15/09/2002 - D-7
A dramatic turn of events during the electoral campaign: on 28th August the government in Skopje revealed the existence of an arrest warrant against Ali Ahmeti, the president of one of the main political parties representing the country's Albanian minority the Democratic Union for Integration (PDI). The Albanian speaking leader is accused of having committed « genocide and war crimes » against the Macedonian civilian population in 2001.
This announcement has come after a series of incidents over the past few weeks in the small Balkan republic : two soldiers were injured in an explosion in front of a barracks in Skopje on 15th August ; the following day a car exploded on the Skopje-Blace road ; two policemen were killed on 27th August in Gostivar in the west of the country ; the headquarters of the two Albanian speaking political parties were attacked and several bombs exploded in front of Ali Ahmeti's house ; finally on 30th August five Macedonian civilians were abducted by a group who demanded in exchange the release of the Albanians arrested the previous day under suspicion of being involved in the murder of the two policemen.
One week before the general election the situation appears to be taking a serious turn for the worse thereby threatening the peace process and the political stabilisation of Macedonia. It is also a serious cause for concern for the international observers who are there. Because of these events the Democratic Party for National Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE), the main government party has requested the opposition parties to sign an agreement to isolate Ali Ahmeti politically and have also asked that all Macedonian parties commit themselves not to form a coalition with Ali Ahmeti's party the PDI.
The opposition coalition « Together for Macedonia », led by Branko Crvenkovski's Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and the Democratic Liberal Party (LDP), have a wide lead over all the Macedonian parties according to all the surveys.
Ljubco Georgievski's Democratic Party for National Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE) were the winners of the last general elections in October-November 1998 and formed a national coalition government with the Social Democratic Union for Macedonia (SDSM) in June 2001. This government also included two Albanian speaking groups, the Albanian Democratic Party and the Democratic Prosperity Party. On 21st November 2001 the SDSM and the LDP decided to leave the government against the advice of Western diplomats, the latter fearing that nationalists would have a monopoly of power. The Social Democratic Union for Macedonia (SDSM) were in charge of two portfolios : Defence and Foreign Affairs as well as the post of Deputy Prime Minister. The SDSM said that the only reason it had entered the government was the crisis the country was undergoing at the time and that it had always maintained it would leave office as soon as the new Constitution was voted in by Parliament. However it has remained discrete about the main motive in returning to the opposition as quickly as possible. It is in fact totally in the SDSM's interests that the VMRO-DPMNE carries the entire responsibility for the present social and economic crisis. In this way it will not suffer from the unpopularity of the steps taken during the upcoming elections.
The two main parties represented on the part of the Albanian speaking population are Ali Ahmeti's Union for Integration (PDI) and Arben Dzhaferi's Democratic Party for Albanians (PDA). Three Albanian speaking political leaders (Imer Imeri for the Albanian Prosperity Party Parti, Arben Dzhaferi for the PDA and Ali Ahmeti, former UCK leader, the National Liberation Army of the Albanian guerrilla) met in a co-ordination council in February with the aim to "work towards the construction of inter-community confidence, the strengthening of the Albanian unity as well as the improvement of the economic, political and socio-cultural potential of Macedonian Albanians". Tension quickly revealed itself between the three men and more in particular between Ali Ahmeti and Mendhu Thaci, officially the PDA's N°2 but in reality its leader. The latter does not recognise Ali Ahmeti's legitimacy whom he was obliged to support after the UCK won the open support of the Albanian speaking population. Today both men are rivals in the fight for power over the Albanian minority.
Ali Ahmeti's Union for Integration (PDI) takes the lead in all polls and maintains a moderate tone insisting on Macedonian integration into the EU – it deliberately leaves the Albanian speaking population's nationalist claims to one side. Arben Dzhaferi's Democratic Party for Albanians (PDA) is losing ground and therefore has no other choice but to make its discourse more radical in the hope of winning back a little of its popularity amongst the Albanian speaking population. It has been a member of government since 1998 - this, the biggest Albanian speaking party in the country should, if it wins, renew its alliance with the VMRO-DPMNE. However the PDI has still not mentioned the political alliances it will conclude once the elections are over.
Amnesty International's latest report on Macedonia, published on 15th August reveals several cases of torture and arbitrary arrests by the Macedonian police, as well as acts of violence (abduction, physical abuse) by the Albanian rebels on the civil population which appear to be very much like "ethnic cleansing in favour of the Albanian population".
More than one year after the signing of the Ohrid agreement, although progress has been made towards reconciliation, both Macedonian and Albanian communities are still locked in inter-ethnic hate and suspicion, living in parallel worlds – at best in ignorance or indifference and at worst in a climate of latent violence. Just a few days before the election it must be hoped that all of the Macedonian political parties will respect the code of good conduct (laid down by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an American NGO specialised in monitoring elections) that they all agreed to sign and by which they committed themselves to ensure the peaceful, democratic progress of the general election. No one in Macedonia has anything to gain by the cancellation of these elections which are the ultimate stage of the Ohrid agreement but the first the on the path to reconciliation.