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Balkan Report: July 27, 2001

27 July 2001, Volume 5, Number 52

A BITTER VIEW OF MACEDONIA. Macedonian economic and political analyst Vladimir Gligorov talked to Branka Mihajlovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service on 25 July. Gligorov made it clear that he is disappointed with the performance of almost all actors on his country's political scene.

He cited three sources for Macedonia's current predicament. First, and most crucial, is Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. Gligorov says that Georgievski enjoys no political legitimacy and that those around him are more a corrupt band of people than a real political party. The prime minister owes his job and position to Arben Xhaferi of the Democratic Party of the Albanians. Georgievski has made one mistake after another, which has been a key element in bringing about the current situation. (It is interesting that Gligorov does not mention the roles of President Boris Trajkovski or the Social Democrats in the conflict.)

Second, Gligorov blames the ethnic Albanian leaders and political elite for not defending the constitutional order and instead siding, in effect, with armed insurgents. The guerrillas are pursuing the aggressive, expansionist agenda that they have had from the start.

Third, the West has alienated Macedonian opinion and shares a considerable part of the blame for the tragedy. Gligorov argues that the EU and NATO, at the beginning of the crisis, clearly sided with the "democratic and constitutional" order. Several Western leaders openly called the insurgents "terrorists." Later, however, Western leaders and public opinion began to treat the two sides almost as equals. This change is difficult for most Macedonians to understand, he argues. The shift in Western policy accounts for much of the current xenophobic feeling in Macedonia.

Gligorov is reluctant to speculate as to whether Macedonia is heading for a civil war. The population has no stomach for a conflict, but he does not exclude the possibility that Georgievski and various other, unnamed people might opt for a war if they thought it would benefit them politically.

In the last analysis, Macedonia will probably have no choice but to take whatever options the foreigners offer it under political and economic pressure, Gligorov says. In any event, the present situation is a tragedy, and the popular disappointment with the West is great.

This is not the first time that "Balkan Report" has discussed the tendency of some Macedonians to blame the West -- which is trying to help prevent a catastrophe -- for their country's troubles (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 June 2001). Unfortunately, it is not likely to be the last.

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said on 25 July that "this is not the time for Balkan conspiracy theories, this is the time for all of the leaders in Macedonia of all ethnicities to work together on a political solution." President George W. Bush appealed to Macedonia's politicians to "show leadership." This is, indeed, a commodity that has been in short supply in that troubled country.

A notable exception was the message in remarks by Social Democratic leader Branko Crvenkovski, who argued that "waging war with the whole world will not save Macedonia. [Such a conflict] will be lost before it even starts." Crvenkovski added that "our priority must be gaining international support....That's the job of a responsible government and not to offer the people suicidal politics.... Macedonia is not defended by destroying shops or beating up journalists. It is defended in Tetovo. The chance for a political solution is defended in Tetovo. If Tetovo falls, it will be a defeat for all Macedonia." (Patrick Moore)

MACEDONIA AND THE MACEDONIANS IN NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES. Macedonia's second largest city, Tetovo, has again become the scene of heavy fighting between ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 July 2001). For the second time in three months, the chiefly Albanian-inhabited town has been rocked by mortar shell explosions and machine-gun fire. Hundreds of angry ethnic Macedonian villagers on 24 July protested in front of the parliament in Skopje against the Albanian rebels who drove them out of their villages. The rioters also attacked several Western embassies and businesses.

At the same time, a UNHCR spokesman in Prishtina said that his organization is preparing for an influx of thousands of refugees into Kosova from neighboring Macedonia. It is expected that many ethnic Albanians will flee Macedonia to join the 40,000 Albanian refugees in southern Kosova if the fighting continues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2001). At the same time, many ethnic Macedonians fled Tetovo for other parts of Macedonia.

This latest outbreak of violence came after peace negotiations ground to a halt, which happened after the leaders of the main ethnic Albanian parties of Macedonia and the U.S. and EU representatives agreed on a proposal on Albanian-language rights (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 July 2001). In the eyes of most ethnic Macedonian politicians, the provisions of the latest proposal went beyond the limits of the acceptable. It is not clear, though, exactly where those limits lie. Western diplomats have called the Macedonian reaction exaggerated.

It is perhaps surprising, however, that Macedonian politicians have so far not tried to link the improvement of rights for the large Albanian minority in Macedonia with the improvement of the status of the smaller ethnic Macedonian minorities of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, and -- although they are often forgotten -- Serbia.

Just as the exact number of Albanians in Macedonia is unknown (they are generally assumed to be about a quarter to one-third of the total population), the number of Macedonians in the neighboring countries is unclear. As is the case with most population estimates -- particularly those involving minorities -- there are differing numbers available.

While the Albanian government estimates the number of Macedonians in Albania at about 5,000, this figure was put at some 40,000 by the former Yugoslav government in the 1980s. Other figures of about 60,000 are generally regarded as too high. No official data on the Macedonian minorities are available for Greece or Bulgaria.

There are Western estimates saying that some 50,000 Macedonians live in Greece, while the respective number is put at up to 250,000 by Macedonian sources. For Bulgaria, the difference between the estimates is similar. The Macedonian side recently criticized the Bulgarian authorities for not allowing the Macedonians in Bulgaria to declare themselves as such during the last population census. Thus, the number will remain a matter of speculation -- and contention.

Even if one accepts the highest estimates, this short glimpse at the quantitative side of the minority issue shows that the Macedonian minorities in Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece are quite small compared to the total populations of these countries. If one takes a look at the status of the Macedonian minorities in the neighboring countries, it becomes clear that part of the reason for their low numbers is that they are denied recognition.

While in Greece the Macedonians are simply called "Slavophone Greeks," in Bulgaria they officially just do not exist. The reason for this denial of recognition is the official Bulgarian standpoint that the Macedonian language is a mere dialect of Bulgarian and that there is no Macedonian nation. This view led to tensions between the two Balkan neighbors during the first years after Macedonia's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. (Bulgaria hastened to recognize the Macedonian state, but not the nation.)

The case of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria is revealing in several aspects. It was recognized during the first years after World War II to help curb "greater Bulgarian chauvinism" and provide a link in the projected South Slavic Union between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. During this time, Macedonians in Bulgaria enjoyed cultural autonomy and broad minority rights.

But with the break between Yugoslavia and the USSR in 1948, relations between the neighboring countries deteriorated rapidly. Any minority in Bulgaria henceforward was seen by Sofia as a threat to the unity of the nation and the integrity of Bulgarian territory.

After the fall of communism, a number of Macedonian organizations were formed in Bulgaria. But since the Bulgarian Constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on an ethnic or religious basis, any participation in elections by the Macedonian groups was ruled out. For a short period of time, the United Macedonian Organizations-Ilinden (OMO-Ilinden) was registered as a political party under the name OMO "Ilinden"-PIRIN, but in a February 2000 decision, the Constitutional Court finally ruled the party unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2000).

Apart from the legal status of the Macedonian minorities, there are a number of other issues unresolved between the Republic of Macedonia and Albania, Bulgaria, and Greece. There are perennial problems like the name dispute with Greece and the language dispute with Bulgaria.

But there are also problems that have their roots in the recent past, like the restitution problem with Greece. Stefan Troebst, a German Balkans expert, puts the number of ethnic Macedonians who fled Greece after World War II at about 50,000. These people found refuge mainly in the socialist countries of Eastern Europe before a small number of them were repatriated to then Yugoslav Macedonia in the early 1970s. The rest remained in Poland, Hungary, Romania, or Slovakia.

A great number of these so-called "egejci" -- after the Macedonian name for the Aegean Sea -- are still denied entry into Greece. It seems quite unlikely that these people will ever get any compensation for the property that was taken away from them by the Greek authorities after World War II and in the course of the Greek Civil War.

With all these problems still unresolved, the ethnic Macedonian politicians now face the challenge of granting more rights to the Albanian minority. For most politicians -- and presumably for large parts of the electorate -- this is out of the question so long as matters regarding Macedonians abroad remain in limbo, even though the political leaders have not explicitly made this link.

It is likely to be only a matter of time, however, before the ethnic Macedonian politicians will confront the international community with the issue of the Macedonian minorities in the neighboring countries. The Macedonian media have periodically raised the matter -- perhaps as trial balloons to gauge public sentiment -- including interviews with the president of the OMO-Ilinden or reports about the Macedonians in Albania. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "We must not allow difference to be a license to kill." -- U.S. President George W. Bush, at Camp Bondsteel on 24 July. Speech as broadcast on CNN.

"Violence is unacceptable and does nothing to further the cause of the people in this region." -- European Union and U.S. envoys Francois Leotard and James Pardew in a joint statement. Carried by AP from Skopje on 24 July.

"They're going to have to ask themselves: do they really want to return to a state of war with more refugees, more tragedy, and still not have their issues resolved." -- Unnamed "Western diplomat," quoted by Reuters in Skopje on 24 July.

"It's different here.... Canada doesn't share a border with France." -- Young Macedonian woman, commenting that Canada's approach to interethnic relations is not relevant to Macedonia. Quoted by Reuters in Skopje on 24 July.

"It is very dangerous to make an enemy of a people who surrounds you and also lives within your state." -- Serbian historian Latinka Perovic, speaking of Kosova. Quoted in "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 26 July 2001.

"We believe there can be no peace and reconciliation without the active presence of international forces." -- Mostar Roman Catholic Bishop Ratko Peric, before the House International Relations Committee in Washington on 25 July. Reported by RFE/RL.