Macedonians Turn Against West

Many ethnic Macedonians are fed up with what they see as the West's excessively pro-Albanian policy.

Macedonians Turn Against West

Many ethnic Macedonians are fed up with what they see as the West's excessively pro-Albanian policy.

Confidence in Western institutions, and in NATO in particular, is tumbling among ethnic Macedonians, according to polls published recently by the Skopje Institute for Democracy.

One suggested that more than 50 per cent of ethnic Macedonians harbour feelings of anger or hatred towards NATO (though an even larger number still feel Macedonia ought eventually to join the alliance).

This loss of faith in the West dates back to 1999, when NATO launched its air bombardment of Serb forces in Yugoslavia, in defence of the Albanian community in Serbia's Kosovo province. The strikes were unpopular among ethnic Macedonians, who sympathised with fellow Orthodox Serbs far more than with the mostly Muslim Albanians.

But the critical change in the public mood only occurred this summer, when the European Union and NATO pressured the government to abandon its efforts to solve the recent crisis by military means.

The popularity rating of the ruling Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation, VMRO-DPMNE, led by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, fell sharply. His party had largely put aside its former nationalistic rhetoric in 1998 after winning the parliamentary elections and had adopted a pro-Western stance.

The party accepted the establishment of the private Albanian language university in the ethnic Albanian stronghold of Tetovo, devolved greater power to local government and increased ethnic Albanian representation in state institutions.

But after an ethnic Albanian uprising this March, public faith in VMRO-DPMNE dropped, as critics accused the party of being excessively lenient towards the Albanians. To recover its standing, Georgievski's party in the last six months has returned to its old nationalist, anti-Western stance.

Danilo Gligorovski, a VMRO-DPMNE deputy, is an example of the change in outlook. After having believed in Western and US justice he now says he is "astonished by US and NATO moves which benefit Albanian terrorists".

Until last year, Gligorovski was active in promoting European integration in Macedonia. But now he is a hard-line opponent of the Western-backed Ohrid Framework Agreement of August 13, which the four biggest parties in parliament signed to end the country's ethnic conflict.

"The West has permitted Islamic fundamentalism, financed by dirty money coming from drugs-trafficking, to manipulate the principles of Western democracy and spread Islam throughout the Balkans," Gligorovski said.

"The West is using double standards. It protects terrorists in Chechnya and Kosovo and fights against the terrorists who carried out the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11."

His parliamentary colleague, Milan Stavrev, says the main beneficiaries of Western policy in Macedonia will be aspiring demagogues who mingle authoritarian politics with Pan-Slav rhetoric. "It could create an explosive situation that would wreck all pro-Western efforts in this part of Europe," he said.

But not all the parliamentarians have joined the anti-Western chorus. Petar Gosev, from Liberal Democratic party, says people need to remember that without 2 billion US dollars of Western aid over the past decade, the country would never have survived economically.

But he shares the nationalist critique of Western policy in the region as excessively pro-Albanian. "The West intervened in Kosovo to prevent the ethnic cleansing of the Albanians and now everyone who is not Albanian in Kosovo is being ethnically cleansed in their presence," he said.

There is little or no support among ethnic Macedonians for ceding greater rights to the ethnic Albanian community. On the contrary, the former mostly feels latter now have more rights than most other minorities in Europe.

Meto Jovanovski, founder of the Helsinki Human Rights Committee in Macedonia, insists that while ethnic Macedonians are not against implementing international standards on human rights, they are nagged by worries about where this will end. "The anti-Western mood stems from fear of the Albanians, who have been helped by the West to gain minority rights well above the European standard in spite of resorting to violence," he said.

"Macedonians fear that a combination of Western support for the Albanians and the high Albanian birth-rate, means the Macedonians may end up losing the state that they always dreamt about and fought for. "

"There is a lot of misunderstanding," said Denko Malevski, professor of international law at Skopje University and former foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations. "In 1991 we opted for the EU and NATO but we did not understand that we needed to qualify for membership. At the moment, there is a feeling that we gave ourselves to you, but that you don't want us."

He says EU and NATO demands for Macedonia to resolve its problems through compromises and painful reforms have generated the new anti-Western mood. But he also complains of a "democratic deficit" in the media, which has hampered the growth of a genuine public debate about these demands. "We lack a discussion about working concepts, as well as media that can lead such a debate," he said.

Borjan Jovanovski is a journalist with the Skopje weekly magazine Forum

Support our journalists