Macedonia On The Brink



For Immediate Release June 20, 2001

June 20, 2001


Albanian American Civic League

61 Central Ave., P.O. Box 70

Ossining, NY 10562

(914) 762-5530 Fax: (914) 762-5102

MACEDONIA ON THE BRINK

By Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi


Since the onset of the conflict in Macedonia in February, the Albanian American Civic League has worked closely with the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress in an effort to help resolve the crisis there. Along with many U.S. government officials, we believe strongly that there is no military solution to this conflict and that only the immediate implementation of reforms in response to the Albanian population’s legitimate grievances about institutionalized discrimination, racism, and police brutality can stop Macedonia’s descent into a full-scale civil war. If we are to avert a fifth Balkan war, the Civic League also believes that the United States must not rely on Europe, but must take a leading role in securing the current ceasefire and insuring political, economic, and social change in Macedonia.


On June 13, former Congressman Joe DioGuardi, the volunteer chairman of the Civic League, and I attended an important Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing chaired by Senator Joseph Biden entitled “The Crisis in Macedonia and U.S. Engagement in the Balkans.” Each of the witnesses agreed with the position of our Civic League. Senator Biden strongly emphasized that “the stakes are too high for us [the United States] to take a secondary role” in Macedonia and that President Bush must avoid repeating the mistakes of past administrations (Croatia in 1991, Bosnia in 1992, and Kosova in 1998), when the United States waited for Europe to take the lead and then did “too little too late” at a cost of thousands of lives. The majority of the witnesses expressed a sense of urgency that we have rarely witnessed since the onset of the conflict in Macedonia. General Wesley Clark, former Allied Supreme Commander for Europe, said that we are “on the edge of a precipice,” and Richard Perle of the American Enterprise Institute stated that “delay, even by days and weeks, could prove disastrous.”


Although we agree with President Bush’s statement at the NATO summit in Brussels that Macedonia must agree on a political solution before NATO troops are sent in, the Albanian American Civic League believes that a political solution can be reached if the international community pressures the ethnic Macedonian leadership into delivering reforms. This should have been the outcome of the summit that began in Skopje on June 15, which included the leaders of Macedonia’s political parties, NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and the U.S. State Department’s James Swigert. “What is vital now is…to demonstrate that politics works and politics delivers,” Robertson said. And yet, Robertson and Solana returned to Western Europe on June 17 without any tangible progress having been made. To make matters worse, that day, Macedonian Prime Minister Lubjco Georgievski and President Boris Trajkovski rejected a written proposal from Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri (their ethnic Albanian counterparts in the four-party governing coalition) to amend the Macedonian constitution to give equal status and equal rights to all citizens.


Changing the constitution, amending the citizenship laws so that all people who are born in Macedonia or who have longstanding residency there are counted as citizens, decentralizing the government and giving municipalities a greater share of the power and tax revenues in order to implement decisions at the local level, reforming the Macedonian military and police, and making Albanian the second official language have always been the keys to ending the war. And yet, in the course of almost three months of negotiations, ethnic Macedonian leaders have refused to implement these reforms because they believe that they would pave the way to Albanian federalism and the country’s disintegration. In reality, the opposite is true.


Four months into the conflict, the clarion call of the ethnic Macedonian leadership for more military action to uphold state sovereignty rings hollow. As a recent State Department poll taken in Macedonia revealed, the majority of Albanians are supportive of a multiethnic state. Meanwhile, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts took the outrageous step on May 31 of publicly proposing the exchange of people and territory as the only permanent solution to the country’s crisis. The Academy recommended that the heavily populated Albanian areas of western Macedonia around Debar, Gostivar, and Tetova be ceded to Albania in exchange for the town of Pogradec, the surrounding area near Big Prespa Lake, and the Albanian side of Lake Ohrid. This medieval solution resurrects Slobodan Milosevic’s nightmarish vision of ethnically cleansed mini-states in the heart of Europe and flies in the face of the West’s vision, which most Albanians share, of a united and integrated Europe.


The international community has repeatedly blamed the National Liberation Army and its acts of violence for the collapse of the political process. The United States and Europe have joined the ethnic Macedonian leadership in branding the fighters as “terrorists” and have remained adamant in their refusal to negotiate with them. Certainly the timing and nature of the NLA’s response to anti-Albanian racism and repression in Macedonia is indefensible. It has endangered thousands of lives and compromised both the political process in Macedonia and the resolution of the final status of Kosova. Nevertheless, the Civic League believes that the overwhelming focus on the actions of the NLA has served to mask the fact that the collapse of the political process is primarily the result of the misguided thinking and intransigence of the ethnic Macedonian leadership. While we have publicly and repeatedly opposed violence by the NLA as a method of social change, we believe that the West’s failure to condemn violence by the Macedonian military and paramilitary forces and to mediate between the warring parties is prolonging the crisis and even risking a fifth Balkan war.


The crisis in Macedonia will not end until violence against innocent Albanian civilians is halted. The Macedonian military offensive in response to the Albanian guerrilla movement has produced an enormous humanitarian catastrophe. According to the UNHCR, 50,000 ethnic Albanians have fled Macedonia during the four-month-old conflict, 28,000 alone since June 10, and 23,500 are internally displaced. The ancient city of Manastir and a number of Albanian villages have been burned. Young men have been separated from their families, tortured in police stations, and imprisoned without trial. The conflict threatens to escalate further with the arming last week of more than 10,000 ethnic Macedonian supporters of Prime Minister Georgievski’s party by the Ministry of the Interior in the name of “mobilizing police reservists.”


The Albanian American Civic League has appealed to Secretary of State Colin Powell to initiate a plan to end the war in Macedonia. Once the ethnic Macedonian and Albanian leaders have reached a political agreement—the implementation of which cannot be further delayed—we believe that General Wesley Clark, who has the respect of both Albanians throughout the Balkans and the Europeans, should be invited to lead a mission to disarm and decommission the NLA and to shut down the Macedonian military operations against the Albanian community. If the United States does not want to become involved in collecting weapons, then the OSCE could receive the weapons with NATO standing in the background. After that, the peacekeeping force under Clark’s direction could complete the other aspects of demilitarization, including creating the conditions to implement an amnesty program, to return those fighters who came from Kosova to their homes, and to reintegrate NLA members into Macedonian society. Demilitarization will also have to include the disarming of the thousands of ethnic Macedonian citizens who received guns in June from the Ministry of the Interior.


Simultaneously, a multilateral institution, such as the OSCE or the EU, could appoint an administrator from Western Europe to lead the civilian side of the peacekeeping operation to ensure that a political agreement designed to remedy injustice against the Albanian population is implemented. The Civic League believes that this individual should also deploy a team of experts throughout Macedonia to conduct a thorough investigation of the country’s social, economic, and political problems, so that future decisions about international funding and America’s foreign policy objectives can be based on an understanding of the true conditions in Macedonia, not on the superficial rhetoric that it is already a “multiethnic democracy.” In its current form, Macedonia is closer to an apartheid state that functions to maintain the supremacy of one ethnic group–Slavic Macedonians–in a country comprised of many ethnic groups, none of which represent a majority of the population.


As long as inequality is institutionalized in Macedonia, the state is under threat of violence from extremists of all ethnicities. Arben Xhaferi, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Albanians in Macedonia, made it clear in an interview with The New York Times on March 27, that while the reality of Macedonia is multiethnic, “the concept of the state is ethnocentric.” “Which do we change?” he asked. “We can only change the reality by ethnic cleansing, and so we must change the concept of the state.” If the concept of the state is changed, Macedonia will be able to step back from the brink, achieve a genuine peace, and forge a truly multiethnic, consensual democracy that could serve as a model for the rest of Europe in the twenty-first century. But this will only happen if the Bush administration takes the diplomatic lead in helping Macedonia become a full-fledged democracy that represents the interests of all of its citizens.


Since the onset of the conflict in Macedonia in February, the Albanian American Civic League has worked closely with the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress in an effort to help resolve the crisis there. Along with many U.S. government officials, we believe strongly that there is no military solution to this conflict and that only the immediate implementation of reforms in response to the Albanian population’s legitimate grievances about institutionalized discrimination, racism, and police brutality can stop Macedonia’s descent into a full-scale civil war. If we are to avert a fifth Balkan war, the Civic League also believes that the United States must not rely on Europe, but must take a leading role in securing the current ceasefire and insuring political, economic, and social change in Macedonia.

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