Macedonia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: two countries with strong cultural-historic links and, until the Kosovo crisis, relatively close bilateral relations. But let us try to avoid the minefield of tired, clichéd comparisons of the two countries. Both are, indeed, countries with Orthodox Slav majorities and sizeable, geographically concentrated Albanian Muslim minorities. But since the declaration of its independence in January 1992, Macedonia has tried (with varying degrees of success) to forge its own path.
Admittedly, Macedonia has borne residual burdens from ex-Yugoslavia (notably in the fields of the economy and legislation), but what is remarkable is the extent to which it has refused to accept the conflict-ridden role it seemed destined to play. Indeed, it is the only republic from the former Yugoslavia to have left the ex-Federation without any violence or conflict.
The young incumbent VMRO-DPMNE government under President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubčo Georgievski (renouncing the extreme ethnic-Macedonian nationalism the party espoused in the wake of independence) have oriented the country towards the brighter, better future they perceive will come from being fully integrated into "Europe," economically, politically and culturally. From this goal arises the primary cleft with Yugoslavia, which has, under Milošević, descended from a position of mediocre integration to utter exclusion. These are countries whose leaders have, of late, led them in opposite directions. However, what leaders perceive as the direction of their nation and what the nation (or elements of it) wants are often very different. At "street level," many Macedonians retain links with Yugoslavia, across a range of fields.
The stakes for Macedonia
So, what are the issues at stake for Macedonia in the presidential elections? They fall into three primary categories: security, economics and politics.
First and foremost must be the security of Macedonia and, in particular, the integrity of the northern border that conjoins Macedonia with Kosovo in the west and Serbia in the east. Since the beginning of the year, there have been numerous "incidents," ranging from three separate shooting attacks on border guards in June alone (which resulted in the temporary imposition of a shoot-to-kill policy by Macedonia), to last week's worrying report of a vehicle which exploded a land mine near Kodra Fura during the course of routine checks.
The media is divided when it comes to apportioning blame for these attacks, the more nationalist Macedonian press being quick to point fingers at "Albanian terrorists" from Kosovo and within Macedonia itself, while press close to the government has remained intentionally circumspect, making vague statements about the involvement of "people close to the regime in Belgrade." Whether this refers to the pro-Belgrade Macedonian opposition (SDSM), the SDSM in collaboration with the Yugoslav secret services or the Yugoslav ambassador Janačković (named this week as one of several ambassadors under investigation for "conducting activities outside the remit of diplomatic persons") is still unclear and, to an extent, irrelevant.
To generalise: the internal destabilisation of Macedonia would have offered Milošević the benefits of a war, distracting domestic Yugoslav and international attention from the Belgrade regime, without the effort of actually going to war. This has clearly been a desirable circumstance for Belgrade in the wake of the Kosovo crisis, as the situation within Yugoslavia has continued to spiral downwards.
It is equally undesirable for Macedonia, where the potential consequences of destabilisation have entered into international relations legend; the prospect of the four neighbouring countries entering a military scenario in Macedonia, either to protect their minorities or with a view to enacting the territorial claims they lay, is frightening.
It is clear that the internal destabilisation of Macedonia could be beneficial to the Macedonian opposition, who would then be able to play a "return-to-stability" card and seriously discredit the government, possibly even forcing a vote of no-confidence or early parliamentary elections.
The strong aura of stability which Koštunica is cultivating is interpreted within Macedonia as a positive indication that he could lead Yugoslavia towards a period of regional stability, in which the strength of no state depended on the instability of a neighbour. This would allow Macedonia to proceed towards the oft-touted ideal of national and regional stability and security.
By contrast, a Milošević victory spells the continuation of niggling confrontations over security. This would be particularly pronounced in the Preševo region of the border, where an Albanian paramilitary group modelled on the KLA is sporadically fighting for the "liberation" of the Albanian population concentrated within that area of Serbia proper and the unification of this territory with Kosovo. In the event that the Socialists win the election, it seems likely that their campaign would be intensified, which could transform this triangular junction of the three entities (Serbia-Kosovo-Macedonia) into a real security hotspot.
The vulnerability of Montenegro
Another pressing security concern for Macedonia is that of Montenegro. With Montenegro teetering on the brink of secession, a Milošević victory would make that decision far more likely, almost certain to happen. Montenegro has a Muslim and an Albanian minority, both of which have shown signs of being highly unsettled during this election period by moving in large numbers to areas seen as less dangerous.
There are two related fears at play here. The first is the fear of Serb paramilitary groups being sent into Montenegro to confront those boycotting the election and to make trouble during the electoral period; the second is that a Milošević victory may give Belgrade the wave of support it would need to launch a larger-scale action against Montenegro until it repented of its waywardness and came back into the fold of Federal Yugoslavia.
Either way, Montenegrin citizens, particularly the minorities, would be in a vulnerable position. The complicated demographics of the region mean that political crises in the Balkans inevitably result in widespread population movement, and Macedonia (which accepted over ten per cent of its own population size in refugees last year) is an obvious destination for refugees due to the Muslim and Albanian populations within the country.
Koštunica and the opposition have pledged the continuation of Yugoslavia as a Serbia-Montenegro federation, but there is every reason to hope that this may be achieved by legitimate and diplomatic means rather than by force, which is a far better scenario for Macedonia.
Crime and prostitution
Associated with the issue of national security is that of regional crime issues. Perhaps the most illustrative example is that of the regional trade in women that seems to have flourished in the almost anarchic conditions in post-war Serbia. A visit to almost any kafana in northern/north-western Macedonia will reveal girls working illegally as waitresses/hostesses-come-prostitutes from many of the neighbouring countries, particularly Albania and Bulgaria.
Articles abound in the domestic press and media without ever reaching any conclusion other than that it is certainly a "bad thing." Some girls come directly from their home countries, promised better money and lifestyle in the relative affluence of Macedonia. Many, however, come through Serbia and recount scenes from beyond your worse nightmares about "rape flats," where girls are taken and abused and degraded until they are deemed suitably submissive to be moved on to a third country to work as prostitutes.
The Macedonian government recognises the problems it faces in this field and, in mid-June, signed a bilateral protocol with Bulgaria to address issues of border control, including this issue. With the current situation in Yugoslavia, it has not been possible to make progress in this or other regional areas, such as drug smuggling or cross-border corruption. A change of leadership would, hopefully, mean the re-establishment of normal regional dialogue in which all countries could work together on such issues for mutual benefit.
Secondly, there is the issue of economic relations. In the golden days of Yugoslavia, Serbia-Montenegro was the primary export market (comprising some 60 per cent of total markets) for Macedonian products. These were lost with the collapse of the old Yugoslavia. If Koštunica and the DOS succeed in removing Milošević, the economic consequences would affect Macedonia almost immediately.
These consequences fall into two main categories. The first is the normalisation of economic relations between the two countries: the re-establishment of links, re-creation of markets, etc. This would be mutually beneficial, maximising the linguistic and economic links formalised during the 40 years from the end of the Second World War to the end of Yugoslavia.
Then there is the international economic aspect. It is generally believed that a vote for Koštunica is a vote for the "opening" of Yugoslavia to the EU and international institutions (how true this is has yet to be seen). Macedonia's fervent and continuing efforts to improve its standing with all such bodies would be simplified if they did not have a black hole with sanctions on their border. If Yugoslavia started to play the economic integration game, sanctions would be decreased (or lifted), regional economic initiatives would become feasible and Macedonia would certainly benefit from both.
There is also the aspect of international aid, which is slightly less cut-and-dried. Many international bodies, governments and humanitarian organisations have offered financial incentives to Yugoslav voters to persuade them to vote for the opposition. It would be here, if anywhere, that widespread discontent and jealousy could arise.
Looking back at the past year it is not hard to imagine how. After a shaky start involving petulant border closures, Macedonia pulled through the Kosovo crisis and emerged glowing. It was briefly the darling of the international humanitarian community, whose ever-fickle attentions were soon redeployed in Kosovo. Many of the larger organisations retained a scaled-down presence in Macedonia, looking at sustainable community-based projects, disability and gender-based programmes and other medium-term favourites. It was a half-hearted development programme in general, though, and these projects are, for the most part, now coming to an end or winding down.
If the opposition wins, the pledged funds for relief and reconstruction will need executors. The development wing of the humanitarian sector (as fickle in its way as the emergency relief wing) could well descend with a vengeance, with the associated manic proliferation of projects in every conceivable field, restaurant/café boom and well-paid positions for local staff which Macedonia so briefly glimpsed.
This is not to say that such a scenario would seriously or irreparably damage Macedonia's economy, simply that in a region rife with suspicion and jealousy it could cause deep-rooted resentment and disillusionment with the international community—not good for a country so intently orienting itself westwards. There have been murmurs in the domestic press to this effect, and speaking to CER recently, Danilo Gligoroski MP (Head of the Macedonian delegation to the Council of Europe) cited as an example the notion currently circulating that if Milošević loses power, the EU will reallocate funding currently destined for Macedonia to Serbia. However, he dismissed such talk as opposition "rumour-mongering" aimed at promoting general malcontentment within Macedonia.
The third field in which Macedonia will be strongly affected by the Yugoslav presidential elections is politics. At a domestic level, the largest opposition party (SDSM), built on the foundations of the old Socialist Party, have close personal and ideological links to Belgrade. A Milošević victory would help them retain a formidable ally in their anti-Western stance and efforts to undermine the forward-looking VMRO-DPMNE government. If SDSM regained power, Macedonia could find herself executing a neat 180-degree turn away from Europe and back into the ever-decreasing Balkans' club.
An opposition victory, on the other hand, would install a president in Yugoslavia who seems to have more in common with the VMRO-DPMNE philosophy. It could mean the founding of regional political initiatives; it could mean close political (as well as economic) cooperation between the two countries; it could mean almost unlimited positive developments—but that would be to forget Koštunica's anti-NATO and anti-bombing statements.
There are strong indications that he is not going to focus all of the means available to him on immediate membership of the international political bodies. He has a history of nationalism, yet an apparent regard for bureaucracy and order, suggesting that he would put his own house in order before attempting to improve Yugoslavia's international position. Macedonia, which seems to see in Koštunica's Yugoslavia a fellow runner, may find that internal focus disappointing and discover that they do not benefit from a regional current of change in the way they expect to.
It is impossible, in the space of this article, to give more than a broad overview of relations between the two countries and what both possible results could mean to the future of Macedonia. It is clear, however, that the incumbent VMRO-DPMNE government would have more in common personally and ideologically with a DOS government under Koštunica in Yugoslavia.
Such a long-anticipated change of government would, inevitably, not fulfil every dream harboured for the post-Milošević era. Some examples of this can already be seen, others would appear over time. The Macedonian opposition party SDSM would be better served by Milošević retaining his position, due to personal, economic and political links built with Yugosalvia during the days of SFRJ. And on the streets, popular opinion seems to be that a change would do them good. All eyes in Macedonia are certainly on Yugoslavia.
Eleanor Pritchard, 2 October 2000
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