Macedonia—a landlocked country on the southeast tip of the Balkans, bordering Yugoslavia, Albanian, Bulgaria, and Greece—has been coping with an Albanian armed insurgency since February this year. The insurgents—collectively known as the NLA (National Liberation Army, or UÇK in Albanian)—are comprised of commanders with experience in Kosovo and recruits from Macedonia's Albanian population. The NLA demanded improved civil rights, human rights and enhanced participation in the police and public administration (to reflect the Albanians' share of the population, officially ca 24 percent), and the right to use the Albanian language in parliament and in mixed municipalities (with more than 20 percent Albanian population).
Their demands were met in the Ohrid Framework Agreement signed by the leaders of the four major political parties (two Macedonian and two Albanian). One of the signatories was the prime minister, Mr Ljubco Georgievski, head of the VMRO-DPMNE, the moderate right-wing ruling party. Georgievski has tactical differences with his erstwhile friend and co-partisan, the current president of Macedonia, Boris Trajkovski, who came to power in much disputed elections, decided by the votes of the Albanian population in 1999.
Trajkovski believes in the constructive role of NATO and the West in restoring peace and stability to Macedonia. The Framework Agreement—if rejected by Albanian extremists—will establish their culpability and responsibility for the current situation, on the one hand, and Macedonia's flexibility, on the other hand. Georgievski resents the West's apparent lenience towards the NLA and firmly believes that agreements should never be signed at gunpoint. About 17 percent of the 9800 sq m country (its western and north-western parts) is still controlled by the gradually disarming NLA.
The President of Macedonia is a soft spoken but single-minded visionary. We met in his office amid frequent interruptions from a noisy anti-NATO demonstration right outside his window in the Parliament building. Mr Trajkovski was the deputy minister of Foreign Affairs during the taxing days of the Kosovo crisis 1999. But this was not his first exposure to foreign affairs. For many years this American educated Methodist ran the Commission for Foreign Affairs of the VMRO-DPMNE (then in the opposition).
Central Europe Review: Whether one agrees with your policies or not—you are definitely a brave man. What did you experience emotionally during this existential crisis? Were you ever afraid? Do you regret decisions you made or refrained from making?
Boris Trajkovski: I am considering two things on a daily basis: what is right to do and what is wrong to do in my role as President of my people. According to my conscience, I am trying to abide by the right. My vision is peace. My vision is prosperity. Even when making difficult decisions on behalf of my people, I am striving to attain peace, it is very important to me. When you are a man of vision, you are bound to succeed. Consider Anwar Sadat when he flew to Israel to meet his Israeli counterparts. His Egyptian compatriots were furious. He answered: "I am going to these talks for peace. I am going to bring peace and prosperity for my people." I am doing the very same. I want to bring peace and prosperity to all the citizens of Macedonia. This is my vision.
It is a frightening example...
(Raises his voice, for the first and only time during the interview)
Leadership and vision! I have to lead my people towards my vision and my goal—peace and prosperity! Never mind how misunderstood I am and how irrationally I am treated. But I have a goal. Time will tell. If I succeed, it will prove to the people that I was a man of vision. Therefore, you need courage and leadership. I am ready to accept all accusations, allegations, anger—but I have to succeed.
Parliament has embarked on the path of constitutional amendments in accordance with the Ohrid Framework Agreement. What does the future hold? Armed conflict, unarmed conflict, or peace?
I welcome the final vote made by the Macedonian parliamentarians. It is a significant moment which leads towards the implementation of the framework agreement. It allows for discussing, in a democratic manner, the various appendices attached to that agreement.
We are witnessing a situation where NATO is trying to disarm and disengage the terrorists. We are witnessing a durable cease-fire. The terrorists gave their word not to continue to fight. We have to trust them because they gave their word to NATO and NATO gave their word to us. Once we put all this behind us, I hope that Macedonia will continue with its endeavors to be part of the European family and towards a Euro-Atlantic integration. The future prospects of my country in collaboration with the international community is to concentrate on economic prosperity and the achievement of our strategic goals.
There is a growing anti-Western and anti-NATO sentiment among the Macedonian population. It is sometimes expressed even by the prime minister, Mr Ljubco Georgievski. You seem to be the focus of this popular sentiment because you are identified with the goals, policies and activities of the West here. How do you feel about it?
I have no doubt about my orientation. It is Euro-Atlantic. My target is, and has been from the very beginning, to incorporate Macedonia in the European family. Should this fail, I believe that all Macedonian efforts will be in vain. NATO and the EU are our friends and they are doing everything to help us overcome this crisis. I am aware that, at this moment, NATO's image is suffering. But, NATO and KFOR still have a lot of problems with armed and unarmed terrorists. Perhaps this engagement created the wrong atmosphere and the wrong image among the Macedonian population that they are allied with the terrorists. There may have been a lot of misunderstandings regarding our mutual co-operation but I think that their final goal is to reach peace in Macedonia as soon as possible.
As far as Mr Georgievski is concerned, he devoted himself, from the very beginning of his career, to ensuring that Macedonia becomes a part of NATO and the EU family—and I am deeply convinced of that. But he is a man of dignity, honesty and open rhetoric. It is not a matter of anti-NATO toughness. These are his proper reactions and the way he feels. In our past, together, working as partners—NATO and the Macedonian government—we made mistakes and there were misunderstandings. But there is no person in the government or in the Macedonian population that is against NATO.
But having said that, once NATO's mission is completed successfully within the prescribed timeframe, and with the Framework Agreement signed, we have all the elements in place to re-establish internal stability in Macedonia. But a prolonged NATO presence as either a guarantor of peace or to maintain peace and stability—means that NATO has failed in its mission. It will only foster a false or artificial sense of security. It will produce long term instability. Only the Macedonian security forces are the guarantors of peace. It is not in the interest of either NATO or Macedonia to have a Bosnia or Kosovo scenario.
Should those who are against the political document provoke violence—we will have to go to war. There is no capacity to replace the security forces which are the only ones authorized to enforce the constitutional order and rule of law in the country. NATO cannot do it, they are not authorized to do this. Macedonian Albanians have to strongly bear in mind that the Macedonian police is their police as well. Should they reject this, there will be no long lasting solution for our country.
The police were not the ones to cause these problems, violence, and ethnic cleansing. We must not give room to the terrorists to misuse NATO's presence here. Even the security of EU and OSCE monitors will be guaranteed by the Macedonian security forces. NATO's mandate is clear, precise and limited to the collection of weapons here. They will then depart and the Macedonian police will resume their positions in the villages and cities and take up their normal duties. The Macedonian Army will return to the borders to watch over them.
My request regarding UNPREDEP (United Nations Preventive Deployment Force) was for collaboration with the Macedonian Army in observing the borders with Kosovo and Albania, something they had a lot of experience with in the past. The current violence was transmitted to Macedonia from Kosovo and from Albania. We think that Kosovo will continue to serve as a center of violence and regional instability in the future.
There is fear among the local population and foreign observers alike regarding the continued existence of Macedonia. Could you relate to the possibility of a division of Macedonia (a proposal floated, in a way, by the Macedonian Academy of Arts and Sciences)—or its transformation into an international protectorate?
There is no doubt, even in the Framework Agreement, that the sovereignty, political and territorial integrity and unitary character of our country are unquestioned and preserved. The Agreement transforms Macedonia into a more inclusive state and a multi-ethnic society. We are now more focused on the development of individual human rights and are creating a society based on the individual and not on ethnic groups. This is a civic model—the individual is given more rights but also more responsibilities.
Regarding an international protectorate—the international community is not interested in such a
The disagreement between Macedonia and Greece regarding Macedonia's constitutional name has been dragging on for eight years now. Any ray of hope for an agreement?
Thank you for asking me this. One of our sternest demands, apart from a donor conference, is the recognition of our constitutional name. Now is the time—if we and the international community regard the Framework Agreement as a European document—to prove to us that they are supportive of our democracy and sovereignty. The citizens of Macedonia find the current changes hard to accept. They would be even harder to accept should we not be recognized under our constitutional name. Our citizens will lose their confidence or trust in the values and principles of the international community, especially if our personal identity is denied.
Sam Vaknin, 24 September 2001
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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