21 June 2001, Volume 3, Number 21
WILL THERE BE A CIVIL WAR IN MACEDONIA?
This program of Radio Most (Bridge) is hosted by RFE/RL's Omer Karabeg and includes: Ljubomir Frckovski, former foreign minister of Macedonia and now professor of international law at the Faculty of Law in Skopje, and Kim Mehmeti, who is director of the Center for Multicultural Cooperation in Skopje.
Omer Karabeg: Mr. Frckovski, is there a chance for the national unity government -- made up of the most important Macedonian and Albanian parties -- to survive? The government was created under pressure from the West, which does not seem to be letting up.
Ljubomir Frckovski: I think that the pressure will remain strong because there is no other option. The present government will hold out until the crisis is resolved and a new election called.
Kim Mehmeti: I think that the international community has started from the incorrect assumption that there are two political concepts in Macedonia: an Albanian and a Macedonian. This view overlooks the fact that there are two political "subconcepts" within the Macedonian political context. There is the VMRO concept [of Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization], whose advocates have been arguing that the Macedonians cannot live together with the Albanians, while the other concept, advocated by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, is based on the argument that Macedonia can survive only as a multicultural and multiethnic state.
I think that a big clash between these two concepts is about to emerge. Such a clash was heralded by the proposal of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, consisting of a heinous plan to exchange territories and people [between Albania and Macedonia]. Several [nationalist] ideologists from around the Balkans have toyed with such a proposal, but no one has ever formulated it in such a clear way as the authors of that proposal. This is why I think that the international community must face the fact that the real danger for Macedonia is not the Albanians, but that the real danger lies within the Macedonian political community. I think that Macedonian politicians must work out among themselves whether they want this sort of state to survive.
Omer Karabeg: Mr. Mehmeti has mentioned the text that appeared a few days ago in the Skopje daily "Vecer," where the idea of an exchange of territories between Albania and Macedonia was presented. That plan would allow Macedonia to become an ethnically pure state. According to that proposal, allegedly written by some members of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Macedonia would give Albania an Albanian-populated part of western Macedonia, while it would get the Albanian parts of Lakes Ohrid and Prespa in return. Mr. Frckovski, what do you make of that plan, and how did it appear?
Ljubomir Frckovski: Let me tell you the difference between the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts. The difference is that, with this kind of idea, the Serbian Academy provoked the war [that began in 1991], while the only thing the Macedonian Academy is able to provoke is public derision.
The proposal is a foolish idea made by those who do not believe in the survival of a multiethnic society and it reflects a traditional way of thinking in the Balkans. Macedonia is not spared such ideas, although compared to the strength of such nationalist concepts in other Balkan states, they have less support in Macedonia than elsewhere....
I do not think that [the Academy's proposal] could cause a conflict within the national unity government because such views do not have deep roots or wide support. In any event, that idiotic concept of ethnic cleansing cannot be achieved in a peaceful way. Stronger countries than Macedonia have already tried to do it -- and failed. That is a racist concept, based on the idea that people who belong to different national communities cannot live together.
Kim Mehmeti: We often laugh at things like that, just like we laughed at the shooting in Tanusevci. That war was seen as a sort of mountain climbing -- the whole thing will be over as soon as Macedonian flags are planted on neighboring mountain peaks.
There is one thing I would like to see happen -- that the Albanians and Macedonians save one of the most sacred things in their mutual relations, which is the fact that they have never made war against one another. But one should not forget that people in this country have been exposed for a long time to the idea that it is not possible to live with others. This is why it would not take so much for a situation to emerge like it did in Bosnia [on the eve of the 1992-1995 war]. The point is that in Bosnia, too, serious people used to laugh at lunatics with monstrous ideas, meetings for peace were organized, no one believed that war would break out -- and yet, it happened. My only hope is that the world will not allow it to happen again, in Macedonia.
Omer Karabeg: The recent agreement signed by representatives of the Albanian National Liberation Army [UCK] and the presidents of the two biggest Albanian parties in Macedonia, which called for representatives of the National Liberation Army to join the [all-party] talks, was sharply criticized by Macedonian top officials as well as by Western governments. Eventually, the leaders of the Albanian parties backed out of it. As I understand, that agreement was based on the model...already applied [with success] in southern Serbia. Mr. Frckovski, why can the model applied in southern Serbia not be applied in Macedonia?
Ljubomir Frckovski: The Prizren agreement means a defeat for [UCK leader Ali] Ahmeti...and his military option. This has enhanced the position of the leaders of Albanian political parties in Macedonia who, only a month ago, were ignored and underestimated by Albanian extremists.... But none of the politicians in Macedonia can accept a document signed by a man whose hands are stained with blood. That is a problem for the international community, too.
Omer Karabeg: What is your opinion, Mr. Mehmeti? Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has said that there cannot be negotiations with terrorists.
Kim Mehmeti: When the fighting in Macedonia started, the Albanian parties faced up to something that was obvious to smart people from the very beginning -- that the Albanian parties have no influence whatsoever on the centers of power, especially on the police and army, and that therefore the Albanian representatives in the Macedonian government are no more than window-dressing.
They had no influence either on the government's decisions concerning military activities -- all they could do was watch as Albanian villages were bombed -- or on the armed Albanians [of the UCK]. Those parties are slowly losing their reputation among Albanians, and if it continues this way, I think that leaders of the Albanian parties will soon beg Ahmeti to let them join the National Liberation Army. They are simply running out of voters. Their voters are hiding in basements now.
As far as the government's calling [the UCK's activities] terrorism is concerned, I simply cannot accept that, and for a very simple reason. If this is terrorism, then I would like to know if there is [another] single government in the world that threatens to declare a state of war because of terrorism, and that sends tanks into the streets in order to fight terrorism. If this is terrorism, please, then how come there have been no civilian victims of those "terrorist attacks?" Who was killed, except for men in uniforms? Does it mean that all those young Albanians -- who are increasingly joining the National Liberation Army -- are terrorists? If they are, then I do not see how we can cope with so many "terrorists."
Ljubomir Frckovski: It does not matter what you call them. We are talking here about their method of random killing, their attacks against soldiers and police in Macedonia. That project started as a sort of Albanian version of a Serbian model that postulates that we cannot live together with the Slavs, and this is why we have to expel them from western Macedonia. That was the original concept.
When the military approach met its first defeats, the original concept was replaced by the tale of human rights, i.e. the rights of Albanians, which were not mentioned before. One should only read again their first statements, filled with hatred against the Slavs and talking about expansion into the territories they consider Albanian. What made them change their vocabulary was their defeat on the ground and not their ideological evolution.
In that context, they could be called terrorists, but the name is not what really matters here. We are talking about a hard core made up of mercenaries from Kosovo. Their goal is to achieve an ethnically pure territory. That is nothing short of the concept proposed by the group of academicians. Both projects must be marginalized if we are to succeed.
Kim Mehmeti: Let me be utterly sincere. We have been in a civil war since the fighting began around Kumanovo [in early May]. Why? There are two sides in this conflict: the National Liberation Army, which is entirely Albanian, and the Macedonian police and army, whose elite troops are entirely Macedonian and convinced that they are defending only Macedonians. There are as many Albanians in these elite troops as there are helicopters in Macedonia.
I know that the present war is being fomented by the Macedonian political and intellectual elite, which needs a military victory over Albanians. I also know why they need it. They want to strengthen the Macedonians' [national consciousness] because they have terrible problems with some of the neighbors regarding the recognition of the Macedonian language and culture.
However, they have forgotten one important thing: if there is a war, we risk creating a dual history. Albanians will honor the courage of their National Liberation Army, while Macedonians will honor the courage of their policemen and soldiers. That is very dangerous, since life is impossible for all in a country with a dual history. In that case, in Macedonia, we would live like a divorced couple, and everybody would have their strictly defined area.
That is what I fear, and that is why, from the very beginning of the crisis, I wanted the armed conflict to be stopped and to pass over to a peaceful discussion. Once the threat of war is gone, we can discuss who is to be blamed more than whom. This war has led to paranoia. The other night, I saw on TV a reporter firing a cannon. It all reminds me of similar scenes in Bosnia.