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

Macedonia: Rebels Take to Political Stage

Albanian politicians hope a new political bloc will integrate former NLA insurgents into national politics
By Agim Fetahu

The leader of the disbanded Albanian National Liberation Army, NLA, Ali Ahmeti, launched a new political initiative in January, bringing the former guerrilla into the political arena.


The Democratic Alliance - Integration Movement has set itself three formal objectives: the preservation of peace, the full implementation of the Ohrid Agreement (that ended the war in Macedonia on August 13th last year) and the integration of Macedonia into Euro-Atlantic structures.


Behind these specific goals, however, lies Ahmeti's determination to clean up and strengthen Albanian party politics, with him in control.


The alliance will be an umbrella movement comprised of nine members. Three will come from the former NLA, and two from each of the three Albanian political parties, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, the newly formed and increasingly popular National Democratic Party, NDP, and the Party for Democratic Prosperity, PDP.


But relations between the parties are plagued by factionalism and personal rivalries.


Importantly, Arber Xhafari, leader of the DPA, the largest political grouping of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, supports Ahmeti's initiative, claiming it will "bring credibility, deliver a message of peace, and control negative energies coming from the Albanian community".


However, relations with NDP, could cause Ahmeti some problems.


Initially, an anti-corruption campaigner, the leader of the NDP, Kastriot Haxhirexha, shifted during the war to extremist demands for federalisation of the country.


Ahmeti has invited the NDP to join the new alliance but told Rexha bluntly to "give up the idea of federalism for Macedonia". He agreed to do so, but it is questionable whether he'll be able to control his radical membership.


Relations between Ahmeti and Imer Imeri, the leader of the PDP, the oldest Albanian political party in Macedonia, are even more troubled. Problems arose when Ahmeti rejected an allegedly corrupt candidate Imeri had proposed to represent the PDP in the alliance.


Ahmeti justified the rejection by saying that he only wanted those who have gained the "confidence" of the people.


But in an interview for an Albanian programme on Macedonian national television last week, Imeri said he would not withdraw his candidate, claiming "nobody has the right to interfere in the affairs of the PDP".


The issue remains to be solved by the party leadership, but the PDP may be plunged into crisis if Imeri does not change his mind; sources say Imeri may even resign over this issue.


If these tensions can be resolved and if unity can be achieved, Ahmeti should be able to pursue his goal of cleaning up Albanian politics by rejuvenating the community's representation in parliament.


His plan is to introduce term limits for Albanian parliamentary representatives will provide an opportunity to get rid of some corrupt and ineffective deputies.


The drawback is that the current members of parliament have gained experience and political skills that will


take years for young and untested members to match.


The political transformation of the former NLA is welcomed by the Albanian parliamentary parties. For Xhaferi, it is imperative that they are integrated into existing political parties rather than creating their own party.


In a veiled reference to the Lions, a state sanctioned Macedonian paramilitary force, Xhaferi said Albanian politics was moving in the opposite direction to Macedonian politics.


"We do not militarise our people we demilitarise them and include them in the political process," he said, adding that creating a separate party to absorb former NLA members "would be risky because it could be viewed as an extremist and radical group."


Ahmeti shares these concerns. He said the alliance should not be regarded as a "national concept" that feeds nationalism and radicalism.


"Rather it should be viewed as a concept that brings people together, strengthens peace and democracy and promotes integration of Macedonia into Euro-Atlantic structures, without the baggage of the past."


But despite the abundant signs of cooperation between Ahmeti and Xhaferi, it is far from certain that the alliance will last the four years Ahmeti intends it to - by which time, he believes, the Ohrid agreement will have been implemented.


Ljubomir Frckovski, former Macedonian minister of interior and of foreign affairs, told IWPR that Ahmeti may not be sufficiently politically experienced to hold the alliance together.


"If you ask me whether Ahmeti is influential, the answer is yes, but he has yet to be tested in politics," said Frckovski.


But other analysts say that Ahmeti has shown no signs of authoritarian tendencies. Instead, they say, he is likely to take advice from and confer with other political leaders, especially Xhaferi, in order to shape the strategy of the alliance.


It remains to be seen if Ahmeti can deal with the challenges ahead and succeed in making the jump from soldier to politician.


The alliance has yet to finalise its plans, but international observers are already expressing their concern for the future of pluralism among Albanian political parties.


Certainly, Ahmeti will find life in politics a very different challenge to life as a guerrilla.


Agim Fetahu is IWPR's Macedonia Project Director