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Referendum Drive Begins Amidst Veiled Threats

October 11, 2004

(Balkanalysis.com Research Service)- Even as it continues to get a frosty reception from Macedonia’s international minders, the referendum drive has kicked off in Skopje, with organizers hopeful of success on November 7th.

Its fate, however, is shrouded in uncertainty, as more powerful forces lie in wait and the population becomes increasingly cowed into subservience.From ordinary Macedonians we have surveyed recently, it seems that the typical timidity so characteristic of the nation has resurfaced.

In the end, the referendum may be defeated because the citizens are more scared of the internationals than they are of eventually losing their country – a lose-lose situation for a people accustomed to perennial colonization and subjugation.

On a one day visit to Skopje, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointedly told the Macedonians that they face a “clear choice” with the referendum, of either “…a future with NATO, in which stability and economic growth can flourish, or a return to the past.” In other words, “stick with the plan, or we’ll find a new war for you.”

Ironically enough, Rumsfeld was in Skopje to thank Macedonian soldiers for fighting in a war definitely not their own (Iraq), in which they saved the lives of American soldiers.

The patronizing attitude of the “international community” was summed up in a 1 October editorial from the interventionist-minded IWPR. In it, author Michael Saulin haughtily dismissed Macedonia as a “security consumer,” which “only drags itself and its neighbours down.”

Official statements from Brussels have more bluntly threatened the tiny Balkan state, warning that any successful referendum will imperil Macedonia’s EU aspirations – not so much because of what the referendum may actually be about, but because it is not the plan ordained by the EU. In essence, it represents merely an annoying distraction enunciated by unimportant Balkanians, whose desires the Union ultimately has no use for.

Now, the expected counter-referendum challenge from the Albanian side has materialized. More unexpectedly and more deviously, perhaps, it has come from a foreign lobbyist on a single-handed quest for liberation of a third party. The Albanian-American Civic League’s Joe DioGuardi is presently masterminding a drive to collect signatures among the Albanian populations in Tetovo and Kumanovo, for the “International Campaign for the Liberation of Kosova Now” (note the emphasis on “now”).

Apparently, this petition is the fruition of efforts by the Albanians’ long-term paid patrons in the congress, Tom Lantos and Henry Hyde.

While this action may seem to be only fair, considering that the Macedonia initiative was driven by the World Macedonian Congress – also an international lobbying group – the AACL’s efforts in Macedonia are (ostensibly, at least) not targeted towards that state, making the presence of their agitators there more than a bit tiresome.

And so the government is faced with a dilemma: how long will they tolerate such jokers in the midst? Both the SDSM and ethnic partner DUI are encouraging voters to oppose the referendum. Yet allowing a foreign lobbyist to rile up the voters for action in another state is hardly responsible or consistent behavior. The Kosovo issue remains close to the hearts of Macedonia’s Albanian population and the ruling DUI (who, after all, recruited most of their leadership from the gun-toting province).

Nevertheless, according to an October 10 report, every Albanian party in Macedonia showed up at the Tetovo rally to voice solidarity with their ethnic kin and American backers – who plan to submit the list of signatures to the US Congress (as if it was in their purview to adjudicate such issues).

In response to the Western opposition to a Macedonia referendum, opposition leader Nikola Gruevski penned an articulate rebuttal of the IWPR article, making a point-by-point refutation of the alarmist concerns raised in the latter. The article appeared last week in Macedonian in the Skopje daily Vreme, and is recommended reading for anyone wishing to get a more rounded understanding of the issue.

In the article, Gruevski points out the 41 spontaneous local referendums that have already been held on the “grassroots” level Don Rumsfeld is apparently so fond of protecting, and confirms that “…citizens are aware that the 1996 law needs to be changed and new municipal borders redraw. However, the much needed improvement of the present status quo situation, should result from well thought-out change of municipal boundaries. Unfortunately, not all change leads to a desired improvement. At present the poorly designed law, disregarding citizens’ concerns, become [a] huge obstacle towards improvement.”

Looming behind everything is the unresolved situation in Kosovo, which is headed for elections that may well be boycotted by the province’s beleaguered Serbian minority. As the unambiguous stance of Macedonia’s Albanian parties indicates, the status of the internationally-administered province remains a divisive issue for Macedonia’s ethnic politics as well.

According to Beta, the SDSM declared that “…the status of Kosovo needs to be reached through institutions and through discussions between Belgrade and Kosovo.” This remains, roughly, the position of the internationals on the matter.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE, in a rare show of unity with the government rulers, agreed with this statement. More bluntly, the opposition urged the government to “put an end” to DioGuardi’s Macedonian machinations. “The Macedonian government will have to decide by what date the leaders of this initiative have to leave the country,” stated VMRO representative and former Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule, adding that “…they [i.e., the AACL) are free to collect signatures in Pristina.” But does the SDSM have the gumption to expel the troublemakers who are apparently so beloved by their coalition partners?

In any case, it is more than a bit rich that Macedonia’s internal political initiatives are being held under a glaring spotlight as being aberrant, grotesque and deficient, while the role of the region’s number one “security consumer,” Kosovo, in feeding its neighbors’ unrest is ignored. As always, this owes to the willfully forgotten culpability of those responsible for the “successful” 1999 intervention.

In a rare case of the mass media getting it right, a recent Chicago Tribune article commented that, “…the land [Kosovo] is headed in only one direction, toward chaos and bloodshed.” In the end, Macedonia is hardly the state that will “drag down” its neighbors. The fact that it is being treated as such indicates more about the West’s failings in Kosovo than it does about the efficacy of its much-lauded solutions for Macedonia.

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