Macedonians Pay Price for Peace with Rebels
Macedonians Pay Price for Peace with Rebels Posted December 13, 2001
Wednesday December 12 8:13 AM ET
Macedonians Pay Price for Peace with Rebels
By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonians never imagined they would need earphones to understand debate in parliament or use a foreign language to buy food, but a new era distasteful to many looms as the price of peace with rebel minority Albanians.
A veritable constitutional revolution has been imposed by a Western-brokered peace accord with minority Albanian guerrillas, whose February-August uprising for better civil rights brought the tiny Balkan republic to its knees.
If the constitutional amendments recently ratified by parliament are carried out, Macedonian's majority community must get used to things they thought would never happen.
Aside from ethnic Albanians speaking their own language in parliament and exercising a right to speak only Albanian to shop customers, Macedonian could face the possibility of being stopped for spot checks by an ethnic Albanian policeman.
Or even being tried by an ethnic Albanian judge.
``Those are a few changes more than ordinary Macedonians are willing to accept overnight,'' a senior government aide said.
Since Macedonia gained its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, minority Albanian parties have taken part in government. But the use their language at state level was not allowed and their presence in public services was minimal.
But things should change now and there may well be a backlash from aggrieved Macedonians across the board for whom the peace accord was a ``sell-out to terrorists'' imposed by Western diplomatic and financial pressure.
Minority Albanians comprise about a third of the population and that share is growing, given a birthrate outstripping that of the former Yugoslav republic's majority.
TREAT THEM AS EQUALS
Their new rights include the use of Albanian in state and legislative business, jobs in state institutions, including police, commensurate with their share of the population, and devolution to majority Albanian municipalities.
What this means for Macedonians is that that they must work side by side with Albanians, adapt to using their language in some public offices, give them space to display their symbols and culture -- in essence, to treat them as equals.
Although the national assembly has ratified the peace plan and introduced the changes into the constitution, it will be difficult to convince people to accept them in practice.
``People thought that when they passed the constitutional reforms, the hardest part was over. They didn't understand or actually realize (the underlying meaning) of some of these steps,'' said Edward Joseph, senior analyst in Macedonia for the International Crisis Group think-tank.
Parliament may prove the most obvious example of how unprepared Macedonians are for their brave new post-war world.
``You will never speak Albanian in this parliament, at least not while I'm here,'' a Macedonian MP said dismissively to an ethnic Albanian colleague after the ratification vote.
There are already signs of trouble in implementing the reforms. Parliament last week failed to elect new municipal court judges because the candidates were all Albanians. Ethnic Albanian MPs walked out in protest, shutting down the session.
The new constitution calls for proportional representation of all ethnicities in public office. But Macedonian legislators seemed loath to enable ethnic Albanian judges to try anyone.
Efforts to pass a bill that would undo rigid centralization of power have bogged down in ethnic confrontation that World Bank (news - web sites) and other international experts are now trying to resolve.
Macedonian MPs fear that ceding serious powers to municipal governments will spawn ``federalization,'' effectively splitting the brittle little country of two million people.
Ethnic Albanians are insisting on considerable self-rule -- as the text of the peace deal stipulated, but without delving into the wrenching practical detail.
LAWLESS REBEL NORTH
Another serious stumbling block to lasting peace could be the restoration of state security in the lawless rebel north, due to start later this week but prone to pitfalls.
The interior ministry, headed by nationalist hawk Ljube Boskovski, is seen by many Macedonians as the pillar of a continuing battle against ``Albanian terrorists.'' The guerrillas disbanded but retained weapons and gunfire remains common.
Under the peace accord, the ministry must employ 1,000 ethnic Albanian policemen over the next 18 months to be assigned to the very areas where guerrilla compatriots rose up.
``We will have to persuade the former enemies to work side by side,'' a Western diplomat in Skopje said.
Despite all the barriers, the international community is optimistic that peace still has a chance, emphasizing that all reforms need time to take root, like anywhere else.
``There are no immediate solutions to a crisis like this. This type of reform just takes time and people will get used to them,'' the diplomat told Reuters.