Macedonia: Presidential candidates are no choice for working people

Only united working class can show way out of crisis

Recent events in Kosovo/Kosova – an upsurge in ethnic fighting and clashes of the local population with UN/NATO troops – have shown that the ethnic, religious and national conflicts in the Balkans remain on a knife edge.

More than ten years have passed since the end of the Stalinist era and the start of the break up of Yugoslavia, yet these conflicts remain unresolved. Underpinning these ongoing conflicts is the deteriorating economic situation due to the collapse of the Stalinism and the restoration of capitalism.

Bordering Kosovo to the south is the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Like Kosovo, this small country of around two million people has high unemployment and a potentially explosive internal ethnic conflict. The majority population are Slavs and Orthodox Christians, while the minority are ethnic Albanians and Muslims. In 2001, the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK) waged an armed struggle demanding greater rights. After serious clashes, the situation was temporarily defused and a so called “political solution” (called the ‘Ohid Framework’). This agreement was attributed to the late President Boris Trajkovski.

However, with the economy in deep crisis, unemployment standing at around 35%, and the potential for the ethnic Albanian/Serb conflict to spill over from neighbouring Kosovo, the situation is far from stable.

This is the background to the 15 April presidential elections, following the death of President Trajkovski in a plane crash. The turnout in these elections was only 55%. This was largely due to the cynicism that exists towards ’democracy’ in the gangster capitalist regimes of the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

The winner, although not outright, was the Social Democratic Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski. As Prime Minister, Crvenkovski, has overseen the collapse of the economy but he is still expected to win the second round in just under two weeks time.

His main challenger is Sasko Kedev of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (VMRO-DPMNE). This right-wing party differs little from the Social Democrats.

The two ethnic Albanian candidates were both eliminated in the first round. It would seem highly unlikely, therefore, that any significant numbers of ethnic Albanians will bother to vote for either of the two ethnic Macedonian candidates in the second round.

As part of the 2001 Ohid Framework, ethnic Albanians were admitted to the government and other state institutions. The former Military Chief in Staff of the UCK, Gezim Ostreni, became a coalition partner in government with the Social Democrats. Ostreni, knocked out of the first round with less than 15% of the vote, will now back Crvenkovski.

The leadership of the ethnic Albanians are keen to hold onto their newly gained personal positions and thus are liable to play up the actual results of the Ohid Framework. But the discrimination against the ethnic Albanians, despite some progress, is still much higher than these leaders admit. Having won positions of power, ethnic Albanian career politicians toned down their Albanian nationalism, which they previously used to provide a power base.

However, as the ethnic Albanian population have very close links with the Kosovan Albanians, who increasingly demand complete independence from Serbia and Montenegro, and because they are disproportionately affected by unemployment due to discrimination as a minority, the ethnic tensions will not remain subdued for long.

In the event of an outbreak of further violence, quite possibly with the Kosovo situation acting as the catalyst, the situation can spiral out of control and widen beyond Montenegro and Kosovo. Revived Serbian nationalism could attempt to intervene in Macedonia to defend their ’Orthodox brothers’ – the ethnic Macedonians. In turn, this can drag in neighbouring states like Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, all of which have their own interests in the region. The danger of a ’Greater Serbia’ versus a ’Greater Albania’, for example, would be posed.

While both presidential candidates in Macedonia continue to look towards NATO and EU membership for salvation, the example of the NATO protectorate in neighbouring Kosovo shows that imperialism actually has no lasting solution. In Kosovo unemployment is around 70% and the national aspirations of the ethnic Albanians remain unfulfilled.

Macedonian and ethnic Albanian workers and poor can have no faith in any imperialist institutions or the capitalist parties that support them, which are not capable of solving the economic crisis or the ethnic and national conflict.

Capitalist restoration in the Balkans has been a bloody disaster. The system has proven itself incapable of providing a decent standard of living and a peaceful existence for the peoples of Macedonia and the entire Balkans.

The only way out of this situation is through the building of powerful workers’ organisations that unite people of all ethnicities and religious beliefs behind a socialist and internationalist programme. The building of such organisations would pave the way for a future socialist confederation of the Balkans.

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April 2004