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

Macedonia 'Returns to Normal'

The country's rival communities are once again torn by internal struggles.
By Vladimir Jovanovski

With national elections only five months away, Macedonia's ethnic communities have stopped fighting each other and taken to feuding among themselves. "The situation is back to normal, " analyst Misha Glenny commented wryly.


Last year, the country's Albanian minority spent seven months fighting to secure improved civil rights from the majority Macedonians. Now gun battles have been raging between rival Albanians while Macedonians fight each other in the courts.


The new Albanian violence, some of it as fierce as that seen in the inter-ethnic conflict, has centered around Tetovo in northern Macedonia.


On March 26, at least three people died in an attack on the newly established coordinating council of Albanian political parties, headed by Ali Ahmeti, former guerrilla leader of the National Liberation Army, NLA.


The attack was blamed on a breakaway faction called the Albanian National Army, ANA, which in turn blamed an even more obscure group called the National Committee for Liberation and Unification of the Albanian Territories.


On April 4, senior members of the Democratic Party of the Albanians, DPA, were attacked in a café owned by the vice president of the party, Menduh Thaqi. Witnesses said the gun battle between Thaqi's bodyguards and their attackers went on for an hour, leaving several people seriously wounded.


The DPA said the gunmen came from a faction that opposed the party's links with the ruling Macedonian party, the VMRO-DPMNE.


Other Albanians claimed the café battle stemmed from criminal rivalries. They said Thaqi had links with gangsters in Tetovo and Kosovo. "These conflicts are all to do with crime," said Xhevat Ademi, secretary of the National Democratic Party of the Albanians and a former NLA member.


Mersel Bilali., a parliamentary deputy belonging to the Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity, commented, "We are faced with crime in which innocent people are getting shot. We have areas where people cannot walk freely. I can't see it ending in a hurry."


On the Macedonian side, rivals fight with lawsuits rather than guns. New criminal charges are constantly brought against political opponents of Prime Minister Ljupco Georgiveski. When the head of state, Boris Trajkovski, declared publicly that Balkan governments were associated with crime, Georgievski promptly launched a state commission to fight corruption. Its prime target became the Macedonian president.


The premier assigned his interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, to look into Trajkovski's conduct when he was managing humanitarian assistance during the 1999 Kosovo refugee crisis.


On April 5, the European Commission's annual report on Macedonia seriously criticised the Macedonian government for human rights violations and for failing to reduce corruption in the course of the privatisation process. The commission also demanded the disbanding of the police unit known as the Lions which it described as a paramilitary formation commanded by Boskovski.


Georgievski told at a public meeting on April 8, "It is not the European Union I blame for this criticism. It is all the fault of our domestic media for creating a false image in the eyes of the international community." He pointed at a questioning journalist and said, "You are a good example of this."


Two weeks ago, Georgievski ordered the Macedonian army to give up a big base near Skopje and hand it over to the Lions. The army objected and for a while seemed ready to fight the paramilitaries. A clash was narrowly avoided after the government withdrew its demand on the insistence of Defence Minister Vlado Popovski who represents the small Liberal Party in Georgievski's cabinet.


NATO ambassador Nicolas Bigman commented, "I see Macedonians quarrelling with Macedonians, and Albanians at odds with Albanians. It all makes last year's peace agreement work better."


Vlado Jovanovski is a journalist with the Skopje-based Forum Magazine.