Macedonia in Crisis



The British Helsinki Human Rights Group, BHHG




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Anti -Western Feeling -  no surprise

This Group's observers detected unprecedented hostility towards Westerners on the part of ordinary ethnic Macedonians during their mission to Macedonia before 20th June and so they were not surprised when the angry crowds which stormed theMacedonian parliament in Skopje on the night of June 25th after agroup of Albanian rebels had been escorted to freedom by Nato troops earlier in the day also vented their frustrationon Western journalists.

The four month crisis in Macedonia provoked by an Albanian guerrilla insurgency has led to repeated calls in the West  for the EU and Nato to act as "honest brokers," yet the widespread perception among Macedonians that the insurrection has been facilitatedat best by the failure of Western troops to interdict weapons smuggling across the Kosovo-Macedonia border and at worst that collusion between the Albanian guerrillas and Nato's Kfor contingent provoked the violence means that any Nato"peacekeepers" could face a "rough ride" rather than a friendly reception.

West humiliated Macedonia by escorting armed guerrillas back to base. Whatever the sources of the conflict and however ill-advised the Macedonian security forces' response to it since 21st June, by escorting armed guerrillas to safety from their Aracinovo base, US-Kfor troops humiliated Macedonia and spurred the bitter resentment among ethnic  Macedonians against what they see as the abuse of their small and fragile country by the great powers of the West who use it as a logistical base and rest-and-recreation area with scant regardfor its majority population.


Western intervention and mediation  has made matters worse

EU and Nato leaders have flip-flopped on the Macedonian crisis since it started in March. Having condemned Albanian guerrillas in the strongest terms then, now the same leaders denounce the Macedonian security forces with equal intensity. Western meddling has kept the conflict simmering instead of encouraging clear resolution. Now it may be about to explode.

If that happens, it is doubtful if it will remain a two-way conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels based in the hills that separate the country from neighbouring Kosovo and the Macedonian army. Leaving aside the potential horrors of an inter-ethnic civil war, it would be naïve to think that Nato could intervene as an honest broker without facing resistance.

Macedonia is not Serbia, the Kosovo model will notwork. Unlike Serbia which had faced a decade of sanctions and propaganda warfare for Belgrade's alleged complicity in the Croatian and Bosnian Wars, and was bombed by Nato for its refusal to countenance self-rule for Albanian-majority Kosovo, the suddenness of the crisis and the West's hostility has come as a great shock to Slav Macedonians. Their majority bitterly resents EU/Nato pressure to concede the de facto partition of their country and the abrogation of the norms of constitutional democracy in favour of a Lebanese style ethnic constitution.

Given the widespread perception that the international community in the form of the US, EU and Nato actually caused the violence in order to plunge the country into ungovernability and provide a pretext for setting up an international protectorate on the lines of Bosnia and Kosovo, the fact that the EU has appointed a 'resident' envoy to the country can only compound Macedonian suspicions. A Nato-run protectorate may not be easily or peacefully installed.


Internal or external causes?

Although isolated incidents of racial tension between Macedonians and Albanians have taken place since the country's independence in 1991 Macedonia has been praised for its inclusive constitution and harmonious ethnic relations. Ethnic Albanians are part of the governing coalition in parliament. Only well-organized (and ill-intentioned) interference could have damaged the status quo. Many Macedonians believe that this interference comes from neighbouring Kosovo where c.38,000 Nato troops arebased.

Why should the West want to take over the running of a small, poor country like Macedonia with few natural resources? The answer is strategic. The country lies on the route to be taken by oil pipelines set to run from the Black Sea coast in the east to Albania's Adriatic coast. Control of the pipeline is regarded as essential to the West's long-term energy plans.

BHHRG representatives recently visited Macedonia. They went to Tetovo in the West of the country, to the outskirts of then rebel-occupied village of Aracinovo and nearby Kumanovo which has been without water for several weeks. Other members of the group travelled to Bitola to investigate the recent wave of violence against the small Albanian community in the town. They talked to politicians, police and journalists and to ordinary citizens - both Macedonian and Albanian - wherever they went.

This Group has chronicled election fraud as the internal root of crisis. The Group has published several reports since 1994 on Macedonia dealing with general human rights issues as well as conducting several election observation missions. They detailed the derailment of democracy by the post-1998 coalition between the ostensibly Macedonian nationalist party, VMRO, and the equally Albanian nationalist DPA.

While Western-dominated institutions like the OSCE blandly endorsed rigged elections based on the manipulation of the ethnic Albanian vote in particular, this Group feared the long-term consequences for Macedonian-Albanian relations of basing power on votes provided in rigged circumstances primarily by one ethnic group. This has left President Trajkovski's government with little democratic legitimacy. It is with great sadness that the conclusions reached in this, its latest report, should be so pessimistic.

Western collusion with electoral fraud has been compounded by Kfor's collusive approach to policing the Kosovo-Macedonia frontier. This means that the recent tragic events in the country are not the fault of the majority of its citizens, both Macedonian and Albanian, who have found themselves since March the latest pawns in yet another Balkan power-play decided by forces out of their control.

Full report available at from 27th June,2001-06-26

The British Helsinki HumanRights Group's reports do not express corporate opinions but is grateful to the authors of its reports for their research and conclusions.



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