The prime minister of Macedonia, Ljubco Georgievski, is a sad and disappointed man. A youthful 35-year-old poet and man of letters (he has published three books of experimental literature), he genuinely aches over the recent events and his shattered dream of peaceful co-existence. CER recently caught up with Mr Georgievski, who was the first deputy-premier of his country in 1991 and was elected Prime Minister in November 1998.
Central Europe Review (CER): You are the Prime Minister who did the most for inter-ethnic tolerance in Macedonia. Are you disappointed?
Ljubco Georgievski: We were very shocked by events last month. Macedonia, until a month ago, was an example of a multi-ethnic state, the recipient of compliments from the international community as proof of the possibility of peaceful multi-ethnic co-existence in the Balkans.
The appearance of terrorists shattered this image, and Macedonia has become a problem of multi-ethnic life rather than an example. We have never evaded these issues, but we will not allow anyone to annul everything we have achieved in the last ten years. We also believe in evolution—and not in revolutionary changes overnight.
I was greatly disappointed, because I felt that I gave a lot as Prime Minister. You know that Macedonian nationalists in some way proclaimed that I betrayed their interests. And now both parties are not satisfied. There is a personal dimension, but I must go on fighting to overcome it.
CER: You disagree with violence and terror. But do you agree with some of the demands of the Albanians?
Ljubco Georgievski: Everything is open to discussion, as long as it is done democratically. We proved this in the last decade. But we cannot accept demands backed by weapons. This breaks every principle, international and national.
The terrorists must leave Macedonia and abandon their weapons to allow us to proceed with our discussions. We will sit at the table, each party will present its reasoned demands, and we will consider them together: what do the Albanians living in Macedonia want, and how can it be resolved?
None of their demands in the last decade were presented either to the Macedonian Parliament or to the government. They may have constituted the position of the Albanian political parties, but, until now, they have not been formally presented to the proper institutions.
CER: The Albanians demand changes in the Constitution (for instance, to make them a "Constituent Nation"). Do you think this question can be resolved, even in principle?
Ljubco Georgievski: As I said, all issues can be discussed. What will be decided depends on the mood of all the political parties and, finally, on Parliament. I am prepared to interpret the Constitution creatively, as we have done in the case of Albanian higher education. Though the Constitution does not state decidedly that higher education can be conducted in another language, we do have higher education in Albanian.
Similarly, we can creatively interpret many other issues. My approach is to see how to achieve multi-ethnic life through substance and not through a change in the Constitution. I personally think that the Constitution has proved its value in the last decade and spawned wide democracy.
Finally, the happiness of the citizens is not derived from the Constitution but from its proper functioning. For example: the Albanians in Albania have a Constitution, which they themselves adopted. So, why is there civil war in Albania and why, to this very day, does its own government not control half its territory? The Constitution is only a framework, which determines the rules of the democratic game.
CER: Macedonia is a young state. Many Macedonians feel that their existence is insecure. Can it be that, as a result, you are over-sensitive to Albanian demands?
Ljubco Georgievski: The Macedonian people are afraid for their country and for peace. It is understandable. They lived here under the same conditions for centuries, and, in the last decade, we witnessed four wars in this region, the last one being the Kosovo crisis. This fear is normal. Should the Balkans normalize and survive in peace for ten to 15 years, people's minds may change, and they would not regard such issues so sensitively.
CER: Mr Arben Xhaferi (the leader of the biggest Albanian party, DPA, and a member of the coalition) presented a demand to resolve all the outstanding issues in one month. Do you regard this as an ultimatum? Do you think it is a productive approach?
Ljubco Georgievski: I believe that he intended to speed things up, but I am pessimistic that any issue can be resolved in one month. In any case, it is very bad to present any ultimatum at the beginning of the discussions. We showed that we are ready for discussions, for their intensification—but without any additional conditions.
CER: Do you feel constrained by the West?
Ljubco Georgievski: It is obvious that the West needed time to understand what is happening here. Following the first phase, in which they faced many unknowns, communication has improved and is functioning maximally. We are especially content that they augmented the KFOR contingent in Kosovo. They present no special demands except to intensify the discussions with the Albanian political parties within our institutions.
This is acceptable to us, and we feel no special pressure. We are particularly happy that the international community—having studied the situation—has accepted the thesis that we are faced with terrorism, that we cannot negotiate with terrorists and that we should unite to eliminate terror.
CER: But in your speech you criticized both the West and Western media.
Ljubco Georgievski: Our criticism of some Western countries was because the border between Macedonia and Kosovo was not sufficiently controlled by KFOR. This probably encouraged the terrorists to enter Macedonia. Now, having realized their mistake, things improved. The very fact that they enhanced their forces proved that they understand the situation.
Regarding the Western media, we reject only their formulation—which goes against the terminology used in other countries with similar problems—that we are dealing with rebels. This legitimizes a group of terrorists, encourages and strengthens them and lets them think that they have international support.
We also dislike the exaggeration of the situation by the international media. Skopje, for instance, contrary to media reports, is very peaceful, as is the rest of the country. Macedonia has been attacked only in three places, all very close to the Kosovo border. This serves to prove that the aggression against Macedonia was initiated from the Kosovo Protectorate. We should call a spade a spade.
CER: Serbia is negotiating with the UÇPMB and has negotiated with the KLA. Why won't Macedonia negotiate with the KLA?
Ljubco Georgievski: Serbia is in a different situation, having a track record of ten years of repression. The attack of the KLA on the Preševo Valley in south Serbia is without historical background or logic. This is a direct provocation by the KLA on Serbian territory. To my mind, it is illogical for Serbia to negotiate with the KLA regarding its own territory.
In Macedonia we do not think, even for one moment, of negotiating with the KLA regarding Macedonian territory, because we really consider them to be a classic terrorist organization and because Macedonia was always complimented for its multi-ethnic co-operation.
In Macedonia, there are legal Albanian political parties represented in the government with many ministers. They can present every question in both Parliament and government. We don't intend to promote terrorists to the position of political co-discussants.
CER: You keep mentioning the KLA. But you were the first Balkan leader to meet Hashim Thaci, the leader of the KLA.
Ljubco Georgievski: The meeting with Thaci was when the whole international community actively communicated with him. Its purpose was to establish normal economic relations with Kosovo and to make sure that the refugees from Kosovo would leave Macedonia within two months rather than the one year that everyone predicted—as, indeed, they did after the meeting. Our future relations depend on the behaviour of Thaci's party.
CER: Do you believe that the Tetovo uprising can happen again?
Ljubco Georgievski: We have successfully completed the first round of defence of Macedonia against terrorism, even though there are still individual acts of terror, which worry us. Independent of these terrorist acts, we are waiting now, according to all information, for a second wave of a massive terrorist attacks toward the middle or the end of this month.
I believe that this second wave can be prevented only with very active pressure by the international community on the political structures in Kosovo and with a clear statement that it does not stand behind such elements.
CER: The new administration in the USA displays isolationist tendencies. The USA has withdrawn 800 soldiers from Bosnia. Do you think that this is the wrong orientation?
Ljubco Georgievski: It is too early for the Americans to leave Kosovo and Macedonia. We expect the region to remain unstable for some time to come, and we would like this instability to be ameliorated by both NATO and the American Army. We don't see any risk in their presence, but there is a risk in their withdrawal.
CER: A few weeks ago, the Serbs were allowed back to the security zone around Kosovo to counter Albanian terrorism in that area. Was the whole Kosovo war of 1999 a mistake?
Ljubco Georgievski: The security zone is in Serbian territory bordering on Kosovo, and the Serbs should receive it back. We think it is the right policy. Serbia should control its border up to Kosovo. The faster this is done, the faster the Preševo Valley problem will be overcome.
Regarding the return of the Serbs to Kosovo as a whole, it is a more complex issue. It is a fact that in Kosovo today, there is opposite oppression. Albanians there have created the most ethnically cleansed space by "cleansing" not only Serbs, but Turks, Roma and others. The international community now has a reverse problem: how to pacify Albanian extremism there.
Regarding whether the war was necessary or not—again, this is a very complex issue. First, Milošević was a big Balkan problem and for ten years has held the Balkans hostage. His aspiration for a "Greater Serbia" involved not only other republics but also Macedonia. This would not have been solved without NATO intervention, which opened possibilities and perspectives for a new future of the Balkans.
But on the way to realizing this main goal, a secondary error was committed (as it was in other places), and this is the creation and support of the so-called KLA by the Western powers. In the KLA, I see a new European Taliban. Many Albanian criminals and bandits were armed and militarily trained, and now no one can control them. They cause trouble mostly in Kosovo.
There are hundreds of examples of Albanians murdered by the very structures that initiate aggression against south Serbia and west Macedonia. This power mostly consists of dismantled gangs of the former KLA. The West may face this problem, perhaps not in the form of terrorism, but by way of crime. Today, Albania and Kosovo are the biggest centers of drugs that are directly distributed further in Europe. These facts are recognized by many European states.
CER: You keep blaming the KLA and Kosovo, but Western media report that many of the Albanian extremists are Macedonian citizens.
Ljubco Georgievski: Macedonian Albanians are members of these structures. But all the military, logistics and financial support come from Kosovo. And Western countries possess proof of this. The main leaders are Macedonian Albanians that two years ago joined KLA structures. Now they are returning to Macedonia through Kosovo.
Finally, Macedonia, in the last ten years, granted citizenship to 160,000 Albanians from Kosovo and south Serbia who fled the of tortures Milošević. 90 percent of Macedonian Albanians who participate in these terrorist groups are these refugees from Yugoslavia.
CER: Are you happy with Greek investments in Macedonia?
Ljubco Georgievski: Absolutely. We did something positive in the last two years in that we drastically changed relations with Greece, and Greece is now a good friend rather than a cold neighbour. Today, Greek investments are the biggest in Macedonia, and this encourages other investors.
Last year, for the first time in fifteen years, we finally had a good economic year. Our GDP increased by 5.1 percent. We were the first of 24 countries in transition in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Developement's (EBRD) report, as far as the intensity of reform and macro-economic results are involved. This means that we are on the right way track. Unfortunately, trouble beyond our control again blocked our economic development.
But even in the crisis, Greeks continued to invest here. This is important, because it shows that they still regard Macedonia as secure, and it contributes to stability in the region and in Macedonia.
CER: Macedonians—like the Jews and the Albanians—have a big diaspora (mainly in Australia and Canada). Why aren't they much more involved and supportive?
Ljubco Georgievski: The problem is that, until ten years ago, we were part of Yugoslavia, which controlled the diaspora and splintered it. Our problem is how to unite them and only after that to ask them to support Macedonia. We expect them to organize and lobby for Macedonia in their own countries.
We, as a state, do not wish to involve ourselves in diaspora matters—this is the Communist way. We would like them to self-organize and act spontaneously, which would make them a real Diaspora. But they have not overcome the Yugoslav complex yet, it will take time.
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Interview conducted by Sam Vaknin
The author is General Manager of Capital Markets Institute Ltd, a consultancy firm with operations in Macedonia and Russia. He is an Economic Advisor to the Government of Macedonia.
DISCLAIMER: The views presented by the author in this article represent only the personal opinions and judgments of the author.
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