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The NLA and the Ohrid Framework Agreement
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According to media reports, Defense Minister Fatmir Besimi regretted that he caused offense to some by his attending a memorial to fighters of the so-called NLA on August 13.  According to the Associated Press, he stated “I express my regret if anyone was offended by that act.”  Also according to the Associated Press, “a Defense Ministry statement issued later clarified that this was not an apology and that Besimi would ‘organize similar ceremonies in the future to encourage ethnic reconciliation.’”  Add to this the Macedonian Government’s desire to provide more benefits for army veterans and DUIs desire for so-called NLA “veterans” to receive benefits and you have what Prime Minister Gruevski is now calling a “crisis.” 

This “crisis” is rooted in the 2001 aggression against Macedonia.  Macedonians and Macedonian Albanians view the so-called NLA and the Ohrid Framework Agreement which ended that aggression differently.  Macedonians say the NLA was fighting for territory.  Macedonian Albanians say the NLA was fighting for “rights.” 

Let’s review the record, using quotes from the past: 

My personal favorite from then-NATO Secretary General George Robertson on who the NLA is, March 2001: “…murderous thugs and criminals.”  

March 16, 2001, The New York Times, Menduh Thaci (then vice-president of the DPA) “..the Albanians are beginning an armed battle for the liberation of their territories in Macedonia.”  

March 20, 2001, BBC, “They say they are returning to their homeland to fight a long-planned-for ‘war of liberation.’” 

March 22, 2001, Newsweek, “A Troubled Dream” – “Our aim is solely to remove Slav forces from territory which is historically Albanian.” – Ali Ahmeti 

March 19, 2001, The Times of London “Listen, in 1998 when we were in the KLA, the Americans called us a terrorist organization at first,” said a young Albanian man in one of the NLA’s village bases near the Kosovo-Macedonian border.  “But then they came around to supporting us.  It’ll be the same this time with the NLA.” 

And then here is what I wrote in Dnevnik on June 4, 2001: “The current crisis in the Republic of Macedonia is the result of bad guys with guns with evil intentions.  It is not about discrimination, rights or feelings of second-class citizenship. No matter what the bad guys claim about “rights,” their major intentions, as noted scores of times by the international community and the government of Macedonia, are to protect their criminal activities in the smuggling of women, drugs and illegal goods.  This fact seems to have been lost in the debate over the past few weeks.” 

August 17, 2001, The Times of London “Mr. Ahmeti is unrepentant about taking up arms against the Macedonian state: ‘This war has resulted in the end to the discriminations of Albanians in all state institutions over a 55-year period…’”  

In an analysis in its August 19, 2001 edition, The Independent from the UK analyzed what happened (this is after the Ohrid Framework Agreement was signed):  “In many ways, the rebels have transformed Western policy by simply hanging around.  Western governments backed the Macedonian army to defeat the rebels on the battlefield but it could not.  The rebels became a reality the West could not ignore.”  A good analysis but it fails to point out that the West repeatedly asked Macedonia, sometimes with implicit threats of the economic kind, to hold back or use “proportionate” force.  So the NLA had might and used it.  The Macedonian security forces had might and were asked not to use it. 

The entire aggression started to quickly become a stalemate when the Macedonian army did not defeat the NLA – for reasons noted above – and the NLA changed its tune to one of fighting for “rights.” 

Again, the UK’s Independent from August 19, 2001: “In March, Western leaders roundly condemned the rebels and praised Macedonia as a model of ethnic tolerance in the Balkans…Now Macedonia’s image as a model of ethnic tolerance lies in pieces.  Now the West has arm-twisted and cajoled the Macedonian government into signing a peace deal that grants Albanian demands for greater minority rights – the very rights the NLA claims to be fighting for.” 

But as I – and others – have repeatedly said, you don’t pick up guns and other heavy weapons and “fight” for “rights” in a parliamentary democracy that already offers those rights and that already has members of the ethnic community in government – something Macedonia has had since the beginning. 

I firmly believe the NLA started out fighting for territory and changed their tune to “rights”  when they knew they could not win.  Regardless, we now have an admitted “crisis” in the Macedonian Government. Where do we go from here?  Hopefully, Minister Besimi will understand that the unilateral actions he has taken do nothing to support reconciliation.  If one side sees the move as one of insincerity and in favor of other side, how can that be “reconciliation?” Hopefully the minister will think twice the next time he is tempted to venture out and “honor” the NLA.  At the very least, I would hope that he would understand that if the government falls, he will be out of a job.

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Jason Miko
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