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Vol 3, No 25
10 September 2001
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The Modus Vivendi Collapses
Time for all protagonists to re-examine their stance
Vladimir Gligorov

Ballots over bullets

When the conflict started, NATO's George Robertson came out with some strong language against the Albanian rebels in Macedonia. He called them terrorists (this was echoed by Colin Powell, the USA Secretary of State) and criticised them for preferring "bullets over ballots." Since then, NATO has changed tack and its main line now is that the choice is in the hands of the Macedonian government (by which I mean the lot of the governing bodies in Macedonia). They should choose whether they want to face bullets now and make political concessions later or make these concessions outright. If they choose the latter, "NATO is here to help."

Why is NATO responsible for anything anyway? The reason is indeed of fundamental importance and the understanding of it is reflected in the initial reaction of NATO's leaders. According to the rules of engagement in Kosovo, NATO, together with the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), is currently the government of this particular region. That means that between the two of them they share, formally and functionally, the responsibility a Kosovo government would have if Kosovo were an independent state or had a government.

One responsibility that any government has is not to allow para-military forces of any kind to operate on the territory of another country from the territory under its jurisdiction. If, however, it did allow it, then it would be reminded, in a number of ways, of its duty by the UN. What does this responsibility more specifically consist of? Let me give an example that should be instructive.

During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the then president of the neighbouring Serbia, Slobodan Milošević, argued that he had no responsibility for what was going on there. At one point he even introduced sanctions against what was, at that time, the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic. However, he allowed its army (in fact, the army of the Serbian Republic in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the army of Serbia proper were one and the same) and its political and military leaders to use the territory of Serbia—and he also allowed the para-military gangs to do the same. For that reason, Serbia was put by the UN under a regime of rather comprehensive sanctions.

Now, legally, NATO is Milošević—ie, the authority—in Kosovo. And NATO understands its responsibilities in the same way Milošević did. It claims that it is patrolling the borders between Kosovo and Macedonia, but it does not accept any responsibility for the fact that the leaders of the National Liberation Army, whose soldiers it is chasing in the mountains, operate out of Kosovo, indeed out of the capital of Kosovo, where NATO is the government. Also, NATO accepts no responsibility for the fact that the same para-military organisation operates in Kosovo and in Macedonia, in the same way in which the same Serbian army operated in Serbia and in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sanctions on Kosovo, of course, are not considered by the UN, maybe because they would have to be imposed on a territory under the UN administration.

So, NATO has not been honouring its responsibilities. At some point there were even denials that there were any movements across the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, while now it is argued that hundreds upon hundreds of para-militaries are being arrested or turned back when they try to cross the borders under NATO's control, ie, those between Kosovo and Albania and Macedonia. The UN has not been heard from throughout the conflict, though the UNMIK is the administration in Kosovo.

Whatever leads to good is good (Machiavelli)

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times Edward P. Joseph, who writes for the International Crisis Group, starts with the following observation:

Lord Robertson, the unflappable secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is rarely at a loss for words. But he was struggling to find them when asked this question at a press conference hailing the August 13 political agreement between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians: "Doesn't the agreement reward violence?"

Then he continues by answering for Mr. Robertson in the following way:

The difficult truth is that it was violence by ethnic Albanians that generated the flurry of international efforts to redress minority grievances in Macedonia. Now the question is whether the international community will see the agreement through—or again wait for conflict to force it into action.

So, this is all about bringing in NATO to change the constitutional set-up of Macedonia. Will, however, this "conspiracy" work? Only if it is permanent. It is strange to argue that way after observing the developments in the past ten years throughout the former Yugoslavia. Where do we see that the use of violence was justified in the way it is argued it could? What good has ethnic cleansing brought about anywhere? After all, if one reads the reports by the International Crisis Group in Bosnia, it is easy to see how this kind of permanent international involvement does not really work. However, there is a more fundamental aspect.

Why did the Albanian National Liberation Army take up arms in the first place? According to those who are ready to justify the reliance on bullets over ballots, they are fighting for equal rights for the Albanians in Macedonia. To argue in that way is to make a mockery of equal rights movements and also of the humanitarian intervention of NATO forces in Kosovo. Why?

Because one should recall what the motivation behind NATO's intervention in Kosovo was. It was to protect Kosovo Albanians from the imminent threat of genocide (whether this threat was real is yet to be determined). This is a type of human rights violation that justifies taking up arms to remedy the injustice. The same applies, for instance, to slavery or similar drastic and systemic violations of human rights. Other human rights violations it does not apply to. It certainly does not apply to discrimination, which is not even a violation of the human rights in itself—though it is a violation of the principle of equal rights.

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Nobody has argued that there were any systematic or drastic or (even not-so-drastic) violations of human rights in Macedonia. If one goes through the political agreement now reached, which NATO's secretary general Mr. George Robertson says the para-militaries are satisfied with, all that can be found there is the correction of certain instances of discrimination against the Albanian minority in Macedonia. Does that justify a guerrilla warfare?

There is an additional aspect to be considered. It can be argued that even discrimination could justify an armed rebellion and perhaps even international solidarity if the country is a dictatorship or simply is not a democracy. I do not believe that this argument can be made convincingly, but I can understand the attempt. However, I have yet to see a respectable case being made for an armed revolution aimed at eliminating discrimination in a democratic country. The Soviet Union used to support those kinds of movements, but there is no Soviet Union anymore. One certainly hopes nobody wants to take up its place in support of civil and other wars.

This is humiliating

Could this have been predicted? The answer is positive. The current Macedonian government has been working on the destruction of democracy rather diligently over the past couple of years. The previous one was in many respects not much better, but it at least accepted a defeat at the polls. The current government has essentially had three main strategic goals. One was that a multi-ethnic modus vivendi is to be preferred to the rule of law. The second was that capitalism equals the legalisation of corruption. The third was that elections are there to be rigged.

Thus, it lost legitimacy both among the Macedonian and among the Albanian population. It also denied that any problems existed and kept producing statements, and even opinion poll reports, to back them, to the effect that "ethnic relations in Macedonia are relaxed." Every report or opinion to the contrary was met with scorn and defamatory propaganda.

It was predictable that its reaction to the appearance of the Albanian para-militaries could only be geared towards using this opportunity to improve its public image. Thus, the Macedonian parties in the government began inciting people to an all out war and the Albanian representatives sided with the Liberation Army. Then they got involved in prolonged negotiations with the aim to work on their images irrespective of the fact that it was clear that they would accept most of the changes that had been demanded.

The irresponsibility of the current government, in fact of the Macedonian parties, is that they have signed an agreement that they primarily incited people against. This is especially the line of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party of Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), who argues that the agreement is humiliating and more or less implies that it is not ready to honour it. This is meant to somehow justify the excessive use of force in a number of cases and to shore up their credibility among their potential supporters.

Thus, the Macedonian politicians from the VMRO-DPMNE and a number of other parties, rather than look for ways of gaining credibility in the eyes of the public by honouring agreements that they have signed and thus try to get the political process in tune with democratic institutions, work hard to undermine that same agreement. With that they risk to ruin the state, after their modus vivendi has collapsed.

Greed and grievances

What is strange about this whole affair, especially about the glorification of the AK-47 as the most efficient political instrument, is that everybody now argues that arms are not really what this is all about. NATO is collecting the arms that are voluntarily surrendered for symbolic purposes. What this whole thing is about is trust and reconciliation. Which had to be destroyed in order to be rebuilt and strengthened. Money is being promised for reconstruction and for humanitarian aid. People will be allowed to go back where they have been chased away from. And we will have another Bosnia or Kosovo.

This whole exercise is built on the premises of some very bad political philosophy about grievances being redressed through the blessings of the civil war. In a number of studies on civil wars done in an excellent programme run by The World Bank, the main point that was made was that civil wars are about greed, not about grievances. In fact, rather than redressing anything, they bring in injustices that take a long, a very long time to redress. The greed aspect I do not wish to discuss here, but it is easy to see from Croatia via Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kosovo that it will take at least a generation for people to come to terms with the grievances that the civil war itself had incurred.

States are a thing of the past

The choice in Macedonia is this: either it is decided that "states are really a thing of the past," at least in the Balkans, anyway, or there must be a concerted effort to shore up democracy and the rule of law there. In the first case, there is the Bosnian scenario; in the second, the use of force to achieve political aims should not only be discouraged but also consistently de-legitimised. Rewarding bullets rather than ballots is not a new idea in the Balkans, but it has never worked for the better.

Vladimir Gligorov, 10 September 2001

Professor Vladimir Gligorov is a Staff Economist and country expert on Balkan countries with The Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies.

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