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Ask Croatian mothers...
The lead article, by Vladimir Milcin, from the
Aug 1995 issue of magazine WarReport

"The idea of Yugoslav Confederation or
Union of the Independent Yugoslav States, also died"

Macedonia: The Right to Be

by Vladimir Milcin

The most natural solution of the Balkan imbroglio appeared to be the
creation in Macedonia of a new autonomy or independent unity, side
by side with the other unities realised in Bulgaria, Greece, Servia and
Montenegro, all of which countries had previously been liberated,
thanks to Russian or European intervention.
But this solution had become impossible, owing first to the incapacity
of the Turkish government, and then to the rival pretensions of the
three neighbouring States to this or that part of the Macedonian inheritance.

-- Carnegie Commission Report on the Balkan Wars, 1914

On May 6, 1991, in Skopje, thousands of citizens gathered in front of theNational Assembly of the then-Socialist Republic of Macedonia. The reason:Sashko Geshoski, a Macedonian and a soldier of the Yugoslav People's Army(JNA), had been strangled by Croat demonstrators in front of the YugoslavNavy Headquarters in Split. Against the rules of the Yugoslav People's Army,not only Geshoski but all the members of the armoured car crew of which hewas a member were Macedonians.

The demonstrators resolutely called on President Kiro Gligorov to stop therecruitment of Macedonians into the JNA and, in that way, to prevent thedeath of any more Macedonian soldiers on the battlefields in Slovenia andCroatia. With that demand, inspired by the death of Geshoski, the idea thatMacedonia could be a member of a Yugoslav Confederation or even, as anindependent state, a member of an eventual Union of the Independent YugoslavStates, also died. The people's demonstration was a spontaneous referendumfor an independent and sovereign Republic of Macedonia. Rather than supportfor Macedonian nationalists, who were also represented that night at theAssembly, it was a call for Macedonia to avoid conflict. It was a call forpeace.

How many of us were aware of the difficulties and obstacles the Republic ofMacedonia would have to face on the endless road towards independence,security and prosperity? For the leaders of the Macedonian nationalisticparties, it was very simple: they said that an independent Macedonia wouldbe a natural result of a higher justice and a compensation for the historicsufferings of the Macedonians. For the leaders of the ethnic Albanians, thelargest minority in Macedonia, an independent and sovereign Macedonia wouldbe possible only as a result of an agreement between the two nations:Macedonians and Albanians. For the militant speakers of the Serbs, the ideaof an independent Macedonia was simply ridiculous. And for the radicalswithin the Macedonian diaspora in the West, independent Macedonia would beonly a partial fulfilling of their dreams about the lost parts of thefatherland which became parts of Greece and Bulgaria after 1913.

Balancing these various pressures, a solution for the survival of the newlyindependent state was found in the concept of Macedonia as a state of allits citizens, according to the articles of its Constitution determiningbasic freedoms and rights of the citizens of the Republic of Macedonia. Thecreators of independence did not forget that Macedonia is the only countrywhere Macedonians have the freedom to be Macedonians: to speak Macedonianand to develop a Macedonian national culture. This dimension of theindependence is expressed in the preamble of the Constitution. In otherwords, it is the only territory on which they may secure the development ofthe two pillars of their national identity. In a referendum on independentSeptember 8, 1991, the majority of citizens endorsed this solution - withone very significant exception. The majority of the ethnic-Albaniansboycotted the vote.

The implications of that were the increased suspicions among the Macedonianmajority about the "secret separatist plans" of the Albanian minority andpermanent accusations on the address of the multi-ethnic government for"rewarding instead of punishing" disloyalty of members of the largestminorty. The dispute over the issues of civil rights and citizen loyalty hascome to the fore several times during the past four years in particular withthe Albanian MP's boycott during the adoption of the Constitution, thereferendum for Illyrida and letters protesting the eventual admittance ofMacedonia to the OSCE and Council of Europe. It is obvious thatmisunderstandings and differences between the majority and the largestminority wree growing on the question: How to secure the integration of allthe citizens respecting ethnic specifics at the same time?

Was it a miracle for an independent Macedonia to suddenly appear on theworld maps? Did another miracle happen when the Yugoslav People's Armywithdrew without any shooting or shelling? A chain of miracles? A game ofaccidents? A strange mixture of fears and wisdom? A hallucination permittedtemporarily by the great powers and only tolerated temporarily by thestronger neighbours? Until the next and final partition of Macedonia?

While the new republic anticipated strains both internally and from thenorth, few people in Macedonia expected trouble with Greece. While Bulgariawas overcoming the burden of its Communist past and Albania was strugglingwith the consequences of its unique isolation and poverty, Serbia was flyingon the wings of nationalism and riding the war-horse. But Greece was a partof the non-communist world - stores throughout Macedonia were full of goodsbearing the "Made in Greece" label, the Greek port of Thessaloniki was avery popular spot for shopping, and the Aegean coast was the most popularsummer resort area for many Macedonians, especially the relatively poor.More than 70 years after the Balkan Wars and more than 40 years after theGreek civil war in Greece, no one expected Balkan ghosts to cast a shadow onGreece-Macedonia relations.

This view was of course naive, as some signals from Greece could havesuggested. Although Greece had a Consulate General in Skopje for more thanfour decades, Macedonians had to wait for days to get Greek visas.Macedonians born in Greece, even those with Australian, Canadian or USpassports, were often not allowed to visit Greece. Even now, Greekauthorities are very selective: only "Greeks by origin" have the right tovisit villages and towns of their birth or ancestry. Greece, it appears, ismuch more a Balkan country than a European one.

So how realistic was it to expect that, in the heat of the Southern Balkans,this small and poor country - with one border closed due to the Greekembargo and the other half-open because of the sanctions on Serbia andMontenegro - would be successful in preserving peace and soothinginter-ethnic relations? On what basis could one hope that Macedonia wouldsurvive the cruel process of economic restructuring and privatisation amidan enormous unemployment rate of 30%?

The Republic of Macedonia is the only one of the ex-Yugoslav republics whichis still something "former." There is no "Former Yugoslav Republic ofSlovenia." Croatia is not known as "FYROC." There is only FYROM! Is it anentity only belonging to the past, without a certain future? Is it onlylunacy to still talk about he Republic of Macedonia as a future civilsociety, respectful of the rule of law?

What about its citizens? Are they also only past entities with a veryquestionable future? Do the Macedonians, former citizens of the formerfederal state, have to resurrect after a war fire, if they wish for theirexistence not to be ignored? Will they be allowed? Is their fate to beghosts from the past: Western Bulgars, Southern Serbs, Slavophones, or justsimply Slavs speaking Bulgarian, Serbian or Greek dialects?

A frequent argument against the independence of Macedonia is the claim thatthere is no Macedonian nation - that it is an artificial nation, a ghost ofa nation. But is it possible for books to be ghosts, songs to be ghosts,theatre performances to be ghosts? Can all the poetry being translated intoMacedonian be merely one big ghost? Who dares to underestimate the will of1.5 million citizens of Macedonia as a hallucination? Who will take theresponsibility to issue an order for a million books to be burned, or stillbetter "improved," so that the words Macedonia and Macedonians disappear?Who is ready to put Macedonia and Macedonians at the level of a human rightsissue, rebaptising them by force?

Greece claims that there is no Macedonian majority in "The Republic ofSkopje, so there can be no Macedonian minority in Greece. Bulgaria claimsthat there are no Macedonians in Macedonia since they are only WesternBulgarians, so there can be no Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. AlbanianPresident Sali Berisha is not always sure what the ethnic identity of theminority living in Mala Prespa regions - Macedonians or Bulgarians - sosometimes he seems to think that Western Macedonia is really EasternAlbania. For the leaders of Serbian nationalism, Macedonia is only OldSerbia or Southern Serbia.

What is the conclusion? If there are no Macedonians in Macedonia, there isno reason for the Republic of Macedonia to exist! If there are onlyBulgarians, Serbs, Albanians and Greeks there, it is a good excuse to repeatthe bloody act of the unfinished Balkan drama. Let us start another hunt forthe bodies and souls of the Macedonians. Let us partition Macedonia - thistime definitely and forever.

That is for the majority. In Macedonia there are also Turks, Roma, Vlachs.In a difference of Albanians and Serbs, they do not have their "fatherlands"in the neighbourhood of Macedonia. What will be the fate of these minoritiesliving in Macedonia? Assimilation? Transportation? Extermination? Athensofficially denies the existence of any minorities in Greece. Remember thatsome of them are Muslim - a religious identity not beloved by some of theBalkan regimes. The evident conclusion is that some Balkan politicians donot welcome Macedonia because - the details of any settlements aside -Macedonia refuses to ignore its minorities. There are still serious attemptsto improve the minority rights to a level higher than anywhere in Europe,not to mention the "Balkan state of affairs".

The question is not who will recognise the existence of the Macedoniannation. The real issue is who will respect the right of 1.5 million citizensof the Republic of Macedonia to be what they feel they are? That respect isthe precondition for the survival of the Republic of Macedonia as anindependent and sovereign state. As one of the most important lessons ofhistory teaches, this is also a precondition for peace in the Balkans.

(The author Vladimir Milcin is a theatre director and activist.)

(WarReport is published by the Institute for War & Peace Reporting,
anindependent conflict monitoring charity which informs the internationaldebate on conflict and provides a platform for voices of moderation caughtin war. WarReport provides news, analysis and proposals for resolution from leadingindependent journalists, academics and NGO-workers in the region.)