Macedonia – not innocent

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 120 – May 17, 2001

Originally published here.

 

PressInfo 118 offers an independent analysis of 11 reasons why Macedonia is at the brink of war. Number 119 deals with the way the United Nations was forced out of Macedonia and not employed in Kosovo at the time when it could have made a difference. In short, there was a hidden agenda. This one deals mainly with the obvious question:

 

Is Macedonia and its various groups totally innocent?

Of course not! In some respects there is more repression of the Albanians in Macedonia than in Kosovo. Thus, for instance, Pristina University was the centre of learning for Albanians while for almost a decade the issue of higher education for Albanians have been controversial and, since 1997, the Tetovo University considered illegal by the majority. Albanians do not play a role commensurate to the proportion they make up of the population (25 – 40 pct depending on sources); whether this is a relevant criteria is another matter. If you go to the National Museum in Skopje you will not see a trace of Albanian culture. The constitution is ethnic-oriented rather than citizens-oriented.

In spite of all this, it is important to emphasise that the situation in no way justifies armed struggle or the extremist claims on both sides that ‘the others’ understand only weapons. True, it is not a perfect world, but the de facto presence of Albanians in politics, trade, schools and media in today’s Macedonia make the claim that “we are so repressed and nothing else will help so we must take to weapons” one that borders on hysteria or propaganda.

Those in Macedonia who had it in their power to do so never really sustained an honest inter-ethnic dialogue throughout society or at a government level. Informal segregation is practised by both sides in schools, media, clubs, restaurants and residential areas: “We don’t mix with ‘them’ – “we can’t live together but perhaps as neighbours” – “I would never have a boyfriend among them” – are statements visitors have heard repeated year after year.

There was no overall policy or strategy, no leadership or vision that could bring substantial reforms and promote genuine trust. Muddling through by postponing decisions and changes became the order of the day practiced by both sides in government as well as municipalities. And, you may say, confirmed by US and EU diplomats who insisted on calling this fundamentally fragile state of affairs “an oasis of peace.”

Being a Macedonian in Albanian-majority areas – and vice versa – is, to say the least not that easy. There is fear on both sides and fear is much more important than evil – of which there is very little.

A marked difference from Kosovo was that there was enough formal co-operation to make everybody pretend that things would go well, in spite of all. The conflict in Macedonia is more about the future than about the present, more about structures and relative influence or power-sharing than about violence and repression. Generally speaking, Macedonian Albanians have had more moderate demands than have the Kosovo-Albanians who long ago declared that the only thing acceptable would be an independent Kosova.

Macedonia’s Albanians have been much less confrontational. They could envisage their own influence on all Macedonia as much greater than could the Kosovo-Albanians in the much bigger Serbia. They have a stake in Macedonia to an extent that Kosovo-Albanians could not see in Serbia (at least not under Milosevic).

That is why moderate Albanians in Macedonia are now squeezed. They must feel quite some sympathy for those who have taken to arms since there is a structural as well as direct repression. At the same time they recognise that an armed struggle could well ruin the vision of one whole future Macedonia over which they have substantial, if not dominant, influence.

As easy as it is to see that there is not a completely fair treatment of Albanians in today’s Macedonia, it is just as easy to understand that many Macedonians fear for their relative status and influence in tomorrow’s Macedonia.

Handing out weapons to the government and the rebels in a situation like this serves the military-industrial complexes in the West, the mafia and intelligence services, not the people, not democracy, not the much-celebrated stability in the Balkans. These actors, rather than the parties, should now be condemned.

No military struggle will make a single Albanian or Macedonian or future generations better off. No co-existence and power-sharing model will become more possible after a civil war. Intelligent and moderate people on both sides have drawn that conclusion long ago from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. But they are helpless against those in the peace-loving international community who have destabilised Macedonia, shaken her identities and armed both the government (to be able to join NATO) and the Albanian side and let it all spill-over from Kosovo.

 

Why does Macedonia somehow accept her situation?

Because it hoped to get into the Western club quickly. In the intellectual and political vacuum after Communism, it did not occur to it that it could exercise a new freedom of its own and think independently. So it didn’t, it crawled from one client role to the next, from East European to Western authoritarianism.

Macedonians, like others in Eastern Europe, have learnt the lesson: democracy doesn’t mean to have choice. Government officials, parliamentarians and most intellectuals see no alternative to membership in NATO and the EU, to submitting under foreign penetration, investments, IMF/World Bank conditionalities, privatisation and prostitution in more than one sense.

You just have to imagine a scenario like this: the Macedonian government sets up a committee tasked with producing, say, 5 different models of security and defence policies for the future. It would be based on 2-3 years of research by independent Macedonian scholars assisted by independent foreign experts into the question: what are the likely economic, social, cultural, military and other threats to the country, its society and people, the next 20-30 years?

Only one of the five models would include NATO membership, the rest would be mixtures of elements such as human security, common security, Balkan cooperation, nonviolence, civil defence, ecological balance, defensive military defence, active peaceful foreign policy, development of friendly neighbourly relations etc. The costs to the Macedonian taxpayers for each model would be estimated and the opportunity costs calculated: how much can we get in terms of social welfare, education, culture, economic development, basic human need satisfaction etc for what we choose to invest in each model?

In short, simply give the Macedonians a real choice, comprehensive information about the estimated costs, benefits and risks, of each option; let them see the broader spectrum of thinkable futures and DISCUSS them freely and let them then vote for the one most people would want. The international community has, of course, guaranteed that it will support the realisation of the future chosen by the Macedonians.

This would come close to genuine democracy. I doubt that the Macedonians would choose NATO membership as their first option IF helped to visualise other options. However, should they vote for NATO membership as number one, that would be a genuine choice, a policy chosen with open eyes and solidly anchored in the popular will.

Why is such a perfectly natural scenario considered totally unrealistic?

Well, by acquiescing and by never speaking critically about the U.S. or the EU, they desperately hope to benefit a little from modernity and globalisation. In short, they have learnt to look happy and say the right things for the simple reason that they are smart enough to see that their new masters want to control them instead of setting them free.

Imperial powers have demonstrated throughout history that control and war, threatened or real, go hand in hand. Some call it divide et impera. They know that they have to go hand in hand: to prevent people from getting too liberal, independent-minded ideas about freedom and peace…

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