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Macedonia: Storm Over Opposition Resignations

Premier warns partings shots of outgoing opposition leaders could destabilise the country.
By Ana Petruseva

Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski has said that recent opposition rhetoric calling for the Ohrid agreement to be scrapped and for Macedonia to be split along ethnic lines could lead the country back to the brink of civil war.


Crvenkovski spoke out on April 21 after a series of high-profile resignations from the two largest opposition parties - representing the main ethnic groups in the country.


He said that proposals put forward by the outgoing opposition leaders for "changing the borders, ethnic cleansing and building concrete walls" were "a direct call for ethnic war and the division of the country".


NATO, EU, US and OSCE ambassadors also voiced alarm at the fresh attacks on the Ohrid agreement.


In a joint statement issued on April 21, they warned that Macedonia had no choice but to follow through with the accord.


"The implementation of the deal must not be hampered by actions that contradict earlier commitments," they said. "Alternative scenarios will hinder the successes achieved so far and block the way to Brussels."


The present crisis was sparked after the VMRO-DPME's Ljubco Georgievski, in a column published in Macedonian daily Dnevnik on April 18, criticised the 2001 Ohrid agreement, which was brokered by the West to end an Albanian insurgency.


In his piece, the former prime minister said that the vision of a multi-ethnic Macedonia had failed. Furthermore, he repeated a proposal he had voiced during the insurgency, for the country to be divided - and he added that a concrete wall should be built separating the two communities.


The day after Georgievski made his controversial remarks, the president and vice-president of the largest Albanian party in opposition, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, also handed in their resignations.


Speaking at a party conference in Tetovo on April 19, DPA president, Arben Xhaferi, said he was stepping down because he saw no hope for "a multi-ethnic society in Macedonia".


DPA vice-president, Menduh Thaci, echoed his remarks, saying that a fresh crisis was around the corner. "Macedonia is like a patient that has survived the first heart attack, but won't be able to survive the next one," he said. Thaci also condemned the Ohrid agreement, calling it "a dead document".


A coalition of the VMRO-DPMNE and DPA was in power when clashes between state security forces and the Albanian guerrilla outfit, the National Liberation Army, brought the country to the brink of civil war two years ago.


Both parties are signatories to the Ohrid accord. However, they suffered heavy losses when Macedonia went to the polls in late 2002, and have since been in opposition to the ruling coalition Crvenkovski leads with the party of former guerrilla leader, Ali Ahmeti.


International observers say the DPA leader's attack on the Ohrid deal, which came within a day of Georgievski's call for partition, suggests the two parties are jointly trying to radicalise the political scene and reclaim their standing with voters.


But the latest lurch towards extremism by the VMRO-DPMNE and the DPA has been fiercely criticised by western diplomats in Skopje. "Xhaferi and Thaci are spent forces ... and it is good that the country is getting rid of them," a senior envoy told IWPR. "As for the idiotic idea of concrete walls ... those ideas belong to the past."


The NATO ambassador to Skopje, Nicolas Beigman, was equally scathing about the latest opposition moves.


He told Radio Free Europe that "such ideas have created rivers of blood in the Balkans ... and the international community is allergic to them. I can say we are 100 per cent against such ideas, no matter where they come from - Georgievski, the DPA or anyone else".


Crvenkovski said he regards the recent resignations as a last-ditch effort to ethnically divide Macedonia. "This is their last attempt, as a destructive opposition, to do what they were prevented from doing - the partition of the country," he said.


Ahmeti told reporters that Georgievski's ideas were designed to incite hatred and conflict, but there was little real danger of destabilisation.


Plans to divide Macedonia were first mooted by some academics during the 2001 conflict, but - despite finding favour with Georgievski - were swiftly slapped down by most politicians and the public.


Although parliament has now passed most of the new legislation demanded by the Ohrid accord and thus secured the civil rights of the Albanian community, tricky laws concerning the decentralisation of authority have yet to be adopted.


The entire package of Ohrid recommendations is expected to become law by 2004.


Analysts say the noisy resignation of the men who presided over Macedonia's close brush with civil war shows how successfully they have been sidelined by the peace process.


"Georgievski and Xhaferi are very much aware that the international community will not allow the ethnic division of their country," said Vlado Jovanovski of the bi-weekly publication, Forum.


He added that their call to draw a new border between Macedonians and Albanians was more a reflection of their loss of power than a serious proposal for debate.


Significantly, both VMRO-DPMNE and DPA have yet to give their full backing to the sentiments voiced in their leaders' parting shots.


Georgievski, who is expected to be replaced at the VMRO-DPMNE party congress in May, later added that his proposal for partition was a personal one, and did not reflect the views of his party.


DPA refused to accept Xhaferi and Thaci's resignations, and has instead suspended all political activity for the time being. Despite its leader's announcement, the party has not officially withdrawn its support for the Ohrid accord.


A senior western diplomat told IWPR that Georgievski and Xhaferi's parting attacks on the Ohrid deal would prove to be the final nail in the coffin for the old guard.


"This is the amazing self-cleaning mechanism of democracy - they were marginalised in the elections and now they continue to marginalise themselves. They will be forgotten and nobody will care," he told IWPR.


Ana Petruseva is IWPR's coordinating editor in Skopje.


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