AIM: start

WED, 25 APR 2001 01:15:55 GMT

External Pressure, Internal Inefficiency

The two-day visit of the US Secretary of State Colin Powell to Macedonia was the culmination of international attempts aimed at letting the local politicians know what is to be done. For their part, local politicians are still unable to decide where to start from and what to do in order to pull the country out of the most serious crisis in the ten years since it gained its independence.

AIM Skopje, April 16, 2001

The ceremonious signing of the Agreement on Stabilization and Association in Luxembourg was the second incentive coming from the outside for Macedonia to come face to face with the grave crises endangering her very survival.

During his two days in Skopje, the US Secretary of State Colin Powell met with the top officials of the Macedonian government, all relevant politicians in the country, representatives of the Albanian community and officials of the UN Civil Administration in Kosovo. He also initiated and held a meeting with the Foreign Ministers of South-Eastern European countries attended by the foreign ministers of Albania, Greece, B&H, Bulgaria, Croatia, FR Yugoslavia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the host country. In a soldierlike and resolute manner, Secretary Powell told the ministers what the administration of the most powerful country in the world thinks of the events that could set the whole region on fire.

On the whole, the ministers agreed with what Powell had to say, i.e. they backed: American presence and engagement in the region, the territorial integrity of Macedonia and the efforts of the Macedonian government to react to violence proportionately while attempting to withhold the law, efforts to open a broader political dialogue on possible ways of strengthening multiethnic cooperation, stands the Contact Group took in Paris concerning the events in the region, resolutions 1244 and 1345 of the UN Security Council. " The cherry on the diplomatic cake" came in the form of a declaration stating that " minorities, instead of being a source of conflict, should represent a impetus for cooperation and mutual trust in the region".

Powell told the Kosovo politicians that they are to "condemn the violence if they intend to maintain the support of the international community". His message to the key figures on the Macedonian political scene ran: the US government wholeheartedly supports the territorial integrity of Macedonia and congratulates the proportionate steps taken by Macedonia against the extremists. In an answer to a press conference question concerning the ethnic background of the Macedonian conflict, Powell said: "The violence which erupted in Macedonia a few weeks ago was caused by extremists who came to this country only recently and those already living here. They have tried to destabilize this country in an unacceptable manner, incomprehensible to the international community. They have resorted to violent means against a democratic state genuinely trying to overcome differences existing within a democratic society. This sort of action deserves condemnation, whether springing from causes of an ethnic or a multi-ethnic nature, originating in Macedonia or being imported from Kosovo".

Assessing his talks with the local politicians, Powell said that he "had witnessed a good debate on differences in existence", adding that he asked his interlocutors "to speak to the point and to avoid generalization, after which all the important issues, such as the use of language, education, adequate representation and so on, were placed on the table".

Apart from declaring that the USA should exercise more prudence in the withdrawal of its troops from the region, the visit of the American Secretary of State Powell and the messages he delivered concerning the crisis in and around Macedonia, made it clear to all parties concerned what the US administration expects of them.

As opposed to the statement President Bush gave at the height of the Macedonian crisis, after the Euro-summit in Stockholm, which merely expressed support of the Macedonian authorities, Powell's approach proved to be much more balanced and more to the point: the condemnation of violence on one side, the distinct request concerning the content of the dialogue on the other. Understandably, the President of Macedonia, Boris Trajkovski was more than pleased with Secretary Powell’ visit. He was invited to visit USA and meet with President Bush at the beginning of May.

Nevertheless, President Trajkovski who has already held four meetings with the representatives of all relevant Macedonian political parties, has little cause for contentment when the actual results of these gatherings are concerned. Unsuccessfully for now, in an attempt to satisfy the persistent requests of the international community, these meetings are being represented as the crucial proof of the existence of the Macedonian-Albanian dialogue. Faced with the refusal of the parties to take part in talks lacking a conclusive platform (which resulted in the absence of two parties at the latest meeting, while the rest, for the most part, were not represented by their leaders ), President Trajkovski is now trying to save the situation by promoting the idea of a secretariat entrusted with dealing with the issue. The said secretariat would incorporate experts, established public figures and so on, entrusted with examining particular issues within the multi-ethnic dialogue and with passing their impartial judgement on subjects concerned. Their conclusions would then be discussed at the formal meetings of the president and the leaders of the major parties. The first and foremost dilemma imposed by this idea, as pointed out by most Macedonian opposition parties, is the question whether Trajkovski is not in fact creating a parallel institution of the system, an informal entity within which decisions crucial to the welfare of the state would be arrived at.

The second open question concerns the makeup of Trajkovski’s secretariat. On one hand, it seems as if the Macedonian portion of the proposed governmental body is to consist of the so called " independent intellectuals ," individuals reputed as the informal advisors of president Trajkovski on the crisis, and that, in short, the whole idea is but an effort to provide legality for their informal engagement. The said makeup of the Macedonian portion of the proposed secretariat makes the possibility of a dialogue carried out on equal terms almost impossible. No wonder that the propounders of the idea and their as of yet informal advisors are incapable of saying who is to make the Albanian part of the secretariat. For, it is hard to believe that any of the serious ethnic Albanian leaders in Macedonia would ever agree to become a part of a "phony" governmental body whose makeup is offensive to them in many respects.

The government and the parliament, the two institutions within which the interethnic dialogue should be most productive, are having trouble themselves. The system is paralyzed with the " frozen " relations between the coalitions, now additionally strained by a deep polarization along ethnic lines. Step by step, both VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Party of Albanians ( DPA ) and their leaders Ljupco Georgievski and Arben Xhaferi are distancing themselves from the concept of "relaxed interethnic relations" and drawing closer to the ethnocentric views of their respective ethnic groups. As for Xhaferi, this seems to be his probably sole chance to save himself and the party from a complete debacle in his electoral base, for Georgievski, a possibility to keep up with the "patriotism" of the Macedonian opposition parties.

At present, the idea of a broad coalition government, which would replace the current one, headed by Ljupco Georgievski merely tones down the tension between the opposition and the authorities. The leader of the largest Macedonian opposition party, the Social Democratic Alliance, ex-Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, insists that the new government should include representatives of relevant political parties and devote itself to a single goal - the holding of extraordinary parliamentary elections as soon as possible, organized in such a manner as to strip the ruling coalition of any possibility to demonstrate its dexterity in falsifying election results once more, as it had done following the previous presidential and local elections. For want of a better party infrastructure and the vacuum created in the representation of the Albanian population, the DPA, it seems, sees the extraordinary elections as a chance to gain more than its due in view of its true rating. Thus the DPA and Xhaferi only contribute to the further deepening of the gap, cementing the stalemate within the government and the parliamentary coalition and virtually blocking them altogether.

It almost seems as if the political trends within Macedonia are assuming the character a vicious circle. Of course, the passing of time does not favor a political solution to the most serious crisis Macedonia has faced since it gained independence ten years ago.