Macedonia: Politicians Dismiss War Predictions

The media are predicting renewed ethnic conflict, just as Macedonia begins to enjoy the first fruits of peace.

Macedonia: Politicians Dismiss War Predictions

The media are predicting renewed ethnic conflict, just as Macedonia begins to enjoy the first fruits of peace.

Macedonian and Albanian politicians have dismissed media reports of an imminent return to war as irresponsible scare-mongering.

The prophecies of doom ironically come just as the war-battered economy shows signs of improvement, with consumer confidence and industrial production both rising significantly since the end of hostilities.

Macedonian language newspapers have been warning that the country's Albanian minority is plotting more violence in the spring. Fuelling this press campaign is Macedonian resentment over the constitutional concessions that persuaded the Albanians to stop fighting.

According to recent polls, the optimists hope that at least things can't get worse than they were during last year's seven-month conflict in 2001. Pollsters asked Branko Crvenkovski, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union, what was the most difficult year of his career. "I have no problem answering that; it was 2001," he replied.

Given the trials and tribulations of the last twelve months, Macedonians are understandably nervous.

"The traumas we went through were horrifying," said Goran Trajkovski, a medical student "We somehow got used to the poverty and unemployment. But no-one wants to be faced with violent death."

Now in his final year at the Skopje Faculty of Medicine, Trajkovski told IWPR, "My prospects as a qualified doctor here are not so good. The ghastly moments we had during the war only strengthened my intention to move to the West after I graduate."

Bloodcurdling media predictions fuel the general sense of pessimism. The Skopje newspaper Dnevnik recently wrote that a new Albanian uprising could be expected after the month-long Muslim observance of Ramadan. That occasion passed without trouble. The private TV station Sitel, meanwhile, said Macedonia would be faced with another, even bloodier, war in the spring.

The renowned parliamentary deputy and former president of the Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity Abdurahman Aliti dismissed these claims as scare-mongering. "It is a fact that some nationalistic media in Macedonia constantly frighten the people with tales of an imminent return to conflict," he told IWPR. "They do this to demonstrate that constitutional concessions accorded to the Albanians were in vain. But I believe there will be no more clashes in spring, summer, autumn or in winter."

Defence Minister Vlado Popovski also dismisses the war talk. "The militants are no longer looking for a fight," he told Macedonian media. "Security forces are gradually regaining control so we can expect a general calming down, though incidents and provocations should not be ruled out."

Besides its political and psychological consequences, the war severely weakened the country's economy.

The International Monetary Fund, IMF, estimated a fall of 4.5 per cent in Macedonia's Gross Domestic Product, GDP, during 2001. The state Institute for Statistics reported that industrial production in the first nine months of 2001 was 10.5 per cent lower than in the same period the previous year. The Macedonian ministry of finance, meanwhile, put its budget deficit at 17 billion dinars or about 550 million German marks which is 6.7 per cent of GDP.

With the return of peace, the economy started to improve. In October, the Institute for Statistics noted a huge 26.5 per cent increase in industrial production compared with October 2000. The same month, domestic consumption increased by an enormous 54 per cent.

Cars are an important sector of the economy. "Lately our sales have significantly increased," said Miroslav Mircevski, owner a company selling Fiats. "During the war we were glad to sell one car a month. Now we sell several every week."

Finance minister Nikola Gruevski was optimistic. "Provided we have no more violence, this year will be a good one for business in Macedonia," he said. "We predict growth of more than four per cent which would go a long way to heal the wounds of 2001."

International observers advise caution, however. "The forces which supported the inter-ethnic war and the division of Macedonia have still not given up their aims," warned the International Crisis Group. A Western diplomatic source told IWPR, "The situation in this country is still far from stable."

Parliamentary elections will be held in 2002. Some expected them in April but it seems more likely they will take place in November, the normal month for voting. "Timing is not so important," said Aliti. "What matters is that people realise the problems have been created by those who rule them and take steps to turn them out of office.

"I expect that the government will be changed and that the new leaders will know what this country really needs. That is democratisation and getting closer to the European Union and NATO."

Vladimir Jovanovski is a regular IWPR contributor

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