MINELRES: AMCC News, 13 November 2004

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Sat Nov 20 12:10:21 2004

Original sender: Albanians in Macedonia Crisis Center

1. Comment: Macedonians Turn Away From Ethnic Divisions
2. Macedonia: Farewell To FYROM

### 1 ###

Comment: Macedonians Turn Away From Ethnic Divisions

Referendum result shows public have no appetite for reopening old

By Ana Petruseva in Skopje (BCR No 525, 12-Nov-04)

There seems little doubt that America's decision to recognise Macedonia
under its constitutional name played a major role in the failure of
Sunday's referendum, which would have seen the reversal of a law that
would result in more power for the Albanian minority at regional level.

Macedonians largely ignored the nationalist-inspired plebiscite, as only
26 per cent of eligible voters showed up at the November 7 polls, well
short of the 50 per cent threshold needed.

The outcome was a defeat for nationalist attempts to derail the reforms
instituted since the ethnic conflict of 2001.  But it was not just the
US decision, announced three days beforehand, that killed off the

Even without this diplomatic intervention, it was apparent that most
voters planned to signal their approval of the multi-ethnic formula
introduced under the Ohrid agreement that ended the fighting in August
2001, and their opposition to reviving old ethnic disputes.

The referendum about a law redrawing administrative boundaries within
Macedonia, part of decentralisation package which see more power
devolved to local government. Ethnic Albanians would become the majority
in some merged municipalities.

The legislation was passed in August 2004 at the Social Democrat-led
government's prompting, and is seen both as a crucial chapter in
fulfilling the terms of the Ohrid peace deal, and a pre-condition for
Macedonia's application for European Union and NATO membership.

The referendum has been a burning issue for months, jeopardising the
fragile relations between ethnic communities, and raising the dual
spectres of Macedonian partition and a "greater Albania".

The vote was backed by the main opposition force, the nationalist
VMRO-DPMNE, in company with several marginal parties. VMRO-DPME upped
the stakes with dire warnings that the new law would effectively split
the country in two by according the Albanians majority status in some

However, the vote showed that most people rejected that argument, as
well as the idea that Macedonians will be forced to flee areas that come
under the control of Albanian-led local authorities.

It also demonstrated that the majority did not wish to see the
nationalists using the referendum to derail a deal which had already
been approved by parliament.

While the terms reached at Ohrid are not greatly loved by many
Macedonians, there is a growing acceptance that the peace deal has
introduced a new, more positive dynamic to inter-ethnic relations.

Nationalism may not have disappeared, but people on both sides have
accepted there is no alternative to a multi-ethnic society. The fact
that the conflict in 2001 was relatively brief and casualties were
limited helped this process.

The referendum campaign itself created more ethnic tension, and raised
suspicions among the Albanian minority that Macedonians did not endorse
a multi-ethnic society. Yet the low turnout showed that the majority
among all communities do back Ohrid plan.

That result should now prod the Albanians into proffering a hand of
friendship, and showing Macedonians that they have no hidden agenda of

Although the bulk of the electorate recognised - and rejected - that the
vote amounted to a power struggle in which certain politicians were
seeking to ride back into power on a wave of nationalist sentiment, that
does not mean that they were prepared to let the government off the hook

In the run-up to the plebiscite, opinion polls indicated that up to 60
per cent of the electorate intended to exercise their right to vote.
This high figure suggests that people wanted to signal their anger to
the ruling coalition that it had failed to communicate its proposals for
local government restructuring to them properly.

The government urged voters to boycott the referendum, warning that a
yes vote would be a serious setback to Macedonia's efforts to join the
EU and NATO.

The international community reinforced this line. High-profile officials
including US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, European Commission
president Romano Prodi and Britain's Minister for Europe, Denis MacShane
flew to Skopje bearing hard-hitting messages that rejecting
decentralisation would turn back the clock.

Many local journalists and politicians condemned this as an unwarranted
intrusion - but some analysts believe the result justified intervention
by the international community, which has played a similar role in
ensuring that earlier decisions linked to the Ohrid accord were pushed

Over the past year, Macedonia has faced numerous challenges. In late
February, it lost its president, Boris Trajkovski, in a tragic accident.
Two weeks later, neighbouring Kosovo exploded in violence. A month after
that, a presidential election in Macedonia led to the government
resigning as the prime minister took over as head of state.

Throughout these tumultuous events, including the latest referendum, the
Macedonian people have displayed considerable maturity and an ambition
to move forward towards the goals of political normality and economic

Getting there is the next big challenge facing this small country. As
Macedonia moves into a new phase, shedding at last its fundamental
dilemmas about ethnic and political stability, and looking for a place
in the EU membership queue, the government confronts the crucial task of
economic and systemic reform.

Only when it reforms its judiciary, public sector, and impoverished
economy will Macedonia finally be able to rid itself of the
stereotypical image of a Balkan state permanently wracked by pointless
tribal feuding, and so develop into a stable, prosperous democracy.

Ana Petruseva is IWPR's project manager in Macedonia

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Macedonia: Farewell To FYROM

US recognition of Macedonia as the country's official title is welcomed
locally, but meets hostility from Greece.

By Boris Georgievski in Skopje (BCR No 525, 12-Nov-04)

Jubilant crowds gathered in the streets of Skopje on November 6 to
celebrate the decision of the United States to call their country
Macedonia by that name.

The Americans will now officially refer to the state by its chosen
title, the "Republic of Macedonia", in spite of bitter opposition from
neighboring Greece.

The Greeks have blocked international recognition of the "Macedonia"
title ever since the republic declared independence from Yugoslavia in
1991. They claimed its application to a sovereign state signified
territorial pretensions towards the region of northern Greece bearing
the same name.

The US move, announced on November 4, came only three days before a
referendum in Macedonia held to oppose new municipal boundaries - part
of a decentralisation package that forms a crucial part of the Ohrid
peace deal which ended a bout of ethnic fighting in the republic in

The decision was interpreted as a bid to strengthen the Macedonian
government's hand ahead of the November 7 referendum, in which a "yes"
vote would have upset plans to implement the municipal reorganisation
law passed in August this year. The plebiscite failed when only a
quarter of the electorate showed up at the polls.

Macedonia has proved an ally in the United States-led campaigns in Iraq
and Afghanistan.

"We have now decided to refer to Macedonia officially as the Republic of
Macedonia," US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher announced in
Washington, heralding the diplomatic about-turn.

"By recognising Macedonia's chosen constitutional name, we wish to
underscore the US commitment to a permanent, multi-ethnic, democratic
Macedonian state within its existing borders."

Local politicians and analysts said the US move gave a major boost to
the country in its diplomatic struggle with Greece, which at times has
threatened to spiral out of control.

In 1994, Greece imposed a trade embargo on Macedonia and closed the
border. The embargo was lifted the following year, only after Macedonia
amended its constitution and changed the design of its flag, which the
Greeks felt to be too closely associated with their national hero
Alexander the Great.

Under Greek pressure, the European Union, NATO and the United Nations
recognised the state as the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" -
and for the sake of convenience the acronym FYROM entered common

Most Macedonians strongly resented the clumsy terminology imposed on

"Goodbye FYROM, Hello Macedonia!" cheered the crowds in Skopje, where
President Branko Crvenkovski addressed several thousand people on
November 6. After 13 years Macedonia had won "what it deserved", he

Macedonian jubilation has been matched by disappointment in Athens. In
Brussels, Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis attacked the move as
"misguided and wrong".

Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia's membership of NATO and the EU
unless a solution to the name dispute can be found that is acceptable to

"The European Union position remains clear that if FYROM wants to have
any hopes of joining the EU, they must find a commonly acceptable
solution," said Karamanlis.

Athens said it would initiate more intensive talks with Skopje over the
name issue before the end of November. Skopje has said it too is ready
to resume the dialogue.

"We are prepared to continue to talks at the UN to resolve differences
over the name," said Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva. "We will repeat
our stance on the use of our constitutional name - Republic of Macedonia
- in international communications, and the need to find a mutually
acceptable formula that will be used only in our bilateral relations."

Matthew Niemitz, the UN envoy mediating negotiations on the name dispute
that have been ongoing since 1993, told Macedonian media that the US
move would undoubtedly have political ramifications, but that he too
expected talks to continue.

In Washington, Boucher stressed that the name-change should not be seen
as an attempt to prejudice the outcome to the UN-led negotiations. "We
hope those talks will reach a speedy and mutually agreeable conclusion,"
he said.

However, analysts in Macedonia agree that the US move, following so
closely on George Bush's re-election, has greatly bolstered the
country's negotiating position.

"With this recognition, the name dispute is practically closed," Denko
Maleski, a former foreign minister and previous ambassador to the UN,
told IWPR.

"Justice has always been on our side, as there is no previous case of a
country having a name imposed on it when it joined the UN. Now that both
justice and power are on one side, it is ridiculous to talk about
compromise. The time for compromise is long gone."

Maleski added that US decisions in the Balkans had historically proved
decisive. "The US stopped the war in Bosnia, ended the war in Kosovo,
and now they have recognised our name. When they decide to do something,
they stick to it," he said.

Former foreign minister Ljubomir Frckoski agreed that the UN-led talks
now had little to offer Macedonia, "The Americans have de facto
confirmed our own formula."

He suggested that Macedonia should avoid taking part in further
discussions in case they devalued the US decision.

"If we enter negotiations now, we'll be sending a message to the US that
we may reach a different deal with Greece and that their recognition was
not valuable," said Frckoski. "If we continue with talks, no European
country will follow the US example."

Kiro Gligorov, the elder statesman who led Macedonia to independence and
was its first president, said he expected the EU to follow the US move
in time.

"I hope that Greece, which imposed this problem, will reconsider its
stance," he said. "I would like to assure the Greek authorities and
people that the name Republic of Macedonia does not present any danger
to Greece."

Boris Georgievski is a journalist with the daily Utrinski Vesnik.