Shaky Macedonian Foundations

The Tanusevci violence is yet another reminder of Macedonia's uncertain future

Shaky Macedonian Foundations

The Tanusevci violence is yet another reminder of Macedonia's uncertain future

While the violence in the Tanusevci region will not lead to the break-up of Macedonia, it reflects the country's underlying weaknesses. The first reaction to any crisis in Macedonia is to ask whether the disintegration of the country is imminent. However, this is an over-reaction. The sources of stability of Macedonia run deeper than is usually thought.

Both Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, as well as small minority ethnic groups, have a stake in the continued existence of Macedonia. Whatever their ethnic differences, they still share political power and economic resources, however unequally.

Also, any deviation from the present political arrangement is not only too risky for the people of Macedonia, but also for the region.

Currently, Macedonia is a unitary state with a coalition government of Macedonian and Albanian parties. It enjoys international support which is underlined by NATO's presence.

This ability to pull together in a crisis has been evident before: witness the process of the break-up of Yugoslavia, Albania's political melt-down in 1997 and the 1999 Kosovo crisis.

In all of these cases, Macedonians, ethnic Albanians, minorities, neighbouring countries and the international community have rallied, however grudgingly, to preserve the existence of Macedonia and to shore up its structures.

Still, the Tanusevci conflict is probably the most serious test that Macedonia has had to face so far.

The country's political resolve as far as dealing with insurgency is being put to the test for the first time. Whichever way the crisis is resolved, there will be grave consequences.

The main victim will be the already shaky legitimacy of the current coalition government. Both Macedonian and Albanian members of the ruling coalition have been losing credibility because, among other reasons, they vehemently denied all reports of the existence of Albanian paramilitary groups in places like Tanusevci right up till the current crisis.

They have also chosen to minimise the gravity of previous terrorist incidents. Thus, it is difficult to see how they can escape political responsibility for allowing events to unravel as they have done.

The key question, however, is whether, with the loss of the government's legitimacy, there will be a deterioration in the legitimacy of Macedonia itself. This will somewhat depend on how the crisis is handled.

Clearly, both Macedonian and Albanian communities will grow even further apart as a result of the violence.

And with the deterioration of relations between the two groups, the gradual undermining of the country's legitimacy is likely.

This process will be speeded up not only by the political impotence of the ruling coalition but also by the economic costs of the current crisis.

Macedonia depends very much on overseas financial support and increasingly so on foreign investments.

There is no doubt that investors will become even more cautious than they have been so far.

Macedonia is ill-equipped to cope with a return to economic stagnation or even recession. Unemployment is extremely high and its perilous financial situation could deteriorate quite quickly.

Macedonians as a whole have so far refrained from demonstrating in the streets for an improvement in their social and economic lot, in a bid not to further destabilise the country.

But such goodwill cannot be taken for granted any more. The public perceives the government as being extremely corrupt and ready to compromise national interest. Its readiness to make sacrifices is wearing thin.

One potential stabilising factor could come about with new elections and a change of government. However, at this time, with Macedonians and Albanians standing more divided than ever, this is unlikely.

An end to the lawlessness in Kosovo would also provide stability, but so far, both the UN and KFOR have shown themselves unequal to the task of ensuring order there.

It may prove difficult if not impossible to avert the gradual demise of the country's legitimacy. Yet all these problems notwithstanding, Macedonian stability is still likely to be preserved.

Vladimir Gligorov is a researcher at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies and consultant for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo
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