Can the Albanians in Macedonia be Bought off?
The once and future Prime Minister of Macedonia, Nikola Gruevski, has surrendered large swathes of his government to his Albanian coalition partners, DUI, the political incarnation of the rugged insurgents who roiled the country in an armed conflict in 2001. Even the sensitive Ministry of Defense is now in their hands. Moreover: Gruevski, the ostensible arch-nationalist gave way on a host of issues largely perceived by ethnic Macedonians of vital interest.
Albanian will now be used as official second language everywhere, for instance and effective amnesty will be granted to Albanian terrorists who are alleged to have murdered and mutilated civilians. The measures are to be passed in the rubberstamp parliament in the form of fast track legislation. This unseemly alacrity is decried by both opposition and legal scholars as non-constitutional.
But will the Albanians be placated by these concessions? Can they be bought off? Is their long-term strategy of an incremental takeover of the state and its institutions paying off?
Western thinkers - even in the era of virulent nationalism - ignored Thucydides' dictum ("People make war because of: honour, fear, and interest."). They believed that throwing money at discontent - in the form of better and freer commerce - is the perfect and irretrievable antidote to war. They accentuated interest at the expense of fear and honour. The all-pervasiveness of this fallacy amounts to an almost reflexive defence mechanism of denial of the reality and inevitability of war and of its role as arbiter and pacifier.
In the Balkan, both the United States and the European Union continue this tradition. The association and stabilization agreements they often dangle and rarely sign, are sometimes followed by civil wars. The stability pact brought no stability. And the profusion of aid money and credits served only to augment flagrant corruption and arm the combatants.
The same tried and disproven methods are now applied by cynical and weary diplomats in Macedonia. Aid is withheld and promised as a bargaining chip. Elusive EU membership is supposed to concentrate the minds of the antagonists. But Macedonia's problem is one of honour, and of fear, and only then - of self interest.
The Albanians in Macedonia are economically better off than their kith and kin anywhere else in the Balkan. This, they claim, is no thanks to the state. Official unemployment amongst the young is intolerably high. Access to secondary and higher education limited (especially since the use of the Albanian language in these institutions is restricted). They are under-represented in public administration. The physical infrastructure of their villages and cities is crumbling or altogether non-existent.
To this the Macedonians retort that Albanians make up a hefty chunk of the informal economy, thus distorting official unemployment figures. Albanians in western Macedonia largely do not pay taxes - an act of civil disobedience long preceding the current insurgency. Their admitted undr-representation in state administration is due to the lack of properly qualified and educated cadre. That they prevent their women from attending school does not help. And infrastructure all over the country is decrepit, Macedonia being the third poorest country in Europe.
What preceded what - discrimination poverty or the reverse - is immaterial except to traditional Balkan hair splitters. Economic problems should and can be solved by economic and regulatory means, goes the West. A tweaked constitution, the right laws passed, credits to small and medium enterprises and, presto, problem solved.
But the Macedonian problem - now in its second century - is a lot deeper than any Western pocket.
The Macedonians regards the current state of Macedonia as the final realization of a dream. It occupies less than a third of the historical territory known as Macedonia - but it is theirs, a sovereign state, where they are fully Macedonian in language and in custom. Macedonia to the Macedonians is, in other words, a fatherland, not merely a convenience. They cling to their tiny plot even more tenaciously in the face of Serb, Greek and Bulgarian disparagement. The Greek doubt the authenticity of the current inhabitants of Macedonia as do the Serbs (to whom Macedonia is "south Serbia"). The Bulgarians regard Macedonian as a villager's dialect of Bulgarian. This inane opposition by their neighbours hardens Macedonian resolve to prevail and perpetuate both their national identity and their language. This is a throwback to the 19th century concept of nation-state - a space populated by a more or less homogeneous people with their own history, national myths, language, and political agenda.
Where the Macedonian's attitude is historical - the Albanians' is territorial ("Albania is where Albanians are"). To them Macedonia is a mere territory inhabited by two major nations (the Macedonians and the Albanians). It is a political and economic partnership. As such, it can theoretically be dismantled, or substantially altered at will. Since no single nation in such a citizen's compact can have a privileged position - they each can veto each other's decisions and vision.
This Albanian rendering of Macedonia is much closer to the American instrumental ethos of the state. To Americans, the USA, is the outcome of a social contract constantly re-negotiated and rephrased. It is founded upon piles of documents - the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. It is an abstract entity in flux, re-defined by its constituents and managed by semipternal arbitration.
The Albanian position is also close to the European Union's new found totem of the "multi-cultural society". States belong to their citizens, regardless of colour, race, or origin. Germany, the United Kingdom, and France are slowly being transformed into immigrant societies - dysfunctional melting pots of hitherto foreign cultures and societies. This tendency is further enhanced by the gradual emergence of the European supranational federation. Sovereignty is in the descendant - national cohabitation in the ascendant.
Here lies the danger to Macedonia's future. Both the USA and the EU are likely to coerce Macedonia to adopt a contract-based, multi-cultural solution to the crisis. The Americans are likely to impose on it an American style constitution - and the European are likely to implement a bevy of "minority rights" measures. In a region still steeped in nationalistic lore and enthralled by the spectre of the nation-state, these would spell the end of Macedonia as a political entity. At the very least it would spell the end of Macedonia as the homeland of the Macedonians.