Smuggled smokes a problem
This week, European Union (EU) anti-smuggling authorities highlighted potential problems in Macedonia as a regional distribution centre for smuggled cigarettes, underlining the potential these activities have to corrupt governments at the highest levels.
With a humorous headline describing Macedonia as "Swiss cheese for smuggling trucks," the independent daily Dnevnik commented on the government's lack of response to the comments of the EU Commission. A response is expected when current discussions on state security are completed.
Macedonian borders, which are currently shared with five de facto countries as opposed to the previous four, have long posed problems for authorities trying to curb smuggling. The government appears to be adopting a multifaceted approach to the problem, establishing bilateral treaties where possible (eg Bulgaria) and by tightening general security on other borders (eg the northern Kosovo / Serbia border), addressing smuggling as well as territorial security and integrity.
Security situation still an issue
President Boris Trajkovski spent much of the week meeting with heads of political parties on an individual basis to discuss the current security situation, as the shoot-to-kill policy remains in place on the northern border.
The heads of the two largest opposition parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDSM) and Liberal Democratic Party (LPD), did not attend meetings with Trajkovski due to intensive inter-party antagonism.
Following his talks with political leaders, Trajkovski, as head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces, convened a session of the National Security Council.
The present security crisis is the result of a series of incidents throughout June, culminating in last week's attack on the border post at Lojane. An unnamed senior police source said this week that the suspects in the most recent incident were from the northern town of Kumanovo, close to the border tower, and were of mixed Macedonian and Albanian ethnicity.
The same source said that they had been engaged by the secret services of the Belgrade regime to portray Kosovo as a threat to Macedonia's security and as a potential trigger for the destabilisation of Macedonia.
Municipal elections coming
Elections for city councils and mayors are on the horizon and, at present, look likely to be held on 10 September.
According to Macedonian law, municipal elections must be held concurrently in all municipalities within 60 to 90 days prior to the expiration of existing mandates.
If the 10 September date, proposed by Parliamentary Speaker Sava Klimovski, is approved, election campaigns will commence on 10 August. Some media outlets, including the independent daily Utrinski Vesnik, have called the schedule "condensed," adding that it will test the parties' abilities to adapt to dictated circumstances.
Dimovska in Bulgaria
Minister of the Interior Dosta Dimovska (VMRO-DPMNE) visited Bulgaria this week for a round of talks with high-level government figures, including meetings with Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov and Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, held locally as evidence of the ever-improving relationship between the two nations.
She also met with her Bulgarian counterpart to sign a protocol on issues of border control, addressing many of the most insalubrious problems faced by Macedonia, including illegal migration, the east-west trade in women evident across the Balkans and smuggling.
The governing VMRO-DPMNE has historically been regarded as a pro-Bulgarian party, but relations cooled after the party of ethnic Macedonians in Bulgaria (OMO-Ilinden-Pirin) was banned last November.
Dimovska's visit was only the latest in a series of bilateral meetings between the two governments, indicating that the situation is again stabilising.
Taiwanese foreign minister in for a visit
Taiwanese Foreign Minister Tien Hung-Mao visited Skopje (Shkup) for three days this week.
Relations between Macedonia and Taiwan have been relatively cool since President Trajkovski refused to acknowledge the Taiwanese Ambassador, but relations between the Taiwanese cabinet and the rest of the Macedonian coalition government remain stable. The significance of this bilateral relationship lies in Taiwan's large-scale investment in Macedonia after the two contentious countries announced their mutual recognition.
During his stay, Hung-Mao visited the Taiwanese business centre, reviewed the progress of the Bunargjik free trade zone and signed an agreement on the establishment of an economic development fund.
In, out and passing through
Much of this week's most interesting news deals with visting dignitaries and travelling domestic ministers.
Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), met with Trajkovski, Justice Minister Dzevdat Nasufi and Interior Ministry officials before travelling northwards to Kosovo.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea was scheduled to arrive in Skopje for a two-day visit on the 25 June as the guest of the Macedonian Information Ministry. He was scheduled to deliver an address at the Sts Kiril and Metodius University's Faculty of Law on Sunday, and to hold talks with Prime Minister Ljubćo Gjeorgjievski and Information Minister Vehbi Bedzeti before travelling on to Kosovo.
Prime Minister Ljubćo Gjeorgjievski visited Venice this week to participate in a conference entitled "Europe and the Balkans," where he gave a presentation about the future implementation of five "Quick Start Projects" and announced that they would be put out to international tender shortly. His attendance highlighted the government's pro-European commitment and drive.
Environment Minister Toni Popovski visited Hungary this week to attend the tenth anniversary of the Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe. While there, he participated in discussions regarding possible regional environmental policies.
Deputy Education Minister Shabani attended a conference for education ministers in Bucharest. Delegations from 35 nations attended the conference, entitled "Strengthening of the Joint European Education House." The meeting addressed issues affecting teaching at the beginning of a new millennium, including unprejudiced education, the democratisation of schools and the role of new technologies in education.
Deputy Interior Minister Elmazi travelled to Bucharest to attend the second conference of European interior ministers. Organised by the Council of Europe and the Romanian Interior Ministry, the conference was slated to focus on means of fighting economic crime in Stabilty Pact for Southeastern Europe member states, and should adopt a European Codex on rules governing police ethics.
Eleanor Pritchard, 26 June 2000
Start - weekly magazine
Forum - fortnightly magazine
Dnevnik - daily
Vecer - daily