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The Macedonian Agreement
Restoring EU and NATO credibility
rather than making peace

 Dr. Biljana Vankovska,
Skopje and Geneva
TFF associate



Macedonia was the last miracle on the territory of former Yugoslavia. Paradoxically, today only a miracle can save Macedonia. Citizens of this country need a reminder, something that will help them keep sane and understand the current developments.


The three conflict miracles

A wise peace researcher has noted that there were three miracles throughout the decade of Yugoslav conflicts. The first one was the delayed outbreak of the conflict in Bosnia. In spite of all bad prognoses, the existence of the explosive ethnic mix and the spillover effect from the conflicts in Slovenia and Croatia as well as the catastrophic meddling by the "international community," Bosnia slid into war only in spring 1992.

The second miracle seemed to be the peaceful resistance led by Ibrahim Rugova in Kosovo. In spite of all preconditions for outbreak of hostilities (i.e. the repressive Milosevic regime and belligerent culture of his ethnic kin) Rugova managed to keep the course of peaceful resistance against the robust regime and to suppress militants in his own ranks. The international community's flirting with Milosevic regarding signing and implementation of the Dayton Agreement as well as the growth of UCK unavoidably brought to an end the phase of hostile coexistence in Kosovo. Soon armed conflict escalated, while NATO's intervention just fitted all too well into the overall spiral of violence.

The third miracle was Macedonian "oasis of peace", multiethnic model of coexistence and the unique UN mission of preventive deployment. During ten years Macedonia was perceived as a successful case of conflict (violence) prevention in the midst of a very turbulent region facing ethnic cleansing, massacres, refugees, destruction, etc. Finally Macedonian collapsed under the pressure of accumulated and unresolved Yugoslav conflicts, not having a real chance to turn towards its own society and re-defining its problems and perspectives.


When the international community blunders...

It now seems an established pattern that whenever the international community made a blunder in one conflict triangle, the people in the next conflict triangle were paying the price. Having failed to prevent the war in Croatia (Slovenian war is widely seen as faked i.e. agreed between the Slovenian and Serbian leadership), and after a huge number of casualties in Bosnia, the international community hurried up to get rid of so-called CNN effect by "doing something." Since then it has never been important what actually has been done, how and with what effect. The point was always to be seen to do something, and with more concerns about Western public that should have been kept satisfied and with a sense of self-righteousness. Nobody really cared about the "locals", the "natives" - allegedly, everything has been done in their best interest, in a way the West saw it, of course.

The West needed a quick solution and the Dayton Agreement happened. Praised as a peace agreement it only brought cease-fire for the peoples in Bosnia. This of course must not be underestimated but it created conditions for outbreak of immediate violence in Kosovo. It became impossible for Rugova to oppose the militants from UCK (that had been operating since 1993 but with minor success) by offering the long-term political process. Tired and disappointed Kosovo-Albanians accepted the short-cut offered as a solution by UCK and decided to take risk of getting independence by fight.

At the same time, democratic forces in Serbia were handicapped by the fact the West supported Milosevic as a strongman who could guarantee the Dayton Accords. Thus, Kosovo was ready to explode and the West was ready to do something. Having done something allegedly to protect human rights and lives, NATO endangered everything citizens of Macedonia had been building for a decade of inter-ethnic dialogue. Macedonia became one of the "collateral damages" of the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia. Thus it seems that Macedonia has been deprived any chance to be successful in finding its way out of the Yugoslav chaos, partly because of its own weaknesses and ethnic security dilemmas, but even more because the troublesome neighbourhood and international conflict mismanagement.


Little has been learnt, the Western public is still mislead

Ten years ought to be enough for Western journalists and analysts to learn some lessons about conflict analysis and peace journalism. However, simplicity is still the main rule of the game and the Macedonian conflict is being explained in the same way as the previous ones. The Western public is misled to believe that this new crisis in the region has its origin in the developments from several months ago. On the surface it looks as if, by unclear constellation of circumstances, this conflict emerged out of nothing. It looks as if first there was Tanusevci village, and then it escalated in Tetovo and Arachinovo, and finally led to Ohrid and Skopje.

Any wider framework of analysis would call for explanation of some more unpleasant details about how was it possible that the international community had not paid enough care to preserve the only successful conflict prevention case in the region?

It goes without saying that every conflict has its own structure and dynamics and, more importantly, the roots are within the respective society. The same applies to the Macedonian case. Undeniably there was an internal conflicts but violence was not its component for a long period of time. When we witness a conflict escalate from non-violent dispute into open violence it is reasonable to assume that there are also some radically changed internal constellations within the conflict structure - or influence of some external factors.

Sadly, today few Westerners seem to remember that Macedonia managed to divorce itself from the collapsing Yugoslavia in a peaceful way, and more importantly it has been handling its own conflict potential quite successfully. The real value of the achievements should be measured accordingly to the complexity of the conflict, which has had deep and closely related societal, economic, political, cultural and security dimensions. Violence has never been immanent characteristic of the Macedonian conflict, which also has never had just two conflict parties.


Macedonia - part of a pattern but also different

The conflict on the territory of former Yugoslavia bear (at least) one common characteristic: they all have had more than two conflict parties and there is a pattern in the transforming role of the so-called "third party". International mediators have always become an active party in the conflict, thus changing the original matrix and dynamics and, unfortunately, mostly achieving quick fixes and contributing to long-term worsening of the regional conflict puzzle. The Macedonian case seems to follow the same pattern but there are also some differences that should be mentioned.

Ten years of peaceful development of the young state have created satisfactory preconditions for common life of all citizens despite the undeniable truth that many issues have remained unresolved or could have been resolved in a better way.

There is an almost endless list of difficulties that accompanied the period of state-building since 1991. To mention just a few: an almost non-existent economic basis, weak state and democratic traditions, underdeveloped political culture as well as immature culture of peace and non-violence, turbulent and not always friendly neighbourhood, and more. Handling all this comparatively well, Macedonia should have been proud of its achievements.

Nevertheless, instead of strengthening her own self-confidence and self-esteem, Macedonia rather allowed its case of "unique conflict prevention" to be used as a face-saver by the international actors when it was necessary and convenient to them. By sending a small number of peacekeepers in preventive deployment mission, the international community could calm down its bad conscience. Despite its symbolic size and contribution UNPREDEP mission became a turning point for the United Nations as well as for Boutros-Ghali's Agenda for Peace, which was intended to have opened new horizons for the organisation in the new century.

The support that came from the international community was often inconsistent and mainly rhetoric. For instance, Macedonia was obliged to abide by UN Resolutions and economic sanctions imposed against FR Yugoslavia whilst at the same time it was under unilateral economic embargo by Greece because of the dispute over the name, which all together led towards economic disaster.

Macedonia was never granted any compensation for the losses by UN, and not even symbolic gesture was made about the bizarre name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, something that was a troublesome aspect for a country that was trying to re-build its new international and internal identity.


The turning point: NATO's humanitarian catastrophe

The turning point, however, came in 1999 when NATO directly imported the crisis into the fragile and vulnerable country. NATO added a lot in augmenting already existing economic and societal problems by grossly miscalculating the consequences of its "humanitarian intervention" in Yugoslavia that rapidly transformed itself into a "humanitarian catastrophe" for the neighbouring Macedonia and Albania.

The 360,000 refugees that Macedonian hosted represented even 15 per cent of its total population, for which it did not get any financial injection or compensation. The country was transformed overnight transformed from an "oasis of peace" into "place d'armee", inter-ethnic relations suffered a lot and shaken identities of the main groups emerged on the surface. Since then the international actors have started to openly interfere in the internal political processes of the country, while the memory of the intervention and, not the least, its use of depleted uranium will be remembered by generations in the region.

The international community turned its deaf ear and the blind eye to the early warning signals about ongoing transformation of the "oasis of peace" into historically well-known "powder keg".


The buzzword stability covers up manufactured instability

When the present crisis took shape &endash; such as the events in and around the Tanisevci village at the Macedonian-Kosovo border - the international community played surprised, upset and unwilling to re-evaluate its own role and contribution to the unhappy situation.

For years, the buzzword in its vocabulary has been the word "stability". Understandably, when somebody or something disturbs the nicely created image of the successful Western conflict management in the Balkans, it is a quite upsetting development for NATO/EU. Only then did we see various "fire brigades", special envoys and diplomats start parading throughout the region attempting to fix things and produce fast solutions made. Certainly, the real motive is not conflict resolution and sustainable peace, and even less a frank evaluation of its own guilt for the conflict escalation. Therefore, all is focused on swift solutions in order to get back to "stability".


- and the United Nations went silent

Perhaps the saddest aspects in the Macedonian drama is the fact that the UN has remained a silent witness of the crisis, in which a significant element of violence originated from Kosovo i.e. the province under UN governance.

On the day when NATO intervention began in Yugoslavia (24 March) UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan said that it was the saddest day in the history of the Organisation, referring to the fact that the military intervention had been undertaken without prior authorisation of the UN Security Council. Since then the Organisation has lost even the sense of shame when it is clearly marginalised in the matters concerning peace and security in the world. By size and number of population Macedonia may look insignificant but it contains huge potential to put on fire the whole region of South Eastern Europe.

Today, one day after signing the Framework Agreement for peaceful resolution of the conflict, finally the UN Security Council has felt a need to hail what its members mistakenly believe is peace deal. Again one can hear that UN urges, appeals, condemns and hails without making a simplest effort to take active role in handling the conflict that threatens the whole region.


NATO and EU credibility at stake

One may say that what we see is EU/NATO deeply engaged in peace-making. Indeed since 1999 the same duo (in different roles, of course) invest in EU/NATO "credibility" - the second most used buzzword in their vocabulary. This gives reason for deep worry: the experience shows that any time these powerful players put their credibility on the negotiation table it brings only more problems for the people concerned.

The Framework Agreement on the Macedonian crisis deserves attention by its content because in some respect it addresses some of the justifiable grievances of the Albanian population in the country. However, the "methodology" of its preparation, its undemocratic manner of creation and signing (behind the back of the public and the citizens), the social atmosphere in which it was done, and many other elements give solid ground for scepticism about the chances that it will ever be implemented.

Western "facilitators" have been more sensitive about the reaction from their own public than concerned with the way Macedonian citizens will perceive it. But it is their lives that will be directly influenced by the document's provisions.

To put it simply, the game is about restoring NATO and EU credibility and not about conflict resolution. They need to show publicly their best and noble intentions in restoring peace, and the moment it start going into a wrong direction there is always at disposal the old excuse about "ancient Balkan passions, militancy and statehood immaturity".


Learning to forget about democracy and transparency

There are solid reasons to believe that the majority of Macedonians would not have objected to the content of the Framework Document if it had been adopted in a different way. In additions, Macedonians should be happy because this "peace deal" is not named after a military base in the US (as Dayton) or a castle in France (as Rambouillet) but will be genuine "home product". However, now the more difficult part of the job is on the agenda, which is not related only to implementation of the agreement and disarmament of the Albanian para-militaries.

The most important issue for Macedonian citizens will be how to disregard and forget all they have been thought about democratic decision-making, legitimacy, constitutionalism, transparency and accountability and democratic procedures. They will have to forget what they have learnt in the last ten years (if not longer, since 1944) about statehood, sovereignty, and dignity. They will have to face the truth that what applies to any normal state in the international system does not apply to Macedonia. Even the bizarre name FYROM reminds them of a time in the past when Macedonia and Macedonians enjoyed a kind of political identity. When it comes to peace, probably one should keep in mind that every historical lesson (no matter how bitter and painful) is useful and worthwhile.


"Essential Harvest" on - unfriendly - ground

Yet there is an intriguing question that brings a dose of irony and humour in the whole tragic affair - and calls for a swift answer: How will NATO find a way to protect its credibility (i.e. implement its part f the commitment) and not risk the lives of its troops? If the politicians in Macedonia were ashamed and in secrecy accepted the Document tailored by the West, one can easily understand their embarrassing situation. Their burden is not small since they are facing the people and the future generations.

But NATO is now face-to-face with its own cowardice so well manifested in 1999. This time Operation "Essential Harvest" cannot be realised from a safe distance of 10,000 metres in the air. It requires engagement on the ground - a ground which can be very unfriendly with lots of armed groups that are out of any political control.

August 14, 2001


© TFF & the author 2001  


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