April 2, 2001
His Excellency, Mr. Javier Solana
Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union
High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy
Events in the Balkans, actually in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which are being watched with concern not only by the Albanian public, prompt us, two former Albanian diplomats, who have dealt with Balkan affairs, to write to your Excellency in order to air our view of the crisis and the situation of the Albanians in the Balkans.
It is our belief that the current events in the Balkans are an outcome of the policies Europe pursued in the past towards the Albanian issue, which lies at the core of the Balkan problem. It is also our impression that in the plans on the future of the Balkans, too, Albanians have been prejudged again and are still conceived as an integral or complementary part of other Balkan countries. This is why, the European decision-makers today have been highly critical of and look askance at any attempt by the Albanians to achieve equality and freedom. As a result, most varied labels that do not serve the real solution of the issue are attached to the Albanians, compelling the latter to respond radically and then, calling them the troublemakers of the Balkans.
For about 80 years, Kosova was under the domination of Serbia, which proved to be against the advancement and prosperity of the Albanians. Its shortsighted policy from the position of aggressive nationalism was conducive to the 1999 events, in which your Excellency played a constructive and commendable role.
Albanians are also experiencing almost the same situation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, though they accepted the Macedonian state as their own in the hope that their lot would improve. During the existence of the Macedonian state, the Albanians have given proof that they are a key factor for its stability. Their stand as well as the stand of the Albanian state, have been at variance with the attitude of the other neighbors towards that country. At present, too, according to their unequivocal statements, the so-called radicals and terrorists, as well as moderates want the Albanians to be equal to the rest of the population; they do not seek to break up the Macedonian state. The present conflict is not a civil war among Albanians, or between Albanians and Macedonians. It is an armed and, at the same time, political struggle between the Albanian insurgents and political subjects on the one hand and the Macedonian government on the other.
Today the Albanians are asked to try to win their rights on a peaceful road, through political means, though it is common knowledge that they have unsuccessfully been doing so for more than ten years. The Albanians are undercounted in order to keep them under, while European official circles accept what the Macedonian government proclaims far and wide as true. Albanians seek to preserve their culture, in fact a Slavonic language is imposed on them. They have asked for a state-funded university at a time when the government and, unfortunately, Europe, too impose a private university on them. The anti-Albanian attitudes displayed by the Macedonian governments has also filtered down to ordinary people. The indoctrinated Macedonian population, while enjoying indirect official encouragement, turns out on the streets to protest against the schooling of the Albanians in the Albanian language, something, which constitutes an unprecedented act of bigotry in modern history. The Albanians demand to enjoy the same rights as the Macedonians. They want the country to be declared a state of two constituent peoples since they make up about 40 percent of the total population of the country. The Macedonian Parliamentary Commission on International Relations too admits the deplorable situation of the Albanians in FYROM. According to its report released in May 2000, the country’s workforce is 84.5% ethnic Macedonian and 9.4% ethnic Albanian; in the police force and the military, Albanians contribute 3.1% of the employees while the ethnic Macedonians make up 93.9%. A similar situation exists in other sectors of public life, including the judiciary and the health system. In the universities of Shkup (Skopje) and Manastir (Bitola), the Albanians constitute 1.5 – 2 percent of the total number of students.
It is not fair to overlook the constitutional deficiencies of the Macedonian state or advertise them as democratic achievements. When endorsed, the new Macedonian Constitution fell short of what the Albanians expected. The Constitution of the previous communist regime had been one step ahead of it as to the definition of FYROM. It defined the republic as the state of Macedonians, Albanians and other national minorities. Whereas the Preamble to the present-day Constitution defines FYROM as a state of Macedonians, misrepresenting the term “Macedonian” as though it referred both to Macedonians and Albanians and the national minorities. There can be no equal citizens in a country where part of the population is discriminated against in political institutions and state bodies as well as in local government, science, culture and media. Denial of basic rights is intended to make the Albanians leave the country. It is kind of ethnic cleansing, though nobody has so far called it as such, conducted in a very subtle manner. This practice is reminiscent of the Greek and Serbian campaigns of ethnic cleansing against Albanians. The coalition with Albanian parties, a ploy to cover up this reality, cannot make up for the constitutional deficiencies as regards the Albanian population’ rights. The Albanian cabinet members have no role to play either and their opinion is neglected. The recent events provided ample proof of it.
FYROM created merely as an artificial political entity is afflicted with inherent weaknesses. As a result, it is not the Albanians’ fault that this creature is not stable. It owes its existence so far to the international factor, the attitude of the Albanians and the regional circumstances. This country has no merits of its own.
Why do the authorities of the countries where the Albanians live and the European powers turn a deaf ear to the Albanians’ demands? Aren’t the Albanians of Chamëria, a province in the north-west of the present Greek state, demanding their lawful rights and nobody has taken heed of them over more than 80 years, especially over the last 50 years? You may not have heard about such an Albanian problem in Greece. This is more than natural because only the voice of Greece reaches Europe. Greece perpetrated genocide, a bloody ethnic cleansing of Albanians, on the eve of the termination of World War II. About 150 thousand people demand to return to their hearths in Greece. They are demanding their own rights under the international law.
Which would be the solution that Europe offers these suffering people who the Greek state has insulted by calling them “collaborationists and criminals”? They cannot see their own homes even as tourists because the “democratic” Greek state, a member of the European Union, does not allow them in. Will the silence about their just demands impose radicalization on them as a way out? If one day these wretched, humiliated and insulted people, these human beings who are ignored and abandoned by the international community to their tragic fate, rise to win their rights and fight as members of the UÇÇ [the Albanian-language acronym for Chamëria Liberation Army] against a EU and NATO member, what labels would the international community attach to them? Surely, the terms to describe them would be as denigrating as those used about the Albanians in Eastern Kosova and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The consequences of the approach to and neglect of the issue is what worries us, though we cannot bring ourselves to believe that today’s Europe, which is not the Europe of the past that scattered the Albanians in Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, will sit idly by waiting for the glass to overflow.
Why is there such a silence about the Greek nationalistic whims or its denial of the existence of national minorities, the tolerance of the Greek authorities towards terrorism or other internal issues in Greece? Why is democratic Europe putting up with Greek lectures on democracy and peaceful settlement of crises? Its treatment of the Turkish national minority, the denial of the presence of an ancient Albanian population and the Macedonian population there is clear evidence of how Greece has resolved its domestic problems. Europe surprisingly disregards such simple and clear facts about one of its members.
The road the Albanians are told to follow indicates that the fulfillment of their rights has been put off to the Greek kalends. The Albanians in the Balkans today find themselves in the midst of strong long-standing Euro-Balkan currents that are working full blast against them. Almost nothing has changed in others’ attitude towards them.
It is regrettable that Russian diplomacy is still allowed to meddle with the Balkans at a time when the Euro-Atlantic political and military institutions can cope with and resolve crises not only in that region. How can Europe and the rest of the civilized world tolerate the racist and discriminatory statements of the Russian foreign minister about an entire people? According to him, “wherever the Albanians are the majority, extremism and organized crime flourish.” In his view, the Albanians should stay put as heretofore, divided, scattered, helpless and without rights in the Slav sates because only in this way can Russian influence in the Balkans grow. A strong Albanian element in the region would say Stop to Orthodox religious fundamentalism and suffocating Slav racism and influence, which have caused so many problems and inflicted so many tragedies on the peoples of our region and civilization in general.
While watching TV anybody can observe that just across the borders of the Republic of Albania there are only Albanian-inhabited territories. Do other peoples find themselves in the same situation as the Albanians do in the Balkans? The neighbors of Albanians are Albanians, people who speak the same language and have the same culture and blood? Separated, the territories where they live constitute authentic Albania. United, these territories would not constitute Greater Albania, because within its borders there would be no territory that would belong to other peoples. However, the pro-European orientation of all Albanians is more than clear. Their goal to join Europe rejects the Slav thesis that they are extremist nationalists. The armed and political struggle of the Albanians is spearheaded only against Slav aggressive nationalism, which shed the blood of so many people in the Balkans over the last ten years. The utterances about moderate and extremist Albanians are intended to obscure this orientation of the Albanians; they do not speak of a serious attitude. They do make the situation worse and hide the truth, namely, what the Albanians have always sought: a democratic space where they can enjoy their legitimate rights as a nation in the European family. They refuse to be marginalized as they have been so far.
Allow us to make a few suggestions with regard to the crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:
It is necessary to take urgent preventive measures against Russian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Greek influence and interference that may cause a broader conflict. They cannot be justified because the Macedonian state is not threatened from the outside. The conflict is internal.
There is growing need for greater involvement by the European Union. Events proved that the situation would not have reached such a point if preventive measures had been adopted and pressure brought to bear at the right moment on the Macedonian government to make the latter seriously to address the Albanians’ grievances, the cause of the situation we are presently witnessing. The NATO forces in the border area and the Macedonian army, which is trying to snuff out a homegrown movement, are grappling with the consequences only. About ten years have been wasted on whitewashing the Macedonian hybrid regime.
The crisis should be settled through bilateral, Macedonian-Albanian, dialogue under your auspices without dividing the Albanians into moderate and extremist sections. Albanians are against bogus negotiations. To be successful, they have to be organized seriously. They should not be used as a smokescreen to hoodwink the Albanians and the international community. The so-called backlash from the Macedonian constituency is a threadbare excuse.
On the model of the United Nations report on the Kosova issue, compiled by well-known legal experts, who conclude that Kosova is entitled to independence and statehood under the international law, the European Union and other institutions should diagnose the Albanian issue overall, in Kosova, Eastern Kosova, FYROM, Montenegro and Greece and provide relevant solutions, which the respective countries are in duty-bound to implement. If history is a guide, hiding problems and favoring one party to the detriment of another party lead to radicalization and violence, which nobody wants.
Availing ourselves of this opportunity, permit us, Excellency, to express our highest respect for You and the Institution you represent.
Eqerem Mete – former Director of the Balkans and Middle East Department of the Albanian Foreign Ministry (1992-1996) [e-mail: email@example.com]
Petrit Kasemi– former diplomat in the Balkans and Middle East Department of the Albanian Foreign Ministry (1992-1996) [e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org]
Boston, MA, USA