interview interview interview interview  
Political and Security Crisis in Macedonia
An interview with Mirjana Maleska, Senior Fellow Researcher,
with Mirce Tomovski editor of weekly magazine "Puls"
(Interview is published in "Puls" - 14.9.2001). 
You have been dealing with interethnic relations for a long period of time; you have even written a book concerning the conflicts in this region. Did what happen in Macedonia surprise you? Could such dramatic events in the interethnic sphere have been expected? 
      There have been a lot of similar conflicts in the world. The several brutal ethnic wars after 1990 in the areas 
      of the former Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, unfortunately, created sufficient empirical evidence on the basis for
      which a new scientific discipline for ethnic-political conflicts was born. The structure and the dynamics of this
      kind of conflict have already been identified, as has the policy (instruments and techniques) for its prevention. 
      Yes, the conflict in Macedonia could have been predicted and should have been predicted. Thus,
      the death of soldiers and civilians is to be strongly condemned. They were unnecessary victims of
      disorientation, chaos, irresponsibility, incompetence, ignorance, narrow personal and party interests and
      ambitions, and above all, cowardice. If you remember, in the beginning of the crisis, the politicians
      "disappeared" and they left the army to handle the problem all by itself. Even today, many of the so-called
      leaders are hiding behind the people: it is their opinions that we should hear! 

      This is a small country, we know each other, who said what, who provoked war, and who strove for political
      solutions. Knowledge is not the most important thing in politics when different groups fight to gain power
      and to remain in power. During the last ten years, we have witnessed that different rules apply in politics: from
      loyalty to the leader and to the party to obvious bribery and corruption at the highest levels. This was even
      the case in a crisis as serious as this one such- the most sensitive decisions for our survival and our future
      were sacrificed in the fight for power and privileges. Therefore, I get sick when someone says that several
      intellectuals created a gap in the Macedonian block and that that was, allegedly, one of the reasons why we
      were coerced to yield. Poor us! You can count on you fingers those who advocated political solutions and/or
      compromises for the conflict. Although, what incited them to do so may have been envy, money, greed for
      glory and similar human weaknesses, they were immediately eliminated nonetheless. A respected journalist
      once said this to me: "We think this way, and if you think differently, that is your problem, make your own
      newspaper and write in it." On my part, I will only say that I wish that there were more independent
      intellectuals and competent professionals! I wish that we had a stronger opposition to the politics of the
      government. If we did, perhaps the seriousness and the complexity of the problem would have been
      recognized sooner. Perhaps, we would have been able to talk about how to put an end to the crisis before it
      was too late. Unfortunately, there was only general blubbering: "let's defeat them, let's destroy them
      immediately, in one, two, five days!" Everyone stood firmly behind one's "national cause" without heeding to
      the fact that such high levels of ethnic homogeneity leads to civil war. We had already witnessed a similar
      process in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia yet, did not learn anything. We recognized the other's nationalism
      immediately, yet for our own, we had understanding and excuses. Ethnic homogeneity is a known
      phenomenon in situations of ethnic conflicts between the central government and the so-called communal
      groups that fight for greater autonomy or secession. In the moment that the conflict started, the danger of
      possible border changes incited disagreement within the governing elite concerning how to deal with the
      problem and to treat the minority whose status was being discussed. Some favored larger concessions
      (decentralization), whereas, others favored greater centralization as a means to punish the rebels/terrorists. In
      essence, many believed that a military solution was the only solution to the crisis on hand. The stronger the
      threats for territorial integrity became, the more favorable the option for military intervention became: the
      majority group homogenizes while the disloyalty of the other ethnic groups enlarges, and so the
      disintegration of the state becomes more realistic. As an answer to the threat, the atmosphere heats, the
      obsession with the past grows, and the public supports everything that defends the "credo." The questions
      about which population came first and which has the right to the territories, and which ethnic group is more
      numerous are raised. The frontline of homogenization, more often than not, is taken on by the intellectual elite
      (writers, poets, journalists, professors) who tend to judge and accuse. Only a small number of people manage
      to rise above this emotional national sentiment and who are able to call for reasonable action, moderateness,
      political solutions which are necessarily based on compromise. Unfortunately, the public usually labels them
      as losers. The space for articulating such views is closed and the supporters of a political solution are left to
      wait until other influences and/or factors force the military option to be abandoned. Once that happens, the
      media becomes open to a non-military solution and in a sense, provides justification for that solution. 

      The crisis in Macedonia closely followed the structure and dynamics of ethnic-political conflicts, but if
      anything surprises me, it is how easily the truth was sacrificed in the name of their cause. It was done
      premeditatedly and with such cynicism. We learned how to be more skilled in the propaganda war from the
      ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia. Through the media, public figures and officials expressed large
      quantities of intolerance, even hatred for the other ethnic group (called a tribe, a gang, etc.), and for the
      foreigners. It is said that in the beginning there was the word. Truly, false accusations of the Chief of Staff
      giving information to the CIA, through the misinformation that 17 American instructors helped the extremists
      in Aracinovo, which was afterwards denied, to the silence about civilian victims in the village of Ljuboten, to
      the NATO helicopters that allegedly arm the extremists' groups, is all part of the inciting campaign. Then, a
      gang of irresponsible youngsters took a concrete block and killed the innocent British solder Ian Collins. Will
      anyone be embarrassed of this or everything will be forgotten? 

Where do you see the reasons for this crisis? 
   The story is more or less clear, at least to me. I will repeat what I stated for your newspaper just before the
      crisis and, quite frankly, what I have maintained the whole time. 

      The ethnic Albanian community has been dissatisfied with its status for 10 years now. You know that the
      political parties of the Albanians have their own programs and have expressed their requests in the
      Assembly. You know that they did not vote for the Macedonian Constitution. They say, "we are not
      satisfied, we are outvoted, we feel like second-class citizens," and we say to them, "you are satisfied, the
      interethnic relations are excellent." The attitude of SDSM [1] towards their coalition partner in the government,
      PDP [2], between 1993 and 1998 was to undermine the reputation of the party amongst the Albanian voters, by
      using the police and political means. During a conversation with a high representative of this party, he said to
      me, "whatever I request, the Prime Minister refuses me. I have nothing to present to the voters." As for
      VMRO-DPMNE [3], the party that won the elections in 1998, it sowed nationalism, got a kick from another
      nationalism. The leaders of this party could not or would not fulfil what they had promised in return for the
      votes of the DPA supporters during the presidential and local elections in the Republic of Macedonia. Let me
      remind you that right after the local elections there was a protest in Tetovo, organized by DPA. The protest
      sent a clear message that the Albanians in Macedonia should gain a status of a constitutional nation, that the
      Albanian language should be the second official language and that there should be a state university in
      Albanian. The leaders of DPA made it clear to Prime Minister Georgievski and his party that the stability of
      Macedonia is in their hands and that he should be aware of it. 

      While Serbian military forces secured the borders with Kosovo, and Albania could not and would not support
      secessionism in Macedonia, at least not openly, the balance of forces in the region was in favor of our
      stability. After NATO's intervention in Kosovo, the situation dramatically changed, but we did not provide
      the necessary analysis. In an interview that I gave for your newspaper before the crisis, I stated that the
      intervention would give wings to Albanian extremism and expansionism, and that the border between Kosovo
      and Macedonia would cease to be a problem. The international community, who entered as a helping friend in
      the Kosovo crisis, wasn't very quick in sealing the border because it did not want to cause dissatisfaction
      amongst the Albanians in Kosovo. 

      It was quite clear that Albanian extremism would spread from Kosovo into Macedonia, but the politicians
      inside the country were not unanimous in how the crisis should be overcome. This is precisely why ethnic
      conflicts are complex and difficult, and do not have easy answers: the extremist group that came from abroad
      gained support amongst the local population of the same ethnic group, made easier because of their
      discontent with their situation; the serious danger to territorial integrity, as well as the fist victims, caused
      extreme reactions on the other side of the conflict and homogenization of the majority ethnic group; in turn,
      strengthening the disloyalty of the minority group; if disproportionate force is used for victory, it could
      radicalize the situation in the country and cause negative reactions from abroad; if there is no military victory,
      then it is a kind of a defeat and there have to be negotiations.

      It cannot be asserted with great certainty that had we taken into consideration the requests of the Albanians
      in Macedonia for the last 10 years, that we would not have been on the verge of a civil war. But, certainly,
      there would have been greater chances to avoid bloodshed, and our national dignity would not have been so
      badly hurt. It was not done well, not only because the discontent of a large ethnic group was ignored for ten
      years, but also because after the crisis began, when it was evident that we were sliding towards a civil war,
      several chances to solve the problem were missed. In one moment in the beginning, it even seemed as if we
      had achieved the impossible: the DPA leaders stated that they gave full support to the government to deal
      with the armed extremists, but that opportunity was missed as well. Later, with the Prizren Declaration [4] , the
      terrorist organization, NLA, gained a certain legitimacy among ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, as an armed

      I want to make one thing clear at this point: the armed extremism and expansionism is to be strongly
      condemned, that the violence on the one side provoked a spiral of violence, one in which we will feel
      spiritually crippled for a long time. Yet, illegitimate use of force on the part of the police and the army cannot
      be justified, even when they are defending the country. 

How would you estimate the role of the international community, as there is a lot of controversy concerning this matter? 
   We were on the verge of a civil war and the crisis has not yet been overcome. The ethnic homogenization of
      the majority group in the beginning of the crisis, when the authorities and the intellectual elite joined together
      with the intention of defeating, militarily, the armed extremists, we witnessed the break up of the government
      coalition. The Albanian parties had different view of the reasons for and the ways to solve the crises, so we
      started sliding in the abyss. All known means of pressure were used for abandoning the military option: from
      guarantees of the territorial integrity, to persuasion, explanation, promises for financial help, probably to
      blackmails and threats. By succeeding to bring together the four largest parties and by promoting the political
      option, they gave an opportunity to the moderates to overcome the crisis. 

      The international community (EU, US, NATO, UN) learned something from the wars that have been raging in
      the Balkans for the last 10 years, and, thankfully, this time it reacted fast. They deduced that the conflict
      should be prevented before it turned into a civil war, that there should be a mission with a specific and limited
      mandate (this is the easiest way to get support by the government and the people of the NATO member
      states, as was the case with the "Harvest" mission), and that the two sides should be coerced to respect the

      Contrary to the popular delusion that the western countries couldn't wait to occupy us and turn our country
      into a protectorate, there was great hesitation amongst the government and the public in the western
      democracies whether they should get involved in a civil war somewhere else. In the case of the US, for
      example, the syndrome of the Vietnam War makes them very restrained and cautious, especially if they do not
      have clear national interest. Before any intervention, issues concerning intolerance, hatred and prejudices
      between the ethnic groups involved in the conflict are analyzed. The question as to whether or not the gap
      between the ethnic groups is too wide is raised before the institutions and the public in western countries.
      What if there are no good guys and no bad guys? What if the line between the victims and the torturers
      becomes thinner and thinner and the one-time victims become the murderers of tomorrow? 

      I want to say that the profound anti-NATO and anti-western sentiment created in our country is completely
      unnecessary. Of course, our dignity is wounded because they see us as we are: we promise, we sign, and
      then we try to evade what we had signed.

What is your opinion of the Ohrid Framework Agreement? 
   The Agreement enforces a guarantee for collective rights of the Albanians and other minorities in Macedonia.
      Perhaps nobody is content with this agreement, especially the majority that had to make the greatest
      concessions, but it gives a chance for peace and the future of Macedonia. Whether it is going to be like that
      depends on us, on our moderate behavior, because the model of either consensual or majority democracy
      does not solve problems by itself. It is well known that in societies that are divided by religion, linguistics,
      cultural and/or racial lines, the majority rule is not only undemocratic, but it can also be dangerous (A.
      Liphart). I hope we have understood that. What these societies need is some kind of a consensus (for certain
      issues), while keeping in mind the need for responsible behavior on the part of our political representatives. 

      Macedonia, as a country, will certainly change. In the beginning, there will probably be a great division
      (cultural and territorial autonomy) between the two ethnic communities. It will not be easy, but let us give our
      selves a chance. Perhaps we are wiser today than we were yesterday. 
      [1] SDSM-Social Democrat Alliance of Macedonia 
      [2] Party of Democratic Prosperity(It is a political party of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia)
      [3] VMRO-DPMNE is a nationalistic party of ethnic Macedonians
      [4] Political leaders of two main parties of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, I.Imeri and A.Xhaferi, signed in 
          Prizren, with A.Ahmeti, political leader of ONA(Liberation National Army of Albanians) a joint political 
          platform which was later on used as a basis of an the pace agreement with ethnic Macedonians (Ohrid 
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