Macedonia, which a year ago was on the verge of civil war, has held elections. They were marred only by sporadic incidents of violence traceable to criminal elements and Slav extremist groups. As in Kosova, the Muslim Albanians are blamed for the unrest. But the Macedonian voters have replaced Georgievski’s coalition. The outgoing prime minister conceded defeat on September 16, when preliminary results gave a convincing majority to the opposition centre-left coalition, a few hours after the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians also acknowledged defeat to a new party led by a popular Albanian activist.
According to preliminary results, the ruling coalition got only 24.4 percent of the vote; the Social Democratic Alliance (SDSM) won 40.4 percent. The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), headed by Ali Ahmeti, took 12 percent of the national vote by attracting well over half of Albanian voters’ support; this explains why the Democratic Party of Albanians was the first partner in government to concede defeat. The turnout surpassed 70 percent, so the previous government cannot blame voter indifference for its defeat.
The DUI has received the votes of the Albanian minority because it is the political reincarnation of the National Liberation Army (NLA), which fought for Albanian rights during the uprising in 2001 that forced the West to impose a settlement that averting all-out civil war. The EU and the US helped to disarm the Albanian fighters and put pressure on the Slavs and Albanians to negotiate the Ohrid agreement. The deal, which involved the Slavs granting the Albanians better constitutional and other rights, was welcomed by most Albanians but accepted grudgingly by most Slavs. The current election has given Macedonians their first opportunity to deliver their judgement of the settlement.
The Slav voters have given Ohrid “moderate backing”, while the Albanians appear to welcome it. Even Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, said that his party would cooperate: “We will cooperate with Ahmeti’s party and work for the Albanian cause,” he said. Ahmeti established his party after the Ohrid settlement and advocated reconciliation although the Slavs still consider him a “terrorist”, and the authorities issued a warrant for his arrest that, according to the Macedonian prosecutor general, is still valid.
These polls are the fourth election since Macedonia split from Yugoslavia in 1991. The EU, NATO, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) welcomed the “peaceful and honest” manner in which the election was conducted, predicting that it will help to achieve reconciliation between the Albanian Muslims and the Christian Orthodox Macedonians. Both Ahmeti and his colleagues are willing to join the SDSM in a ruling coalition: “To keep Mr Ahmeti out of the parliament would be to violate the Ohrid agreement and the government’s own promise of amnesty for the NLA,” says Tenta Arifi, DUI vice-president.
Ahmeti himself also said that he was optimistic that these elections will help establish stability in Macedonia. However, he hinted that he would not take his own seat. “I think I can contribute more by leading the party rather than taking up a seat in the parliament or a ministry,” he said.
But while the DUI is prepared to join the new government and to implement the Ohrid accord, the position of the SDSM is not clear, despite its leader’s overt commitment to the political settlement. Branko Crvenkovski, prime minister for six years from 1991, was able to adopt a moderate stance on the issue because his party was not a member of government when the Albanian uprising broke out in 2001. But as head of government he may find it convenient to cooperate with the all-Macedonian VMRO, although he accused it earlier of exacerbating the unrest. NATO and the EU are interested in the establishment of peace in Macedonia, but they are fundamentally allied to the Christian Orthodox Slavs against the Albanian Muslims, and will do their utmost to support a coalition of the Slav majority in parliament.
Both NATO and the EU tried to disarm the NLA and impose on it a political settlement less favourable than the Ohrid accord. Even now, western governments encourage the view that Albanian ‘terrorists’ are a threat to the peace of most of the Balkan countries, and refuse to support efforts to arrest Serbian war criminals responsible for atrocities committed in the Bosnia and Kosova against Muslims. NATO and the EU are also doing nothing to bring to justice Macedonian war criminals responsible for massacres of Albanian Macedonians in 2001. Human-rights organisations have welcomed the fall of the Macedonian government, which they accuse of protecting war criminals.
One thing is certain: the Albanians will fight if they have to and the west will side against them. What is not certain is that other Muslims and Muslim countries will come to the aid of their Albanian fellow Muslims.