AIM: start

SAT, 19 JAN 2002 23:44:46 GMT

The Political Realignment of Macedonia’s Albanians

Macedonia's ethnic Albanians need a new political strategy. After their parties were sidelined by the emergence of the National Liberation Army (NLA) and the signing of the Framework Agreement which exhausted their platforms, they simply have to act. Circles close to the former NLA military-political wing propose a new, joint strategy, meaning that all parties will work towards achieving common goals, putting aside until that time all their individual interests.

AIM Skopje, January 8, 2002

Will it be possible for all ethnic Albanian political parties, both new and old, to agree on joint priorities and successfully pursue them under the umbrella of the National Liberation Army, shedding their individual interests and not repeating the mistakes of the past? This question immediately came to mind as soon as a plan outlining precisely this kind of activity was revealed by ethnic Albanian politicians in Macedonia.

Before the 1998 elections for Macedonian parliament, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, Arben Xhaferi, stressed the need for ethnic Albanian parties to join forces and act efficiently, saying that if they failed to achieve what they have been promising for years, a more radical political options could emerge and sideline them. Back then the Kosovo Liberation Army was already operating in Kosovo, but it is not clear whether Xhaferi was afraid of similar developments in Macedonia, or simply feared that a more radical political party could emerge. Be it as it may, Xhaferi was right. He was lucky to have a taste of his own prediction. The coalition of ethnic Albanian political parties was short-lived, and fell apart as soon as a new cabinet was formed. The same was the case with demands for the realization of all ethnic Albanian aspirations. This is what the coalition had been promising since 1990, but it turned out that this was only the easiest and the most efficient way for Albanian representatives to take over that portion of power that was allotted to them.

Ultimately, Xhaferi and the Democratic Party of Albanians, together with the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity, paid the price of not keeping their promises. The emergence of the National Liberation Army pushed them to the margins of political life. They were still around during the war and the negotiations in Ohrid because the international community was unwilling to talk directly to NLA political representative Ali Ahmeti. Even the Prizren Declaration, signed by Ahmeti and the leaders of the other two parties, which demonstrated the political unity of all ethnic Albanian political options, was more a part of special OSCE envoy Robert Frowick's abortive peace plan and a gesture of good will on the part of NLA than a concrete political move.

During the war, and particularly when it became clear that the NLA was winning, ethnic Albanian political parties attempted to get in touch with it, offering to act as its political representatives: the Party of Democratic Prosperity believed the NLA was using its party infrastructure, the newly-formed National Democratic Party boasted personal ties with Ahmeti, and the Democratic Party of Albanians, after an initial controversial statements given by its vice president Menduh Thaci, who said that every state, Macedonia included, has the right to use all means available to defend itself from the NLA, ended up sending its members to join NLA fighters in the mountains surrounding Tetovo lest their organization should cease to exist. As opposed to such attitudes, the NLA insisted from the very outset that it was above partisan interests, that it was pleased with its political leadership and that it did not need to hire any party to represent it.

After NATO's Operation Essential Harvest ended and the NLA was disbanded, the situation on the ethnic Albanian political scene in Macedonia became rather vague. It was not clear whether the NLA would transform into a political party, or whether its leaders would join some of the existing parties from the Albanian part of the political spectrum. Many believed that in the former case, the NLA would be certain to win in the next parliamentary elections. Initially Ahmeti made a statement that could be interpreted as confirming the existence of such plans, but he explained shortly afterwards that it wasn't that certain after all. It appears that the course outlined in the Prizren Declaration's has prevailed -- that a united front to pursue common goals should be formed.

The Ohrid agreement, although it did not take into account all ethnic Albanian demands and is far from being fully implemented, has brought up the need to redefine the political strategy of ethnic Albanian parties. They no longer have enough room to play their trump card from the past -- that the Albanian minorities demands are clear and need to be realized. Such an approach, in spite winning the National Democratic Party political points at the expense of the Democratic Party of Albanians and the Party of Democratic Prosperity, is highly unlikely to succeed in the long-run, if for no other reason then because of the Macedonian factor, and, more importantly, the international factor, which certainly won't support it.

The idea of joint political action has been around for some time now and is believed to be connected to the NLA. It includes plans for a purge -- all compromised politicians need to be left out and replaced by new people, both intellectuals and former NLA fighters. Their slogan will be "Joint Action for the Common Good" and as winners in the war they need not waste time inquiring who did what during the past decade. The parties should leave behind everything that could be a burden for joint action, such as calling for Macedonia's federalization, advocated by the National Democratic Party, or the full legalization of Tetovo University, which earned all ethnic Albanian parties many a political point over the past.

The strategy would include several general goals: preserving the peace with everything that makes it stable (preservation of Macedonia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, removing the black mark from ethnic Albanians who consider Macedonia their home as well), enforcing everything that was agreed in the framework agreement, which is not ideal, but is the sole path to preserve the peace, and the implementation of western democratic standards (pursuing Euro-integration and accepting the Europeanization of Macedonia).

To achieve these ends, all political parties will be required to cease their separate political activities until the goals are met. The parties will be asked to stop wasting time and energy on pursuing partial political objectives and mutual bickering. The joint project will need a time limit that could coincide with the terms of office won in next elections. The idea also includes the forming of a joint leadership.

Is this possible? It is only logical to ask this question. Given past experience, not to mention objections to the political uniformity of views, scepticism is quite in order. On the other hand, if NLA structures take over organization and coordination, there is room for optimism as well. If for no other reason than the fact that initially nobody believed that the NLA would ever become a political and military winner. Until more is known, we should just add that negotiations on the idea have started and a joint coordinating body has been formed.

Iso Rusi