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An Explosive Start to Election Campaign in Macedonia

June 20, 2006


( Research Service)- Only five days into the campaign for July 5 parliamentary elections, Macedonia has seen at least one violent incident per day between the main Albanian parties, DUI and DPA, causing concern that the country’s politicians will fail to live up to the promises of “fair and free’ elections they recently made in a written declaration sponsored by Macedonia’s international minders.

The internecine attacks, which have occurred throughout Albanian-populated towns including Struga, Gostivar, Tetovo, Slupcane and especially Saraj near Skopje, have ranged from pulling down party flags to brutal beatings and even the bulldozing of party offices.

US Ambassador Gillian Milovanovic and EU Special Representative Erwan Fouere held a meeting on Tuesday, June 20 with the leadership of the main offenders, DPA and DUI, in which they cajoled Arben Xhaferi and Ali Ahmeti to play fair and desist from attacking one another. The meeting resulted in a carefully-worded statement that avoided mentioning the offenders by name. It read:

“The U.S. Ambassador and the EUSR/HoD express their grave concern over recent acts of violence directed against local party campaign headquarters. Such acts will have serious and damaging consequences for this country’s Euro-Atlantic membership aspirations and they must cease now.

The U.S. Ambassador and EUSR/HoD reiterate their call on all parties to work to ensure free, fair and peaceful elections. They call on all party leaders to fully implement the Code of Conduct they recently signed, in particular by publicly directing their supporters to refrain from provocative acts and acts designed to intimidate opponents, and by publicly condemning any use of violence against opponents during the campaign or on election day.”

The internecine tit-for-tat violence between the Albanian parties has been fiercest in the village of Saraj, on the western outskirts of Skopje. As provocations go, this DPA-dominated village has provided positively flamboyant results so far. To kick off the campaign, which officially began on June 15, local perpetrators drove into a DUI office with a bulldozer, reported A1 TV.

DUI chief Ali Ahmeti decided to visit the village anyway on Saturday, June 17, spending several hours there before continuing his campaign in Skopje. After he left, the DPA loyalist mayor of Saraj, Imer Selmani, was shot at by DUI supporters. The next day, two bombs were hurled at DUI’s office in Saraj, breaking the windows.

A report from Dnevnik on June 19 summed up more of the Albanian fireworks so far, including the attempted grenade attack on DUI’s office in Struga on June 17, and an attack on the party’s office in Gostivar early the same day. DUI supporters who survived a shooting in Tetovo told the newspaper that DPA Vice-president Menduh Thaci was orchestrating the violence.

However, DUI supporters have to a lesser extent attacked DPA, and due to the escalation of events, may well increase this turf war in the days to come. According to DPA, DUI is using its position in the government to organize sympathizers in the ranks of the police and secret services to do their dirty work, blaming DUI Vice-president Rafiz Aliti for attacks on their party.

The internecine Albanian violence has also provided fodder for Macedonian nationalists, most notably for the former prime minister, Ljubco Georgievski of VMRO-Narodna. In a recent comment, the former prime minister questioned whether two post-election report cards might have to be issued by the European Commission. According to A1 TV on June 17, Georgievski noted that:

“if with the Ohrid Agreement we became a country of [ethnic] communities, then we ask for two reports. We ask Brussels to prepare two reports after the elections, so as to locate precisely which are the communities that are for European integration, and which communities are stopping the process of Macedonian integration in the EU.”

All things considered, it was not an unreasonable request. Yet the EU Special Representative predictably enough dismissed Georgievski’s request out of hand.

While speculation has arisen as to why the Albanian parties are behaving so badly so early in the campaign, it seems most obvious that the struggle is an acknowledgement that these elections will increase dramatically the powers of Albanians in the government. The likely fractured vote between the Macedonian parties means that any winner of that bloc, probably a wide coalition led by Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE, will need a robust Albanian partner to form a government. The winning Albanian party will be rewarded with not only the usual ample number of ministerial and vice-ministerial posts, but also most likely with a ministry which it has not yet held- perhaps Defense or, even Foreign Affairs or Finance.

Further, developments in the future will make the 2006-2010 tenure in government especially enticing for the Albanian side. In 2008 under the law on territorial decentralization, Kicevo will become an Albanian-majority municipality, giving the Albanian parties almost total control of western Macedonia. Practical implementation of Ohrid Accord stipulations, such as Albanian-language sign creation and so on will be executed. Neighboring Kosovo will be independent and a major concern for Macedonian foreign policy.

There is also the sense that if DPA loses for a third time (the previous two losses came with the Sept. 2002 parliamentary elections and Mar. 2005 local elections) the party will be consigned to the political wilderness for a very long time to come. This could potentially start to eat away at the party’s “business’ control in Tetovo and most immediately its membership base. These are must-win elections for a party that went out of its way to not cooperate for most of 2005, after boycotting parliament following the local elections.

It is likely that the violent first five days of the campaign are just a sign of things to come. If they are anything to go by, these will be the worst elections in Macedonia’s history- and that’s saying something. However, considering the Euro-phobic mood among EU populations now, and the likelihood that such election violence would occur, it becomes clear that the EU and NATO stipulated a condition (“fair and free elections’) that they knew in advance to be unachievable, thus providing another pretext to deny Macedonia membership in the Western club. DUI and DPA are just faithfully playing their part in the great drama of supposed Balkan European integration.

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