28 June 2001, Volume
WILL THERE BE A CIVIL WAR IN MACEDONIA?
Part II. Part I appeared on 21 June.
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.
Mr. Frckovski, do you think that this fighting has been instigated by a Macedonian elite that needs a victory over the Albanians?
I do not think so.... It all started with military action, mostly imported from Kosovo. It might have had isolated support from the local Albanians in the countryside. It stems from the frustration of some militant groups from Kosovo that want to become a political factor in the region.
This is why I do not think that we are entering a civil war. At the same time, I do not think that anyone in Macedonia needs a victory over Albanians. A victory over those who are trying to realize their objectives by force is one thing, while a victory over the Albanians, which, as I have just said, no one wants, is something else.
I think that one of the main reasons for the defeat of the extremists is that they do not enjoy support of the local Albanian population. This is what has defeated them and not the Macedonian army or police force. The extremists have miscalculated in thinking that by provoking a Balkan war in Macedonia, they would become a political factor in the region.
This does not mean that the rights of the Albanians in Macedonia should not be discussed, although one should bear in mind that the Macedonian Albanians have the best position of all the Albanian minorities in the region. Facts can prove that. However, if there is a controversy concerning their rights, it cannot be resolved by force.
I can accept the assumption that Kosovo Albanians are the ideologists behind the present situation. However, what I find interesting is something else -- how come we in Macedonia have for 10 years been cultivating the field in which those seeds are germinating so fast? I am certain about one thing: so long as we have the present situation, every single day, if not every single hour, ten new radicalized Albanians are being created, together with ten more radicalized Macedonians....
As far as the claim that the Albanians have the best quality of life in Macedonia, that holds water only if you compare their position with the life of Albanians under Milosevic's rule. When the situation changed in Kosovo, Macedonian Albanians had to face the devastating fact -- I am merely trying to express the ideas of an average Albanian -- that, in a way, they are the biggest losers of all, since everybody else has been given something. Ordinary people start thinking that it happened that way because they were not aggressive enough. That, of course, is not true, but that is the way they think....
The fact is that we have been talking for the past ten years in this country but have achieved little. The only thing we did is increase the level of animosity, which was profitable only for the political elite. I think that the political elite is doing well by the present conflict because it helps them conceal their own failures.
Mr. Frckovski, can there be a military solution for Macedonia?
Well, it depends on what you consider a military solution. I think that the most important thing right now is to defend the institutions of Macedonian multicultural society, whether we are satisfied with them or not. If we do not defend them, it means that we do not believe in them.
Those institutions must be defended because they are the only valid option. The alternative is an ethnically cleansed territory and racist hatred, which has already been seen in the previous wars on the territory of former Yugoslavia.
I know that those who win wars are often left unhappy, and I keep repeating to my Albanians: "We had better let others kill our children instead of us killing theirs, in order to avoid a stain on our national history." If killing an entire family in a Kumanovo village means victory, then let others win....
As far as institutions are concerned, I agree that they should be preserved. The problem is that Albanians do not feel that those institutions belong to them, too. For example, how can the Albanians consider the Interior Ministry theirs when out of 9,000 policemen in Macedonia, there are only 180 Albanians? If we want to stabilize the situation, then we have to change this immediately so as to have 2,000 Albanian policemen. There must also be a corresponding number of Albanians in other centers of power.
We have to hurry up with these changes because evil is knocking on our door. Some might think that the war is far away, but actually it is only 15 kilometers from Skopje, where people are sitting in cafes discussing how this war should be won.... I would like at least a little bridge to be preserved, which would enable us to talk again.
There are rumors about an [impending] division of Macedonia into two entities, the way it was done in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic has proposed the same thing for Kosovo. What do you think about it, Mr. Frckovski?
That would be the end of Macedonia, although the idea is not far-fetched. At the beginning, that was the guiding principle of the Albanian extremists, but later they gave it up and adopted a civic vocabulary....
The situation in Macedonia cannot be compared to the one in Kosovo. Kosovo was lost for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia after the NATO intervention [in the spring of 1999]. The rumors about a division of Kosovo are being put around by the representatives of the international community in order to put pressure on the militant Albanians.
Part of that pressure involved allowing the Yugoslav army to enter the security zone in southern Serbia, since that was humiliating for militant Albanian groups.... I think that the international community wants the defeat of the militant Albanian extremists in Macedonia in order to complete the pacification of the region.
Mr. Mehmeti, to what extent is the idea of creating two entities in Macedonia present among the Albanians?
It might sound absurd, but I am convinced that at this point the Albanians are more interested in preserving Macedonia the way it is than is a part of the Macedonian political elite. Not because the Albanians are wiser or more humane, but because they are aware of a trap called Greater Albania, about which they are constantly being reminded by the South Slavic peoples.
I maintain contacts with all Albanian political structures and know that the concept of dividing Macedonia does not exist in anyone's mind since that would mean creating a Lebanon-like situation. Skopje, with more than 200,000 Albanians, would become another Beirut.
A division of Macedonia would result in a long-lasting war without a winner. But I think that there is a growing number of supporters of such an approach within the Macedonian political elite....
And, finally, is there a danger that a real civil war might break out?
I do not think that there is, because ethnic communities start a war when they have nothing to lose. All the ethnic communities in Macedonia have something to lose in such a war, and that is why they are very interested in cooling things down and finding a way out of the crisis.
I think that [ordinary] people are wiser than some politicians, who have been behaving like children in their dealings with each other in the present coalition government....
Mr. Mehmeti, could a civil war break out in Macedonia?
Miracles do happen, and this is why a miracle called peace might happen as well. I have always said that people in Macedonia are tolerant, and I am talking about all ethnic groups. The present is no exception.
But some things are confusing. I have never heard about the liberation of a village in which the police order all the men out and then rough them up. Only the Serbian police and army used to "liberate" [territories] that way. Actions like that are making more and more Albanians think that the war is being fought against them....
Or, for example, you are stopped by a policeman who tells you to get out of your car and then stand three meters back in order to let them search it. All they need to do is to put three hand grenades in your car [and have] reporters come. There it is: Kim Mehmeti is a terrorist.
Such behavior is very dangerous. This is why I insist that urgent measures be taken in order to restore the Albanians' confidence in state institutions. If that does not happen, then we will soon have the state of affairs that was present in [other parts of former] Yugoslavia. By that I mean that the police and army will start to believe that they are supposed to defend the interests of only one ethnic group, while the rest of the population will come to think that "their" men are the ones out in the woods and that they should join them.