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CNN Insight

Making Sense Of Macedonia

Aired March 27, 2001 - 5:00 p.m. ET


JONATHAN MANN, INSIGHT (voice-over): In the hills, there is smoke. Will there be fire? Macedonia may have witnessed the end of a brief conflict or the beginning of a big one.

(on camera): Hello, and welcome.

All of the broken pieces of Balkan history have jagged edges in Macedonia. Several neighboring states have had ambitions on its territory. Its own people are a potentially explosive ethnic mix. And even a century ago, some writers were already describing it as a place just waiting for a war. That was four Balkan wars ago.

Somehow Macedonia avoided a conflict when Yugoslavia splintered, the only newly independent republic to emerge peacefully. But now, its ethnic Albanian minority has seen other Albanians bring neighboring Kosovo to the edge of independence. And a small group of armed insurgents launched an offensive in the hills near Tetovo, Macedonia's second-largest city.

For the time being, Macedonia is quiet again. On our program today - will Macedonia stay quiet? We begin with this report from CNN's Chris Burns.


CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was supposed to be just another demonstration by ethnic Albanians demanding more rights in a land run by Slavic Macedonians. But punctuating the chants for reform was gunfire from the hills above Tetovo, a mainly ethnic Albanian city. Rebels demanding those rights from the barrel of a gun.

The chants turned to cheers, rooting for the rebels battling police. Caught off guard, police rushed in armored personnel carriers and began pounding the hillside. The guerrillas issued a call to arms. The Macedonian government began mobilizing for war.

Worries grew that the bold rebel move on the edge of the country's second-largest city could spark civil war - a fifth Balkan war in the only republic that broke away peacefully from Yugoslavia. A conflict that could directly or indirectly involve NATO-led KFOR troops.

Many still see the danger of a social explosion even if the government appears to have regained the upper hand over the rebels for now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're fighting for our rights.

BURNS: Muslim ethnic Albanians make up more than one-fourth of Macedonia's population, and with a high birth rate, that figure is rising. Many Christian Slavic Macedonians fear becoming a minority some day and losing political as well as economic power. Macedonian nationalists besieged government buildings during the fighting, demanding the government crack down on the Albanians, some asking for guns to fight on their own.

CARL BILDT, UN SPECIAL ENVOY: This is a fragile state. And there's risk of the tensions that have been created eating at the fabric of this fragile state.

BURNS: A country of two million, Macedonia is still struggling to right itself a decade since independence. The Communist legacy is still apparent with rusting, idled or scaled-down factories that shed thousands of jobs. Though there are Albanians in the governing coalition, few Albanians have government positions. They have no state university, meaning fewer professional jobs.

Some ethnic Albanians believe the only way to address these inequalities is militarily. But those who have taken up arms are under pressure in and around Macedonia. In Kosovo, former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters lost local elections last fall. Now marginalized politically, ex-rebels could be tempted to turn to the only power they have left - their guns. Though they're supposed to be disarmed, NATO- led KFOR continues to find weapons.

Along Macedonia's rugged northern border, government forces are taking back villages with the aid of NATO-led KFOR (inaudible) in Kosovo detaining fighters and seizing weapons. And just as Macedonia appeared to be winning its battles with the rebels along the border, the guerrillas launched their bold attack on the edge of Tetovo. They moved into mountain villages where many residents sympathized, even participate in their case.

The make-up of the rebel force, estimated in the hundreds or a few thousand along the border, remains unclear. It's believed they include a mix of locals as well as former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters hardened by the Kosovo war.

That volatile mixture and the unmet demands for Albanian rights brought about what exploded above Tetovo. Under pressure from the international community, the government nevertheless showed restraint. While some homes were set on fire in the shoot-out, civilian targets were to be avoided. President Boris Trajkovski took a very un-Balkan two track policy, neutralizing the rebels but promising more dialogue with the Albanians. Both Macedonian and Albanian parties signed onto the plan.

While managing to hold his bi-ethnic coalition together, President Trajkovski unleashed what he called a final operation to neutralize the rebels he calls terrorists. After a heavy artillery blitz, Macedonian troops backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers shot their way up the mountain and rolled through the villages, driving back the rebels.

Many villagers fled before the troops arrived, and there are few reports of civilian casualties. The biggest worry was not on the mountain, but throughout Macedonia and the danger that the conflict could spread to civil war.

MICHAEL EINIK, U.S. AMB. TO MACEDONIA: The inter-ethnic balance of this country was severely tested in the past two weeks, but it did not crack.

BURNS: The question is when can one safely say the rebels are neutralized, and when can political dialogue intensify if guerrillas could pursue hit and run tactics?

Albanian leaders say it's time to speed up the dialogue now, even if the rebels remain active.

ARBEN XHAFERI, ETHNIC ALBANIAN LEADER: The next period will tell that we will go to the negotiation. I think that we can have lasting peace. But if the negotiation will be false, I think that hopes (ph) of the peace will be false.

BURNS: The international community is keeping up the pressure on both sides. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana visited three times during the crisis. His aides note that in early April, Macedonia is to sign an agreement with the European Union paving the way toward candidacy for membership.

The EU is already helping Macedonia with projects aimed at bringing the country up to EU standards. Macedonia is also in NATO's partnership for peace, a step toward membership.

JAVIER SOLANA, EU SECURITY CHIEF: I'd like to underline (ph) today.


SOLANA: The fact that the secretary-general may talk to the representative from the European Union are here together. These are two organizations that your country wants to belong.

BURNS: In other words, act with restraint or risk losing a golden opportunity for the one country seen as a potential Balkan success story.

(on camera): Will the pressure and dialogue be enough to isolate the guerrillas politically and militarily? Many see the Macedonians on the right track, though the crisis is far from over. The dangers are still very much alive.

Chris Burns, CNN, Skopje, Macedonia.


MANN: After the break, lessons from the past and incentives for the future.


SOLANA: The European Union has an important carrot, employs the most important carrot that anybody can offer to this country



MANN (voice-over): The international community has widely praised the Macedonian government's handling of the ethnic Albanian insurgency. But this is a conflict with many strands. The rebels say they want ethnic Albanians to have more basic rights. Some officials on both sides of the Macedonia-Kosovo border say it's really about crime syndicates marking their territory.

(on camera): Welcome back.

Whatever the reason for the escalation in recent weeks, NATO, the European Union and the United States are all desperate to avoid another major conflict in the Balkans. The former NATO secretary-general Javier Solana, who is now with the European Union, says he thinks the Macedonian problem will blow over.

He spoke to CNN's Chris Burns.


BURNS: Mr. Solana, thank you very much for joining us. Government forces here have driven rebels back into the mountains. Are the rebels defeated now?

SOLANA: Well, no question they have suffered an important defeat. I don't know if it's a definite defeat. But in any case, Tetovo now is liberated. I went this morning there, and life is normal in the city and the surrounds of the city.

BURNS: But is it really normal? Can the country still explode into civil war?

SOLANA: I don't think that this country is going to explode into civil war. You have to remember that what we're contemplating now is a minor conflict. (inaudible) in the Balkans to wars in the sense, the more profound sense of the word (inaudible) for people who have been killed or displaced.

We are talking now about something minor and something that I think the government will handle.

BURNS: Who are these rebels? Some say they're a mix of locals and former Kosovo Liberation Army fighters. And have you had any contacts with them?

SOLANA: They are a mix of both. There are probably people that belong to the UCK or the KLA from both places - from Kosovo and from Macedonia. We cannot forget that the KLA had its initial start here in this country on the border with Kosovo, and there are probably some left over from the UCK, people have not yet organized in their new life. They are still fooling around with weapons and provoking this type of disturbances.

BURNS: Mr. Solana, during the Kosovo war, you were head of NATO. NATO reportedly helped to train and arm the Kosovo Liberation Army at the time. Is this not the beast coming back to bite again?

SOLANA: No, NATO did not train or prepare the UCK or the KLA. What we did was to stop a process very dramatic, very dramatic of (inaudible) organized by Milosevic. They were never trained. We as NATO never trained anybody.

BURNS: Do you think the talks could start immediately now that the government has the upper hand?

SOLANA: Sure, the government is already starting the intensification of the dialogue. I can tell you the last days that I've been here, I have participated on several meetings in which all the political parties that belong to the parliament - not all, but the most important parties that belong to the party, parties which are from Albanian origin and party which are from non-Albanian origin, are talking together.

What I would like is to see that more institutionalized. So far, we've had informal discussions, informal talks, informal dialogue. But I'm sure that the government intends to and rapidly institutionalize this type of dialogue. They have two or three laws which are in preparation, which are important.

They have one on the educational system under the local government either to create a new university, either to create a new TV channel for the Albanian community.

BURNS: How much does the carrot of EU and NATO membership play in solving this crisis?

SOLANA: The European Union has an important carrot, employs the most important carrot that anybody can offer to this country, which is the European prospective. The prospective to be part of the European institutions. To this country, we are offering an agreement of the European Union which we call the fair stabilization and association.

This agreement has already started to be worked out, and very likely at the beginning of April, we will be able to sign it. This, for this country, is without any doubt the most important stabilizing measure.

BURNS: But will you sign it if this fighting continues?

SOLANA: We will sign it if this country makes all the effort to behave properly, and I don't have any doubt that they will do it.

BURNS: Mr. Solana, why should a European or anyone else care about a country of two million people?

SOLANA: Well, we are concerned about the country of two million people, first of all, because they are two million people. And second, because the country that belongs geographically to our neighborhood, and we want to have a neighborhood which is stable. And because the European Union and the countries that belong to the European Union, as much as we are countries, have values, and we try to defend values and to preserve values.

BURNS: Thank you, Mr. Solana.

SOLANA: Thank you very much.


MANN: After the break - neighborhood watch. Who's running the show in the Balkans? We'll be right back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you know, they have launched an attack, and it seems they have had some success getting part way up that hill. I don't think the battle is anywhere near over or the crisis is yet resolved. But I think we are doing a lot.


MANN: Welcome back.

A spokesman for the government of Macedonia said Tuesday that things will soon be back to normal. Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former career soldier, had some different thoughts on Monday.

Joining us now to talk about Macedonia and who's more likely to be right is Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Thanks so much for being with us.

We heard Javier Solana say that he doesn't expect that this is going to be a very big conflict. The people in Macedonia don't seem to expect it will be a big one. Is it wishful thinking, or do you think they effectively have it contained?

IVO DAALDER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, they have contained at least the first stage. Clearly, the Macedonian government has acted with deliberate speed and deliberate means to at least flush out the rebels out of the villages that they were holding. But the question really is for how long?

The real issue here is the underlying political problem that led to this resolved? And the answer there is no. First, the questions of the Albanian status within Macedonia need to be resolved, and as Secretary Solana said, there is a negotiation going on among the parties within Macedonia to address that. But secondly, there is the larger Albanian question that needs to be addressed, which involves Kosovo. It involves southern Serbia. And the question of Albanian rights within this region needs to be addressed before we can say that the rebels who moved earlier in this month are completely isolated and are no longer likely to have support among the population.

MANN: OK, you've covered a lot of ground. Let's start with the role that ethnic Albanians find of themselves within Macedonia. Is life very hard for them there, harder than it is for other Macedonians?

DAALDER: It's harder for other Macedonians, particularly at the elite level. At the daily level, Albanians live within their own sectors and are - face a hard life, but so do many Macedonians. But clearly, there is a systematic form of discrimination at the top level. There is no university within Macedonia that recognizes Albanian language training.

There is no recognition of the Albanian language within the society. The constitution identifies Macedonians as the constituent people of the state not - and Albanians only as minorities. So there is a systematic discrimination which finds itself in lack of access to public sector jobs in the security and armed forces. And in that sense, they face a degree of discrimination, though very much unlike the way Kosovars were treating in Serbia, where they were truly oppressed in an apartheid-like system.

MANN: Well, let me ask you about that. How different or how similar is the situation in Macedonia to the other ethnic conflicts elsewhere in what was Yugoslavia?

DAALDER: It's very different, and in that sense, Mr. Solana is right to be encouraged. There are two major differences. First, the Macedonian government is not in the business of systematically oppressing and even killing people who have a different ethnic background. In fact, every Macedonian government since independence in 1992 has had Albanian representation.

There may be discrimination here, but there is not a kind of systematic outright ethnic cleansing campaign going on that was the case in other parts of the former Yugoslavia. This is a multi-ethnic state that has a democratic background on which to build success for the future.

In contrast, places like Bosnia, Kosovo, Croatia, there was a true war going on in which ethnic group was fighting ethnic group in often horrendous ways. There were concentration camps, ethnic villages cleaned of people, cleansed of people, et cetera. Albanians were expelled, for example, out of Kosovo 1.5 million during the Kosovo war out of a population of two million.

So that kind of situation that characterized the Balkan wars of the 1990s we don't find in Macedonia, and there's a hope that the political institutions will prevent that from happening here, too.

MANN: Why then is there this problem at all? Is it just a very isolated insurgency with no real support from the people in whose name it claims to fight? Or did the frustrations mount, even if life is better there than it might have been elsewhere?

DAALDER: The frustrations did mount, and that accounts for part of the Albanian people's support for the insurgence, which clearly exists. They're not yet ready to join them in a fight. But they're sympathetic to the plight of the insurgents, and they're sympathetic to the calls of reform that the insurgents have.

At the same time, there are other things going on. The Albanians who had hoped to - in Kosovo, who had hoped to ride Western opposition to Milosevic to independence have been disappointed by the fact that Milosevic was ousted from power and that the West has now tilted toward Belgrade and in some sense against Kosovo.

Also, to be frank, the United States has indicated that it really isn't that interested in this region anymore with the change in government that we've had here. Where the Bush administration seems to want to step back from involvement in the Balkans, and that has given extremists the opportunity to move in and use violence and try to force the situation at a time when perhaps the United States wasn't watching.

MANN: We or, I should say, the countries of Europe spent years fearing Serb nationalism, the dream of a greater Serbia. Are we seeing now any manifestation of a greater Albanian nationalism? Is there something going on that spans the borders of Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania as well?

DAALDER: Well, whether its Albanian nationalism in an ugly guise it remains to be seen. But there clearly is something going on in the sense that the Albanian question is the one large unresolved national question within Europe. Albanians live in a contiguous area in at least four states. They live in Albania. They live in Greece. They live in Macedonia, and they live in the former Yugoslavia.

And there, they're (inaudible) within Kosovo, southern Serbia and Montenegro. So you have ethnic minorities in every country surrounding Albania, and their role within the respective societies - be it in Macedonia, in Yugoslavia or in Greece - really hasn't been settled yet. And it's the unsettled nature of that question that combined with economic dislocations, combined previously in Yugoslavia with a large degree of ethnic nationalism on the part of the Serbs that has created this problem and it hasn't been resolved.

And what we saw on the weekend was just one military maneuver and perhaps a much larger battle still to come.

MANN: Within those four different countries, are the leaderships distinct, or is there a single group, a single leadership, a structure that is pushing this across borders?

DAALDER: No, there isn't a single structure. The notion here that there is a Kosovar Liberation Army in control of Kosovo, of what's happening in the Presevo valley and southern Serbia, in Macedonia, let alone in Greece or Montenegro is one that alternative governments are trying to raise in fear. I mean, what it really is there are crime syndicates. There are connections among different groupings of individuals who may at times have coalesced around a single theme.

But they are distinct, almost tribal organizations based in villages and each -- within each village, there are elders who control a particular area that one is talking about. But the notion that this is somehow an organized force of unrest and violence and criminality just isn't - we don't have the facts to back that notion up.

There clearly is an Albanian sense of community. But there isn't a political organization that leads everything and the invisible hand that can create problems in Macedonia or in Kosovo or in southern Serbia at will.

MANN: Intriguing that you said all that. If this is not the Kosovo Liberation Army fighting, if it is, as you say, smaller tribal village groupings, is that where it disappeared back into? Are the fighters of the National Liberation Army, the people who are in the hills above Tetovo, back with their families and villages ready to fight again?

DAALDER: I think part of the people merged back into the family structure from which they came. Part are probably in the forests and the hills and mountains that surround the area in which they were fighting. Part of it may, in fact, come back into Kosovo where they came from. Some of these live in Kosovo.

Some of them have been living in Kosovo for years. In fact, some of them are Kosovar Albanians. So it's a mixture of all of it. Not one of them, as far as I can tell, was killed in the offensive. What really happened is they retreated. But as they retreated, they can come back if and when they think the political and security climate allows them to come back.

MANN: So we have a little less than a minute left. What's the smartest thing the government of Macedonia can do now?

DAALDER: Clearly the most important thing the government must do is to engage the Albanian moderates that are part of the government, that are part of the parliament in a wide-ranging discussion to try to address some of the very real and important grievances that the Albanians have on the constitution, on language, on education, on decentralization of power to the localities and on providing more access to public sector jobs.

MANN: Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution, thanks so much for being with us once again.

DAALDER: Thank you.

MANN: And that is INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.




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