Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bulgaria Introduces Free Visas for Macedonian Citizens from 1st January 2007

Skopje. Bulgaria is going to introduce free visas for Macedonian citizens from 1st January 2007 and the regime for their issue will be maximally relieved, Macedonian Vreme newspaper reports citing sources from Macedonian Foreign Ministry. The official Sofia authorities took the engagement for that after the official agreement in Sofia was signed on 21st September. The procedures for issuing visas will be quite easy and the visas will be valid for longer period of time. The Bulgarian Embassy in Skopje will be issuing these visas and the officials promised to enlarge the personnel at the embassy.
The expected accession of Bulgaria to EU next year obliges the country to stick to the Schengen agreement.

Conference on decentralization process

A conference dubbed "One Year of Decentralization Process in the Republic of Macedonia" will be held today in Ohrid.Attendance of Macedonian municipality mayors, representatives of the central power, international organizations and diplomatic corps, has been announced.
Andrej Petrov, the President of the Local-Self Government Units Association, is due to open the conference on Friday morning.
Zoran Konjanovski, the Macedonian Minister of Local Self-Government, Erwan Fouere, the EU Ambassador in Macedonia, Gillian Milovanovich, the US Ambassador to Macedonia and Head of OSCE for Macedonia, Carlos Pais, are scheduled to give addresses at the conference

Macedonian government endorses key police reform legislation

The new ruling coalition of the VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) has reached agreement on a police reform law, and the bill has now been forwarded to parliament. The legislation is called for under the Ohrid agreement that ended the 2001 interethnic conflict in Macedonia. Brussels has made it clear it will not set a date for beginning EU membership talks until the reform is in place.

"The legislation endorsed by the government is actually the version that was proposed by the professional team formed by the previous government," Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said. "This is a good legal text that offers a new organisation of the police in compliance with the principles of decentralisation."

One of the most important changes provided for in the law concerns the appointment of police station chiefs, the minister said. Local self-government councils will now appoint the chiefs of 38 police stations in the country whose main task will be traffic security.

Chiefs of the eight internal affairs sectors will also be appointed in a new way -- by the interior minister, with input from the respective municipalities. Each municipality council will submit a list of three candidates to the minister, with one of them being from the majority ethnic community in the municipality. The chief will then be appointed from the list.

The law was the subject of debate between the former ruling coalition partners SDSM and the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) for almost a year, above all over the number of the sectors for internal affairs. DUI had called for their number to be increased, or for new sectors to be established in Kicevo and Struga.

Another area of contention was the length of the work experience a candidate should have to be the chief of a police station. The SDSM had proposed that the criterion should be 12 years of work experience, plus 4 years' experience in management. DUI wanted the amount reduced.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is now seeking broad parliamentary support for the new legislation.

EU representative in Macedonia Erwan Fouere praised the adoption of the bill by the government. After a meeting with Jankulovska, he confirmed that he has received a copy of the legislation and will now study it to see if it is harmonised with European standards.

Video conference to link Oxford, Skopje and Varna on low-carbon

A panel discussion on the theme Low Carbon Future will be staged Friday in Oxford. The session by video conference will link three separate audiences in the Oxford (UK), Skopje (Macedonia) and Varna (Bulgaria).

The event is in the framework of European Researchers Night, September 22. This is the second year in which the European Commission is celebrating science and scientific achievement through a series of public events.

The event will be broadcast Friday from 17:00 to 19:00 at the premises of the British Council in Skopje.

The British Council is organizing three simultaneous Café Scientifique sessions by video conference which will link 3 separate audiences in Bulgaria with 3 scientists in the UK and 3 other Southeast European audiences.

HRT: Croatia, Albania and Macedonia Get Signal for Their NATO Membership at Riga Summit

Brussels. The country members of the Adriatic charter Croatia, Albania and Macedonia could depend to get a signal for their possible NATO membership at the Riga summit in December, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Schefer stated cited by the Croatian TV HRT. Decisions for NATO’s enlargement will be taken during the summit. The three countries are expecting to be invited in NATO during the summit meeting in 2008.

Over 200.000 Albanians may be expelled from Switzerland

More than 200.000 Albanians may be expelled from Switzerland if the country endorses the new immigration law, Tirana's dailies said.

Media in Tirana say the associations of Kosovo Albanians in Switzerland are deeply concerned amid initiatives on tougher immigration and asylum laws.

If the Swiss vote for the law on aliens and refugees, at least 200.000 Albanians from Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania may be forced out of the country.

Kosovo Albanian associations in Switzerland called on roughly 20.000 Albanians who had acquired Swiss citizenship to oppose the revised asylum law.

Several leftist parties and NGOs remained adamantly opposed to the draft-law, arguing that the law breaches human rights.

Swiss government reckons that current situation in the 21st century requires new regulations concerning aliens. The current law on foreign nationals entered into effect 70 years ago.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Crvenkovski, Nimitz meet in New York

The President of the Republic of Macedonia, Branko Crvenkovski, will meet Wednesday afternoon Macedonia time with the UN negotiator in the talks with Greece over the name, Matthew Nimitz.

Crvenkovski's Cabinet announced this today, briefing about the President's activities in the course of his attendance at the 61st UN General Assembly.

No further details as to the content of the talks with Nimitz have been revealed, nor information whether Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Miloshoski, who also attends the General Assembly within Macedonian delegation, would join the meeting.

The press release further says that Crvenkovski is scheduled to take part today at the Global Initiative Summit hosted by the ex-US President Bill Clinton.

On Tuesday, Crvenkovski held talks with the Poland's President Lech Kaczynski.

"At the meeting, the Polish President underlined his country's commitment to continue with consistent support of EU and NATO enlargements. In that sense, Kaczynski said that Poland will stand not as an obstacle on the Macedonian way to EU an NATO, but as its supporter", Crvenkovski's Cabinet announced.

Macedonia implements final CARDS program pending accession to EU

This year sees the final implementation of a European Union (EU) financial support program in Macedonia, pending the Balkan country's accession to the EU, officials from Skopje announced on Wednesday.

The announcement was made by Macedonian Vice Prime Minister Gabriela Konevska-Trajkovska and the European Commission enlargement official Pierre Mirel at a press conference in Skopje, capital of Macedonia, reports reaching here said.

The Balkan country has received the aid of 30.5 million euros (about 38.6 million U.S. dollars) under the EU's Community Assistance for Reconstruction, Development and Stabilization (CARDS).

Mirel was quoted as saying this did not mean that the EU support to Macedonia would stop. On the contrary, it would continue to help the country through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA), starting from 2007, the official said.

He added that an additional 14 million euros (about 17.7 million dollars) would be allocated through the regional program.

"These funds are a grant from the EU budget, which is a clear indicator of our support for the country's efforts in the reform processes. Projects to be financed reflect the country's progress on one hand, as well as the need for further reforms on the other, " Mirel said.

Konevska-Trajkovska said that the final implementation of the CARDS program in Macedonia represented the completion of a successful cycle of cooperation with the EU and support for Macedonia in the stabilization and association process.

"A new page in the cooperation with the EU in 2007 begins with the opening of the IPA, which will play an essential role in the country's structural reforms in the future," she said.

She added that Macedonia was fully ready to implement reforms aimed at the realization of the necessary criteria for full EU membership.

The deputy prime minister told the EU official that Macedonia wanted to launch negotiations with the bloc for fully-fledged membership in 2007. Macedonia was granted EU candidate state in December 2005.

The CARDS program is aimed at boosting EU ties with Balkan countries, including Albania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro.

Since 1991, the EU has committed, through various assistance programs, 6.8 billion euros (about 8.6 billion dollars) to the Balkan countries. In 2000, the aid to the region was streamlined into the form of CARDS.

Source: Xinhua

Kalfin: Bulgaria backs Macedonia's EU and NATO bid

Bulgaria pledged support to Macedonia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.

Bulgaria's support was highlighted at the meeting of Macedonian foreign minister Antonio Miloshoski and his Bulgarian counterpart Ivaylo Kalfin, at the sidelines of 61st annual session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

The interlocutors discussed themes of mutual interest, European and Euro-Atlantic perspective of the region, including realization of regional and infrastructure projects.

Gruevski: It's high time Macedonia to become economic tiger

It's high time Macedonia to become a new economic tiger in the footsteps of Ireland and Slovakia, and the country is committed to doing so through assistance of all sectors in our society, said Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

PM Gruevski staged a working breakfast Thursday with representatives of business community in Macedonia. In his address to members of the Association of Chambers of Commerce, Gruevski reiterated government' determination to press ahead with comprehensive reform agenda, which would significantly improve the situation in private sector.

PM Gruevski presented nine priorities set out in the economic programme of the new government. These priorities won support by the members of the Association of Chambers of Commerce.

In the first place, PM Gruevski emphasized the importance of political stability in the country, as a main prerequisite for establishing economic stability.

Next on the list of government's priorities is tax reform. Gruevski unveiled tax cuts which will ease pressure on taxpayers, and facilitation in tax paying procedures. The government plans to introduce a flat rate income tax and tax cuts in early 2007, which will pave the way to introduction of 10% single tax, the lowest in Europe.

Improvement of infrastructure is 3rd priority of the new government. Gruevski attached high significance to Corridors 8 and 10 and the possibility to grant concession. Renovation and reform of railways and airports is necessary, including timely liberalization of telecommunications.

Human resources development is also high on the agenda of the new government. He underscored the need for alterations in education sector, adding that the government will boost investments in research activities and innovations.

Government's fifth priority is to assist effective and transparent workflow of private sector, Gruevski said, adding that corruption is main hurdle that needs to be tackled. The government, through assistance from USAID, is drafting a strategy to probe the work of courts, customs administration, political party funding etc.

The right to immovable assets is also high on the economic agenda, in particular the real estate registration and confidence building in Cadastral Office.

Labor market is among government's priorities, Gruevski said, adding that the government plans salary tax cuts. He also held out a promise of more flexible implementation of job contracts and higher flexibility in the course of job creation and layoffs.

Government prioritizes better functioning of courts, including new legislation which will shortcut the time required to start a business and acquire permission. He hinted at the possibility to launch the so-called regulatory guillotine - a new tool to assist countries in rapid regulatory simplification - which proved quite fruitful in some neighboring countries.

Improvement of financial sector is the 9th priority of the new government. Gruevski unveiled consolidation of banking system and entry of top foreign banks.


Bulgaria gave its support for Macedonia's EU and NATO membership during a meeting between Foreign Minister Ivailo Kalfin and his Macedonian counterpart Antonio Milososki.

The two met in New York during the United Nations General Assembly 61st session, Focus news agency reported.

Kalfin and Milososki discussed bilateral relations and co-operation between the two countries. The European integration of the Balkan region and major infrastructure projects also featured among the topics of discussion.

Milososki received an invitation for a work visit to Sofia. The Macedonian minister accepted the invitation and is expected to come to Bulgaria in a short term.

During the UN session Kalfin also met UN deputy secretary-general Mark Malloch Brown. Brown praised Bulgaria for its contribution to UN activities. The two also discussed Bulgarian participation in peacekeeping operations in Lebanon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Kanal 5: SDSM Could Refuse Nikola Gruevski’s Invitation for Meeting with Opposition Leaders

Skopje. The Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) could refuse Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s invitation for participation at the meeting with the leaders of the Parliamentary opposition, Kanal 5 announced. The reason for that are the suggested changes in the law for electronic communications by which a possibility for appointing of new members and director at the agency will be possible.
According to SDSM’s official the changes in the law aim to be appointed party members at the board of directors of the agency. The Social-Democrats are not pleased by the way the suggested change of the Chief Prosecutor Alexander Purchevski had been suggested. The Chairman of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) Ali Ahmeti will not be present at the meeting with Gruevski.

Macedonia hopeful to enter NATO in 2009

Macedonia could receive an invitation for NATO membership on the Alliance's summit scheduled for 2008, said sources in Macedonian Foreign Ministry, who insisted on remaining anonymous.

According to them, the closing document of the forthcoming summit in Riga will probably encourage the country that its future lies within NATO, and also possible is announcement for enlargement on the summit.

Sources from the Ministry add that even if Macedonia would receive the invitation for membership in 2008, the official membership would come on the 60th anniversary of the Alliance, on the summit scheduled for 2009 in Washington.

FM says that the Annual National Programme, that will officially be presented at 6 October, also contains items that should be implemented, and which are demanded by NATO and the European Union.

The programme, with marks the country's eighth cycle of NATO approximation programs, pays special attention to the combat against corruption, judiciary reforms, as well as the new Law on Police, that is yet to be adopted by the Parliament.

Besides that, FM also announces stronger lobbying abroad for the country's accession to NATO and that there are already positive signs from some countries - members of the Alliance.

Same sources say that the direct involvement of the Prime Minister in the Committee for Macedonia's NATO accession will bring greater importance to the process.

Macedonia first to be absorbed in next wave of EU enlargement

Macedonia will be the first to be absorbed into EU in the next wave of the club enlargement, if the country keeps its present fast pace of progress, a Macedonian newspaper on Friday quoted an EU high official as saying.

Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, made the announcement in Brussels in his meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Dnevnik reported.

"I don't believe that it is the right moment to speak for concrete date for your membership," Solana said. "But we are open to the Balkan states and we think they should become EU member states."

"Your country is keeping up a fast pace and if it continues like that, it will be one of the first on the list and that is beyond any doubt," he added.

Macedonia was granted candidate state to the EU in December 2005.

EU warns Macedonia on Albanian minority rights deal

The EU has urged the new government of candidate member state Macedonia to respect the a 2001 agreement on Albanian minority rights if it wants to stay on track in its EU accession bid, Balkans news agency DTT-NET reports.

EU foreign policy commissioner Javier Solana and EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn met Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday (13 September), amid concern over looming instability in the country with ethnic Albanians challenging Skopje's new centre-right government.

"I hope very much that he will have good luck in the determination he has to move the country forward. I have asked him to move forward in the application of the Ohrid Agreement that for us [the EU] is a fundamental element," Mr Solana said.

The June 2001 Ohrid Agreement – brokered by EU and NATO diplomacy - ended seven months of heavy fighting between Albanian separatists and Macedonian security forces in Macedonia.

But Mr Gruevski's centre-right VMRO-DPMNE opposed the Ohrid agreement legislation adopted by the previous government led by the centre-left.

The EU has now told the Macedonian leader that the Ohrid legislation is a key component of reforms for Macedonia's road to EU membership. Skopje last December scooped official EU candidate membership status and will be subject to a key progress report in November.

Commissioner Rehn on Tuesday said that disputes with ethnic Albanians must be resolved by a political dialogue between his cabinet and the main ethnic Albanian party - the Democratic Union of Integration (DUI).

"It is important to have a broad political consensus on a country's road to EU membership. The government and opposition must show the willingness for political dialogue that one can expect from a mature democratic country such as the Republic of Macedonia ", Mr Rehn told reporters.

"They must dance this tango together and create the necessary channels of communication," Mr Rehn added.

After the 5 July elections won by the centre-right, Mr Gruevski chose not to form a government with the DUI which got the support of 62 percent of the ethnic Albanians, Macedonia's biggest minority.

He instead formed a coalition with the smaller Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA).

Since then, the DUI has been refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the government arguing that the voice of ethnic Albanians is being ignored.

On Monday (11 September), the former leader of the 2001 ethnic Albanian guerrilla group and current president of DUI, Ali Ahmeti, told reporters that Macedonia could enter into "a dangerous situation" amid strong dissatisfaction among most Albanians that their preferred party, the DUI, has been excluded from the new government.

DUI officials said the first draft related to minorities that Mr Gruevski's government has prepared - on the police sector - is aiming at centralisation by removing competencies from municipal police to newly designed regional authorities - contrary to the goal of decentralisation in the Ohrid Agreement.

"The draft-law on the police sector clearly demonstrates that VMRO-DPMNE led government's first priority is to strengthen the competences of the central government on the sector which is against the provisions of the Ohrid Agreement," senior DUI politician and former deputy prime minister Musa Xhaferi told DTT-NET.COM.

Mr Xhaferi said the majority of Ethnic Albanians "have no trust" for the current government led by the party which "during the last four years has voted against all the legislation related to the Ohrid Agreement and also had organised a referendum in 2004 against the self-rule rights at municipal level - which failed."

Solana says Macedonia is making fast progress, but no negotiations

Macedonia is moving fast on its way to the European Union, but it is too early to talk about setting a concrete date for launch of negotiations for membership.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said this at a joint press conference in Brussels, after his meeting with the Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski.

By this statement, Solana responded to Gruevski's expectations of launching the negotiations in 2007.

"Macedonia is moving forward quickly, but this is no time to talk about a date", Solana said.

At the meeting, Gruevski briefed Solana on the government's plans for furthering the Euro-integration processes, economic reforms and full implementation of the Ohrid Agreement, Macedonian electronic media reported.

Previously, the Macedonian premier met with the president of the European parliament Josep Borrell Fontelles.

Gruevski presented the government's programme for efficient reforms in the fields spanning customs administration, healthcare, public prosecution and stamping out corruption in all areas.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ali Ahmeti, DUI Leader: The State shouldn’t be Headed by a Foreigner Citizen

Skopje. “Macedonia is my country and I have neither some other motherland, nor a foreign citizenship or a legal and illegal property in another state. It’s not normal for a foreign citizen to be at the head of a state”, leader of the ethnic Albanian party Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), Ali Ahmeti told FOCUS News Agency. He was asked to comment on his words, quoted by Macedonian media, that he would not let anyone who has a Bulgarian citizenship to rule Macedonia.

OSCE Mission to Skopje supports regional cross border co-operation between national and Albanian border police

SKOPJE, 14 September 2006 - Strengthening co-operation between national border police and senior border police officers from northern Albania was the focus of an OSCE-supported workshop that ended today in Struga.

Participants focused on strengths and weaknesses of present border patrolling strategies and ways to improve co-operation to combat organized crime.

"We are pleased to see improved co-operation, information exchange and communication between the border police of two countries. This is an important step to a more efficient fight against organized crime on the both sides of the borders," said Philip Tolson, Head of Police Development Unit within the OSCE Mission to Skopje.

Marinko Kocovski, Director Assistant Chief General Inspector from the Border Police, added:

"Sharing best practices on how to fight border-crossing crimes along natural borders and on border crossing points was an extremely useful exercise for us and our Albanian counterparts."

The workshop complemented multiple regional meetings involving border police from neighboring countries.

Experts from both countries as well as from the OSCE Mission to Skopje, the OSCE Presence in Albania and the Border Adviser from the OSCE's Conflict Prevention Centre spoke at the workshop.

Gruevski pledges for close cooperation with ICTY

The new Macedonian government will keep close cooperation with the Hague Tribunal and will put efforts to fulfill its obligations as soon as possible, Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski said after his meeting with the chief prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Carla del Ponte.

Gruevski pledged for a legislation-based cooperation, with equal approach to both the defence and the prosecution, in order to enable judges to make the right decision, Macedonian electronic media reported.

The two Macedonian citizens, Ljube Boskoski and Johan Tarculovski are still waiting for a trial date in the detention center Scheweningen.

Out of five submitted cases following the 2001 Conflict in Macedonia, the Hague prosecutors have set out legal proceedings on one only - "Ljuboten", while the other four are due to be returned to the Macedonian authorities.

Del Ponte and Gruevski shared the opinion that Macedonia has to be fully prepared to receive these cases, which implies well trained judges, equipped courthouses and adoption of adequate legislation.

Del Ponte said she was hopeful that the Ljuboten case trial date will be set as soon as possible, specifying that the reason for the delay is overcrowded schedule of ICTY.

PM Gruevski is due to visit Boskoski and Tarculovski Thursday afternoon, his Cabinet announced yesterday.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Vratnica: History of a Unique Macedonian Village

The village of Vratnica in northwestern Macedonia has evolved and developed with each generation since it was founded over 500 years ago. For over half a millennium, it existed as a farming community within the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The nationalist movements of the 19th and 20th centuries brought many changes and had a great impact on the village and its people. Many migrated to the United States and Canada, where they established cohesive immigrant communities, a process known as “chain migration,” whereby the newcomers continued to identify themselves with the village more than they did with the larger national or ethnic community. This was a unique phenomenon in the immigration experience of Vratnica, and it can still be felt in the ethnic and religious orientations of Vratnica people, whether they inhabit the village or faraway adopted homelands.

Location and Orientation

Vratnica is located in the northwest of the Republic of Macedonia, 22 km northeast of the city of Tetovo and 5 km southeast of Jazince, the border crossing point with Serbia on the Kosovo border. Vratnica is on the Polog Plain, at the foothills of the northern part of the Sar Planina mountain range, under the Ljuboten peak, about 750 meters above sea level. The Rakita River flows through the village from the mountain range under a bridge outside of the village. There is a ski and resort lodge located on this mountain range called Ljubotan. In the nearby village of Jegunovce, there is the “Yugo-Chrome” factory where many from Vratnica worked.

Today, Vratnica village is the center of a community which consists of seven interconnected and interrelated villages: Belovište, Vratnica, Staro Selo, Rogachevo, Jazince, and Gorno and Dolno Orašje. This community consists of a population of 3,500. Vratnica itself has a population of 1,000 to 1,500.

History and Prehistory: Early Origins Up to the Present Day

Slavic groups began settling the Balkan Peninsula in the sixth century AD, populating the areas of Macedonia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Montenegro. In the fifth and sixth centuries, a large Slavic tribal population occupied parts of central Europe north of the Danube river. The two major Slavic groups in the Balkans, the Serbians and the Croatians, had been based in the Czech region (later Czechoslovakia) and in Saxony.

These Slavic groups had earlier migrated from the north and north-east region of the Black Sea. After the 586 siege of Byzantine Thessaloniki, Slavic groups settled the Praevalitana and the region south of the Shkumbi River, where Slavic place-names predominate.

The two major Slavic groups that emerged in the southern Balkan Peninsula were the Serbians and the Bulgarians, which established powerful and expansionist rival dynastic empires. Serbs developed small tribal territories called a zupa, which were ruled by tribal chiefs known as zupani. By the middle of the 7th century, Serbs were moving from the coastal land in Montenegro and were settling northern Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo. The Serbs were agricultural tribes, and settled in river valleys and plains where they could grow crops and harvest the fields near an abundant water source.

vratnicabalkanalysis.jpgVratnica rests in the folds of Sar Planina, in Macedonia’s northwestern corner. (Photo: collection of the author)

By the 11th century, “almost all arable soil in the northernmost part of what is now Albania and in the region of present-day Kosovo was in Slavic hands,” according to Miranda Vickers in Between Serb and Albanian. The original homeland or base area for the Serbian population in the Balkans was the Raska region, or Rascia, a region just north of Kosovo. Since Vratnica lies in a region referred to as Old or Ancient Serbia (Stara Srbija), which included the regions of Kosovo, Metohija, and present-day northern Macedonia, the background and historical roots of the Vratnica families cannot be understood without an understanding of the medieval history of the region.

By the end of the 12th century, the Serbian population moved south and settled the area of what is present-day Kosovo and northern Macedonia. In fact, many Vratnica families trace their ancestral origins to this region, present-day northern Macedonia, on the border with Kosovo. For almost a millennium, Serbians, Bulgarians, Albanians, and, later, Turks, settled and fought over this volatile region.

Vratnica: Population and Immigration

Vratnica was first recorded in Ottoman Turkish registries in the 15th century. In the earliest Turkish population census registry or defter, 59 families were recorded as living in Vratnica. In the defter labeled 4 for the years 1467/68 the number of houses had increased to 66, while in 1545 there is a record of 76 houses, and in 1568 there were 84 houses registered.

The village underwent migrations and settlement until the 18th century, and in the 20th century, there was extensive chain migration to the United States. In 1914/1916, the total population of Vratnica was 1,131 with 131 houses; in 1948, there were 1,299 inhabitants and 197 houses; in 1953, there were 1,387 inhabitants and 214 houses; in 1961, the respective numbers were 1,384 and 227; in 1968, 1,240 and 225; and, in 1971, 1,082 inhabitants and 266 houses.

Thus, the number of houses doubled over the 50-year period, but the total population remained about the same. It has declined since the 1960s due to emigration to the US and elsewhere. For example, by the early 1980’s there were over 200 households with Vratnica origins in the Detroit area alone.

Many from the village migrated to the US during the boom decades following the end of World War I in 1918. This migration was heaviest during the 1920s, before the Great Depression. Most of the immigrants were economic refugees, fleeing the poverty of the Balkans. However, the US Immigration Act of 1924 placed restrictions and quotas of the level of immigration from Eastern Europe. Orthodox Slavs in particular were seen as subhuman and alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition of mainstream American immigrants. Many migrated to Canada instead.

The Yugoslav Communist regime under Josip Broz Tito allowed emigration to Western Europe to relieve political opposition and to benefit the Yugoslav economy. Up to a third of the Yugoslav economy depended on guest workers who lived abroad. In the 1950s and 1960s, a new wave of emigration from Yugoslavia resulted. Many from Vratnica immigrated to the US and Canada during this period. In agrarian, rural societies like Vratnica, the family was the only socializing institution. The extended family was known as the chelat. When they migrated to the US, the family continued to play a dominant role. Thus the typical immigrant family from Vratnica tended to be cohesive, functional, and nurturing of the individual.

The most prominent family groups in Vratnica include: Stepanovci, Siskovci, Dlabocani, Koecevci, Stanisovci, Vasilevci, Golomevci, Danecevci, Dobrocevci, Peovci, Todorovci, Kostanecevci, Madzicevci, Maskocevci, Mojsicevci, Dabocevci, Papudzini and Kraguljevci.

The Kostanecevci family resettled in Vratnica from the Kosovo village of Kamena Glava, literally, “Stone Head,” approximately 500 years ago The earliest recorded member for whom records exist of this family is Kosto Kostanechev, from the end of the nineteenth century, who had a brother named Uros. Kosto had four sons, Stojko, Stolje, Simon, and Stojan. The procedure for last names was for a son to carry as his last name a form of his father’s first name. During the medieval period, persons were known by a first given name and the by the village or clan from which they came. Many were named by the occupation they were in: “Carpenter,” “Miller,” “Fisher,” “Goldsmith,” and “Baker.” In the eastern Slavic countries of Europe, it was more common to have a last name that carried the name of a grand-father or great-grand-father.

Also significant in the history of Vratnica is the village of Moravce, located 800 meters to the northwest. Moravce is regarded as the original settlement. Because of pressure from the Ottoman Turks, the inhabitants of Moravce were forced to search for a more secure area of settlement. They migrated to the north, towards Kosovo and middle Serbia, but they were eventually forced to abandon those areas as well. They finally migrated back and formed modern Vratnica on its present location, together with the descendants of the original settlers.

Cultural Affiliations and Language

Although Vratnica is in Macedonia, a Macedonian ethnic and cultural identity, as distinct from the Serbian or Bulgarian ones, did not emerge in a dominant way until the late 19th century, when nationalist ideologies were at their peak in Europe. So a Macedonian national consciousness and identity is of relatively recent origin, and in Vratnica people even today differentiate themselves according to their perceived Macedonian or Serbian backgrounds.

The medieval ancestors of the present-day inhabitants of Vratnica spoke a language that has elements of Bulgarian and Serbian and which is distinct from both, but is similar to Bulgarian and modern Macedonian. Vratnica family ancestors observed a “slava,” that is, an Orthodox patron saint was celebrated by the family. This was unique to Serbian Orthodox families, not to Bulgarian families. Histories of Vratnica, the village where the Savich ancestors had lived for over 800 years, claim that the original settlers migrated from the north-east, from the region of southern Serbia, Kosovo and Metohija. The name of the village is derived from the word for “return” or “returnees” (vrati, return) and the suffix –ica, meaning “village of.” Vratnica thus means “village of those who returned” in reference to their expulsion and migration from Kosovo.

Under Turkish rule, the Albanian minority and Turkish settlers gained dominance in the region of northern Macedonia where the Savich family ancestors lived. During Ottoman rule, the Orthodox population became second-class citizens and faced religious discrimination and persecution. The Ottoman Empire was organized on the basis of religion and not on nationality. Thus by converting to Islam, one could obtain privileges and status not available to non-Muslims. By converting to Islam in mass numbers, Albanians were able to gain, social, political, and economic dominance in the region. So under Turkish Muslim rule, the ethnic makeup and demography of the region changed.

Vratnica was located in a region that was part of the Turkish Empire for half a millennium until 1912, which was known as “Turkey in Europe.” As a result, there is a schizophrenic or split nature to ethnic, national, and religious identities in Vratnica and Macedonia as a whole. Some segments of the Vratnica community identified culturally and politically and religiously with Serbia. Some parts of present-day Macedonia identified with Bulgaria and Bulgarian culture. But Serbian culture and influence was dominant in the region. And some member of the community identified with the unique Macedonian identity. For their part, the Albanian minority in the region identified with Albania and Albanian culture.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of the population adopted and identified with Macedonian culture and national/ethnic identity. Vratnica is unique in that it is part of a region of Macedonia where segments of the population have retained a Serbian cultural, religious, and ethnic/national identity.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Macedonia's EU efforts lack political cooperation, Rehn says

Brussels- The European Union on Tuesday rebuked government and opposition in Macedonia for not cooperating enough in making the country fit for aspired EU membership. "It is important to have a broad political consensus on a country's road to EU membership," EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn told reporters after a meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in Brussels.

Macedonia needed more "political stability" in its efforts to make progress in negotiations on closer ties with the EU, Rehn said.

"They (government and opposition) must show the willingness for political dialogue that one can expect from a mature democratic country such as the Republic of Macedonia," the commissioner said.

"They must dance this tango together and create the necessary channels of communication," Rehn added.

The EU's enlargement chief urged Macedonia to step up its fight against corruption and organised crime. Skopje must also work harder to improve its economy and create new jobs, he said.

Gruevski said that Macedonia next year wants to set a date for negotiations on EU entry, vowing that Skopje would do everything to fulfil the requirements to launch accession talks.

"We need to see results of reforms before making further steps," Rehn countered.

"The speed is in the hands of the government ... but it is quality that matters," he added.

Gruevskis centre-right party won elections in July, defeating former prime minister Vlado Buckovski's socialist-led coalition.

The EU in July vowed to continue supporting Macedonia on its way to EU membership, but urged Skopje to speed up internal reforms aimed at meeting the bloc's accession criteria.

Macedonia was recognized as an EU candidate last December, but Brussels warned the country to work on urgent reforms in the police, the rule of law, the environment and its administration.

Skopje must also speed up efforts to bring national legislation in line with EU rules, the bloc demanded.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ceku says Macedonia's partition impossible

Macedonia's division is not possible, an independent Kosovo will not harm anybody including Macedonia, Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku said.

Ceku, along with other senior officials from the countries in the region, attends a meeting of the Contact Group on Kosovo.

"Independent Kosovo will pose no threat to security or territorial integrity of the countries in the region, including Macedonia. The policy of independent Kosovo towards Macedonia will be the same as toward all neighboring countries. We will build a strategic partnership in our co-operation and in the general commitment to integrating into Europe," Ceku said.

He underscored Kosovo's pledges for furthering co-operation in fields spanning economy, security, culture, including the common projects on approximation to Europe.

Asked whether Macedonia's division is possible, Ceku said 'No'. "There will be no division for sure. The countries in the region will become European countries with European standards and European perspective. This means that ethnic minorities should be entitled the same rights as those in majority, the majority should assume responsibility for the situation relating the minority. In such case, the political agenda will be free of any other alliances."

He didn't deny the existence of structures or individuals in Kosovo who support the idea of Greater Albania.

"I can't rule out the existence of such individuals. This idea is still present but it fades away day by day. Those who support this idea are irrelevant personalities," Kosovo's PM said. "Why to look toward south, toward Tirana? We look toward Brussels."

In an interview for Bulgarian news agency Bgnes, Ceku appears confident of Kosovo's capacity to tackle organized crime given its will to deal with this issue.

He also appeared confident that Islamic fundamentalism is not a theme in Kosovo, as there are no indications that such idea enjoys support by the people.

Bulgaria to Issue Free Visas for Macedonians

Skopje. From 2007 the Macedonian citizens who want to travel to Bulgaria will need visas, Macedonian newspaper Dnevnik informs in an article entitled ‘Bulgaria to Treat Macedonian Citizens with Free Visas’.
The visas will be free and will be issued at Bulgaria’s embassy in Skopje, as well as at the consulate that is to be opened in Bitola in early 2007.
“The idea of the Bulgarian government is the visas to be free so that they would facilitate the Macedonians traveling to Bulgaria. The visas, however, are also obligatory,” anonymous sources from the Bulgarian embassy said.
Bulgaria will introduce the visas from January 1st 2007 after it joins the EU as part of the bloc’s directives. According to the proposal of the Bulgarian government the Macedonian and Serbian citizens will receive their visas for free, Dnevnik notes.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Macedonia marks 15 years of independence, minority party ends boycott

SKOPJE, Macedonia Macedonia celebrated 15 years of independence from the former Yugoslavia on Friday, with officials stressing the need to lay the ghosts of recent ethnic tension to rest.

An ethnic Albanian party also ended a parliamentary boycott that had threatened political crisis.

Friday's celebrations included mountaineers scaling the landlocked country's highest peaks and an international motorcycle rally in the capital Skopje.

President Branko Crvenkovski and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski addressed the nation from Skopje's main "Makedonija" square.

"The great historic victory we have achieved is that today we can make decisions for ourselves. We can say that we have found the formula for good interethnic relations ... but we have paid a high price for that," Crvenkovski said.

One of Europe's poorest countries, Macedonia split peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991 following an overwhelmingly pro-independence referendum vote. The tiny country is troubled by a stagnant economy and unemployment at 36 percent.

Relations also remain tense between the Macedonian majority and an ethnic Albanian minority that makes up about a quarter of the country's 2.1 million population, following a 2001 insurgency by ethnic Albanian rebels.

Before the independence celebrations, the deputies of the ethnic Albanian DUI party, returned to parliament, ending a two-month boycott.

The DUI launched protests after being left out of Gruevski's conservative coalition government formed after July 5 general elections.

The boycott had threatened to cause a political crisis, but the DUI could still exploit the country's complex power-sharing rules to block legislation in parliament.

"The DUI will always be in the parliament when the bills agreed with the peace deal will be on the agenda," party leader Ali Ahemti said.

Macedonia could face serious political difficulties if DUI blocks two pending bills on police reform and minority rights — both stemmed from the 2001 peace deal that ended the ethnic conflict.

SKOPJE, Macedonia Macedonia celebrated 15 years of independence from the former Yugoslavia on Friday, with officials stressing the need to lay the ghosts of recent ethnic tension to rest.

An ethnic Albanian party also ended a parliamentary boycott that had threatened political crisis.

Friday's celebrations included mountaineers scaling the landlocked country's highest peaks and an international motorcycle rally in the capital Skopje.

President Branko Crvenkovski and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski addressed the nation from Skopje's main "Makedonija" square.

"The great historic victory we have achieved is that today we can make decisions for ourselves. We can say that we have found the formula for good interethnic relations ... but we have paid a high price for that," Crvenkovski said.

One of Europe's poorest countries, Macedonia split peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991 following an overwhelmingly pro-independence referendum vote. The tiny country is troubled by a stagnant economy and unemployment at 36 percent.

Relations also remain tense between the Macedonian majority and an ethnic Albanian minority that makes up about a quarter of the country's 2.1 million population, following a 2001 insurgency by ethnic Albanian rebels.

Before the independence celebrations, the deputies of the ethnic Albanian DUI party, returned to parliament, ending a two-month boycott.

The DUI launched protests after being left out of Gruevski's conservative coalition government formed after July 5 general elections.

The boycott had threatened to cause a political crisis, but the DUI could still exploit the country's complex power-sharing rules to block legislation in parliament.

"The DUI will always be in the parliament when the bills agreed with the peace deal will be on the agenda," party leader Ali Ahemti said.

Macedonia could face serious political difficulties if DUI blocks two pending bills on police reform and minority rights — both stemmed from the 2001 peace deal that ended the ethnic conflict.

LUKoil to open 40 petrol stations in Macedonia in four years

MOSCOW, September 8 (RIA Novosti) - LUKoil [RTS: LKOH] is planning to open 40 petrol stations in Macedonia in the next four years, the press service of Russia's largest crude producer said Friday.

The company and the Macedonian government signed a memorandum on cooperation in June 2005 to supply oil products to the Balkan country.

LUKoil's refineries in Bulgaria and Romania will supply oil products to the stations.

The company purchased an oil storage facility with a 5,600 cubic meter reservoir in Macedonia in August 2006, and opened its first petrol station in Skopje Friday.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Macedonia ranked 92nd in WB's doing business report

Macedonia was ranked 92nd among 175 countries surveyed in the World Bank's report on the ease of doing business.

The 10 highest ranked economies in terms of ease of doing business are Singapore, New Zealand, United States, Canada, Hong Kong (China), United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia, Norway and Japan.

Among the countries in the region, Romania is highest-ranked - 49th, whilst Croatia came up with lowest ranking in the region - 124th. Only two European countries - Ukraine and Belarus - got lower rankings than Croatia.

Serbia was ranked 68th, marking a huge progress compared to other countries in the Balkan region. Serbia was ranked 95th in last year's doing business report. Meanwhile it jumped 27 places higher.

Montenegro was ranked 70th, Bulgaria 54th, Slovenia 61st, Hungary 66th, Bosnia and Herzegovina 95th, Greece 109th and Albania 12oth.

Congo and East Timor are lowest ranked.

Economies are ranked on their ease of doing business, from 1 – 175, with first place being the best. A high ranking on the ease of doing business index means the regulatory environment is conducive to the operation of business. This index averages the country's percentile rankings on 10 topics, made up of a variety of indicators.

The 10 topics covered in the database include: starting a business, dealing with licenses, employing workers, registering property, getting loan, protecting investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, closing a business.

Macedonia is ranked 48th in terms of getting credit. The country, however, was ranked 127 in terms of trading across borders. It marked improved ranking (76th) in starting a business. Country's ranking on launching a business improved from the last year's report, when it was ranked 129th

Scott Wilson's Macedonia Diary

ANYONE who remembers my diaries from the World Cup will know that driving in a foreign country is something I should really avoid.

The intricacies of the Frankfurt one-way system continue to haunt me, while negotiating a roundabout in the right-hand lane is akin to taking an A-level exam in physics.

Yet against my better nature, I still agreed to fill in a blank morning yesterday by driving into the countryside for a more rounded view of life in Macedonia.

Needless to say, it was the biggest of big mistakes.

Getting lost in Germany is nothing compared with stumbling around one of the most dangerous border regions in the world.

And all of this after things had started so well.

Having located our destination - the Mavrovo National Park, some 50 miles south of Skopje - our party, which comprised myself and two mates, mapped out a route which involved negotiating the E65 motorway.

So far, so good, especially when we found signposts for said motorway immediately after leaving our hotel.

Unfortunately, though, and unbeknown to us, the E65 motorway ran to the north of Skopje as well as the south.

We thought we were heading in the right direction - within half-an-hour, we realised just how wrong we were.

In truth, the alarm bells should have started ringing when we passed a massive NATO peace-keeping base on the side of the road.

They should certainly have been clanging quite loudly when we suddenly started to see improvised refugee camps in the distance and gun-toting guards looming into view.

Still, though, we ploughed on regardless.

Suddenly, in the distance, we could see what appeared to be a huge motorway toll system ahead of us.

Channelled into an entrance lane, we drove up to the booth and offered a huge wad of denar from our pockets.

The gruff moustachioed guard simply laughed in our faces.

After five or ten seconds of silence, we opened the door and showed him our map. "We need to get through to get to Mavrovo. Do we have to pay?"

"This not road to Mavrovo," he barked. "This Kosovo border. You go too far not to come through."

Never have three jaws hit the ground quite so quickly.

Thoughts of my passport sitting in my hotel room started to flash through my mind, quickly followed by panicked guesses at what the inside of a Kosovan detention centre might look like.

Thankfully, it didn't come to that, although the guard was none to pleased at having to squeeze out of his booth to reverse the five or six cars that had followed us up the entrance alleyway, enabling us to beat a hasty retreat.

Suitably embarrassed, we continued on our way, promising ourselves our days of hiring cars in continental countries were over.

After all, England travel to Israel next March. Goodness knows where we might end up there!

Eventually, we made it to Mavrovo and, despite all of the trials and tribulations, it was worth the hassle to get a first-hand view of one of Europe's best-kept secrets.

The Macedonian countryside is stunning, full of picturesque mountains and crystal-clear lakes. It is also utterly unspoilt, with brown bears running wild with boar and deer.

It stands in marked contrast to the concrete jungle that dominates the centre of Skopje and will surely not stay undiscovered for too much longer.

Provided the political situation does not take an unexpected turn for the worse, Macedonia could be on the brink of something of a tourist bonanza.

It might be worth improving the road signs first though.

The scores of empty tower blocks that dominate the Skopje skyline suggest major economic decline but, instead, the countless crumbling edifices stem from an unexpected, if unwelcome, influx of cash into the city more than 40 years ago.

In September 1963, a massive earthquake rocked Skopje at five in the morning and killed more than 1,000 of the city's inhabitants as they slept in their beds.

The devastation was total and as the funds from a United Nations appeal poured into Yugoslavia, the Skopje planners became a little over-excited.

Flush with funds, they approved the erection of a host of unnecessary developments, many of which have remained entirely unused from the moment of completion.

Today, they provide a reminder of both the earthquake and the flagrant dispersal of funds that followed.

John Terry's revelation that the England squad have now been allowed cans of coke in their mini-bars caused quite a stir among the English press pack.

Not so much because it suggested they had been denied liquid refreshment in the past, but more because it proved that certain pampered members of the squad actually possess the wherewithal to operate a ring pull themselves.

Given their multi-millionaire status, I would have thought they would have had an FA gopher doing it for them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

EU worried as Macedonia crisis looms

EU officials have expressed concern over looming instability in candidate state Macedonia, with ethnic Albanians set to challenge the newly-established government led by centre-right leader Nikola Gruevski.

EU diplomats said the bloc and its member states are watching the recent developments in the Western Balkan country "very closely," urging "all sides to behave constructively" and not provoke any escalation.

"It would be wrong to say that we [the EU] are not worried," the source told Balkans news agency DTT-NET.COM.

Ethnic Albanian politicians in the country have warned that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) could enter into a serious crisis in the coming weeks amid strong dissatisfaction of most Albanians whose preferred party has been excluded from the new government.

The main party of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, The Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) is under heavy pressure from its members and supporters to oblige the new Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski to respect their will expressed in the 5 July elections "by all means," the DUI's top adviser Agron Buxhaku said.

"But we would not like a repetition of 2001. We will do the utmost to avoid it and change the mind of Mr Gruevski by political means in order for the political will of Albanians expressed during the elections to be respected," he said, expressing doubts that the leadership can resist any longer the growing discontent and pressure inside the DUI.

In 2001, Macedonia experienced seven months of heavy fighting between Albanian separatists and Macedonian security forces, ended by the June 2001 Ohrid Agreement – brokered by EU and NATO diplomacy - in which the Macedonian government agreed to improve the rights of the Albanian population.

Mr Gruevski's centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party led the Macedonian government during the 2001 hostilities, while the DUI's president Ali Ahmeti led the Albanian guerrillas.

Mr Buxhaku last week held meetings with EU officials in Brussels, telling DTT-NET.COM after the talks that "We are to decide in coming days on our next steps."

Buxhaku said various options are on the table, including the disruption of relations between municipalities on the west of the country - which is mainly populated by ethnic Albanians - and the central government.

Such a move according to Buxhaku may be the first concrete "political step" to be launched soon as a message to Gruevski that "his government doesn't represent the majority of Albanians and can not function in whole territory of Macedonia."

Ethnic Albanians make up about 25 per cent of Macedonia's 2.2 million population and DUI together with its partner Party of Democratic Proseperity (PDP) won 17 parliamentary seats, or more than 60 percent of support of the voters of the Macedonia's main minority.

The looming instability in the country is likely to negatively influence Macedonia's first EU progress report due out in November since the country scooped official candidate status last December.

The EU made clear that Skopje can only start actual accession talks if it steps up reforms, including further improvements on the rights of ethnic Albanians.

Monday, September 04, 2006

England have mindset to survive Balkan cauldron

With 15 military helicopters parked next to the main runway here, and advertisements for bullet-proof glass in the arrivals hall, England's players could have been forgiven a momentary shiver of apprehension on landing in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia last night.

England players can be prey to negative thoughts on their travels, even bad bouts of homesickness, which is one of the many reasons Steve McClaren appointed the respected sports psychologist Bill Beswick to his back-room staff.

Basking in the burning sun yesterday, its cafes full of people, Skopje is far from threatening, but Beswick will be on hand to encourage the right "mental toughness" in McClaren's players for when they enter the Gradski Stadium tomorrow. Their confidence will also be lifted by Rio Ferdinand declaring himself fit to start following a toe injury.

For a collection of players who have achieved much at club level, it is surprising that England's finest have melted when the heat is on internationally. Macedonia hardly pose the greatest test of English mettle, but Ferdinand, John Terry, Steven Gerrard and company must not reveal a hint of uncertainty before such a partisan Balkan audience.

The importance of doing well on the road was stressed by Beswick. "In international football, nearly all the really key games for a player will be played away from home and in tournaments," England's team psychologist said.

"In those circumstances, there are so many more opportunities for negatives to affect and influence attitude. My role is to support Steve McClaren in developing a winning England team by focusing on the mental and emotional strengths that are part and parcel of winning international teams.

"My belief centres around the basis that performance follows attitude. My job is to look at all elements that create a winning attitude.

"Some of those would include confidence, concentration, emotional control, mental toughness, resilience and so on."

Beswick is no stranger to England's players, having worked with "three-quarters" of them at Under-21 and Under-18 level and some at Middlesbrough and Manchester United. Gerrard consulted Beswick when sorting out his hastiness in the tackle that drew red cards early in his career. Beswick recommended the appliance of patience, built around the "traffic light" principle of stopping for thought before charging in.

England's internationals certainly respect Beswick and are open to his ideas. "There is a difference now in today's players from those of the past," Beswick explained to England supporters via a column in Saturday's Andorra programme.

"These players will willingly grasp any opportunity to build and develop their game. If they see me as someone who can help, they will make full use of me. I think we can have a very successful and interesting journey with this group of players."

The journey will be more successful if Beswick can engender a mental toughness at moments of most stress, namely in penalty shoot-outs. "People talk about penalties being a test of the mind," McClaren observed. "There is no better person in the country than Bill to help us address this area."

England's head coach was delighted that Ferdinand came through a full training session yesterday, although Luke Young (ankle) and Chris Kirkland (back) failed to travel.

England arrived only with young Ben Foster as back-up to Paul Robinson, and Scott Carson has been placed on stand-by with the Under-21s in Switzerland.

Fiery fans give England added bonus

UEFA has warned the Football Federation of Macedonia (FFM) that it will award a 3-0 victory to England in tomorrow’s European Championship qualifier if there is a repeat of the crowd trouble that marred their last visit to the former Yugoslav Republic.

Steve McClaren’s second competitive match as head coach takes place three years to the day since his predecessor, Sven-Göran Eriksson, secured a narrow 2-1 win in Skopje in a match overshadowed by racist abuse from the home support.

In a malevolent atmosphere, Emile Heskey was greeted with monkey chants almost every time he touched the ball, flags of St George were burnt in the stands and there was a violent undercurrent on the pitch, with Artim Sakiri, the former West Bromwich Albion midfield player, threatening David Beckham with the chilling words: “You’re going to die tonight.”

The FFM was fined Sw Fr25,000 (about £11,000) for failing to control its supporters on that occasion, but faces a far stiffer punishment if there is a repeat tomorrow night. European football’s governing body changed its regulations last month in order to comply with section 59 of Fifa’s disciplinary code, giving it new powers to award matches by default, deduct points and even dis qualify associations from their competitions in the event of violence or racist abuse.

“The difference with three years ago is that the sanctions at our disposal are much stiffer,” William Gaillard, the Uefa director of communications, said. “Macedonia risk losing the game 3-0 if their supporters misbehave. There are fines, suspension, ground closure and the loss of points and the match itself for serious offences. We have the ammunition if anything goes wrong. There were serious breaches three years ago but a lot of good work has been done since then. We hope that the mixture of education and threats will deter people from behaving badly. But the fact that there have been incidents before will be a factor as recurrence will be punished severely.”

Piara Powar, of Kick It Out, the campaign against racism, welcomed Uefa’s stance, which may help Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Jermain Defoe to escape the treatment dished out to Heskey. “If we saw any problems this week, we could more or less guarantee that Macedonia would be clobbered with a ban and a fine,” he said.

A total of 400 police, including a dozen officers from Scotland Yard, will be on duty at the City Stadium. Unlike three years ago, when 500 England fans defied the FA’s wishes not to travel, segregation will be strictly enforced with the 3,000 travelling fans sitting well away from their 15,000 counterparts.

Racism is far harder to police, though, as Zoran Nikolovski, the FFM’s press officer, acknowledged. “We do not have problems with physical violence but sometimes other types of bad behaviour from the stands,” he said. “It’s difficult to say that we’re absolutely confident it won’t happen again. There could be problems with racist chanting, whistling the English anthem or issues with the flag.

“The federation has worked very hard with supporters to get rid of this type of behaviour. We’ve put a lot of information in the newspapers pointing out that we could be punished. I think there will be a very good atmosphere and that people will only think about football.”

Macedonia’s standards have slipped since they ran England close in two European Championship qualifiers — drawing 2-2 at the St Mary’s Stadium before taking the lead in the home defeat — but the appointment of Srecko Katanec as coach in March appears to be working. The team have lost just once in four matches under the Slovenian, who led his country to the finals of Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, and began the present campaign with a win in Estonia.

“We’ve got a good team and have a chance to be first or second,” Sakiri said.

US President Says He’s Ready to Cooperate with Macedonia’s New Government

Washington. “I am ready to cooperate with you in the direction of realizing our mutual vision for a stable and prosperous Macedonia fully integrated in the EuroAtlantic community,” US President George W Bush said while congratulating Nikola Gruevski on his election of Macedonia’s’ new Prime Minister, Macedonian newspaper Vecer reads.

According to George Bush in the last few years Macedonia has made great progress in the application of the Ohrid Peace Agreement and of the other reforms. The US President also expressed his confidence that Macedonia will strengthen its economy and multiethnic democratic institutions very fast and thus will improve its chances to be invited to join the NATO.

“You have the full support of the US government in your efforts,” George W Bush pointed out.

Macedonia:: Edging Beyond Ethnicity

Five years on, despite the overall success of the Ohrid agreement, peace in Macedonia is less than robust.

In August 2001, after a brief civil war, the Macedonian government signed a peace agreement with representatives of the Albanian community in the town of Ohrid that enshrined the role of the Albanian minority – around a quarter of the population – in Macedonian politics. Five years on, just days after a new government has been sworn in, how has the Ohrid agreement held up?

Overall, Ohrid has been a remarkable success. The fighting has stopped, rebel groups have been disarmed to a tolerable level, relatively peaceful elections have been held. The parties representing Macedonia’s ethnic Albanians have become an integral part of the political process; municipal boundaries have been re-drawn to give greater autonomy to Albanian communities. NATO peacekeepers were replaced by a lightly-armed European Union force in 2003, and both have seen uneventful deployments. Finally, Macedonia was made an EU membership candidate on 17 December 2005, a status it shares with Croatia and Turkey.


Despite these successes, the peace in Macedonia is still somewhat fragile. The ugly wrangling over the new government has shown that certain parties are only waiting for an opportunity to stoke inter-ethnic tension, and that extremist language still finds resonance with some voters.

The July parliamentary election was won by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), a formerly nationalist party that is today mainstream center-right. When it became clear that it would invite the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh) to join the government coalition – every government since the introduction of multi-party rule in 1990 has also included an ethnic-Albanian component – the incumbent Democratic Union of Integration (BDI), the largest party among Macedonia’s Albanians, reverted to its tried and tested approach of threat and blackmail.

A BDI deputy leader told the press, “The PDSh’s entry in the government would show disrespect for the election results and the will of citizens, which may lead to uproar and violence among the Albanian voters and the use of force and Kalashnikovs.” Protests erupted across the Albanian areas. The threat carried credibility since the BDI is the political successor to the Albanian rebels of 2000–2001.

It is worrying that five years after Ohrid, such rhetoric would still inspire parts of the population that seem to feel excluded from the “new Macedonia.” But perhaps the party’s threats also indicate that the ethnic question has been displaced by two other issues that are typical of transition societies more generally: the fight over government patronage and the lack of development in the country.

Its fiery rhetoric notwithstanding, the BDI understands its role to be primarily about channeling benefits to its constituents through the control of certain ministries. This may not be good governance but it means that the BDI has an interest, in principle, in a functioning and prosperous Macedonia. (It also has an interest in running largely autonomous local governments, of course, for which the central state is of much less importance.) But as soon as it is no longer able to dole out jobs and subsidies, it may well revert to ethnic politics in order to preserve its role as the leading party of Macedonia’s Albanians, which would make this a pivotal moment in the relationship between the central government and the Albanian minority.


The second major challenge is economic development, to which the incoming government of Nikola Gruevski – a former finance minister in his mid-30s – must turn all its attention. As long as Macedonia is unable to provide decent living conditions to its citizens (whether majority or minority), many Albanians will continue to fall for the rhetoric of the extremists.

All indications suggest that the new administration understands this. It wants to cut red tape and corporate profit taxes and introduce a flat personal tax rate. Gruevski has excellent credentials as a reformer from his time in a previous VMRO-led government. Together with the PDSh and smaller coalition partners, his government holds a majority of at least 65 in the 120-seat parliament – good enough, one would hope, to push through serious reform. The tangible prospect of EU membership will also provide incentives for reform, and for tackling corruption, a serious brake on the country’s development. (Corruption, of course, is closely linked to the attitude of viewing the government as a source for personal and parochial enrichment rather than generalized prosperity.)

Prosperity will not by itself reduce the considerable distance between the two communities, or indeed the numerous ethnic groups that call Macedonia their home. But it will defuse the potential for trouble created by this distance and give the country’s citizens some breathing space.

In the end, however, Macedonia’s viability as an independent and unified state also depends on wider developments in the region.

The situation in neighboring Kosovo helped touch off the 2000–2001 crisis; the province’s independence, which in one form or other is most likely to be decided by the UN Security Council later this year, could help or hinder the stabilization of the Ohrid system in Macedonia. Will an independent Kosovo satisfy the appetite of the region’s ethnic Albanians, or encourage them to ask for a second helping? In a sense, that question is moot. The major dynamic in the entire region is EU integration; since enlargement is the EU’s only strategy for the region, it cannot afford to let it fail. The EU’s resolute approach in 2000 and 2001, closely coordinated with the United States, is still a prime example of successful crisis management, and the EU will not hesitate to engage in robust action should it be necessary to salvage Ohrid, or indeed the stability of the Balkans.

However, the new government cannot simply trust that the EU will take care of the country’s problems. It will need to prove that it can effectively include the entire Albanian community and not just its coalition partner in the political process without alienating its core constituency among Macedonia’s majority. This will be a tall order, especially considering that the two key pieces of the Ohrid settlement that still need to be passed and implemented – police and language legislation – both present ample opportunity for nationalist posturing. Only by tackling these challenges will Macedonia prove that it is able to hold its part of the grand bargain with the EU.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

DSI’s Boycott Threatens the Judicial Reform in Macedonia

Skopje. The new Supreme Court Council with elevated commission (electing and dismissing judges) will have to be formed in the next 30 days in Macedonia, the TV channel Kanal 5 reports. This is the time the Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski has to ensure the so-called Badinter majority in the country’s Parliament, since five of the 15 members of the court council are elected by Parliament and two after a proposal of the President of the country.
The boycott of the activity of the Parliament by the Democratic Union for Integration /DSI/ is threatening to stop the reforms in the judiciary.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Eurobasket qualification campaign resumes tonight in Macedonia

The national basketball team will play its second Eurobasket 2007 qualifier in less than 72 hours when it faces Macedonia in Skopje on Sunday night.

The blue-and-white made their way from Sofia to Skopje on Friday morning in a confident mood after their comeback 88-81 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Thursday night.

Israel trailed Bosnia for the entire first half of its "home" game played in Bulgaria, but thanks to improved defensive play in the third quarter, grabbed the lead and held on.

"We began the qualifying campaign in a positive way, but we most remember that our main goal is to book our spot in the European championship," said Israeli guard Dror Hajaj, who starred in the game with 18 points. "We need to keep on winning and hope for the best. The Israel national team proved once again that it shows up on the big occasions."

Bosnia is widely regarded as the toughest opponent Israel will face in its qualifying group. However, the prospect of playing Macedonia in front of its partisan crowd will be no easy task. Despite losing one the road to Portugal 108-90 in its first game on Thursday night, the Macedonians have the ability to cause Israel a fair amount of problems.

The team is led by veteran guard Vrbica Stefanov, who dictates the flow of play on offense. American-born Ryan Stack is the team's go-to guy. The center, who starred in the BSL a few seasons ago, scored 24 points and grabbed six rebounds in the loss on Thursday.

The task of slowing down Stack will rest on the shoulders of Israel's own American-born big man, who outplayed the Bosnians on Thursday. Jamie Arnold scored 21 points, including eight in a row at a crucial moment in the third quarter that gave Israel the lead.

"I've been doing these kinds of things during my entire career," Arnold commented after the game. "I feel great in the team and I'm glad I could help."

Yaniv Green and Amit Tamir, who also played a central part in the win - scoring 10 points each, will also be called on by coach Tzvika Sherf to continue contributing.

Sherf is hoping that Yotam Halperin will have a better game than he did in Sofia. The 22-year-old Israeli failed to score a single field goal in the entire game and never really felt comfortable against the Bosnians. Halperin's points were desperately missed in the first half and Israel will be hoping the guard regains his shooting touch against Macedonia.

"We beat Bosnia and now we have to concentrate on Macedonia," said the NBA hopeful. "I didn't play well and I need to work out why. We are a balanced team and that's one of our strengths. Whoever plays poorly today will play well tomorrow."

Pandev finds his feet as main man of Macedonia

It is difficult being your country's one star, even more so when you have only just gained acceptance at your club. Macedonia FYR will look to Lazio's Goran Pandev for inspiration when they face England on Wednesday night, but even at this time last year he was regarded as, at best, a bit-part player. Most hurtfully of all, when Macedonians hailed him as a second Pancev, Lazio fans agreed.

Darko Pancev is the greatest player in Macedonia's history. He was top scorer in three successive seasons in the Yugoslav league, totalling 84 goals in that period, and converted the decisive penalty when Red Star Belgrade beat Marseille in the 1991 European Cup final. But then he joined Internazionale that summer, scored just once in 12 appearances, and was so abject that he was recently voted the worst Serie A player ever.

Pandev also moved from the former Yugoslavia to Inter, and he too struggled. He did not start a single game in Milan, and two years out on loan in the lower leagues at Spezia and Ancona brought a return of five goals in 42 games. When he joined Lazio as a reluctant makeweight in the deal that took the immensely popular Dejan Stankovic in the other direction, it would be fair to say that few of the biancocelesti were celebrating.

The comparison, though, is more than a little unfair. For one thing, Pandev was still a teenager when he joined Inter, whereas Pancev was 26, distracted by the war and seething at the skulduggery that had denied him the Golden Boot the previous season; a Cypriot player was falsely put forward as having scored 40 goals, when records suggested he had 19 (Pancev's accusations were confirmed, and he was finally presented with the award a fortnight ago).

For another, Pandev has now found his feet, hitting 11 goals in 22 starts last season, and became a cult figure with an extraordinary slaloming dribble and finish against Juventus. "It was a tremendous goal," said his manager, Delio Rossi. "He has really made a difference for us."

When Lazio faced relegation for their part in the calciopoli scandal, it even seemed possible he might join Arsenal, while the newly wealthy Dinamo Zagreb offered him €1.5 million (£1m) a season to go to Croatia. With Lazio's punishment confirmed as merely an 11-point deduction he has stayed in Rome, but Arsène Wenger's interest is understandable. Pandev is very much an Arsenal-style player, a forward-cum-attacking midfielder of great technical ability who can operate either centrally or on the left.

In Macedonia's opening Euro 2004 fixture, an impressive 1-0 win in Estonia, he played in an advanced midfield role, behind Ilco Naumoski of the Austrian Bundesliga side SV Mattersburg and Lokeren's Goran Maznov. The clubs they play for speak of Macedonia's shortcomings: Pandev aside, this is a squad drawn from Denmark, Ukraine, Poland, Cyprus and the odd lesser German club. According to Nikola Ilievski, Macedonia's coach when England won 2-1 in Skopje three years ago, the only thing England have to fear is the conditions. "Our one advantage is that they will not be able to spread the play quickly because the pitch is very bad," he said.

"For us, a draw against England would be success," said the defender Igor Mitreski, who was once linked with Liverpool but now plays in Germany with Energie Cottbus. "But if we play aggressively and with self-belief and follow our coach's instructions, then maybe we have a chance."

In that mention of the coach lies Macedonia's hope. When Srecko Katanec was appointed in February he was Macedonia's fourth manager in under a year, but his pedigree is better than that of any of his predecessors. Having taken Slovenia to Euro 2000 and the 2002 World Cup, he has proved he can inspire essentially ordinary players.

Then too, he had just one star - Zlatko Zahovic - and it was his tempestuous relationship with him that ended up overshadowing the end of his tenure with Slovenia, as the playmaker stormed out of their camp in South Korea after being substituted during the opening game against Spain. Pandev, contradicting national stereotype, has thus far proved rather less volatile character; Katanec must be praying he stays that way.

Macedonia’s man of steel

Goce Sedloski may not have made an impact during his time in Sheffield but he is set to lead Macedonia when they face England on Wednesday
The player “made his mark in history”, according to Uefa. That there has been no rush of acclaim in his direction was due partly to the “feat” in question, scoring the first goal of the Euro 2008 qualifying competition, a landmark sufficiently contrived to bring to mind those small towns in the US whose road signs trumpet “Home to the World’s Largest Paperclip” or some such.

The obscurity of the player was also a factor. Goce Sedloski? No, me neither.

Yet the name means something to certain people. “Ah, you’ll be phoning about Sedloski,” said Steve Chu, the communications manager at Sheffield Wednesday, as soon as I uttered the word “Macedonia”. The Sedloski who was captain and scorer in Macedonia’s 1-0 victory over Estonia last month is the same Sedloski who signed for Wednesday in 1998, to be billed by Ron Atkinson as the Balkan Tony Adams. His transfer cost £750,000, with Wednesday agreeing to pay Hadjuk Split a further £1m once he had gone on to make 100 appearances.

In the event he made a mere four. The centre-half was released just 10 months after his arrival, having failed to get his work permit renewed. Atkinson, in his second stint as Wednesday manager, was already showing barmy tendencies back then and nicknamed Sedloski “Big Bear”.

“He’s a big, affable lad who is always throwing his arms around you,” Atkinson explained.

The other notable facts about Sedloski’s time in South Yorkshire are that despite the shortness of his stay he managed to sustain a pelvic problem, a groin strain and a broken nose; and that he was taught English by his compatriot, the infamous Georgi Hristov, of Wednesday’s local rivals Barnsley. “Barnsley must win,” was the first phrase Hristov coached him to say.

Trevor Braithwait, the editor of the Wednesday fanzine Out of the Blue, said: “To be honest most Wednesday fans have forgotten him. From what I recall he was a talented defender, a cultured player who struggled with the physical demands of the English game and life in England generally.

“He was typical of the European-based players Ron brought in. If you’d heard of them it was a bonus.” Sedloski, now 32 and with the Austrian Bundesliga club SV Mattersburg, is the most experienced of the 18-man squad Macedonia have named for Wednesday’s meeting with England.

The odd story of his brief Premiership career also makes him his side’s best source for pub-conversation trivia — apart for the unbeatable fact regarding one of their goalkeepers, whose first name is Jane.

Artim Sakiri, the former West Brom player whose goal direct from a corner kick ended David Seaman’s international career when the sides met at Southampton’s St Mary’s stadium in a European Championship qualifying tie in 2002, is also still around. Macedonia earned a famous 2-2 draw that day and another reason for England to show caution is the form of their top player, Goran Pandev, a young striker who scored 11 goals in Serie A for Lazio last season, drawing interest from Juventus.

Wednesday’s game in Skopje comes three years to the day since England and Macedonia last faced one another, also in the Macedonian capital. Then, fervour caused by Macedonia’s shock result away from home caused Dragan Kanatlarovski, their manager at the time, to proclaim the fixture the “match of the century”. Bad blood was engendered by what Macedonians perceived as insults about their country in the English press prompting their supporters to set fire to a giant Union flag during the national anthems.

Outside the ground, billboards for a radio station lampooned Seaman, bearing the words “An English goalkeeping masterclass”. It got worse. Macedonia, beginning confidently, were 1-0 up and held their lead against a fairly shambolic England until half-time. England coach Sven-Göran Eriksson was sufficiently desperate to replace Frank Lampard with Emile Heskey and go three up front. Heskey set up an equaliser for the 17-year-old Wayne Rooney, whose volleyed strike made him the youngest scorer for England in an international.

Rooney is suspended from the game on Wednesday and David Beckham, who converted a penalty to give England a 2-1 win which proved priceless in qualification for Euro 2004, is yesterday’s saviour. Only Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and Owen Hargreaves remain from the side that started in Skopje in 2003, and Steve McClaren’s nascent team will be tested not only by the venue but the opposition. Since 1993, when they played their first international following independence, Macedonia have been a curious side, as suggested by the fact that they drew twice against Holland yet lost to Andorra in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, but they tend to start qualifying campaigns well.

The win versus Estonia was their third in a row and third in four games under new coach Srecko Katanec.

Katanec is Macedonia’s second foreign coach and is already proving a better appointment than their first one, the Serb Slobodan Santrac, who lasted just two matches.