Forget about it

My friends at Pristina daily Koha Ditore sent me some questions this week, mostly focused on Macedonia. They published my replies today:

Q: Macedonian police for two days fought with a group in the town of Kumanovo. How have you seen these developments in Macedonia?

A: So far, I see this mainly as a law and order problem, caused by armed people who allegedly wanted to rebel. The police reacted. That is what they are supposed to do. I can only regret that so many police were killed. But we need to await a full investigation, and trial of those arrested, to get a fuller understanding of what this is all about.

Q: Many residents claimed that this is just a game by the government, after the Gruevski wire-tapping scandal, published by the opposition. Can these developments be linked?

A: I hear people suggesting that somehow the government created the incident. Anyone who spreads that rumor needs to provide evidence. I haven’t seen any. The tapes are more than a little embarrassing, but are you really suggesting that the government killed 14 people to distract attention from them? And where would you find 14 Albanians dumb enough to dress up in battle dress uniforms and carry automatic weapons, to please the Macedonian government and get themselves killed?

I suppose it is possible that the police took action last weekend against a group it had known about for some time. But if someone thought that would distract attention they were wrong: two ministers and an intelligence chief have now lost their jobs. Prime Minister Gruevski is facing strong calls for his resignation, due principally to the material in the wire taps.

Q: Is there a danger that the tension created in Kumanovo will shift into other cities in Macedonia, where the Albanians are in the majority?

A: I hope not. Albanians in Macedonia can gain nothing by supporting an armed rebellion. And they have a good deal to lose. Nonviolent pursuit of rights—both in the streets and in the courts—is part of the normal democratic process. Automatic weapons are not.

Q: How do you see the role of the Albanian political parties in Macedonia. BDI led by Ali Ahmeti continues to be part of the government, despite requests to leave the coalition with Gruevski?

A: My understanding is that even if Ali Ahmeti were to leave the government, Gruevski would still be able to cobble together a majority. And even if Gruevski fell, he might do well in the next election. So what would leaving accomplish? It might even lead to another Albanian party joining the government. No matter how unhappy they may be with a political situation, most leaders will try to figure out how to gain, not lose.

If someone wants to bring Gruevski down, they need to find a majority in parliament to vote no confidence or convince him to resign. He does not appear inclined to do so, as he won big in an election just last year. But my understanding is that there is a demonstration scheduled for May 17. If that is very big and peaceful, it could have a serious political impact. So, too, could action by the courts, if they can find the evidence and the courage. There is a good reason why an independent judiciary is vital in democracy.

Q: According to you, how to overcome the tensions in Macedonia, as Albanians continue to demand more rights there? How should Albanian parties in Macedonia react to secure more rights and full implemention of the Ohrid Agreement.

A: Americans have spent more than 200 years expanding the application of the rights guaranteed in their constitution, which originally applied only to rich white males. We still face issues every day that have to do with the implementation of basic rights, most recently the issue of whether gays and lesbians can marry. If you think things are difficult now, wait until you get to that issue.

People in Baltimore are no less concerned about gaining their rights than people in Tetovo. That is normal in democracy. Self-government is not easy and there is no final solution, only a continuing effort to get things right.

Fewer than 25 years have passed since Macedonia gained independence and ended its Socialist system. Albanians and Macedonians in Macedonia are a lot better off than they were then, but there is no reason not to protest against abuses of power and to expect things to get better. Maybe if they got together more to demand rights, and to oppose abuse of power, they would be more effective. I know some Albanians would like to see more revenue flowing more directly to municipalities than has been the case in the past. Is that not an issue on which many Macedonians might agree?

What is not normal or acceptable is armed rebellion, or security forces that kill unarmed people.

Q: How do you see the role of Kosovo and Albania in the situation of Macedonia. Should their reactions be more powerful?

A: The extremists apparently responsible for what happened in Kumanovo are no less a threat to Albania and Kosovo than to Macedonia. Albania and Kosovo have good reasons to arrest and try people who seek to overthrow democratic governments by violent means. We should expect the forces of law and order to behave responsibly, but if you take up arms against a legitimate democratic government you can expect a forceful response.

You didn’t ask, but let me add a comment about “Greater Albania,” which is an idea that appears to motivate at least some of those who take up arms. I don’t think it is going to happen. Nor is it a good idea. Politicians in Tirana are not interested in moving to Pristina, which is the historic capital of greater Albania. Nor are politicians in Pristina interested in moving to Tirana, where they would have much less say than they do today in Kosovo. Albanians in Macedonia have gained a great deal with the Ohrid agreement and stand to gain more if they can get fuller implementation of Ohrid and at the same time help Macedonia find a way into NATO and the EU. Efforts to create Greater Albania could destroy Albania’s EU prospects and bring its NATO membership into doubt. It would also destroy Kosovo and Macedonia’s NATO and EU ambitions.

Neither the EU nor the US will accept changes of borders to accommodate ethnic differences in the Balkans. Only those determined to undermine the interests of Albanians living in at least five different countries would pursue that idea.

The clause in Kosovo’s constitution that prohibits Greater Albania was essential to gaining international community, and in particular American, support. Essentially we agreed to support Kosovo independence, but on condition that Albanians agree to live in several different countries rather than in one. The international community likewise blocked Greater Serbia, in particular when Milosevic tried to carve it out of Croatia and Bosnia (and when some in Belgrade hoped to incorporate northern Kosovo). As we say in Brooklyn, where I was born: forget about it.

Q: Can there be any tension caused by the situation in the Balkan region, taking into account the possible implications for Serbia or some other state?

A: All the states of the Balkans need to be prepared to protect themselves against extremists, but they also need to be prepared to respond appropriately to those who nonviolently seek better implementation of their constitutional rights.

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One thought on “Forget about it”

  1. Albanians in Macedonia can gain nothing by supporting an armed rebellion. And they have a good deal to lose.

    I wonder about a single case when they actually did not politically gain from supporting an armed rebellion mind losing a good deal of something in the post-Cold War era like Kosovo in the 1990s or South Serbia and Macedonia in the early 2000s?
    I know, some would say “but Albanians were oppressed” but that can be said again nowadays.

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