Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sofia - Skopje: New High-Tension Power Line of the Balkans

Recently the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin stated that his country would not support unconditionally the EU integration of Macedonia. In the framework of the “historiography clash” between the two countries, this statement becomes extremely disturbing. Does Macedonia have to name its nation “western Bulgarians” and its language “Bulgarian” in order to join the EU? Why did Bulgaria wait for this moment to show its teeth...

Neighbours often quarrel about the paternity of some of their “authentic” products like food, music, etc. For example, Greece and Turkey often had and have such petty quarrels.
When Greece won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “Number One” in 2005, its neighbour Turkey, which was absolutely delighted with the song otherwise, indulged itself in a rather sterile quarrel about the paternity of the “kemancha”, which the Greek team played on stage. According to Turkey, the “kemancha” is an authentic instrument of the Turkish Anatolian Black Sea region. Again, while the “döner” is famous in Germany as “Turkish sandwich”, France knows this meal as “Greek sandwich”. It is literally forbidden to order a “Turkish coffee” in Greece, for there this coffee is called “kafes ellinikos”.
The dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria is not that petty, however. Indeed neither Greece nor Turkey would ever like to give up on the paternity of “kemancha”, “döner” or “Turkish coffee”. However, even if they did so, they would not have lost their entire national identity.

Macedonia - hostage of its EU aspirations
Ivaylo Kalfin (photo: Bulgarian Post)
Ivaylo Kalfin

On 24th July, the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ivaylo Kalfin stated that his country would not support unconditionally the EU integration of Macedonia. In the framework of the “historiography clash” between the two countries, Kalfin’s statement becomes extremely disturbing.
Although Bulgaria was the first to recognise Macedonia after its independence in 1991, it did only recognise the Macedonian state, not the nation and its language. According to Sofia, Macedonia is no more than a geographical term, and the Macedonians are no more than “lost Bulgarians” through “historical accidents”.
The chairman of the nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation- Bulgarian National Movement (IMRO-Bulgaria), Krasimir Karakachanov commented on Ivaylo Kalfin’s statement quite explicitly: “For the last 15 years IMRO-Bulgaria has been saying that we must lend a hand to Macedonia but by helping it we must also help it part with its false past and not assist it to become a state based on anti-Bulgarian feelings. We can start by the fact that it falsifies and appropriates a big part of Bulgarian history and we can end by saying that it attacks Bulgaria every chance it gets and pretends to have some made-up minorities”.
Krasimir Karakachanov was the first, who stressed that Bulgaria should put conditions to Macedonia, and only then support its accession to the EU. According to the IMRO-Bulgaria leader, one of those conditions must be the “re-writing of the Macedonian history”.
Krasimir Karakachanov
Krasimir Karakachanov

Macedonian institutions and media vehemently reacted to this rather unexpected statement of the Bulgarian Minister. That Bulgaria will be an EU member in January 2007 makes out of this vague statement a serious “warning”.
It seems that Macedonia will be the “hostage” of the neighbouring EU member-states in the future. While Greece disputes Macedonia’s name, Bulgaria questions the authenticity of the Macedonian nation and language. Does Macedonia have to name its land “Skopje”, its nation “western Bulgarians” and its language “Bulgarian” in order to join the EU?
Some EU member-states abuse their privileged position over their neighbours. And this politically short-sighted policy of blackmailing ruins the long-term peace strategy of the EU in the western Balkans.
Macedonia is the key to the pacification of the whole Balkan region. However Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, which respectively dispute the name, the nation, the language and the church of the country, do not help much their neighbour. Especially in a period when an independent Kosovo is in the making, it is very dangerous to insinuate that Macedonia is an “artificial creation of History”. The large Albanian minority of Macedonia could get the “message”.

Interesting timing

The statement of the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs happened to coincide with three major events in Macedonia:
- Just weeks before the general elections in Macedonia, Vlado Buckovski and Ljubco Georgievski, the two former prime ministers, proposed to celebrate the Ilinden Uprising together with Bulgaria. The nationality of those, who had participated in this famous Uprising of 1903, is now subject to a serious dispute between Macedonia and Bulgaria. This is what makes the two former premiers’ proposal so special.
- Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) triumphed at the 5th July elections in Macedonia. VMRO-DPMNE is known for its pro-Bulgarian attitude.
- Ljubco Georgievski, former premier and current leader of VMRO-Narodna and one of the most fervent Macedonian nationalist, obtained the Bulgarian citizenship. This provoked a hot scandal in the Macedonian public opinion.
The outgoing Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski’s proposal might be an electoral manoeuvre. Foreseeing the victory of the pro-Bulgarian VMRO-DPMNE, he might have tried to loosen his party’s firm attitude towards Bulgaria at the very last minute.
Right after the victory of Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE, the leader of the Bulgarian ultra-nationalist coalition ATAKA, Volen Siderov labelled the outcome of the Macedonian elections as a “victory against the foreign economic influence of Greece”. According to Siderov, the Macedonian economic space should be taken by larger part of Bulgarian companies since that was historically justified.
When the main spokesman of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria, United Macedonian Organisation (OMO Ilinden-Pirin) was prohibited in February 2000 by the Bulgarian Constitutional Court, the then ruling party of Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE remained stragely inert. The government was then accused of “unwillingness to protect its fellow-countrymen in Bulgaria” by the Macedonian mass media and the opposition. At that time, the leader of VMRO-DPMNE and prime minister was Ljubco Georgievski. And the opposition party was no other than Vlado Buckovski’s Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia
Volen Siderov (photo: haber7)
Volen Siderov
Macedonia’s future prime minister Nikola Gruevski has made public his party’s mainly economic platform, “Renaissance in 100 steps”. Gruevski’s priority is the improvement of Macedonia’s poor economic situation: fight against corruption and high rate of unemployment, increase of the foreign investment, etc.
Only the economic renaissance can stop the massive immigration to Bulgaria. It is known that tens of thousands of Macedonians have applied for Bulgarian citizenship, and at least 7000 of them have already been approved. As one young Macedonian farmer from Staro Konjarevo pointed out, “There’s no money in being a patriot”.
As the future member of the EU, Bulgaria is a “poisoned ivy” for the Macedonian youth. The Bulgarian officials are aware of that fact. And the statement of the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs probably signals that Bulgaria will use that trump card whenever it can. That is why a very tough test of regional diplomacy is waiting for the new Macedonian government.
Unless being an ominous Cassandra, one can predict that the current uneasy relations between Macedonia and Bulgaria hint at the creation of a new “high-tension power line” in the Balkans.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

UEFA Cup run ends too soon for Croats & Macedonians

Unless Dinamo Zagreb and Rabotnicki Skopje end up in the UEFA Cup after Champions League Qualifying Round 3, both Croatia and Macedonia will be without a single representative in the UEFA Cup this season. After the rematch duels of the UFC 1st Qualifying Round, both Croatian and Macedonian representatives suffered elimination.

Croatian vice-champion falls in Nicosia
The 2:2 draw at Kantrida in the first leg didn't help Rijeka a single bit in their rematch with Omonia. In the second leg Croatian vice-champion simply couldn't find a way to outplay the Cyprus outift in Nicosia, and suffered a 2:1 defeat. The first goal fell after 60 minutes, when Musawengosi Mguni slotted the ball past Dragan Zilic, the same player set up the final score 2:1 in 88th min after Josip Lukunic leveled for Rijeka ten minutes earlier.

Tirana better than Varteks
Financialy troubled Varteks didn't have much luck either. Last season's 1.HNL third placed team suffered a 2:0 defeat in Albania, and got knocked out with a 3:1 score on aggregate. The scorers for FK Tirana in the rematch were Hamdi Salihi in 16th and substitute Eldorado Merkoci in the final moments of the game.

Bad start for Darko Pancev
Former Crvena zvezda striker and one of the most credited players for the "Crveno-Beli" winning the European title in 1991, Darko Pancev, suffered a major blow as the newly appointed chairman of Vardar Skopje. The Macedonian ''Little Giant'' got humiliated by Roeselare with even a 5:1 defeat in the 2nd leg, 7:2 on aggregate. Hopefully Dragan Kantlarovski who signed a new two year contract with Vardar will pull his team together in the time to come, and compete with Rabotnicki for the domestic title.

Honorable farewell by FK Makedonija
At Gradski Stadium in Skopje, FK Makedonija made a honorable farewell from the UEFA Cup. The players of Radmilo Ivancevic played a 1:1 draw with Lokomotiv Sofia, and had a chance to level the score from the first leg after Ismail Ismaili scored the opener for the 1:0 lead. However, the Bulgarians leveled the result in the 2nd half through Cvetan Genkov and advanced to the next stage with a 3:1 win on aggregate.

Official: New Macedonian Government to Exclude Ahmeti’s DUI

Following a final day of negotiations between VMRO-DPMNE and the Albanian DUI, Skopje media confirmed today that the latter party will not be in the new government, despite the fact that it had won a majority of votes in the Albanian community.

It was not immediately clear as to whether some other future deal or promise had been made between the presidents of VMRO (Nikola Gruevski) and DUI (Ali Ahmeti). According to A1 TV, DUI officials Musa Xhaferi and Teuta Arifi slunk out of parliament without a word, leaving it unclear as to what had transpired within.

However, despite the dire warnings of DUI’s belated coalition partner, SDSM, that the country was headed for institutional crisis because of the failure to appoint a parliamentary speaker two days earlier at the first parliamentary session, no crisis was to be seen in President Branko Crvenkovski’s affable welcome to Gruevski and his partners. The president gave Gruevski the customary twenty days to form a government, though it will probably be completed in less.

Confirming that DUI would not be in the government, Gruevski held out the possibility that a smaller Albanian party, PDP, could enter- even though it had campaigned together with DUI before the July 5 vote.

The demagogue Ahmeti, still more famous for starting the 2001 war than for anything he has done since, has intimated that there may be trouble for the country on account of his party’s exclusion. The threat of “grave consequences” for “interethnic relations” infuriated the Macedonian public and VMRO-DPMNE, who interpreted it as petty racketeering from a known thug. Even the international diplomats told Ahmeti to knock it off, and his open letter to NATO, the US and EU did not have the desired effect.

Skopje newspaper Vreme reported a few days ago that some of the party’s ex-militant leaders want to start a new armed campaign. However, this would alienate a party which claims to be mainstream and progressive from the West. Still, if further violence ensues, it will most likely be between the Albanian parties.

In the general elections, VMRO-DPMNE won 45 parliamentary seats (one came at the expense of DUI after a partial revote). It will form the new government with Arben Xhaferi’s Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), the New Social Democratic Party of SDSM defector Tito Petkovski, the small Democratic Development of Macedonia (DOM) of Liljana Popovska, and Fiat Asanoski’s Party for European Integration (PEI), targeted towards Macedonian Muslims in Macedonia’s southwest.

According to Gruevski’s programme, the new government will focus on economic issues, probably by increasing state investment, lowering taxes and perhaps freeing the pegged denar-euro exchange rate.

Kapital: Macedonian Businessmen and Politicians are Hiding Their Yachts

Skopje. Macedonian businessmen and politicians are still not quite inclined speaking for their yachts, Macedonian economic weekly Kapital reports. Their yachts are traveling far from the eyes of the Macedonian public.
There is not a single yacht in Ohrid but only several. Those of Macedonian politicians and businessmen are in Greek luxury resort of Sunny Beach. Marta is considered for most luxurious yachts of all according to Kapital and it belongs to Jankovski brothers amounting at EUR 1.2 million.
It is rumored that the yacht of the ex Prime Minister Ljubcho Georgievski amounts at EUR 700,000. According to unofficial info the businessman Risto Gushterov and Vlatko Stefanovski, ex chief of security of Ljubcho Georgievski alos own yachts in Greece.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Skopje Turbulent over Sofia EU-Support Ambiguous Statements

Macedonia's diplomacy has handed down a diplomatic note to Bulgarian envoy, in furious reaction against a Sofia statement it would support conditionally Skopje for EU membership.

The words interpreted as condition came from Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin who, at a diplomatic rendezvous on Monday, called to Skopje for "observation of the principles of good neighbourhood and lack of aggression towards the Bulgarian nation and history".

In an immediate reaction Skopje's envoy to Sofia Abdurahman Aliti wanted explanations from the Foreign Ministry in Sofia, but the scheduled meeting was jeopardized.

According to Macedonian media, Aliti was insulted as a diplomat by being offered to talk to a low-echelon official. According to Sofia, the Macedonian ambassador cancelled the meeting himself.

Meanwhile, media from both sides of the border commented that Kalfin's "quite undiplomatic" statement was triggered by the recent re-founding of the separatist party OMO Ilinden-Pirin. The move has apparently favoured the diplomatic support of the envoy, Abdurahman Aliti, reports say.

The diplomatic scandal raged few weeks after it became known high-profile Macedonian politicians have received Bulgarian passports on the grounds of Bulgarian origin.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Past disputes cloud Bulgarian support for Macedonia's EU bid

SOFIA, Bulgaria-Macedonia's efforts to join the European Union could face a new obstacle: a historical spat with neighbor Bulgaria over Macedonian identity and language.

Bulgaria, which is set to join the EU next year, had been a supporter of Macedonia's eventual accession to the bloc. But Bulgaria's foreign minister, Ivailo Kalfin, recently threatened to withdraw support for Macedonia's accession over a historical spat between the two Balkan neighbors.

"We have declared our support for Macedonia's membership, but this backing cannot be unconditional," Kalfin said at a recent meeting of Bulgarian ambassadors.

"There are criteria which must be met. We insist that Macedonian authorities strictly observe principles of good neighborly relations and lack of aggression toward the Bulgarian nation and history."

He did not elaborate.

The two neighbors share a history of long-standing ties, and tensions.

Bulgaria was the first country to recognize Macedonian independence from the former Yugoslav republic in 1991, but refuses to formally acknowledge the existence of a separate Macedonian ethnicity or language.

The dispute, which also involves neighbor Greece, stems from the geographical region of Macedonia, which spans the three countries.

Athens, concerned about potential territorial claims, has long demanded that Macedonia stop calling itself the Republic of Macedonia and change its name to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to distinguish the republic from the geographical region.

Bulgaria also is concerned by what it called "separatist demands" by a tiny Macedonian minority, and the Constitutional Court banned a party representing the minority, saying it "endangered national integrity." Some politicians in Bulgaria allege the group enjoys the tacit support of authorities in Skopje.

Another issue complicating Sofia's support for Macedonia is citizenship.

Macedonians must only prove an ancestral connection with Bulgaria to be naturalized. Over the last five years, nearly 8,000 Macedonians have become Bulgarian citizens, officials said. Former Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is among even Macedonian politicians with Bulgarian passports, according to Bulgarian Vice President Angel Marin.

Some Macedonians suspect Bulgaria's naturalization policy is a disguised method of assimilation.

But most applicants are young people seeking opportunities in the EU, an official at Macedonia's Interior Ministry said, asking not to be identified.

Macedonia has taken the first steps toward EU membership and is expected to receive official candidate status in December, but is still several years from gaining membership.

Maja Stojanovska, a 36-year-old from the Macedonian capital, Skopje, said she wants Bulgarian citizenship to travel more easily.

"I'm tired spending hundreds of euros in foreign embassies for visas," she said. "Bulgarian citizenship will save money, my nerves and my dignity."

Dimitar Dimitrovski, 47, a manager at a travel agency, said he has a Bulgarian passport: "Now I'm European, a Macedonian with Bulgarian citizenship."

But Marina Maneveska, an unemployed economist, said she would never seek dual citizenship.

"I'm not so naive: I know Bulgarians are granting easy citizenship for Macedonians just to claim later that our origin is Bulgarian," she said. "They will, I'm sure, try to benefit from this move."

Ohrid shines with summer festival

The Ohrid Summer Festival offers the public a chance to see many prominent names in the areas of music, ballet, opera and theatre. This year's festival, the 46th, began on 12 July and runs through 20 August.

Actors, musicians, and artists from all over the world come to Macedonia to participate in this world-renowned cultural event. Many are from Europe, but countries as Australia, China, Israel and the United States are also represented.

"The Ohrid Summer Festival, with its long-standing tradition, is the best example of the necessity of such cultural exchange, an example that communication between world-ranked artists and ensembles puts Ohrid and Macedonia on the map of world events," said Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski.

The event opened spectacularly this year with two famous Spanish ballets, "Carmen" and "Bolero", performed by the Imperial Russian Ballet. In between the performances, the Macedonian National Theatre Ballet unveiled "Tango", a series of interlocked Latin American dances.

The legendary British band Roxy Music and its leader Bryan Ferry performed on 14 July for an audience of 1,000, kicking off an exciting lineup of musical events. One of the most famous bands from the former Yugoslavia, Leb i Sol, has reunited after a ten-year break and will be playing at the festival. Concerts by Rade Serbedzija, Miroslav Tadic and Lidio Morosini are also scheduled, and the Macedonian Philharmonic will be performing Mozart's masterpiece "Requiem" to honour the 250th anniversary of the composer's death.

Notable theatre productions include the classical Greek drama "Electra" by the Grand Theatre of Amsterdam, Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar named Desire" by the Theatre of the Army of Bulgaria, Emilio Carballido's "Two Odours of the Rose" by Belgrade's Terazije Theatre and "Who, When, Who With?" by the Istanbul City Theatre.

Macedonia's National Theatre will launch its new production of Moliere's "The Skilled Women", the Albanian Theatre will perform Refet Abazi's "Aquarium", while the Bitola Theatre will be staging "Macbeth". The cultural festival will wrap up with "Verona, Verona", a production by the newly established Ohrid Theatre.

Why Did Macedonia Start Crying

On September 8, 2006 Macedonia will have had 15 teenage years of independence behind it.

What happened in these 15 years:

- In 1991 Bulgaria refused to participate in a three-party conference with Greece and Yugoslavia on the future of Macedonia without the presence of Macedonian representatives
- In January 1992 Bulgaria became the first to recognize the independence of Macedonia
- In 1992 Russia recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name during a visit of the President Yeltsin in Sofia
- In 1992 Bulgaria granted its diplomatic missions and representative offices for presenting and lobbying for Macedonia’s accession to the UN
- In 1992 Bulgaria provided a “green corridor” for supplying Macedonia with fuel during the Greek economic blockade surrounding the conflict on the name of Macedonia
- In 1999 Bulgaria granted 150 tanks and 150 artillery systems to Macedonia
- during the Kosovo crisis in the spring of 1999 Bulgaria refused economic assistance to Macedonia
- During the war in 2001 Bulgaria rendered economic, political and logistics assistance to Macedonia in the fields of state, economic, political and public life in view of the fast integration of the country to international institutions and organizations, in its preparation for NATO membership and implementing the requirements of the EU

What Macedonia did:
- Created the problem – if you recognize the independence of the country, will you recognize the nation?
- Created the language conflict
- Drew images of Bulgarian statesmen onto the maps of San Stefano Bulgaria
- Sold the fuel imported from Bulgaria because of the Greek Embargo to Yugoslavia at three-times-higher price
- Chased away journalists, covering the Parliamentary elections in 1998
- Made Bulgaria a constant issue for its inner-party fights. Started to publicly use phrases, which use the name of Bulgaria in a negative aspect
- Sold the tanks granted by Bulgaria after it announced they were old and useless
- Constantly wanted to register party of the so-called Macedonian minority in Bulgaria
- Small, smaller and smallest Macedonian leaders blamed Bulgaria for stealing history, museum treasures, personalities, etc.

Naftemporiki: First Official Warning from Sofia to Skopje to Stop Anti-Bulgarian Campaign

Sofia/Skopje. The statement of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin created tension in relations Sofia-Skopje in the last two days, the Greek newspaper Naftemporiki stated. Kalfin announced that Bulgaria will not support unconditionally the accession of Macedonia to the EU as well as that the Macedonian authorities should abide to the principles of good neighborly relations and stop the aggression against the Bulgarian people and Bulgarian history.
This is the first official statement from Sofia to Skopje to stop the anti-Bulgarian campaign. It increased after the announcement of the fact that the ex Prime Minister of Macedonia Ljubcho Georgievski has got Bulgarian citizenship as well as 7,000 of his compatriots in the last couple of years, the newspaper reports.

Macedonia parliament convenes after conservative victory

SKOPJE, Macedonia-Macedonia's newly elected parliament convened Wednesday, after election officials confirmed victory for Nikola Gruevski's conservative opposition party in July 5 general elections.

The state electoral commission announced Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE won with 31.2 percent of the vote, ousting the ruling Social Democrats of outgoing Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski, who polled 22.4 percent and conceded defeat on the night of the election.

To govern, Gruevski will have to form a coalition with at least one party representing the country's ethnic Albanian minority, the DPA party or bitter rival DUI.

Final results were delayed by polling irregularities which forced authorities to hold election reruns on July 19 at about one percent of the nation's polling stations, a process that was again troubled by problems at a village near the capital Skopje.

But election commission spokesman Zoran Tanevski said the country's Supreme Court denied approval for a second rerun, arguing that the effect on the overall result would have been negligible.

Fair elections were a key condition for the country's ambitions to join NATO and the European Union.

International observers said the election were generally conducted properly, but they also pointed at some "serious irregularities" mainly in the ethnic Albanian-populated western parts of the country which need to be avoided in the future.

VMRO now has 45 deputies in the 120-seat parliament, while the center-left Macedonia Together Coalition led by the Social Democrats has 32.

The ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration and a sister party have 17 seats, while the rival Democratic Party of Albanians has 11.

Four smaller parties have the remaining 15 seats.

It was the fifth parliament elected since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Landlocked Macedonia is still recovering from a 2001 insurgency by rebels from the country's ethnic Albanian minority.

President Branko Crvenkovski has 10 days to formally give Gruevski the order to form Macedonia's new government.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Anti-Macedonians hail Kalfin's statement

The latest statement by Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin, who made clear that Bulgaria's support to Macedonia's EU bid is not unconditional, mustered a strong support by anti-Macedonian circles in Sofia.

Some media in Sofia quote reactions by radical circles in Bulgaria, who has already proven their anti-Macedonian sentiment, including the nationalists who appear reluctant to recognizing Macedonia, Makfax news agency reports.

In the headline "Macedonia and the Train to Europe", Bulgarian news agency Focus opened "hot theme" on its web site. Focus executive Krasimir Uzunov is wondering how Macedonia could integrate into the EU given the fact that the country will soon face a referendum on secession of part of its territory.

"They should mind their own problems with entry visas for Albania. They should stop poking their nose into other people's affairs. They have no chance at all," Uzunov said, adding that Macedonia is probably attempting to integrate part of its territory into the EU.

Focus news agency quotes Bozidar Dimitrov, director of the National Museum of History, who pledged full support to Kalfin's statement.

"The word Bulgarian is a dirty word in Macedonia. It's a shame. The impudent sacrilege of Bulgarian monuments of culture is vile and mean. The state of Macedonia should acknowledge the truth about its existence," Dimitrov said.

"It's an absurd a territory that belongs to Bulgaria to border with Bulgaria and to act insanely," said Pavel Cernev, leader of Bulgarian National-Radical Party.
Cernev cited the former Bulgarian president Petar Stoynov as saying "Macedonia is the most romantic part of Bulgarian history".

Standard newspaper says Ivaylo Kalfin has the destination of being the first Bulgarian official to have made clear to Macedonians that they could no longer spit on us, as we are doing nothing to prevent it. The paper says the "warning comes in time when anti-Bulgarian campaign envelopes "Vardar province".

Focus news agency quotes OMO Ilinden-Pirin leader, Stojko Stojkov, who came up with European-style statement despite the apparent denial of Macedonian nation.

"The history, as a science, has nothing to do with EU integration, and it's inappropriate for a politician to bring up history in neighborly relations," Stojkov said.

He added that "Bulgaria and Macedonia should bring up questions on European way, i.e. respect for human rights, introduction of European common values, tolerance, democracy", as solid foundation for "building confidence and close friendship".

Former Ambassador to Macedonia: New Reading of History is One of the European Tests for Democracy

Sofia. “Macedonia’s road to EU integration inevitably passes through a serious test for democracy. This is why the new reading of history is one of the European tests for democracy”, Aleksandar Yordanov, the former Ambassador of Bulgaria to Macedonia said in an interview for FOCUS News Agency. Mr. Yordanov was commenting on the statement of the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin on the Bulgarian support for the Macedonian EU integration.
In relation to the reaction of the Macedonian media Yordanov said: “For us this reaction was foreseeable and it will fade away. I believe that our two countries can serve as example for international relations in the region”.

Macedonians persecuted from Greece to address international comm

Macedonians that were expelled from Greece in the wake of the civil war in that country will come together on 30 July to attend the traditional border gathering in the village of Trnovo, situated at the foothill of the Pelister Mountain.

The participants of the 26th gathering will make another bid to draw international attention to the deprivation of the rights of more than 186.000 persecuted Macedonians.
"We will urge for resolving of this issue at an international level in the Council of Europe, EU, UN, OSCE and Red Cross International Refugee Committee", said Dr. Nikola Kosturski, the President of the Association of organizations of ethnic Macedonians expelled from Greece, and chief of the organizing board of this year's gathering, in Bitola today.

The organizer expects that event, which will take place in the courtyard of the St. Nedela church, would bring together some 2.000 Macedonians from the country, as well as from neighboring and overseas countries.

60th anniversary of the death of Mirka Ginova in the fascist prisons will
highlight this year's gathering.

International Community Urges DUI Leader to Avoid Violence

Skopje. On behalf of the international community unknown diplomats called on the parties in Macedonia to refrain from violence and continue the constructive talks refering to the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), Macedonian newspaper Vecer reports.
The political forces, which are not going to take part in the government, are expected to play a positive role as opposition, the latest international community message to DUI says.
Only Macedonia’s President Branko Crvenkovski is still keeping aloof from the events after Ali Ahmeti’s party DUI threatened that if it doesn’t enter the government it will resort to the use of Kalashnikovs.

Albania Didn’t Abolish Visa Regime for Macedonians

Tirana/Skopje. The Albanian government didn’t abolish the visa regime for Macedonian citizens, Macedonian newspaper Vecer reads.
About a month ago Tirana announced that all tourists from the neighboring countries will be able to enter the country during the summer without visas, which cost EUR 5 if purchased from the Albanian Embassy in Skopje and EUR 10 at the border crossings.
During his visit to Skopje last October Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha promised he will start procedures on abolishing the visa regime for Macedonian citizens but this did not happen.
Even though the tourist lobby tried to exert pressure over PM Berisha he didn’t manage to convince his ministers of the necessity of such a step because Macedonia has not eased its visa regime either.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Macedonia celebrated

Macedonia celebrated

Cultural festival highlights history, ethnic fare

(July 24, 2006) — HENRIETTA — Despite picture-perfect weather and the groovy sounds of Eastern European folk music, it was not difficult to find a parking spot on the third and final day of the ninth annual Macedonian Festival. About two dozen people had gathered under the food tent Sunday, while the tables and chairs set up on the grounds of St. Dimitria Macedonian Orthodox Church were mostly empty.

But organizers weren't worried. The event typically draws several thousand people — many of them Macedonians from as far away as Toronto, as well as other Eastern Europeans — and even with steady rains, as many as 600 came on Saturday. Another 500 were expected Sunday.

Besides, said festival chairman Paul Pando Kordovski, "this is low-key." There were no carnival rides, he pointed out, and no fried dough — at least, not of the American variety. There was plenty to be had in the way of honey-soaked Macedonian fried dough, otherwise known as tulumbi.

The festival featured all kinds of Macedonian fare, from shish kebabs to kebabs. Yes, there is a difference: The shish kebabs are all pork, while the kebabs are mostly beef.

Most impressive were the pastries — baklava, it turns out, can come in many different forms — that filled a glass case and lined table after table inside the church at 234 Telephone Road in West Henrietta. Opposite the pastries was an exhibit on Macedonian history that included old-fashioned clothing and everyday cookware. The church's Sunday school teacher and resident historian stood at the ready, eager to show a 15-minute videotape of his homeland.

Still to come was live Macedonian folk music and dancing. That's what Ruska Bosnakovski of Gates and her family were looking forward to. Her daughter, Julie Ritchie of Webster, said she especially enjoys hearing the Macedonian language spoken at the festival.

She brought her daughter, 3-month-old Olivia, and said she and her husband, who is of German descent, "want both of our ethnic backgrounds to be introduced to her."

And that's the purpose behind the Macedonian festival, which also helps to raise money for the church.

"We want people to come and see who we are," said Kordovski said. "We are a very fun-loving people."

It's also a welcome mingling opportunity for Rochester's close-knit Macedonian community of about 1,000 — the vast majority of whom come from the same village, about two miles outside Bitola in southern Macedonia.

"We got the second Bukovo here, right here in Rochester," Kordovski said. "I don't think there's a better place on earth."

"This is our country," added church president Risto Sifkarovski, "but at the same time, we don't want to forget our roots."

Kalfin: Bulgarian support to Macedonia is not unconditional

Bulgarian support to Macedonia's integration into EU and NATO will be conditioned with country's will to build good neighborly relations, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin said.

"Bulgaria supports both Macedonia and Turkey, but the support is not unconditional. We will insist that both countries respect the principles of good neighborly relations, and particularly we will keep an eye on Macedonia to make sure that the country refrains from aggression on Bulgarian history and nation," Kalfin sad at a meeting of Bulgarian ambassadors and consuls abroad.

He did not specify what did he mean when saying Bulgarian history and nation, as both countries have disputed historical facts.

He made clear that regional co-operation is among top priorities of Bulgaria's foreign policy, adding that Sofia pledges support to all countries in the region on their road to NATO and EU.

"For the time being, Serbia needs a very strong support, which we are ready to offer," Kalfin said.

As regards Kosovo issue, Kalfin says Bulgaria would prefer a good rather than hasty solution to the future status of Kosovo.

"The proper solution will generate stability in the region and create a sustainable multiethnic society in Kosovo," Kalfin said.

He added that EU highly appreciates Bulgaria's position on Kosovo issue. In Sofia's stance will be taken into serious consideration when drafting the EU's position on this issue, Kalfin said at the meeting of Bulgarian ambassadors.

Kanal 5: Macedonia’s Foreign Minister to Send a Verbal Note over Bulgarian Foreign Minister’s Statement

Skopje. The Bulgarian government accused Macedonia of being aggressive to the Bulgarian nation and history, the Macedonian television Kanal 5 reported. During a meeting in Sofia with Bulgarian ambassadors abroad, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Ivaylo Kalfin said Bulgaria would support Macedonia’s EU integration if the country didn't interfere with the Bulgarian history and nation and if it observed the principles of good neighborly relations. Kalfin’s statement confused the Macedonian authorities and caused reactions at the Macedonian Foreign Ministry.
“Exactly such statements do not comply with the principles of good neighborly relations”, the Macedonian Foreign Ministry stated. It added that it would send a verbal note on the issue through the Macedonian ambassador to Sofia, Abdurahman Aliti. Mr. Aliti had already demanded a meeting with Mr. Kalfin.

Leader Wows Macedonia with Boom Pledge

Incoming premier promises economic revival and fight against corruption.

By Petre Dimitrov in Skopje

Macedonia 's future prime minister has pledged to lead his impoverished country out of the wastelands of economic muddle to the sunny uplands of a boom through a 100-point reform plan.
Ten days after the inaugural session of the new parliament on July 26, President Branko Crvenkovski will grant a mandate to the leader of the rightist VMRO-DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski to establish a government, after his party beat the Social Democrats in the July 5 elections.
Gruevski has said no parties will be invited to join his coalition unless they support his economic manifesto, "Revival in 100 steps".
"The economy is the number-one priority," said Gruevski - repeatedly.
Economic experts say the appointment of a leader familiar with market logic comes not a moment before time.
About 40 per cent of the adult population is officially unemployed and foreign direct investment is minimal, not least on account of rampant corruption.
The future prime minister has based his renewal plans on a few main pillars.
One is a new, flat, ten per cent income tax, along the lines of the flat taxes established in several former communist countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union .
At present profit taxes in Macedonia range from 15 to 24 per cent, while VAT is 18 per cent.
Another pillar is to improve the investment climate by changing the country's foreign image through an invigorated fight against corruption.
The government promises that these changes will lead to annual economic growth rates of six to eight per cent within four years. The current one is around four per cent.
Experts say the promises are attainable, as they are mostly based on the experience of other countries in similar economic situations.
However, they note that Gruevski will head a government of more than 18 parties, which could provide an obstacle.
Vanco Uzunov, an economics professor in Skopje , said Gruevski's programme could end the long-term recession that began after independence in the 1990s.
"The measures ... are not a novelty, as they have been implemented in other countries and have given results," he said. "The most important thing is not to retreat before political interests."
This relative optimism is based on Gruevski's record as a successful minister in Ljubco Georgievski's right-wing government from 1998 to 2002.
As trade minister, Gruevski launched a successful campaign to encourage the purchase of Macedonian products, and as finance minister he introduced a new VAT in only three months.
Dimitar Bogov, of the Centre of Economic Analysis, said that as a minister "Gruevski proved himself a liberal economist, committed to a market economy, free of monopolies and state control of the market".
Many maintain it was this business-friendly image that brought Gruevski's party to victory on July 5.
The pillar of the new economic programme, the planned flat tax, aims to make Macedonia a country with one of the lowest tax rates in Europe .
The basic principle is that the application of a single, low rate of tax on profits, as well as exemptions from taxes for profits that are reinvested, will yield a higher income for the government in the long term than high tax rates and complicated and variable tax bands.
This model has already been tried and proved successful in Estonia , Latvia and Lithuania , which experienced booms after low taxes began to draw in massive foreign investment.
The first stage of Macedonia 's plan is expected to begin in January 2007, when a flat tax of 12 per cent will be introduced. This will be cut to 10 per cent a year later.
Vanco Uzunov said the tax reform could be implemented relatively easily, would reduce labour costs and "stimulate businessmen to hire more people", as they would have more profits left over to spend on the workforce.
Bogov agreed that a flat tax would also help solve another key problem - the untaxed "grey" economy, which is estimated to absorb about 40 per cent of the country's economic activity.
"With the reduction of employment costs, businessmen will feel encouraged to register their employees," he said. "The flat tax will be an incentive for many people who run businesses to legalize them."
Bogov added that tax changes would stimulate competitiveness in the economy and thus stimulate exports.
"The resistance of the business sector to the [current] taxes is huge, so this measure should release the burden and bring in investments," said Bogov.
The economic programme promises to stimulate foreign investments also through administrative and educational reforms and the involvement of foreign consultants.
Gruevski said he intended to hire up to 50 international consultant companies, tasked with bringing in more direct investment.
Past governments have failed to lure much investment. Statistics shows only 1.9 billion euro were invested in Macedonia in the past decade.
The only European countries with lower investments were poverty-stricken Albania and Moldova and troubled Bosnia and Herzegovina .
"If they [the consultants] succeed in bringing in an investor they will get a bonus - this will be their motivation to do their job successfully," Gruevski told the economic weekly, Kapital, just before the elections.
Two ministers without portfolio will be given responsibility for attracting investments.
Not everyone is optimistic that Macedonia 's long-term failings can be rectified with a few structural adjustments.
Dimitar Eftimov, of Skopje 's Economic Institute, said modifying taxes would not change much if the state continued to intervene in business through the National Bank of Macedonia , which has a restrictive monetary policy, setting high interest rates that discourage investment.
"There will be results only if the existing economic policy of the country changes and the influence of the National Bank is reduced," said Eftimov.
Such experts warn that no simple "magic formula" will succeed in attracting investments without other deep-seated reforms.
"The new government will succeed only if it continues to improve the business environment and finishes the reforms started by the previous government in the judiciary.. and public administration," said Uzunov.
The government says it will tackle Macedonia 's high unemployment by encouraging more young people - who represent the bulk of the jobless - to start businesses and gain further qualifications.
While the official unemployment rate is almost 40 per cent, the real figure is around 25 per cent, once those employed in the "grey" economy are subtracted. But it is still far too high.
"There is a significant number of people who are poorly qualified and the only solution for them is to obtain further qualifications," said Bogov.
A key part of the Gruevski programme is the fight against corruption, which is rife, and deters many investors.
The widely-read corruption perception index of Transparency International lists Macedonia in 103rd position - next to Swaziland - in a survey of 158 countries. Of the Balkan countries, only Albania is seen as more corrupt.
"The fight against corruption will start from the lowest levels," the future premier said in the election campaign, "from those working at the counters up to the level of ministers who must be role models for everyone."
The centrepiece of the new campaign will be the establishment of a new body, the Agency for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime.
This will be empowered to seize assets and property and even ban people from pursuing political activity.
Experts agree that the fight against corruption will be a litmus test of the government's seriousness in implementing all the other measures.
But, at this stage, most are very reserved in predicting whether the new premier will be successful against such an endemic feature of Balkan society.
"When we speak of the fight against corruption," said Uzunov, "the real issue is whether the institutions truly function, and not declarations about fighting corruption."

Fouere hints at DUI for coalition partner in new government

It would be beneficial if the new government "reflects the will of the majority in all social spheres", Erwan Fouere, the EU Representative in Macedonia said.

"Any statements related to forming a coalition government would be premature, since talks with all parties, including Ali Ahmeti's DUI, are under way. We need to be patient and wait for the negotiations to wrap up", Fouere said while attending the opening the Summer School at the SEE University in Tetovo.

He added that "it is very important all parties" both Macedonian and Albanian ones, "that won significant number of votes to take part" at negotiations for forming the new government, "including of course the party that won majority of votes of the Albanians", Makfax Agency reported.

"It is not up to us to determine what parties will form a coalition", Fouere said, underscoring that "the new government should be resolute in implementation of the reforms, necessary for admission of the country in the European Union and NATO".

For Dream Jobs in Europe, the Line Forms in Bulgaria

STARO KONJAREVO, Macedonia — Pance Nikolov and a dozen or so other young men from this rich and fertile village have plans to do something many Macedonians only dream of — they will soon pack their bags and cross into the European Union, hoping to find jobs.

A Bulgarian passport will soon allow work in the European Union.

Yet Macedonia is not a member of the union.

Most European states give few visas here, particularly to young single men, out of fears of inviting an inundation of poor migrants. But Mr. Nikolov and his friends expect to get passports in September across the border in Bulgaria, which is to join the European Union on Jan. 1.

They will be able to travel within the union without a visa; in some of the countries, Bulgarians may soon be permitted to work. “We are all young people,” Mr. Nikolov said of his group, as he picked sticky green tobacco leaves at his parents’ farm under a hot sun. “We haven’t seen anything outside Macedonia.”

“Even if we don’t find a job there, I would like to see what Europe looks like. It’s like being locked up in quarantine here.”

Bulgaria occupied much of Macedonia three times between 1878 and 1913, regarding it as part of an extended nation. In 1999 each nation renounced any claims to the territory of the other, but Bulgaria has still not formally recognized the existence of a Macedonian language or culture.

Bulgaria, which is larger than Macedonia, is willing to grant citizenship to Macedonians who prove Bulgarian ethnicity. Doing so requires providing their family name and birth certificate, and completing complex paperwork. Under Bulgaria’s rules, perhaps two-thirds of Macedonia’s population of two million could be eligible for citizenship. Tens of thousands have applied, and at least 7,000 have already been approved.

About 300,000 members of Bulgarian communities in Moldova and Ukraine may also be eligible for citizenship. There are no restrictions on which people in which country are permitted to apply.

The European Union asked Bulgaria to tighten the rules, and Bulgaria recently agreed. Its vice president, Angel Marin, said only 6,000 passports would be given annually to applicants outside the country.

But many Macedonians fear the success of the Bulgarian program. Some fear an exodus of young men from an already depopulated region. Some — including some senior politicians — fear that Bulgaria may be plotting to claim part of Macedonia.

One is Zoran Ristov, the leader of the city council for the regional authority of Strumica, which is near Staro Konjarevo; it is an area where many Macedonians have applied for passports. “There could come a time when Bulgaria can say to international authorities, ‘See how many Macedonians have shown themselves to be Bulgarian,’ ” he said. “It is undermining Macedonian sovereignty.”

Farther north in Veles, an agent who helps Macedonians applying for passports said the police had pressured him to identify his customers. “They are particularly interested in anyone in the army or police,” said the agent, who asked for anonymity to avoid the authorities’ attention.

The matter of the passports is touchy. Macedonia is committed to joining the European Union, although it has no clear timetable, at a point where its fragile identity is under attack from several directions.

Greece disputes Macedonia’s name — it says the only area that should be rightfully known as Macedonia lies in northern Greece — and so since gaining independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 Macedonia has agreed to use the awkward formal name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or Fyrom, in its international dealings.

The Orthodox Church in Serbia disputes the authority of Macedonia’s church.

Five years ago, ethnic Albanians rebelled in the north in the hopes of carving out a breakaway state, in a dispute patched up in an internationally brokered agreement.

In Staro Konjarevo, the signs of exodus are clear.

For three decades leading to the implosion of Yugoslavia, many Macedonians left for Europe. Most of the village’s 350 or so houses were built or renovated with the money those workers sent home.

But last year the village’s main cafe, Riki, closed after its owner obtained a Bulgarian passport. More and more fields lie untended, lacking the hands to cultivate them.

“Soon, only the old people will remain, and they will do their best to live as they can,” said Zoran Ivanov, a manual laborer. He plans to leave. Mr. Nikolov’s parents, too, are resigned to seeing three of their sons leave home, even if that means no help with next year’s tobacco crop.

“We haven’t been paid yet for last year’s crop,” said his mother, Makedonka. “This is our fate.”

His father, Slobodan, added, “There’s no future here for young people.’’

Mr. Nikolov said, “There’s no money in being a patriot.”

Diplomat helps Macedonia with EU ambitions

A Connemara-born EU envoy in Macedonia is striving to take the tiny Balkan republic into the EU and Nato.

Career diplomat Erwan Fouere is the EU’s special representative in the landlocked country, which held trouble-free elections earlier this month.

The 25-member bloc accepted Macedonia as an EU candidate in December and is due to review its progress on key economic and judicial reforms in October.

Mr Fouere said: “The parliamentary elections were a key test of the political maturity of the country and I was impressed to see how people were determined to come out to vote and not feel intimidated.”

“We are currently progressing well with judicial and economic reforms that have been requested by the European Commission.

“Macedonia is also ensuring that its foreign policy contributes to continued stability in the Balkans region.”

Mr Fouere, 60 from Cleggan, also liaises closely with the US ambassador in the region as well as Nato reresentatives.

Macedonia, about the size of Wales, has a multi-ethnic population comprising 64% Slav and 25% ethnic Albanian, with 11% from other minorities.

It split from Yugoslavia peacefully in 1991 but ethnic conflict broke out in 2001 when a six-month revolt by Albanian rebels drove it close to civil war until the EC and UN intervened.

Mr Fouere was previously head of the EC delegation in Slovenia.

In a long career, he also led the first EC delegations in Mexico and Cuba in 1989 and later fulfilled the same role in South Africa in 1994.

He also served as head and deputy head in Latin America in the mid-1980s.

A graduate of UCD, Mr Fouere studied in Brussels and Nice during his career.

The Irish Defence Forces have military observers stationed in Macedonia.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

SDSM Will Be Ruthless and Constructive Opposition: SDSM Leader

Macedonia (SDSM) is facing reality and from July 26th, when the first session of the new Parliament will be held, SDSM will start acting as a ruthless and constructive opposition, SDSM leader Vlado Buckovski stated cited by Macedonian TV station A1.
Vlado Buckovski announced that the election results will be thoroughly analysed at the party’s conference in October and that in the beginning of 2007 SDSM will hold a party congress. Until then the party will work on its consolidation and reforming. Then the reformed SDSM will prove it really is a political alternative in the Republic of Macedonia, the SDSM leader pointed out.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Macedonians should go in Macedonia, says Blagovgrad mayor

"Macedonians should go in Macedonia," Makfax news agency quotes this chauvinistic statement released by Blagoevgrad mayor Lazar Prickapov.

Asked to comment the founding assembly of OMO Ilinden-Pirin, Prickapov told radio Focus-Pirin he knows nothing about this initiative, nonetheless, he remains steadfastly opposed.

"I have no information on establishing an ethnic Macedonian party in Goce Delcev," Prickapov said. "Macedonians should go to Macedonia. Such assembly is illegal," Blagoevgrad mayor said.

The Sofia-based Focus agency, which also runs the Focus-Pirin radio, quotes Bulgarian MEP Boris Jacev, a local frontman of VMRO Bulgarian National Movement led by Krasimir Karakacanov - a former collaborator of Bulgarian secret police, as saying that competent authorities should take an immediate action.

"The competent authorities should undertake measures. If ordered, the members of VMRO BND will hamper any provocation targeted at Bulgaria's national security and sovereignty," Jacev said.

He showed off by saying "some 10 days ago, we did not allow formation of a party of ethnic Turks of Menderes Kungyon.

Focus news agency and radio quotes MEP Elijana Maseva of the Democrats for Powerful Bulgaria, led by ex-prime minister Ivan Kostov, who objects formation of OMO Ilinden as ethnic Macedonian party.

Still not too late for Macedonia - US, EU and NATO appeal

Despite the bad start of the campaign, it is still not too late for Macedonia to win these elections.

This is said in the statement given by US Ambassador Gillian Milovanovich in the name of the representatives of the international community on Tuesday in Skopje's village of Rasce, the scene of the latest violent incidents in the election campaign.

The United States Ambassador came to Rasce together with EU Special Representative and Head of EC Delegation Erwan Fouéré; British Ambassador Robert Chatterton Dickson; and NATO Senior Military Representative Brigadier General John Durance.

"Parties that failed to prevent such incidents, parties that participated in those and parties that tried to use them, including the parties not directly involved in the physical incident, are acting selfish and disregarding ordinary citizens of Macedonia", is said in the statement.

Representatives of the international community on Tuesday visited the scene of the incident in Rasce, in order to, as stated, "emphasize our disappointment from the inability or the lack of will of involved political parties to put an end to the election-related incidents."

Ambassadors sent a message that "incidents and provocations connected with the election campaign, at least signal the failure of the leadership of those who caused them, participated in them or tried to use them, as well as their party members and followers."

"All those who refuse to act fully responsible will prove that they are not worth of the election mandate they are seeking and the power they are demanding for their party", is said in the statement.

Ambassador Milovanovich reiterated the support of the US Government for police authorities to clear out with the instigators of the incidents.

NATO calls for end of electoral violence in Macedonia

NATO called for putting an end to the electoral violence in Macedonia, because it won't help the country to join the Alliance.

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said that no suspending of negotiations in compliance with Membership Action Plan will take place, noting however that "one of the Alliance's requirements is holding fair, upright and violence-free elections".

"The violence occurring over the last couple of days is harmful for the electoral process and besmirches the international image of Macedonia. It does not help the country's efforts for approximation to NATO", Appathurai said.

"All sides should work towards putting an end to the violence", Alliance's spokesman said.

CNN to air Macedonia commercial

CNN will air commercial videos on Macedonia, starting from Friday, June 16.

The country's flagship project aims to encourage tourism and build confidence in multinational corporations and foreign investors.

It's scheduled to air two times a day throughout the summer. The commercial will be aired in a total of 253 outlets in the next three months, the government said, adding that over 117 households worldwide can see the video.

The video will air on CNN International - Europe, Middle East and Africa, as well as in Larry King talk-show, Business, World News, Sports, Art of Life etc,

The government expects the EUR 300.000 worth of project, sponsored by the European Agency for Reconstruction, to give a boost to country's economic development through creation of new jobs.

CNN's team worked out Macedonia travel guide video. Macedonia's companies Zona, Idea Plus, K-15 and National Broadcasting Council have provided video materials for free. Dragan Dautovski, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Music Arts in Skopje, created the TV spot music.

Paris says Macedonia has chance to join EU in 2009

Macedonia can enter the European Union along with Croatia, but the first condition will be fair and democratic parliamentary elections, said the Head of the OSCE Mission to Skopje, Ambassador Carlos Pais.

If you conduct fair and free elections, you could catch the train along with Croatia and move on to the EU, said Ambassador Pais while opening the sixth roundtable meeting entitled Political Dialogue 2006.

The meeting, co-organized by OSCE Spillover Monitor Mission to Skopje and the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aims to foster dialogue between political parties, civil society experts and international experts on the role and responsibilities of political parties in the forthcoming election process.

Ambassador Pais said the EU rarely admits one country at a time, therefore, the democratic elections will give Macedonia a chance to join the EU along with Croatia.

The US Ambassador Jillian Milovanocic, who took part in a series of roundtable meetings related to Political Dialogue 2006 initiative, stressed that election fraud will have a negative impact on Macedonia's image and will slow down country's accession into NATO and EU.

It is of crucial significance how the people will be chosen in the forthcoming elections. If they are elected with fraud, it would be bad and it would have a negative impact on Macedonia's commitments for NATO and EU membership, Ambassador Milovanovic said.

According to Ambassador Milovanovic, there are two election scenarios. The negative scenario, based on negative campaigning, lies and accusations would drive the foreign investors away.

The positive scenario, based on presentation of programmes and platforms of political parties, would contribute to creation of positive atmosphere, it would motivate the people to cast their ballots, and would create a better investment environment.

British Ambassador Robert Chatterton Dickson said the forthcoming elections are litmus paper for development of democracy in the country.

To make our arguments on EU enlargement win, Macedonia should do its homework, and conduct fair elections, British Ambassador said.

Mitreva - Macedonia stands ready to help Indonesia quake victims

Macedonian sympathizes with the victims and stands ready to help those affected by the earthquake that hit Central Java on Saturday, claiming thousands of lives and causing enormous material damages. This is said in the telegram of condolence sent by the Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva to her Indonesian counterpart Noer Hassan Wirajuda. It was with deep grief that I received the news on the loss of so many lives and the destruction suffered by the Indonesian people. Macedonian Government stands ready to provide assistance to the Indonesian people in these hard moments, the telegram says.

Old lady dies in fork truck accident

Bitola, 18:23

An elderly woman died in an accident that took place in Bitola today, when a fork truck operated by a employee of a construction company run over her.

The tragic event occurred at about 11:00 hrs on the street "Lavcanski Pat", in the vicinity of the late Bitola resident Blaguna Stojkovska (72), Makfax Agency reported.

The fork truck hit Blaguna while she was standing at the roadside, chatting with her neighbors.

The vehicle was operated by Vebi Jusufovski, 46, who suddenly lost control of the fork truck, while returning back to the company's premises after completing the construction works in the village of Lavci.

The police set out an investigation for determining the cause of the incident.

Ambassador Fouere to visit Bitola

EU Special Representative and Head of European Commission's Delegation to Skopje, Ambassador Erwan Fouere, will be visiting the city of Bitola on Friday, 5 May, for talks with local authorities, Makfax correspondent said. The talks with Bitola Mayor Vladimir Talevski and the local councillors will focus on decentralization process, the problems that the municipality is undergoing, and the regional co-operation with the Lerin (Florina). Ambassador Fouere will make a statement to media upon completion of meetings with local authorities in Bitola.

Local Government in Bitola facing blockade

The normal functioning of the Council of Municipality Bitola became uncertain after today's decision of VMRO-NP to break the agreement for cooperation on local level with the coalition of VMRO-DPMNE.

This decision of Narodna Partija party, reports Makfax's correspondent, comes after the Mayor Vladimir Talevski, despite the inter-party agreement, changed Nikola Jovanovski from the position of director of Public Enterprise Niskogradba and replaced him with independent councilor Dragi Grozdanovski.

VMRO-DPMNE holds 12 positions in the Council and provided majority with five councilors from VMRO-NP, according to the agreement concluded after March elections.

"For now, we do not plan to make coalition with SDSM - LDP, but we are only breaking the cooperation with DPMNE. We will wait after the elections to see what we will do", said Kire Klimeski, parliamentary candidate of VMRO-NP in 5. Election unit.

The coalition SDSM - LDP has 12 councilors, together with independent councilor Kirco Taskov. DUI has one councilor, and the 31st one is the independent Dragi Grozdanovski, now appointed for director.

Currently aggravated relations of the two parties with prefix VMRO reminds of the conditions in 1996, which led to extraordinary elections due to obstruction and disfunctioning of the Council for 6 months.

Macedonia holds limited election reruns

SKOPJE, Macedonia-Macedonians were voting again at several polling stations on Wednesday because of irregularities in the July 5 parliamentary election.

Following complaints by political parties about irregularities, the electoral commission ordered reruns at one percent of polling stations, which is not expected to affect the overall result.

International observers and the European Union said the election was generally fair, a key condition for the tiny Balkan nation's hopes of future membership in the EU and NATO.

But they also pointed at some "serious irregularities" mainly in the ethnic Albanian-populated western parts of the country. Irregularities included intimidation outside polling stations and alleged attempts to stuff ballot boxes.

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. (0500GMT) and were due to close at 7 p.m. (1700GMT).

The rerun will not affect the overall result, which saw Nikola Gruevski's conservative party poised to return to power after four years of Social Democrat rule.

According to provisional results, the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party is leading with 32.4 percent of the vote, while outgoing Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski's Social Democrats have 23.3 percent.

Buckovski conceded defeat hours after the polls closed.

Gruevski failed to win an outright majority and will have to form a coalition with one or both of the two main parties representing the country's ethnic Albanian minority, the DPA party and bitter rival DUI.

Surprise! U.S. won't help Germany investigate illegal U.S. seizure

Lebanon-born Khaled al-Masri, a German citizen, claims to have been abducted/seized in Macedonia in December of 2003, then taken by the CIA to an Afghanistan detention center, where for five months he was interrogated and abused. In fact, al-Masri has filed a civil lawsuit against the CIA.

But Germany, for some reason, wants to know what happened to one of its citizens, why, and the other reasonable questions about the case.

And, also for some reason, the U.S. has just informed Germany that we will not help them in their investigation. Not because the investigation may reveal some serious illegal activity by us, involving citizens of our allies, perish the thought. We'd love to cooperate, but dang it, that darned al-Masri filed suit against the CIA, and now we just can't help.

But that's only temporary, of course. Once the lawsuit is resolved, come back and see us some time.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Misreading Macedonia's Elections

The jaundiced view of the Western media
by Christopher Deliso

On July 5, Macedonian citizens went to the polls to elect a new government for the first time since September 2002. Since all previous elections in the country's 15-year history have been marred by violence and fraud, it was no surprise that the "international community" was holding its breath. Ominously, the run-up to the campaign had been characterized by a small war of attrition between the main ethnic Albanian parties, the ruling DUI of Ali Ahmeti and challenger Arben Xhaferi's DPA.

It thus indeed seemed that election day was in danger of going up in flames and, with it, Macedonia's hopes of ever joining NATO and the European Union; the West had warned bluntly that the country's fate in this regard depended on its ability to conduct "fair and free" elections.

Nevertheless, despite the cultivation of a certain Wild West atmosphere in some of the Albanian-populated parts of the country, in the end very heavy Western pressure prevailed, and the elections went off almost without a hitch. Senior figures such as U.S. Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic and EU Special Representative Erwan Fouere were dispatched to potential trouble spots, and the baby-sitting seemed to have achieved the desired results.

I admit that I was somewhat surprised by the utter placidity of the event, not only considering the checkered history of Macedonian elections but also in light of the fact that a very high Albanian politico had recently astonished me by saying that neither his party nor his people respected the U.S. ambassador, since she was a woman, and that in any case the West had sent "fourth-rate" diplomats to supervise the proceedings- showing just how much they cared for the current political contenders.

A Deep Dissatisfaction

This frustration, I believe, derives essentially from the fundamental contextual difference between this election and its 2002 predecessor. The latter was held barely a year after war had engulfed the country, with the West fearful that it could resume in the future. In an attempt to mollify the men with guns, it helped to create a political party out of the former terrorists/freedom fighters in the Albanian NLA. Those were heady times indeed to be a freedom fighter: plenty of meet-and-greet cocktail parties with foreign luminaries, fulsome talk of democracy and integration, the endless press conferences featuring Western symbols wedded with Albanian ones, and so on, all inspiring a sense of uniqueness and entitlement in a dubious group of well-armed aspiring civil servants.

Finally, an interventionist campaign of unprecedented ferocity was waged to ensure the defeat of the incumbent government (the Macedonian VMRO-DPMNE and Albanian DPA). However, though they got the result they wanted, it had less to do with their clumsy and heavy-handed propaganda barrage and more to do with the dynamic of cyclical change that has always seen the people neatly depose their rulers every four years – as happened in last week's vote.

The major difference from the election of 2002 is that this year's was not framed against the backdrop of a war. The frustration of the Albanian politicians, especially the DUI of former golden boy Ali Ahmeti, stems ultimately from this fact. Five years have passed since the unprovoked war they started. Peace has long been restored to the land, and they thus find themselves somewhat less vital to the powerbrokers. Ahmeti's dubious transformation from warmonger to peacemaker owed entirely to his ability to "contain" the situation. It might seem odd to most of us that a person could claim to be an ardent peacenik deserving of gratitude simply by saying that he could have shot you in the head, but didn't; yet this is – or was – the logic in Macedonia. Nevertheless, even to the most ardent sympathizers such peacemaking by racketeering grows tiresome after a while.

The tactic wasn't exclusive to DUI, however. At various times, most notably last summer with the "Kondovo crisis," DPA has gotten into the act. During that adventure, DPA local leader Agim Krasniqi threatened to bomb Skopje if his demands were not met. They weren't. Negotiations quieted the situation and, though Krasniqi is technically on trial, he was allowed to run as a candidate last week for the party. If there is one thing the outgoing government can be credited for, it is that despite numerous violent provocations from Albanian extremist groups since early 2003, it has conducted quick police operations and never taken the bait by getting bogged down in a larger conflict.

This was helped, of course, by the fact that the West was slavishly supportive of the now-deposed SDSM-DUI regime; nevertheless, it should be pointed out, in fairness, that the outgoing government did generally keep the peace, even if it did not raise the standard of living. Indeed, as was predicted, they were thrown out on their ear last week because the main issue was not war or ethnicity but a sluggish economy.

Relying on a Flawed Precedent

Yet you would almost not have known it from the Western media articles pumped out in the aftermath of the election, which implied that since the election winners (the VMRO-DPMNE of Nikola Gruevski) were last in power during the 2001 war, that Macedonia somehow risked backsliding into ethnic strife. By far the worst offender in this category was the Times of London. Its July 6 broadside by Europe correspondent Anthony Browne darkly warned that "the last time the VMRO-DPMNE party was in power in 2001, its hardline nationalist policies provoked an insurgency among ethnic Albanians, almost plunging the country into a civil war that was averted only by Western diplomacy."

Aside from being blatantly false in many ways, this statement insinuates that the "troubled" country is in danger of more conflict between "Slavs" and Albanians. And from the tone of the article, it seems that for whatever reason the author relishes such a scenario.

However, despite the claims here and elsewhere that a "nationalist" party has won, the fact of the matter is that nationalism was nowhere to be found, at least not among the Macedonian parties in the campaign. Gruevski's campaign centered entirely on the economic situation – not surprising considering that the VMRO-DPMNE president received international praise as a finance minister for the pre-2002 government. And even those frequently associated with nationalism, most notably former prime minister Ljubco Georgievski, who broke away to form the VMRO-Narodna (People's) Party, campaigned primarily on economic concerns. Indeed, while some articles noted that Gruevski's party had "shed its national image," they did not state that the party had actually broken apart, sending the nationalist and old-guard elements out several years ago. So the war comparisons don't hold water, since Gruevski's current lot is hardly even the same party that existed in 2001.

In contrast, the Albanian parties as always centered their campaigns on nationalism, pointing to hollow symbolic "victories" such as the right to officially use the flag of the Republic of Albania, language rights, and even the construction of mosques and statues of national heroes. Depressingly, the Albanian political leadership across the board continues to play on their people's nationalist sentiment rather than their economic well-being and daily sustenance. Yet as one disaffected local Albanian cynically puts it, "The people are still poor and hungry – but you can't really eat a statue."

With a campaign slogan of "forward, not backward," the incumbent SDSM did, however, resort to the sort of cheap fear-mongering that, judging from the voters' choice, only the Western media still seems to believe. Nevertheless, the voters didn't fall for it, and the increasingly desperate pleas of the incumbent losers became simply pathetic by the end.

The Real Potential for Violence

The recent election was not only interesting for the fact that it passed so peacefully. It was most portentous for the future implications that will be drawn from the new ruling coalition's make-up. A few hours after the polls closed, when Gruevski's party was claiming victory, supporters of both the Albanian DUI and DPA were cheering. The former had taken the majority of the Albanian vote, and therefore laid claim to a clear mandate and thus a position in the new government. But the DPA, despite getting less votes than its rival, felt that its role as the historic coalition partner of VMRO-DPMNE meant that it would get the nod as the new government's junior partner.

The negotiations are still going on, but it is already clear that what is being put to the test here is no less than the clarification of Macedonia's status as a political entity. Should the DUI be chosen for the coalition against the will of the majority vote-getter, simply because it won the majority of the minority vote, it will mean that the country is officially an ethnic federation. Should DPA be chosen, on the other hand, the government will be tarnished from the start since its president, the crafty old Arben Xhaferi, is known for extremist views, such as that Macedonia should be ethnically partitioned in anticipation of a future Greater Albania.

Such views are anathema to Western policymakers, whose foolish 15 years of Balkan intervention have resulted in a proliferation of weak and even failing states. With Montenegro and Kosovo gone or going independent, and the Serbian half of Bosnia threatening to do the same, the powers-that-be are not eager to see the Balkan disintegration intensify. By unwritten directive the new Macedonian government will thus be crippled in advance, having to choose between the overt xenophobia of the DPA and the creeping secessionism of the DUI, whose leader Ahmeti quietly harbors grand designs of making Albanian an official language even where no Albanians reside, and eventually, perhaps, becoming president himself – since no ministerial post is apparently good enough for a demagogue who prefers to pull the strings from offstage, thus avoiding criticism and political responsibility.

Yet this has all been lost on an ignorant Western media, which has, since 2002, pulled out almost all of its correspondents from the country. It thus becomes understandable that when making a rare revisit to Macedonia the only precedent that springs to editors' minds is the dated one of inter-ethnic conflict. Yet the real post-election danger is one of intra-ethnic violence between the Albanian parties; whichever is excluded from the new government will feel that it has been wronged unfairly, and may well resume the internecine violence that marred the run-up to the election. While the Western diplomatic community took credit for defusing the volatile situation before the election, the DUI-DPA showdown may not be over. The current quiet may just be the calm before the storm.

Making (Sense of) a Coalition

The prevailing conditions are thus. DUI has the advantage of four years of governance and since 2002 has been able to place its people at all key levels of the bureaucracy. If it becomes the "junior" coalition partner of VMRO-DPMNE, it will in effect actually be the senior one. Gruevski's party will have to play catch-up from day one, while also facing even greater demands from DUI for ever more ministerial appointments and ethnic concessions. The latter will justify these demands by claiming the Albanian voters have given it a mandate two elections in a row.

Indeed, on Saturday, Ahmeti and Abduljadi Vejseli (the leader of smaller coalition partner PDP) said that their bloc is the "legitimate" representative of the Albanian population since it won more of their votes than its rival. For the VMRO-DPMNE to deny such "legitimacy" would be to not only unleash controversy from day one – it would also serve to fire up the same bunch that started the 2001 war and whom a NATO officer recently mentioned as having strong influence in neighboring Kosovo at a particularly tumultuous period in its development. And it is not at all certain that a party created four years ago from a paramilitary outfit has the political maturity to peacefully accept a role in the opposition.

However, should DPA be excluded from power, the results could be even worse. The party of Xhaferi and vice president and strongman Menduh Thaci was ostracized for its ultranationalist rhetoric by the West and spent much of 2005 boycotting parliament over perceived electoral fraud in the March 2005 local elections. It was partially rehabilitated for last week's elections and made a better than expected showing, picking up 11 seats in parliament to DUI's 18. For DPA to be relegated to the political wilderness for another four years, given all the violent incidents they have perpetrated recently, would leave them with nothing left to lose. In such a situation, violence and mischief become distinct and amply precedented possibilities.

Creating a coalition thus becomes a thankless task where the only choice is between bad and worse – without knowing for sure which party represents which. To his credit, Gruevski has called the bluff of those outsiders who define governing Macedonia as a sort of charity project, infused with affirmative action by Western-mandated obligation. Indeed, Gruevski's spokesman, Antonio Milososki recently stated that any party that agrees with VMRO-DPMNE's platform of economic development is welcome to be a possible colleague. Neither nationalism nor ethnic issues were stipulated, and for good reason – the main concern of all citizens is to raise the standard of living and develop a functioning market economy. Yet such goals are apparently not "sexy" enough for the cynical, conflict-hungry foreign media.

Indeed, in its ignorance and spite, the Western media seems to be enjoying focusing on issues that are either nonexistent or insignificant, while distorting reality in a way that tarnishes the country's reputation and guarantees that, should new trouble arise in the future, the real causes and significance of it will not be correctly understood. And the outside world will continue to have unnecessary apprehensions about a country that is actually friendly, safe, and stable, a welcoming destination for tourists and investors alike.