Una panoramica curata dal nostro corrispondente Dejan Georgijevski sul livello di sicurezza in Macedonia: tra posti di blocco, rapine e forze speciali di polizia spesso più pericolose dei criminali stessi.

23/08/2002 -  Dejan Georgievski Skopje

Police and thieves in the streets, Scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition...
The Clash, 1978

"The security crisis in Macedonia is over. Now you have to concentrate all efforts to the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement and integration of the country, both internally and into the greater European family." Macedonians (we use the term here as a general term for all citizens of Macedonia) hear these words, or a variety thereof, every now and than. They are usually uttered by a man in a sharp suit, by definition a spokesperson of this or that international organization, or maybe a high ranking European official or some envoy or another climbing a plane at the Skopje airport after another round of "constructive talks" with the "responsible Macedonian leadership."

Is really Macedonia secure?
Recently, in Ohrid, a foreigner (participant at the Summer School organized by the Local Democracy Association and Osservatorio, actually) told me that he was surprised at how wrong the security assessment of his government (in his case Great Britain) was in relation to Macedonia. "If you read the warnings against travel to Macedonia, you would think the worst. Against their better advise, I decided to come," he said, "and it has been perfectly safe."
The fact that the conversation took place in Ohrid may have added to his sense of security. Ohrid is, after all, a tourist resort, some foreigners have been returning after years of absolute absence of more than a decade (until the late 1980's Ohrid had an average of 20,000 foreign tourists per year, mostly Dutch and German) and their safety is paramount to Macedonia. The situation, however, changes a bit as you go to the North, towards Skopje and Tetovo.
Gangs of brigands and road bandits roam along the twenty kilometer stretch of highway between the cities of Gostivar and Tetovo and attack travelers with hopes of a rich loot. The most serious such incident was the attack by a gang of robbers on the bus of a Turkish transport company that maintains a bus-line between Gostivar (with its significantly large Turkish community) and Istanbul. The masked bandits stopped the bus, shot the driver and wounded him in the leg, and disappeared with a loot of 10,000 EUR. Several other cars have been robbed or managed to escape with bullet holes from the bandits armaments all over their cars. One gang recently even had the gall to attack a police armored personnel carrier (APC) after the police was alerted of the presence of the gang by drivers that managed to escape them.
The scene is the Skopje-Tetovo highway, near the village of Zhelino. The families of the persons kidnapped or missing during the last year's crisis, unsatisfied with the report prepared by the International Organization of Missing and Kidnapped persons, stage a road block. Among them there is an unknown number of people armed with pistols and automatic rifles. The villagers of Zhelino, in retaliation that the road to their village is blocked, stage a counter blockade of their own, also armed to the teeth. Suddenly, one of them fires several shots from his "Kalashnikov." The people at the road-block take cover and return fire. It goes on for about 20 minutes. After it stops, a journalist goes to inquire who are the armed people at the Macedonian road block. It quickly turns ugly, and he is lucky that he got out without being beaten up. He also saved the camera, but on the other hand, refused to comment on the incident. Oh, yes, we almost forgot. The rumor says that the armed people were members of the "Lions" Police Unit for Rapid Reactions, loyal to the Prime Minister Georgievski and the Minister of Interior Boshkovski.
Some days before, the border police arrested several people from the village of Blace, who were caring illegal weapons, maps with Macedonian Army positions marked, some uniforms... As it is, a quick road block is increasingly used as an instrument of pressure for all people with a complaint (ever since the early 1990s, when the Krajina Serbs started using it as a weapon against Croatia). The villagers of Blace set up a road block, and said that no one will pass trough until their friends were released. Later, we found out that they also placed several ambushes along the road, with people armed with automatic weapons and rocket launched grenades, should the police decide to try and break through. After several hours, the police decided to give up and release the detained. The international observers applauded the "professionalism of the police."
To that, we can add the numerous kidnappings, murders, the increase in drug and armaments trade, and what not. In the most extreme case, a police officer from Tetovo was kidnapped to extort from him a passport for an escaped criminal now at large in Italy. After he reported the incident to the Police and his superiors, instead of waiting for the formal investigation and arrest of the kidnappers, the victim organized "a posse" of his own friends and set up an ambush, gunning down three of the kidnappers. Last week, the son of a wealthy citizen of Tetovo was kidnapped in the broad daylight, on a busy street in downtown Tetovo: the attackers stopped his car, dragged him out and pushed him into their van after they disappeared. The police conducted the investigation on the scene of the crime, but have refused to comment ever after. Most likely, the family has decided to shut up and pay whatever the ransom may be, just to get their son back.

Two weeks ago, in Skopje, the family of the respected businessman (with some shady dealings, of course) of Bosniak descent, Rafet Hadzibulic, was having a family dinner on the veranda of their house in Topansko Pole district of Skopje. A black VW Golf speeded up the street and two shooters sprayed the veranda with automatic fire. The oldest son of Mr. Hadzibulic was killed on the spot, while his first cousin on the paternal side was seriously wounded. Having in mind the number of people present at the family dinner, it is surprising that no-one else was shot.
Hadzibulic family first claimed that a person of Ohrid was responsible for the attack (couple of months ago, a member of the Hadzibulic family was wounded by Spiro Topalovski in front of a popular Skopje night spot. Moreover, they accused the State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior Venko Kalacovski of siding up with Topalovski and stopping the investigation, and announced that they will take justice in their own hands. The police remained silent.
But it is not as if the police did nothing, considering the following...
The long and strong arm of the Law
We have all seen the scene in numerous films. New guys come to a small town. They go out, one of them catches the eye of the local beauty and invites her for a drink. The local tough guys, sensing a danger for their territory, convince him to pursue his romantic endeavors elsewhere using some rather unusual tactics. Namely, they bit him up. Next day, he comes back with his own friends and they have their revenge. The problem is when he and his friends are members of the special police force unit called "Tigers." Fifteen members of the force, on training in nearby mountain of Golak, entered the small town of Vinica, and started a rampage that has as its result two utterly demolished night-clubs, one man dead and three more in coma. The Public Prosecutor has started the procedure against the members of the "Tigers." Their colleagues from the notorious "Lions" seemingly don't have enough guts to challenge local tough guys (it would be absurd, anyway, since most of them were, indeed, recruited from the ranks of criminality all over Macedonia). They prefer to beat up old ladies, as happened recently at a celebration in a monastery near Radovish, in Eastern Macedonia.

Katerina Blazhevska, senior editor with "Dnevnik" daily, wrote in an editorial that the real problem is that the police does not have anybody in charge. "Yes," she wrote, "nominally and in theory, Ljube Boshkovski is the Minister of the Interior. But in fact he is not. He travels around the world, talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk."
Indeed, one of the most recent blunders in the long list authored by Boshkovski, was his interview for "Nacional" weekly where he announced that "...after the victory in the Elections (does he know something we don't, since the elections are still more than a month away?) I will arrest Ali Ahmeti on September 16." The big question is, why shouldn't he arrest Ahmeti now, if their is ground for it? The answer was, "because of the forthcoming Elections, we do not want to create an unwanted situation". This is the most commonly used explanation by the security forces. Then again, who can blame them? Every since the whole territory of Macedonia was "reintegrated in the system" - the process was defined with the return of the police patrols to the crisis regions - whenever those patrols tried to make an arrest even of the most lowly street bully, or god forbid drug dealer or pimp, there are road blocks and claims that "the oppressors are arresting the freedom fighters even after the general amnesty was announced." The fact that drug dealing has very little in common with the activities usually associated with the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights remains unexplained.

We already elaborated extensively on the forthcoming Elections and the potential for violence during the campaign and on the very Election Day. However, there are new developments.
The Ides of August

Last week, the Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski provoked great concern when he announced that "the existence of the so-called Army of Ilirida was confirmed," with the goal of "liberation and unification of all Albanian territories." The intelligence services started proliferating confidential reports to the media (it seems that they lost all confidence that the Government would act upon them or take them seriously, after their warnings concerning last years security crisis were ignored by the Government officials). One of them lists several new organizations, such as the National Liberation Front and the "Royal Front for Liberation of Albanian Lands" (allegedly sponsored and led by the pretender of the long non-existent Albanian crown, Leka Zogu). The Front, according to the reports, will start a terrorist campaign before the elections, and will try to escalate the conflict to an all-out war in Macedonia, but also in Southern Serbia.
Everybody jumped to deny the existence of any such organization, calling it "a lie and malignant speculation of the intelligence services." NATO, bearing to mind that its intelligence was quoted as confirming the reports, immediately issued a very strong denial, followed by most of the political parties of the opposition, and naturally, by the political parties of the Macedonian Albanians. Just as the Macedonian public tried to feel reassured, and coinciding with the statement by the DPA leader Arben Xhaferi, about the attempt of the intelligence services to "smear the Albanians," the most serious incident of the past several months happened on the Skopje Tetovo highway. A group of unknown affiliation, attacked several civilian cars near the village of Kondovo with rocket propelled grenades and machine-guns. One person was severely wounded and the surgery operation to save his life went on for over 12 hours, and several others were lightly wounded. What was the meaning of the attack and who were the perpetrators remains to be seen after the investigation.

Considering the situation, it is not surprising that the number of illegal weapons in Macedonia seems to be on the rise. The citizens are arming themselves in the increasingly insecure environment, and they do not hesitate to use their guns. Thus the epidemics of nightly shootings in the air, both in Tetovo and in Skopje. Everybody that has a gun (and there are quite a few of those) easily finds a reason to fire several shots in the air. Recently, a person so unnerved by the shots fired at the wedding in his neighbors house, got out on his balcony with a "Kalashnikov" automatic rifle and sprayed the guest of the wedding with bullets. One person was killed and a dozen more wounded, the killed being a former "commander" with the NLA and candidate for a sit in the Parliament from Ahmeti's UDI.
The problem is, what should ordinary, peace loving citizens do? The best advise would be to stay low, avoid trouble and hope for the best. We do hope for the best.