Внимавајте на македонската криза..може да прерасне во нова балканска трагедија
Внимавајте на македонската криза..може да прерасне во нова балканска трагедија
Report 149 / Europe & Central Asia

Macedonia: No Room for Complacency

Recent events require that policymakers revise substantially the conventional assessment that Macedonia is the foremost political “success story” of the Balkans. In fact, it is an underperforming post-conflict country still very much at risk, unable to tackle – operationally or politically -- its security challenges without upsetting an uncertain ethnic balance.

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Executive Summary

Recent events require that policymakers revise substantially the conventional assessment that Macedonia is the foremost political “success story” of the Balkans. In fact, it is an underperforming post-conflict country still very much at risk, unable to tackle – operationally or politically -- its security challenges without upsetting an uncertain ethnic balance. Clear-eyed analysis of the dynamics driving unrest, from criminality and weak policing to an equally weak economy and corruption, is needed if a country that narrowly avoided war in 2001 is to secure long-term stability. Specifically, Macedonia cannot yet safely do without the presence of an international security force.

It is true that the moderate government led by Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti has had successes. Both are committed to the Ohrid peace agreement and national unity. Since they won the 2002 election, political rhetoric has become less heated. They have acted responsibly and, at times, even courageously on sensitive issues, including moving toward legalising Tetovo University (long a symbol of ethnic tensions) and use of the Albanian language in parliament and on passports. However, progress on symbolic issues has not been matched by progress on substance. Security sector reform has lagged as has decentralisation and efforts to boost Albanian public sector employment – all key components of the Ohrid agreement. A high profile crackdown on corruption has stumbled.

Most seriously, criminals and extremists continue to present a direct threat. The police increasingly reflect the multiethnic population’s make-up but still struggle to impose law and order. Murders are up by a third over three years, and a series of bombs, kidnappings and shootings have added to the sense of lawlessness. Poor communication on security matters often stokes ethnic tensions within the government and between communities; this, rather than any organised “pan-Albanian” violence, is the greatest current risk to stability.

These issues came to a head in early September 2003 when a heavy-handed police operation failed to capture a notorious Albanian outlaw but infuriated Ahmeti, leaving him exposed politically and presenting the government with its most serious internal confrontation. The outlaw remains at large and, despite efforts to accommodate local sensitivities, many Albanians have developed renewed suspicion towards the police.

According to a recent UN survey, a two-thirds of Macedonians and Albanians expect more conflict amid growing concerns over a stagnant economy. Aid workers describe ethnic polarisation in the former crisis areas, as minorities continue to face multiple pressures. Bitter disputes over schools defy mediation. Unemployment remains high and has created potential for ambitious labour leaders to spark unrest. The prospect of more instability keeps foreign investment low and the economy throttled.

Ethnic Albanians have resisted even benign, well-notified police operations and otherwise tended to undermine the sense of mutual responsibility the Ohrid agreement needs. Tensions have also emerged between Albanians and Turks who fear that Ohrid is producing a “bi-national” state dominated by Albanians and Macedonians. Former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and senior Albanian politician Arben Xhaferi have been all too willing to play on anxieties and animosities, openly undermining Ohrid and even urging Macedonia’s ethnic partition.

Macedonia’s leaders and international mediators have too often approached challenges with complacency. Instead of confronting the radicalism of Georgievski and Xhaferi, diplomats have been their apologists. Ohrid deadlines often slip without comment, while the redrawing of municipal boundaries, transfer of powers to municipalities, and the forthcoming release of census results bring shrugs. Too often Prime Minister Crvenkovski has turned Ohrid implementation into a zero-sum negotiation. The moderate Ahmeti has tolerated ineptitude among his party’s ministers and seen his authority among Albanians slip markedly. Some of his supporters suspect the prime minister of deliberately making their party look bad.

In the absence of a more concerted effort to implement Ohrid, establish law and order, fight corruption and stimulate the economy, the relative calm could soon unravel. Macedonia still needs security assistance. The EU’s “Concordia” military mission should stay beyond its putative end date of 15 December 2003, until its “Proxima” police mission is fully established and has made up key intelligence and coordination deficiencies in the security sector, and Macedonia’s police and government are able both to conduct effective operations and manage the political fallout. There is also a need to close out the legacy of the 2001 fighting. There are no excuses for further delay in screening the handful of potential war crimes cases, rebuilding a half-dozen destroyed churches and mosques and resolving the twenty missing persons cases. Donors must insist that moribund media institutions they fund begin to function, particularly in the monitoring and control of hate speech.

However, none of these steps is likely to be taken without a more sober, less self-congratulatory assessment of Macedonia’s track record to date.

Skopje/Brussels, 23 October 2003

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