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South Slavic: September 20, 2001

20 September 2001, Volume 3, Number 33


The participants in this program of Radio Most (Bridge) are: Aleksandar Damovski, the director of the largest-circulation newspaper in Macedonia, "Dnevnik," and Iso Rusi, the editor in chief of "Lobi," a Skopje weekly in Albanian. The moderator is Omer Karabeg.

Omer Karabeg: Do you think that the Macedonians are facing ethnic cleansing?

Aleksandar Dimovski: That is happening here on a daily basis.

Iso Rusi: As far as I remember, the only project that smacks of a sort of exchange of territories and populations was concocted [earlier this year] by the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences and plainly supported by some senior Macedonian politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2001).

As far as refugees are concerned, one should not forget that the most massive wave of refugees was Albanian and that it dates back to the beginning of the conflict, when some 50-60,000 Albanians fled to Kosova and even southern Serbia.

Aleksandar Damovski: Those people had already left before the operations by the Macedonian army started. Women and children left while men stayed in their villages in order to get into uniforms. Albanians were not forced to leave, they simply moved from Macedonia into southern Serbia, Kosovo, and even Turkey, probably on somebody's orders, or somehow, but without a real reason.

Iso Rusi: Those figures were released by the UNHCR. I doubt that the Albanian families would have left their villages and their men to fight for Greater Albania, all at great risk.

On the other side, talking about the UCK, there is much confusion within the Macedonian public about them. At the very beginning they were described as only a few in number. But a few days ago, the Ministry of Interior said that the UCK should be expected to hand over some 85,000 pieces of different sorts of weapons, meaning that the UCK as a military formation must have at least some 20,000 fighters.

However, according to international estimates, the UCK has 3,000 to 6,000 men in Macedonia, while according to the official estimates of the Macedonian Ministry of Defense, they have between 3,000 and 5,000. One cannot talk at one moment about a few adventurers coming in from Kosova, or who knows where, and then say later that the UCK is supposed to give up enough weapons to arm 20,000 people.

Aleksandar Damovski: It is true that some figures were manipulated. Some [Macedonians] were even talking about 1 million weapons, but it does not really matter how many rifles and mortars will be handed over to NATO troops.

What does matter is that someone has entered this country with weapons, illegally, in order to attack its democratic system. That is the main problem. The Macedonian army did not go to Kosovo, but members of some illegal structures -- whether they are called the UCK or the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac -- came into this country and started to carry out violence, which is unacceptable in a normal world.

Omer Karabeg: You think that there were elements of aggression in this war?

Aleksandar Damovski: It does not matter whether one man was shooting at Macedonian police forces, or whether there were hundreds of them. This is an attack on the democratic system of a state. I could not send a news team to cover the destruction of the Lesok monastery because the citizens of this state cannot move freely on their own territory.

I have a house in Mavrovo, and I have not been able to go there for eight months because it is not safe. On one hand, my state cannot guarantee my safety, while on the other hand there are regions of my country where bandits are free to move about and loot emptied Macedonian villages.

Iso Rusi: I could also talk about Macedonian paramilitary units and about some examples of the behavior of the Macedonian police, but what good would that do? I can understand Mr. Damovski. It is normal that citizens are frustrated when they cannot move about freely in their own country. But let us not forget that the current control of some territories [by the UCK] has been sanctioned by the truce signed by both sides and with NATO's [endorsement].

Omer Karabeg: The war -- which is hopefully finished -- was it a civil war or a war for territory?

Iso Rusi: As far as territory is concerned, I would like to point out that the famous Prizren declaration [in May], as well as [OSCE] Ambassador [Robert] Frowick's plan -- which was harshly criticized by Macedonian politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 May 2001) -- offered a chance for us to get rid of the war three months ago. The Prizren declaration, although met with hostility, is essentially no different from what is usually called the "Trajkovski peace plan" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 May 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 May 2001).

At the very beginning of the declaration, ethnically pure territories are said not to be a solution for Macedonia, and that they would endanger peace in the region. The same thing is written in the introduction of the Ohrid agreement.

I do not believe that Imeri, Xhaferi, and Ahmeti signed the agreement just to ingratiate themselves with somebody. They accepted it only because they really think that the creation of ethnically pure territories would not serve the interests of the Albanian population in Macedonia.

What would an Albanian territory in western Macedonia mean without, for instance, Kumanovo? What would happen with the Albanians from Kumanovo? I have never heard Ali Ahmeti publicly talking about the separation of a territory [from Macedonia], or about a state that would unite all the Albanians. Quite the opposite: In all his statements, he always insists that the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Macedonia must be preserved.

Aleksandar Damovski: All these peace talks, all the statements -- they are just pieces of paper. Anything can be put down on paper.

What really matters is what is going on outside. And there we have the ethnic cleansing of Macedonians from the territories populated mainly by Albanians.

Should we not be surprised that none of the Albanian politicians -- Xhaferi, Imeri, and Ahmeti -- just like none of the Albanian intellectuals, has ever publicly condemned the things that are taking place in western Macedonia, things that members of the UCK have been doing in Lesok, Tetovo, and in other regions of western Macedonia? The things that are happening there are horrible, but Albanian politicians and intellectuals remain silent.

Iso Rusi: As far as I am concerned, I do not find it necessary to offer my statements to the Macedonian media every single day in order to prove that I am against the use of force in the fight for political rights. If necessary, I can send to my friend Aleksandar Damovski all my statements from the last six months to the media that were interested in my opinion.

Omer Karabeg: Mr. Damovski, do you think that the Ohrid agreement is the first step toward the federalization of Macedonia?

Aleksandar Damovski: No, I do not think so. For me, it is a good way to start building a normal state, a normal [political] system, and normal structures, which will be able to meet all the wishes of all the inhabitants of Macedonia -- but only as citizens, not as members of ethnic groups.

That is, of course, the main objective of the Ohrid agreement. At least that is written in the document, and I hope that both the Albanian and Macedonian leaders who signed the agreement have good intentions.

Omer Karabeg: You do not think that Macedonia risks being divided into two entities, an Albanian and a Macedonian one?

Aleksandar Damovski: Not if we stick to the Ohrid agreement. However, what is going on on the ground, what some political leaders are doing, is actually federalization.

Iso Rusi: I do not think that there will be federalization, simply because that would not serve the interests of the citizens of Macedonia. Every cloud has a silver lining, and that is the case here.

If we manage to overcome the nationalist schemes and if we start building a civil society, all the political plots based on ethnic criteria which led to all this will be eliminated.

Omer Karabeg: Do you think that, after NATO troops arrive in Macedonia, something like what happened in Bosnia might happen here too, that a sort of a Western protectorate might be established?

Aleksandar Damovski: No, I do not think it will end up so tragically.

Iso Rusi: I agree that ours is not the fate of Bosnia. I think that the experience of Bosnia-Herzegovina has made the Western engagement in Macedonia different.

I think that a protectorate could scarcely be established in Macedonia. NATO and the local politicians avoid it like the plague. None of them want the NATO troops to stay in Macedonia for long.

Omer Karabeg: The military conflict between Macedonians and Albanians has obviously left its mark on the relations between the two peoples. After all that has happened, is there any chance that the two peoples could live together again?

Aleksandar Damovski: Of course, we did drift apart -- as men, as friends, and as members of two ethnic communities. The feeling of mistrust toward the other nation is stronger than it was before this conflict.

A lot of effort will be needed to restore the situation we had six months ago, let alone talk about any improvement in the relations between the two peoples. Too many things have been destroyed and upset during the last six months.

Iso Rusi: I agree that nothing has remained the same, although Macedonian society was ethnically divided even before [the uprising began].

That has been clear ever since the proclamation of independence [in 1991]. From the very beginning, we had ethnically based parties, even ethnically based civic organizations. But the fact is that the situation has since worsened, and that it will take a lot of time, patience, and will to restore even the unsatisfactory situation we had before this conflict.

Omer Karabeg: I think that we will be able to talk about living together only when a party made up of both Albanians and Macedonians alike appears on the political stage in Macedonia.

Aleksandar Damovski: Yes, I agree with you, but we are very far from that.

Iso Rusi: I agree that we are very far from it now. Let me just remind you of the [unsuccessful] attempt by Vasil Tupurkovski and his Democratic Alternative (DA) to play that card. I do not think that we will have a multi-ethnic party very soon. [Editor's note: the DA ceased to be a political force not primarily because it was multi-ethnic but because it was inseparably linked to Tupurkovski. His once-promising political career went into a tailspin in 1999 amid charges of corruption and incompetence.]