Way forward in Macedonia
by Wesley Clark, Martin Woollacott, Veton Surroi, Kim Mehmeti
‘The longer-term solution rests on Macedonian commitment not just to say the right things about the Albanian minority but to follow through with actions. Discussion of the constitutional status of Macedonian Albanians and other minorities should begin without delay in Macedonia's parliament. Greater attention to underlying problems - education, health, housing and economic opportunity - among Macedonian Albanians is urgently required. The international community can and should help make this happen. Later this year, Macedonia will conduct a new and hotly debated census. The international community should monitor this census to make sure that it is seen to be fair and includes all who see Macedonia as their home.
The causes of Albanian discontent in Macedonia are real. But they are inflamed by a broader problem, whose effects are also destabilizing southern Serbia and Kosovo itself, and that is the crippling slowness of progress toward real self-government for the people of Kosovo. Ultimately, the international community must recognize that the nub of the problem is the continuing delay in moving the province toward democratic self-rule and the resolution of its final status. Troubles across the region are unlikely to ebb until Kosovars are fully engaged in building up their own institutions. Stabilizing Kosovo means following through on our promises and holding elections for a legislative body with real powers; moving forward on the transition to self-government; and committing to a clear timetable for final status negotiations.’
Wesley Clark, ‘Don't Delay In Macedonia’, The Washington Post, 20 March 2001. Retired General Clark, now a board member of the International Crisis Group, was in overall command of NATO forces during the intervention in Kosova.
‘Macedonians feel that, after all their efforts to accommodate the Albanian minority, in contrast to what happened in Serbia, they are being branded as oppressors. Albanians feel that after years of waiting for their rights to be granted in practice as well as on paper, they are being labelled as criminals and wreckers because some impatient young men made an armed demonstration. As that last phrase suggests, the two sides differ above all on the facts. According to Macedonians, a heavily armed force composed of a majority of Kosovans, and including criminal elements, came into Macedonia with the barely concealed objective of encouraging secession, and was repulsed by a government offensive which was militarily effective but spared Albanian civilians through exemplary restraint. According to Albanians, a small body of lightly armed men, most from Macedonia, staged a show of force to draw attention to grievances and withdrew before the government offensive.’
Martin Woollacott , ‘Macedonia will be Europe's problem for years to come’, The Guardian (London), 6 April 2001
‘The immediate priority is to find the tools to achieve a political and social consensus which is not the product of ethnic voting. The most constructive mechanism would be a round table to draw up a reform agenda. The character of these reforms must also be defined. Ethnic Macedonians need to feel that Macedonia is their national state, but Albanians and other ethnic minorities need to feel that they are constituent part of it and have equal rights. Macedonia must find a new balance between the individual rights of citizens and the collective rights of ethnic groups.’
Veton Surroi, ‘Ending the Violence’, IWPR, Balkan Crisis Report, 228, 21 March 2001. Veton Surroi is publisher of Koha Ditore (Prishtina), and has served as an independent representative of Kosova Albanians in international negotiations.
‘Macedonia declared its independence in 1991 despite the Albanian community's abstention from the referendum. Albanians objected to the wording of the question on independence which left room for Macedonia to enter "an alliance of sovereign states of Yugoslavia" at some time in the future. Macedonia then adopted a new constitution, again without the involvement of the only party to represent Albanians at the time, the Party of Democratic Prosperity. Albanians disagreed with the definition of Macedonia as a state of only Macedonian people. They also objected to the recognition of Macedonian as the only state language and the imposition of the Cyrillic alphabet. Since 1991, Albanians have pointed to the constitution as a generator of crisis in the country. The document is an odd hybrid, combining civic ambitions with a mono-ethnic character. The introduction describes Macedonia as a state of ethnic Macedonians and "other citizens".
In 1992, a group of Albanian intellectuals sought to re-open the Albanian Teachers' College where students would be taught in Albanian. The college had been shut down in 1986 during a campaign in the former Yugoslavia against "Albanian irredentism". After waiting for a response for two years, Arben Xhaferi and Fadilj Sulejmani took things into their own hands and in 1994 set up Tetovo University. While "democratic dialogue" continued over the future of the institution, police were despatched to forcibly shut down the university. This dialogue ended in the death of one Albanian, the detention of some of the university's organizers and arrogant comments from the then interior minister Ljubomir Frckovski, who dismissed the project as a "private party". The Macedonian state has yet to recognize the institution. In 1996 dialogue continued, this time over the use of Albanian insignia. Once again, talk was accompanied with batons and shooting. Police intervened in Gostivar to remove an Albanian flag from a municipal building. Four people died, hundreds were beaten. Gostivar's mayor, Rufij Osmani, was arrested. Dialogue over the use of the Albanian language and adequate representation of Albanians in state institutions was conducted in much the same way.
It's important to realize the fighting in the Sar Mountains could be attractive to young Albanians who have endured ten years of humiliation and heavy-handed treatment from their own government, been cheated by their own leaders and promised a paradise by politicians only interest in their own material benefit. But such problems cannot be solved by arms. Militarism in Macedonia could set alight the entire Balkans. And Albanians would burn in those flames along with everyone else. This message needs to be taken to the fighters in the Sar Mountains. Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski or Arben Xhaferi need to get up that hill and promise the young men there that Albanians will never again be singled out as the source of all the country's ills; that dialogue in the future will be genuine and will not be drowned out by the thud of police batons.’
Kim Mehmeti, ‘Futile Dialogue Exposed’, IWPR, Balkan Crisis Report, No. 228 (Part Two), 21 March 2001. Kim Mehmeti is director of the Centre for Multi-cultural Understanding and Cooperation in Skopje. He is also editor-in-chief of AIM in Macedonia and one of the publishers of the Albanian language weekly Lobi.