SUN, 02 FEB 1997 23:58:40 GMT
Macedonia and Regional Cooperation
AIM Skopje, 22 January, 1997
Judging by the reactions of a few political dignitaries, a comparatively high level of agreement was achieved in Macedonia concerning the favourable response of the Government to the American initiative for regional cooperation in Southeastern Europe (SECI). This makes it even more curious that the local public had been deprived even of the fundamental information about what the officials in Skopje have adopted last December in Geneva, until news that Croatia and Slovenia were opposing it was published in Macedonian media. The future regional association was not mentioned even in the New Year's message of the President of the state, Kiro Gligorov, which was otherwise mostly devoted to foreign political challenges.
Only after the American Ambassador, Richard Shifter, who is believed to be the ideological creator of the whole project, with the help of John Cornbloom, persuaded Franjo Tudjman to at least partial cooperativeness, the authorities in Skopje briefed the journalists about it, and since then the media in Macedonia are simply racing in the attempt to win acceptance for this idea. The most significant diplomatic authors are on a large scale explaining the contents of this proposal which was as a safety belt thrown by the Americans into the Balkan political whirlpools, and the most prestigious journals are filling their pages with the polls on opportuneness of the Macedonian "statement of intentions". Representative of the ruling Social Democratic Alliance, Ljupco Popovski, as expected, supports the initiative all the way, since it "stimulates economic cooperation between (these) states, and it is significant that it will not be institutionalized, but carried out through programs". Stressing their opposition to establishing any form of political connections, partners in the coalition Government from the Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity, through their deputy, sent word to the public that they were in favour of "all integrations which ensure flow of people, commodities and ideas". Even opposition politicians see a benefit for Macedonia in the future economic integrations, although they would prefer to have more information about the actual contents of the initial documents and an authentic interpretation of the Government.
It is interesting to mention that the current Macedonian regime had received with a marked lack of fancy all similar proposals for regional associations, especially when they were offered by the European Union. Last year's project of Carnegie Foundation and Aspain's Institute was welcomed almost with indignation, because according to the local taste it implied a too high degree of political rapprochement in its resolution of the Balkan knot. Some observers have indeed always claimed that Macedonia's rejection of these proposals was not altogether authentic, since this state was not in the position to refuse anything, but that it was specific bargaining in creation of an alibi for the domestic public. Even if that were true, official Skopje had manifested an admirable consistence, so it would be really interesting to see through and find out what magic was behind the enchanting abbreviation SECI which is gradually settling down in the political awareness of the Macedonians and sudden shift in the collective frame of mind concerning regional associations.
It is true that the threatening spectre of former Yugoslavia is still hovering over this space, so that the politicians are in mortal dread of revival of this ghostly community. Probably with good reason Macedonia is considered to be quite progressive in overcoming obstacles and conditions "new democratic" states have to meet to be included in European integrations, so it is feared that the "retrograde" region would hold it back from the desired goal for a long time to come. Nevertheless, it has never been explained to the local public what was the qualitative difference and attractiveness of the American "regional approach" in comparison with the European ones, especially since the latter are claimed to have inspired SECI.
In earlier proposals, reconstruction of the former community has never been explicitly mentioned, just as the latest one does not exclude the possibility of conditioning with the level of rapprochement with Europe. At this moment it is clear only that the region is nowadays observed in a broader context and that it does not include only former Yugoslav states, "reinforced" by Albania and possibly Bulgaria. This absolutely suits the Macedonian ambition to avoid compromising identification with Balkan tumults and their unpleasant historical connotations. On the other hand, the argument used in favour is that if the American initiative was wholeheartedly accepted by Greece and Turkkey, and after certain initial reluctance by Hungary, in other words countries which are in all superior to Balkan standards, there is no reason whatsoever why Macedonia should not do it.
All things considered, however, the decisive thing for the official Macedonian view of the initiative for regional cooperation in Southeastern Europe, is the address of the sender. The USA are the most significant sponsor and the mainstay of self-confidence of the current Macedonian authorities, so it is believed here that if Washington appears as the inspirer and guarantor of future connections in the region solely in the field of the economy and protection of the environment, it means that there can be no political background to it. Croatia and Slovenia were discreetly reproached by Macedonian media for having hesitated about the crystally clear American proposal. Nevertheless, caution with which the whole problem was persented to the public suggests that even Skopje feels certain reservations concerning the fact that not everything in connection with the initiative was completely "cleansed" of politics. Journalists inclined towards more relaxed professional genre, read the latest abbreviation in the political vocabulary in Serbian pronunciation which means the imperative of the verb "cut". Allegedly, they say, Clinton has finally decided to "cut" short everything in connection with something that he had decided a long time ago. The question is - what had he decided?