Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

DPA Likely to Stay in Power

Albanian politicians must remain in government to ensure their community's rights are advanced
By Saso Ordanoski

"The army's operation has destroyed a great opportunity for solving the situation - nonetheless, I believe that we can still emerge from this crisis," said Menduh Thaqi, vice president of the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, a junior partner in Macedonia's multi-ethnic coalition government.

Thaqi's remarks were made as he prepared to meet the Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski on Sunday evening, following the military's assault on Albanian rebel positions on the outskirts of Tetovo.

Thaqi, though, was not as distressed as some might have thought, given that Albanians had been warning the government against launching an offensive against the NLA terrorists.

The DPA deputy leader said he would call on Trajkovski to exercise military restraint and seek to ensure that Albanian civilians are spared any more suffering. But, significantly, he said this was not meant as an ultimatum.

This is how a so-called hardliner in the largest ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia responded to the biggest security and political crisis in this country since independence 10 years ago.

The main offensive around Tetovo had finished on Monday night when EU Foreign Policy supremo Javier Solana and NATO General Secretary George Robertson arrived in Skopje to commend the government's "firm and restrained action" - which should have assuaged some of Thaqi's fears.

But insiders in Macedonian politics know something more: from the start of this 40-day crisis, Thaqi and his supporters in DPA have been urging an uncompromising military reponse to the Albanian extremists, according to some international mediators. Of course, they could not express this opinion in public

There may be several reasons for that.

The rebellion will have disrupted highly lucrative smuggling around the Macedonian-Kosovo border. Since some high-ranking DPA members allegedly profit from the illicit trade they were keen to see an end to the fighting.

But there's another more important reason for their opposition to the revolt.

The DPA has been a member of the governing coalition for two years and, slowly but surely, it has fulfilled some of the most important promises it made to its electorate.

A law on higher education has been passed, facilitating the establishment in Tetovo of the Stoel University - named after the Dutch mediator Max van der Stoel - whose Albanian students will be taught in their own language.

Albanians are benefiting from a greater share of the privatisation process.

The DPA has placed its members in key state posts (party officials are now ambassadors, directors of public companies and services). Its people are also deputy ministers and deputy directors in the traditionally mono-ethnic security services.

In areas where Albanians form the majority of the population, they are commanders and deputy commanders of local police stations. And more and more of them have become officers.

The process of integration sometimes lacks urgency, but conditions for Albanians in Macedonia has been steadily improving since independence.

The DPA fears the NLA revolt will unravel all its achievements. And if the party leaves the governing coalition, its leaders know that they will have little leverage over the increasingly radicalised Albanian community - and may effectively become redundant.

By staying in government, however, the DPA has a chance to improve its record on advancing Albanian rights before next year's election.

Significantly, DPA leader in Tetovo, Abedin Imeri said Tuesday the party had no intention to leave the ruling alliance. "We were against the offensive," he said. "But fortunately, it has not caused civilian casualties and it is now over."

The international community is calling for intensive dialogue between the leaders of Macedonia's two biggest ethnic groups.

The DPA should exploit this opportunity to push for more concessions from the Macedonian parties over the use of language or even greater representation of Albanians in the state administration.

The military phase of the Macedonian crisis is over. The political phase, equally complicated in its own way, has just begun.

Saso Ordanoski is editor of the Skopje biweekly Forum

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