|Saturday, 27 February 2021|
RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 55, 01-03-20
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
Vol. 5, No. 55, 20 March 2001
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
[C] END NOTE
[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 FUNDING FOR ARMENIAN CENSUS FINALIZEDInternational donors and Armenian government officials signed a memorandum of understanding on 19 March under which the former will provide some funds for the population census scheduled for October 2001, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The exact sum to be provided remains unclear. The international donors, including the World Bank and the U.S. government, agreed last month to help with financing the project after the Armenian authorities had admitted that due to budget constraints they would not be able to raise the required $2.2 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January and 13 February 2001). LF
 ARMENIAN LEFT DEMANDS END TO ENERGY PRIVATIZATIONOver one dozen left-wing political parties and NGOs, including the People's Party of Armenia, one of the members of the majority Miasnutiun parliament bloc, issued a statement on 19 March calling on the government to abandon the planned sale to foreign investors of a 51 percent stake in four state- run electricity distribution networks, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. They argue that the Armenian leadership risks jeopardizing national security by placing a "strategic" sector of the economy under foreign control. The winners of the tender for the four networks are to be announced on 28 March. The sale is a precondition for the release by the World Bank of a $50 million loan intended to cover approximately half of this year's anticipated budget deficit. LF
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT TO LOBBY FOR GEORGIAN BYPASSThe majority Miasnutiun parliament faction created an ad hoc working group on 19 March to lobby the Armenian government in order to secure financing for construction of a 18-kilometer bypass on the main Yerevan-Tbilisi highway that would avoid several Azerbaijani-populated villages on Georgian territory, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The working group will function under the aegis of the parliament committee on state and legal affairs, whose chairman, Viktor Dallakian, said the Georgian authorities have no objection to the proposed bypass. Dallakian said construction costs will not exceed $100,000, and should be borne by Armenia. Dallakian further argued that once construction of the bypass is completed, the Armenian authorities should close the major market at the nearby town of Bagratashen, which is frequented by numerous Azerbaijani traders from Georgia. LF
 GEORGIAN PRISONERS END HUNGER-STRIKESome 100 prisoners at several prison colonies have abandoned the hunger- strike they embarked on last month, Caucasus Press reported on 19 March. The prisoners are members of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation and are demanding that their sentences be revised to take into account their role in preserving Georgia's territorial integrity during the fighting in South Ossetia in the early 1990s. They argue that as they fought on the side of the Georgian leadership, they should enjoy the same privileges as have been extended to imprisoned supporters of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, some of whom are eligible for amnesty. Those Mkhedrioni members who have already served half their sentence will have their cases reviewed on an individual basis. LF
 GOVERNOR DENIES PRESENCE OF ARMED BANDS IN MINGRELIABondo Djikia, who is governor of Mingrelia and Upper Svaneti, has rejected as an exaggeration the claim by parliament's human rights committee chair, Elene Tevdoradze, that armed bands freely walk the streets of Zugdidi, the Mingrelian capital, Caucasus Press reported on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2001). Djikia admitted, however, that many residents of the town carry arms and that the crime situation is alarming. He said the deployment in the region of additional police would be "useful." LF
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL DISCUSS COOPERATIONDuring a telephone conversation on 19 March, Nursultan Nazarbaev and Lord George Robertson discussed bilateral cooperation within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, in particular the joint regional seminars on military-civilian cooperation in emergency situations and on regional security to be held in Kazakhstan in May and in the fall, Russian agencies reported. They also discussed the situation in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. LF
 KAZAKH PARLIAMENT APPROVES SAUDI LOAN FOR HIGHWAY REPAIRSThe upper chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament on 19 March approved the ratification of a $12 million loan from the Saudi Industrial Development Fund that will finance repairs to the main Almaty-Astana highway, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 November 2000). Repairs will begin this summer and should be completed by late 2002. LF
 COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE ON OPPOSITION KYRGYZ POLITICIANKyrgyzstan's Supreme Court on 20 March upheld the guilty verdict handed down in September 2000 on opposition politician Topchubek Turgunaliev, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Turgunaliev was found guilty of "ideological leadership" of a group of persons who allegedly plotted to assassinate President Askar Akaev and was sentenced to 16 years' imprisonment; the Bishkek City Court subsequently reduced that sentence to 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 September 2000 and 27 November 2000). LF
 KYRGYZSTAN HOSTS ROUNDTABLE ON INTERNATIONAL TERRORISMThe upper chamber of the Kyrgyz parliament hosted a discussion on 19 March on cooperation to fight international terrorism, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. Lawmakers from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan also participated. Addressing the participants, Yevgenii Zelenov, who chairs the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly's Permanent Commission on Defense and Security, said that the states of Central Asia have not yet succeeded in coordinating their actions aimed at combating terrorism, according to Interfax. He warned that Afghanistan poses a major threat to the region. Zelenov also criticized Uzbekistan, saying that Tashkent "does not contribute to resolving the problem [of terrorism] by creating an iron curtain and planting land mines that are banned by international convention and that kill civilians living in border areas." In recent months several dozen Tajiks have been killed by such mines planted on the unmarked border between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to deter Islamic militants from entering Uzbekistan. Zelenov described the Tajik armed forces as "quite combat-ready, " but said neither they nor the Kyrgyz army is capable of repelling a large- scale invasion of Islamic militants from Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported. He said both countries either lack sufficient combat aircraft or those planes are grounded because of lack of fuel. LF
 TAJIK, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRIES SIGN COOPERATION PROTOCOLTajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov and Russia's ambassador in Dushanbe, Maksim Peshkov, signed a protocol on 19 March on cooperation both between their two countries and within the framework of regional and international organizations, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF
 TURKMEN AUTHORITIES SETTLE FAMILY IN CONFISCATED CHURCHThe authorities of Ashgabat's Niyazov district have settled a family in a private home confiscated last month from a Baptist community that used it as a place of worship, Keston News Service reported on 19 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February and 5 March 2001). LF
 UZBEK-SOUTH KOREAN JV BANKRUPTKorean Shareholders, which owns an 80 percent stake in the South Korean- Uzbek joint venture Uz-Samsung Electronics, voted last week to put the company into liquidation, Interfax reported. A member of the management said that the joint venture will not be economically viable as long as the Uzbek government maintains restrictions on the conversion into hard currency of its annual $30 million earnings. LF
[B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE
 MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT TO LAUNCH MILITARY OFFENSIVEA government spokesman said in Skopje on 19 March that the military is massing tanks and artillery in Tetovo in preparation for a major assault against the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK). "We will liquidate terrorists at minimal cost in life," a spokesman said. "Orders have been given at the highest level," the "Financial Times" reported. In Gostivar, former mayor and political prisoner Rufi Osmani told "The Guardian" that he fears that the government will seek a military victory, which will lead to interethnic conflict. PM
 ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS BLAST SKOPJE'S POLICIES...AP reported from Tetovo on 20 March that the UCK there issued a statement saying that "in vain we tried for years to have our rights realized through a change in government, and to have Macedonia refrain from a wrong policy. Unfortunately, we chose a president whom we hoped would be a president for all. We gave him time and space to send us clear signals whether he was going to accept the Albanians as equals. But this did not happen. Therefore, we decided not to allow further humiliation and trampling upon our dignity. We appeal to all political and nonpolitical Albanian figures not to delude themselves that our rights will be granted by this government" of President Boris Trajkovski and Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski. PM
 ...APPEAL FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTIONThe UCK statement issued in Tetovo on 20 March added that "we know that none of you...support a war. But you all should know the truth. [The government's moves toward] recognition of our rights have been trivial, and our aspirations to build a democratic, civilized, European society [have not been met by what the government has offered]... We also appeal to all political factors, internal and external, to give real recognition to those who are fighting to be equal [and] can never be [considered] terrorists. We are no adventurers. We have no lives to gamble away. We don't seek killings and war, because for centuries we were the victims. From this moment on, peace does not depend only on us. We are determined to realize our demands, and urge the Macedonian authorities and nongovernment figures to make public as soon as possible whether they want this to be resolved peacefully or not. After that, we will bear no responsibility for the future chain of events. We urge the international community to recognize our demands, which are for peace, not for war." PM
 ETHNIC ALBANIAN PARTY TO STAY IN MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENTArben Xhaferi, who heads the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), told Macedonian Television on 19 March that the PDSH will remain in the governing coalition despite a certain "atmosphere in the party" to leave. He stressed that the PDSH and the UCK have very different aims. "We have never sought federalization or separation. We have sought to achieve...equal rights...that would increase the loyalty of citizens toward the system and would prevent [political] turbulence," dpa reported. "The Guardian" wrote that support is drying up for the PDSH in rural areas. The daily quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as saying that "every day the conflict goes on, the militants drain Xhaferi. He is blamed for not delivering [on campaign promises to achieve interethnic equality] and risks becoming an irrelevance." PM
 SOLANA CALLS FOR POLITICAL SOLUTION IN MACEDONIAEU security policy chief Javier Solana told Spanish state radio from Macedonia on 20 March that "the solution [in Macedonia] has to be political. The Balkans have suffered too many wars already, too many people have suffered," Reuters reported. Solana stressed that "there is no more time, now that we are in the 21st century and that we have reached major agreements between the EU and the Balkan countries, to resolve any question by violence, no matter how difficult. We will do everything possible to find solutions of a political nature." He said later that the government is correct is seeking to "isolate" the rebels and not to negotiate with them. PM
 GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER: KFOR TO STAY IN KOSOVAJoschka Fischer told ZDF television on 19 March that KFOR's mandate is limited to Kosova and that it will remain there. He noted that KFOR has recently discovered previously unknown arms caches in the province. Regarding Macedonia, Fischer said that Germany will use "firmness" together with "support for the Macedonian government." He stressed that "the radicals will be isolated and stay isolated." PM
 U.S. SAYS KFOR WORKING TO CLOSE BORDERState Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 19 March that UCK members are "extremists" who represent only a small minority of opinion. He added that "NATO has stepped up its patrols, tightened its patrols along [Kosovo's] borders. They've detained insurgents that are trying to move across the Kosovo-Serbia boundary. They've interdicted arms shipments. They have seized weapons caches. And so we'll continue to move, within NATO and with our allies, to tighten up on the Kosovo side of the border... First and foremost, our job is to fill the task along the Kosovo side of the border. The denying safe haven to these armed groups is a very important part of the strategy. That's being done by NATO's stepped-up patrols on the Kosovo side. It's being done by the entry of Yugoslav forces into the Serb side of the border, and by the actions of the Macedonian army...on the Macedonian side of that border... [Our] mandate at this point is only within Kosovo," RFE/RL reported. PM
 RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER BACKS BELGRADEIgor Ivanov said in Belgrade after talks with President Vojislav Kostunica on 19 March that "the world community must state in clear terms that the developments in the south of Serbia and in Macedonia [constitute] aggression by international terrorists, who must be resolutely rebuffed if we are against destabilization and an explosion in the Balkans... The time has come for each state and for the international community to decide which side they are on: those who would like to build a peaceful, prosperous, and multiethnic Yugoslavia, or those who are sowing the seeds of ethnic enmity and death in Yugoslavia," Interfax reported. Russia's rhetoric may be an effort by Moscow to score points with the current leadership, which was unhappy that Moscow took longer than other powers to hail the Serbian opposition's victory over former President Slobodan Milosevic last year. Russia has little influence in the region outside of Serbia, with which it nonetheless drives a hard bargain over natural gas sales. PM
 DOOR WIDE OPEN FOR PUTIN IN MACEDONIA?Russian President Vladimir Putin called on 19 March for international military intervention in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). A Russian military analyst told the BBC on 20 March that there is nothing stopping Putin from sending in Russian troops from Kosova if he wishes to do so, because Russian forces there are not technically part of KFOR and not bound by the KFOR mandate. PM
 EU PLEDGES POLITICAL SUPPORT FOR MACEDONIA...EU foreign ministers said in a statement in Brussels on 19 March that "the EU will not tolerate any support for insurgents. Ethnic Albanian extremists must stop all violent attacks immediately," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, as EU chair, said "We have discussed the assistance for improving the border security and we have also been discussing how to promote the interethnic relations, especially at the university in Tetovo. We have been discussing the coordination between KFOR and the EU," RFE/RL reported. Macedonian Foreign Minister Srdjan Kerim replied: "My government is very pleased with the way the European Union is dealing...with the problem we are facing together. And it is a common problem, because we don't want to allow anyone, including these extremists, to change our [common] agenda." PM
 ...AND ADDITIONAL AID AS WELLAmong the additional projects that Brussels approved are $4.5 million for the private Tetovo University, which has been organized under rigorous international standards by the OSCE. The ministers promised additional political consultations, help for local self-government projects, technical aid with the upcoming census, and financial help to improve conditions for the Albanian minority, which makes up at least 23 percent of the population. The EU provided $27 million in aid to Macedonia in 2000. This will rise to $36 million under the association agreement, which will be signed on 9 April, AP reported. PM
 GENERAL CLARK CALLS FOR ACTION ON KOSOVAWriting in the "Washington Post" of 20 March, former NATO commander, General Wesley Clark, stressed that the current unrest in Macedonia underscores the need to move Kosova to self-rule. "Blaming the Kosovars [for the Macedonian troubles] is not a policy; others, including the United States and our NATO allies, have responsibilities which we must meet... The international community must recognize that the nub of the problem is the continuing delay in moving the province toward democratic self-rule and the resolution of its final status. Troubles across the region are unlikely to ebb until Kosovars are fully engaged in building up their own institutions. Stabilizing Kosovo means following through on our promises and holding elections for a legislative body with real powers; moving forward on the transition to self-government; and committing to a clear timetable for final status negotiations. Kosovo's people deserve self-rule. Albanians elsewhere -- Macedonia, southern Serbia -- deserve fair and lawful treatment. It is in the profound interest of the United States and our allies to see that they get it quickly." PM
 FIVE ARRESTED FOR KOSOVA BUS BOMBINGUN police supported by KFOR troops arrested five men, believed to be ethnic Albanians, in Podujeva on 19 March, Reuters reported. They are suspects in the February bombing of a bus that left 11 Serbs dead (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2001). PM
 SERBIA'S COVIC SAYS 'NO MORE VUKOVARS'Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic told Serbian state television that he has good relations with the Yugoslav military and that there are good people in the command structure in southern Serbia, "Vesti" reported on 20 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). He added, however, that there are still unnamed "Milosevic generals" around. He stressed that such individuals will not be allowed to take part in politics again. Covic made it clear that the civilians are now in charge, and that there will not be a repetition of the wartime killings at Vukovar, Dubrovnik, or Sarajevo by the Yugoslav military. PM
 SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER TO PLEAD CASE IN WASHINGTONZoran Djindjic said in Belgrade on 19 March that he will travel to the U.S. later in the week to express his views on his country's cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He says that it would "jeopardize democracy in Serbia" for Washington to insist that the government arrest former President Slobodan Milosevic and send him to The Hague in return for a $100 million aid package, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2001). PM
 HERZEGOVINIANS RALLY IN MOSTARSome 10,000 Roman Catholic faithful turned out on 19 March for a prayer meeting under the slogan "for truth and peace." Bishop Ratko Peric criticized the 1995 Dayton peace agreement as unjust because it forces Croats to work within institutions dominated by Muslims or Serbs, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Virtually the entire leadership of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) was present. PM
 EU SAYS ROMANIA MUST SPEED UP POLITICAL, ECONOMIC REFORMSGuenter Verheugen, EU commissioner for enlargement, said in Brussels on 19 March that Romania has a "long and difficult road ahead" before it can join the organization, Romanian radio reported on the next day. Speaking after the annual meeting of the EU-Romania Association Council, Verheugen said that among all candidates, Romania's "political, social and cultural heritage" is "the most difficult one," and promised that the EU will take this into account. Verheugen said "facts, not words" will count in assessing Romania's prospects of joining the union and stressed that while progress has been made in some areas, Bucharest must speed up political and economic reforms to justify its candidate members status. MS
 ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ASSURES MACEDONIA OF SUPPORTIon Iliescu told his Macedonian counterpart Boris Trajkovski during a 19 March telephone conversation that Romania supports Macedonia's territorial integrity. Iliescu called for international support for Macedonia and condemned "extremist groups" that threaten the stability of the country and the region as a whole, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in Brussels that the OSCE, which he currently heads in the rotating chairmanship, must play a "pivotal role" in bringing about a "lasting solution" to the Macedonian conflict. Geoana announced that he has appointed U.S. diplomat Robert Frowek as special OSCE envoy to Macedonia. MS
 ROMANIAN SENATE APPROVES PRIVATIZATION OF STATE FARMSThe Senate on 19 March approved a law on the privatization of state farms, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The vote was 97 for and 18 against. The Chamber of Deputies had already approved such a law before the last elections. A mediation commission is to negotiate a compromise between the two chambers' formulations before the law can be promulgated by President Iliescu. MS
 CORRECTION:In yesterday's item "Romanian President Criticizes RFE/RL," the present tense was incorrectly used when reporting on the Romania-Moldova Service director's editorial of 17 March. The correct formulation should have been: "[Nestor] Ratesh said that democratic reforms in Iliescu-led post-1990 Romania encountered difficulties, the media was weak and electronic media subordinated to the rulers. In that situation, international broadcasters, including RFE/RL, attempted to 'substitute and provide alternative sources of information.'" MS
 MOLDOVAN COMMUNISTS CHOOSE PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER CANDIDATEThe Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) Central Committee on 19 March designated Yevgenia Ostapchuk as its candidate for the post of parliamentary speaker, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Her election is certain in view of the PCM's absolute majority in the parliament, which convenes on 20 March for its first session. Ostapchuk is a food industry engineer by profession and was a deputy representing the PCM in the former legislature as well. The PCM also designated Vadim Mishin as its candidate for deputy parliamentary speaker. According to Infotag and ITAR-TASS, the meeting also decided to support Mihai Camerzan, a deputy representing the Braghis Alliance, for the second deputy speaker post. Infotag said the decision "signals the beginning of power-sharing" between the two parties. MS
 MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT DECIDES TO RESIGNThe Moldovan government on 19 March decided to submit its resignation at the first meeting of the legislature the next day. In line with current legislation, the cabinet of outgoing Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis is to continue as caretaker until the appointment of a successor government. Braghis, cited by Infotag, told the cabinet that during its 15-months activity, the government's work "yielded both positive and negative results, " citing among the former "our ability to solve problems in the absence of external funding, the achievement of resumption of crediting by international financial institutions, clearing pension arrears, and solving the problems of the energy sector." MS
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT OPPOSES PLEBISCITE ON RUSSIA-BELARUS UNIONOutgoing President Petru Lucinschi on 19 March said that conducting plebiscites on joining the Russia-Belarus Union or on granting Russian the status of an official language, as proposed by the PCM, would be an "untimely" move that would increase tension, Infotag reported. He also said Russia is "not strong enough to persuade Tiraspol to be more sensible" in its position over the Transdniester region conflict, Lucinschi said that "so far" politicians from Moscow have not "formally or informally" asked Chisinau to agree to the establishment of a military base in the Transdniester region, but admitted that the proposal "has been made at [the] military level." Lucinschi also said GUAM alignment is "not of any benefit to Moldova," and that Moldova should attend only "consultative meetings" of that grouping and refrain from assuming political or military commitments to it. Lucinschi met journalists on the occasion of ending his presidential mandate. MS
 WORLD BANK TO CONTINUE BACKING MOLDOVAN REFORMSIn a message of congratulations to PCM Chairman Vladimir Voronin on his electoral victory, World Bank Regional Director for Moldova Roger Grawe says the bank "looks forward to continuing our partnership with Moldova to eradicate poverty and accelerate economic growth," Infotag reported. Resident World Bank representative Carlos Elbirt, in a message released over the weekend, said that during his "recent meetings" with Voronin and "other communist leaders," he was "informed of their willingness to continue key economic reforms, revitalize production, fight corruption, and meet the country's international commitments." Elbirt said the bank "welcomes the PCM statement regarding its intention to continue cooperation with international financial institutions." MS
 PROTESTING BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS TAKEN OFF AIRActing state radio Director Hristo Brazitsov on 19 March canceled a newscast and took off the air four of the 500 journalists who have been protesting for longer than one month against the appointment of Ivan Borislavov as state radio director. Borislavov is recovering from a heart attack. The 6:30 a.m. news was interrupted by the order of Brazitsov, who also ordered two news editors and two anchors to be removed from duty, the English language daily "Monitor" reported, citing protest leader Sylvia Velikova. Brazitsov later told AP that the four were taken off the air "because they declared civil disobedience... There is no such term in Bulgarian law. They must do the job their employer pays them for or face the consequences." Brazitsov also said some of the protesting journalists may be fired. MS
 BULGARIAN PRESIDENT STARTS MIDDLE EASTERN TOURPresident Petar Stoyanov on 19 March began a two-day visit to Syria, to be followed by a visit to Lebanon, AP and "Monitor" reported. He was met by President Bashar Assad, with whom he conducted talks focusing on the Middle East and the Balkans. Bulgarian Ambassador to Damascus Boris Stoychev on the same day told the official daily "Tishrin" that he expects the visit to yield "fruitful results" and said Bulgaria "supports the just Arab cause, mainly the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights and all occupied Arab lands." Stoychev said the president will sign agreements on economic cooperation and cultural and scientific collaboration during his visit. The two sides will also conclude an agreement to avoid double taxation and another agreement on cooperation between their respective interior ministries. MS
[C] END NOTE
 GOING FOR BROKEBy Patrick Moore
Macedonia stands on the brink of a civil war. The fate of that republic lies in the hands of its citizens, primarily the political leaders of the Macedonian and Albanian communities.
The late Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. If one ever needed proof of that maxim, Macedonia has now provided it.
Virtually all observers of the past days' events agree that two points stand out: the emerging conflict came unexpectedly, and the speed at which events have moved has been breathtaking. It is now clear that the National Liberation Army (UCK) is not just a small gang of criminals or some freebooters who snuck in from Kosova or Presevo. The movement is well- organized, well-equipped, and supported by many Macedonian Albanians, not the least of whom are some angry young men.
The speed and extent to which polarization has taken place make it clear that the mutual mistrust -- and hatred -- have long been just beneath the surface, waiting for the right incident to bring them out into the open. "The Guardian" on 16 March quoted one Macedonian as saying: "We want guns from the government to fight these Albanians. They want our land, our homes, and we need to repel them. Give me a machine gun and I'll go into the woods to fight them. Macedonians cannot wait any longer. This is real war here. I have Albanian friends, but now we must strike back. I'd say 85 percent of Albanians support these guys." The same paper quoted young Albanians as saying things like: "I don't want people to die, but I can't deny pleasure in having the boot on the other foot," or "We have nothing -- no jobs, no prospects. They've had it well for too long."
Such feelings do not emerge from nothing or overnight. These are two communities that live side by side but not really together. Figuratively as well as literally, they do not speak the same language.
One highly educated young Albanian told "Balkan Report" that the initial emotion he detected among his family and friends of all age groups was that of fear -- followed by an "enthusiasm" for the UCK, simply because the boot is indeed on the other foot. On the Macedonian side, there is a deep feeling of betrayal by "those Albanians," whom Macedonia took in as refugees by the tens of thousands during the 1999 Kosova conflict. Many Macedonians say bitterly that Albanians have now stabbed them in the back.
Regardless of whether the UCK was, or was not, originally an import from Kosova or Presevo, the surprising and important fact is that it is meeting with support from at least some Macedonian Albanians. The UCK is no longer a "minority within a minority." It has come out into the open and is going for broke. The next days and weeks will be decisive.
This is the problem that the mainstream parties must deal with, for it is the mainstream parties among Albanians and Macedonians alike that must take the lead if the current violence is not to turn into a real civil war.
The UN's Carl Bildt told the BBC on 17 March that "Macedonia is a functioning democracy," albeit an imperfect one. One of the imperfections perceived by Macedonians and Albanians alike is that their respective parties give the impression of being more interested in offices and patronage than in their voters' problems. The parties on both sides must work very quickly and very convincingly if they are to overcome the cynicism that their approach has engendered among the electorate and prevent the polarization from spreading rapidly.
This will be a tall order. The Albanian parties will have to spread the message that violence has no future and that the Albanians' home is in Macedonia, because nobody abroad will support border revisions. The Macedonian parties will need to curb anti-Albanian rhetoric and avoid the temptation to score points against each other at the expense of national unity and stability. And the Macedonian politicians leading the country will need to make sure that their policies -- particularly where the police and military are concerned -- do not inflame an already explosive situation.
KFOR has a role to play in helping seal the supply routes across the border. There certainly are enough people who think that it has not done so very well thus far. But the shrill rhetoric from Skopje, Belgrade, and Moscow against KFOR suggests that at least some actors on the political stage are seeking to manipulate the current crisis to settle old scores with the Atlantic alliance. Some might be hoping to "bully" NATO into making war on the UCK. Others might hope to discredit the alliance enough that it will leave the Balkans humiliated, never to return. Then the way would be open for those forces that want to "solve the Albanian question" throughout the region in a time-honored fashion.
Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty