The Macedonian Tendency: July 2006

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Nationalism Still a Threat in Macedonia - New York Times

A good article from the New York Times by By Nicholas Wood. It shows the Macedonian government walking on egg shells not to upset radical Albanian activists for fear of upseting their American protectors. The US is playing a dirty game in the Balkans by allying themselves with Muslim Albanians against Christian Macedonians. They hope to show the "Muslim World" that, notwithstanding Iraq, Iran, Lebannon, and Palestine, the "born again Christian" Bush loves Muslims. In this case, Albanians are lucky to get the elevator while Macedonians get the shaft.

By the way, our friend Mr. Wood wrote a piece a while back on Macedonian refugees from Greece saying Macedonians were only interested in getting their confiscated properties back ... no mention of human rights violations in Greece. OUCH!

Nationalism Still a Threat in Macedonia - New York Times

SKOPJE, Macedonia, July 1 — Agim Krasniqi cuts an unlikely figure for a politician here. With casual clothes, lank hair and a fashionably clipped beard, he does not look like most of the men in suits campaigning for Parliament. But his appearance is not the only reason he stands out; he is also Macedonia's best-known outlaw.

Mr. Krasniqi, 33, is an ethnic Albanian who has been wanted by the police for more than a year. They want to prosecute him as the leader of a band of armed insurgents based in a village near Skopje, the capital. His party is all but daring the police to arrest him, knowing that would cause a political storm and raise nationalist feelings.

Macedonia has made substantial progress toward recovery after a six-month conflict five years ago, when security forces dominated by Macedonians of Slavic background fought against ethnic Albanian insurgents. The European Union acknowledged that progress last December by offering membership negotiations.

But there has been a revival of violence and reports of fraud and intimidation in the election, scheduled for Wednesday, as older nationalist leaders and a pro-Western new generation compete with the parties and among themselves to determine who will hold power here in that promising future.

The conflict has dismayed European and NATO officials. They say Mr. Krasniqi's candidacy, which appeals to ethnic Albanians who are disgruntled with the how peace has worked out, demonstrates the desperate lengths to which parties are going, even in the face of intense international scrutiny, as they struggle to win.

European Union officials say free and fair elections are essential for Macedonia to advance quickly in the negotiations, and some pro-Western politicians here worry that Macedonian and ethnic Albanian nationalists — including Mr. Krasniqi's political mentors — could upset their plans, especially if voters conclude that European Union membership is not right on the horizon.

Much progress has been made since 2001, both in stabilizing the region and in carrying out an agreement that gives greater rights to ethnic Albanians, who constitute almost 25 percent of Macedonia's population of 2.2 million, and to other minorities. In the peace agreement, 3,000 ethnic Albanian guerrillas laid down their weapons, and several are now members of the government.

But election monitors cite more than 20 violent campaign incidents in June, including a shooting outside a shopping mall in the center of Skopje.

Most of the incidents have been confined to ethnic Albanian areas, but the monitors say that all the major political parties have been implicated in violence, intimidation or fraud.

Senior European officials say local politicians have not cracked down enough on troublemakers. Erwan Fouere of Ireland, the European Union's special representative in Macedonia, said Western diplomats thought Macedonia understood exactly what it needed to do.

"What I regret is that the party leaders have not been strong enough in their condemnation of acts of violence," he said. "They should be condemning all these acts, and not just those of their opponents."

Mr. Fouere said that senior Western diplomats had been visiting the affected areas to calm tensions, and that they might be having an effect, because reports of violence have abated.

In previous elections, analysts have said, nationalists also used violence to undermine reform, including a kidnapping by nationalist parties before parliamentary elections four years ago. Nothing that extreme has surfaced this time, but there is intense rivalry between nationalists who lost power in the last four years and a new generation of politicians.

"The stakes are high," said Saso Ordanovski, editor in chief of Forum, a weekly current affairs magazine. A generation of politicians on both sides know this is their last chance to win at the polls, he said. Parties are not simply trying to win, but also to be in a position to make payoffs to supporters, in the form of jobs and business contracts.

Most leaders know that the prospect of European Union membership could be hurt, but say it has been hard to restrain supporters from misbehaving.

Being confrontational "is part of our tradition," Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, said in an interview. "We are trying now to change our mentality, but it is too early to be different."

Many Macedonian politicians worry that nationalists could reassert themselves if the possibility of European Union membership slides into the future.

"Without a clear European perspective and without the enlargement process in the European Union," Mr. Buckovski said, "it will be very difficult for us pro-Western and pro-European politicians to continue the political fight."