The Disingenuous Dialogue

between Macedonians and Albanians in Macedonia

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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NATO and the EU - and to a lesser extent the USA - are committed to preserving Macedonia's stability. The main transport corridors connecting the reformed Yugoslavia to Greece cross Macedonia. KFOR's supply routes and logistical bases are in Macedonia. NATO's southern flank - comprising the ever adversarial Turkey and Greece - may itself be destabilized by an inter-religious conflict in the cradle of Orthodox Christianity. Add to this the destabilizing and radicalizing impact upon the delicate fabric of Kosovo of the throngs of Albanian refugees from Macedonia and NATO's involvement becomes more understandable as is the relentless pressure it exerts on local politicians to deliver a peace and nation building agreement.

But an agreement between the leaders of the Macedonian and Albanian political parties is unlikely to succeed if it is perceived by the Macedonians as imposed by the West. The Albanians are likely to reject any agreement as too late and too little. The NLA does not answer to the traditional Albanian leadership. It has a mind and an agenda of its own. Moreover, senior political figures in Macedonia - such as the Prime Minister, Mr. Ljubco Georgievski - feel betrayed by their Albanian erstwhile partners. They - however reluctantly - opened the gates of their impoverished country to a flood of 400,000 Kosovar refugees (equal to 20% of the population) in 1999. The Albanians were handed important ministries and their participation in the public administration increased by 25%. Higher education in Albanian and an Albanian TV channel were among the achievements the current government was especially proud of. Hence the traumatic reaction of Macedonian politicians to the current insurgency.

Yet, they should not have been surprised. The country's intelligence services were unequivocal in their warnings of gathering trouble. Inter-ethnic tensions reached fever pitch during the Presidential elections at the end of 1999 when current president Trajkovski's win was attributed by the opposition to mass electoral fraud among Albanian voters. There were hints of a collusion at the highest levels involving a web of business interests and meddling Western diplomats.

Macedonia never really succeeded to integrate its Albanian citizens. They boycotted the 1991 referendum on independence and the attendant census. In January 1992 they held a plebiscite of their own in which they opted for autonomy. They publicly and recurrently rejected the results of the 1994 internationally monitored census (according to which Albanians made up 23% of the population).

Many Albanians in western Macedonia feel closer to their kin and kith in Kosovo than to the Macedonian state. In both 1968 and 1981 they demonstrated in solidarity with the bloody outbursts in Kosovo against the former Yugoslavia. The demand to be annexed to the autonomous Kosovo were often heard between 1969 and 1989. Albanians from Macedonia attended Pristina University where they interacted with radical Maoist students from both Kosovo and Albania. In 1992 the Albanians briefly declared an "Autonomous Republic of Illirida" in a series of demonstrations in Struga.

Macedonians intermittently accused the Albanians of illegal construction, purchases of real estate at inflated prices, mass immigration from Kosovo, re-population of Macedonian villages abandoned by their inhabitants, ethnic cleansing by intimidation of urban neighbourhoods, nationalist indoctrination under the guise of religious instruction, pressuring other Moslems to declare themselves as Albanians, and irredentism.

Albanians intermittently accused the Macedonians of discrimination in the labour market, in secondary, and higher education, in outlays on infrastructure (many Albanian villages still lack proper roads and are not connected to the national grids of water and electricity), and in the public administration. Albanians claim that police brutality, discriminatory legislation, and the exclusive use of the Macedonian language violate their human and civil rights. They lost faith in the Macedonian's will to accommodate their demands, however legitimate.

Following the recent spate of violence, Macedonians have come around to accepting many long standing Albanian demands. Others they reject as secession in disguise.

The constitution of Macedonia was altered in 1989 from "(Macedonia is) the state of the Macedonian people and the Albanian and the Turkish minorities" to read "(Macedonia is) the national state of the Macedonian nation". The Macedonians are now ready to drop this preamble and replace it with "Macedonia is the state of all its citizens". The Albanians demand to be mentioned in the constitution explicitly, as a "Constituent Nation". In the 1946 and 1974 constitutions of former Yugoslavia, constituent nations had the right to secede. No wonder the Macedonians reject this formulation. Another unacceptable Albanian demand is to possess the right to veto legislation and acts of the state. This would federalize Macedonia and transform it into a two nations state.

Yet, it is not clear whether these demands are made by the Albanians in preparation for an inevitable breakup of Macedonia, or because they so deeply distrust the goodwill of the Macedonians. If the latter, international monitoring of the implementation of an eventual agreement would go a long way towards assuaging Albanian fears. If the former, no extent of NATO involvement will be able to prevent a ferocious and Balkan wide war.

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