External Excuses for an Internal War

The new governing coalition and the lame-duck presidential administration in Macedonia have settled into open warfare, and recent provocations over Kosovo and other issues led by President Gligorov risk opening serious rifts between Macedonian and Albania

External Excuses for an Internal War

The new governing coalition and the lame-duck presidential administration in Macedonia have settled into open warfare, and recent provocations over Kosovo and other issues led by President Gligorov risk opening serious rifts between Macedonian and Albania

Friday, 19 February, 1999

As if the threats of instability were not real enough, Macedonian politicians are exploiting the Kosovo conflict and other regional issues to wage an internal political war. The risks include upsetting the uneasy new moderate accord between Macedonian and Albanian nationalist parties in the governing coalition. Leading the charge is none other than President Kiro Gligorov.

A key lever to stir up the disputes was a four-hour meeting of the Macedonian Security Council on February 15. The council, chaired by Gligorov, includes Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, the ministers for the interior, foreign affairs and defence, and three members chosen by the president. The council is thus split in half between the president and the prime minister's camps, and relations between the two of them can best be described as open war.

No public statements were made following the Security Council discussion. But beforehand he said that the session would cover "Kosovo, the unresolved problem of the border with Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, problems that emerged after the visit of the Greek Foreign Minister [Theodoros] Pangalos , and everything that has been the subject of talks and negotiations with Albania." On a recent visit to Skopje, Pangalos had stated that minority groups in Macedonia are only supported by Stalinists and homosexuals. During a recent visit by Georgievski to Tirana, Albanian Prime Minister Majko said that in the event of increased clashes in Kosovo Albanians in Macedonia, Albania and elsewhere in the region would take a common approach, including "collective self-defence."

Into this pot, the Macedonian president stirred even more. In the interview for Start, he referred to the recent contre-temps over the Macedonian government's recognition of Taiwan and the resulting dispute with China. He stated that if tensions over the matter are prolonged, "then I can undoubtedly say that the security and independence of Macedonia is at stake." To address such a situation, he emphasised, he could take "all measures at his disposal."

Subsequently, he argued that this statement had been misinterpreted. Yet he has previously deemed the Macedonian government's recognition of Taiwan "a little coup d'etat" and appealed to the public to influence the government "in one way or another" to change its decision. The message to many people in Macedonia was that Gligorov was seriously considering declaring a state of emergency-even though it is in the parliament's authority to make such a declaration, and only in the president's hands when the assembly cannot convene.

The battle between the new government (which took office at the end of last year) and the out-going president (he stands down at the end of this year) is consuming Macedonian politics, but no one is quite sure what is the point or who hope to be the beneficiaries. Besides the alarming comments around the Security Council meeting and other slights-such as Gligorov's noted failure to congratulate the new speaker of parliament on his election-an tense and active correspondence has erupted between the president and the parliament. The offices may be in the same building, but the epistolary relations have blossomed, with written requests for clarifications and explanations surrounding the president's refusal to sign the parliament's first new law, on amnesty for more than 800 prisoners, as well as his signing of the communique establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

Gligorov requested an emergency session of the parliament and the speaker sent back a letter asking the president what he wanted to discuss there. The president sharply criticised the Foreign Minister Aleksandar Dimitrov and the director of the newly founded Agency for Reconstruction and Development after their return from Taiwan. Dimitrov responded with a firm defence of the Taiwan policy, which included a swipe at the president. In parliament, Gligorov's Social Democratic Alliance has called for a vote of confidence in the speaker and the foreign minister. In the Macedonian context, cohabitation seems much more like a squabbling husband and wife than a dignified co-existence, as in France, of a president and prime minister coming from different parties.

There is of course more than simple politics behind the Security Council meeting and the Taiwan debate. The situation in Kosovo is worrisome for Macedonia. If Beijing decides to veto the prolongation of the mandate of the UN Preventive Deployment (UNPREDEP) in retaliation for Taiwan, the security of Macedonia could be at stake. If this happens, Gligorov asserts, the blame will all be on the government. Government sources however say that Macedonia is likely to host at least 8,000 NATO soldiers--early the number in the entire Macedonian Army--because of Kosovo.

But the clear impression, after so much internal squabbling, is that external issues are being used to wage an fierce and open political war at home. The concern is that, especially over Kosovo, the divisions become severe. During his first press conference, Defence Minister Nikola Kljusev of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), which leads the governing coalition, stated that the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is a terrorist organisation and that the solution to the Kosovo problem can only be found through autonomy within Serbia. After his visit to France February 9-12, Gligorov said that "at the moment, circumstances do not allow the independence of Kosovo, let alone the creation of Great Albania." He added a warning that, if an agreement is not reached in Rambouillet, the KLA, which he deemed illegal, "could be used in other regions where ethnic Albanians live, that is to say could be transferred to Montenegro, Macedonia or Greece, which could lead to general confrontation in the Balkans."

The Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP), the Albanian party now in opposition, fiercely criticised these statements. The PDP stressed that Albanians in Macedonia support independence for Kosovo, and that the legitimacy of the KLA is confirmed by the fact that its representatives lead, and numerically dominate, the Kosovo Albanian delegation at the negotiations in France. VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Party of the Albanians--long-considered national extremists and previously sworn enemies who are now partners in the governing coalition--have kept quiet. They are aware that opening these issues could easily disrupt the relaxed inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia and bestir the radical nationalism covered over by their recent alliance. It seems that Gligorov and his Social Democrats wish to disturb this.

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