Date: Wed, 7 Oct 98 22:51:58 CDT
From: Panayote Elias Dimitras <>
Subject: Macedonia: New Helsinki Report
Article: 44849
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <>

The Macedonian Side of the Conflict in Kosovo

Fact-Finding Mission to Macedonia, 25 September–1 October 1998

Report of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in cooperation with the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF)

In continuation of the cooperation between the Netherlands Helsinki Committee, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights in on-going monitoring of the conflict in Kosovo and its effects on the political and human rights situation in the region, a mission was dispatched to Macedonia. The mission was a follow-up to recent missions to Northern Albania, Montenegro, and Kosovo, which were conducted in June and July, and aimed to establish a clearer picture of the consequences of the current conflict in Kosovo on the political and human rights situations in Macedonia.

Members of the delegation included Jan ter Laak, Senior Advisor, Netherlands Helsinki Committee; Aage Borchgrevink, Advisor, Norwegian Helsinki Committee; and Jennifer Lincoln-Lewis, Researcher, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. The mission was funded by Europa Desk (Netherlands) and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

Political Situation Prior to the Elections

The present bloody conflict in Kosovo has coincided with preparations for parliamentary elections in Macedonia, whose two rounds will be held on 18. October and 1. November. The conflict in Kosovo has a number of consequences for the present political constellations and climate in Macedonia. Similarly, possible solutions to the conflict will have an impact on Macedonia. Contrary to what one might expect, not all consequences are necessarily negative.

The tactical coalition between the two major Albanian parties, the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP—which participates in the present government) and the radical Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), is a positive development, and a sign that even radical factions of the Albanian community are willing to participate in the institutions and political processes of the Macedonian state. The plight of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, divisions in the Kosovar community, and the military defeat of KLA guerrilla groups have made Albanians in Macedonia more interested in laying aside their internal differences and solving the problems of the Albanian community—specifically issues concerning higher education, discrimination related to state employment, the status of the Albanian language, and persistent small-scale harassment and discrimination against Albanians by police, border guards and judiciary—within the state, as opposed to continuing in the direction of creating parallel institutions.

Another reason for the establishment of a coalition between the Albanian parties is the policy of the socialist-dominated government in Albania, which has urged the divided Albanian community to unite and solve its problems through dialogue, rather than to consider establishing parallel institutions or even the changing of borders. The weakening of DPA chairman Arben Xhaferi's position after the incidents in Gostivar last summer, which led to the development of forces even more radical than himself, has also contributed to DPA and PDP cooperation. There is no longer a monopoly on radicalism.

However, how long and in what form the coalition between the DPA and the PDP will exist once a new parliament is in place and a new government is formed is uncertain. The parties have been unable to agree on a common political program, but express willingness to continue their cooperation after the elections. Most observers stress the tactical nature of this alliance: the aim is a stronger position in the elections; their politics are still far apart. The question posed by most observers is what the effects of the likely parliamentary participation of Arben Xhaferi (who is likely to try to change the Constitution, and has a map of greater Albania posted in his office) and the DPA will be: will participation in Macedonian institutions have a moderating influence on Xhaferi, or will Xhaferi have a negative influence on the institutions? Aleksandar Damovski, editor of the independent newspaper Dnevnik, predicts a political crisis and new elections within half a year. In general, the view of international diplomats is more optimistic: the changes in the parliamentary composition, which are predicted to render both of the two main Macedonian blocks without a majority, will promote a pluralistic political arena in Macedonia, break the monopoly of power held by the Social Democratic Union (SDS—which is presently in government), and thus strengthen Macedonian democracy. The reason the DPA and PDP are likely to be in such a position after the elections is that the two main blocks on the (ethnic) Macedonian side, the SDS and the coalition of VMRO and the Democratic Alternative, refuse to cooperate. A parliamentary majority for any of the Macedonian parties will therefore depend on cooperation with one or both of the Albanian parties.

Citizenship/Voter Registration

In connection with the upcoming elections, observers are focussing on two issues. Albanians generally complain of the Macedonian citizenship act as a poor piece of legislation, a view shared by human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch. Moreover, Albanian's claim that the process of handling applications and complaints is corrupt and arbitrary. In July 1995, 143.000 people were reportedly living in Macedonia without citizenship. At present, Albanians claim that as many as 50.000 Albanians in Macedonia are still without citizenship and, consequently, have no right to vote. The main Albanian parties, however, have not made this problem a major issue. On the other hand, (ethnic Macedonian) opposition parties have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the voter register. The OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission is in the process of investigating claims that there is a disproportionate swell in the electorate: there are fears that an inaccurate voter register, which includes names of voters that do not exist, will allow for multiple voting.

Response to the Kosovo Crisis

The bonds to Kosovo are very strong among Albanians in Macedonia: many have relatives in the Serbian province, and the university in Prishtina was the intellectual center for all Albanians in the former Yugoslavia. Consequently, outrage at the atrocities committed by Serbian units in Kosovo and sympathy with the KLA (or as some prefer to say, the armed self-defense of the Albanian population) is widespread among Macedonian Albanians. However, discussion and disagreements among ethnic Albanian parties over the conflict in Kosovo are downplayed, because the parties are eager to appear united to the outside world. Consequently, the conflict is not an issue in the election campaigns of the Albanian parties, even though views on how Kosovars should resolve their conflict with Serbian and FRY authorities—through violence or by peaceful means—differ greatly. Now that the Albanian parties have established their tactical coalition and divided the main constituencies between their candidates, they sit back and expect the loyal electorate to provide them with an estimated 25 seats in the new parliament. Even though there is widespread anxiety among Macedonians regarding KLA or Albanian “terrorist” activities within Macedonia, Kosovo has not become a primary issue in the election campaigns of (ethnic) Macedonian parties.

The most tangible fear that Macedonians carry, relating to the conflict in Kosovo, is the alleged presence of KLA units on Macedonian territory. Over the last year, there have been a series of bomb attacks in different Macedonia towns and, in September, the head of Macedonian counterintelligence announced that there were KLA structures inside Macedonia, something he later denied. There has been a recent wave of police operations and arrests: several people have been detained for terrorist activities, although formal charges presented to the court have, for the most part, been for illegal possession of arms. Among Albanians, there is a widespread feeling that the police are waging an unwarranted campaign against them in order to improve their public image, which has been tarnished by, among other things, their inability to apprehend anyone for the attempted assasination of President Kiro Gligorov in October 1995. In this campaign, the police are supported by the prosecutors and courts, institutions which the Albanians deem to be puppets of the government who willingly play along in the pre-electoral witch hunt against them. The view of most observers is that, generally, these detained persons have been involved in criminal activities, but that these activities were most probably related to smuggling rather than terrorism. There is also a widespread opinion that the latest police offensive was meant to demonstrate the force and resolve of the present government, and whip up anxiety regarding radical Albanian separatism. The main Macedonian media — state TV, the Nova Makedonija newspaper—have been extraodrinary willing to promote the government's view of these events.

Ethnic Tension

What has been more worrying in recent years—and increasingly in recent months—is the polarization of ethnic communities. In the town of Kicevo, for example, which is of mixed ethnic composition, Albanians and Macedonians have their own cafes, shops, etc. Separation breeds anxiety, which succeeds in polarizing the communities even more. Most domestic academics and observers claim that this process is so strong that it threatens the future of the state. International diplomats, on the other hand, tend to downplay this view: there are issues that must be overcome — problems with police, education, etc—but presented with a political solution to these problems, the two communities will be able to coexist peacefully. Ethnic reconciliation is a two way street: reconciliatory initiatives and compromises are the responsibility of the leaders of both communities. However, government and state institutions have—as the more powerful party—a special responsibility for paving the way for ethnic reconciliation. Similarly, the main state institutions have the capacity for exacerbating ethnic tension. The police, for instance, are an obvious cause for the deterioration of relations between the ethnic communities in Macedonia. Ethnic reconciliation, which will ensure much needed stability in Macedonia, is at some point dependent on a real change of policy in — or even a reform of—central Macedonian institutions.

International Presence

The persistent discrepancy of opinion between international diplomats (optimistic) and domestic observers (pessimistic) in the media and academia is noteworthy. The prevention of “spillover” and preservation of “stability” has been the main priority for members of the international community who have established a presence in Macedonia. International human rights monitors and domestic observers allege that the policy of stabilization has, to a degree, blinded the international community to human rights abuses in Macedonia. Main international bodies have cooperated uncomfortably close with a government that, during its seven years of existence, has concentrated power (police, judiciary, and other state institutions) into its own hands in an authoritarian manner, and has played along with the process of increasing polarizing of the main ethnic communities in Macedonia. The preservation of stability in the short term may—if it leads to neglect of respect for human rights and meaningful democratization—prove to be counterproductive in the long run.


Refugees from Kosovo have so far not arrived in Macedonia in large numbers. This is partially due to military activities in eastern Kosovo remaining relatively limited, and the mining of the Macedonia/Yugoslav border in some places. In addition, refugees are, in general, unable to cross directly into Macedonia, due to high mountain ranges. Serbian authorities have a strong interest in driving internally displaced persons into Montenegro, instead of refugees into Macedonia, as these persons serve to create trouble for the independent-minded FRY republic. A similar flux of refugees to Macedonia would have been a serious provocation for the international community, which has its honor at stake in preventing spillover. Although the UNHCR has reported that there are some 20.000 refugees in Macedonia, government sources officially report that there are only 8.000 “visitors” from Kosovo presently staying in Macedonia. Local relief organizations support this smaller figure, of which the majority are residing with friends and relatives. Local relief organizations report that they are currently supporting 1.200 Kosovars, who have fewer human and material resources than most other “visitors.” Concern was expressed about refugees being registered as “visitors” rather than as refugees. The refugees themselves, however, are content with this, as they see it as a better alternative than ending up in camps, and prefer to keep their options open: they hope to return home as soon as possible; if they can not, they would rather be refugees in western Europe than in Macedonia. There is a congruence of interest between the refugees and Macedonian authorities who seek to avoid turning this into a major issue.


Although the short-term effects of the conflict in Kosovo have not been all negative, long-term perspectives are dismal. If the status quo continues in Kosovo, consequences for Macedonia will include the further polarization of ethnic communities, increasing unrest and tension among the Albanians and further economic burdens. Independence for Kosovo, or a partition of the province, would mean the opening of Pandora's box, causing the dangerous question of changing borders to arise in Macedonia as well. A compromise settlement in Kosovo, including meaningful self-government for Kosovo, would stimulate the different parties in Macedonia to work toward fair compromises within the framework of the Macedonian state. From the Macedonian side, this is the best outcome of the Kosovo conflict.

The mission members held meetings and interviews with, inter alia, the following persons and groups:

Meto Jovanovski, President of Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia; Gordan Kalajdziey and Sasko Dukovski, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights of the Republic of Macedonia; Sandra Sljepcevic, Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia; Max van der Stoel, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities; Marek Jezioski, Adviser to the High Commissioner; Julian Peel-Yates, Deputy Head of OSCE Mission in Skopje; Mark Power-Stevens, Head of OSCE/ODIHR, Skopje; Haakon Gram-Johannessen, OSCE Spillover Monitor Mission to Skopje; Tom Bruun Andersen, head of Logistic OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission; Christopher Hill, Ambassador of the United States to Macedonia; Jan Plantinga and Mr. M. A. Stibbe, Royal Netherlands Embassy in Skopje; Klime Babunski, Institute for Sociological, Political, and Juridical Research; Hyreme Gurra, Syndyse Abedimi and Hildane Palloshi, the Albanian Women's League; Vehbi Kadriu, Pedagogical Faculty, University of Skopje; Saso Klekovski, Director of Macedonian Centre for International Cooperation (MICC); Slobodanka Markovska, former head of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly in Skopje; Mercy Corps International; Mirjana Najcevska, Center for Ethnic Relations; Dr. Xhafer Xhaferi, El Hilal humanitarian organization; Bejtulla Ademi, Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP); Iljaz Halimi, Vice-President the Albanian Democratic Party (DPA); Aleksandar Damovski, Managing Editor of Dnevnik; Imer Ismaili, Journalist for Albanian Television (RTSh) and Kohe Ditore in Kicevo; Erol Rizaov, Deputy Editor in Chief of Nova Makedonija; Enver Shala, Flaka e Vellazerimit Correspondent in Tetova.

The delegation also sought meeting with members of the United Nations Preventative Deployment (UNPREDEP), including the Special Representative of the Secretary General and members of the Military Liaison Office. Due to the absence of the Special Representative, members of UNPREDEP were not able to meet with the delegation.