Mirjana Maleska
Full Professor at the Doctoral School of Political Science, University “Ss. Cyril and Methodius”, Skopje.

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 rebellion.

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 agreement.

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 Agreement)