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NLA Harms Albanian Aspirations

Albanians will soon realise the NLA terrorists have done them enormous political harm
By Branko Geroski

Have we deserved the Albanian terrorist attacks near Tetovo or certain domestic and overseas support for the bandits? It is a question many people in Macedonia are asking themselves these days.

Foreign and local media report that the terrorists were

trained and armed by the Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK, under the auspices of the CIA and the British SAS; that they freely cross the border from Kosovo as if there were no NATO forces there; that their rations come from UNHCR food provisions for Albanians in Kosovo.

All this contributes to a fear that the international community could force the government in Skopje to negotiate with the terrorists.

If one adds to this international pressure on the Skopje leadership to use only limited force against the terrorists, it becomes clear why most Macedonians fear their country will be divided and destroyed.

Of course, it cannot be ignored that the international community has officially and firmly supported the territorial integrity of Macedonia; condemned the extremists' attacks and called for their political isolation.

But Macedonians, like all the people

of the Balkans, are suspicious of foreigners, and trust their words less and less.

They still remember how the international community's resolute support for the survival of the Yugoslav federation melted away when it began to break up.

Intellectuals, fair-minded politicians and other moderates have invested enormous effort in recent decades in trying to persuade people here and abroad that Albanians and Macedonians must and can live together; that the problems of the minority should be solved; that compromises must be reached.

Now, they are saying that we must talk, even negotiate about the problems and demands of the Albanians, even consider a Kosovo-style solution, while terrorists are shooting and killing people in Tetovo.

All this in spite of the fact that every well-meaning person knows that Macedonia has never been the same as Kosovo. Since its independence, representatives of Albanian parties have shared power with Macedonians. That is part of the general political consensus in the country.

You will not find a single, serious politician in Skopje who does not tell you that this is the foundation of the country's stability. Certainly it would be hard to find a serious analyst who maintains there is a minority in the region that enjoys greater rights and more prosperity than Albanians in Macedonia.

While some democratically-minded people believe this is not enough, there is no country in the Balkans or further afield where ethnic minorities have less reason to take up arms to fight for their rights.

It is clear to all that the terrorist attacks have nothing to do with human and minority rights for Albanians. They have to do with something else - a blatant attempt to try to divide the country; to first attain military objectives, and only then to establish some kind of "political platform".

No politician or party in this country should accept terrorist blackmail, even when it has the support of the world's strongmen.

When this is all over, and we all hope that it will end with the defeat of the terrorists, the Albanians will realise that these extremists have done them immense political harm.

Although all political parties in the Macedonian parliament have committed themselves to seeking a dialogue on the problems of minorities, it will be hard to bring this about.

It has not been easy so far. Macedonians have always believed that politicians in power are giving too many rights to Albanians.

People feel let down. They realise that all the "concessions" failed to bury the Albanians' dream of creating their own state in western Macedonia; their own Kosovo. Moreover, they have even dared to realise that dream with arms and killing.

Now it will be difficult to bring about solutions to minority problems. One should remember that the Albanians gained the right to set up their own university last year, despite opposition from some political forces. It is hard to imagine something like this happening next year.

For many reasons, primarily a series of corruption scandals, the ruling coalition stands little chance of retaining power in upcoming parliamentary election. It is this government, which includes the leading Albanian party in the country, that has thus far done most for the Albanians. The opposition is much more hard-line on the issue.

People now are as fearful as they were at the beginning of the Nineties, when the future of Macedonia and the plans and hidden agendas of international strongmen were uncertain.

It will not be easy for the authorities to maintain in Macedonia the model of inter-ethnic harmony that was and still is praised throughout the world. Once this conflict ends, how long will it be before people in Tetovo raise their eyes towards the slopes of Sar Mountain without fear of shooting breaking out again?

Branko Geroski is the editor-in-chief of Dnevnik