Macedonia: New Helsinki Report


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Subject: Macedonia: New Helsinki Report

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Macedonia: New Helsinki Report


The Macedonian Side of the Conflict in Kosovo
 
Report of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and the Norwegian
Helsinki Committee in cooperation with the International Helsinki
Federation for Human Rights (IHF)
 
Fact-Finding Mission to Macedonia, 25. September - 1. October 1998
 
In continuation of the cooperation between the Netherlands Helsinki
Committee, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the International
Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in on-going monitoring of the
conflict in Kosovo and its effects on the political and human rights
situation in the region, a mission was dispatched to Macedonia. The
mission was a follow-up to recent missions to Northern Albania,
Montenegro, and Kosovo, which were conducted in June and July, and
aimed to establish a clearer picture of the consequences of the
current conflict in Kosovo on the political and human rights
situations in Macedonia.
 
Members of the delegation included Jan ter Laak, Senior Advisor,
Netherlands Helsinki Committee; Aage Borchgrevink, Advisor, Norwegian
Helsinki Committee; and Jennifer Lincoln-Lewis, Researcher,
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. The mission was
funded by Europa Desk (Netherlands) and the Norwegian Foreign
Ministry.
 
Political Situation Prior to the Elections
 
The present bloody conflict in Kosovo has coincided with preparations
for parliamentary elections in Macedonia, whose two rounds will be
held on 18. October and 1. November. The conflict in Kosovo has a
number of consequences for the present political constellations and
climate in Macedonia. Similarly, possible solutions to the conflict
will have an impact on Macedonia. Contrary to what one might expect,
not all consequences are necessarily negative.
 
The tactical coalition between the two major Albanian parties, the
Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP -- which participates in the
present government) and the radical Democratic Party of Albanians
(DPA), is a positive development, and a sign that even radical
factions of the Albanian community are willing to participate in the
institutions and political processes of the Macedonian state. The
plight of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, divisions in the Kosovar
community, and the military defeat of KLA guerrilla groups have made
Albanians in Macedonia more interested in laying aside their internal
differences and solving the problems of the Albanian community -
specifically issues concerning higher education, discrimination
related to state employment, the status of the Albanian language, and
persistent small-scale harassment and discrimination against Albanians
by police, border guards and judiciary - within the state, as opposed
to continuing in the direction of creating parallel institutions.
 
Another reason for the establishment of a coalition between the
Albanian parties is the policy of the socialist-dominated government
in Albania, which has urged the divided Albanian community to unite
and solve its problems through dialogue, rather than to consider
establishing parallel institutions or even the changing of borders.
The weakening of DPA chairman Arben Xhaferis position after the
incidents in Gostivar last summer, which led to the development of
forces even more radical than himself, has also contributed to DPA and
PDP cooperation. There is no longer a monopoly on radicalism.
 
However, how long and in what form the coalition between the DPA and
the PDP will exist once a new parliament is in place and a new
government is formed is uncertain. The parties have been unable to
agree on a common political program, but express willingness to
continue their cooperation after the elections. Most observers stress
the tactical nature of this alliance: the aim is a stronger position
in the elections; their politics are still far apart. The question
posed by most observers is what the effects of the likely
parliamentary participation of Arben Xhaferi (who is likely to try to
change the Constitution, and has a map of greater Albania posted in
his office) and the DPA will be: will participation in Macedonian
institutions have a moderating influence on Xhaferi, or will Xhaferi
have a negative influence on the institutions? Aleksandar Damovski,
editor of the independent newspaper Dnevnik, predicts a political
crisis and new elections within half a year. In general, the view of
international diplomats is more optimistic: the changes in the
parliamentary composition, which are predicted to render both of the
two main Macedonian blocks without a majority, will promote a
pluralistic political arena in Macedonia, break the monopoly of power
held by the Social Democratic Union (SDS - which is presently in
government), and thus strengthen Macedonian democracy. The reason the
DPA and PDP are likely to be in such a position after the elections is
that the two main blocks on the (ethnic) Macedonian side, the SDS and
the coalition of VMRO and the Democratic Alternative, refuse to
cooperate. A parliamentary majority for any of the Macedonian parties
will therefore depend on cooperation with one or both of the Albanian
parties.
 
Citizenship/Voter Registration
 
In connection with the upcoming elections, observers are focussing on
two issues. Albanians generally complain of the Macedonian citizenship
act as a poor piece of legislation, a view shared by human rights
organizations, including Human Rights Watch. Moreover, Albanian's
claim that the process of handling applications and complaints is
corrupt and arbitrary. In July 1995, 143.000 people were reportedly
living in Macedonia without citizenship. At present, Albanians claim
that as many as 50.000 Albanians in Macedonia are still without
citizenship and, consequently, have no right to vote. The main
Albanian parties, however, have not made this problem a major issue.
On the other hand, (ethnic Macedonian) opposition parties have
expressed doubts about the accuracy of the voter register. The
OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission is in the process of
investigating claims that there is a disproportionate swell in the
electorate: there are fears that an inaccurate voter register, which
includes names of voters that do not exist, will allow for multiple
voting.
  
Response to the Kosovo Crisis
 
The bonds to Kosovo are very strong among Albanians in Macedonia: many
have relatives in the Serbian province, and the university in
Prishtina was the intellectual center for all Albanians in the former
Yugoslavia. Consequently, outrage at the atrocities committed by
Serbian units in Kosovo and sympathy with the KLA (or as some prefer
to say, the armed self-defense of the Albanian population) is
widespread among Macedonian Albanians. However, discussion and
disagreements among ethnic Albanian parties over the conflict in
Kosovo are downplayed, because the parties are eager to appear united
to the outside world. Consequently, the conflict is not an issue in
the election campaigns of the Albanian parties, even though views on
how Kosovars should resolve their conflict with Serbian and FRY
authorities - through violence or by peaceful means - differ greatly.
Now that the Albanian parties have established their tactical
coalition and divided the main constituencies between their
candidates, they sit back and expect the loyal electorate to provide
them with an estimated 25 seats in the new parliament. Even though
there is widespread anxiety among Macedonians regarding KLA or
Albanian "terrorist" activities within Macedonia, Kosovo has not
become a primary issue in the election campaigns of (ethnic)
Macedonian parties.

The most tangible fear that Macedonians carry, relating to the
conflict in Kosovo, is the alleged presence of KLA units on Macedonian
territory. Over the last year, there have been a series of bomb
attacks in different Macedonia towns and, in September, the head of
Macedonian counterintelligence announced that there were KLA
structures inside Macedonia, something he later denied. There has been
a recent wave of police operations and arrests: several people have
been detained for terrorist activities, although formal charges
presented to the court have, for the most part, been for illegal
possession of arms. Among Albanians, there is a widespread feeling
that the police are waging an unwarranted campaign against them in
order to improve their public image, which has been tarnished by,
among other things, their inability to apprehend anyone for the
attempted assasination of President Kiro Gligorov in October 1995. In
this campaign, the police are supported by the prosecutors and courts,
institutions which the Albanians deem to be puppets of the government
who willingly play along in the pre-electoral witch hunt against them.
The view of most observers is that, generally, these detained persons
have been involved in criminal activities, but that these activities
were most probably related to smuggling rather than terrorism. There
is also a widespread opinion that the latest police offensive was
meant to demonstrate the force and resolve of the present government,
and whip up anxiety regarding radical Albanian separatism. The main
Macedonian media - state TV, the Nova Makedonija newspaper - have been
extraodrinary willing to promote the governments view of these
events.
 
Ethnic Tension
 
What has been more worrying in recent years - and increasingly in
recent months - is the polarization of ethnic communities. In the town
of Kicevo, for example, which is of mixed ethnic composition,
Albanians and Macedonians have their own cafes, shops, etc. Separation
breeds anxiety, which succeeds in polarizing the communities even
more. Most domestic academics and observers claim that this process is
so strong that it threatens the future of the state. International
diplomats, on the other hand, tend to downplay this view: there are
issues that must be overcome - problems with police, education, etc -
but presented with a political solution to these problems, the two
communities will be able to coexist peacefully. Ethnic reconciliation
is a two way street: reconciliatory initiatives and compromises are
the responsibility of the leaders of both communities. However,
government and state institutions have - as the more powerful party -
a special responsibility for paving the way for ethnic reconciliation.
Similarly, the main state institutions have the capacity for
exacerbating ethnic tension. The police, for instance, are an obvious
cause for the deterioration of relations between the ethnic
communities in Macedonia. Ethnic reconciliation, which will ensure
much needed stability in Macedonia, is at some point dependent on a
real change of policy in - or even a reform of - central Macedonian
institutions.
 
International Presence
 
The persistent discrepancy of opinion between international diplomats
(optimistic) and domestic observers (pessimistic) in the media and
academia is noteworthy. The prevention of "spillover" and preservation
of "stability" has been the main priority for members of the
internationalcommunity who have established a presence in Macedonia.
International human rights monitors and domestic observers allege that
the policy of stabilization has, to a degree, blinded the
international community to human rights abuses in Macedonia. Main
international bodies have cooperated uncomfortably close with a
government that, during its seven years of existence, has concentrated
power (police, judiciary, and other state institutions) into its own
hands in an authoritarian manner, and has played along with the
process of increasing polarizing of the main ethnic communities in
Macedonia. The preservation of stability in the short term may - if it
leads to neglect of respect for human rights and meaningful
democratization - prove to be counterproductive in the long run.
 
Refugees
 
Refugees from Kosovo have so far not arrived in Macedonia in large
numbers. This is partially due to military activities in eastern
Kosovo remaining relatively limited, and the mining of the
Macedonia/Yugoslav border in some places. In addition, refugees are,
in general, unable to cross directly into Macedonia, due to high
mountain ranges. Serbian authorities have a strong interest in driving
internally displaced persons into Montenegro, instead of refugees into
Macedonia, as these persons serve to create trouble for the
independent-minded FRY republic. A similar flux of refugees to
Macedonia would have been a serious provocation for the international
community, which has its honor at stake in preventing spillover.
Although the UNHCR has reported that there are some 20.000 refugees in
Macedonia, government sources officially report that there are only
8.000 "visitors" from Kosovo presently staying in Macedonia. Local
relief organizations support this smaller figure, of which the
majority are residing with friends and relatives. Local relief
organizations report that they are currently supporting 1.200
Kosovars, who have fewer human and material resources than most other
"visitors." Concern was expressed about refugees being registered as
"visitors" rather than as refugees. The refugees themselves, however,
are content with this, as they see it as a better alternative than
ending up in camps, and prefer to keep their options open: they hope
to return home as soon as possible; if they can not, they would rather
be refugees in western Europe than in Macedonia. There is a congruence
of interest between the refugees and Macedonian authorities who seek
to avoid turning this into a major issue.
 
Conclusion
 
Although the short-term effects of the conflict in Kosovo have not
been all negative, long-term perspectives are dismal. If the status
quo continues in Kosovo, consequences for Macedonia will include the
further polarization of ethnic communities, increasing unrest and
tension among the Albanians and further economic burdens. Independence
for Kosovo, or a partition of the province, would mean the opening of
Pandora's box, causing the dangerous question of changing borders to
arise in Macedonia as well. A compromise settlement in Kosovo,
including meaningful self-government for Kosovo, would stimulate the
different parties in Macedonia to work toward fair compromises within
the framework of the Macedonian state. From the Macedonian side, this
is the best outcome of the Kosovo conflict.
 
The mission members held meetings and interviews with, inter alia, the
following persons and groups:
 
Meto Jovanovski, President of Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of
the Republic of Macedonia; Gordan Kalajdziey and Sasko Dukovski,
Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia;
Sandra Sljepcevic, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia; Max
van der Stoel, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities; Marek
Jezioski, Adviser to the High Commissioner; Julian Peel-Yates, Deputy
Head of OSCE Mission in Skopje; Mark Power-Stevens, Head of
OSCE/ODIHR, Skopje; Haakon Gram-Johannessen, OSCE Spillover Monitor
Mission to Skopje; Tom Bruun Andersen, head of Logistic OSCE/ODIHR
Election Observation Mission; Christopher Hill, Ambassador of the
United States to Macedonia; Jan Plantinga and Mr. M.A. Stibbe, Royal
Netherlands Embassy in Skopje; Klime Babunski, Institute for
Sociological, Political, and Juridical Research; Hyreme Gurra, Syndyse
Abedimi and Hildane Palloshi, the Albanian Women's League; Vehbi
Kadriu, Pedagogical Faculty, University of Skopje; Saso Klekovski,
Director of Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MICC);
Slobodanka Markovska, former head of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly in
Skopje; Mercy Corps International; Mirjana Najcevska, Center for
Ethnic Relations; Dr. Xhafer Xhaferi, El Hilal humanitarian
organization; Bejtulla Ademi, Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP);
Iljaz Halimi, Vice-President the Albanian Democratic Party (DPA);
Aleksandar Damovski, Managing Editor of Dnevnik; Imer Ismaili,
Journalist for Albanian Television (RTSh) and Kohe Ditore in Kicevo;
Erol Rizaov, Deputy Editor in Chief of Nova Makedonija; Enver Shala,
Flaka e Vellazerimit Correspondent in Tetova.
 
The delegation also sought meeting with members of the United Nations
Preventative Deployment (UNPREDEP), including the Special
Representative of the Secretary General and members of the Military
Liaison Office. Due to the absence of the Special Representative,
members of UNPREDEP were not able to meet with the delegation.
 
_______________________________________
 
Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia
Greece
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67
e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr
http://www.greekhelsinki.gr
________________________________________

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