by Vladimir JOVANOVSKI
What a bucolic idyll! The well-known folk number by Synthesis invited all residents of Skopje Leptokarija to head for the rally of the united opposition by the new fountain spring in the center of the district. Just like in Dragan Dautovski's song. At first the response was weak. There were more kids than adults. Little Kiko, Bojan, and Petar were taking turns jumping and trying to reach the microphone, shouting Ma-ce-donia, Ma-ce-donia... Until security came and chased them away.
In front of the space where the stage was supposed to be set a middle aged man was directing cars and motorcycles, smartly assessing that the rally could produce a significant financial gain for him. Sellers of popkorn, donuts, sunflower seed and peanuts were also present.
Regarding the adults, the female population was predominant. Young mothers with tempting thongs, high school students on roller blades, and rheumatic elderly aunts who first occupied the new benches, renovated during the election campaign. There were very few men at first. Only a few scantily dressed neighbors in slippers and a kid on a moped who was trying to weave his way between passersby at full speed.
After a short wait, rally participants started gathering. First a pair of liberals showed up, then we saw former directors of state-owned companies and state services, then distinguished members of the VMRO-DPMNE, and finally the speakers arrived. Pavle Trajanov, Stojan Andov, Ganka Samoilova Cvetanova and Borko Andreev. Zarko Jordanovski, the colleague from Dnevnik got his five minutes, and used them well, announcing that the referendum would bring down the government, which elicited a giggle from Ganka and Borko. Andov spoke last. He excited folk singer Samanta so much that immediately after the end of Andov's speech she ran to the stage and personally congratulated him, despite her, some would say, inappropriate wardrobe, both given the occasion and Mr. Andov's age (Samanta was dressed in provocative white hot pants and a black T-shirt with the slogan Serbia for Serbs).
The opposition leaders repeated the same views they have been repeating for months. Trajanov said that the proposed territorial division would imply "Beirutization of Skopje" and "Lebanonization of Macedonia". That assertion may have been valid in the eighties, but today Lebanon is again one of more prosperous Arab states, while Beirut again hosts conferences of global importance. Noticeably slimmer Samoilova, with her fragile appearance, repeated the "disclaimer" that the referendum was not only a Macedonian referendum and that the collection of signatures was not directed against Albanians. Of course, an overwhelming majority of signatures on the petition demanding a referendum on the territorial division were ethnic Macedonians. Of course, those supporting the referendum would like to block the chance the new law gives to ethnic Albanians - to elect mayors of Struga and Kicevo. The reaction of a young Muslim woman, dressed in the Muslim garb, clearly illustrates whether the campaign was anti-Albanian. The woman stepped out from the nearby store Whirlpool during Ganka's speech and, as soon as realizing what was going on, grabbed her husband by the hand and quickly left the area.
Andov, on the other hand, praised citizens of the Karpos municipality as the most diligent campaigners for the referendum, which demonstrated that ethnic Macedonians are an enlightened nation. Well, only four months ago the very same Karpos overwhelmingly voted for Branko Crvenkovski [presidential candidate of the ruling SDSM]. Four months ago, the SDSM presidential candidate won almost twice as many votes as VMRO candidate Sasko Kedev, and a similar trend was recorded in almost all ethnically mixed parts of the country, from Struga to Kumanovo. Although it is possible to argue that in the second round of the presidential election the support provided by ethnic Albanian BDI skewed the results in favor of Crvenkovski, that does not apply to the first round, as in the first round the BDI had its own candidate. That implies that in both rounds of the presidential election precisely ethnic Macedonians from bi-ethnic areas overwhelmingly voted for Crvenkovski and are now collecting signatures against the law advocated by Crvenkovski.
What has produced such a turnaround in the political views of ethnic Macedonians? Well, apparently ethnic Macedonians from Skopje and Western Macedonia were convinced that the Master of the Left, Crvenkovski, would somehow magically "save" Kicevo and Struga from ethnic Albanians, as was indicated by the draft law presented in 2003. However, Branko not only did not "save" these cities, but added Skopje to them, even though in the first phase of negotiations Skopje was not supposed to become officially bilingual. Very few had doubts that this gesture was Crvenkovski's way of thanking his coalition partners for mass support he received from ethnic Albanians in the presidential election. Even worse, Crvenkovski blamed his own colleagues, deputy presidents of the SDSM for incompetently negotiating with the BDI (and DPSh, as Tito Petkovski explained in Start).
And they, that is the negotiators, engaged in negotiations the way any other Social Democrat would - attempting to manipulate the public. For 42 days journalists, above all from electronic media, fed the people more and more speculation of the sort "the current proposal is to add Oslomej to Kicevo, but without Zajas, while Struga will remain within present borders and Saraj will be joined with Skopje, replacing Kale, all of which will place us on the path towards European integration" (!?)... That is the standard, characteristic SDSM "transparency". On the other hand, journalists love that type of situation, which places them in the center of manipulation and makes them masters of illusion. (You know who I'm taking about, right?)
Now, after the negotiators have "messed up" the work, various excuses are being sought - "top secret" rumors have it that Albanians are responsible for everything. While publicly they claim that relations with Albanian partners have never been better, secretly they accuse them of being responsible for everything. That is the well-known principle of behavior, which always backfires when employed by the SDSM leadership, but they simply cannot stop using it. The principle boils down to the motto: We'll screw you all!
Now, they are doing the same with the referendum. Once they realized that there was no joking with Ljubco Georgievski's "army", they decided to join the game. SDSM officials even stated that if the opposition failed to collect the necessary 150,000 signatures, they would help them as the voice of the people must be heard (sure!). It cannot be excluded that SDSM members contributed to the lines in front of the offices of the Ministry for Justice. How else can one explain the rapid growth of anti-territorial and nationally awakened Macedonian crowds in the days before August 23?
Instead of reaching for Byzantine maneuvers and secret strategies, the SDSM should show more sincerity and tell the voters that the new territorial organization of the country is the result of the 2001 war. In that war members of the ethnic Albanian community won something that could be described as a victory against the majority nation. In other words, ethnic Macedonians were defeated! Since ethnic Albanians won in the battlefield, they demand political concessions. Since they rejected the generous offer by Ljubco Georgievski to get a part of Macedonia as a separate state ("that would have the right to enter alliances with..."), now they demand a part of Macedonia within her borders. Something like the Republic of Srpska in Bosnia, although without demarcated internal borders and a separate name. They demand that not because they love ethnic Macedonian infidels, but because they want a third Albanian state in the Balkans, even if they have to share her with Slavs. That is the truth and the whole truth about the new territorial division.
Now, the opposition has collected signatures in support of the referendum against the new territorial division of the country because it preferred the old one (as if the old one was not a territorial division). In that case, why did they not collect signatures for the referendum that would reject the defeat from 2001? Could we organize a referendum that would show that Macedonian security forces, led by the current opposition, in 2001 actually defeated the UCK, only the media informed incorrectly? Or, for example, could we initiate an action against the use of Albanian in the Parliament? How come Ljiljana Popovska has a problem with bilingualism in Skopje, but does not mind bilingualism in the Parliament? Finally, why Todor Petkov does not initiate collection of signatures for the petition proclaiming ethnic Albanians in Macedonia for Macedonians of Illyrian ethnicity - something he has talked about in the past? He would both solve all ethnic problems in Macedonia and in increase the number of ethnic Macedonians by 40%!
All of it is inconsequential. Precisely Todor Petkov was the first politician to in the early phase of the 20001 war call for drawing a border between Macedonians and Albanians, a long time before the MANU proposed the same and before that proposal was to a certain extent politically supported by Andov and Georgievski. If we recall correctly, his arguments went like this: since we hate each other so much, it makes more sense to split up, than to be forced to live together. However, when the time comes, voters will remember these Petkov's words.
Just like they will recall a recent statement by Emira Mehmeti, in which she said that precisely the SDSM insisted on the mode of territorial division applied in Western Macedonia, in which only one municipality with an ethnic Macedonian majority, Jegunovce, is notable. The price of survival of this, in every other way minor, local unit of self government, it seems, was the transfer of local government in Struga to ethnic Albanian hands. If this assumption is correct, is seems that non-Albanians in Struga were sacrificed for the sake of ethnic Macedonians in the north of the Polog valley and politicians with voters in the sixth electoral district. This was indirectly confirmed by a SDSM representative from Gostivar who accused the opposition of only defending Struga while ignoring interests of "70,000 ethnic Macedonians from Polog".
Honestly, there is no chance that that was done due to animosity towards Struga on the part of the SDSM. It is more likely that at work we have some sort of a secret plan of the sort "we'll screw everybody". Perhaps the goal was to at first keep the least defensible ethnic Macedonian majority municipalities, such as Vratnica, Jegunovce, or Mavrovo, which as drops in the most densely populated ethnic Albanian zone have least chances for defense, so that "easier" municipalities - Struga, Kicevo, Skopje and Kumanovo - could be conquered in the later phases. A statement by Ali Ahmeti, given during the negotiations, confirms this assumption. Meeting Fatos Nano in Pogradec, during the blockade of roads in Western Macedonia, Ahmeti stated that "the Macedonian factor is united as never in the past", implying that the SDSM supports Nikola Gruevski'sblockades. But, it seems, this possible "local" strategy totally backfired. Ahmeti and Xhaferi obviously found it in their interest to for now tolerate weak municipalities in Jegunovce and Mavrovo, if in return they expanded the Albanian "state" from the Ohrid Lake all the way to the state capital. In chess lingo, they sacrificed two pawns for a queen.
Since we're talking about numbers, it's nice to compare ethnic Albanian representation in some of new municipalities with their representation in old municipalities. There are some changes that should be noted, simply for the sake of keeping track of the distribution of resources.
For example, in Skopje, in Gazi Baba, the number of ethnic Macedonians was increased with the addition of several hundreds of villagers from Mojanci, which was plucked out of Aracinovo. Ethnic Macedonians from Cair were moved to the new municipality Butel, while ethnic Albanians from Centar were added to Cair, so that now Cair has 24% ethnic Macedonians and 56% ethnic Albanians (in practice Cair is the former Kale municipality minus Sveti Spas [Saint Succor] church).
The number of ethnic Albanians in Tetovo has significantly been increased - from 45,000 to 60,000 - which was achieved by merging Sipkovica and Dzepiste with Tetovo. Now, Tetovo municipality has 86,580 inhabitants, 23% of whom are ethnic Macedonians (previously 28%), while 70% are ethnic Albanians.
Gostivar municipality has almost doubled, from 49,000 to 81,000 inhabitants. After the addition of Vrutok, Dolna Banjica, Srbinovo, and Cegrane, ethnic Macedonians are now only 19% of population (previously 26%). Similarly, ethnic Albanians now overwhelmingly dominate, their number increasing from 29,236 to 54 thousands. Now, ethnic Albanians are roughly two thirds of inhabitants of the Gostivar municipality, while the remaining third includes ethnic Macedonians, Turks, Roma, Serbs...
As far as Struga is concerned, the balance of power has been turned upside down. Previously ethnic Macedonians were 47.9% of population, while with the new territorial organization, they drop to 32%, while ethnic Albanians jump from 41.5% to convincing majority of 56.8%. The situation in Kicevo is identical. There, current 9,000 ethnic Albanians received reinforcements from 11,000 ethnic Albanians from Zajas and another 10,000 from Oslomej, while the number of ethnic Macedonians increases by statistically insignificant 2,800 residents of Vranestica and Drugovo.
Similar counts of "them" and "us" sound really crude, but that is the Macedonian multicultural reality. Do not allow yourself to be misled by some quasi-fascists who supposedly are above counting and are advocating higher civic values. If you hear someone saying that he or she loves all nations equally, be sure that he is saying that only because such policy line momentarily suits his nation. Ethnic affiliation, especially in the Balkans, is one of the most important characteristics of identity and, except among radical environmentalists and leftists of the cosmopolitan sort (who anyway prefer plants and animals to people), everyone, at least subconsciously, starts from interests of their own nation.
What will happen in the near future? What will be political effects of the referendum?
First, that will be a blow to the Ohrid Agreement. (By the way, Bulgarians are behaving funny, and have switched to the old Serb story, accusing the government of giving too many concessions to the Albanians).
On the other hand, many local politicians see their chance in a mild referendum-related destabilization that faces Macedonia on the eve of the resolution of the status of Kosovo. Above all, this applies to politicians from the Third Way. Their policies, just like nuclear waste, remain radioactive long past their due date. Additionally, there are numerous defectors from the SDSM, led by Trifun Kostovski and his Civic Movement. For Kostovski the referendum is a chance to take revenge on the SDSM and grab a bit of power. Finally, unavoidable schemers during the coming autumn will include candidates for the "throne" of the ruling SDSM. They will use all available techniques to ride popular mood and to harness it to their political ambitions, flirting now with patriotism, then with inter-ethnic cooperation.
But, altogether, the country will be harmed. Well informed Utrinski Vesnik has already predicted that, due to the referendum, the European Union will not send the Questionnaire in September, as the government claims. Consequently the direly necessary status of a candidate for joining the EU will escape Macedonia for a long time. Economic reforms will be blocked, since everyone will be focused on the referendum and the forthcoming local elections that will be held next year. In the end, the collection of signatures in support of the referendum will also harm the career of ambitious Hari Kostov. He is now probably kicking himself for saying that he would resign if the opposition collected 150,000 signatures. If he does resign.
However, all of that we shall somehow bear. But, what will happen if the referendum, just like the collection of 150,000 signatures succeeds?
Then, it would be the Albanians' move. If Ahmeti and the BDI leadership manage to keep the party under control, a crisis may be avoided. However, if the actual power lies in the hands of former commanders of the UCK, then anything would be possible. This shady organization has great expectations from the new territorial organization and decentralization, since they would thereby obtain real and significant power where it matters, in the field, including revenues coming to the local authorities, from the VAT and other taxes. After all, they did not pick up weapons only to get power and cash, but were also driven by some national ideas, such as unification of ethnic Albanians within and outside Macedonia. With the new territorial organization and the Local Government Act they get a possibility to link up ethnic Albanian cities (for example Tetovo and Gostivar) by establishing shared services, administration, media etc.
But, if the referendum succeeds, then that rosy perspective will be gone. What do you think, how will they react? Is it totally impossible that they would again turn to weapons, this time to regain their lost rights? And they will do that in conditions when the military and police will be unable to act with coordination as they are now to a large extent multiethnic?
Fortunately for us, there is a solution in that case as well. It is enough for the Chiefs of Staff to get the list of 150,000 citizens who signed the petition demanding the referendum and to mobilize these nationally enlightened ethnic Macedonian men and women, our new "Lions" and "Lionesses". With 150,000 soldiers, not even 10 UCK armies could defeat us. Of course, provided all mobilized referendum supporters fight on the front, in the first ranks. As if, for example, recruited Vasil Tupurkovski ends up in the kitchen, and Ganka in uniform ends up as an entertainer, there'd be no use.