What Does the Future Hold for Albanians in Fyrom?
Now that the Macedonian parliament has endorsed the package of fifteen constitutional amendments resulting from the Ohër [Ohrid] agreement of August 2001, which are supposed to extend the collective rights of the ethnic Albanians, what does the future hold for the Albanians in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)? To what extent will the amendments be implemented? What has been the impact of the international factor on Macedonian developments, and what part will it play in the years to come? Although it is too soon to answer these questions in full, we can say for sure that it was not their democratic vision that motivated the Slav Macedonian authorities to sign the peace plan and approve the amendments. If that had been true, they would have done long ago what they are reluctantly doing now.
To better understand this conclusion and determine whether the Slav Macedonian authorities, past and present, are the “good guys” they are trying to pass themselves off as, I first want to compare the rights that the Slav Macedonians in Albania enjoy with the rights of the Albanians in FYROM. Then, I will analyze recent events and the role of the different players, Albanians, Slav Macedonians, and the international community.
The Rights of Macedonians in Albania
In order to cover up their discriminatory policies towards Albanians, the Macedonian authorities have always tried to deflect public attention away from the Albanian issue in their country by grossly inflating the size of the tiny Macedonian “minority” in Albania and alleging that it has no rights.
The use of the term “minority” with reference to Macedonians in Albania raises an issue that has been plaguing Albanian politics for a long time. It is fashionable and expedient in Albania today to assign the term “minority” to any community of people from another country that has settled on Albanian territory over time, no matter how few in number they may be.
Macedonians in Albania fall within this category. They do not live side by side their fellow countrymen, and the areas that they currently live in are an extension of Albanian territories, inhabited by Albanians, that are situated across the border and not territory carved out from their country of origin. They have been unfairly elevated to the status of a national minority.
They same thing can be said of other “national minorities” in Albania. The areas they live in are likewise an extension of ancient Albanian territories across the border, inhabited by Albanians, though part of these territories are also inhabited today by other populations because of the demographic changes that have taken place. These changes have been an outcome of ethnic cleansing and other policies pursued by the neighboring countries to settle people from the interior by driving away the native population.
It is thus absurd to speak of the presence of national minorities in the true sense of the term within the territory of the Albanian state. These foreign settlers on Albanian territory can at best be likened to their Albanian counterparts in Egypt, Syria, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Sweden and other countries, or the Albanian immigrants who have settled in Greece recently.
In Albania, there are nine Macedonian-inhabited villages located in the Prespa region, containing about four thousand people. Over time, Macedonians have moved from Prespa to other parts of the country in search of employment or because of promotions to better official jobs, but they are very sparsely scattered. Few in number, they seem to have been integrated into Albanian society.
The ties of Macedonians in Prespa with FYROM have increased substantially over the years. More than 30 percent of these Albanian citizens, whose Macedonian descent is put in question, have been granted Macedonian citizenship and issued Macedonian passports, according to Albanian press reports. Trade is carried out mainly with FYROM. Macedonian authorities help Macedonians in Prespa with shipments of clothing, footwear, and textbooks for their schools. In all the shops and clubs in the area, Slav Macedonian symbols, including the ancient Macedonians’ symbol of the sun, which today’s Slav Macedonians have illegally made their own, are prominently displayed. In the schools, posters and notices are written in both Macedonian and Albanian. Radio Korça broadcasts a daily news bulletin in the Macedonian language. School children are taught in Macedonian in elementary school. In the seventh grade they begin the study of the Macedonian language and literature, as well as the history of the Macedonian people, as separate subjects. It has been announced that soon students will study the Macedonian language in the first two grades of high school.
Even little children can be seen flying the Macedonian flag. Priests from Macedonia often preside over the Mass and other religious ceremonies, which are held in Macedonian in Prespa, at a time when Albanian clergymen from Albania are not allowed to go to FYROM to preach. All the authorities at the village level and in the communes are Macedonians. Many young Macedonians are employed in the police force in the region. Macedonians from Prespa are also on the staff of the Korça prefecture. There is no denying the fact that the four thousand-strong Macedonian community is too small to produce even a single deputy for parliament under existing law.
against Albanians in FYROM
To better grasp the situation of Macedonians in Albania and to understand how far ahead they are of the Albanians in FYROM de jure and de facto with respect to the level of rights they enjoy proportional to their numbers, it is necessary to examine some of the problems that Albanians have always faced and how neutral observers view their status. In terms of sheer numbers, the Macedonian community in Albania pales into insignificance when compared to the Albanian population in FYROM where, according to Albanian estimates, there are about 800,000 Albanians. However, the Macedonian official version places Albanians at 22.9 percent of a 2 million-strong population. Only an unbiased, internationally supervised census would establish the exact number of Albanians living in the Macedonian state.
In terms of rights, there is a wide gap between the rights of the 4,000 Macedonians in Albania and the rights of the 800,000 Albanians in FYROM. This gap is all the more striking in view of the fact that Albanians are the second largest population there, even if we accept the official estimate of 22.9 percent. Analysts in the West agree that the Macedonian authorities have treated the Albanians like second-class citizens. The U.S. Department of State’s country report for the year 2000 stresses that “societal discrimination against . . . ethnic Albanians is a problem.” The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance reports that “discrimination in Macedonia is widespread.” The International Crisis Group argues that, “if the government of Macedonia does not want federalization, it should declare its commitment to the full and equal integration of all nationalities.”
The reality of institutionalized discrimination against Albanians in FYROM is evident in the first paragraph of the Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia:
“… the historical fact that Macedonia is established as a national state of the
Macedonian people, in which full equality as citizens and permanent co-existence
with the Macedonian people is provided for Albanians, Turks, Vlachs, Romanics,
and other nationalities living in the Republic of Macedonia…”
This statement boldly overlooks the fact that the Albanians are the second largest ethnic group in the country and, instead, places Albanians on a par with the national minorities, each of which comprises a very small percentage of the entire population. This formulation, which is a clear indication of the kind of state the Macedonians created after the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, runs counter to other parts of the constitution, which proclaim the country as a civic and democratic state that guarantees human rights, civil rights, and ethnic equality. Furthermore, there are analysts who go so far as to imply that there is no big difference between the first paragraph of the preamble to the Macedonian Constitution and the endorsed amendments. Expressing his ambivalence towards the constitutional changes, the BBC southeast Europe analyst Gabriel Partos wrote on November 16, 2001 that, “The version finally accepted appears to give greater prominence to the majority Macedonians than to the ethnic Albanian community.”
There is also the discriminatory 1992 Law on Citizenship in Macedonia, under which many Albanians have been disenfranchised. According to this law, to be classified as a citizen, the head of a household must demonstrate that he has lived in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for fifteen years without interruption. Because many Albanian heads of household work abroad to support their families, more than 120,000 Albanians have lost the citizenship rights that they had before FYROM declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia. They have been classified as “illegal immigrants,” even though their families have been living on the same land for centuries.
The Macedonian governments have consistently undermined the development of Albanian culture. According to statistical information from FYROM, as taxpayers, Albanians contribute at least 22.9 percent of the state budget (according to the official statistical number of the Albanian population). Annually, the Macedonian government has provided about 50,000,000 DEM for cultural activities. Of this amount, it has provided no more than 500,000 DEM per year–only 1 percent– for Albanian cultural activities. The discrepancy is glaring.
In FYROM, there are currently 165 cultural institutions employing 2,900 people. Of these, there are only two Albanian institutions supported by the Ministry of Culture: the Albanian theatre and the Albanian folk ensemble “Emin Duraku.” Together they employ fifty people. The Ministry of Culture pays a few more Albanians to work in other cultural institutions. Two are employed in the “Cvetan Dimov” and “Kiril i Metodij” libraries in Shkup [Skopje]; three are employed in Tetova (one in the Palace of Culture and two in the “Kosta Racin” Library); and another is employed in the library in Struga. This means that out of the 2,900 people employed in cultural institutions in the country, only 56 are Albanian.
Police brutality against Albanians in the Macedonian state has been pervasive. In 1992, the police beat an Albanian youth to death. Selling cigarettes had been his only crime. In the protest demonstrations that ensued, four Albanians were killed. In February 1995, one Albanian was killed, twenty-eight others wounded, and a large number of protesters jailed, when Albanians attempted to open the Albanian-language University of Tetova because only 1.5 to 2 percent of the students who attended the two state universities of the country were Albanians. Their demand for education in the Albanian language was deemed a crime. In 1997, when thousands of Albanians gathered in Gostivar to protest the removal of the Albanian flag outside of the municipal building and the arrest of their mayor, the Macedonian police resorted to force, killing three Albanians, wounding more than four hundred and imprisoning five hundred. Many who were arrested were severely tortured. Mayor Rufi Osmani was sentenced to thirteen years in prison for raising the Albanian flag over the town hall side by side the Macedonian flag, even though the government had previously given its consent. Later, it retracted its consent, but it did so in the early hours of the morning before dawn. No one had been informed of the retraction, when more than four thousand riot police with tanks entered the town. Osmani was freed after one year following a campaign led by the Albanian American Civic League and the Democratic Party of Albanians in FYROM. We hope that the recent events have helped the Macedonian authorities decide to stop the practice of sentencing Albanians to a three-year prison term if they were seen carrying the Albanian flag.
The bloody events in FYROM in 2001 and the full exposure of the Slav leadership’s policies of repression and discrimination against Albanians failed to make Macedonian authorities mend their old ways. On September 5, 2001, Human Rights Watch issued a report entitled Crimes Against Civilians: Abuses by Macedonian Forces in Ljuboten, August 10-12, 2001, in which it stressed that, “Macedonian police troops shot dead six civilians and burned at least twenty-two homes, sheds, and stores in the course of their August 12 house-to-house attack on the village. Hundreds of ethnic Albanian civilians who tried to flee Ljuboten faced further abuse. Ethnic Macedonian vigilantes beat three men unconscious in full view of the Macedonian police on August 12. One of the men was shot in the head by the Macedonian police as he attempted to flee the beating. Police separated over one hundred men and boys from their wives and children and took them to police stations in Skopje, where they were subjected to severe beatings. Atulah Qaini, aged thirty-five, was taken away alive from the village by police officers, and his badly beaten and mutilated corpse was later recovered by family members from the city morgue.” The abuses by Macedonian forces in Ljuboten have not been the only ones reported by Human Rights Watch.
The massacre took place on the eve of the peace deal, which the Nato General Secretary Lord Robertson called “a remarkable moment for the history of Macedonia.” Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch pressed for an immediate investigation, including an inquiry into the role of Macedonian Minister of Interior Ljube Boskovski, who was present in the village on August 12, when the worst violations occurred. Elizabeth Andersen, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division, was quoted as saying that “endemic police abuse is a potential spark that could reignite the conflict in Macedonia. We can’t wait for a gradual restructuring of the police over the next three years. Immediate steps – including monitoring and accountability – are needed to curb abuse.”
The Reality of Anti-Albanian Racism
Nowhere in the contemporary world do we witness ordinary people turning out on the streets to protest against the education of their fellow citizens in their mother tongue. Nowhere have we seen the people of a country that calls itself a democracy demand that the members of another nationality be burned in gas chambers. “Za shiptari [a pejorative term for Albanians], gazna komora” [“Gas chambers for the Albanians”] read signs and banners held by Macedonians who stormed the parliament after the evacuation of Albanian fighters from a village in the suburbs of the capital city of Shkup in June 2001. The same slogan could be seen on banners in the soccer stadiums long before the uprising started.
When the parliament opened the discussion of the Western-brokered Ohër [Ohrid] peace plan on Albanian rights, the Slav Macedonian squatters on Albanian land again protested as though granting Albanians rights would somehow infringe on theirs. During the riots, on the exterior walls of Albanian religious sites, Macedonian zealots painted swastikas and wrote “Death to the Shiptars.” This racist attitude of ordinary Macedonians, who support the police when it comes to the maltreatment of Albanians, persists. A few days after the endorsement of the constitutional amendments, five Albanians accompanying their children to school were stopped by police, dragged out of their car, and beaten on the spot with passersby joining in.
Macedonians have also gone down in history for their demonstrations of protest against the temporary settlement of Bosnian refugees on Macedonian territory, who would of course return to their country after the war.
Although the Slav Macedonian people cannot be blamed for having been taught to view Albanians as inferior, they should be helped to overcome a legacy of chauvinism and racism. To this end, the Macedonian government is duty bound to embark on a program to educate Macedonians to embrace tolerance of other nationalities and to eradicate the anti-Albanian mindset in their midst. Or as Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians in FYROM, stated after the endorsement of the constitutional changes, “We repaired the constitution and now we have to repair the mentality that created ethnic conflict.” According to many analysts, this process will be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement, but FYROM cannot survive unless it confronts its racism.
The War in FYROM and the Impact of the National Liberation Army
The Slav Macedonian authorities have consistently been insincere about the level of rights accorded to Albanians. The international community should recognize this based on the events that have taken place since some Albanians took up arms in February 2001 under the banner of the National Liberation Army (NLA). In an attempt to dupe the West, Slav Macedonian leaders have insisted that Albanians have always enjoyed equal rights. If this were true, then why did they agree in August 2001 to grant Albanians the same rights that they in fact have always denied them? If there had been no NLA uprising, which was considered by the Albanians who took up arms to be a last resort, would the Macedonian parliament have “overwhelmingly backed the peace plan to end the armed conflict in return for upgrading minority rights?” Since NLA’s subsequent surrender of arms and Slav Macedonian leaders’ agreement to upgrade “minority” rights, were so closely interrelated, it follows that the uprising, an anathema to many, must have played a decisive role in bringing about the present outcome. In the absence of the uprising, the Macedonian authorities would not have faced up to reality and listened to the voice of reason, while the political struggle of the Albanians would have lacked vitality and substance. Its outcome also taught Albanians that freedom is not donated, and that the international community takes seriously only those who are willing to pay the most in blood.
In retrospect, the war in FYROM was between a regular army, the National Liberation Army, fighting for Albanian rights once it became clear that the political struggle-only strategy had collapsed, and the Macedonian state machine, which was trying to hold on to the status quo. Herein lies its similarity to the fight of the Kosova Albanians against Serbian chauvinism. The war in Kosova was between the Albanian people represented by the KLA (Kosova Liberation Army), who were fighting to free themselves from Serbian bondage, and the Serbian war machine, the army, the secret police, the paramilitaries that tried to hold on to Kosova. Likewise, the war in FYROM started as an uprising against a government that oppressed the Albanians and used a divide-and-conquer policy to discriminate against them and to grant a privileged position to Slavs, a policy that accentuated the already existing polarization of Macedonian society along ethnic lines. Macedonian governments, past and present, have tried to inculcate in the minds of the ordinary Macedonians that those on the other side of the ethnic divide are the enemy. This is precisely what Serbian governments have been doing with their indoctrination of the Serbs against Albanians. Developments so far have proved that, although this ploy has succeeded with the Macedonians, it has utterly failed as far as the Albanians are concerned. They fought against the armed forces and not against civilians.
Although the fight of one side to free itself and that of the other side to keep it oppressed constitutes the basis of similarity, there are also distinctions between the war in FYROM and the Kosova war. Although Macedonian chauvinism is not less aggressive than Serbia’s, compared to its Serbian counterpart, the Macedonian state machine was too weak to openly push its nationalist agenda. The Kosova war taught the Macedonian authorities that the military option would get them nowhere because they would not be able to suppress the Albanian uprising with the means they had at their disposal. Besides, even if they were contemplating a large scale military adventure against the Albanian uprising on the model of the Serbs’ scorched earth policy in Kosova, while counting on Orthodox countries in the region and beyond, who rushed to their help with military hardware, they were not sure of what the West’s response would be. Slav Macedonia could not go to war with the West as Serbia did.
The participation of Albanians in the government, although not decisive, exercised a moderating influence on the events. The last factor was absent in the Kosova context. There, the Albanians had proclaimed their republic and independence, which meant they in no uncertain terms refused to be part of Serbia or work within Serbian political structures, whereas in FYROM the Albanians, according to their public statements, did not intend to break away with the Macedonian state. Their struggle, both military and political, was confined to achieving equal rights for the Albanian population. The foreign presence in FYROM also played a moderating impact on both sides, whereas in Kosova and Serbia, the West had been deprived of leverage from inside to influence developments.
In Kosova, the pacifist movement of the Democratic League of Kosova under Ibrahim Rugova proved ineffectual and too passive to mobilize the people at least in civil disobedience. Rugova regarded nonviolence as the only necessary, moral choice, while his motto was “better to do nothing and stay alive than be massacred” according to a statement he made in 1992 and cited by Tim Judah in an article in The Wall Street Journal on April 7, 1999. Failing on the home front, he turned to trips abroad and contacts with world leaders, which served to create the illusion that freedom would come some time in the future, peacefully, through some diplomatic intervention, or after Milosevic was voted out or overthrown. This was also the perspective of the West’s leaders. They reduced the all-embracing issue of democracy in Serbia to the fate of one individual, Milosevic, and implied that democracy in Serbia would also mean democracy and freedom in Kosova. Rugova’s movement was in fact ignored by the international community at a time when the Bosnian Serbs, who were responsible for the worst acts of genocide in Europe after the end of World War II, were given their own statelet in Bosnia.
Events prior to the uprising showed that a similar pacifist situation was prevailing in FYROM, too, and the attitude of the West was not different there. The political struggle-only strategy was gradually leading there to a dead end and the paralysis of the Albanian political factor. Aware of impending events and afraid of an open armed conflict, politicians tried to prove that some improvement in the area of Albanian rights was in the making by hinting that the Albanian leaders were about to secure concessions from Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski. It was the same old story, which had been repeated over and over again for more than a decade.
The Macedonian conflict can by no means be defined as a war by one ethnic group against another as some are making out. The conflict would have evolved into such a war if the ultranationalists had been given a free hand and the international community had not been present. The constructive role of the Albanians, who guarded against provocations by the Macedonian side, played an important role in this regard. The Slav Macedonian supremacist factor, which manifested itself in such ugly scenarios as anti-Albanian protest demonstrations and looting and arson, came to the fore when the politicians, who always pulled the strings, deemed it necessary. Playing on political and ethnic emotions, they stoked nationalist fervor and fanned racial hatred among the most backward segments of Macedonian society. The aim was to use the socalled popular protests as an excuse for their reluctance to agree to a peace plan and bring pressure to bear on the Albanians and the international mediators. Once the Macedonian politicians gave their consent to the constitutional changes, the populace stopped turning out on the streets.
The anti-Albanian campaign of the Slav Macedonian authorities and the demonstrations and riots of the most bigoted strata of the population went hand in hand with the statements of politicians and ‘devout’ champions of peace and democracy abroad. The latter pronounced themselves against the Albanians because their fight had disturbed the phony peace in the tiny former Yugoslav republic and exposed the Western-sponsored, so-called Macedonian democracy as a sham. Though later they had to tone down their rhetoric, top Western officials and analysts sang the same tune as the Macedonian authorities. They dubbed the Albanians’ armed struggle “terrorism” in an attempt to discourage all those who would give it support or rise against the oppressive status quo. Others called the Albanian uprising a medieval option in civilized Europe that would fatally alienate the West from them.
Giving support to the idea that Albanians in the Balkans should sacrifice everything on the altar of Europe to the point that Serbia plays the role of “Yugoslavia” and FYROM is called an “oasis of peace” [a term used by the Macedonian ambassador to the United Nations to describe the situation in her country in a speech at Harvard JFK School of Government in Boston in early 1998], Albanians were advised to look to Europe and give up their radicalism. They were also pitied for being too pro-American and pinning too much hope on America. Even the popular pro-American sentiment of the Albanians, a legitimate sentiment that is grounded in history, was described as being out of touch with reality.
To do justice to the Albanians, it should be pointed out that they expect both the United States and today’s democratic Europe to support their just cause because they perceive the West as one and inseparable when at issue is the defense of democracy and freedom. Each part contributes to the whole to keep its principles intact. In this sense, the Albanians do not distinguish between these two inseparable parts of the West, though, to be true to history, we have to admit that they owe the existence of a small and poor Albanian state to the Americans and know too well that the partition of their territories has been the work of the European powers. In fact, if the Europeans were to face the reality, they would have to admit that the struggle of the Albanians in both FYROM and Kosova is a challenge to the solution that Europe has given the Albanian issue. Hence the sharpest condemnation of the Albanian uprising in FYROM has come from European leaders, who should also know that today’s problems of the Albanians in the Balkans are not the work of the Albanian people. As to the war in Kosova, it should be emphasized that Europe’s joining the U.S.-led coalition was a face-saving move in an extraordinary situation when the Serb onslaught aimed to exterminate an entire people.
What the critics and those who condemned the Albanian fighters overlooked was the significance and crucial role of the uprising and political struggle of the Albanians in helping to solve FYROM’s domestic problems and to bring Macedonian society closer to democracy. Viewed from this angle, the Albanian military and political struggle amounted to a surgical operation to save the patient. By fighting for their own rights, Albanians also fought for the emancipation of their fellow Slav Macedonian citizens from a backward mindset that justifies the oppression of other peoples. If history is a guide, a nation whose socalled dominant group interests are used as an excuse to repress other groups can by no means build real freedom and democracy. That nation cannot enjoy freedom at others’ expense.
Macedonians cannot be an exception to this lesson of history. If they think they are a special case and can be an exception to the rule, then the situation will go from bad to worse. In the worst-case scenario, namely, if the constitutional changes are not implemented, we may be witnesses to an interethnic war in which civilians on both sides of a deepening Albanian-Macedonian divide will turn against each other. While the Albanians will lose nothing but the chains of national oppression and discrimination, Macedonians may lose not only their privileged position but also the state.
Europe’s Macedonian Puzzle
When it comes to the recognition of civil and human rights, past and present experience confirms the naked truth that FYROM has never been, nor is it likely to be, either Switzerland or Belgium in the foreseeable future. The Macedonian state apparatus, which has always included some Albanians as figureheads, has not served democracy. Instead, it has reinforced Macedonian nationalism and served a corrupt political elite that has always worked to suppress non-Slavic, non-Orthodox groups. Albanians have no illusions about this, even though they live in a country that has set its sights on the European Union and signed the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU shortly before the Albanian-Macedonian conflict reached a dangerous flash point. Since the Macedonian state met all standards laid down for the countries that aspire to EU membership according to the decision makers in Brussels, the signing of the accord put the tiny Balkan country on the path towards eventual EU membership.
Those who attended the ceremony in Luxembourg on April 9, 2001 were unconcerned that they were preparing to take in a creature beset with contradictions and with a deplorable human rights record. Only when the rifle shots fired by a few Albanian insurgents exposed the truth about life in the Macedonian state and set off the alarm bells, did Europe began to pay attention to what Albanians were saying. Ultimately, the Albanians themselves imposed the need for urgent changes in FYROM. It did not come about as a result of some diplomatic or political move from outside or because of the evolution of democracy in the country.
An unbiased observer would call the ceremony on the occasion of the signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with FYROM a tragicomic performance. At a time when blood was being shed in FYROM for human rights, which the EU professes to champion, the European leaders looked the other way. With their act, they blessed the Macedonian authorities for their “democratic” achievements. With their blessing, they emboldened the Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski unblushingly to make the grotesque claim that the agreement was a “recognition of all that we have achieved in the last ten years in the fields of democracy, multiethnic cohabitation, reforms, regional and international cooperation.” It took the Macedonian authorities only three and a half months after the signing ceremony to denounce “the perfidy” of the West through their government spokesman Antonio Milososki. On July 24 2001, giving vent to a prevailing anti-West sentiment in the country, he called Nato “a big friend of our enemies. “
It is very difficult to put together the puzzle that is called Macedonia, and the way in which the international community has treated its “protégé” makes the puzzle even more complicated. How is it that a country afflicted with a serious internal conflict that still has the potential of spreading throughout the Balkans, continues to be whitewashed? The West European approach is as complicated to explain as it is contradictory in the context of EU principles and criteria. Although, as is commonly known, the Macedonian state did not meet the required standards, European politicians overlooked the facts. They told themselves that the Macedonian state was moving in the right direction and that it would little by little improve the situation of the Albanians, provided the latter were patient.
The solution to the puzzle has not been given yet. Nevertheless, the assumption is that the way the former tiny Yugoslav republic has been treated may constitute a precedent for other countries that leave much to be desired as far as their human rights records are concerned. This enables the international community to think that the Macedonian case shows that these countries can be reformed into democracies after they have entered the European structures. Consequently, a Sydney Morning Herald article on April 10, 2001 called the agreement “a template to hasten the pace of democratic reforms and easing of ethnic tensions in other states of the former Yugoslavia.” It can thus be assumed that instead of urging certain countries to institute democratic reforms first, in compliance with EU standards, the Europeans have opted for a simplistic approach in order to speed up the establishment of democracy and the settlement of national issues. This would make the road to Brussels easier not only for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but for the self-styled democratic Serbia, too, with its undiminished appetite for playing a leading role in the Balkans. There are also other such countries in the region and beyond that would love to start “learning democracy” as a part of the European Union by following the Macedonian example. With others’ help, the Macedonian authorities took the road to Europe by signing a stabilization and association agreement while waging war on their own dissatisfied citizens. If we go by this logic, Serbia should have joined the European Union long ago.
Now that the thin democratic veneer covering the Macedonian state has come off, the international community can see for itself that it has always been a repressive, hybrid state, which maintained only the semblance of a pluralist and democratic society. As the new authorities took over, and prepared the ground to further strengthen the Macedonian national element at the expense of other nationalities by changing the Constitution, the West took a laissez-faire attitude towards the domestic situation. Western Europe and the United States turned out to be mere onlookers whose only strategic concern was to secure the borders and territorial integrity of Slav Macedonia because it was supposedly threatened by its neighbors. They overlooked the essential part of the problem, which was the deteriorating internal situation — the real threat to the existence of the new state. Macedonian events bear out what has been declared on the subject by Holly Cartner, former executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia division. She has said that “NATO and its member states have invested heavily in the Balkans, but they have failed to insist on accountability and respect for human rights, bringing us to the brink of yet another Balkan conflict. This time it’s Macedonia.” It should also be added that the time factor was very crucial in determining the direction that events would take in FYROM, a fact that Europe and the United States underestimated. They were too slow and indecisive to step in to try to do earlier what they did after the armed conflict started. Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Rwanda, Kosova, and FYROM bring to mind Hegel’s observation that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history.
The Future of the Macedonian State
The paradox notwithstanding, in order to extricate FYROM from its crisis, the Slav Macedonian authorities must seriously implement all of the fifteen amendments that make up the Ohër [Ohrid] peace plan. To this end, they should look to other countries for examples of how ethnic problems can be resolved. In Switzerland, for instance, there are three distinct national entities, and three different languages are recognized and used. Belgium offers another example. It is divided into three federal regions: Brussels, Flanders, and Wallonia. In 1963, a law was passed establishing three different official languages: Dutch in the north, French in the south, and German along the eastern border of the country. In 1971, a constitutional change gave political recognition to these three linguistic divisions. Legal changes led to changes in education, too. In 1970, the Free University of Brussels was divided into two independent institutions, one teaching in Dutch and the other in French. Meanwhile, the Catholic University of Louvain was divided into independent French- and Dutch- speaking universities. These achievements in the area of national rights have not prevented either Switzerland or Belgium from prospering and further enhancing their democratic institutions.
Albanians demand their rightful place in Macedonian society, and they do not think that being on a par with Slav Macedonians will infringe on the rights of others or lead to the break-up of the state. Those who make this threadbare argument, which Albanians reject, are used to oppressing other nationalities and afflicted with the malady of racial and national intolerance. This backward-looking nationalism stems from the anxiety that Slav Macedonians feel about their future status when confronted with the rising power of Albanians, who have been more and more assertive since the fall of communism. And this is true not only in FYROM, but in all the Albanian inhabited regions in the Balkans, including the Albanian state.
Given the course of recent events and the facts already referred to, there will be no resolution of the Macedonian conflict and no democracy in FYROM until de jure and de facto discrimination against Albanians is really stamped out. For this purpose, legal steps should also be accompanied by a public apology to the Albanian population from the Slav Macedonian political elite, who must openly admit that Albanians have been discriminated against and repressed and that their legitimate rights have been denied. If it turns out that the government and parliament only have paid lip service to the Ohër peace plan and perfunctorily endorsed it because of the pressure of events and the dictates of the international community after almost two months of foot-dragging, the prospects for democracy and peace will not be that bright. Then there will be no frank relations between the Macedonian authorities and the Albanians, as well as between the Albanian and Macedonian peoples. Mistrust will undermine the already shaky and creaking foundations of the Macedonian state. In such circumstances, interethnic relations may deteriorate further if the West withdraws all the remaining NATO troops and the monitors in the belief that all will be quiet on the Macedonian front thereafter. If the West fails to keep up the pressure on the Macedonian authorities, other problems and pitfalls will follow.. Although it seems for the moment that a full-scale war and the collapse of FYROM have been averted, the situation there is fragile and the fate of the Macedonian state still hangs in the balance.
Confused, repressive, and violent policies and practices, which are the work of those who proved shortsighted and racially biased against the Albanians and unwilling to solve the Macedonian conflict peacefully and politically, have characterized events in FYROM. The current conflict is not an out-of-the-blue phenomenon, but the result of many years of ethnic repression and discrimination and a lack of farsightedness on the part of the international community in failing to tackle the domestic problems of the country seriously. In the new circumstances that have been created, Albanians and their politicians should know how to preserve what they have won by making every effort to ensure that the Ohër agreement is implemented in its entirety. In addition, they should not forget to base their future struggle for equal rights on their historical experience and to guard against provocations intended to discredit them. Meanwhile, Slav Macedonians should haul down the banners of aggressive nationalism. They should abide by the lesson taught them by the Albanian uprising and political struggle, which they are prone to forget if internal and external pressure subsides; namely that words about democracy need to be backed up with action and the rules of democracy upheld. Finally, they should once and for all give up their anti-Albanian stance, the source of contradictions and grievances that, as we have all witnessed, boiled over into a war that nobody wanted.
Political Director for the Balkans and the Middle East
at the Albanian Foreign Ministry from 1992 – 1996
February 27, 2002