Moving Macedonia toward peace

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 123 – June 2001

Originally published here.

 

The following proposals are presented exclusively out of a deep concern over the deteriorating situation in Macedonia/FYROM. It’s an act of goodwill from TFF.

We want to help everyone in Macedonia strengthen their belief in peace and work for it with hope and persistence. The aim of this PressInfo is to stimulate concerned citizen and political leaders in Macedonia, in the region and elsewhere around the world to produce ideas that can help turn Macedonia away from the abyss.

You may find some of the ideas and proposals “unrealistic.” But please look deeply into the problem; then you will also recognise that the idea of war and killing to solve social and psychological problems and bring about peace is even more unrealistic.

Those who insist on solving conflict predominantly, or exclusively, by peaceful means are at one with the Charter of the United Nations. Conflicts simply happen and are legitimate parts of any human group in development. But we must begin to recognise that violence is just an added problem, not the solution. It is easy to abstain from violence when we are at peace and in harmony. The test of civilisation, of whether we have learnt to clash as civilised creatures or not, stands exactly when we are most prone to pull a trigger.

The peoples in the Balkans and the so-called international community have pulled enough triggers. Macedonia’s problems are more dangerous than most we have seen as they could spill over, for the first time, to countries which are not part of former Yugoslavia. Handling the complex conflicts in today’s Macedonia therefore requires new thinking and courageous initiatives.

To put it bluntly, it won’t be enough to have single diplomats come visiting a few hours wringing their empty hands Solana style. The sounds of war drown their press conference mantras about “progress” and “understanding” and “stopping violence.”

The numbers below do not indicate priorities. Some of the things can be done by some actors, while others do other things. That is precisely what peace is about: a plurality of mutually supporting initiatives rather than a linear process.

 

1. Establish a National Truth and Co-Existence Commission

Most wars are made possible by propaganda, lies, stereotyping, rumours, threats and deception. They are fuelled by untruth. Therefore, the establishment of truth commissions is not only relevant after war, but also before war. In such a way, individuals may lay facts on the table and they may discuss their perceptions of what is true and what is not. Most parties to a conflict have a truth, but tend to ignore that theirs is not the whole truth.

In the case of Macedonia such a Commission could be called a hearing. What we have in mind is a nation-wide, televised process allowing all sides to present their views, their grievances, their fears as well as tell stories of those who actually already do live together and respect each other.

The emission would last several hours per day for a week or two. Experts, ordinary citizens, NGO representatives, theologians, social workers, teachers and others from different sectors would be invited to come to present their honest thoughts and opinions on Macedonia’s most pressing problems. All ethnic groups would be granted that opportunity. In a society like Macedonia where watching TV tends to be a central daily activity, viewers would certainly watch carefully and be glued to their screens.

Journalists, area experts and psychologists would ask the witnesses questions with the single aim of getting their views and their underlying assumptions clarified. “So, I understand that you, Mr. So-and-So, hold the view that Albanians do not have the equal rights. Could you please tell us which rights is it that they do not have but according to you they should have? In which sectors of society do you think this is most relevant? Could you also clarify what criteria you base your view on: their proportion of the total population, the level of education, preferential treatment, or something else? Please explain!”

There would be no judgement as to what is right and wrong, no arguing back, no debate. The sole purpose is for all to create clarity, understanding, to provide a seldom opportunity for all to listen to what the different parties, privileged and underprivileged, left and right, moderate and less moderate, have to say in sincerity and honesty and with dignity.

Who would ask these purely clarifying questions? Domestic and neutral foreign journalists, experts, psychologists, perhaps former or pensioned UN diplomats who know the country well from when they worked in the UNPREDEP mission.

There will be a need for shedding light on events that have involved violence. The rules applied should be: a) the witnesses are not allowed to point out who exercised violence against them; they may only describe what happened to them. Secondly, the witnesses can only tell what he or she has experienced, not what he or she may have heard.

Ideally, the Commission or Hearing should be led by one or two individuals with a number of Commission members whose integrity, fairness and impartiality cannot be disputed by anyone in Macedonia. It can be Macedonian citizens, foreigners or a mixture.

Such an initiative will help everybody listen and not only speak, see things from different angles, not only from “our” side. People who may not have noticed before, will find that there are decent and good-hearted people with legitimate concerns on the “other” side. They will learn how the “others” view themselves. Such processes usually open space for increased mutual understanding, for empathy and potential reconciliation. It could put a much-needed break on polarisation, fear, hatred and war psychosis.

The part of this process during which people will tell their stories about how they do live peacefully together, how they are friends or how they work together across ethnic divisions will undoubtedly be an important one at a time when everybody increasingly focus on their differences. War-like situations benefit extremists on all sides; this is the moment where no opportunity to bring moderates on all sides together should be lost.

Of course, the modalities of such a Truth Commission will have to be worked out. We can only present the idea here.

 

2. Hold a nation-wide brainstorm to create ideas about a peaceful Macedonia.

Every morning there is a story on the radio. One or more citizens get ten minutes to tell what they have already done to further mutual understanding across ethnic and other boundaries, or they call in to tell what they think they themselves or the government should do to maintain peace. Imagine the government set up a website with a chat room, organises various essay contests and stimulating activities inviting people to deliver ideas for a better Macedonia.

No matter the sector or problem: what would I/we like Macedonia to look like in ten or twenty years from now? Here we present our proposals and ideas in that direction! School teachers would get the kids involved. Nurses would tell what they think needs to be done to improve health care. NGOs would make proposals for a cleaner environment. Honest business people would contribute their ideas on how to reduce corruption and suggest sounder economic policies. Farmers would tell how they already co-operate locally and they would describe the kind of further support they might need.

This brainstorm proposal would help serve a double goal: first, it would increase everyone’s sense of participation and hope. Second, it would help transform the minds of many from fear, animosity and hopelessness to being appreciative of the value of Macedonia, of peaceful living together. It is important to help people realise what they have today and what is at stake if the psychology of war is allowed to spread.

All these ideas would be fed directly into decision-making bodies, they would stimulate parties and the government to be responsive in new ways and listen to all the creative energy that can be released in any society if people are given a chance – – to give peace a chance.

True, not everybody may want to call in to a radio program and neither does everyone have access to Internet. But then again there are letters – – and there are the young helping the older, and computer freaks helping the computer ‘illiterates’ to get their thoughts through.

This initiative would not only strengthen the wish for peace and release positive energy, it would also make democracy a bit more tangible and genuine in the eyes of the people. It is safe to say that 98 per cent of the people of Macedonia do NOT want a war and want Macedonia to live and prosper. We need to think hard on how to make them strong at this moment and speak up against ALL violence by suggesting alternatives to it.

 

3. Establish a Committee for National and Regional Security and Defence

It is the indisputable right of any country to develop its own policies on the basis of the perceived needs of its people. Macedonia is a young state that needs both time and space to find out how best to secure its future, how to meet various threats and how to meet challenges, say, within the next 25 years.

Many countries have conducted expert analyses of images of threats in the domestic and international system and they have devised a set of means, strategies and tactics, adding up to a doctrine and a policy for their national overall security and their military and civilian defence.

Modern policies in this field encompass environmental, economic, social, regional and global issues, civil as well as military means. Thus, security and defence can not be adequately analysed only within the Ministry of Defence. It takes a wide variety of expertise to investigate the real problems, look at them in a long-term and comprehensive framework, make scenarios, select which scenarios are realistic and which are not and put it all together in a set of alternative policies related to various realistic financial budget frameworks.

The ideal would be that a Macedonian Committee presented a comprehensive White Book which outlined, say, 3-4 models of national defence for the state of Macedonia. After a public dialogue about them, there would be a referendum held so the citizens of Macedonia could vote on the model they thought would give them most security and would, therefore, like their tax money to fund.

Given the contemporary history of the Balkans, it would only be natural if such a Committee also presented various ideas about Macedonian security and defence in a regional framework. Then regional neighbours might feel stimulated to do the same and they might see their own policies in a larger-than-national framework.

This, in turn, would strengthen democracy and people’s participation throughout the country. It goes without saying that there can be no solid feeling of security in a democracy if the policies of the government are not anchored in its citizens’ needs or citizens do not consider them legitimate.

Today’s often-heard argument that Macedonia has no choice but to go straight into NATO without even having made a national analysis of that option and compared it with other options is incompatible with democratic decision-making.

One of the models in the referendum might well be a NATO-oriented model that would explain the pros and cons and the costs over the suggested 25-year period. Should a NATO-oriented model win the majority of votes, Macedonia’s NATO-membership would be a solid and legitimate one. The decision would be transparent and made with open eyes.

 

4. Much stronger regional co-operation about development and security.

It is not easy to be a former East European Communist country in today’s international system. These countries need assistance to transform their societies while simultaneously their identities are undergoing deep change. What can often be observed in these difficult times is a successive erosion of the instinct – – and policy – – of self-preservation and sovereignty. How often have we not heard people in these countries say that they have no choice but to follow the advise (sometimes in quotation marks, it seems) of the countries in the West, to obey in order to become members of, say, the EU or NATO?

This is not only repression, of course. There is also a genuine wish to feel secure, to seek the comfortable (material) life, to participate in what is perceived as the promise of modernity and globalisation. Many seem to run as fast as they can from one ditch to the other, barely recognising that there are always some new masters waiting over there to embrace those who tend to rely more on others than on themselves.

Of course, these societies do not have unlimited choice. Neither can they be completely self-reliant; the times we live in certainly do not reward autarchy and isolationism. The interesting question is this: what, in spite of all, can each country achieve by its own resources and together with like-minded countries in their region? How can they build strength and compete effectively and with pride on the international stage?

In principle, Macedonia is centrally situated to help bring about a new post-Cold War Balkan identity and regionalisation. Given the present situation, its best partner – – with whom it also shares the problem of insurgency – -is Yugoslavia.

It can certainly be argued that it is high time all the Balkan governments and NGOs came together to stabilise the region by their own common efforts. It ought not be important which country takes the initiative.

Macedonia could take the lead in an all-Balkan dialogue (perhaps a series of conferences) on how the Balkan countries can co-operate to develop an optimum of security for all. In short, common security – – security together with and not against others. We believe that a new Balkan partnership, a varied, dynamic, multi-dimensional networking would benefit all.

A war in Macedonia is to the benefit of no country in the region. No one will be better off if the state of Macedonia as we know it today breaks down. An all-Balkan — and Balkans-only — conference process, something like the OSCE for Europe in 1975, should be initiated immediately.

The Balkan countries must finally rise after ten years of humiliation and warfare and assert their perfectly legitimate national and regional interests. They have so many resources – – cultural, economic, natural, political – – at their disposal. No other group of countries can contribute more to regional co-operation about development, security and peace. There is no need for them to wait for “salvation” from the West. By standing on their own feet they will be much more of an equal partner with the West.

 

5. Invite the United Nations back to Macedonia.

Yes, it sounds unrealistic. Yes, there is no mention of the UN as a relevant organisation to deal with this crisis. But international peace is indeed threatened by what is going on in Macedonia these very days. If you read the Charter you will see that this is a case to be dealt with by the UN, the only organisation that deserves to be equated with the international community.

The fact that neither the Macedonian government nor any international actors have mentioned the United Nations is highly disturbing. It is indicative of the game being played with and in Macedonia by parties closer to NATO than to the norms of the UN Charter. Potentially, the international post-1945 norm system is being further eroded these very days.

The UN is the organisation par excellence that has done most to stabilise and to help Macedonia. If not the United Nations, who has the experience to deal with an explosive situation like this?

What Macedonia’s citizens, all of them, need now is something like what the UN provided Croatia with 1992-95: protected zones, buffers between fighting parties to protect civilians, demilitarisation, local mediation, and intermediaries to talk to. Macedonia needs monitoring, border control, early warning, impartial fact-finding and reporting to the international community and the media. It may soon need humanitarian assistance and safety for thousands of refugees.

In addition, the country needs a small but quite robust force to create buffers between fighting parties, stop fighting, mediate and escort non-Macedonian warlords out of the border. In short, a small but robust military presence, a large UN civil affairs component and some UN police, preferably all drawn from countries which have no particular national interests in Macedonia. The model could be another successful UN mission, the UNTAES in Eastern Slavonia.

The situation in today’s Macedonia is in strong need of a “third” party. It must be one that can help mitigate the conflict, serve as a contact point and eventually as a mediator between the parties involved in the conflict.

The Macedonian government refuses to talk with the Albanian NLA/UCK/ONA. It is understandable that it does not want to lend legitimacy to it by inviting it to a negotiation table now. The obvious counter argument, of course, is that NLA can not be ignored and that by being ignored they increasingly become martyrs. Since they do have some support inside Macedonia, an end to the fighting and to the conflict can hardly be imagined without NLA’s participation.

The obvious solution is to have one or more organisations and mediators that are regarded by all sides as impartial to cool the situation down and begin an urgently needed conflict-mitigation process.

It will take sophisticated, principled diplomacy and mitigation before the government and the KLA/NLA can meet face-to-face. Then would come consultations, the preparations for negotiations, indirect and direct dialogues and shuttle diplomacy and, only as the last phase, negotiations together at the same table. Only after such a lengthy preparation is made can the real problems be dealt with by all sides together.

So, can the UN keep a peace that does not exist? That is not the issue here. It would be a political, civilian and military presence, negotiated with all sides, the aim of which would be to help prepare a process towards peace. It would not be peace-keeping or peace enforcement, it would be a new kind of peace-preparation .

NATO is irrelevant and has no experience in these kinds of things. The EU has no action capacity and got its military over civilian crisis management priority wrong from the outset. It has not even appointed an EU HighRep who could be permanently present in the country. After Ambassador Frowick’s private diplomacy, the OSCE is compromised.

Many say these days that there can be no military solution. They also say that they will not speak with “terrorists.” Two negatives do not make a plus. A new “third”, impartial factor must be introduced and it must play a new kind of role. That should be the United Nations.

Please ask why the leaders of EU, the peace project, have not presented a single idea that could help stop the violence in Macedonia. Ask why this very serious crisis is not discussed in the United Nations. Ask why the international media don’t report on the very large majority of the citizens of Macedonia who want to live in peace, together.

Please look at what happens in Macedonia and ask why things like those we have presented above have not been tried long ago. They are so simple! Unless we try these and many other things out, we have no right to say that we did all we could for peace in Macedonia.

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