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Back on Track
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After his visit to Skopje last week, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule immediately tweeted that things are “back on track.” I remember – like it was yesterday – Javier Solana saying the exact same thing in 2001 during the NLA war against Macedonia.  Whether or not we really are “back on track” remains to be seen.

It remains to be seen because immediately after Fule’s tweet went out, Branko Crvenkovski was telling the public that talks about early parliamentary elections would begin immediately after the local elections.  For his part, Prime Minister Gruevski said that the idea of early parliamentary elections was not agreed to.  Now, Richard Howitt, the EU rapporteur for Macedonia, has been trying to clarify the situation, tweeting and posting on Facebook that the agreement does not call for early parliamentary elections.  And he’s right – this is what the agreement states: “to an election calendar - and to continue the discussions, in good faith, on all options, and without prejudice for defining the timing of the next parliamentary elections, on the basis of the implementation of OSCE/ODIHR recommendations, so that the results can be taken into account in the next Commission Progress Report.”

Clearly, the agreement states nothing about early parliamentary elections.  But you can be certain that Branko, immediately after the local elections, will call for early parliamentary elections and when they are not forthcoming, will in all likelihood boycott parliament again.  It is his standard method of operation – create an artificial crisis to attract attention, keep his party members focused on him, blame everyone else, and offer no positive solutions.

But at least for the next few weeks, we have a full-blown election campaign with all parties participating.  And that is good for the Republic of Macedonia.

Meanwhile….there are other issues to deal with.  The recent (peaceful) protests against the new Minister of Defense, Talat Xhaferi, are understandable.  To put it in perspective, it is as if a general of the Confederate States of America (the southern states that broke away from the United States of America and started our Civil War), became the Minister of Defense of the United States of America after the Civil War had ended and the country was back together again.  It would have led to another Civil War.

On the other hand, the violent protests, from any individuals regardless of ethnicity, are not understandable.  Nor are they acceptable.

One thing is true – the one casualty from all of the violent protests in Macedonia is the truth.  Consider this line from on March 4: “Xhaferi was part of a guerrilla army that fought for greater rights and representation for Macedonia's 25% ethnic Albanian minority.”  The truth is that the NLA eventually claimed that they were fighting for “greater rights,” when they realized they could not win outright and break off a part of Macedonia.

Consider these quotes: Newsweek, March 22, 2001 – in “A Troubled Dream,” author David Binder quotes Mr. Ahmeti as stating “Our aim is solely to remove Slav forces from territory which is historically Albanian.”

Patrick Bishop, reporting in The Telegraph on March 13, 2001, in an article entitled “Macedonia Launches Attacks” wrote this: “The Albanian rebels in Macedonia demanded its division along ethnic lines and said they were prepared to plunge the Balkans into another conflict unless their demands were met.  An NLA commander in Kosovo urged the West to support its cause or face the consequences.  ‘If the international community wants one more war in the Balkans we are ready,’ he said in the first interview by the group.  It appeared in the newspaper Fakti.”

And Peter Beaumont and Nick Wood, writing in The Observer on March 11, 2001 stated: “What the guerrillas are trying to achieve is articulated by Shkelzen Maliqi, a journalist for Radio Free Europe based in Pristina, and writer for Institute of War and Peace Reporting.  ‘I am familiar with the ideology, mentality and motivation behind the forces provoking the armed conflict in Macedonia.  I have come to know them, especially the émigrés in Europe.  They have tried to persuade me that Macedonia is an artificial creation, formed to the detriment of the Albanian nation.  They maintain that the enforced division of the Albanian nation was an historical injustice, aimed to prevent it from being equal to its neighbors in the region.  That injustice would be rectified, they say, by dividing Macedonia into Slav and Albanian parts and allowing the latter to unite with Kosovo or, even better, incorporated into a unitary Albanian state.’”

I still believe – as most thinking people do – that the NLA was fighting for territory or drug routes or something other than “greater rights” because if you truly cherish democratic ideals, you do not use violence in pursuit of them, especially – and this is a vital point – especially when your “group” is represented in the governmental bodies of a country.

What happens from here – with respect to the Minister – is anyone’s guess.  There are constitutional methods in place for removing governmental officials, but in this case, there is a slim chance.  I see just two options: first, Macedonians have lived with a lot of injustices and this is another one Macedonians may have to learn to live with.  Second, when Mr. Xhaferi, was appointed minister, he said he wanted to be “a symbol of coexistence, tolerance and respect for differences.” If he truly means that, then by stepping down as Defense Minister he can put an end to the distrust and prove that he is that symbol.

But it would take a man to do that.

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Jason Miko
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