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Macedonian Labour Pains

Macedonians are 'living in the past' and Albanians are 'demanding too much' in ongoing closed-door discussions
By IWPR Balkans

You can hear the death-rattle of Macedonia's first republic while the anticipated birth of its second is fraught with complications.


Leaders of the four key political parties have been meeting behind closed doors since June 15 - midwives unable to agree on how to deliver their child. Despite President Boris Trajkovski's announcement five days later that talks had broken down, international pressure has urged them to continue.


And so they must. Negotiations conducted by the people responsible for bringing the country to the brink of civil war are the only ones capable of steering it safely away from danger.


Analysts have already expressed pessimism over the outcome, pointing to problems in both Macedonian and ethnic-Albanian political camps which make an agreement unlikely.


On the one hand, Macedonians are going to have to reinvent themselves. They need to realise that they can no longer hide behind that hazy communist concept of 'brotherhood and unity' which has done them for the last ten, maybe even fifty years.


Now it's been whipped away, there needs to be a realistic accord between the two communities.


One small example of this illusion of unity is that the great majority of Macedonians, including me, were unaware that the mainly Albanian population of Lipkovo has never had running water despite the fact it's located right next to a reservoir.


So what, you might say. The point is that Macedonians are complaining about water supplies recently being cut from the same reservoir by ethnic-Albanian fighters.


It's facts like Lipkovo that need to be explained to Macedonian representatives in the coalition talks. Maybe it would prompt them to ditch their belief that they are the only people who are being asked to sacrifice anything to anyone. "What else do they want?" is the question on the tip of just about every Macedonian's tongue.


But Macedonia is a multi-ethnic society and, as such, should take stock of its constitution. Henry Kissinger, in his book 'Diplomacy' wrote that nation-states in the Balkans are being created with constitutions ill-equipped to deal with internal conflicts.


There is not one politician in Macedonia who has succeeded in understanding Kissinger's warning made back in 1995. Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Branko Crvenkovski, leader of Social Democratic Party of Macedonia, are now having to deal with the consequences of years of politically immature leaders. And it is up to them to resolve the situation. Though not on their own of course.


The problem with the latest talks is that while Macedonian party leaders are now fully aware of the need to make significant changes and concessions they are being pushed further than they are willing to go by the Albanians.


According to presidential advisor Ljubmir Frckovski, Macedonian party leaders agree that the preamble to the constitution needs full revision. All allusions to a 'nation' will be removed and replaced with 'citizens'.


Frckovski also said that there is consensus among the Macedonian parties that Albanian language concerns need to be addressed. However, it is unreasonable to expect Albanian to be acknowledged as the second official language, he says, as the community is in administrative control of just one quarter of the country.


Macedonians are also willing to drop any mention of the Orthodox Church from the constitution and replace it with a clause denoting the secularity of the state and the equality of all religious communities.


Although fully backed by the international community, these civic solutions don't seem to be enough for the Albanians. Arben Xhaferi and Imer Imeri have called for the setting up of a two-nation democracy.


As such, they want substantially more representation in parliament as well as the creation of an Albanian vice-presidency. They also want the constitution to refer to 'nations' rather than 'citizens'.


While Albanian frustrations and feelings of distrust in Macedonia are wholly understandable, neither justify their demand for a two-nation state.


The country simply does not need the sort of model used in Bosnia which has been plagued by prolonged instability and is ultimately destined to failure.


Albanians now have a significant chance to show that Macedonians are wrong to assume they are totally opposed to the state. But they will jeopardize this chance if they continue to insist on the two-nation state.


By pursuing this policy they will be seen as trying to drag through demands laid down by the National Liberation Army in the 'Prizren Platform' - the agreement drawn up last month by Albanian parties and NLA heads.


This effectively legitimizes the NLA, for if their demands are laid down on the negotiating table they will be seen as proxy participants. In turn, this de-legitimises the current state of Macedonia by bending to an unelected body.


It would play into the hands of Macedonian radicals who claim that the only solution to the current crisis is a military one.


The international community will continue to pressure Xhaferi and Imeri into accepting the offer on the table and divorce themselves from Ali Ahmeti and other NLA leaders.


Any birth is painful. And that of Macedonia's second republic no less so. However, it is better to endure the pain and do one's best to avoid a stillbirth.


Borjan Jovanovski is the VOA correspondent in Skopje