Dal nostro corrispondente da Skopje una rassegna delle questioni che rendono difficile in Macedonia l'implementazione di una pace di lunga durata. Testo in inglese.

04/12/2001 -  Dejan Georgievski Skopje

It is not easy being Robertson and Solana these days. Of course, we think of Lord George Robertson of NATO, and Javier Solana, EU Commissioner for Defense and Foreign Policy as spending many a day traveling to and from Macedonia, attempting to get the Ohrid political agreement in Macedonia under way.

Every now and then, one of them, or both of them, land in Skopje, get into the motorcade, and set off on yet another adventure entitled "Peace in Macedonia." They have to deal with a weak President, with nationalist Macedonian leaders, with cunning Balkan politicians, and mostly, with a lack of time. Of course they also have to deal with the Macedonian public, which sees them primarily as fiery demons arriving here to break up their country when all they really want is peace...
Or so they say. Whether they will have their wish is a completely different issue.

Their best chance is the much maligned Ohrid Framework Agreement, a wide spectrum document that encompasses the disarmament of the NLA, constitutional changes that would allow for greater linguistic and cultural rights for the Albanians, the creation of a multiethnic police force, a better understanding among peoples, and, naturally, world peace.

What We Are Up Against

The problem they have is that the majority of people in Macedonia don't really share this view of the Agreement. For instance, there is the problem of disarmament. An operation was designed to disarm the Albanian insurgents from the NLA, estimating the number of weapons to be collected at 3,300. That is a solid number, one may say, but Macedonian politicians have a problem with it. They see that number as ridiculously small, and it is hard to argue with them, keeping in mind that in a single raid after the Operation Essential Harvest was completed, they seized a hidden NLA arsenal of approximately that size. Besides, it is easy to get arms in the Balkans, a fact that has forced even NATO officials to admit that the real meaning of the Task Force Harvest is rather symbolic, signifying the readiness to give up violence as means to achieve political goals.
That is as wishful thinking as any, if we take into account the bombing campaign that has hit Skopje after the hostilities officially ended. For a month there was not a night in the capital without a bomb going off in some part of the city. This time, it was most likely the Macedonian nationalists planting bombs, trying to scare the Albanian community into submission.

Then there is the problem of the internally displaced persons and refugees. The fighting uprooted some 67,000 people. Macedonians fled to Skopje, Albanians fled to Kosovo. Albanians returned to their homes, because they mostly left villages besieged by the Macedonian Army, fearing reprisals. Macedonians on the other hand, are afraid and do not want to return, without a significant army and police presence in their villages. That their homes and property were destroyed only adds to their anxiety. These people still sit in Skopje, waiting for the Government to provide a solution to their problems, and such a solution is nowhere on the horizon. There were several NGO led attempts to organize convoys of internally displaced persons to the villages in the crisis regions, but the convoys had to return after being turned away by armed members of the NLA, or by the local Albanian population. The people that managed to get through returned to Skopje with the same convoys after collecting what little valuables they managed to save.
The return of internally displaced persons mostly depends on the ability of security forces to return to the villages that were held by the NLA. Monday, October 22, marked the beginning of the pilot-project for the return of the multiethnic police patrols to five test-case villages. The whole operation has turned into a laughingstock by the Macedonian media, since the patrols were to stay in the villages for only five hours a day, provoking a commentary by leading "Dnevnik" daily that "the policemen were there sitting at the local café, and asking the time from the passers-by so they would not violate the curfew." The fact that the first patrol was greeted by the sight, and sound, of the police station in Tearce (one of the five villages) being blown up by explosives, did not add to their sense of security. The Macedonian side demanded a much stronger presence of fully armed and equipped police, but they had to settle with the international proposal that the patrol carry only pistols and radios on them.

Did we mention the kidnapped and missing people? We would not want forget that. There are several dozen people that were kidnapped by the NLA, and nothing is known of their fate and whereabouts. The former NLA claims that they don't know what happened to those people, since there were some renegade groups out of their control that operate on the ground unchecked. One such group is the ANA (Albanian National Army), which renounces the Ohrid Agreement and announced that it will fight for the final unification of all Albanian lands and the creation of Greater Albania. The ANA is seen by many as a fictional NLA creation, designed to enable the NLA to dismiss the accusations for war crimes and human rights violations, saying simply "No, the ANA did it?" And mind you, there is now an increased interest by The Hague based ICTY for war crimes in Macedonia.
Finally, there is the problem of amnesty for all members of the NLA. International representatives have spent numerous hours convincing the Macedonian authorities that there is nothing wrong in announcing general amnesty for all people that took up arms. Look at what such a move accomplished in Southern Serbia, they said. They even brought in the Serbian Minister of the Interior, Nebojsa Covic, to help in the process. Macedonian politicians finally agreed to get on with the amnesty issue for former NLA members. However, in regards to people accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Macedonian government has agreed to transfer the competencies to the ICTY.

Macedonian politicians used all of the previous issues in order to stall the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement. "You want a Parliamentary vote, they would say to Solana and Robertson, or to their representatives Pardew and Leotard, than we want to see people back to their homes and villages. You don't want amendments to the Ohrid Agreement. OK, let's discuss the missing and the kidnapped." Nevertheless, such attempts rarely succeeded, with Western representatives bringing up the issue of the Donors' Conference for Macedonia, and Macedonian integration into EU and NATO as a countermeasure to the demands of Macedonian politicians.

The Ohrid Agreement: Food for Thought

So, we arrive at the ultimate issue. Is the Ohrid Agreement, together with the implementation of the Constitutional changes it proposes, really capable of bringing lasting peace in Macedonia?
It may just as well achieve that, at least over the forthcoming winter, traditionally a bad season for war making in the Balkans. The optimistic view positions the new conflict in three years time for the following reasons.

First, apart from the Albanians themselves, no one is really happy with the Agreement. Macedonians now feel that they have become a minority in their own country, and the other minorities are frustrated by being further marginalized. Just to illustrate, several days ago there was an incident involving the U.S. instructors in charge of training the new multiethnic police force. They refused to let the Roma candidates into the facility, saying, as reported, that they were there only for the Albanians.
Second, the Macedonian political block continues with the efforts to introduce some changes and amendments into the Ohrid Agreement. They had success, for instance, with the Preamble of the Constitution, since they managed to get the phrase "Macedonian People" back into it (with some significant arm twisting by the International Community on the Albanian politicians this time), much to the chagrin and dissatisfaction of the Albanians. The latest speculation (Dnevnik of October 31, 2001) has it that the Macedonian politicians, fearing their falling ratings with the voters, will try to postpone the whole procedure until after the elections. That plan has the Speaker of the Parliament announcing the new elections for January 27, 2002, and the MPs will stall until then. That action is understandable, since Macedonian politicians want to win some elections too. And the way public opinion is going they won't be able to do that with the uncomfortable burden of the Ohrid Agreement on their backs.

The major problem and cause for pessimism is the fact that the conflict has only widened and deepened the already existing gap between the two societies. To be quite honest, there was never much contact between the two prior to the conflict. Albanians and Macedonians led almost totally segregated lives, not interfering much with the other community's affairs. Yes, the Government always said that the interethnic relations were relaxed and as good as possible. In fact, they were so relaxed that they were almost non-existent. Everything was divided: the media, shops, cafes, nightlife, and even the music. The only point of contact was at the level of political leadership and elite, and of course (this is the Balkans, after all), organized crime.
Finally, be aware of the fact that both communities feel that they could have easily won this war, were it not for the international community that pressed them to install great restraint on themselves when dealing with the enemy. Therefore, it is fair to expect that the two sides will use in the coming months, and hopefully years, ahead to prepare and arm themselves to the teeth. It will be very difficult for the Macedonians to forget the "betrayal" of the Albanians, as it will be difficult for the Albanians, once they realize they did not, after all, get more than what they already had. The fact that most of their demands are very legitimate, will only add to the sense of dissatisfaction.

Generally speaking, Lord Robertson was quite to the point when he said recently that "hungry children can not eat constitutional amendments." But they also fail to find any nutritious value in any of his promises for economic help once everybody in Macedonia decides to integrate into a single Macedonian nation based on the proposition that we are citizens and not members of ethnic communities. The Ohrid Agreement already did the damage with its insistence on collective, instead of individual rights. Collective rights are hardly edible, too.
What we have left here is the hope for a long, cold winter.


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