Interview with the Prime Minister
Of the Republic of Macedonia
Mr. Ljubco Georgievski
By: Dr. Sam Vaknin

Also published by United Press International (UPI)

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The Prime Minister of Macedonia is a sad and disappointed man. A youthful 35 years old poet and man of letters (he published three books of experimental literature), he genuinely aches the recent events and his shattered dream of peaceful co-existence. Mr. Georgievski was the first Deputy-Premier of his country in 1991 and was elected Prime Minister in November 1998.

Q: You are the Prime Minister that did the most for inter-ethnic tolerance in Macedonia. Are you disappointed?

A: We are very shocked by events last month. Macedonia until a month ago was an example of a multi-ethnic state, the recipient of compliments from the international community as proof of the possibility of peaceful multi-ethnic co-existence in the Balkan. The appearance  terrorists shattered this image and Macedonia has become a problem of multi-ethnic life rather than an example. We have never evaded these issues but we will not allow anyone to annul everything we have achieved in the last ten years. We also believe in evolution – and not in revolutionary changes overnight.

I was greatly disappointed because I felt that I gave a lot as Prime Minister. You know that Macedonian nationalists in some way proclaimed that I betrayed their interests. And now both parties are not satisfied. There is a personal dimension, but I must go on fighting to overcome it.

Q: You disagree with violence and terror. But do you agree with some of the demands of the Albanians?

A: Everything is open to discussion, as long as it is done democratically. We proved this in the last decade. But we cannot accept demands backed by weapons. This breaks every principle, international and national. The terrorists must leave Macedonia and abandon their weapons, to allow us to proceed with our discussions. We will sit at the table and each party will present its reasoned demands and we will consider them together: do the Albanians live in Macedonia subject to international standards, what more do they want, and how can it be resolved. None of their demands in the last decade was presented either to the Macedonian parliament or to the government. They may have constituted the position of the Albanian political parties but until now they have not been formally presented to the proper institutions.

Q: The Albanians demand changes in the Constitution (for instance, to make them a “Constituent Nation”). Do you think this question can be resolved, even in principle?

A: As I said, all issues can be discussed. What will be decided depends on the mood of all the political parties and, finally, on parliament. I am prepared to interpret the constitution creatively, as we have done in the case of Albanian high education. Though the constitution does not state decidedly that high education can be conducted in another language, we do have high education in Albanian. Similarly, we can creatively interpret many other issues. My approach is to see how to achieve multi-ethnic life through substance, and not through a change in the constitution. I, personally, think that the Constitution has proved its value in the last decade and spawned wide democracy. Finally: the happiness of the citizen is not derived from the constitution but from its proper functioning. For example: the Albanians in Albania have a constitution, which they themselves adopted. So, why is there civil war in Albania and why, to this very day, its own government does not control half its territory?  The Constitution is only a framework, which determines the rules of the democratic game.

Q: Macedonia is a young state. Many Macedonia feel that their existence is insecure. Can it be that, as a result, you are over-sensitive to Albanian demands?

A: The Macedonian people are afraid for their country and for peace. It is understandable. They lived here under the same conditions for centuries and in the last decade we witnessed four wars in this region, the last one being the Kosovo Crisis. This fear is normal. Should the Balkan normalize and survive in peace for 10-15 years, people’s minds may change and they would not regard such issues so sensitively.

Q: Mr. Arben Xhaferi (leader of the biggest Albanian party, DPA, and a member of the coalition) presented a demand to resolve all the outstanding issues in one month. Do you regard this as an ultimatum? Do you think it is a productive approach?

A: I believe that he intended to speed things up but I am pessimistic that any issue can be resolved in one month. In any case, it is very bad to present any ultimatum at the beginning of the discussions. We showed that we are ready for discussions, for their intensification – but without any additional conditions.

Q: Do you feel constrained by the West?

A: It is obvious that the West needed time to understand what is happening here. Following the first phase, in which they faced many unknowns, communication has improved and is functioning maximally. We are especially content that they augmented the KFOR contingent in Kosovo. They present no special demands except to intensify the discussions with the Albanian political parties within our institutions. This is acceptable to us and we feel no special pressure. We are particularly happy that the international community – having studied the situation - has accepted the thesis that we are faced with terrorism, that we cannot negotiate with terrorists, and that we should unite to eliminate terror.

Q: But in your speech you criticized both the West and Western media…

A: Our criticism of some Western countries was because the border between Macedonia and Kosovo was not sufficiently controlled by KFOR. This, probably, encouraged the terrorists to enter Macedonia. Now, having realized their mistake, things improved. The very fact that they enhanced their forces proved that they understand the situation. Regarding the Western media, we reject only their formulation – which goes against the terminology used in other countries with similar problems - that we are dealing with rebels. This legitimizes a group of terrorists, encourages and strengthens them and lets them think that they have international support. We also dislike the exaggeration of the situation by the international media. Skopje, for instance, contrary to media reports, is very peaceful as is the rest of the country. Macedonia has been attacked only in three places, all very close to the Kosovo border. This serves to prove that the aggression against Macedonia was initiated from the Kosovo Protectorate. We should call a spade a spade.
 

Q: Serbia is negotiating with the UCPMB and has negotiated with the KLA. Why won’t Macedonia negotiate with the NLA?

A: Serbia is in a different situation, having a track record of ten years of repression. The attack of the KLA on the Presevo Valley in south Serbia is without a historical background or logic. This is a most direct provocation of the KLA on Serb territory. To my mind it is illogical for Serbia to negotiate with the KLA regarding its own territory. In Macedonia we do not think, even for one moment, to negotiate with the KLA regarding Macedonian territory because we really consider them to be a classic terrorist organization and because Macedonia was always complimented for its multi-ethnic co-operation. In Macedonia there are legal Albanian political parties represented in the government with many ministers. They can present every question in both parliament and government. We don’t intend to promote terrorists to the position of political co-discussants.

Q: You keep mentioning the KLA. But you were the first Balkan leader to meet Hashim Thaci, the leader of the KLA.

A: The meeting with Thaci was when all the international community actively communicated with him. Its purpose was to establish normal economic relations with Kosovo and to make sure that the refugees from Kosovo will leave Macedonia within two months rather than the one year that everyone predicted – as, indeed, they have done after the meeting. Our future relations depend on the behaviour of Thaci’s party.

Q: Do you believe that the Tetovo uprising can happen again?

A: We have successfully completed the first round of defence of Macedonia against terrorism, even though, there are still individual acts of terror, which worry us. Independent of these terrorist acts, we are awaiting now, according to all information, for a second wave of a massive terrorist attack toward the middle or the end of this month. I believe that this second wave can be prevented only with very active pressure by the international community on the political structures in Kosovo and with a clear statement that it does not stand behind such elements.

Q: The new administration in the USA displays isolationist tendencies. The USA has withdrawn 800 soldiers from Bosnia. Do you think that this is a wrong orientation?

A: It is too early for the Americans to leave Kosovo and Macedonia. We expect the region to remain unstable for some time to come and we would like this instability to be ameliorated by both NATO and the American Army. We don’t see any risk in their presence but there is a risk in their withdrawal.

Q: A few weeks ago the Serbs were allowed back to the security zone around Kosovo to counter Albanian terrorism in that area. Was the whole Kosovo War of 1999 a mistake?

A: The security zone is in Serb territory bordering on Kosovo and the Serbs should receive it back. We think it is the right policy. Serbia should control its border up to Kosovo. The faster this is done, the faster will the Presevo Valley problem be overcome. Regarding the return of the Serbs to Kosovo as a whole, it is a more complex issue. It is a fact that in Kosovo today, there is the opposite oppression. Albanians created there the most ethnically cleansed space by “cleansing” not only Serbs, but Turks, Romas and others. The international community now has a reverse problem: how to pacify Albanian extremism there.
Regarding whether the war was necessary or not – again, this is a very complex issue. First, Milosevic was a big Balkan problem and for ten years has held the Balkan hostage. His aspiration for a “Great Serbia” involved not only other republics but also Macedonia. This would not have been solved without NATO intervention, which opened possibilities and perspectives for a new future of the Balkan. But on the way to realizing this main goal, a secondary error was committed (as it was in other places) and this is the creation and support of the so-called KLA by the Western powers. In the KLA I see a new European Taliban. Many Albanian criminals and bandits were armed and militarily trained and now no one can control them. They cause trouble mostly in Kosovo. There are hundreds of examples of Albanians murdered by the very structures that initiates aggression against south Serbia and western Macedonia. This power mostly consists of dismantled gangs of the former KLA. The West may face this problem, perhaps not in the form of terrorism, but by way of crime. Today, Albania and Kosovo are the biggest centers of drugs that are directly distributed further in Europe. These facts are recognized by many European states.

Q: You keep blaming KLA and Kosovo but Western media reports that many of the Albanian extremists are Macedonian citizens…

A: Macedonian Albanians are members of these structures. But all the military, logistics and financial support come from Kosovo. And Western countries possess proof of this. The main leaders are Macedonian Albanians that two years ago joined KLA structures. Now they are returning to Macedonia through Kosovo. Finally, Macedonia, in the last 10 years, granted citizenship to 160,000 Albanians from Kosovo and south Serbia who fled the tortures Milosevic. 90% of Macedonian Albanians who participate in these terrorist groups – are these refugees from Yugoslavia.

Q: Are you happy with Greek investments in Macedonia?

A:  Absolutely. We did something positive in the last two years in that we drastically changed the relations with Greece and it is now a good friend rather than a cold neighbour. Today, Greek investments are the biggest in Macedonia and this encourages other investors. Last year, for the first time in fifteen years, we finally had a good economic year. Our GDP increased by 5.1%. We were the first of 24 countries in transition in the EBRD report as far as the intensity of reform and macro-economic results are involved. This means that we are on the right way but, unfortunately, trouble beyond our control again blocked our economic development.  But even in the crisis, Greeks continued to invest here. This is important because it shows that they still regard Macedonia as secure and it contributes to stability in the region and in Macedonia.

Q: Macedonians – like the Jews and the Albanians – have a big Diaspora (mainly in Australia and Canada). Why aren’t they much more involved and supportive?

A: The problem is that until 10 years ago were part of Yugoslavia, which controlled the Diaspora and splintered it. Our problem is how to unite them and only after that to ask them to support Macedonia. We expect from them to mass organize and to lobby for Macedonia in their own countries. We, as a state, do not wish to involve ourselves in Diaspora matters, this is the communist way. We would like them to self-organize and acts spontaneously which would make them a real Diaspora. But they have not overcome the Yugoslav complex yet, it will take time.

Q: Do you feel that in Macedonia there is a conflict between generations?

A: Absolutely, such conflict exists. It is easy to see it at the workplace. This mentality does not consist of supporting either communism or the new times. You can see this problem even if you give some work to someone who claims to be anti communist. But their work shows that they cannot erase the way they were brought up. From the experience until now it is not only a matter of ideological conviction but a question of mentality, a part of your character which is trained to work in a certain way. The conflict with the opposition also has this inter-generational dimension.

Q: The opposition and people on the street accuse this government of corruption.

A: There is no government in the world not accused of corruption. But I think this can be measured. For instance, in many countries corruption extends to traffic police who stop you on your way, so that by the time you reach your destination, you pay 4 or 5 bribes. In Macedonia, the situation is not ideal and there is room for fighting corruption but it has been eradicated and is felt only in places directly dependent on certain institutions, politicians, or civil servants. In day to day life, as opposed to other countries in transition, corruption was drastically reduced, or is unnoticeable.  The main battle is to change the laws to reduce dependence on licences given by the government, to reduce taxes and customs duties. For instance, we reduced the excise on coffee that encouraged smuggling. We prefer to change the laws rather than to apply repressive measures against those directly involved in corruption. In other words, to automate processes. Another example: there was massive corruption connected to building licences. Now, if you apply and do not receive a response in one month – you have a green light to build. The result: today, corruption connected to construction is rare.

Q: This was a dry year and there is a huge shortage of water. Could this develop into a regional crisis?

A: This was the driest year in more than a century. It is the same in all the countries of the Balkan. Southeast Europe who is anyhow poor will go through another catastrophe, which will affect both the economic and the defence situations. We may raise this issue in the framework of pact of stability.

Q: Anything you wish to say that we haven’t covered?

A: With all the unpleasantness of the last month, Macedonia will prove its perseverance and vitality. I am convinced that we will halt this wave of terrorism and that democracy and multi-ethnic co-existence will once again prevail. The trend of economic success, so evident last year, will continue and allow us to realize our goal of economic development.