Vol 1, No 23
29 November 1999
M A C E D O N I A:|
Clinton's Pep-talk in Sofia
Clinton Promises Brighter Future to Bulgaria, Neglects Macedonia
On Monday 22 November, tens of thousands of cheering people gathered in Sofia to hear Bill Clinton, the first US president to visit Bulgaria, tell them "you too shall overcome", referring to their difficult struggle for democracy and prosperity. Clinton received a hero’s welcome by one of the Balkan countries that was severely hit by the Kosovo crisis. In turn, the US president praised Bulgaria for "standing your ground with us and against that evil [of Slobodan Milosevic]" and offered hopeful words for Bulgaria's campaign for NATO membership.
More importantly, Clinton gave hope to Bulgarians that the economic situation in their country would improve. Besides economic losses suffered during the crisis in Kosovo, Bulgaria has taken a heavy toll by supporting UN economic sanctions against Yugoslavia. Therefore, Clinton’s statement that "we are committed to supporting Bulgaria over the long run economically, politically, militarily," has raised high hopes in Sofia.
The US granted USD 25 million to help Bulgaria’s debt payments, USD seven million to improve its justice system, USD five million in food aid and USD two million for home mortgage lending. Furthermore, already on 12 November Clinton submitted to Congress a request to allow duty-free treatment for a number of key imports, from Bulgaria and other Balkan countries. Despite the general euphoria over Clinton’s visit to Sofia, not everybody was jovial. A small Green Party demonstration on Sunday 21 October burned an effigy of the president while chanting anti-NATO slogans, while the left-leaning newspaper Monitor declared: "Sofia humiliated itself before a proven liar and corrupt politician."
While Bulgaria was largely joyful over the US president’s visit, Macedonia was in more of a depressed mood. The decision by US administration to skip Macedonia because of "a matter of scheduling and logistics," has deeply offended an already bitter Macedonian public. As an editorial of the influential daily Dnevnik commented, Clinton just "abandoned" Macedonia. Clinton’s decision not to visit Skopje came as a big surprise to many Macedonians, since among the Southeast European states, it was exactly this country that took the greatest burden during the Kosovo crisis.
During the war in this troubled province more than 300,000 Kosovo refugees crossed over into Macedonia, thereby straining the already suffocating Macedonian economy. Recent economic reports reveal astonishing losses for Macedonia as a result of the war in Yugoslavia: a balance of payment deficit of USD 320 million, a budget deficit of USD 190 million and a further 20,000 jobless people.
As a kind of compensation Macedonia was promised USD 252 million (out of a demanded USD 450 million) at the Paris Donor Conference. As of today however, the country has received only USD 60 million in the form of credits. Delayed credits for economic losses suffered as a result of the NATO campaign in Yugoslavia, and almost no direct compensation, was not what the new Macedonian government had hoped for. "They have left us to struggle alone to remain on the surface", Finance Minister Stojmenov pointed out with bitterness to AIM.
Indeed, Macedonia’s disappointment is not over Clinton’s decision not to visit the country, the frustration is aimed at the American and Western attitude in general towards this small Balkan country. Macedonians point out that although the US and the European Union have been praising Macedonia for its wise and peaceful policies, and democratisation efforts, in the past they have rarely moved beyond this kind of rhetoric.
The fact that precisely Macedonia, the pivotal player in support of the Western Alliance actions in Kosovo, was not only left alone to recuperate from the unjustly caused economic losses, but was now also left aside from the US presidential tour of the region, infuriates the Macedonians.
Not without any reason, Macedonian intellectuals have been asking whether Macedonia was a "player for one season only." Given that in the middle of the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia President Clinton visited Macedonia and the US troops stationed there, while he now has decided not to go to Skopje, one wonders if they are not right? While it is undeniable that in the last years since the collapse of Communism both Bulgaria and Macedonia have been indirect victims to Western policies in former Yugoslavia, it seems that only the former has been picked as potential member of the "civilised world." Hopefully, I will be proved wrong.
Zhidas Daskalovski, 29 November 1999
The author is a PhD candidate at the Political Science Department of Central European University.
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