Macedonia: No time for complacency
Recent events require that policymakers revise substantially the conventional assessment that Macedonia is the foremost political "success story" of the Balkans. In fact, it is an underperforming post-conflict country still very much at risk, unable to tackle - operationally or politically -- its security challenges without upsetting an uncertain ethnic balance. Clear-eyed analysis of the dynamics driving unrest, from criminality and weak policing to an equally weak economy and corruption, is needed if a country that narrowly avoided war in 2001 is to secure long-term stability. Specifically, Macedonia cannot yet safely do without the presence of an international security force.
It is true that the moderate government led by Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti has had successes. Both are committed to the Ohrid peace agreement and national unity. Since they won the 2002 election, political rhetoric has become less heated. They have acted responsibly and, at times, even courageously on sensitive issues, including moving toward legalising Tetovo University (long a symbol of ethnic tensions) and use of the Albanian language in parliament and on passports. However, progress on symbolic issues has not been matched by progress on substance. Security sector reform has lagged as has decentralisation and efforts to boost Albanian public sector employment - all key components of the Ohrid agreement. A high profile crackdown on corruption has stumbled.
Most seriously, criminals and extremists continue to present a direct threat. The police increasingly reflect the multiethnic population's make-up but still struggle to impose law and order. Murders are up by a third over three years, and a series of bombs, kidnappings and shootings have added to the sense of lawlessness. Poor communication on security matters often stokes ethnic tensions within the government and between communities; this, rather than any organised "pan-Albanian" violence, is the greatest current risk to stability.
These issues came to a head in early September 2003 when a heavy-handed police operation failed to capture a notorious Albanian outlaw but infuriated Ahmeti, leaving him exposed politically and presenting the government with its most serious internal confrontation. The outlaw remains at large and, despite efforts to accommodate local sensitivities, many Albanians have developed renewed suspicion towards the police.
According to a recent UN survey, a two-thirds of Macedonians and Albanians expect more conflict amid growing concerns over a stagnant economy. Aid workers describe ethnic polarisation in the former crisis areas, as minorities continue to face multiple pressures. Bitter disputes over schools defy mediation. Unemployment remains high and has created potential for ambitious labour leaders to spark unrest. The prospect of more instability keeps foreign investment low and the economy throttled.
Ethnic Albanians have resisted even benign, well-notified police operations and otherwise tended to undermine the sense of mutual responsibility the Ohrid agreement needs. Tensions have also emerged between Albanians and Turks who fear that Ohrid is producing a "bi-national" state dominated by Albanians and Macedonians. Former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and senior Albanian politician Arben Xhaferi have been all too willing to play on anxieties and animosities, openly undermining Ohrid and even urging Macedonia's ethnic partition.
Macedonia's leaders and international mediators have too often approached challenges with complacency. Instead of confronting the radicalism of Georgievski and Xhaferi, diplomats have been their apologists. Ohrid deadlines often slip without comment, while the redrawing of municipal boundaries, transfer of powers to municipalities, and the forthcoming release of census results bring shrugs. Too often Prime Minister Crvenkovski has turned Ohrid implementation into a zero-sum negotiation. The moderate Ahmeti has tolerated ineptitude among his party's ministers and seen his authority among Albanians slip markedly. Some of his supporters suspect the prime minister of deliberately making their party look bad.
In the absence of a more concerted effort to implement Ohrid, establish law and order, fight corruption and stimulate the economy, the relative calm could soon unravel. Macedonia still needs security assistance. The EU's "Concordia" military mission should stay beyond its putative end date of 15 December 2003, until its "Proxima" police mission is fully established and has made up key intelligence and coordination deficiencies in the security sector, and Macedonia's police and government are able both to conduct effective operations and manage the political fallout. There is also a need to close out the legacy of the 2001 fighting. There are no excuses for further delay in screening the handful of potential war crimes cases, rebuilding a half-dozen destroyed churches and mosques and resolving the twenty missing persons cases. Donors must insist that moribund media institutions they fund begin to function, particularly in the monitoring and control of hate speech.
However, none of these steps is likely to be taken without a more sober, less self-congratulatory assessment of Macedonia's track record to date.
1. Prime Minister Crvenkovski and President Trajkovski should seize every opportunity to embrace the Ohrid agreement on behalf of all citizens, not just as a set of concessions to ethnic Albanians, and the prime minister should cease treating key Ohrid obligations as zero sum negotiations with DUI President Ahmeti.
2. DUI President Ahmeti should intensify efforts to build full Albanian respect for state authority, including payment of taxes, utility charges and other obligations.
3. Crvenkovski and Ahmeti should emphasize decentralisation as the centrepiece of Ohrid implementation, drop ineffective political appointees who are holding up decentralisation and economic reform, and work to improve communication between ministers of one ethnic community and deputies of another.
4. President Trajkovski and Prime Minister Crvenkovski should reverse their insistence that the EU military mission "Concordia" leave at the expiration of its current mandate in December 2003, and that mission should stay at least until the EU's "Proxima" police mission is fully established, and Macedonia's police and government can conduct effective operations and manage their political fallout.
5. The government should resist painting an over-bright picture of the security situation for fear of derailing Macedonia's bid for NATO membership, and should develop urgently a clear, comprehensive means of consultation and notification, including with the DUI on major security operations, continue to implement internationally recommended security reforms, and put special emphasis on police performance.
6. NATO should continue its support role for "Concordia" and for the proposed "Proxima" police mission and clearly de-link the presence of "Concordia" or any international security mission from the question of Macedonian membership in NATO, while Washington acknowledges formally that after its participation in Afghanistan and Iraq, it considers Macedonia a "security contributor" for purposes of potential NATO membership, and NATO and the EU bury their competition for primacy in security assistance.
7. As a critical means of shoring up stability (internally and externally), the government and NATO should redouble their efforts to ensure that Macedonia is qualified to enter NATO no later than the next major round of enlargement, if not earlier.
8. EUFOR-"Concordia" should seek greater opportunities to share and transfer responsibilities to the Macedonian army, for example through joint patrols and joint exercises with Macedonian units to help build trust among Albanians in the country's security forces.
9. Planning for the EU-"Proxima" mission and "Concordia's" eventual departure should address glaring police weaknesses, including poor communication, coordination and intelligence sharing, overly centralised control, weak multiethnic teams, and continuing reliance on heavy-handed tactics, and in particular:
(a) "Proxima" should plan actively to assist in on-ground situations, not merely monitor;
(b) the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) should be fully incorporated into the EU security structure and increasingly assume the critical liaison function created by NATO and now performed by EUFOR;
(c) OSCE should make police performance a top priority and ensure that its training not only meets quotas but also turns out qualified police cadets; and
(d) other donors should explore ways to improve overall intelligence gathering and sharing.
10. Prime Minister Crvenkovski should implement a business community/U.S. Embassy proposal to establish a ministerial level action group to help foreign investors overcome administrative obstacles.
11. The National Bank, with the help of the World Bank and IMF, should thoroughly examine bank lending practices, ensure there is no discrimination toward ethnic Albanians or residents of Western Macedonia, and assist with a plan to insure investments in Western Macedonia, for the benefit of all ethnicities there.
12. The EU should ease its restrictive visa regime so as to prevent Balkan unemployment from becoming a source of regional instability.
13. The government and the IMF should accelerate the pace of decentralisation by implementing near-term steps identified by the EU Special Representative and U.S. Ambassador, for example by redoubling cooperation with the Association of Municipalities (ZELS) to accelerate pilot projects for property tax collection by municipalities and to permit municipalities to issue building permits.
14. The World Bank, the OSCE and its rule of law team, and the European Commission should take the lead on corruption and judicial reform, with the international community giving greater material and political support to the Anti-Corruption Commission, in particular pressing the government and parliament to adopt its program, with priority for its recommendations on building judicial independence, including creating a new institution to replace the politicised Republican Judiciary Council.
15. The courts, public attorney and prosecutor should vigorously pursue the Commission's recommendations on annulment of the Fersped privatisation, while the government forms an expert commission on the Tat pyramid bank scandal and the minister of economy explains fully oil purchases prior to the war in Iraq through Makpetrol.
16. The World Bank and IMF should examine the possibility that money-laundering operations may shift to Macedonia following Cyprus's entry into the EU.
17. The U.S. should formally warn DPA President Xhaferi, DPA Deputy President Thaci and PDP leader Bexheti and others that continued public support for ethnic division, opposition to the Ohrid agreement and private association with criminals and extremists will result in swift inclusion on its watch list, and European political groups should exclude politicians and parties associated with extremist rhetoric from their alliances in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
18. Priority must be given to educating the many young Albanian males who do not finish secondary school, including through vocational training and remedial programs, as well as to attracting Albanian women into higher education, particularly at Tetovo University.
19. DUI President Ahmeti should support reform at Tetovo University by controlling the renegade former rector, Fadil Sulejmani, and his ally, Izahir Samiu (ex-NLA "Commander Baci"), who are again obstructing critical measures and complicating the legalisation process for the long-troubled institution.
Ethnic Albanian Representation
20. The government and international community should prioritise Albanian presence in the key security sectors of army, special police and secret police, and match stringent recruiting requirements for special units with intensive efforts to recruit and train ethnic Albanians who could, with some assistance, qualify.
Improving Inter-ethnic Relations and the Legacy of the 2001 conflict
21. The EU and U.S. should support fully the joint government-parliament commission to establish the whereabouts of the twenty remaining missing persons, and the ministry of interior should establish a deadline for Albanians to provide information on missing Macedonians, after which it should release all information it has about missing Albanians.
22. The government should prepare a final and non-amendable list of suspected war crimes cases and request The Hague Tribunal to screen these and determination if there are grounds for trial.
23. Other donors should join with the European Agency for Reconstruction to continue its project to re-build religious objects destroyed during the conflict with UNESCO advice and assistance.
Skopje/Brussels, 23 October 2003
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