% of GDP
International recognition of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's (FYROM) independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 was delayed by Greece's objection to the new state's use of what it considered a Hellenic name and symbols. Greece finally lifted its trade blockade in 1995, and the two countries agreed to normalize relations, despite continued disagreement over FYROM's use of "Macedonia." FYROM's large Albanian minority and the de facto independence of neighbouring Kosovo continue to be sources of ethnic tension.
The Macedonians are still experiencing a serious security problem where the Albanians are concentrated. A small number of still active guerrillas are causing incidents that threaten an autumn 2001 ceasefire. But, as we shall see, after setting out what is going on and the history behind it, a new solution is being tried out.
The Macedonians greatly benefited at first from the anti-terrorist campaign since 9:11. The top ranking NATO force- commanders committed themselves to keeping their troops in the troubled Balkan republic after the `Amber Fox ' mission ended in March, 2001.An ugly situation was defused in early autumn of that year as a direct result.
But the Albanians still form a disaffected minority of one third or more (nobody quite knows).Unfortunately it is by no means certain yet that the worst is over. There have been recent incidents involving Albanian activists in Kosovo, about which the world now knows so much. Unidentified members of the National Liberation Army (UCK), the former ethnic Albanian secessionist movement, whose voluntary disbandment in the autumn of 2001 raised hopes of a permanent end to discord, subsequently issued a threatening statement.
The statement indicated that certain disbanded members "will organise and reactivate their units" in preparation for renewed clashes with Macedonian forces. The statement was not made by any leader of UCK and came as a surprise to many of its former members. But there are obviously discontented elements still around among the Albanians in Macedonia.
History of the conflict
The insurgency of the rebels began in February 2001 and lasted for nine months. It ended after more than 100 people were killed, including 60 Macedonian security forces, mainly due to the trust the Albanians came to repose in NATO, which had after all helped their kith and kin in Kosovo in 1999. The militia disbanded in September 2001 after a peace agreement granted the Albanians more rights. But clearly some feel that this has not been implemented fully enough.
In mid-January, 2003, the ethnic Albanian underground group, Albanian National Army (AKSH) announced its intention to mount new offensives. AKSH representatives noted that the Macedonian security forces had been receiving reinforcements from Serbia, Russia, Ukraine and Croatia. They also accused the Slav-Macedonian fraction of the Skopje government of "legalising paramilitary units under the umbrella of the Orthodox Church." This is quite likely to be true.
It was never going to be easy to bring about a permanent concord between the mainly Muslim Albanians and the Orthodox Slavs. But at least a coalition government has been in place, with elements from both communities. The international community needs to remain deeply involved, as in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Update No: 080 (01/01/04)
The West to the rescue
The Macedonians are in a quandary. Their country is the poorest of the former Yugoslav republics, with a living standard of only one fifth that of the richest, Slovenia. Admittedly Slovenia is the most prosperous former communist country of them all. It is of course in a good situation, while Macedonia is a remote mountainous retreat far from the hub of Europe.
Yet once it held the fate of Europe in its hands, when it was ruled by Philip of Macedon and his remarkable son Alexander the Great, who was himself the father of Hellenism that spread Ancient Greek civilisation across much of the known world and initiated what has come to be known as the West.
For this and other reasons it would be well for the West today to address Macedonia's problems and minister to their resolution. It is an open question how best to do that. The patient needs to help themselves. Overmuch in the form of financial aid can exacerbate the problem of corruption, in which regard Transparency International rates Macedonia as among the ten worst offenders in the world. This does not mean that aid under certain circumstances may not be exactly what Macedonia does need.
The president speaks
One person who can be trusted to have pretty sound judgement is its president, Boris Trajkovski. It was Trajkovski who insisted on Macedonia allowing in Albanian refugees in 1999 to alleviate their plight and to ease the situation in Kosovo. This incurs the West in a more recent debt to Macedonia than Alexander the Great.
Trajkovski warned recently his country's weak economy could fuel instability just as the security situation was showing marked improvement. "I am more than worried about the economic situation," he said speaking at a news briefing prior to talks with German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder.
Trajkovski said Macedonian security had been transformed for the better since the 2001 uprising by ethnic Albanian guerrillas against the central government in demand of improved political and civil rights. He said this was illustrated by the planned conclusion of the European Union's Operation Concordia under which 350 military personnel have been stationed in Macedonia since March when an earlier NATO mission was wrapped up. Key reforms are now in place for multi-ethnic government and final implementation of putting minorities into state institutions would begin in the near future. But Macedonia's economy had been badly harmed by uprising as well as by later embargoes and the Kosovo crisis.
High unemployment, especially among the young was an especially serious problem and the situation of some was so desperate that they were easy recruits for organised crime or political movements aimed at destabilising the country, Trajkovski said. Macedonia has a total population of two million of which about 20% are ethnic Albanian.
The country's GDP was projected to grow by 3% in 2003 over 2002 in which the economy expanded by a sickly 0.3%. Unemployment is 32% and foreign direct investment in 2002 was a modest 100m Euro. Trajkovski said his county planned to apply for European Union (EU) membership in late 2004 or 2005. Negotiations to join the bloc would encourage greater ethnic harmony, he argued. "Submission of a formal application will create an integrative atmosphere in the country," he said.
A further crucial point for Macedonia remains the final status of Kosovo which has been run by the United Nations and the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) since the end of the 1999 Kosovo war. President Trajkovski stressed his county would accept whatever decision was reached by the people of Kosovo and the Serbian government - including that of independence for Kosovo. "Whatever decision they take we will respect," he said.
But Trajkovski said Macedonian concerns needed to be taken into account on talks aimed at Kosovo's final status. Border disputes between Kosovo and Macedonia should be resolved as part of the agreement and the accord should re-affirm Macedonia's territorial integrity, he said.
President Trajkovski cautioned that some in Kosovo and Serbia believed Kosovo independence would allow border changes or that a portion of Albanian Kosovo and the far smaller Serb part would set a precedent for carving up Macedonia. It was therefore vital that the international community focus on the bigger regional picture - not just Kosovo itself, he emphasised.
The government, which was formed in September last year, has been reshuffled. In the first major reshuffle of Premier Branko Crvenkovski's government, he replaced four ministers in early November.
The ministers of finance, economy, transport and justice were changed as the government faced a tide of criticism for stalling in the reform process and reducing inflows of FDI. Only $16m was reported to have come in during the first half of 2003. The Prime Minister pledged to secure $200m in 2004.
Other criticisms concern the inability of the government to counter the radicalism of those who openly undermine the Ohrid peace deal, some even arguing for ethnic partition. Poor relations between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians in the country will take time to heal.
Greek airline launches Athens-Skopje flights
Greek operator, Aegean Airlines, started to fly to Skopje on 10th December, a MIA News Agency correspondent reported from Athens recently.
Five flights a week will be made, which is in the framework of operator's plans to enlarge its operations in the Balkan region.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Macedonian, Montenegrin officials propose "transit corridor" through Kosovo
During his recent visit to Montenegro, Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski reconfirmed good relations between the two countries and the commitment of the state leadership to intensify further cooperation between the two countries in all areas, 'Fakti' has reported.
The meetings between Trajkovski and Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic and Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic focused on the need to deepen economic relations and cooperation, thus contributing to the economies of both countries.
In this respect, Trajkovski and Vujanovic announced initiatives for opening a transit corridor through Kosovo in order to improve trade between Macedonia and Montenegro.
Macedonian government spokesman, Saso Colakovski, said that the idea of a corridor through Kosovo had been discussed during the talks between the government officials and the Montenegrin president during his recent visit to Macedonia.
In order to make the opening of the corridor through Kosovo possible, it is necessary to consult the administrative authorities in Kosovo, he said, adding that a transit corridor was a very interesting idea because Macedonian goods could be delivered to Montenegro through Kosovo.
Commenting on the idea of a transit corridor Kosovo government spokeswoman, Mimoza Kusari, said that, although this issue fell under the powers reserved for UNMIK [UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo], the Kosovo government thought that it would be to the benefit of Kosovo.
"Kosovo is always in favour of becoming part of a free trade zone, that is, free movement of people, vehicles, goods and ideas," she said, commenting on the idea. She also said that technical obstacles to this corridor should be resolved first.
If the opening of a transit corridor through Kosovo would enable free movement of people, vehicles, goods and ideas between Macedonia and Montenegro, then this should apply to the movement between Kosovo and these two countries, Kusari stressed, adding that agreements between Kosovo and Macedonia and Kosovo and Montenegro should be signed. The Kosovo government spokeswoman said that, although Montenegro is part of the Serbia-Montenegro union [SCG], it has separate laws concerning customs. In this way, the agreement would have to be signed only between Kosovo and Montenegro, without having to involve Serbia in it.
Speaking about the announced intensification of trade between Macedonia and Montenegro by opening a transit corridor through Kosovo, sources in Trajkovski's cabinet say that the idea is aimed at securing faster movement of goods, people and ideas and that this would have to involve the simplification of customs procedures between Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro.
The idea of a transit corridor through Kosovo has been presented to the Montenegrin president, to which he has agreed, sources in Trajkovski's cabinet say. The same sources say that the idea has also been presented to Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi during the meeting between him and Trajkovski this summer in Oher [Ohrid].
In order to finalize this goal, Trajkovski will be meeting the customs directors of Macedonia, Kosovo and Montenegro in Shkup [Skopje]. If an agreement is reached, then the unimpeded transit could resume on 1st January 2004.
Unofficially, it was learned that this meeting will also discuss the possibility of extending the border crossing between Macedonia and Kosovo, that is, adding another lane to the Bllace [Blace] border crossing, to be used exclusively by heavy vehicles, which would speed up the traffic of goods between Kosovo and Macedonia.
Minister expresses Russia's readiness to invest in Macedonian energy sector
Russia is ready to invest in Macedonia, particularly in the energy sector, Russian Deputy Energy Minister, Igor Leonov, said on 3rd December at a meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski.
Leonov, who is a co-chairman of the Macedonian-Russian Committee on Trade-Economic and Scientific-Technical Cooperation, briefed Crvenkovski about his working visit to Macedonia. He referred to the reconstruction of the mining company, REK [Mining Energetic Plant] Bitola, restart of the steam power plant, Negotino, and other energy projects, which are attractive for Russian companies.
Crvenkovski said that Macedonia was ready to cooperate with both public and private Russian companies in the sphere of energy.
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