Restless Days in Macedonia

During the first days of July 2001, it was not entirely clear whether it was a new war or only an armed conflict in Macedonia. Negotiators in negotiations between the authorities in Skopje and Albanian armed units were James Pardew and Francois Leotard, first with the authorization of the United States, and the latter with the European Union mandate. When I read their report those days, only the statement that conflicts lasting almost seven months were coming to an end was important. Two other statements, unwritten, remained somehow in the background, on armament as a key mechanism for achieving political goals and that it should be possible for the country, after the end of an armed conflict, to enable development and better life for all.

The Ohrid Agreement was signed almost a month later. The late president Boris Trajkovski had a key role in reached compromise between the elected government and the Albanian military units. He told about the details and types of necessary agreements to Dr. Janez Drnovšek two years later; also on thinking about the exchange of the territories and the fear that the continuation of the armed conflict could lead to a war that could not end on the Macedonian border. The agreement is a short text written in English, which determines that the second official language in the country is Albanian, that the number of employed citizens of Albanian nationality will increase in the state administration and the police, that the Albanian high schools and universities will be opened, and that the main official language in municipalities where residents of Albanian ethnicity are majority will be Albanian.

The agreement represented a key document of coexistence (cohabitation) model. European diplomats emphasized its success in every report. It was more or less elided that a new armed group, the Albanian national army, released the report that they would not make any deal, and that they would continue the battle for the new state, almost simultaneously with the formation of a new coalition government in which a significant role was given to the party of Ali Ahmeti. A year later, the commander of that unit, called Gigi, declared the liberated territory in the village of Drenica. Here it was seen more or less as an insignificant incident.

That was a time when the governments in the region, as well as in Skopje, estimated that the European project and European Union membership was something that would be attainable in reasonable time, and the year 2010 was sort of end deadline, and that it would enforce and co-create development mechanisms.

Macedonia was becoming poorer and poorer. The membership in the European Union was even farther. Well, also because of the inability to achieve agreement with neighbouring Greece.

Therefore, with all the social and economic problems, the decline in living standards and a sense of abandonment, new statement of the Albanian army, on first days of May 2005, was not unexpected. They wrote that they had clashed with the Macedonian police near the city of Studen, on the border with Kosovo, and that they would continue with action everywhere where unsatisfied Albanians live. After the session of the Macedonian government, a coalition partner Ali Ahmeti spoke about the statement as a provocation, because, the fact is, this violence was unacceptable for achieving political goals.

I went to Albania in October 2010. I was interested in plans for the development of the new pier, which was planned south of Durrës. We had late lunch in Tirana, in a restaurant with fish specialties in new town centre. Exactly these days, if not that day, in the hotel located in the city centre, a former advisor of the Albanian prime ministers presented the political project called natural Albania. The objective was supposedly the new Albanian state, which should stabilize the region and also revise the London Agreement that divided Albanians in several countries. The program request was peaceful, as it was emphasized in the negotiations, correction of historical inflicted injustice and gathering of all Albanians in one state. Some map was also presented of such state, which would include Albania and Kosovo, a considerable part of Montenegro, including Podgorica, a part of Greece in some kind of line along the sea towards Corfu and back to Thessaloniki and a part of Serbia, almost to Niš. The author and initiator of the proclamation, Koco Danaj, although politically marginal in Albania, referred to the League of Prizren, a movement emerged after the end of the Berlin Congress and the Treaty of San Stefano of 1878. The League demanded union of parts of the Ottoman Empire into a unified Albanian part. It was territorial and ethnic programme. Danaj later explained that it was better to adopt his concept of the new union of territories than wait for those who do not rule out war as an alternative.

Two bad political processes struck in Macedonia in those years. New armed unrests and political crisis. In fact, the crisis of governance.

At the beginning of December 2012, a discussion about the new state budget was initiated in the Assembly. The opposition filed more than thousand amendments, so many that it was clear that a key government project would not be adopted. There were two key opposition requests – reduction of planned budget deficit and instant end of major urban architectural project Skopje 2014. After negotiations that lasted several days, the opposition announced protests. The government supporters announced protests too. That was the first time to hear of some illusions (auditory illusions). An unknown voice asked the then opposition vice-president, Zoran Zaev, what was the situation in Kriva Palanka. Zaev answered him, as it was heard, that he could not deal with that too, because it was his task to organize and pay for transport of ten thousand protesters to Skopje and he would not agree to local elections, even though it would provoke force.
Zaev marked all together as words taken out of context.

The protests continued in 2013, talking about the undemocratic and fascist government. The aim of the opposition was not changes in the budget anymore, but early parliamentary elections. Not much was said about the developmental blockade of the state and social problems of people. Leaders of the opposition, Branko Crvenkovski and his deputy Zaev, were confident of victory. They met with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski several times, on dialogues or, as they called them, negotiations, primarily on demands of the European Union and the United States, but without results. The entire spectrum of the dialogues was reduced to only one question – early elections or not.

Stefan Fuelle and Stefano Sannino, the European Commissioner for Enlargement and his assistant for the Balkans somehow made an agreement for regular local elections to be held in April 2013. The ruling party celebrated victory. Gruevski demonstrated that he knew and ruled voting and persuasive electoral mechanisms.

However, it remained unnoticed that Ali Ahmeti’s party won in certain municipalities. They won in seven municipalities in western Macedonia. To be specific, the municipalities in this part of Macedonia completed its electoral area with a number of hamlets and villages, in accordance with the Ohrid Peace Agreement, and thus gained a new Albanian majority. In one of the municipalities, Kičevo, there was even the election coalition between Gruevski and Zaev, but they were unsuccessful.

The government remained developmentally anaemic, despite convincing victory in the local elections, and the opposition was seeking for a fresh momentum for new demands for early parliamentary elections. The average salary ranged between one hundred and three hundred euros. The Albanian question became actualized again. A bomb was thrown at the government building at least twice with a warning that the provisions of the Ohrid Agreement are not fulfilled.

We still do not know much about big, recent unrests in Kumanovo. Protests in Skopje continue. Senior representatives of the European Union do not realize that the different regional initiatives cannot give appropriate results without identifiable European future of Macedonia, and Macedonian politicians do not realize that their key problem is dysfunctionality of the state and hard life of the population.

Only slogans remain, even those on the right to life together in a united great country, which, admittedly, everyone renounces publicly every time, but they evidently remain interesting and attractive. Specifically, they can cover up a series of real problems with it.

Macedonian protests are not only Macedonian and are not soluble only in Macedonia.

Miroslav Krleža wrote in 1924, concerned about the tensions and political and economic crisis in the Balkans, that they should set constructive thesis and connect all the longitudinal and transversal Balkan valleys with tracks, where a locomotive whistle will chase off bloody conflicts and illiteracy. He spoke about the necessary development and necessary investments.

Macedonia needs a new project of European investments together with European future, no matter if it is called either “new” or “merkeldeal.” At the moment, it is offered one from a Chinese investment fund, the construction of the railroad between the Greek capital and Budapest, and other by Russian investors of pipeline project Turkish Stream.