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Resolving the Crisis in Macedonia

The Albanian American Civic League

Ossining, New York

Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, Balkan Affairs Adviser

April 6, 2001

The Albanian American Civic League has been working extensively with the Bush administration, the U.S. Congress, and the Albanian American community since our delegation returned from Macedonia, Kosova, and Presheva at the beginning of March. Our goal is to ensure that the crisis in Macedonia is resolved through diplomacy, not weapons, and that a commitment is made to eradicating the roots of the conflict–namely, the racism, repression, and institutionalized discrimination that Albanians have been subjected to for close to a century.

The international community has long described Macedonia as a multiethnic democracy. But, as Democratic Party chairman Arben Xhaferi observed in an interview with the New York Times on March 27, 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.”


In order to bring genuine democracy and peace to Macedonia, it is necessary to:

· Change the concept of the state by changing the Constitution to give equal status to Albanians and ethnic Macedonians.· Change the citizenship law, or rather its application, so that all people born in Macedonia or who have longstanding residency are counted ascitizens.

·Since the 1994 census, more than 120,000 ethnic Albanians, whose families in many cases have been living in Macedonia for centuries have been classified as “illegal immigrants,” because the head of the household is working abroad to ensure the family’s survival. Those whose work abroad has prevented them from living in Macedonia for fifteen years without interruption, as the current law requires, have lost the citizenship rights they had before Macedonia declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.

A huge part of the problem here is that the OSCE, of which Macedonia is a

member, has established international norms for determining citizenship that

do not account for a situation in which high unemployment has forced large

numbers of adults to work abroad in order to support their families. Therefore,

OSCE standards must be modified to accommodate the Macedonian reality.

In the villages bordering Kosova, such as Tanusha, disenfranchisement has

taken another form. After NATO entered Kosova in June 1999, Macedonian

border guards began to try to push the Macedonian border back into Kosova.

When ethnic Albanian farmers in Tanusha and other border towns would cross

the border into Vitina, Kosova (only eight kilometers away) to buy supplies,

rather than make the journey to Skhup (25 kilometers away), they were blocked

from returning to Macedonia, where their families have been farming for

hundreds of years on the same land. It is no accident that the NLA established

a stronghold here.

· Ensure that the new census is conducted according to international standards and monitored by recognized nongovernmental institutions and officials from several countries.

Macedonia and the international community must finally have an accurate

count of ethnic Macedonians, Albanians, and other nationalities in Macedonia.

Xhevdet Nasufi, an ethnic Albanian who is Minister of Justice in Macedonia,

has been put in charge of the census. It is essential that a large number of the

census takers are ethnic Albanians, while other ethnic groups in Macedonia,

such as Roma, Vlachs, Bulgarians, and Serbs, should also be included in the

census personnel. If the government is anxious about increasing the number

of minority representatives conducting the census, then they can ask that

international monitors accompany all census takers, regardless of their

ethnicity. The spring 2001 census should be postponed until the immediate

crisis subsides and international assistance is provided.

· Make Albanian a second official language.

· Transform the voting system in the parliament so that ethnic Macedonian members, who are in the majority, do not overrule every initiative made by Albanian MPs and those of other ethnic groups.· Increase the number of Albanians in the police force and other state institutions, consistent with their numbers in the population.·Decentralize the government and give municipalities a greater share of the power and tax revenues in order to implement decisions at the local level. (The Macedonian parliament has been in the process of considering a revision of legislation that would strengthen local government.)

(The Macedonian parliament has been in the process of considering a revision of legislation that would strengthen local government.)· (The Macedonian parliament has been in the process of considering a revision of legislation that would strengthen local government.)· End police brutality by reforming the old Communist structure of the police and military through professional training by Western experts that includes human rights education.

Investigate abuses by the Macedonian police against Albanians and Roma, as

reported by the Council of Europe on April 2, including “unlawful arrest and detention, excessive use of force and physical ill-treatment of detainees.” Investigate burning of villages, damage to civilian property, and preventative detention and abuse of innocent civilians by the Macedonian military in response to the National Liberation Army’s offensive.

Resolve once and for all Albanians’ lack of access to higher education in

Macedonia by constructing the new Albanian language university.

Other problems related to this university, including expanding the number of faculties, integrating the previous University of Tetova, ensuring enough placements for qualified applicants, etc., must be resolved by the Albanian community in dialogue with the funders from the European Union and the United States.

Begin an anti-racism campaign by ending ethnic stereotyping in the media. STRATEGY:

Achieving the important objectives outlined above will ensure that Albanians have equal rights with ethnic Macedonians and that they have effective participation in the political process. These objectives cannot be accomplished by force of arms. They can only be accomplished by bringing all political parties from all ethnic groups to the negotiating table with international mediators as soon as possible. In addition, the international community, and especially the United States, the most important friend that Albanians have, will not support the use of the gun–either by the State or the NLA fighter–as a tool of change in Macedonia. Because the crisis in Macedonia can only be resolved through negotiation and not military might, this has implications for both ethnic Macedonians and Albanians:

What Ethnic Macedonians Should Consider and Do to End the Crisis:

Peace cannot come to Macedonia as long as the Macedonian military offensive continues. It must cease, and the Serb, Bulgarian, Russian, and Greek military and paramilitary forces that are aiding the Macedonian army in fighting the National Liberation Army must leave the country. Reparations for property damage and personal injury should be made as soon as possible to civilians living in the villages where the NLA has been based. The resort to arms, initially against a few hundred armed guerrilla forces, was a mistake. Military action has only served to swell the ranks of the NLA and their support from the Albanian diaspora and to radicalize the population on both ethnic Albanian and Macedonian sides. The failure to stop the military offensive, the destruction of civilian property, and the arrest of innocent civilians has exacerbated the conflict.

Up till now, the ethnic Macedonian leadership has been adept at saying all of the right things to the international community, but not at moving on the changes that are needed to bring peace and stability to the country. The fear is that granting equal rights to all citizens and the integration of all nationalities will lead to the nation’s disintegration. In fact, the opposite is true. As long as human rights are denied in Macedonia, the state is under threat of violence. In its current ethnocentric form, Macedonia also will fail to gain admittance to the Council of Europe, the European Union, and NATO, which is critical to its economic and political growth. Exclusion from European institutions would be especially unfortunate because the VMRO-DPME coalition brought to power Prime Minister Lubjco Georgievski and President Boris Trajkovski, who are unquestionably more progressive in their outlook and actions than the previous Slavophile government of Kiro Gligorov.

Contrary to initial statements by the ethnic Macedonian leadership, Kosovar Albanians

did not export violence to Macedonia. The National Liberation Army is homegrown and its emergence is a wake-up call. Ethnic Macedonian leaders need to make a sincere commitment to dialogue with the Albanian parties and to make the necessary constitutional and legal changes to end discrimination. But also, as the International Crisis Group stated in its April 2001 report, “The Macedonian Question: Reform or Rebellion,” “the Slavic majority must be ready to challenge the notion that Macedonian state identity is synonymous with the Slavic population.” If it does this, Macedonia has a chance to become a truly multiethnic, consensual democracy that serves as a model for the rest of the world in the 21st century.

What Ethnic Albanians Should Consider and Do to End the Crisis:

The National Liberation Army has succeeded in focusing international attention on the legitimate grievances that Albanians have in Macedonia about anti-Albanian racism and institutionalized discrimination. However, the timing and nature of the NLA’s response has endangered human life and compromised the Albanian national cause. There is no support for armed rebellion in Macedonia by the international community, because the situation is not the same as it was in Kosova, where Albanians were routinely imprisoned, tortured, and killed throughout ten years of occupation, culminating in Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of mass extermination and forced deportation in 1998-1999. The NLA picked up the gun—which should be the last resort after all nonviolent means have been exhausted—without first engaging in the political process underway in Macedonia by Arben Xhaferi and other Albanian leaders, who were close to making significant changes in the legal, economic, educational, and political status of Albanians.

The NLA picked up the gun without first articulating to the world the plight of Albanians who live in Tanusha and other Macedonian villages on the border of Kosova, with the result that a new round of anti-Albanian press has ensued to the detriment of Albanians throughout the world. Instead of securing rights and freedom for the Albanians who are disenfranchised in Macedonia, it has helped NATO justify its premature and ill-considered release of the Serbian military into the buffer zone. Picking up the gun at the wrong time has also undermined the resolution of Kosova’s status and put the lives of Albanians in Mitrovice and Presheva are at considerably greater risk.

At this critical juncture, when the pursuit of war will lead only to a bloodier and more devastating conflict on all sides, the Albanian community must come to grips with the fact that the National Liberation Army was created not by the majority of Albanians in Macedonia and in the rest of the Balkans, but by members of LPK, a small revolutionary Marxist party. Although some of LPK’s leaders, including Ali Ahmeti (head of the NLA), can be credited with helping to form the Kosova Liberation Army in Switzerland in the early 1990s, the KLA ultimately emerged as a democratic force. It is time to demand that LPK cease all military activities and become accountable to the political process. In this connection, it is time for the Albanian community also to acknowledge that the current crisis in Macedonia is as much the result of a power struggle inside the Albanian community as it is the result of years of discrimination and repression by ethnic Macedonians. This internal struggle has been compounded by efforts to exploit the current situation for political advantage, such as the recent vitriolic attack against Arben Xhaferi, replete with falsehoods, by Bardyl Mahmuti.

While the DPA is not without its faults, and should undergo careful self-examination and change in this period, it is also the case that DPA leader Arben Xhaferi and his colleagues should receive credit and support for their numerous accomplishments in improving the present and future prospects for Albanians in Macedonia. Arben Xhaferi should also receive praise for his superb performance as a statesman on behalf of the Albanian people throughout this crisis. Meanwhile, politicians and parties who feel that they have a better program to offer Albanians in Macedonia should not spend their time attacking other Albanians, but in vigorously offering their programs to the electorate in preparation for the October 2002 national elections, while presenting a unified voice with all Albanian factors when it comes to the legal and institutional changes that must be made in Macedonia. Every Albanian, but especially Albanian politicians, intellectuals, and activists, should be working to make full equality for Albanians in Macedonia a reality.

What the International Community Should Consider and Do to End the Crisis:

While the steps taken by Macedonia’s coalition government in the next few weeks will be critical to the outcome of the crisis in Macedonia, the steps taken by the international community will be equally decisive. The international community should cease sending ambiguous signals about its commitment to a diplomatic solution to the crisis. To date, much lip service has been given to a peaceful, diplomatic solution, while the major thrust has been swift condemnation of the NLA’s actions and support for the Macedonian military offensive. The West has promised to uphold Macedonia as a democratic, multiethnic state, but it has endorsed the actions of ethnic Macedonian leaders without showing enough regard for the position of the Democratic Party of Albanians in Macedonia, which made the VMRO-DPME coalition government possible in the first place.

Identifying and implementing genuine political solutions to the problems in Macedonia and other parts of Southeast Europe is the only way to avoid more bloodshed and to avert a fifth Balkan war. And as much as the Bush administration would prefer to give Europe the lion’s share of responsibility, it has to come to grips with the fact that a negotiated settlement will not happen without active involvement by the United States. Albanians, in particular, view the United States as their only protector and as the only country that can shift the countries of the Former Yugoslavia from the previous Communist model to Western, participatory democracy.

The international community laments corruption in Macedonia and other countries in Southeast Europe, and yet it has failed to make good on its promises to help Macedonia economically in return for the pivotal role that Macedonia played during the war in Kosova, when it gave refuge to hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians. This breach of trust, which fuels the prevailing anti-Western mood among ethnic Macedonians, must be addressed.

Finally, there is no question that uncertainty about the future status of Kosova has fueled the current crisis in Macedonia. National elections should be held in Kosova as soon as possible and a process mapped out for final status negotiations. Contrary to the opinion of some European countries, Kosova’s independence will contribute to the strengthening, not to the demise, of the Macedonian state.

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