interview by Saso ORDANOSKI
RUSI: Before the appearance of Lobi, and unfortunately later as well, the situation with the Albanian language media in Macedonia hasn’t changed significantly. The clearest indication of that is a comparison with the media in the Macedonian language. I know that a majority – from politicians to journalists – are dissatisfied with the situation of the Macedonian media. However, it should be kept in mind that there are no significant Albanian language electronic media, other than the current Third Channel of the Macedonian TV, then the state national radio and private, small, local TV stations. The latter are economically and professionally weak and their influence is limited, if any. Therefore, there is a veritable desert as far as the electronic media are concerned!
Out of the printed media, we have one privately owned daily newspaper, one state-controlled daily newspaper and a few magazines for children that are published irregularly, depending on how much state assistance is allocated to the project. There is also one weekly magazine, Globi, which has managed to produce 60 issues in 10 years. Therefore, as far as the control of the Albanian language media by the [Albanian] party in power is concerned, it is almost absolute.
As a former TV director, I know that we had a lot of difficulty while trying to convince the editorial team of the Albanian language MTV program to stop serving the party in power. At the time PPD was in power, now it is DPSh…
True, there is no difference. The mechanism is built in in the practice and in the legal framework.
Has the appearance of the private daily Fakti changed anything?
Unfortunately no. First, the influence of the printed media is limited. The electronic media still have much larger influence. Also, Fakti was a product of a small group of enthusiasts. But, in all these years of its existence, Fakti has faced the problem of making ends meet. That makes the owner of the daily very vulnerable, so that he had to adjust his editorial policy and pay a visit to the powerbrokers – the ruling Albanian party in Tetovo. I wrote about that based on the statements of Menduh Thaci. When PDSh came in power, Fakti, based on the proposal by Rexhep Zlatku, at the time the minister of information, were supposed to receive in 1999 about nine million denars from the government. Unfortunately, right about then the daily published a letter from a group of young believers, hodjas, close to the Islamic religious community, at the time in dispute with a group of Islamists in Tetovo, which included a very sharp attack on Menduh Thaci. Thaci wanted to respond to that letter, but Ezmin Azemi, the owner of Fakti, refused to print Thaci’s response, saying that it was undignified, given that the people in question were hodjas. Thaci went through the roof! By chance, he learned about the proposal of his minister of information to support Fakti with nine million denars. Thaci took action and the government grant to Fakti was first reduced to three million denars, and then totally blocked. The then minister of finances Boris Stojmenov clearly told Azemi to go talk to Thaci in Tetovo and if everything was sorted out the money would be paid immediately. Finally, Azemi went to Tetovo, which resulted in an astounding change of the editorial policy - Fakti became Menduh Thaci’s private newspaper.
Fine, but what about allegedly huge funds collected by the Albanian diaspora and donated by the international community as assistance for the Albanian language media?
I am not aware of any funds, here or in Kosovo, that have been directed to the media. It is true that the [Albanian] diaspora is very generous as far as financial assistance for certain projects in Kosovo and here is concerned, namely UCK [Kosovo Liberation Army or National Liberation Army], both in Kosovo and here.
Regarding the international community, I do not know whether Fakti received enough assistance, I have no information of that sort, but I do know that they have received some grants and support. However, recently they have also lost some of these grants due to their closeness to the party in power.
Are they still close to the party in power?
With the start of the election campaign, one day we could see Thaci on the front page of Fakti, the other day Ahmeti, giving truly equal coverage.
In which context did Lobi appear?
Lobi is an attempt to demonstrate that it is possible to create a classical news-magazine that will offer information, rather than try to preach to its audience. This attempt was more linked with people who started the weekly, than it had to do with the situation in the Albanian language media. Our intention was not to educate ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. Lobi started with the initial circulation of three thousand copies, and we have maintained that circulation until today. I would say that we write for the elite. Our target audience are families with higher education, professionals, whose children attend high schools or university, and the wife is working, with at least finished high school. I am happy that these people have realized that our magazine is a normal publication similar to those existing in other communities. Neither more nor less.
How have the authorities been treating you? Have you had “consultations” with Menduh Thaci in Tetovo?
There are a lot of stereotypes about Thaci, but he is a very interesting character and I, simply, love to talk to him, although I definitively do not agree with his politics. This summer, at the Fourth of July cocktail thrown by the American ambassador I spent an hour talking to him an a few others and had a lot of fun! He is really funny! Given all the difficulties that we, as any other publishing company, have with financing our magazine, I told Thaci, jokingly, that I had been looking for him to sell him the magazine and to get rid of the whole trouble, since only PDSh and Thaci have money on the Albanian political scene to finance something like that. Thaci retorted that he would never buy Lobi because we prove that he is a democrat! His explanation was very simple. “Everyone claims,” Thaci said, “that I control all the Albanian language media in Macedonia, from the editorial policy to their employment policy. Every time they say that, I pull out a copy of lobi and tell them to check what you write about me. Therefore, I need Lobi since you prove my democratic credentials”.
We’ve been talking for already ten minutes about sensitive topics, but we still haven’t mentioned the name of the “patriarch” of ethnic Albanians. My impression is that there are always excuses regarding Xhaferi’s role whenever there is talk about democracy and ethnic Albanians, so that every time there are problems Thaci is blamed for them!
I do not believe in the division to good and bad guys in the PDSh! I am deeply convinced that everything that is done within and by the PDSh is always carefully considered and jointly decided by Thaci and Xhaferi. Thaci cannot do anything independently, without Xhaferi’s approval.
Otherwise, I also used to make that split, to good and bad guys. It is not a secret that I met Xhaferi often when he was in opposition. He is undoubtedly a smart man capable of putting things in a wider context. Xhaferi has a personal charisma that attracts a following. A following in Kosovo, for example, during the “murkiest” of times – end of the 80’s and the early 90’s – therefore many individuals who are now leading politicians in Kosovo simply loved to meet Xhaferi only to talk about different “phenomena”.
That’s why he is known as the “patriarch”…
But, the problem is that Xhaferi in opposition is one thing, and Xhaferi in power something totally different!
What is the difference?
Xhaferi knows very well what is going on, what are the true factors of any business, not only in Macedonia but also in the region. He is smart and knows very well what is acceptable and what isn’t, regarding democracy, intellectual engagement, etc. However, at the same time, because he is a smart and rational politician, he knows that in order to be engaged in politics he has to follow certain rules and principles that are valid in politics. I was stunned to realize that he did not demonstrate any resistance to being confined to a very narrow framework. He accepted rules of the game: politics is dirty and you must play dirty to stay in politics! For example, if you’re in power, power brings money; if you don’t take the money, someone else will; it’s better that you take the money than to leave it to someone else. These principles were practiced by Xhaferi the politician; on the other hand Xhaferi the opposition leader and intellectual was most likely against them.
If that is true, how come he failed to predict the appearance of the UCK [Kosovo Liberation Army, or National Liberation Army]? Was he to busy “tilling” the “field” of power?
I don’t know. Unfortunately, Xhaferi predicted his own political future. I am convinced that the appearance of the UCK is the end of ethnic Albanian political parties, because the inefficiency of ethnic Albanian political parties over the last ten years since the independence of Macedonia, brought the UCK to the scene in Macedonia.
In 1998, just before the general elections, Xhaferi talked about the need to unite the ethnic Albanian political factor, even though, until then he was a fierce political opponent of the PPD. Then, his reasoning was roughly like this: “if we do not use the little time we have left and as politicians realize long-term demands of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, we may have to face an even more radical element that would totally marginalize us as politicians”. He said that in 1998, immediately before the elections. He was probably referring to the appearance of the UCK in Kosovo, there was information about the presence of some radical Islamist organizations even in Tetovo. It is true that those factions were powerless at the time, but their existence was a portent of things to come, and an indicator that some parts of the electorate were impatient and did not trust old promises of politicians. Arben Xhaferi was aware of that.
If that is true, then isn’t this a victory for Xhaferi, since the UCK has become a political party? Won’t current BDI enter the same utilitarian, pragmatic scheme in which corruption is an acceptable mode of action, since “if you don’t take the money, someone else will”? Would that not be a sort of Xhaferi’s revenge with respect to the UCK?
The UCK is something totally different and it is a phenomenon that will be investigated.
Why should we believe that that is true?
I think that Ahmeti’s party has some elements that indicate that it is unlikely that it will make the same mistakes made by the PDSh. It will probably make some new mistakes, but I doubt that they will repeat PDSh’s mistakes! Why? Well, if there are any traces of Marxism-Leninism in the structures around Ahmeti, that is their view of the UCK as a moral side of political engagement. I cannot imagine Ahmeti troubling himself with percentages and organizing business to perfection the way Menduh Thaci did.
Could you imagine that for Xhaferi in 1998?
No, not for Xhaferi, but I could definitely see Thaci doing something like that in 1998.
What will prevent the appearance of a new “Thaci” in the BDI?
Their background is different. Even today, if you ask Ali Ahmeti he will say that until now the activities of ethnic Albanian politicians were guided by their personal interests. Ahmeti does not hide that.
I am afraid that Ahmeti is already on the way to becoming an ethnic Albanian Messiah!
Ahmeti and some of the people around him played a very important role in the formation of the UCK in Kosovo. Former UCK commanders in Kosovo, now prominent politicians there, very clearly explained to me that they were unable to influence the UCK in Macedonia despite the pressure by the international community, since they were at least equals to Ahmeti in the UCK in Kosovo, while some of them were his subordinates.
In Kosovo, the UCK has already to a large extent been transformed into a “company”. Would something similar not happen to the UCK here?
If you compare the UCK here and in Kosovo, you’ll immediately see drastic differences.
For example, the initially UCK in Kosovo was set up by self-reliant local commanders who acted on territorial basis in their own village, region and nothing else. The hierarchical structure and the peak of the pyramid were finished much later, on the initiative from the diaspora, with direct involvement of western secret services, so that that structure can be considered to be 90% artificial. On the other hand, in Macedonia everything was just the opposite. It can be said that at the very beginning, the events in Tanusevci and Tetovo, Ahmeti and Fazli Veliu had only partial control of the events. But later, they established full control. The UCK in Macedonia, unlike the UCK in Kosovo, has hierarchy that has functioned all the time during the war. There was an effective and efficient command structure, with the Chiefs of Staff and political leadership that was obeyed by all the commanders in the field. I doubt that the UCK in Kosovo would have pulled out of Aracinovo the way the UCK in Macedonia did.
Does that imply that Ahmeti is responsible for the horrific murders of members of Macedonian security forces, abductions and murders of civilians etc.?
Only within the strictly defined and previously announced framework.
What would that be?
In a war, naturally, it is impossible to control everything. But, I am talking about the strictly defined framework that was known before the start of military activities or the activities of the UCK in Macedonia. There was a proclamation that “hung” for a while on various Internet sites (we published it in Lobi in January of 2000), which defined the framework for the UCK activities. The proclamation said that the activities of the UCK were simply a way to pressure the Macedonian authorities to accept direct negotiations with them – since they refused to recognize the legitimacy of ethnic Albanian politicians because of their inefficiency – about the status and demands of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, with international mediation. Regarding the military side, they announced that they were a military organization in uniform that they would only fight against other men in uniform and nothing else, and that they accepted the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Tribunal. That took place a year before the start of the military activities.
Would you agree with the statement that the UCK appeared at the time when the VMRO-DPMNE tried quickly to push through reforms that would meet many of the demands of ethnic Albanians and that their appearance was in practice a sort of a “knife stuck in the back” of the policy that tried to constructively engage ethnic Albanians, both symbolically and de facto?
Before the 1998 elections, the PPD and PDSh signed the Agreement About United Political Front in which they listed five goals they sought to achieve. When the PDSh joined the VMRO government, none of these five goals were realized. They even failed to initiate changes of the constitution. They said that the constitution, which was adopted with tacit support of earlier ethnic Albanian representatives in the parliament, tied their hands. That is why they failed to legalize Fadil Sulejmani’s University in Tetovo (the demand that led to the founding of PDSh and its becoming the strongest ethnic Albanian party), they failed to increase representation of ethnic Albanians in the state administration, they failed to win the official status for the Albanian language, they even failed to get the Third Channel of the Macedonian TV.
Therefore, the UCK resorted to armed struggle to win the official status for the Albanian language, to agree with Van Der Stoel’s university, to prompt the launch of the third channel [in Albanian language] and better participation of ethnic Albanians in the state administration. Does it not seem to you that the reaction was rather extreme given the reasons?
That’s one way of looking at it. The UCK appeared at the moment when it probably became obvious that despite all the promises the PDSh would not change anything, but that it had ideally fit in the corrupt organized crime that comes with power and had demonstrated that it could not see beyond personal interests of its leaders.
Fine, but was that the reason to murder Macedonian policemen? Why didn’t they shoot ethnic Albanian politicians, PDSh members?
Perhaps, there were such plans as well.
Perhaps, but there were no attacks on PDSh offices. Only police stations got attacked.
Macedonian authorities are culpable in all cases of mass deaths of Macedonian policemen and soldiers. If you ask Ali Ahmeti, he directly blames the Macedonian authorities, because in these case uniformed representatives entered or came to…
Sorry, but I think you’re avoiding a straight answer. The UCK clearly took responsibility for the attack on the Police Station in Tearce, which was the beginning of the fighting and clearly declared that it was fighting the Macedonian state. If we compare the “Albanian achievements” in the war and what the UCK agreed to by accepting the Ohrid Agreement, it turns out that we went through the whole trauma as a result of a fight against corruption – among other – among ethnic Albanians! If that is true, why did innocent policemen and soldiers have to die?
That is not the only reason. Probably, there had to be a war to have these demands realized. Which speaks negatively not only of ethnic Albanians, but also of ethnic Macedonians in this state.
We’ve passed through a big calvary that in the end boiled down to a political game in which the BDI election campaign started during the war to secure their recent election victory?
For ten years we witnessed fruitless policies that included Macedonian and Albanian side, and then after only six months of armed conflict we got the Ohrid Agreement. There is an analysis by a group of people led by Mirjana Najcevska, which concludes that during the SDSM rule rights of ethnic Albanians were essentially restricted, instead of being extended.
Even if all of that was true, methods for achieving these gains seem disproportional compared to the achievements. Thus, the result is not only an improved procedure in the parliament that protects the rights of the ethnic Albanian minority, but also a wholesale destruction of the trust of ethnic Macedonians with respect to ethnic Albanians. And that is a very concrete political consequence that will have a major impact on the state.
That is true. However, the fact that a war, force, achieved what had not been achieved politically in the previous ten years is damning for Macedonia and its people. The same people that dragged out that process for ten years ultimately managed to finish it in six months.
What is the situation today? How will ethnic Albanians vote in the coming elections?
The differences in the forthcoming elections are not only between the Albanian and Macedonian block, but also within those blocks. In order to understand differences within the Albanian block, we should consider that Ali Ahmeti, besides setting up his own political party, also tried so set up the Coordination Council, which ultimately failed. This idea failed, or was undermined by Xhaferi, it doesn’t matter. Ahmeti’s idea was that with the adoption of the Ohrid Agreement, political programs of ethnic Albanian parties are spent, some of the Albanian demands have been met and there is no space for making of other, new demands. Thus, the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement should be the main goal of all ethnic Albanian parties in the coming four years.
But, the Council failed…
The Council failed, since Xhaferi insisted on the leading position, together with Ahmeti, probably convinced that he would have an easy time dealing with Ahmeti, since he is politically inexperienced and isn’t well versed in the Byzantine methods of the local politicians. “I’ll fool them,” Xhaferi thought, “just like I fooled that lot from the Party for Democratic Prosperity [PPD] in 1998”. Let me remind you that in 1998 the PDSh formed a pre-election coalition with the PPD and only a month later, without any consultations with the PPD, unilaterally broke off the coalition and joined the government led by the VMRO-DPMNE.
Thus, Ahmeti started setting up his political party and Xhaferi reacted to that with new policies, the so-called “verbal radicalism”. The basis of that policy is that the Ohrid Agreement is not the end of Albanian demands. That “verbal radicalism” is the result of the current moderation of the former UCK structures. Some two-three months ago Menduh Thaci even mentioned for the first time at a conference of the PDSh youth wing his dream about unification of all Albanians in Greater Albania, saying that Albanians should first form a single state and then join Europe. Even though that is highly unrealistic.
Therefore, now BDI celebrates the first anniversary of the Ohrid Agreement, BDI talks about united, centralized Macedonia, BDI opposes federalization of the Macedonian state and seems more concerned about the fate of the Macedonian state than the current government. This is a paradox: institutions of the system are destabilizing the state, while former rebels, “terrorists” are defending it.
Is the BDI a chance for the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia to break out of the tight circle of ethnic issues?
Probably. The logic of the BDI is that after the first steps in the implementation of the Ohrid Agreement stage will be set for normal political activities. Ahmeti told me on one occasion that after four years he expected to see a Social-Democratic party that will not be split between Macedonian Social-Democrats and Albanian Social-Democrats.
What will happen if the BDI wins overwhelmingly the ethnic Albanian vote, and fails to enter the new government, which may be put together by the SDSM?
Branko Crvenkovski is a very rational man and the SDSM has already adopted the American official attitude with respect to Ahmeti. They accept the BDI as a legally registered political party and cannot ignore it, but they do not recognize its leader, refuse to contact Ahmeti and former [UCK] commanders, but insist on dealing with Azis Polozhani or Teuta Arifi, politicians who were not in the UCK. On the other hand, Crvenkovski says that he does not need Ahmeti in the government, but do you think that Ahmeti would ask to be a minister in Crvenkovski’s government?
Do we face the danger that the BDI, if it is not included in the next government, may return to the mountains?
No. There is no chance of that. I think that the BDI has a lot of space to realize its political plans either in the government or outside it. They cannot be ignored as a political force in the Parliament, regardless of whether they end up in the future government or as a part of the opposition.
Members and sympathizers of the SDSM will probably have an easier time accepting Xhaferi as a partner in the government, although until now he has been harshly criticized. But, in his speeches Crvenkovski has drawn a parallel between discredited individuals from the PDSh with Ahmeti, so that he says that individuals from the PDSh would not want to cooperate because of their involvement in organized crime, corruption etc. If Ahmeti is unacceptable, Xhaferi is even more unacceptable.
The question of stability of Macedonia can also partially be defined as the question of “resistance” of the local ethnic Albanian politicians to the influences from Kosovo. In that sense, Xhaferi, even with his assumed corrupt nature - or precisely because of it! – is more resistant to “incursions” from Kosovo than Ahmeti, given Ahmeti’s involvement in Kosovo, the UCK, and the role of diaspora as a significant extremist factor among the Albanians in the Balkans.
All of that is based on stereotypes. Consider, for example, the most recent visit by Solana. Xhaferi stated that during his meeting with Solana he insisted on independence of Kosovo. To the question of journalists whether he also mentioned independence of Kosovo as one of the factors of stability in the region, directed to Abduraman Aliti, he responded that politicians from Kosovo would decide about independence of Kosovo, and that he would rather deal with problems in Macedonia. Therefore, the difference is obvious.
Is the independence of Kosovo an important political element in the thinking of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia?
Without doubt Albanians in the region have for a while advocated the view that Kosovo must become an independent state in the future. I think that the BDI and Ahmeti are more independent and less concerned about the Kosovo issue. Perhaps, it is a handicap for Ahmeti that he lived abroad for the last 18 years, but I am convinced that he does not care about Kosovo. He is not impressed by the charisma of the former UCK commanders and is not under their political influence. He has no need to go to Kosovo “for consultations”. The abovementioned statement by Aliti is much closer to the BDI (by the way, I have a hard time understanding Aliti, who in the election campaign spent more time praising and talking about the BDI than about his own party [PPD]).
What influence does the government in Tirana have on this whole story?
Very little. They have been behaving constructively so far.
Nevertheless, to what extent has Macedonia been used by the Serbs and Albanians – and perhaps even someone third – as a bargaining chip in the discussions about the future of Kosovo?
All ethnic Albanians in the region agree about their vision regarding the future of Kosovo and its independence. That is so much ingrained, that sometimes it even seems that people take it for granted and have never really thought about that. Whether and to what extent Macedonia has so far been a hostage of that politics and whether it paid for it, I don’t know. I only know that when the war in Macedonia started the strongest criticism came from Kosovo, since they were concerned that a war in Macedonia would harm Kosovo’s chances for independence.
Would you care to comment on Ljube Boskovski’s announcement that he will arrest editors if they publish “foreign scenarios”? You are an editor-in-chief?
That’s nonsense. Even Boskovski does not believe his own words. That comes from the same arsenal of nonsense as Ljupco Georgijevski’s accusations regarding the alleged role of the United Nations and NATO in our crisis, I’d really like to see Ljube Boskovski arrest an editor-in-chief of any local newspaper?! He cannot do that and he is aware of that. The time of such pressures is behind us. His stupidities, prompted by pre-election panic, fabrication of various scenarios, provocations and such always backfire within the next 24 hours.