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Macedonia - actions that helped
escalate the conflict


 Vasko Karangeleski, TFF Peace Antenna



Since the beginning of the violence in Republic of Macedonia there has been an imposed "peace process" by the President of Republic of Macedonia and the "international community". Now, when the framework Agreement for Solution of the Political and Security Crises is in its final draft, it is likely that the violence will not stop.

The reasons are not solely the Agreement or the "players" who reached it. It has become obvious that the "President's peace plan" and all the actions in the "peace process," no matter if by the Government, the President or others, had been set on the wrong foot from the beginning.

The aim of this article is to highlight some of the facts that speak about the premises and proposed solutions in the "peace process" rather than perpetuates the popular "picture" and the international image-making. That is why the concrete proposals of the peace plan are not elaborated here.

Because the situation in Republic of Macedonia is much more complex than shown in the media, the article uses some concrete terminology. Instead of using tribe origins as 'Albanians/Illyrians' or 'Slavs' - - the articles talks about the Macedonian Macedonians and the Macedonian Albanians - - to distinguish the two largest ethnic groups of Macedonian citizens. When sides, positions, aspirations are discussed, the article refers to the political level; if referring to citizens (ground) level, it is mentioned in every separate case.


Two levels of conflict: Political (decision makers level) and Nation (people)

From the beginning of the violence in February 2001 until today, the gap between the views of the decision-makers and the common citizens is becoming wider and wider. In addition, the fact that more than 90% of the citizens in Republic of Macedonia did/do not want violence or war as a means to solve their differences, the political level had shown group separatism - - mainly ethnic - - from the very beginning. No matter if we speak of Macedonian politicians of Albanian culture or of "Slav orthodox" culture, it is clear that there is not even one political leader who can be seen as a real representative of the interests of those he or she officially represents. The problem lies in the discussions, actions, solutions of the conflict, since these were meant for the political level of the conflict and not for the real situation on the ground level, i.e. the citizens of the country.


Peace can be built only from the ground-up, not top-down

Make a difference between the extremists (paramilitaries) and people from the group extremists claim to present

Local politicians, "international community" representatives, media and soon after even citizens of Republic of Macedonia had been using "WE" and "THEY" differentiations in when speaking about the parties. One of the reasons is that there was no real attempt to separate the "Albanian extremists/terrorists/rebels" from the Macedonian Albanians in general. Neither were there attempts to differentiate the extremists who were breaking and putting on fire private property of Macedonian Albanians, from Macedonian Macedonians. It is obvious that this was used by some of the politicians to gain/not loose support by their own groups; however I can't believe that all the international mediators or media did not know the difference. Or were, and are, they using it for their own purposes, too?

This resulted in widening the mental gap between the Macedonian Albanians and Macedonian Macedonians on ground level. Ordinary people began to see the enemy in the other - - defined only by the ethnical background. If we used to define the society in Republic of Macedonia as multi-cultural and multi-ethnic, now we can certainly speak of separate communities within the society.


Is it a quest for territory or human rights concerns?

What the international community has done to bring peace has basically made everything worse. It suggested - - and local politicians accepted it right away - - that the conflict is "inter-ethnic" but it never was. Only now, however, is it beginning to be ethnic.

Let's look at a few arguments in support of the statement just made. The first Communiqué (1) of UCK/NLA after the violence started in Tanusevci (2), at the border of Republic of Macedonia with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) i.e. in the part of Kosovo. The shooting started moments after the bilateral agreement of Republic of Macedonia and FR Yugoslavia on the demarking the border-line which Milosevic successfully delayed for 10 years.

The NLA Communiqué stated that the shooting in Tanusevci started because "the Government of Republic of Macedonia should have negotiated the demarking of the border-line in the part of Kosovo with the authorities in Pristina, and not in Belgrade". Obviously that would have been accepted as occupation, so UCK/NLA later "changed the aims" to human rights concerns for the Albanians in Macedonia. It was human rights claims that included change in the Constitution of the country.

Another evidence that the struggle of NLA/UCK is connected to territorial aspirations is the Communiqué that speaks of "Albanian human rights fighters in the North of Greece, which are ready to take up arms and fight for their rights any moment". The Communiqué further mentioned about 18000 prepared Albanian "rebels" in Greece. Obviously this was not accepted as within the international framework so it was set aside (3).


So-called international community

The so-called international community, or in reality the West, had been involved in the crises in Republic of Macedonia way before the violence broke out. In spite of the fact that there may have been many individuals who really wanted to help bring peace, more damage than good has been done to Macedonia by most of the "international community" missions and representatives. They allowed the ground level conflict to increase and steps were taken that totally discredited the state institutions in Republic of Macedonia. Lets take the case of the EU and US "facilitators".

Moderators, mediators or facilitators of dialogue, should impartially help the "sides" among whom they moderate to find an acceptable solution with which they can live in the future. This was not the case in Macedonia. The "moderators" were negotiators from the beginning of their own mission in Republic of Macedonia, taking the interests of their own countries into account. Even before they arrived, they had selected the topics to be negotiated. One can safely say that the EU and US thereby joined as third parties to the conflict in Macedonia.

Sadly, the proposals put forward by the international community on how to create peace more quickly resulted in deepening the conflict and increasing the likelihood of introducing violence into it. Furthermore it is a fact that local Macedonian politicians had not done any appropriate analysis of the problems, the dynamics of the situation or of what actions need to be taken. The result was that the international community could move in with its own interests in the luggage and they did not necessarily mean peace as seen from within Macedonia - - or from the level of the citizens. One of the lessons learnt is that Constitutions can be changed by force, only if the international community thinks it is needed.


Which institutions are left in Republic of Macedonia?

From the beginning of the violence there have been actions that promoted para- institutional behaviour. The Parliament of Republic of Macedonia did not even discuss the situation in Macedonia because of obstructions by Parliament's Chairman. On the other hand, the President formed a "Secretariat", which can not be anchored in the Constitution nor in any existent law.

This "Secretariat" functioned as group of seven people who negotiated the future of all the citizens of Republic of Macedonia. Four of them are party leaders - - two of them are supposed to be the "Albanian" representatives and two "Slav Macedonian" representatives; then there is the President and the two facilitators, one from US one from EU. Even if what they agreed on would pass in the parliament, there will certainly not be support for it among the citizens, simply because the people were never consulted, directly or indirectly. What is negotiated is not in the general interest of the people and if the Agreement implemented, most would only feel that their lives and living conditions deteriorate.

Another paradox in the international community's stated support for Republic of Macedonia is found in the oral support for the sovereignty and integrity of the Republic while simultaneously pushing the "proportional use of force" principle. What does this principle mean?

If the UCK/NLA shoots twice, the security forces should do the same? Don't fall on the provocations! But what are the provocations? Shooting and killing of selected targets! But what are the selected targets? There are policemen and soldiers, but who are the soldiers that died? They are citizens of Republic of Macedonia, both Macedonian Macedonians and Macedonian Albanian, mobilised reservists, mainly 20-25 years old…

The question is: what is the aim of the state and its institutions if not to protect and secure its citizens - - all of them - - their lives and belongings? In addition, according to the UN Charter, a sovereign state has the right to self-defence if attacked by foreign actors. In this case, it looks as if the security forces were prevented from handling the problem in time, in order to have international forces deployed which serve some lobby groups interest and those of the EU, NATO and/or the United States rather than those of Macedonia. The situation is getting more complex every moment.

All these actions will not only prevent peace from emerging, but also create huge space for para-institutional actions, some that could easily bring chaos to the population and territory, and even the whole region (4).


Negotiations format of win-loose situation, would it ever provide peace?

Further escalation of violence could not be prevented by the methods mentioned above. However, one of the main reasons for allowing the violence to escalate and create possibility for further war mobilisation, lies in the mechanisms offered.

If instead the process had been built on anchoring the mediators in the people and give them popular mandates and driven by rational representative leaders - - and not only political party leaders - - it could have initiated a wide public and open discussion on the issues the citizens are not satisfied with.

But what we got was/is a process of negotiations with win-loose positions between the most far-out extremes: the negotiations in the President's cabinet, the President's Secretariat. An atmosphere of win-loose has never brought peace, nor will it this time. Statements of the involved politicians as well as the leaders of paramilitary UCK/NLA have been heard when giving conditions "Either X,Y, Z will be accepted or there will be more blood and war".

Does anyone think that common people will accept and respect the solutions, the Agreement, if this is the way they were arrived at? If this is the psychological milieu they were negotiated in?


What impact would amnesty of terrorists have?

The ideas of amnesty for NLA fighters will not be accepted by any except Macedonian Albanians. Sadly, it has already proven to be good excuse for mobilisation of people for paramilitaries.

This also promotes no responsibility for criminl activities in general, not only in this case. Instead of allowing the division of power and proposing a more independent judiciary system, there is clearly promotion of the idea that there is no need for courts. It boils down to saying that violence is all right if you are politically correct and that human rights can be promoted by military struggle.

Imagine amnesty for Slobodan Milosevic! The picture of or lip service to justice is evidently much more important than the concept of political correctness. The international community is obviously scared that if it starts hunting the war criminals in Macedonia it might have problems in Kosovo and their soldiers might be in danger. But the world community, all of us, still needs to be firm and concrete and prove that ANY war criminal will be facing justice and trial, no matter of his or her ethnical origin or group belonging. This has not been the case in Macedonia, nor for that matter in ex-Yugoslavia as such.


Mobilisation on religious basis

As has been shown in other ex-Yugoslavia wars, religion is the best mobilisation tool. It has been the case in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and now it is developing in Macedonia, too. Although religious issues have not been the motive for the conflict, the extremists use it to create hatred for "the other" and for mobilisation purposes.

The largest problem is that not all (and not only) Macedonian Macedonians are Orthodox Christians, nor are all (and not only) Macedonian Albanians of Islamic religion. However, religious issues obviously have a considerable impact on the ground, at citizen's level. The least that can be done to stop the extremists to use religion in their political and criminal purposes, is to create "Forum of Religious Leaders for Reconciliation" (5).


By way of conclusion

Macedonia is much more diverse in ethnical origin, much more multicultural than shown in any media or/and seen by the "international community". Except the eleven major ethnic groups that live in Republic of Macedonia, even the people that stated to be members of some at the 1994 census are not "clear or pure blooded".

The leaders with separatist or irredentist goals wish to show that Macedonia is a country with only two groups where no other ethnic group exists. The single largest problem is that this twisting of reality has been accepted by the international community too as if all the open issues in Macedonia are between Macedonian Macedonians and Macedonian Albanians.

This is not the reality on ground level. For years now, citizens who have other ethnical background feel oppressed, not by majority or minority, but by the bi-polarised perspective of things - - put in practice both by local politicians and some representatives of western politics and interests.

That is why the author of this article shares the opinion that only a politically defined nation in which there are mechanisms that guarantee the fundamental equality of all citizens will be appropriate in Macedonia.

Let me finally quote a "westerner" active in conflict-resolution in South-Eastern Europe: "From the recent wars in ex-Yugoslavia have emegered politicians and NGO activists who have learned a lot on how to prevent violent conflict and find the best mechanisms for sustaining peace. But there have also emerged "war dogs" who have learned how to create a conflict and make it escalate to a massive movement." Indeed!


For any questions, comments or contact, I can be reached by e-mail:




1. It was not the first Communique from UCK/NLA but the first one after the shooting. It was sent by fax to German media. Check No 1-4 of the NLA Communique's

2. Tanusevci is the border village where all the violence started, a village which was in the "wider" buffer zone since the demarking of the border was not agreed upon.

3. See the Document from 1996 that speaks of integration of Albanians in same borders, on the "historically Illyrian territory". The document was prepared by intellectuals in Pristina (Kosovo), Tirana (Albania) and Tetovo (Macedonia).

4. See articles by Michel Chossudovsky, "America at War in Macedonia", "Washingtons military-intelligence ploy" and TFF PressInfo 122 on

5. More explanation of this and other peace ideas in a forthcoming text.


Skopje, 25 August 2001



© TFF & the author 2001  


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