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Last Updated: 08/11/2003
Post-Conflict Macedonia: Peacebuilding With or Without Reconciliation
Biljana Vankovska

Biljana Vankovska offers an insight into peace-building and reconciliation in post-Ohrid Macedonia arguing that much more should be invested in the so-called human dimension of the post-conflict recovery.

            Very few question the notion that reconciliation is an important element of peace-building process. However, theory and practice prove that most often conflicts end by political or politico-military settlements and cease-fires (truly, very few with genuine peace agreements and followed by comprehensive peace process). The territory of former Yugoslavia offers vast examples to support this thesis: not a single conflict has been 'resolved' (or better, transformed), and instead there is a series of cease-fires starting from Dayton Bosnia and finishing with Kosovo and Macedonia. Furthermore, there are very few positive and fertile reconciliation endeavours in spite of the army of international actors and missions carried out throughout a decade-long period.


         Without any denial of immense significance of bringing the armed hostilities to an end, one can also notice that as soon as a political settlement is achieved far fewer efforts are invested in the so-called human dimension of the post-conflict recovery. Post-conflict regimes supported by the so-called international community focus merely on 'stabilisation' of the situation and avoid anything that may 'de-stabilise the country' (read their staying on power or preserving 'credibility') and just gained (negative) peace. The reluctance is quite understandable as dealing with the traumatic past, atrocities and devastations is more about restlessness and awakening one's (individual and collective) conscience than about reaching tranquillity.


            Throughout the years of bloody ethno-nationalist conflicts on the territory of former Yugoslavia, Macedonia has been seen as an exception and a "success story", at least, twice: first, from 1991 until 2001 the country was known as an "oasis of peace" in the Balkans, going through apparently upward process of transition and multi-ethnic democracy-building, and second, after adoption of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (13 August 2001) brokered by the international community, which ended the six-months violence, Macedonia is again seen as a paradigmatic case of post-conflict recovery. However, the post-conflict Macedonia remains trapped into a new virtual reality based on the Ohrid Framework Agreement: the international community insists on its full implementation, the government has no vision for the country's progress that goes beyond the document, and the society still faces the open question - what really happened in 2001, what were the roots and the consequences of the violence and even who were the real actors in the conflict. The government is more concerned about its good image in the international arena than with dealing with more sensitive issues related to the conflict. Thus the society i.e. the citizens are left alone in their inevitable search for the truth and justice (whatever it means in practical terms).


            Analysts’ interpretations of the developments in early 2001 vary greatly. Was it a “fake war” whose background was a secret agreement to divide the country, including its spoils? Did the crisis arise from criminal activity involving both Albanian and Macedonian groups? Did Albanians employ violence to incite a dialogue over the final status of Kosovo? Was this an instance of “controlled chaos” to speed up the process of federalization in Macedonia? Or was the violence generated by problems related to issues of human and minority rights? While these different views are not mutually exclusive, they do draw attention to highly divergent explanations of Macedonia’s security condition and future.


            An objective analysis would point out several characteristics of the Macedonian “small war” and its aftermath, which in total make the conflict unique. With the exception of the “Ten Days War” in Slovenia, the Macedonian conflict was the shortest and most bloodless one on the territory of former Yugoslavia. Analyses of the possible causes of the Macedonian conflict reveal more paradoxes. In February 2001, public opinion polls indicated a high degree of satisfaction among ethnic Albanians with regard to inter-ethnic relations. Ethnic Macedonians had a different perception, but in general they did not view inter-ethnic relations as one of the biggest problems facing the country. Rather, the country was shaken by political scandals (the phone tapping affair) and a rift within the governing coalition, and citizens in general were more concerned with crime, corruption, and poverty. When violence broke out, the reality on the ground never quite matched the depictions in the media; two years later, many details about the main military “offensives” seem to indicate a fake war. In sum, the Macedonian public still does not know who the real actors of last year’s crisis were, nor do they know which actors or groups used the crisis to gain political and/or material advantages. Even more puzzling is the list of signatories to the Agreement. The document was signed by the leaders of the four major political parties, yet none of these parties had claimed to be in conflict with each other or incited violence in Macedonia. Certainly, “shadow” actors, such as then UCK leadership and the international facilitators also had a say in the negotiations.


            The Framework Agreement deserves attention because it addresses some of the justifiable grievances of the Albanian population. However, its adoption and subsequent direct influence on the constitution-making process delivered another important message. As many have argued, it has once again been proved (as in Kosovo) that violence can be worthwhile. Following the 2001 crisis, Macedonia has become a region in which violence has been embedded and legitimized. To make it worse, the cultural violence accompanied with new symbols, heroes and martyrs has increased. It seems only the direct violence has been eliminated, at least, in a more organised form (daily incidents, murders and clashes are still present). The genuine peace-building is still far ahead.


           Bearing all this in mind, a group of independent intellectuals has initiated a project on peace-building and reconciliation in post-Ohrid Macedonia. The project aims at disclosing both the objective and subjective truths/perceptions about the conflict depending on the degree of readiness of the societal actors to face the problems and talk openly about them. At the time being, there is reluctance to speak out the frustrations and dissatisfactions arising from the peace process, particularly on the side of the governing elite and the society. The risk is that anybody who dares speak in a critical and open way may be easily labelled a traitor or trouble-maker. The Ohrid Agreement equals a sacred document, or in other words one should believe that it really ended the conflict regardless the distressing processes that take place on micro societal level. Numerous frustrations emerge from the state security structures as well as from some groups of former rebels, let alone the number of internally displaced or even missing persons. Yet many reject the very thought of post-conflict reconciliation either because of the very low death-toll or because of differing qualifications given to the 2001 happening (war/conflict/rebellion/terrorist attack, etc. are just a few of them).


            The project does not aspire to resolve all the problems on the way but to encourage the human dimension of the conflict analysis, i.e. to make affected people and participants' voices heard. The society has right to know what really happened, why it did happen, who benefited and what were the losses and consequences of the conflict. The society also needs to know that there are different perceptions and emotions entangled with the same events. The initiated dialogue will embrace various categories of people, but will primarily deal with concrete individuals, not collective elements or communities as such.


            The project will create a forum for expression and exchange of views, emotions and analyses of the causes and consequences of the conflict in 2001 and its aftermath. It will also contribute to de-mystification of many blurred details about the conflict, or at least will provide possibility to distinguish false from real developments.


            In sum, the project (in its active stage as well as with its completion) will make an attempt to give answers to the following questions:

  • Did Macedonia face an inter-ethnic or another type of conflict in 2001?
  • Who/which were active participants and 'collateral damages' of the conflict?
  • The scope of human suffering (especially on the ethnic Albanian side, which has never been made public)?
  • Does Macedonia need a classical form of reconciliation or truth commissions, or maybe something else?
  • How are actors (international, governmental, civil society) most likely to make constructive impact on peace-building process, or better - what to do when and what not to do, and why?
  • Identification of the peace structures within the Macedonian society, which will be able to bear the future process of recovery.
            In general it is expected that the project will generate significant new insights both in theory and field experience. Most importantly for the very case in focus, it will encourage new peace initiatives and dialogues in the society, based on genuine courage to build peace instead on false heroism/patriotism and violence.

Biljana Vankovska is a full professor at Skopje University, Faculty of Philosophy; faculty staff member at the European Peace University (Schtadschalining, Austria) and director of the Skopje-based NGO Centre for Democracy and Security.