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Macedonia after the Kosovo War

The Way Away from the "Powder Keg" to the Oasis of Peace"
- and Back Again



By Dr Biljana Vankovska

Associate professor, University of Skopje

TFF Advisor


1. The Albanian Question versus the Macedonian Question: Historical background

Peace and stability in Macedonia have always been heavily dependent both on internal and external factors. From a more recent point of view, it seems that the Kosovo conflict has explicit importance for the survival and future prospects of this country. It is a consequence not only of the fact that Macedonia is the nearest neighboring country, but rather of the fact that the Kosovo Question is a part of a wider Albanian Question in the Balkans. Moreover, within its own borders Macedonia itself is burdened with a part of this complex historical problem. The puzzle is additionally made more complex by the existence of so-called Macedonian Question.

The impact of the Kosovo conflict on Macedonia can best be explored through focusing on the facets of relationship between Macedonians and Albanians in a historical perspective. Inter-ethnic relations between these two groups are a part of the heavy historical legacy that Macedonia has brought in the period of its democratic transition. However, it seems that historical traumas between Macedonians and Albanians have never been as deep and troubled as those between Serbs and Albanians over Kosovo. Throughout the history Macedonians and Albanians have succeeded to maintain relatively stable relationships of ethnic tolerance, but not necessarily their mutual co-existence.

Within former Yugoslavia, despite being the poorest region of the country, Kosovo represented a cultural, political and economic center for Albanians wherever they lived. Strong emotional and personal relationships were developed especially between Kosovars and Albanians in Macedonia. Despite being situated in different federal units, due to the unrestricted internal mobility, Albanians in Yugoslavia were able to create their own ethno-cultural community. That fact offers an explanation of why the relationship between Albanians in Macedonia and Kosovo has traditionally been closer than contacts between them and the Albanians in Albania.

In the past the Albanians in Macedonia have closely followed the events in Kosovo, e.g. by organizing demonstrations in Macedonia mirroring those in Kosovo. Undoubtedly, there have always been strong links between the two areas. One can point out that occasional troubles in the relations between Macedonians and Albanians were rather the product of the conflict out-of- area, more precisely in Kosovo, than in Macedonia itself. Albanians in Macedonia were highly sensitive to every development in the neighboring autonomous province of Kosovo, while Macedonians were obedient to the federal politics and sympathetic to the Serbian leadership. Inter-ethnic tensions occurred several times and coincided with the similar incidents in Kosovo - in 1960s and 1970s. According to Albanian scholars of the developments in Macedonia (e.g. riots in the town of Tetovo) from 1968, many of the principal actors were actually Kosovars, who had fled Prishtina three weeks earlier. One can notice that almost every tension in Macedonia has been a reflection of the influx of Kosovo activists rather than a result of an authentic activism of Macedonian ethnic Albanians.

Especially, the unrest in Kosovo in 1981 had strong impact on the Macedonian situation. Albanians from Macedonia immediately manifested a tendency to emulate their Kosovar brethren. The reaction of the Macedonian government was harsh, although it is an exaggeration to describe the situation as worse than that in the Kosovo province. The purges were undertaken within the ranks of the Party's members with Albanian descent as well as among the teachers, imprisoning them for separatist and irredentist activities.

The history of these ethnic groups has undoubtedly created the elementary level of ethnic tolerance, but one cannot talk about their real togetherness. Macedonians and Albanians have most often lived next to one another but as two separate worlds where the elements dividing them have been emphasized more than the elements bringing them together (different ethnic origins, cultures, traditions, languages and religions).

The lack of social interactions and mutual understanding of each other's language, culture and history quickly transforms itself into fear. Democratization of Macedonian society is faced with the necessity of inventing an optimal model of co-existence between the ethnic groups it consists of. The explosion of ethno-cultural pluralism is not a problem in itself: the problem arises from the fact that the cultural systems and ethnic groups have very few points of contact, i.e. that they are separate and parallel systems. Therefore, simultaneously with the transition, the redefinition of the relations between all the ethnic groups existing in the country is a necessity. Macedonians were more directed toward other brotherly peoples and republics in former Yugoslavia for many years. It is one of the reasons which contributes to neglecting the internal plight on inter ethnic plan. During the five decade long existence of the Macedonian state, much closer relations have been established with the other Yugoslav peoples, which still exist today against all odds.

Despite all tensions and problems, the democratization process has brought some relaxation in regard to the inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia. Despite the constant grumbling about their alleged treatment as "second class citizens" in the new political system, unlike their Kosovo brethren, Albanians in Macedonia have used all constitutional and political opportunities to play a role of a significant political factor. One the surface, the so-called Albanian body politic looks like it has never been united. There are several political parties, whose behavior and rhetoric depend on whether they are in the governing coalition or not. Those Albanians who until yesterday were labeled as radicals are to-day moderates, and vice versa. The same conclusion has been proved also in the case of Macedonian parties. Despite these political fluctuations, the most important thing is that Albanian parties have been included in all post-communist Macedonian governments.

Under the different political platforms of the Albanian parties, one can easily discover several common features. In short, the primary goal of their political agenda is to gain and to extend their collective rights rather than individual ones. Their basic activities are directed toward achieving different constitutional status for their ethnic group, i.e. redefinition of the Macedonian Republic as a bi-national state; extension of the linguistic rights, i.e. affirmation of the Albanian language as a second official language along with the Macedonian one; education in mother tongue on all levels, including university level; more adequate representation of the Albanians in all political and public sectors (especially within the security and military forces), proportionate to their share in the population in large; and development greater autonomy of local government. As is correctly pointed out in a report of International Crisis Group, the parties are mainly divided over the means to use to raise the status of Macedonia's ethnic Albanians.

Very often the relations between the two biggest ethnic groups in the country have been uneasy and even troublesome. But miraculously, Macedonia has survived so far despite all bad predictions. Since 1991, on Albanian side there have been several important indications concerning the attitude toward Macedonian state: Albanians boycotted the referendum on independence in 1991 as well as the census; Albanian parliamentary group boycotted adoption of the new Constitution in the same year; in 1992 Albanians held illegal referendum which demonstrated that 90% supported independence; in 1994 they declared an autonomous republic "Illiryda" in the western part of the Republic.

Early November 1993, the police arrested a group of Albanians (including a deputy minister of defence in the government of Macedonia) and accused them of attempting to establish para-military forces. Their next steps ostensibly would have been to separate "Illiryda" by force, and then to unify it with Albania and independent Kosovo. Since late 1994, the illegal private Albanian university has been functioning in Tetovo, which is still one of the hottest political issues in the country.

The reaction of Macedonia's governments were certainly not always standardized. Some Albanian motions were met with harsh repression, others sometimes were simply ignored and tolerated. Although considered rather moderate from both sides of the ethnic spectrum, the previous government in office until the fall of 1998, didn't manage to define a clear policy on the ethnic problematic. It sometimes practiced a bizarre "ostrich tactic", and sometimes manipulated with ethnic issues in order to divert the public attention from the hot social and economic problems. In general, the moderates from the previous government usually flirted with the national sentiments of the heterogeneous Macedonian population. However, one must admit the fact that this government introduced the good habit of inter-ethnic cooperation, at least at the highest political level.

The new coalition government elected after the latest parliamentary elections in 1998 looks like a marriage of unlikely partners, getting together the two most radical Macedonian (VMRO) and Albanian (DPA) parties. In addition, another party (DA) participates as the third coalition partner in the current government, trying to play a role of a "mediator" and as a self-appointed truly civic party. This strange coalition has survived throughout the Kosovo war, but it still faces big challenges, the presidential elections at the end of October being one of the most serious given the different candidates nominated by each of the partners. The foundation for cautious optimism may exist as long as there are certain mutual interests - and benefits - in preserving power positions. Nevertheless, serious doubts remain as to this government's viability and its ability to reconcile other interests that are often conflicting and even mutually exclusive.

There are ambiguous attitudes toward Macedonia's stability. The strength of the Macedonian state and its stability are often greatly exaggerated. At the same time, Macedonia is also very often considered as a time bomb and the most dangerous flash point in the Balkans. It seems that the truth is somewhere in between: Macedonia is still searching for its own way, but being fragile and vulnerable, it is still very sensitive to all kinds of external pressures.


2. Impact of the Kosovo conflict on Macedonia: On the brink of conflict?

Although the Macedonian government and the so-called international community make frequent reference to inter-ethnic relations in the country, and especially to secessionist and irredentist aspirations, it can certainly be argued that - as we write in autumn 1999 - the most serious challenge to the Republic of Macedonia stems from the residual effects of the recent NATO military intervention over Yugoslavia and of the subsequent course the Kosovo conflict has taken. To evaluate the impact of these events on Macedonia itself and the region as a whole, one must have in mind the different perceptions and opinions backed by the certain segments of Macedonian society. Actually, there is a whole spectrum of viewpoints and evaluations that depend on to whom the question is posed. Therefore, we can't talk about a "Macedonian" perspective on the Kosovo conflict. Within this society there are, at least, three different approaches to the crisis and explanations of the (non)existence of a direct linkage between the Albanian Question in FR Yugoslavia/Kosovo and Macedonia. In addition, it should be pointed out there are considerable variations within each of them which complicate the analysis.

a) According to the official standpoint promoted by the (preceding) Macedonian government, the problem related to the Albanians in Macedonia is internal and, consequently, it should be resolved within the political and legal state-based and constitutional mechanisms. Macedonian officials make a clear distinction between the historical background and current status of Albanians in Macedonia and those living elsewhere. The first argument, which is frequently used in this context, is that the Albanians in Macedonia are a whole lot better off than their brothers in Kosovo or their motherland. In addition, advocates of this view emphasize that Albanians are represented in every institution of the political system. The government and the parliament are the places where they can and should make their voice heard. Macedonia's Government and politicians in generally take great pains to differentiate the solution of their country's Albanian issue from the solution of Kosovo's conflict. Having failed to satisfy some of the reasonable Albanian demands, the former Macedonian government contributed to strengthening the more radical political parties and marginalised moderate ones.

The worsening of the Kosovo conflict in neighboring Yugoslavia in the beginning of 1998 forced the Macedonian government to think of forms of conflict- and violence-prevention on Macedonian territory should problems spill-over. Until then there had been an official attitude that in case of armed struggle in Kosovo, Macedonia would simply seal off its borders. Thus, during his visit to Slovenia in February 1998, President Gligorov surprised quite a few and provoked both his own and neighboring peoples by stating that Macedonian authorities were ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for Albanian refugees in case of overt armed clash in neighboring Yugoslavia. The final destination of the refugees (estimated at 200.000 to 400.000) was to be Albania, and the whole operation was to be realized with extensive international monitoring. Reactions to this idea were mostly negative. Some saw the suggested corridor operation as an implicit insinuation that the Kosovo knot could not be untied with peaceful political means. Others interpreted it to mean that Macedonian politics somehow endorsed - or expected - another ethnic cleansing. The idea was supported neither by Albanian leaders in Kosovo nor in Macedonia. Menduh Taci, the vice-president of the DPA called the plan a "fascist idea," and accused Gligorov of trying to create panic and help the Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Many people in Macedonia naturally feared the future implications of a breakdown in Serbia as well as the many technical difficulties embedded in such an 'corridor' operation. Having in mind Macedonia's grave economic and social situation, it was clear that the country couldn't cope with so many refugees. There were speculations about possibility that many of the refugees would prefer to stay in Macedonia rather than to go to the impoverished mother-country', Albania. On the other hand, one could not exclude the risk of infiltration of some radical Albanian elements who would see it fit to radicalize the tense situation further in Macedonia. Last but not least, the inflow of such a big number of Albanian refugees could not but upset the fragile demographic balance in the republic.

There were even some considerations that in this worst-case scenario the Yugoslav Army could easily expand its operations into Macedonia. When the violence broke out in Kosovo in early 1998, some critics were quick to point out that the President's prognosis about the refugee influx had been exaggerated. Be this as it may, for a long time the Macedonian public was very sensitive about this issue and the government was reluctant to discuss it publicly. In 1998, the refugees from Kosovo were officially designated as "guests" of the Albanian families in the western part of Macedonia and not as refugees as would normally apply.

b) In contrast to the official government line, Macedonians traditionally have been highly suspicious toward the Albanian community, and especially its political leaders. The radicalization of the situation in Kosovo intensified even Albanophobia among the Macedonians. Due to the some historical and more recent grievances, Macedonians have not been very inclined toward Serbs, but their disposition toward Albanians has been even worse during the 20th century. That point can explain the sympathies existing among many Macedonian citizens toward Serbian side in Kosovo conflict.

Macedonians still cannot forget the very critical political moments when they were "left in the lurch" by the Albanians on the most substantial issue of all: the international recognition of the Macedonian state. The gap of mistrust among Macedonian and Albanian community became particularly apparent during the Kosovo war. While Albanians urged military intervention, Macedonians were more inclined toward "soft" pressure on Milosevic's regime. During the air campaign over Yugoslavia and the refugee crisis in Macedonia this question has transformed into yet another fault line between the ethnic communities in Macedonia.

c) The third perspective to mention has been advocated by the Macedonian Albanians. Undoubtedly, the leading role among them belongs to those Prishtina-educated Albanians eager to assume leadership in their community in Macedonia. For example, Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Albanian party that participates in the Macedonian government, was educated in Prishtina and for some 16 years he was a director of the province's TV station. Under the influence of numerous intellectuals, the ordinary citizens of Albanian origin have become highly responsive to the currents in Kosovo and during the war showed even their readiness to fight alongside their co-nationals and relatives in Kosovo.

In March 1998, when he was still a leader of the opposition Albanian party, Xhaferi said that the situation in Kosovo "is pushing us to be soldiers, to think in a military way. We are good soldiers and we know how to fight." This standpoint was repeated in January 1999 by one of the leading Albanian intellectuals in Macedonia, Kim Mehmeti in a TV interview given to a private TV station. Mehmeti, who is also well-known as the director of the Center for Inter-Ethnic Understanding and Cooperation appealed to his co-nationals in Macedonia that supporting their Kosovo brethren was their moral duty.

Obviously, the most prominent members of Albanian community in Macedonia are not willing to not make any difference in regard to the question of citizenship of Macedonian or Yugoslav state. Mostly they perceive the Albanian community as a whole. The strong emotional tie to Kosovo was explained in this way: "Albanians in Macedonia may feel an ethnic tie to Albania, but the big emotional tie is to Kosovo. Kosovo is the cultural and intellectual foundation for us. The writers, the journalists, the educators all came from Kosovo; anything of value is from there. We need to defend Kosovo. Should the first person being killed in the struggle to protect my sister be an American?"

On the Albanian side of the Macedonian society, there has never been any serious dilemma as to how the problem of Kosovo should be resolved: its rightful independence has not even been questioned. Like their Kosovo brethren, they openly called for a NATO intervention in Kosovo and punishment of Milosevic as the only way to stop the war there. Foreign observers in Macedonia had a point when stated that "Macedonian Albanians look northward to learn the lessons of escalation rather than Kosovo Albanians looking south to learn accommodation."


3. International responses to the Kosovo crisis and the position of Macedonia: Between the anvil and the hammer?

Since the beginning of the Yugoslav drama, numerous security organizations have proven incapable both in early warning and action, conflict- and violence-prevention and conflict management. The Macedonian and Kosovo cases illustrate two contrasting approaches toward prevention of immediate break out of a violent conflict. The Macedonian case is usually considered a clear success on the ground, even though there are no established, agreed-upon criteria on how to measure the success of preventive missions. Of course, one can argue that the very absence of violent conflict is the main criterion - but then, what is the time perspective? But a success must also include guarantees that peace is likely to prevail long time after the termination of a mission.

Thus, when we put it all together and analyse the character and de facto changing mandate of the UN preventive deployment in Macedonia (UNPREDEP), we must conclude that this unique mission was stationed for totally wrong reasons, based on a deficient diagnosis of the conflict: it was established to prevent external aggression from the north when this was a highly unlikely scenario -a nd thus turned its back to conflict potentials inside Macedonia.

As time passed, fortunately the mandate was transformed and focused on internal conflict mitigation, but officially this has been admitted neither by UN officials nor by the Macedonian government. So the much praised political will among all the relevant factors in Macedonia was based on a blurred conception of the real mandate of the mission. Undoubtedly, UNPREDEP's overall achievements were positive; but it did not succeed in really alleviating the internal conflict potential or to address the root causes of the conflicts. Basic problems are still immediate, there is no conflict transformation or conflict-resolution on the horizon. The greatest achievement of this early action was the avoidance of use of pressure or threats toward the parties in the dispute and on different segments in the Macedonian society. Interestingly, it contained elements of real preventive diplomacy on the ground and - more important - it was diplomacy not backed by force.

From a wider point of view, the main limitation of this mission of preventive peacekeeping was that it was tied to one state's territory but having to deal with a problem that connects with several territories. With the 1999 developments in Kosovo - which were very predictable and warned against by many for years - there is a need for reevaluating the achievements and results of the UN mission in Macedonia. It is crystal clear that Macedonia needs some sort of mechanism for conflict-mitigation and conflict-transformation within its own society. In addition, Macedonia itself and the region as a whole would benefit greatly if this mission had been extended in time to cover also Kosovo. The fatal delay of numerous and possible types of conflict-prevention in Kosovo jeopardized the situation in Macedonia. Without some corresponding or integrated mission on the other side of the border, UNPREDEP was not able to fulfill its mandate, as much as one would have wished.

The outbreak of open and a large-scale violence in the Serbian province of Kosovo is the final evidence that international responses to this conflict have been unsuitable and/or tardy. With their non-violent politics, the Kosovo Albanians "bought" some time for the international community in a very critical moment of escalation of the war in Croatia and Bosnia. The outbreak of violence in Kosovo was among the most predictable events in the world. Despite loud early warnings about this conflict, there was no early action. The period of several years gave enough time to the international players to implement some form of conflict prevention, but the opportunity has been missed. Both the Yugoslav (Serbian) regime and the international community looked satisfied with the situation on the ground, relying all the time on common sense of the confronted peoples and parties. Indeed, for several years there existed a unique model of hostile coexistence, i.e. a low degree of friction and apparent stability of the Serbian-Albanian dualism in Kosovo.

After NATO's intervention over Yugoslavia, it is reasonable to ask whether miscalculations of the so-called international community were result of its shortsighted and very often divergent policies toward Kosovo crisis, or there was something more in the background, something more deliberate in terms of a long-term strategy. The attitude towards the Serbian regime has been inconsistent and unprincipled since the beginning of the dissolution of former Yugoslavia. From one side, the West has treated Milosevic as "a butcher in the Balkans" and the Serbs have been satanised as the only guilty ones in the highly complex conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia.

At the same time, they accepted Milosevic's signature on the Dayton Peace Accords, considering that he was the main guarantor that the agreement would be implemented. During this period, the international community was deeply aware of the situation in Kosovo, but intentionally turned its blind eye to it. Actually, they tolerated the Serbian state repression in the province, while loudly demanding that the human rights of the Kosovo Albanians' be greatly improved. It seems that the international so-called community had intentionally waited until the situation in Kosovo had heightened so much that coercive international measures appeared to be "indispensable" and NATO could be sold as "there is nothing else to do now." Western global media indeed helped rallying public opinion behind the "we-must-do-something" policy. At that stage of the violent conflict, the international "help" inevitably has a character of involvement in the conflict, especially regarding the imposition of the final solution.

From a Macedonian perspective, the subsequent motions of the international community were extremely contradictory and even dangerous. Reportedly, the real motivation for the Americans and Europeans in undertaking all "necessary" measures including the military intervention over Yugoslavia, was prevention of the conflict spreading to Macedonia. With this stated purpose and with the rapid escalation of the conflict, due to NATO and the US transformed themselves from "mediators" into active, side-taking parties to the conflict, some very strange missions were established both in Kosovo and Macedonia.

The first one was so-called OSCE verification mission (KVM) in Kosovo, which was followed by the NATO-led 4000-troop "extraction" force stationed on Macedonia's northern border. Some observers believe that the real role of the OSCE mission was, in fact, to serve as a prelude for the NATO-led mission in Macedonia and subsequent bombing of Yugoslavia. Both Macedonian and international representatives were repeatedly stating that the "extraction mission" in Macedonia was of an essentially humanitarian nature and that its main task would have been to protect and evacuate unarmed OSCE verifiers if and when necessary.

However, suspicion about its real mandate increased when speculations about sending additional military force in the form of "extractors of the extractors" were revealed by the media. The absurdity of the mandate of this mission became very apparent when in fact OSCE verifiers withdrew from Kosovo without any incident, in a very short time, and just before the beginning of the NATO military campaign over Yugoslavia.

Since 1991 the Republic of Macedonia has been trying to deserve the epithet of "the oasis of peace" or "beacon of hope" midst the turbulent Balkans. Peace in the country has been a result of many endeavors undertaken both by the Macedonian government and citizens and the international assistance of various kinds. Suddenly, just before the military intervention, the mild Macedonian landscape was dramatically changed by the presence of the NATO forces. One cannot avoid the impression that Macedonia was put in a very ambiguous and undesirable position, at the same time hosting UN and NATO forces with essentially different mandates and different impacts on its security. As a result, Macedonia was transformed in a place d'arme.

If it is true that the UN preventive peacekeeping mission was initiated by the Macedonian government, but in this second case the situation was radically different. The installation of NATO troops was resolutely demanded by Brussels (and Washington) in a very critical moment of Macedonia's internal political life.

Macedonia was caught in an interregnum period, when the new Macedonian parliament and government were not constituted after the latest elections. By NATO leadership it was presented as a test for Macedonia's cooperativeness and willingness to join NATO. It was de facto blackmail and the Macedonian government had no choice. Both president Gligorov and the young prime minister, Georgievski, were faced with a difficult dilemma. They were aware that it was not in the country's best interest to participate in something that was bound to antagonize Serbia and looked like a support to Albanian separatism through violence. Heavily dependent upon foreign military assistance and tending toward NATO membership and EU integration, Macedonian government accepted an ever increasing foreign military presence. One of the leaders of the coalition government, a professor of international law, Dr. Vasil Tupurkovski wrote in 1997 that "Macedonia must not seek to exploit existing differences among the Balkan states, nor must it seek to improve its international position to the expense of its neighbors." However, being now in the ruling position, he obviously changed his mind.

At the beginning of 1999 the situation in Macedonia as well as in the region could have been described as a stage for a collision between preventive diplomacy versus preventing diplomacy. Previously, there was a widespread consideration that UNPREDEP had provided a stable security environment in Macedonia in which democracy could have established its roots in society, the moves of so-called international community endangered all positive achievements of preventive diplomacy, and brought Macedonia to the edge of catastrophe. The Macedonian case became famous in the world as a paradigmatic precedent of UN preventive deployment, which gave the Organization a prominence in the field of conflict-prevention that is supposed to be an essential part of its mandate.

In February 1999, on the eve of the Kosovo war, this unique mission was terminated, and very soon the role of the UN in the Balkan conflicts was definitively marginalised by the non-authorized NATO military intervention in FR Yugoslavia. The violent conflict in Kosovo was a failure of the whole international community, but the military intervention and the way it was undertaken by NATO was a failure of conflict prevention in general. Conflict-management by extensive use of force in and over Yugoslavia endangered and worsened the prospects of successful conflict-prevention endeavors in the neighboring Macedonia and the entire region. It has been one more proof that the international so-called community has not built a long-term strategy of preventing intrastate conflicts, especially not in the Balkans.


4. "Collateral damages" in Macedonia after NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia

The term "collateral damages", which has been cynically invented by strategists, applies perfectly to the war in Yugoslavia and the situation in Macedonia. The Macedonian euphoria that followed words of moral support and praise from NATO Secretary-General Solana vanished during the first weeks of the war. The government was soon in a state of shock. When prime minister Georgievski accused NATO that its military campaign was about to make Macedonia an innocent victim of the war in Yugoslavia, it was too late, because the country had already been badly hurt. Regardless of whether Macedonia was an "innocent victim" or a "naive collaborator" in the military campaign, it is abundantly clear today that the consequences of the war are visible in every sphere and that their reparation will be a difficult challenge for the long term future.

By 24 March, 1999, when the NATO air-campaign began over Yugoslavia, Macedonia's government was viewed with ambiguity by its citizens. Even before the outbreak of war, the public evaluation of the first "100 days in office" showed great disillusionment with regard to the promises made during the parliamentary elections. The new government that had come to power under the motto "Changes" had been anything but successful in bringing about real and positive changes, especially in the social and economic spheres of society. However, foreign observers highly appreciated the very experiment of getting the two most nationalistic political parties together in the coalition. Some of them hastened to say that the biggest trials in the sphere of inter-ethnic relations had been overcome and that the country proved its maturity in the search for ethnic modus vivendi.

So, the situation was far from stable - as manifested very soon by the de facto disfunctioning of the major political institutions and procedures. The maintenance of the ruling coalition between VMRO and DPA resulted partly from a compromise between their two leaders and partly from exercising the famous "ostrich tactics" that Macedonian politicians have developed to perfection. Whenever the problems were to be resolved through the legitimate institutions, tremendous obstacles appeared. The exit of such blockade of the political system was seen in "turning the blind eye and deaf ear" to the actions undertaken by the coalition partner. The survival of the Government, in other words, was paid for by sacrificing democratic principles and legal procedures. Macedonia's government stayed in office, but nascent democratic achievements and rule of law suffered unrecoverable damages.

In the first days of the military intervention in Yugoslavia when upset Macedonian citizens expected some official explanation by their government, the political institutions pretended that nothing was going on. The parliamentary debate on an insignificant law on communal taxes was underway without any disturbances before the eyes of the confused citizens.

The coalition partners, more specifically the minister of interior (from DA) and vice-prime minister (from DPA) were arguing over the legal status of the people from Kosovo that were arriving in the thousands by the day and night. DPA party activists were already active in the fields helping their kin. They organized efficient transportation and private accommodation for the refugees from Kosovo in the towns and villages in western Macedonia. Media announced that KLA fighters were given medical treatment in the Tetovo hospital, but the Macedonian authorities simply disregarded the information, indeed seems to have lost contact with the rapidly unfolding crisis.

During the 78-day military campaign, Macedonian police undertook several actions in the villages close to the borders to Yugoslavia and Albania and found huge amounts of ammunition and military equipment in what looked like secret KLA stores or headquarters. These actions were presented as a major success of Macedonian police, but at the same time nothing was done when there was a public Albanian mobilization and youngsters were sent from Macedonia into Kosovo to fight. In the same period, in an interview to the Italian Radio, Arben Xhaferi said that Albanians in Macedonia would not respond to an official mobilization call should the Macedonian authorities issue one.

The Macedonian government was crying for international help and particularly insisted on Europe to open its doors too - appealing that the number of refugees had become alarming and that it was an unbearable burden for the weak and collapsed Macedonian economy. On the other hand and simultaneously, the representatives of the Albanian parties and community were proving the opposite: that all the country's resources and capacities had not been used yet and that all the refugees had to stay in Macedonia. Their main arguments were that Kosovars were "at home" in Macedonia, and Albanian members of the parliament claimed that they were legal representatives of the people in the refugee camps.

The general conclusion is that during the war in Yugoslavia and refugee exodus of the Kosovo Albanians, the feeling of internal cohesion increased rapidly, not only within the Albanian community in Macedonia, but also between Macedonian and Kosovo Albanians. The Albanian ethnic community has been perceived as one unifying whole both by ordinary people and politicians, and the question of citizenship to two different states has been unheeded.

Albanians in Macedonia showed unprecedented empathy, solidarity and hospitality to their Kosovo brethren, while the Macedonians' feeling and attitudes were rather mixed and ambiguous. One part of the public manifested sincere compassion with the unhappy people, remembering that Macedonian people have gone through the same horrible experience several times during its history. On the other hand, there was increasing fear and even anti-Albanian feelings, which were often intermixed with anti-NATO and pro-Serb sentiments. Different political structures were manipulating with those expressions, interpreting them once as anti-NATO and sometimes as anti-Albanian and/or pro-Serbian attitudes. In general, the Kosovo war was a highly politicizing issue in Macedonia as it was in many countries in the region. Political parties tried to mobilize public opinion over this sensitive issue in order to win some significant points in regard to their opponents.

Actually, the attitudes in certain segments of the Macedonian society can be explained on a non-political basis. As for the Albanian side, the situation is quite unambiguous. War and sufferings of so many innocent people with the same ethnic affiliation inevitably represent a good basis for creation of sense of belonging and solidarity. The attitudes of Macedonians is more difficult to explain, because there were so many mixed feelings. Undoubtedly, Macedonians having experienced horrors of exodus several times in their history, manifested their compassion with suffering people.

However, their attitude was more complex, because they also felt a fear from exactly the suffering people who came in. The sympathies found among the Serbian people cannot be explained by a similar ethnic and/or religious affiliation, but rather by the image of having a "common enemy" in the face of Albanian population. The level of ethnic identification and homogenization of the two most numerous groups in Macedonia has reached its peak since independence in 1991.

Albanians accused Macedonians of lack of empathy for the refugees, while many Macedonians started looking at members of the Albanian minority and refugees as if they were all potential KLA fighters.

The seriousness of the situation could have manifested itself when violent incidents were imminent, especially in the ethnically mixed areas (Tetovo, Kumanovo, villages around the capital, Skopje, etc.) and between the refugees and the local population near the refugee camps. One of the reasons behind the skeptical attitudes of the Macedonians was that they had several doubts about the NATO military campaign; it took place without any legal authorization, with lots of "collateral damages" and it created a frightening pre-war atmosphere in Macedonia during the Kosovo war itself. Furthermore, there was the humiliating and arrogant behavior of NATO and it troops and representatives in Macedonia throughout the crisis.

Nevertheless, the deeper source of animosity among Macedonians will be found in the extremely severe social and economic situation. Even before the war, Macedonia had more than 300,000 unemployed people, and half of the employees had not received their salaries for several months; the number of socially endangered people was constantly increasing. Instead of an expected economic growth in 1999, it dropped by more than 10 per cent.

These economic hardships mainly affected the Macedonian part of the population, because the Albanians are mostly employed in the private sector, in small agriculture units or are immigrant workers in Western European countries. Macedonian firms were closed in a big number, and their workers sent home on a "forced vacation" either because of the lack of raw materials or because of inability to export the goods out of the country. The main roads to Europe's markets leads exactly through war-ravaged Yugoslavia.

Furthermore, during many decades the biggest trade partner of Macedonian economy has been Yugoslavia (Serbia and Kosovo). Understandably, devastation of the civilian and infrastructure targets in neighboring Yugoslavia amounted to a de facto strike on Macedonia too, its economy, citizens' security and future. Therefore, Macedonians spontaneously took a side in the conflict opposite to the one chosen by their government which was still trying, rather, to position itself by bowing to foreign masters in the competition race to join NATO.

Thus, while citizens engaged in public protests and anti-war concerts, the foreign minister was touring European capitals demanding a full NATO membership for Macedonia. His hopes was definitively ruined after the Washington Summit in mid April-1999. The chance of quick entry turned out to have been an illusion.

At the peak of the refugee crisis Macedonia hosted over 350,000 people (according to unreliable official estimations) which amounts to almost 18 per cent out of the total population. It was a burden that even developed countries could hardly have borne - and knew how to avoid. Macedonian citizens were watching humanitarian convoys for the refugees, while the international community was not even thinking about the damages that the host country suffered. The West saw Macedonia not as a sovereign state faced with a humanitarian catastrophe that greatly alleviated the pressure on Europe, but rather as a kind of nameless area settled by refugees in "tent cities" combined with thousands of heavily armed foreign soldiers in barracks and bases. Western journalists that were not able to pronounce correctly the name of the capital of Macedonia knew the strangest names of the refugee camps.

Cynicism and hypocrisy of the leaders in the Western countries only deepened the existing gap between the ethnic groups in the country. Humanitarian aid arrived much slower than the military troops, while the Macedonian state and Army were facing bankruptcy. In the face of complaints from the Macedonian side that KLA had moved its headquarters and resources onto Macedonia's territory and that the country might become the next involved party in the conflict, the assurance came from Gen. Wesley Clark and German Foreign Minister Fischer who said that they were personally going to appeal to KLA leadership not to destabilize Macedonia.

The feeling of insecurity among the citizens grew along with the increased number of NATO troops. At one point NATO had three times more soldiers there than the regular Macedonian army! - and kept on stating that its mission was purely humanitarian and that they were not going to transform NATO's presence into ground troops for an invasion of Kosovo.

The terrifying "sound of protection" over the Macedonian sky and the frequently heard detonations caused by some "mistakes" by NATO jets, were additional factor contributing to something of a war psychosis. After the first biggest protests before the embassies of the Western countries in Skopje, Macedonia's police corps engaged in protecting the alleged "protectors of Macedonia" - NATO country embassies - which only worsened the gap of mistrust between Macedonian citizens and their state.

The war is over, and the Macedonian government survived. The country has gone through the heaviest challenge since 1991. However, the story does not end here and now. Macedonia has been left degraded in political, economic, social and environmental terms. The country's inter-ethnic relations have never been worse despite persistent denial of that fact by officials. The gap of distrust and animosity is deeper than ever. In Albanian-populated villages one can see graffiti such as "UCK- NATO." The Albanian community in Macedonia has not identified only with the Kosovars, but also with what was seen as a common mighty protector - NATO and the US. For instance, the trucks of the Macedonian Army were attacked with stones while passing through Albanian-populated places by the citizens that were shouting their support of NATO and KLA.

Inter-ethnic confidence-building on micro- and macro-levels in the Macedonian society has been a priority and seen as a precondition for survival of the state and maintenance of peace in the country and wider. The task is difficult, obstacles abound. But there were positive moves since 1991, permanent and visible. By autumn 1999, after this unprecedented violent upheaval, we seem back to "Year Zero," a year when everything must start all over again. Traumas are now much deeper and numerous than they were before March 24, 1999. Regardless of the whole cynicism of this "B-52 humanitarianism," one must say that NATO has turned the hands of the historical watch backward and pushed Macedonia backwards in history. To start going in the right direction again, this must be acknowledged in a deep sense.

Its fantastic aurora of "oasis of peace" or "miracle" in the Balkans has been destroyed. Macedonia was handed back its old historical epithet of a "powder keg." This rather localistic prism in the evaluation of the developments from spring 1999 only confirms the general opinion that peace and progress in the Balkans has never been so unachievable. Loud optimistic promises and expectations connected with the utterly empty Stability Pact discussions won't change that a bit.


October 1999













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