Monday, June 09, 2008

A Week for Greek visa, a month for Bulgarian one

Macedonians are starting to show higher interest in Bulgarian visas than in Greek ones before the start of the summer tourist season, the Macedonian daily Nova Macedonia informed. According to the daily the time needed for issuing a Bulgarian visa is quite longer than the period for a Greek visa.
The daily comments that interviews for a Bulgarian visa are held one month after the submission of documents in Skopje and roughly ten days in the consular section in Bitola, while interviews for a Greek visas are held within a week.

Greece-Macedonia Name Talks to Resume

Greek and Macedonian negotiators in the name row are to meet Thursday in New York with the UN, Macedonian diplomats have told Balkan Insight.

The diplomats who wish to stay anonymous said the meeting with the Greek ambassador to the United Nations, Adamantios Vassilakis and his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov would be in preparation for UN envoy Matthew Nimetz’s planned visit to the region soon.

Macedonia’s government spokesman Ivica Bocevski on Monday neither confirmed nor denied the information for Balkan Insight.

The meeting will take place after they were stalled due to the June 1 general elections in Macedonia.

Greek-Macedonia relations hit a new low in April after Athens vetoed Skopje’s invitation to join NATO arguing that the country should change its name first.

Greece says the name Macedonia implies Skopje's territorial claims over Greece's own northern province of the same name. The name row has been ongoing for 17 years. UN-sponsored talks have failed to provide a breakthrough in the dispute so far.

Skopje should solve the row by July 9 if it wishes to catch up with Albania and Croatia who in April secured their NATO invitations. On that date both countries are to sign the accession protocol with the alliance.

But analysts in both countries argue it would be highly unlikely for a quick compromise solution to be reached soon considering the hardline rhetoric of both Skopje and Athens expressed in the last months.

On Friday Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in Athens that his country’s position towards Macedonia’s name “remains unchanged.”

Previously Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki expressed pessimism about a quick solution, blaming Athens for not recognising Macedonia’s ethnic identity.

Russia won't change Macedonia stance

Russia remains consistent regarding the use of name for the Republic of Macedonia, this country's president says.

Crvenkovski, Medvedev, meet in St. Petersburg (Beta)
Crvenkovski, Medvedev, meet in St. Petersburg (Beta)

Branko Crvenkovski's comments came Saturday after his meeting in St. Petersburg with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Macedonian media report that Medvedev reiterated Moscow's position over the former Yugoslav republic's name, "despite continuous demands that are coming from Greece".

Athens, whose northern region is also called Macedonia, has for the past 17 years disputed Skopje's right to use its constitutional name, arguing that it implies "territorial pretentions".

When it came to Kosovo, Crvenkovski said, the Russians "made no suggestions" as to the position Skopje should take regarding recognition of the province's ethnic Albanians' declaration of secession, rejected by Serbia as illegal.

"There were no suggestions, neither during the meeting with now Premier Vladimir Putin in Zagreb, nor during the conversation with Medvedev. Each country decides according to its own wish. We will do so, bearing in mind our interests, but also the position of those structures we are moving toward, and that is NATO and the EU," the Macedonian president said.

Crvenkovski also expresses his country's interest in receiving more Russian investments, in sectors other than energy.

Skopje’s gateway to the EU and NATO is closing

The elections in Skopje that were attended with violence and violations turned FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) into European and American problem, Greek Ethnos online edition announced. According to the author of the article Macedonia suffered a defeat in disaster dimensions over its prestige in abroad as well as its internal political background. Europeans and Americans plainly have doubts weather Skopje is ready to become EU and NATO member state, the edition pointed out.
New York Times newspaper defined Macedonia as the “new problem child of the Balkans”. According to Ethnos’s article the situation about the name issue dispute with Athens is getting different and Greek foreign policy must use its new opportunities after the elections. There is no more chance for Skopje to join Croatia and Albania and to sigh the agreement for NATO membership on July 9, the edition said.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Pyrrhic victory in Macedonia

The snap parliamentary elections held in Macedonia on June 1 were meant to open the way to calm the continued unrest that had been troubling the small Balkan republic over the past months.

The elections were called after, on April 12, parliament in Skopje voted to dissolve itself. This followed an enduring crisis that had faced conservative prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s government, rooted in events from calls by the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) for more rights for ethnic Albanians, to a row over Macedonian slowness over whether to recognise Kosovo, and the Nato summit in Bucharest which saw Skopje failing to secure an invitation to join the alliance.

Announcing that the snap elections were to be held, Gruevski said that he hoped to win a healthier majority, to facilitate the implementation of intended reforms.

The outcome after June 1 appeared to be a fulfillment of Gruevski’s hopes. According to preliminary results, the VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition won 64 seats in the 120-MP Macedonian parliament, while the rival Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM)-led bloc did not manage to get even half of these and conceded defeat with 28 mandates.

Gruevski’s landslide victory secured him every politician’s dream – a majority in parliament so overwhelming as to ensure that all legislation and any action proposed by the government will be approved. However, as Radmila Sekerinska, the Social Democrat leader who resigned following her rout, put it, the cost Macedonia paid in these elections could prove too high. The unprecedented violence during the election campaign, followed by the turbulence on election day that led to at least one death and several injuries, could delay its entry into the European Union. In addition, Gruevski’s hard-line stand on the name dispute with neighbouring Greece could result in continued failure to bring Macedonia anywhere near Nato.

Election day violence led to voting being halted at a number of voting stations at the ethnic Albanian village of Aracinovo, north of the Macedonian capital city of Skopje, international news agencies reported. Twenty people were reported arrested after the Aracinovo shootings. Reuters said that Macedonian state news agency MIA had reported scuffles in several ethnic Albanian areas and that a small explosive device had been thrown at an empty cafe. A police source said officers had chased an unknown armed group until they came under fire in Aracinovo. Police retaliated and injured one of the gunmen.

These clashes, having taken place in the Albanian-inhabited regions of Macedonia, came as little surprise since the run-up to the elections was marred by violent incidents between supporters of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) party and its rival DPA. The shooting incident allegedly involved DUI members, and a DUI official rejected the police version, saying that interception of the group by plain-clothed police who had fired a shot into the air had led to chaos and further shooting.

Bulgaria’s Focus news agency reported that four people were wounded in a shooting at the Dame Gruev school, in Chair, an ethnic Albanian-populated area near Skopje.

There was also alleged election fraud, with claims of ballot boxes having been tampered with reportedly contributing to the outbreak of violent incidents. Allegedly, armed people had been threatening voters, the State Electoral Commission was quoted by Focus news agency as having told a news conference.

All this violence seriously undermined Macedonia’s position in the eyes of the international community.

“I deeply regret the violence which marred the elections. A day which should have been a peaceful demonstration of democratic values resulted instead in the loss of a life as well as injury to several people [...] Organised violence, intimidation and ballot stuffing in many places prevented citizens from exercising their democratic rights,” European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which monitored the elections, concluded that “key international standards were not met [...], as organised attempts to violently disrupt the electoral process in parts of the ethnic Albanian areas made it impossible for voters in many places to freely express their will”.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Ministry also declared its stance. The atmosphere in which snap parliamentary elections were held in Macedonia required all political parties in the country to assume their share of the “responsibility”, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dimitar Tsanchev said in a statement.

In an attempt to mollify the severe criticism, Gruevski promised to hold a re-run of elections in areas where violence had prevented them being conducted peacefully. Scheduled for June 15, the re-run is bound to determine the West’s attitude to Macedonia, as it is a chance to either improve its current image and raise hopes for co-operation, or to permanently brand it a state that is shaky, turbulent and torn by ethnic rivalries.

“It is imperative that these re-runs are held in line with international standards [...] I underline that holding free and fair elections is an essential part of the political criteria of the EU accession process,” Rehn said.

In the meantime, Gruevski will spend some time deciding (or pretending he is deciding) which of the two rival Albanian parties to take on board in the next cabinet. Technically he needs none, but this way he can integrate the Albanians in the government of Macedonia, show ethnic tolerance and strengthen his majority. Although the DUI managed to collect a few more votes than the DPA, the two parties each won an equal number of seats in parliament – 13.

Gruevski’s obvious choice might be his current coalition partner, the DPA, but he clearly did not want to make hurried commitments. However, he said that, first, he will not hold any coalition talks before the re-runs and, second, he will ally with the Albanian party that has won the most votes, website Balkan Insight reported, quoting Gruevski as telling local A1 TV that “VMRO-DPMNE will enter a coalition with the one Albanian party that wins [the polls] among Albanians in a fair and democratic way”.

Nicolas Sarkozy: Naming dispute Athens-Skopje should be solved before any kind of membership

The Greeks can rely on France, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy said speaking from the tribune of the Greek Parliament, the Greek agency ANA-MPA reports.
Sarkozy, who is visiting Athens, said that he wanted to offer Greece a new slogan – ‘Greece-France – a new union’ and confirmed Paris’ support for the Greek positions. Sarkozy outlined that the naming dispute between Athens and Skopje must be solved before any kind of accession of FYROM to the Euro-Atlantic organization.

Recent elections were the worst in Macedonia’s history: deputy minister of SDSM

Recent early parliamentary elections were the worst in Macedonia’s history. Nikola Gruevsaki got Pyrrhic victory, deputy chairperson of Social Democratic Union of Macedonia /SDSM/, present mayor of Strumica and leader of SDSM ticket in the forth-electoral constituency, Zoran Zaev said forFOCUS News Agency. Zaev is the only leader of the ticket who got MPs’ majority in the parliament at the early parliamentary elections on June 1st.
“ For the first time policemen cried before me because of the pressure and the threats that the Ministry of Interior exerted over them. The Election Day and the 20th days campaign will never be forgotten. Because of these elections I feel ashamed that I was a candidate at the elections and that I am engaged in politics.

A Balkan Belgium?

A FASHIONABLE idea is circulating among Balkan-watchers: “Belgianisation”. This is not meant to suggest complex federalism. Instead it implies that different nationalities whom history has left sharing a state are at last behaving like Belgians, reaching for ballot boxes and courts, rather than guns and bombs.

The Macedonian election on June 1st was condemned by observers for not meeting international standards. One person died in a shoot-out with police; several others were injured; and irregularities were reported at several polling stations. Yet it does not disprove the Belgian theory.

A quarter of Macedonia's 2m people are ethnic Albanians. In 2001 they skirted perilously close to civil war. Now, although no love is lost between the two sides, there is no violence between them. The election-day problems and reports of intimidation were entirely among Albanians. That is not good, but also not as bad as it could have been.

Macedonia's election was called after NATO's Bucharest summit in April, when Greece blocked its invitation to join alongside Albania and Croatia. Ever since Macedonian independence in 1991, Greece has tried to stop it being called by its name, insisting that it implies territorial claims to Greek Macedonia. That is why Macedonia labours under the name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM, in most international gatherings.

Recently the name issue, which had been dormant, was raised again. Skopje's airport was renamed Alexander the Great, a main reason why the angry Greeks blocked Macedonia's NATO bid. The Greeks now say they will prevent any movement towards European Union accession as well. Macedonia is an official EU candidate but it has not been given a date to start membership negotiations.

Drive into Macedonia from Kosovo and it is clear why the issue needs to be resolved. From the border to the Vardar river, which runs through Skopje, all the election posters have been for Macedonian Albanian political parties, and all flags Albanian. Cross the river and you might be in a different country. All posters are for Macedonian parties and all flags are Macedonian. Once the name is settled, Macedonia can join NATO and later the EU. Nobody could then question its statehood.

If the name continues to poison the region, says Veton Latifi, a political scientist in the main ethnic-Albanian town of Tetovo, politicians will set “new agendas” for the country. By this he really means old ones: a Greater Albania or a Greater Kosovo, and who knows what for the rest of the country. Yet the election gave ground for hope. Nikola Gruevski, prime minister and leader of the centre-right ruling party, gambled on an early poll and won. The coalition led by his party gained an absolute majority in parliament. And though it needs an Albanian partner for comfort, he can “no longer be held hostage” as he was before by his Albanian allies or anyone else, says Ana Petruseva, assistant editor of Balkan Insight, a website.

Three questions arise. Which of the two Albanian parties will Mr Gruevski invite into government? Will he be strong enough to do a deal with Greece over the name and steer it through a referendum? And biggest of all: is Greece interested in a deal or is it happy for its companies to invest profitably in its northern neighbour while keeping it dependent on Greek goodwill for its NATO and EU aspirations? After all, only the EU (and euro) membership holds Belgium together nowadays.

Three Albanian citizens disappear in Macedonia

Three Albanian citizens went missing today on the Macedonian territory, more precisely in the locality of Radice, while traveling from Gostivar towards the Albanian border, Albanian TV station Top Channel reported.

According to the same source, the three Albanians - brothers Lavderim and Vilson Alaraj, and Flamur Korovaku, all from the Albanian border village of Topojani, lost contact with their families on their way to the Albanian border.

The TV station said that the Albanian police also had information about their disappearance, but had no details on the source of the information or whether the three Albanians planned to cross the border illegally.

Macedonia Policemen Ill from Toxic Cargo

Several Macedonian police officers have asked for medical help after being exposed to suspected toxic cargo stuck at the Macedonia-Kosovo border crossing.

The officers complained of coughing, suffocation, headache and increased blood pressure.

Macedonia’s Centre for Crisis Management said the officers were soon released home. Medical teams are checking other employees at the crossing.

There is no official information about the content of the cargo.

Media speculate that the three Bulgarian trucks stuck at the crossing’s customs terminal for four days are carrying a highly toxic and cancerous substance called Di Methyl Sulphate.

The substance that apparently leaks from the tanks is not advised to be stored in metal canisters for more than 20 days since it corrodes the metal.

On Saturday the trucks were returned from Kosovo after the authorities there found out about the suspicious cargo.

The trucks were supposed to carry car fuel from Iran to a Kosovo company. When the cargo arrived the company found the suspicious substance instead.

The cargo was sent back to Iran but Macedonia authorities demanded from Kosovo that the cargo should be properly stored first in order to pass through the country. The trucks were stuck at the terminal since Kosovo refused to take it back.

“We expect this to be returned and repackaged. Our position stays unchanged,” Macedonian government spokesman Ivica Bocevski told media Wednesday after the cabinet discussed the problem.

Police in Kosovo have previously arrested the owner of the company that ordered the import.

OSCE, ODIHR say elections in Macedonia were substandard

Macedonia's elections Sunday (June 1st) failed to meet "key international standards", according to an OSCE/ODIHR observation mission. It cited attempts to disrupt the election in areas dominated by ethnic Albanians.

"Violence and attempts to manipulate the campaign sadly cast a shadow over otherwise well-implemented elections," OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President Pia Christmas-Moller said. "Violence ... in ethnic Albanian areas is an unacceptable breach of peace and people's democratic rights."

Although Macedonian officials administered the elections well, they enforced laws "selectively" and "failed to prevent violence", the mission said in its report.

"The OSCE will monitor whether the authorities seriously address the violations and take remedial steps," Ambassador Robert Barry, the head of the OSCE/ODIHR mission, said. "We will also observe polling stations where voting is conducted again and will make a final decision depending on how much the authorities completely investigate and eliminate incidents."

According to Barry, a widespread failure to take preventive measures permitted incidents to flare on Election Day.

EU Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn also issued a grim statement Monday. "I deeply regret the violence that marked the elections. The European Union is strongly committed to [Macedonia's] European prospects. I emphasise that carrying out free and fair elections is the essential criterion for the process of EU integration."

Javier Solana, EU security chief, expressed disappointment as well. Spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said he had a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. "He is expecting a revote at the [worst-affected] polling stations in order to improve the image of the elections," she said.

On Monday, US Ambassador to Macedonia Gillian Milovanovic and EU Special Representative Erwan Fouere met with Gruevski to discuss the election violence.

All efforts should be made not only to pursue the perpetrators but to prosecute them. Macedonia failed this exam on democracy, but international institutions are giving it a new chance [with the planned revote], Fouere said after the meeting.

"These elections were not as good as in 2006," Milovanovic said. "Sadly, people were prevented from voting; however, the prime minister's pledge to eliminate these problems is encouraging and we are expecting better results in two weeks. I am surprised that people reacted indifferently to the incidents as if they were happening to somebody else, not to them."

Greece outrages Macedonia with ban on presidential flight

Neighbourly relations between Athens and Skopje were further soured Thursday when Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski cancelled a trip to Athens in protest at a Greek ban on his flight. "This action by Greek authorities contradicts international norms and principles and is not contributing to development of good neighbourly relations," Crvenkovski's cabinet said in a statement.

Crvenkovski was to take part in a biennial United Nations forum on natural resources in the region, but was informed by the Greek liaison office in Skopje that his plane would not be allowed to land.

The Greeks offered "alternate" transport, but Macedonia refused, the Makfax news agency said.

Greece and Macedonia have been embroiled in a diplomatic row over the name "Macedonia," which both claim as their own.

In April, Athens blocked NATO from inviting its northern neighbour to join because of the dispute, stirring strong anti-Greek sentiment in the former Yugoslav republic.

Greece does not allow Macedonian aircraft, including the carrier MAT, to fly over its territory and applied the same ban to Crvenkovski's official aeroplane.

Macedonia will get gas infrastructure

By the end of this year, Macedonia and the Russian Federation will sign the deal to close out the Russian Kliring (Vzaimozachet) debt.

Russia owes $60 mln to Macedonia, and the money will be paid out in a gasification project, as confirmed by diplomatic sources. All of Macedonia will be covered by a gas network, and the total cost is expected at $80 mln, however Macedonia would pay only $20 mln, the rest are covered by the Kliring debt.

This project is well known. Macedonians insisted on getting this project off the ground instead of receiving a cash payment. There are already gas pipes in Kumanovo, however new pipes will be put in place that will lead to Sveti Nikole, Stip, Veles.

Engineers are looking at the possibility of Veles' pipes getting through to Prilep and Bitola. The only questions mark is the Strumica region, however, the solution for this region is to connect to the Russian gas pipes via Petric, Bulgaria.

A network plan had been created for the capital city as well. According to the information available, the project should last three years.

The gasification of Macedonia is known for a while now, there were numerous chances to sign the contract with the Russians, it is not known why this had been dragged out.

Sources familiar with the problematics of this project say Macedonia would connect straight to the Russian pipes, which is very important. Macedonian experts have long warned that the country will have lack of electric power in a region where everyone borrows electricity from someone else.

With this project, Macedonia will get its money owed by Russia, at the same time create gas infrastructure accross the country.

DPA calls for DUI leader to resign

The Democratic Party of Albanians /DPA/ called for Ali Ahmeti, leader of the Democratic Union for Integration /DUI/, to resign, Focus News Agency’s correspondent in Skopje reported.
At a press conference in Tetovo DPA demanded that Ahmeti give up the post because of the violence and division among Albanians, which escalated on June 1st.
“At Ahmeti’s order a young man was killed in Aracinovo and several others were injured. Is it worth risking someone’s life so that somebody else could become an MP through ballot box stuffing,” said DPA chief secretary Imer Aliu.
DPA thinks that Ahmeti’s withdrawal will normalize the relations between Albanians in Macedonia.

Poll violence could harm Macedonia’s EU bid

Nikola Gruevski, the Macedonian Prime Minister, had an overwhelming election victory on Sunday but the violence that marred it may perpetuate divisions and delay the country’s progress towards EU membership.

Mr Gruevski’s conservative VMRO-DPMNE party will have the healthiest majority in parliament for more than a decade, riding on a wave of nationalist anger over Greece blocking Macedonia’s Nato membership invitation in April.

The victory vindicated Mr Gruevski’s controversial decision to call a snap election but, with one man dead and nine wounded, some observers blamed him for ignoring the risk of violence among the 25 per cent Albanian minority, divided between two hostile parties, both with links to armed groups.

The violence could perpetuate an impression in the West that seven years after the country was pulled back from the brink of ethnic war, the Kalashnikov remains a part of Macedonia’s political process.

“We can expect a very bad report card,” said Dane Taleski, an analyst. “We won’t be getting a date for [EU] accession talks this year.”

Apart from the gunfire, which halted voting in one town, ballot boxes went missing and two election officials were held briefly by gunmen before police rescued them.

Macedonian elections spell start of new crisis, former prime minister says

The snap parliamentary elections in Macedonia were not necessary at all, even a luxury of sorts, former Macedonian prime minister Ljubcho Georgievski told private Bulgarian broadcaster Nova TV's Koritarov Live morning talk show, as quoted by Focus news agency.

Georgievski said that Macedonia had wasted precious time before Nato's summit in Bucharest at the beginning of April 2008 and then until July to finalise talks with Greece on the name dispute between the two, which would allow Skopje to secure a belated invitation to the alliance. According to Georgievski, these elections delayed the date of Macedonia's accession to Nato and the date for starting negotiations with the European Union.

VMRO-DPMNE's convincing victory would not bring anything new to Macedonia since the federative principle of cabinet formation has long existed in the country, Georgievski said. He also forecast that choosing one of the Albanian parties as a coalition partner would lead to “radicalising the other Albanian party”.

Georgievski said that Macedonia was yet to overcome the political crisis of 2001, which erupted when he was VMRO-DPMNE leader and prime minister, as the two basic issues - the dispute with Greece over the name of the country and the requests of the Albanians in Macedonia - were still unsolved. He added that the elections gave reason for a new list of requests by the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia, which could lead “even to the gradual break-up of the Macedonian statehood”.

“We could say these elections are the beginning of a new state crisis for the Republic of Macedonia,” Georgievski said.

Macedonia inflation below 10% in May

n Macedonia, the inflation dropped to below 10 percent in May, following the two-digit inflation rate in the previous months.

According to data released by State Statistical Office, the Retail Price Index in May 2008, rose 7.6% compared with May 2007, whilst the Consumer Price Index increased by 9.5%.

The Retail Price Index in May 2008, compared to April 2008, rose 0.4%, while the Consumer Price Index increased by 0.2%.

The consumer basket for food and beverages for a four-member household in May 2008 calculated on the basis of retail prices stands at 12.414 denars, a 0.1% jump comparing with the previous month.

An increase in the Consumer Price Index by 0.2% was prompted by the higher indices of fruit by 5.4%, dried fruit by 2.5%, dairy products by 2.2%, fats by 1.9%, eggs by 1.6%, processed fish by 1.0%, fish by 0.9%, cereals, processed meat and other food products by 0.4%.

In May, also increased oil derivatives by 5.5%, footwear by 2.0%, clothes by 1.2%, alcoholic beverages and passenger transport by 1.0%

NATO urges Macedonia to address electoral shortfalls

NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer is deeply concerned by the OSCE Observer Mission's preliminary conclusions that the 1 June elections in Macedonia did not meet key international standards.

The Mission assessed that, despite many positive elements, election day was marred by violent incidents, intimidation and ballot stuffing in predominantly ethnic areas.

"Countries working towards NATO membership must make every effort to meet the democratic standards of the Alliance. Active steps should be taken to address the security and electoral shortfalls, in particular in the context of the repeat of voting to take place in districts where the electoral process had to be halted," Secretary General said in a statement.

NATO will carefully assess the OSCE Observer Mission's final conclusions, once the process is complete.

Macedonia Opposition Leader Steps Down

Radmila Sekerinska, the leader of the main Macedonian opposition party, the Social Democrats, is stepping down after losing the general election.

“If the party looses someone must take the responsibility. I think that should be the leader,” Sekerinska told local Alfa TV arguing that her stepping down would help the party to consolidate quicker.

Sekerinska said her decision is final. “My career cannot be more important than the success of the party in the next elections.”

The Social Democrats lost the snap polls on Sunday by winning only half of the votes than the ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party did. The party won even less seats in parliament than the last polls in 2006.

During the election campaign, Sekerinska promised to secure NATO membership and obtain a recommendation for the start of European Union accession talks in six months.

Sekerinska took over the party after the Social Democrats lost the elections in 2006.

She has been a long standing prominent member of the party for many years serving two parliamentary mandates.

Sekerinska was deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs in the government of Hari Kostov. During her term, the European Council in December 2005 granted Macedonia candidate status.

Media speculate that the current vice president of the party Igor Ivanovski and the mayor of the south-eastern town of Strumica are the most likely candidates to succeed Sekerinska.

The preliminary official election results show that the Social Democrats won about 230,000 votes opposed to the ruling VMRO DPMNE which picked up more than 480,000 votes.

Macedonia blocks Greek Army at border

The Macedonian Authorities blocked the Greek Army from entering Macedonia earlier today.

The Greek Army had been on their way to Kosovo. Greece voiced their displeasure, however, must now go through Bulgaria, or Albania to get to Kosovo.

Macedonia's constitution doesn't allow for a foreign Army to enter Macedonia's territory. The political situation between the countries also contributed.

Another reason, and this is just a speclation on our part, is the Macedonian Authorities may have feared the Greek convoy could be attacked if people noticed the Greek flag. So far, besides us, only Greek ERT news had reported this.

The Ministry of Interior has informed the local media the Greek Convoy did not have a proper documentation to enter Macedonia. Two convoys were forbidden to enter. The first one had 76 soldiers in a bus for which the Greeks had zero documentation, and the second was 25 vehicles for which the Greek side had a hand written scribble in Greek showing 14 vehicles, even though they had 11 extra. Macedonian Authorities asked for Official NATO documentation in English or French, which the Greeks didn't have. The Greek officers verbally attacked the Macedonian Custom officials once they were told they did not have the proper documentation to enter.

Macedonia's MoFA spokesperson issued a statement: "We have already notified NATO about this, we aren't going to wait for the Greeks to notify Brussels. NATO knows they didn't have the proper, actually didn't have any documentation to enter". said Andonovski.

Macedonia’s Ajvar Proves a Hit in the US

Ajvar proved to be one of the most sought after products at Macedonia’s stand of the Chicago Food and Style Fair, national media reported recently.

The red pepper, tomato and aubergine paste ajvar attracted the attention of American distributors, according to the Macedonian daily newspaper Dnevnik. Because of that, the US Agency for International Development, USAID, will reportedly help Macedonian producers negotiate cooperation with American partners for import and distribution.

As BalkanTravellers.com reported, Macedonia took steps to patents its version of the dip in February, in an effort to make the product a world-recognised name, standardise the preparation ingredients and processes and guarantee quality and competitiveness on domestic and international markets.

Ajvar, one of the points of contention in the battles of the Balkan culinary wars, is popular across the countries of the region, with slight variations the ingredients it used and the way it is prepared, served and called.

Macedonia removes visa requirements for Australian citizens

At todays last Government session, Macedonia voted a decision to remove all visa requirements for Australian citizens.

As noted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this law was to facilitate and adapt to the EU laws for Australian citizens. This law will also help both countries to strengthen their political and economic ties, says in MoFA's report.

Considering the fact that large percent of Australian citizens who visit Macedonia are of Macedonian descent, with this step their entrance in Macedonia will become simpler and smoother.

Friday, June 06, 2008

How to Solve the Greek Dispute over Macedonia's Name

Following a winter of discord over the question of Kosovo’s independence, NATO heads of state convened in Bucharest in April, largely unified on the Balkans. The alliance was poised to invite three countries from the region to be new members: Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia. Like its neighbors, Macedonia had fulfilled NATO’s reform criteria. It had also met various political demands by Western powers concerning the country’s peace agreement between the majority ethnic Macedonians and minority Albanians. In addition, since 2003 Macedonia had continuously deployed troops to the US-led engagement in Iraq as well as to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

As the summit began, President Bush proclaimed the “strong support” of the United States for Macedonia’s NATO bid. In contrast to the contentiousness over Kosovo, virtually the entire alliance backed an invitation for Macedonia. The lone exception was Greece because of its long-standing objection to Macedonia’s name.1 But in the end, Macedonia was denied an invitation.

In the aftermath of Bucharest, NATO’s Secretary General visited Athens and Skopje, urging resolution of the problem by July so that Macedonia can be admitted to the alliance on schedule with Albania and Croatia. Unfortunately, the prospects for this are remote, in part because NATO unwittingly strengthened the Greek position at Bucharest. The truth is that few in Europe understand the seriousness of the dispute. They scoff at the prospect of tiny Macedonia launching an armed assault to recover the patrimony of Alexander the Great in Greece’s adjacent province that is also called Macedonia.

Trivializing the matter this way distorts the problem and saps the urgency required to deal with it. Identity clashes in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo were primary drivers of those conflicts. The identity stress in Macedonia is no less pernicious. In other words, it is not merely unfortunate that Macedonia did not get a bid to join NATO at Bucharest; rather, it throws into question the entire basis for Macedonia’s internal cohesion. By keeping the Macedonia question open, Serbia, Russia, and other countries can advance their agenda to keep other questions, including Kosovo’s final borders, open. Should Macedonia again descend into conflict, it would almost certainly not remain confined to its current borders.

The urgent task for Europe and the United States is to devise a strategy to deal with the name dispute. This requires understanding its dynamics. Both Macedonia and Greece see challenges to their identities and both have behaved irresponsibly, with Athens resorting to what the Greek scholar Anna Triandafyllidou calls “the strategic manipulation of nationalist feelings by Greek politicians.”2 Clinging to a narrow majority and warily eyeing the far right, the conservative government led by Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis has been highly vocal about the name issue. However, the record shows that no matter which government is in power in Athens, its position is remarkably constant. In Skopje, the center-right government of Nikola Gruevski has blatantly exploited nationalist sentiment, taking the provocative step of re-naming the airport after Alexander. But there is a fundamental difference in approaches in the two countries: Greece objects to the Macedonian claims to the legacy of Alexander the Great, but Macedonia does not object to corresponding Greek claims.

This asymmetry yields great insight into the root causes of the dispute -- and how to resolve it. Greece is bothered not just by the name, but what the name represents -- an independent ethnic Macedonian identity. The mere existence of the neighboring nation state founded on national identity carries perceived existential risk for many Greeks. This explains why no amount of written assurances by Skopje can mollify Athens; it also helps explain why after 15 years of UN mediation, the matter has defied compromise.

Endangered Stability

In 2001, Macedonia nearly produced the fourth major conflict since the breakup of Yugoslavia. All the hallmarks of Balkan war were in place, including ethnic flight. In a few short months of fighting, nearly ten percent of the population was displaced. And as in neighboring conflicts, identity was a major factor in the struggle. Leaders of the substantial ethnic Albanian minority (about one-quarter of the population) demanded and won painful concessions from the Macedonian majority to use their language and fly the Albanian national flag. To this day, the provisions of the Ohrid peace agreement that deal with these issues are often contentious. To many Macedonians, the need to change their constitution in order to affirm the Albanian identity was an affront to their own national identity. It is axiomatic, then, that the more threats mount to their own identity, the less inclined Macedonians will be to continue to make concessions --not only on identity related, but in other, equally painful spheres -- to their Albanian partners.

No one knows this better than the ethnic Albanians of Macedonia themselves, who have wisely backed the Macedonian position on the name -- up until the Bucharest summit. According to a recent survey conducted in the wake of the NATO summit, the number of citizens opposed to changing the country’s name has dropped markedly. Analysts believe that this reflects a dramatic change in opinion among Albanians, almost all of whom now back concessions on the issue in order to enter NATO. The failure to enter NATO was a special disappointment for Albanians, for whom the American-led alliance holds both a security and emotive attraction. Many now resent having to pay the cost to protect symbols that mean nothing to them, but mean everything to the country’s majority.

Snubbed at Bucharest, resentment is building among Macedonians as well. Patriotic feeling among the majority Macedonians has hardened. In part, this is the result of calculation by the governing nationalist party, VMRO-DPMNE. Rather than work with the opposition to forge a common front on the name issue after Bucharest, the prime minister called snap elections to be held on June 1, leaving Macedonia barely a month to meet the July NATO deadline to join the alliance in concert with Albania and Croatia.

If the July deadline comes and goes without an invitation to join NATO, then Macedonia’s EU prospects are also dim. After all, Greece has an even more formidable position in the European Union than in NATO, where Macedonia at least can count on the support of the American superpower. This, too, has serious consequences for Macedonian stability. Steadily improving prospects for entering NATO and the European Union have been a primary motivating factor for the majority Macedonian community to embrace both the painful Ohrid concessions as well as the array of institutional reforms mandated by Brussels. With NATO (and EU) entry now formally hostage to Greek approval, the country is suddenly bereft of strategic orientation.

Not only Greek challenges, persistent Serbian challenges to the Macedonian church, and Bulgarian challenges to the Macedonian language and identity create anxiety about the permanence of the Macedonian state. Serbia, with strong Russian support and the backing of some European capitals, continues to mount stiff resistance to Kosovo’s independence. Belgrade and its allies know that many Albanians link Kosovo’s territorial integrity and that of Macedonia. Before Bucharest, the anxiety in Skopje was that Serb-inspired partition of Kosovo would prompt secessionist movement among ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. After Bucharest, the reverse is true: The Serbian-Russian agenda in Kosovo could be advanced by unrest in Macedonia for which the potential remains substantial. In short, any trend toward disintegration in Macedonia would have direct and unavoidable consequences for Kosovo.

The Greek Objection

The place to begin to understand the name dispute is not ancient, but rather recent history. In September 1995, just as the conclusive negotiations over the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina were to begin in Dayton, Ohio, American diplomats Richard Holbrooke and Christopher Hill negotiated an “interim accord” to end a Greek embargo against its neighbor, Macedonia. Among other things, the Macedonians pledged that their constitution contains no territorial claims on Greece. Moreover, they agreed to state that their constitution does not “constitute a basis for interfering in the internal affairs of another state in order to protect the status and rights of any persons in other states who are not citizens of [Macedonia.]”

This dry passage reveals a key piece of the puzzle: palpable Greek fear that the adjacent Macedonian state -- with an intact, distinct Macedonian identity -- will become a platform for Greece’s minorities to challenge the status quo. Under Greek law and practice, there are no ethnic minorities. Human rights groups like Human Rights Watch have documented systematic harassment and discrimination of those who attempt to express group or cultural rights. Anyone who doubts that such anxieties are the source of the problem need only read the words of Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on the eve of the Bucharest summit:

Let me explain the problem as Greeks see it. When Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia changed the name of his country’s southern province in 1944 from Vardar Banovina to the Social Republic of Macedonia, he did it to stir up disorder in northern Greece in order to communize the area and to gain an outlet to the Aegean Sea for his country.

This policy was also linked with the Greek civil war that at the time claimed more than 100,000 Greek lives, brought untold destruction to our country, and delayed our postwar reconstruction for a decade.

The name ‘Republic of Macedonia,’ therefore, is not a phantom fear for us Greeks. It is linked with the deliberate plan to take over a part of Greek territory that has had a Greek identity for more than three millennia and is associated with immense pain and suffering by the Greek people. 3

The problem is not that Bakoyannis is hyping Greek fears; it is that she is conveying them frankly. The “deliberate plan” she describes is not military; it is anticipated, inexorable pressure to acknowledge the existence of the Macedonian minority in Greece.

The question is why does Greece find this so frightening? According to Greek scholar Triandafyllidou, the answer is in the very construct of the modern Greek nation state:

Since the achievement of national independence (1829-30), the Greek state has engaged in a process of construction in which its ethnic origins have been in remote antiquity. The historical trajectory of the nation has been traced in a linear form and without ruptures or discontinuities from antiquity to modernity. Thus, any changes which have marked the past and the history of the national community have been reconstructed in such a way that the nation is represented as a homogeneous and compact unit. 4

In other words, ethnic minorities, particularly those with competing claims to cultural totems, are incompatible with the Greek concept of nation- and statehood. The Macedonian minority is especially neuralgic for Greeks because it represents not only an imagined “outsider” or “invader” of the nation, but a very real adversary with whom Greeks clashed in living memory. As is clear from Bakoyannis’s article, anxiety about identity and territory have become fused in Greek consciousness, a legacy of the bitter Greek Civil War.

There are ample grounds for Macedonians to be bitter from that era as well. As Human Rights Watch writes, “ethnic Macedonian political refugees who fled northern Greece after the Greek Civil War of 1946-49, as well as their descendants who identify themselves as Macedonians, are denied permission to regain their citizenship, to resettle in, or even to visit northern Greece. By contrast, all of these are possible for political refugees who define themselves as Greeks.... Ultimately, the government is pursuing every avenue to deny the Macedonians of Greece their ethnic identity.” 5

Ironically, the only minority recognized by Greece is the Muslim (Turkish) minority in Western Thrace. The Lausanne Treaty of 1923 (and the associated mass population transfers) established the reciprocal rights of the Muslim minority in Greece and of the Greek minority in Turkey. Despite mass displacement and mass loss of property, more than half a century after the fighting there has been no corresponding arrangement to address claims and regulate the affairs flowing from Macedonian-Greek conflict during the Greek Civil War.

As for the Macedonians, their claim to identity is fundamentally different. Slavs did not arrive into the Balkans until many centuries after Alexander’s kingdom had expired. For Macedonians, the nexus to Alexander is not linear, but based on geography, something inherently shared with Greece and Bulgaria. While geography may indeed tempt some extreme nationalists in Macedonia to maximalist territorial ambitions, there is no serious claim to exclusivity of Alexander’s legacy.

Fixing the Mistakes of Bucharest

In sum, the name dispute is largely asymmetrical, with Greece laying exclusive claim to the Macedonian identity. Exacerbating the problem is another asymmetry: EU and NATO member Greece is substantially richer and more powerful than Macedonia. In the run-up to Bucharest, under US pressure to come to terms, Macedonia for the first time agreed to a different name for international use. It accepted UN mediator Matthew Nimetz’s “final proposal”: “Republic of Macedonia (Skopje)” as its reference for international use. However, Greece flatly rejected it.

To avert an outright Greek veto at Bucharest, allies inserted a paragraph in the final communiqué that lauded Macedonia’s “hard work and commitment” to NATO values and agreed to extend an invitation “as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the ‘name issue’ has been reached.”6 To diplomats, the communiqué represented the best alternative to a direct summit confrontation, tacitly acknowledging that Macedonia has met the criteria for membership, and that -- following agreement with Greece over the name -- an invitation could be extended by a simple meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of ambassadors. In fact, by ignoring Greek undertakings, NATO handed Greece a victory.7 In Washington, the Greek ambassador exulted: “NATO endorsed our position at Bucharest....The requirement to solve the name issue is no longer a Greek position, it is now a NATO position and a multilateral matter,” he told an audience at Georgetown University.8

Already there are signs that Greece is mounting pressure on Macedonia to buckle and accept its position in advance of a European Commission decision on whether to recommend a date for accession talks this fall. And there are also signs that Athens’ position on the name has hardened as well. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations say that Greece is advancing its demands not only that the new name for Macedonia contain a geographical reference (like “Upper Macedonia”), but that this new name be used in all contexts. Athens’ position on “scope of use” may grow to include bilateral relations with other countries, and even Macedonia’s own internal use (for example, stipulating the use of “Upper Macedonia” on the Macedonian passport). Greece is also resisting Macedonia’s demands that its language and nationality be formally recognized by the United Nations.

There are only three possible outcomes for the dispute: continued stalemate; Macedonian capitulation; or Greek willingness to compromise. Continued stalemate is the most likely outcome because Greece faces no external cost to maintaining its position. Athens’ approach suggests that it sees little incompatibility with its substantial private investment in Macedonia and that country’s continued limbo status.

Macedonian capitulation to the Greek position would mean negating the Macedonian identity. As described above, this would pose serious complications to advancing the peace arrangement with Albanians. It also would only encourage related Bulgarian and Serbian assaults on the Macedonian identity, further straining the cohesion of the country.

Only a fair compromise, one that minimally protects the Macedonian identity while addressing the core Greek demand for a name change serves the cause of European stability. Given the disparity in power between Macedonia and Greece, UN mediation alone is unlikely to achieve this. And given the unwillingness of European capitals to take on the burden of confronting Athens, American leadership is once again essential. That means that NATO, where American influence is greatest, offers the best vehicle for success.

The solution, ironically, lies in embracing -- to the fullest extent -- the Greek assertion that the name dispute is now a multilateral matter. Rather than adopt a counterproductive tone of confrontation, the United States must rhetorically step to the side of the Greeks. Bringing along those allies aware of the risks for Kosovo and Macedonia, the United States should move to convene the North Atlantic Council (NAC) for an urgent session to accept the Greek interpretation of the Bucharest communiqué. But it should not stop there. The NAC must simultaneously ask the NATO Secretary General to provide a “full and complete report on all dimensions of the name dispute” within 30 days. The NAC resolution should cite the requirement in NATO’s founding document “for peaceful and friendly international relations” and related obligations in the charter of the United Nations (particularly on human rights). As a result, the NATO Secretary General will have to turn to an array of organizations and individuals, including the UN mediator, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and private organizations like Human Rights Watch.

In short, NATO would begin to move down the very road toward the examination of Macedonian minority rights in Greece that sits at the root of the Greek objection to Macedonia’s name in the first place. The Greek government would pay a heavy political price for such an outcome.

Of course, Athens will see through the ploy and either attempt to block it or veto. This will be complicated. First, a veto would put its interpretation of the summit communiqué in jeopardy. Second, as in Bucharest, Athens will be forced to accept the unenviable role of spoiler. Unlike in Bucharest, however, it will be deprived of the political benefit of standing up to the US president. The NAC ordinarily meets in obscurity, at the level of ambassadors. Furthermore, the draft resolution will be written to embrace the Greek position on the communiqué, not to humiliate or punish Athens. Third, if it vetoes, Athens will have to rue the costs of having to carry another permanent grievance within the alliance. Already it has the annoyance of constant Turkish objections to alliance meetings with the European Union in the presence of Greek-ally Cyprus. It will hardly boost its case by obstructing a reasonable provision to address the very dispute that it insists is an alliance matter.

In sum, the way out of the name dispute is to recognize both the seriousness of the problem and its root causes, and urgently devise a transatlantic strategy that addresses them. The problem is asymmetrical, both in terms of the Greek objection to the Macedonian identity, and Greece’s power relative to Macedonia. Only by introducing the full dimension of the problem, including the question of the Macedonian minority in Greece, will Athens have an incentive to compromise -- and will more instability be averted.

Edward P. Joseph is a visiting fellow at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C.

1) France, which counts on Greece for consistent support on ESDP and its bid for a “Mediterranean Union,” supported Greece in its objections to Macedonia’s entry under its name.

2) A. Triandafyllidou, M. Calloni, and A. Mikrakis, “New Greek Nationalism,” Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 1 (1997).

3) Dora Bakoyannis, “The View from Greece,” International Herald Tribune, April 1, 2008.

4) “New Greek Nationalism” (see fn. 2).

5) Ibid.

6) Bucharest Summit Declaration, issued by the Heads of State and Government participating in the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Bucharest on April 3, 2008, paragraph 21.

7) In late April, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski wrote UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon alleging that the Greek veto at Bucharest amounted to a “flagrant violation of Article 11 from the Interim Accord, according to which, Greece has legally undertaken not to object to Macedonia’s admission to international organizations.” Crvenkovski also noted that Greece’s position “could have long-term destabilizing consequences in the region of south-eastern Europe.” Reported in various Macedonian print media on April 22, 2008.

8) Ambassador Alexandros Mallias speaking publicly at Georgetown University, April 15, 2008.

Int'l monitors report serious violations in violence-marred Macedonian election

International monitors said Monday that serious violations marred the election in Macedonia that gave the center-right government a landslide victory but was tarnished by gunbattles and fraud allegations.

The monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said Sunday's vote failed to meet international standards and was marked by violence, intimidation and ballot box stuffing in predominantly ethnic Albanian areas.

"Organized efforts to violently disrupt the process early on Election Day made it impossible for voters in many places to freely express their will," it said.

Nikola Gruevski's center-right conservatives won 48.3 percent of the vote, far ahead of the Social Democrats' 23.4 and enough to give him a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

But one person was killed and eight wounded in gunbattles in ethnic Albanian areas. Along with allegations of fraud, the violence highlighted dangerous divisions within Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority and threatened to undermine the Balkan nation's aspirations to join the European Union and NATO.

"What we witnessed here is damaging to this country's declared course to European and trans-Atlantic integration," said Mevlut Cavusoglu, head of a delegation from the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly. "To be frank, I am very upset with what I witnessed in this country at these elections."

Voting was suspended at 22 polling stations — 1 percent of the country's total — in ethnic Albanian areas because of intimidation, violence or reports of fraud. Reruns will be held in those areas in two weeks.

"It is clear that the commitments to the Council of Europe standards and the OSCE standards in this particular election were not met," said Robert Barry, head of the observer mission.

Voting violations were registered in 30 polling stations, and 28 people were arrested, police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said.

Gruevski pledged to ensure a fair rerun, and vowed to prosecute those responsible, according to the MIA news agency.

"I will not form the new government as long as I am not certain that fair and democratic elections have been conducted in those 1 or 2 percent of the polling stations," he was quoted as saying.

"In a state that functions under the rule of law there is no room for violence. All those who intend to provoke such acts will be sanctioned, regardless of their political, ethnic and religious affiliation."

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. expects Macedonia to prosecute those involved.

"It's the responsibility (of) a government to provide an atmosphere where people are able to freely express themselves via the ballot box and feel assured that they wouldn't be subject to threat or intimidation," he said.

Germany called for the reruns to be trouble-free. Foreign Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said the election problems "undermine the trust of the people in the democratic processes."

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also condemned the violence and said that "key European commitments were not met."

He said the EU's overall assessment "will depend on the further handling and investigation of the violations identified."

Macedonia could face long-term consequences from Sunday's vote, said Biljana Vankovska, a political analyst and professor at Skopje university's Institute for Defense and Peace Studies.

"The international standing of the country has been undermined seriously," she said. "Yesterday was probably for many of us the worst possible outcome."

Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people, and ethnic Albanian rebels fought a six-month insurgency in 2001. But divisions have grown between the minority's two main parties: the Democratic Union for Integration led by former rebel leader Ali Ahmeti and Menduh Thaci's Democratic Party of Albanians.

Tension escalated after the 2006 election, when Gruevski picked the DPA as a governing coalition partner even though it won fewer votes than Ahmeti's DUI.

"Time is long overdue for an intra-Albanian dialogue that could pave the way to reconciliation and enhance stability and democracy," Cavusoglu said.

The DUI won 11.1 percent of the vote Sunday, slightly ahead of the DPA's 10.2.

DUI called Monday for an investigation into DPA and Thaci for the shootings and other violations. Thaci also called for "people who fired bullets on civilians and policemen to be put behind bars."

Greece Bars Macedonia Leader's Plane

Greece refused to allow Macedonia’s President Branko Crvenkovski to land in Athens because his plane has the name 'Macedonia' written on it.

Greek authorities however did offer Crvenkovski alternative forms of transport, which the Macedonian leader found unacceptable.

Crvenkovski then cancelled his participation at Thursday's regional presidential summit in the Greek capital. Crvenkovski was due to attend the Summit of Chiefs of States from South Eastern Europe.

“This act goes against the international norms and principles and does not contribute to the development of good neighbourly relations and to the pledges for sharing common European and democratic values,” the President’s cabinet press release reads.

In late April, Athens banned a Macedonian plane full of passengers from entering its airspace due to Greek objections to the carrier's name, Macedonian Airlines, MAT.

Greece says Skopje's use of the name Macedonia implies its territorial claims over Greece's northern province of the same name.

Greek-Macedonia relations hit a new low in April after Athens vetoed Skopje’s invitation to join NATO arguing that the country should change its name first.

The name row has been ongoing for 17 years and United Nations-sponsored talks have failed to produce a breakthrough.

Crvenkovski was invited to attend the Athens summit by his Greek counterpart Karolos Papoulias and the UN cultural organisation, UNESCO's director Koichiro Matsuura, who is co-organising the event.

Greece ‘Must Accept Macedonian Identity’

Greece has to accept the existence of a Macedonian nation and language for a quick deal in the ongoing ‘name’ row, Macedonia’s Foreign Minister says.

“Unfortunately their acts do not give us much hope or optimism that Athens is motivated to reach to a reasonable solution,” Antonio Milososki told the BBC’s Macedonian service.

If a solution to the long standing name row is reached prior to July 9, Macedonia could catch up with Albania and Croatia in its efforts to join NATO.

On July 9, Albania and Croatia, the other two countries of the Adriatic Charter will sign the NATO accession protocol.

Greece blocked Macedonia’s invitation to join the alliance in April because of the unresolved row.

Athens argues that Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia could lead it to make territorial claims over Greece’s own northern province of the same name.

On Sunday shortly after Milososki’s party, the centre-right VMRO DPMNE, was reelected by winning a landslide victory in snap polls, the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis urged Skopje to quickly resume talks on the dispute.

The long running United Nations-sponsored talks have been stalled due to Macedonia’s early general election.

The last UN proposal “Republic of Macedonia-Skopje” was accepted in April by Macedonia while Greece rejected it.

Gruevski: No deadline for Kosovo recognition

Macedonia has no deadline to recognize Kosovo and will not make a decision about this under anyone's pressure, Grueski, whose VMRO-DPMNE-led coalition triumphed in the Sunday vote, winning more than half of all seats in the new Macedonian parliament.

When Beta news agency's reporter in Skopje asked the Macedonian premier how the government plans to withstand pressure from the two ethnic Albanian parties to immediately recognize the unilateral secession, he answered that his government "does not make decisions under pressure".

"Pressure, and strong pressure at that, existed, but Macedonia has her state interests, policy, arguments, partners, there's the EU and NATO. We are not indifferent to pressure, but we do not make decisions under it," Grueski explained.

Asked to explicitly say whether there was a deadline for Skopje to make the recognition, he answered, "there are no deadlines".

As for the controversial border demarcation with Kosovo, envisaged under the Ahtisaari document, but rejected by Belgrade, he said Macedonia could have ended this ahead of schedule, but that it was his feeling that "the other [Kosovo Albanian] side is not overly interested".

Belgrade's request to be included in this process, Grueski said, is not up to Macedonia to consider, because his country "is not a factor that can independently make a decision on this", but that, "if the international community decides to, it will be put up for consideration".

Asked to appraise the situation in the region in the context of election violence in Macedonia, a likely deterioration of relations with Serbia in case of a Kosovo recognition, and Serbia's problems putting together a new government, Grueski said that the Balkans has always been turbulent, and continues to be such today.

"There are always goings-on in the Balkans that baffle western politicians and analysts. We must try to reduce the number of such occurrences and events and to, through mutual understanding and tolerance, intensively prepare for Euro-Atlantic integrations, in other words, for EU and NATO membership," he said.

The Macedonian prime minister added that his government was unsure which of the possible cabinets in Serbia – a Radical or a Democrat-led– would prove to be a better partner.

"I don't know which one we would cooperate better with, since we know one [side] well, unlike the other. Still, since our government is strongly oriented toward Euro-Atlantic integrations, any cabinet in Serbia along the same lines will be our partner that we will have more understanding for," Grueski told the news agency.

Reacting to yesterday's Kosovo assembly speaker Jakup Krasniqi's comments that Macedonian elections were not free and that the ballot's results should be annulled, the Macedonian prime minister said that although he did not hear this statement earlier, "if it proves to be correct, it comes from people who have insufficient knowledge of the Macedonian circumstances , and myself as premier".

Gruevski stressed that trouble during the voting over the weekend, that included several shooting incidents and one fatality, occurred "only on two percent of the territory" and in ethnic Albanian regions of the country, and voiced hope that revotes in some polling stations in two weeks' time will be conducted peacefully.

The prime minister also addressed Macedonia's long standing dispute with Greece over the country's constitutional name. Although his party's coalition will have the absolute majority of 64 seats in the Sobranie – Macedonia's parliament – this is an issue to be solved through a joint platform of the government and the opposition, he said.

"The solution to the name dispute is not only up to us, but to Greece also. In theory, Greece can keep its veto on Macedonia's NATO membership for as long is it wants, but this is not good for Greece, either, as the alliance's member."

"Greece can keep asking for new conditions, but we will not accept a solution that would jeopardize our national identity," Grueski concluded.

A Huge Victory and a Huge Shame

The Sunday national vote brought a huge victory for ruling VMRO, but also a huge embarrassment for Macedonia.The numerous violent incidents which took place on election day, and even cost human life, pushed the country back on its European path

The Sunday national vote brought a huge victory for ruling VMRO, but also a huge embarrassment for Macedonia.

Macedonia failed to organize free and fair elections, said all international observers. The numerous violent incidents which took place on election day, and even cost human life, pushed the country back on its European path.

In the gravest incident of the day, a man was shot dead in a fire exchange between a group of activists of the opposition Democratic Union of Integration (DUI) of Ali Ahmeti and the special police unit Alfa, in the village of Aracinovo near Skopje. Reportedly, the shooting and car chase started after the police had tried to intervene and prevent voting irregularities.

In another incident, at least five persons, some of who bystanders, were injured in shooting in front of a polling station in Cair, part of Skopje. One of them, a 23-year old man, took a bullet in the stomach and is fighting for his life.

Police arrested Agim Krasnici, a known offender close to the ruling Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) of Menduh Taci, together with several other men, after they stopped them in cars full of machine guns and bombs. They also had a rocket launcher and seven packs of marihuana. The detained reportedly said they were on a mission to prevent vote stealing by opponent DUI.

Around 30 persons overall have been detained in relation to incidents on Sunday.

Aracinovo, sul luogo della sparatoria
Election irregularities included the usual group voting, stealing, “packing” or destroying of ballot boxes, and intimidation of voters. In some places incidents were taking place in front of the very eyes of international observers and the diplomatic core in the country.

“People felt proud of the fraud they committed and this is what shocked us most as observers. They didn’t hide”, said US Ambassador to Macedonia, Ms. Gillian Milovanovic.

Throughout Monday Macedonia was subject to the synchronized rebuke by the international factor. The bottom line is – the country failed the test.

OSCE ODIHR gave its preliminary assessment yesterday: Macedonia failed to meet the international standards in free and fair elections.

By and large incidents took place in the Albanian camp, between arch-rivals DUI and DPA, and were limited to several communities notorious for high crime rates, but this is still a lousy excuse for the country.

“You need to take every effort to prosecute not just the perpetrators but also the initiators of the violence”, said the European Union Ambassador to Skopje, Mr. Ervan Fuere.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski had a phone conversation with Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn yesterday and promised him every effort to have the rerun, in the places where voting had been suspended due to irregularities, free and fair.

As much as Macedonia had clearly failed, the international factor underscored the final assessment would also depend on how the country deals with the irregularities and how it completes the rerun, where needed.

“We will observe your efforts to deal with the incidents. This will be the focus of our attention and the final report will depend on what is being done in the period until and during the rerun”, said ODIHR chief Mr. Robert Barry.

Sostenitori del VMRO
Beyond the shame which will follow the country for some time to come, and will definitely reflect in the European Commission’s progress report this autumn, the elections as predicted brought a landslide victory for ruling VMRO.

The VMRO coalition led by Prime Minister Gruevski won 64 seats in parliament, out of the total of 120. This means that Mr. Gruevski is looking ahead to 4 more years of stable majority in parliament.

A victory of this magnitude is unprecedented in Macedonia’s short history of political pluralism. The VMRO coalition won around 480.000 votes, or around 170.000 more than in the 2006 elections, when it also carried victory.

The opposition party in the Macedonian camp, the social democrats (SDSM) won 28 seats.

In the Albanian camp, to some surprise with respect to the poll predictions, DPA and DUI came out even, with both winning 13 seats. Polls have been predicting a steady lead for DUI.

One seat went to Albanian PDP, and 1 to the multiethnic Party for European Future (PEI) of Mr. Fiat Canevski.

Some changes in the mandates are to be expected with the rerun in two weeks time, but they cannot be substantial.

The turnout at around 58% was around 3 percent higher than in 2006.

Mr. Gruevski got exactly what he wanted from these first ever early elections in Macedonia - a more stable majority which would allow him to proceed with his program. He will also have to deliver. In his own words, but also everybody else’s, with great power comes great responsibility.

Mr. Gruevski would likely want to form a coalition with his traditional Albanian partner, DPA. This would mean 4 more years in opposition for DUI, which originally insisted on having an early vote.

In 2006 DUI won the majority in the Albanian camp but VMRO chose to form a government with DPA instead, their traditional partner. This angered DUI and caused a political crisis.

It is to be expected that both DPA and DUI would fight hard in the rerun for the vote that is still to be accounted for. If DUI would prevail, it could again claim that it is the legitimate victor of the Albanian vote. DPA would definitely try to prevent this. This might cause further incidents. It better not.

Macedonia already lost a lot in these elections.

Macedonian poll 'unsatisfactory'

Violence and allegations of rigging meant Macedonia's election on Sunday fell short of international standards, foreign observers say.

At least one person was killed in gun fights that broke out in ethnic Albanian areas.

The fighting cast a shadow over the vote, in which Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski won a convincing victory.

Correspondents say the violence and poll disruptions may have undermined Macedonia's EU and Nato aspirations.

Election officials said with nearly all the votes counted, the prime minister's VMRO-DPMNE party had about 47% - more than twice the support for the Social Democrats, who had taken 23%.

It appeared this would be enough to give the party a parliamentary majority, without relying on other parties for coalition support.

'No free vote'

However, observers said they could not give the poll a clean bill of health.

"Key international standards were not met," said monitors for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

"Organised attempts to violently disrupt the electoral process in parts of the ethnic Albanian areas made it impossible for voters... to freely express their will."

In the Albanian stronghold of Aracinovo at least one person was killed and more than 20 were arrested following shootings between rival parties or with the police, and election officials closed a number of polling stations amid reports of intimidation and fraud.

Ethnic Albanian rebels fought an insurgency in 2001, demanding more rights for their community, which makes up about a quarter of Macedonia's population - but now the two main ethnic Albanian parties are bitter rivals.

"In most parts the vote was fair and democratic, but sadly in one part there were irregularities," Prime Minister Gruevski said.

"I will do everything in my power to have a re-run there so each and every MP is elected fairly," he added.

New polls were expected to take place within weeks.

EU concerned

Mr Gruevski aims to make Macedonia, a former part of Yugoslavia, a member of the European Union and of Nato. He called the election two years early, hoping to strengthen his hand and introduce reforms towards this end.

However, the EU said it was worried by the conduct of the poll.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn "is very concerned about the violence that occurred during the elections", his spokeswoman said.

She said the re-runs would be watched closely and the EU hoped to see "peaceful and orderly conduct of voting".

Scenarios for Macedonia after election

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski won re-election on Sunday but monitors criticized violence that marred the poll and could delay the country's progress towards European Union membership.

Here are some scenarios for what could happen next in the country, which broke peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991 but came close to full-scale ethnic war 10 years later.

RE-VOTE

- Western election monitors described the election as flawed but said violence and fraud were limited to ethnic Albanian areas. Their decision to defer judgment on the entire election until after repeat votes in troubled areas gives the country some breathing space, but will also require the government and Albanian parties to overcome rivalries and work closely to ensure a smooth, peaceful re-run.

COALITION TALKS

- Gruevski will seek an ethnic Albanian party as his coalition partner, partly to strengthen his majority in the 120-seat assembly and partly in the spirit of a 2001 peace deal that sought to enfranchise Albanians and bring them into the political mainstream. His partner in the outgoing coalition, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), has been compromised by reports of violence and fraud targeting their competitors for the Albanian vote, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

A repeat alliance with the DPA would be an easy option for Gruevski but could cast a shadow over the legitimacy of his government. It would take more effort and concessions for him to ally with the DUI, which holds a grudge for being left out of government in 2006.

EU REACTION

- Before the vote, Brussels said the election was a test Macedonia must pass to start European Union accession talks. The reserved verdict of the monitors gives some room to the EU, which would be reluctant to sink the country's hopes of an imminent start to talks for fear of creating more instability.

The next progress report on Macedonia is due later this year, and its tone could depend on several variables: the regional situation, especially the outcome of coalition negotiations in Serbia and the mood in newly-independent Kosovo, the level of tension in the country itself, and the willingness of Greece to defer until later its threatened veto on Macedonia's EU progress for the sake of stability.

NAME DISPUTE WITH GREECE

- By handing Gruevski's conservative VMRO-DPMNE party the healthiest majority in parliament in over a decade, voters effectively mandated him to hold firm in the 17-year row with Greece over Macedonia's name.

Polls show ethnic Macedonians would refuse to give up their identity and change the name which the country shares with a neighboring Greek province. Ethnic Albanians are urging a compromise with Athens to avoid more snubs like the blocking of Macedonia's NATO bid in April.

Gruevski will have to walk a fine line between catering to the patriotism of his core voters and playing hardball that could exasperate the West and anger Albanians.

ECONOMIC MALAISE

- Macedonia was the poorest republic of the former Yugoslavia and remains behind in terms of attracting foreign investment, partly due to the general image of the Balkans as unstable but mainly because its progress towards EU membership depends as much on Greece as it does on its own efforts.

The Sunday violence may cause some investors to pause and reconsider any business plans for the country, at least until the dust settles and the EU gives a firm, promising signal.

EU enlargement commissioner regrets violence in Macedonia

European Union Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said here Monday that he regretted deeply the violence that marred the parliamentary elections in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

"I take note of the OSCE/ODIHR preliminary findings on the elections which took place yesterday, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," he said in a statement.

"I deeply regret the violence which marred the elections" on Sunday, "A day which should have been a peaceful demonstration of democratic values resulted instead in the loss of a life as well as injury to several people," he said.

Rehn quoted the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission as reporting that that key international standards were not met in the election.

"Organized violence, intimidation and ballot stuffing in many places prevented citizens from exercising their democratic rights. The selective application of the law by the state authorities was also a serious concern," he noted.

Rehn urged the Macedonian authorities to "address these findings and the recommendations which shall follow" and "to duly investigate all reported incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice."

He welcomed Macedonian Prime Minister Nicola Gruevski's commitment to hold a re-run of the election in all the polling stations where there was violence and disorder.

"It is imperative that these re-runs are held in line with international standards," he said, promising that the EU was firmly committed to the European perspective of Macedonia.

He stressed that holding free and fair elections "is an essential part of the political criteria of the EU accession process."

Macedonia's Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski won a landslide victory on Sunday in the country's first early election since the country gained independence in 1991.

The VMRO-DPMNE party led by Gruevski had won 48.13 percent of the votes, far ahead of the Social Democrats' 22.19 percent, with votes from 82 percent of polling stations counted, according to the state electoral commission.

The Democratic Party of Albanians led by Menduh Thaci garnered 10.13 percent, while the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Independence got 11.26 percent.

Macedonia, keen to join the EU and NATO, is seeking to launch talks on EU entry and an invitation to join NATO.

Country name dispute with Greece aborted Macedonia's bid to join NATO in April, when NATO invited Croatia and Albania to join in Bucharest, Romania.

Albanian rivalries now main worry for Macedonia

The bullet-scarred walls of this village outside the Macedonian capital are a reminder of how close the former Yugoslav republic came to full-scale ethnic war in 2001.

Twin white minarets rise from its unfinished mosque and a large illuminated cross stands on the mountain overlooking nearby Skopje, where Christian Macedonians and Muslim Albanians co-exist.

Aracinovo, however, is an all-Albanian community and a shootout in which one man was killed over voting irregularities during a parliamentary election on Sunday had nothing to do with ethnic hostility.

Seven years after NATO and the European Union engineered the withdrawal of separatist guerrillas from Aracinovo, witnesses say the shooting was more to do with the internecine violence that permeates Albanian politics.

For while the 2001 conflict pitted ethnic Macedonians against ethnic Albanians, this latest violence involves Macedonia's two rival Albanian parties, which are separated by a gulf of enmity and distrust.

On Sunday, a man with a Kalashnikov told voters at one Aracinovo polling station to go home, because it was already closed. That was just after the station opened, and his men were inside stuffing the ballot box, say Albanian party sources.

Police named him as Agim Krasniqi, a guerrilla turned crime lord with his own fiefdom in the hills to the north.

Such violence and divisions among Albanians are a problem for Macedonian conservative leader Nikola Gruevksi, who won a convincing majority in the election and needs to restore his country's image to keep it on a path to the EU and NATO.



TOP PARTY

This year has been difficult for Macedonia. The Albanians of neighbouring Kosovo declared an independent state, and Macedonia was denied the stabilising effect of an invitation to join NATO due to a dispute with Greece over its name.

Western powers are anxious. They managed to persuade Macedonians and Albanians in 2001 to pursue prosperity as citizens of a stable, multi-ethnic state anchored to the West, in the chronically turbulent Balkans.

In that year, Macedonia's Social Democrats and the party of former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti signed the Ohrid Agreement extending greater rights to the country's 25 percent Albanian minority. They made a coalition pact. Peace was restored.

Five years later, Ahmeti's party again garnered the lion's share of Albanian votes in a parliamentary election but Macedonia's victorious conservatives surprisingly turned to his smaller rival, led by Mendhuh Thaci, to form the new coalition.

Sunday's violence, involving a figure reputedly close to Thaci, showed Thaci was not fit for government, said an Ahmeti spokesman. Thaci says Ahmeti's 2001 'war' was only about grabbing power, not Albanian rights.

"Thaci almost produced the bloodbath he had promised, with the help of the Interior Ministry and Alpha Units," the Ahmeti spokesman said, referring to an elite police unit involved in the shooting.

But Ahmeti's party had once again beaten Thaci's, he said, and it would renew its claim to a place in the next government as the strongest representative of the national minority.

Prime Minister Gruevski's efforts to keep Macedonia on the path to EU and NATO membership could depend on securing the support of an Albanian partner who can guarantee peace.

But either Thaci or Ahmeti seem destined to end up in opposition and, with weapons in plentiful supply, the loser may see instability as offering greater political potential than loyalty.

As the upsurge of fighting in 2001 showed, the fastest way to provoke it is to attack the Macedonian police.

U.S. asks Macedonia to rerun elections in some areas

The United States urged Macedonia's government on Monday to rerun elections in areas where weekend voting was marred by violence and intimidation.

But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would withhold judgment on the results of Sunday's vote -- which Macedonia's ruling conservatives apparently won -- until the final results were in.

"Quite clearly there were some very serious problems," McCormack told a news briefing.

"We would call upon the government of Macedonia to rerun elections in those districts where people were not able to cast their ballot free from threat of violence or intimidation, (and) to prosecute those responsible."

However, McCormack said Macedonia's bid to join the NATO alliance should still be able to go ahead, once the election problems were remedied and a dispute with Greece over the country's name was solved.

Election monitors criticized a failure to prevent violence in ethnic Albanian areas of Macedonia that killed one man and wounded nine others on Sunday. The monitors also noted instances of intimidation and ballot-box stuffing.

In rerunning the elections, Macedonia's government should "ensure that proper security forces are in place so that an election can take place in an environment where people are able to vote," McCormack said.

He said U.S. officials had spoken with Macedonia's government about the matter, and were confident Macedonia would move "quickly and effectively" to fix the problem.

The reported results would give the VMRO-DPMNE party of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski the healthiest majority in parliament in more than a decade, riding a wave of nationalist anger over Greece blocking Macedonia's NATO membership invitation in April.

Greece blocked Macedonia's bid to join the alliance because of long-standing dispute over the Balkan country's name, which is the same as that of Greece's northern province. Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pledged continued strong support for Macedonia's membership bid.

"I would expect that once the name issue is resolved, in the context of NATO, that their membership should be able to move forward," McCormack said, adding: " Of course, we would expect that they would remediate, effectively and quickly, this current situation."