NEWS

Nationalism in FYROM

In a brief visit to Skopje last Thursday, Javier Solana, the EU commissioner for security and defense, asked Slav-Macedonian and ethnic Albanian political leaders to tone down their pre-election disagreements. He made it clear that the elections had to be held in a calm atmosphere. Then he left for Belgrade, where the clash between President Vojislav Kostunica and Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is at its height. Before leaving the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Solana made an optimistic statement that everything would go well, and that the long-suffering republic would go to the September 15 polls without violence and bloodshed. Presumably, he had received assurances from the party leaders that they would avoid raising the tension. Yet Western diplomats and representatives of the international community in Skopje are still concerned that violent incidents may increase and that the situation could get out of hand. A single incident could start a chain reaction. It could be a murder, an abduction by ethnic Albanian gangs in Tetovo or an attempt to arrest former rebel leader – now the most popular ethnic Albanian politician in FYROM – Ali Ahmeti, which some extremists in the government seem to be plotting. The tone of the election campaign has been set by the anti-Albanian, anti-Western rhetoric of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, which seems possessed by nationalist fever. Confronted with the possibility of an electoral defeat, now that opinion polls show the Together for Macedonia coalition of Branko Crvenkovski with a strong lead, Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and his party are playing the nationalist card in the hope of rallying Slav-Macedonian voters against the opposition and the ethnic Albanians. The reactivation of an old arrest warrant against Ahmeti is nothing but an act of demagoguery on the party of the VMRO-DPMNE, aimed at inciting the «patriotic» feelings of the Slav Macedonians. Neither Georgievski nor his «iron fist,» the fanatical nationalist Interior Minister Ljube Boshkovski, really believe that Ahmeti will be arrested. Such an attempt would automatically mean war, and they know that they cannot bear more bloodshed and that the international community would not permit it. But they do believe that in this way they can exert pressure on the opposition, which says that Ahmeti must be incorporated into the the country’s political system, and it is highly probable that the government will try to collaborate with his party after the election. By drawing pre-election dialogue into the arena of nationalism, the VMRO-DPMNE hopes to shake off accusations of corruption and incompetence that the opposition and others have made against it. Georgievski no longer enjoys the trust of external powers, a fact which emerges in discussions with foreign diplomats and representatives of the international community in Skopje. He is viewed as being unpredictable, and his nationalistic outbursts worry many people because if his party wins the election, he will have to implement the Ohrid Accords, the framework for future ethnic Albanian-Slav Macedonian coexistence, and which the premier signed but does not hesitate to condemn in his election campaign. In contrast, the West looks favorably on both Crvenkovski and Ahmeti. The latter has proved to be not only popular among his fellow ethnic Albanians, but also very moderate and pro-Western. Accident probe