Storm Over Macedonia Partition Plan
While Macedonian troops battle it out with Albanian guerrillas in the north, a fierce political conflict has broken out in the capital over a proposal to partition Macedonia.
The bombshell proposal was lobbed by Georgi Efremov, chairman of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Macedonia, ASAM, who suggested that the best way of ending strife between Macedonian and Albanian communities was to carve up the country into two entities.
According to this plan, Albanians would settle in the western regions of Gostivar, Tetovo, and Debar which would then join Albania itself at a later date. In exchange, Albania would hand over to Macedonia the town of Pogradec and the surrounding area near Prespa Lake, where a small Macedonian minority lives.
The exchange should be completed peacefully in three months, the academy said.
Efremov described his plan as a "document for the salvation of Macedonia". He said that after the recent fighting in Tetovo and elsewhere, Albanians and Macedonians could no longer live in peace.
The proposal enraged large sections of political opinion. Albanian minority parties united in opposition, parties representing the Macedonian majority were split, thus endangering the "grand coalition" set up a few weeks ago with international blessing to guide the country through its crisis.
Among the few political leaders who refrained from denouncing the plan were Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, the leader of the Macedonian VMRO-DPMNE party, and parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov, a member of the Liberal Party, a junior member of the coalition.
Strong opposition came from Branko Crvenkovski who heads SDSM, Socialist Democratic Alliance of Macedonia, the other major Macedonian party. He called the ASAM plan "an incitement for civil war and suicide for Macedonia". Crvenkovski favours pursuing current negotiations on giving ethnic Albanians greater civic rights and recognising Albanian as an official language.
The ASAM plan has brought unexpected harmony to the two main Albanian parties, the DPA, Democratic Party of Albanians and PDP, Party of Democratic Prosperity, which until now had been locked in bitter feuds. Both dismissed the partition plan as "unacceptable and ridiculous".
The president of the Albanian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ylli Popa, also rejected the proposal. "Inter ethnic problems cannot be solved by exchange of territories and populations," he said. "The only solution to the Macedonia crisis is to respect the rights of Albanians living there."
Macedonian political feuding intensified after the daily, Vecer, which is close to VMRO-DPMNE, published a map of the planned exchange. When Crvenkovski threatened to walk out of coalition, Georgievski said he would not mind if the alliance did break up.
After lack of support from the Macedonian parties and outright rejection by their Albanian counterparts, ASAM Chairman Efremov, sought to distance himself from his own plan, saying it had been misinterpreted.
Efremov said it was only one of 25 possible ways of solving the crisis and that it was not an official ASAM proposal, just the personal view of some of its members.
Partition has been discussed several times since Macedonia became independent a decade ago.
When the NLA first emerged at the beginning of this year, there were rumours that its main goal was the federalisation of Macedonia. But a month later, it backed away from the partition idea, saying it supported the territorial integrity of Macedonia.
Instead, the NLA called for Albanians to be elevated to the status of nation in the country's constitution.
During the last decade, the two main Macedonian parties have argued fiercely about the country's integrity and sovereignty. LSDM has accused the VMRO-DPMNE of working to hand over parts of Macedonia to Bulgaria. While the latter has charged the former of trying to draw Macedonia back into the Yugoslav federation.
The partition proposal, no matter whether it is ASAM policy or the idea of some of its members, might be a severe blow to the country at a time when all Balkan nations are oriented towards European integration.
If the plan frustrates the political process, the EU might decide to review the validity of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Macedonia, signed in Luxembourg on April 9. It could also undermine the support that Macedonia has received until now. But no such measures are foreseen by the EU at present.
The fact that Efremov is close to the VMRO-DPMNE and that his plan was not rejected outright by some politicians might indicate other motives behind the proposal. Whether it was a test of public opinion, an outright provocation or a serious project, the plan has certainly shifted attention away from the fighting in the north. It has also delayed political dialogue between Albanians and Macedonians on resolving their present differences.
Veton Latifi is a political analyst and IWPR assistant editor in Macedonia.