not clear whether it would be beneficial to introduce unarmed monitors into a situation where the potential for conflict remains high, despite some suggestions in the press for the OSCE to do so.
A second question regards the nature of the mission. Unless a clear political roadmap and timetable are set down for the reintegration of a single state, the danger is that a peacekeeping mission to Macedonia could come to resemble that in Cyprus. There is also the danger that Macedonia could come to look like Bosnia, with two essentially independent entities -- each with its own military -- linked by only a few fragile institutions. (Patrick Moore)
LJUBCO GEORGIEVSKI -- PART OF THE PROBLEM? With his recent demand for the declaration of a state of war in Macedonia, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski -- for the second time within weeks -- showed his willingness to end the crisis by military means. And for the second time he stirred up controversy, at home as well as abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 June 2001).
The question is whether he really wants to declare war on the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK), or whether he reacted to strong pressure from within his own nationalist party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization -- Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). There are signs that there are groupings within the VMRO-DPMNE that are calling for a "final military solution."
When Georgievski first demanded the declaration of a state of war in early May, the strongest criticism came from abroad -- NATO, the EU, and the OSCE were and still are against this step (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2001). At that time, there was a lively public discussion in the Macedonian media about the pros and cons of such a move. There were essays on the legal problems involved, and newspapers printed the relevant articles from the Macedonian Constitution.
Of course, there were conspiracy theories as well. Some of these held that the international community opposed the declaration of a state of war because it would then have to admit that Macedonia had been attacked from the outside, namely from a protectorate of the same international community: Kosova.
In any event, the criticism from abroad and especially Javier Solana's efforts resulted in the formation of a government of "national unity." Georgievski dropped his plans to call for a state of war, only to raise them again a short time later.
But this time there were no more broad-based discussions about whether and how to introduce the state of war. Skopje newspaper commentators now see Georgievski's renewed call for war merely as a sign of his incompetence in dealing with the situation.
The tone in the media is getting harsher, and it is obvious that Georgievski has lost support there.
Some examples may illustrate what the media accuse Georgievski of and how commentators want the Georgievski problem and the crisis solved.
Having never supported the government led by Georgievski, the populist Skopje daily "Makedonija denes" accused him on 7 June of treason (which is nothing really new, as the newspaper had always opposed his 1998 coalition with the Democratic Party of the Albanians [PDSH]). The paper also accused him of clinging to power like a "blind man to his stick. His demand [to declare a state of war] is a result of his wish to eventually rule over the country.... Presumably what would satisfy the militant Georgievski is that Macedonia turn itself into a dictatorship."
The liberal Skopje newspaper "Utrinski vesnik" also criticized the prime minister. On 7 June Saso Dimeski blamed Georgievski for chaotic crisis management. In his article entitled "Long warfare without effects," the journalist argued that the army could deal with the Albanian rebels without declaring a state of war if it only had clear orders from a coordinated leadership.
The following day, Sonja Kramarska wrote in the same newspaper that the Macedonian people have lost confidence in the prime minister. Kramarska argued that Georgievski's authority as a political leader has been undermined because his partners in the government do not want to listen to him any longer.
An example of the deep rift within the ruling coalition -- and even within Georgievski's own party -- was the reaction of Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski. He said on 6 June: "These mafia, party, and criminal groups will be defeated without a state of war."
In her comment for the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" on 7 June, Katerina Blazevska argued that the broad coalition government is unable to resolve the crisis. On the contrary, the government has contributed to the expansion of the conflict to "scandalous dimensions." In her view, it was Georgievski's egotism and his attempt to rehabilitate his party before an angry public that led him to play the militant patriotic card.
Regarding the military situation, she writes that Georgievski should quit if he is unable to better coordinate the work of his key ministers: Interior Minister Boskovski and Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski. "If the premier does not believe that his irresponsible statements lead to shells and mines on the battlefield, he should check this out in Bitola (the site of recent riots against ethnic Albanian citizens). [He should go] without bodyguards and look the mothers dressed in black in the eye," Blazevska writes.
While it is unclear whether most Macedonians are of the same opinion as the journalists when it comes to Georgievski's role in the crisis and his ability to deal with the Albanian rebels, some Western commentators have become more and more skeptical. The Munich-based "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" wrote on 8 June that the international community should send a permanent representative to the Macedonian capital to keep an eye on the prime minister, who, in the commentator's view, "can't be left alone." (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz, firstname.lastname@example.org)
QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We don't have any leverage on the [UCK]. That's their wild card. By their willingness to ambush army convoys when they like, they control the pace of events and the agenda." -- Unnamed Western diplomat in Skopje. Quoted by Reuters on 10 June.
"Nobody should be under any illusions. Restoring peace in Macedonia is going to be an incredibly difficult process." -- Unnamed Western diplomat in Skopje. Quoted by Reuters on 10 June.
"In truth, the...interdependence [of the U.S. and EU] far outweighs their differences. While both may dream of acting separately, their effectiveness is impaired by doing so -- or by striving to foist their agendas on each other.... Repairing the relationship requires a commitment to deepening cooperative processes, a willingness to listen, and ample political goodwill." -- The "Financial Times" of 11 June.