bosnia report
New Series No: 23/24/25 June - October 2001
Democratic Macedonia was an illusion
by Shkelzen Maliqi - interviewed in Feral Tribune

A year ago you told Feral that in relation to the security situation in Kosovo, the most important thing was to restrain Albanian nationalism and chauvinism, and you expressed the hope that the international community would ‘do its job in Kosovo and Macedonia’. Recent events in both Macedonia and Kosovo show that Albanian nationalism seemingly has not been restrained, nor has the international community done its job. What do you think about the clashes between Macedonian Albanians and Slavs in Tanusevci and Tetovo?

Unfortunately nationalisms are hard to restrain as long as there are situations and motives that feed them. In the same way that the unresolved or re-opened Serb question in the past decade generated an expansion of aggressive Serb nationalism, which caused a series of wars, the unresolved and open Albanian question generates Albanian nationalism and new conflicts. While the Serb question has more or less been resolved, or to be more accurate framed and placed under some sort of control, the Albanian question is still in the phase of its resolution, while remaining open in many respects. Some analyses and ‘interested’ theories from the region have claimed, somewhat hastily, that now the story of Serb nationalism is over, it is time for Albanian nationalism to appear on the scene, jeopardising regional stability and security. There is some truth in this, in so far as the time for Albanian nationalism is coming; but there are also schematic and propagandistic exaggerations, suggesting that the former bad guys have now become good and respectable democrats, while the baton of being the warlike nation and the bad guys has now been taken over by the Albanians. While not underestimating Albanian nationalism, or the possibility of big complications in Macedonia with repercussions on regional stability, I am still convinced that the destructive force of Albanian nationalism is far less than the power Serb nationalism possessed when it entered upon its aggressive wars. Serbia caused wars from the superior position of control over the main state resources of the former federation, such as the JNA and powerful armaments, which it simply seized and used to arm the Serb nation. Albanian nationalism operates from a greatly inferior position. It is the nationalism of a colonial periphery, in other words of an oppressed people fighting to emancipate itself and secure its equal status. The fall of Yugoslavia led to further division of the Albanian people and further fragmentation of Albanian territory. Albanian territories in the Balkans are compact. Wherever Albanians live, with the exception of a few enclaves, they are the majority population: Kosova, western and northern Macedonia, southern Serbia and the border zone between Albania and Montenegro. The fall of Yugoslavia created regions with an Albanian majority population, in which this population did not enjoy adequate status or security.

Impatient Extremists

And Macedonia?

Macedonia, which in Tito’s Yugoslavia was programmed to be a Macedonian ethnic state, gained its independence without a full internal ethnic consensus. The Constitution of independent Macedonia was promulgated by one ethnic group using its majority. The power balance in parliament, and constant manipulation, prevented any correction of forms of discrimination against Albanians inherited from the previous system. The Albanian political forces in Macedonia had reservations about the Macedonian constitutional structure, yet they accepted present-day Macedonia as their reality. From the summer of 1992, moreover, they continuously participated in the coalition government, endeavouring to resolve the status of Albanians in the country via the system’s own institutions. This was a slow process, with very few results. Institutionalised Macedonian state nationalism obstructed Albanian aspirations to gain equal status. This then left room for militant Albanian nationalism to open up the question in its own way, by initiating an armed rebellion.

What in your opinion should be the interests of the Albanian people in Macedonia?

The interests of Albanians in Macedonia are for a sovereign Macedonia to survive, as a community of two peoples with equal rights as well as of other ethnic groups living in the Republic. Even the National Liberation Army, which has formed guerrilla units, in its published programme does not call for the break-up of Macedonia, but for a changed Constitution. The programme of the rebels is basically identical to the programme of the Albanian political parties. They differ only in their methods. I am convinced that the Albanian political elite in Macedonia had a correct vision of gradual improvement in the status of the Albanians, as a long-term policy. Albanians in Macedonia were not directly endangered, as was the case in Kosova before the NATO intervention. Certainly institutionalised Macedonian nationalism blocked processes that might have led to emancipation of the Albanians and their full participation in the political life of Macedonia. So-called multicultural and democratic Macedonia was an illusion, based on a balance of ethnic fear and an intersection of regional interests. In theory and in practice the Macedonian state is built on foundations of institutionalised Macedonian chauvinism. This chauvinism did not allow legalisation of an Albanian University in Tetovo, barely accepting after enormous pressure from outside the establishment of a private university under European patronage. Nevertheless, there still did remain a definite political space for initiating changes to both the status of Albanians and the Constitution. Extremist Albanian groups, however, were impatient. They feared the corruption of political leaders, as well as processes that might strengthen Macedonia militarily and economically and so reinforce the inferior position of Albanians. Although demographic forecasts suggested that in a few decades Albanians will be a majority in Macedonia, the radicals did not want to wait that long. They thought that Macedonia should be provoked militarily while it was still weak, so that they could force it to make concessions. They believe that the historical moment must not be missed, and that it is necessary to capitalize upon the break-up of Yugoslavia and the creation of ethnic (para-)state entities. Their goal is the federalisation of Macedonia at this stage, and for the next stage and the next generation they leave open the question of revising the regional security system.

The Macedonian authorities accuse Albanians from Kosovo of organizing the armed revolt in Macedonia and sending the ‘terrorists’ help in men and technology. Do you have any information about this?

When people in Skopje talk about aggression from Kosova, that’s just comical. It’s an old thesis of Macedonian nationalism that all their troubles come from Kosova. Kosova did in fact become a cultural and spiritual centre for Macedonian Albanians in the former Yugoslavia. Prishtina University was a Mecca for students from Macedonia, who were anyway not wanted at Macedonian universities. Kosova’s high degree of autonomy served as a model for Albanians in Macedonia, who were not allowed even to display notices in the Albanian language, let alone publicly display the Albanian flag, which had flown freely in Kosova since 1968. Kosova’s role as a Piedmont for Albanian nationalism in Macedonia cannot be denied. And that holds also for the period after the NATO intervention, when the Kosova Liberation Army enjoyed great respect among Albanians in Macedonia. Many Macedonian Albanians fought in Kosova, and dreamed of a day when they would be able to fight to liberate the Albanian part of Macedonia. The border between Kosova and Macedonia is an ‘Albanian’ border, with Albanians living on both sides of it; and it is a mountainous area, hard to control. The guerrillas used this as a logistic advantage. But the problem of Macedonia is internal: it is the fact that it has not guaranteed the Albanians an acceptable status. Vladimir Gligorov recently diagnosed correctly that Macedonia’s main problem is fear and refusal of Kosova’s independence. An independent Kosova, which like Albania would recognize the sovereignty of Macedonia, would be a major guarantor of Macedonian stability. It is a paradox that of all Macedonia’s neighbours, only the Albanians (extremists apart) have recognized the Macedonian state, nation and language. All its other neighbours, meanwhile, though they treat it paternalistically have designs upon it: the Bulgarians are reluctant to recognize the Macedonian nation, still less its language; the Greeks do not accept the country’s name; while the Serbs still want to play the role of big brother and protector.

A Complex Mission

How do you assess the situation in Kosovo today and the functioning of the international protectorate?

The protectorate over Kosova is a precedent in international politics, for which no one had a ready-made model. The UN has embarked upon a very complex mission, probably the most complex in its history, so it was natural that it would have big difficulties in accomplishing it, especially since there are many other mechanisms (NATO + Russia, OSCE) and different interests involved. Overall, however, , the situation is under control, and Kosova is slowly recovering and standing on its own feet. Because of obstruction by the Serbs and certain international factors, the process of rebuilding Kosova’s system of democratic institutions is going a bit more slowly. Local elections were held, but the general elections are being delayed, since there is no legal or rather constitutional framework to determine the basic foundations of Kosova’s administration system. There is a fear among certain outside players that once it has its own administration, Kosova will at once move towards independence. This question is related to the destiny of so-called Yugoslavia (FRY), which has been accepted into the UN but in practice does not function as a federation. If Montenegro opts for independence, then there is no way of keeping Kosova under FRY. The problem of the protectorate and its effectiveness is mainly conceptual, and depends on agreement between the great powers. An independent Kosova would not in itself be such a problem, if it were not for the supposed consequences for the survival of an integral Bosnia-Herzegovina: i.e. the notion that Republika Srpska too could then demand independence on the grounds that internal borders of the former Yugoslav federation were no longer being treated as unalterable. If FRY were to break up, however, then a legal basis could be found for Kosova’s independence - the break-up of an independent state into its constituent parts, including Kosova (already practically removed from Serbian sovereignty) - that involves no symmetrical right vis-à-vis the integral Bosnia-Herzegovina that emerged from the dissolution of the former Yugoslav federation.

These extracts have been translated from an interview conducted by Frenki Lausic  in Feral Tribune (Split), 24 March 2001


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