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Time to Reclaim Macedonia

By Victor Bivell

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The outbreak of military hostilities in northern Macedonia this year is the first "hot war" episode in a longer "demographic war" between Macedonians and Albanians that has been brewing in Macedonia since the 1960s. History and current models of multiculturalism both show that when two large ethnic groups occupy the same space, conflict and or separation are inevitable.

Opinions are mixed among Macedonians as to how the Macedonian Government has handled the crisis so far. For my own part, I have three concerns:

1. The Macedonian Army failed the win a short and decisive military victory against the insurgents.

2. The Macedonian Government has not sought help from the large and very interested diaspora at a time crucial for the existence of Macedonia.

3. Both the present and previous Government have failed to develop a policy to reverse the rapid increase in the Albanian proportion of the Macedonian population, a trend which lies at the heart of this undeclared war.

When the insurgents entered Macedonia from Kosovo and were joined by some local Albanians, the international community gave the Macedonian Government a clear signal of support for a short, sharp, decisive military victory. Had the Army delivered such a victory, the insurgency would now be history.

Most unfortunately, the Government and the Army failed to deliver. Then, in a suspiciously short period of time, Macedonia lost the backing of the EU and NATO for a military solution. We can speculate as to why, and I think there are at least two relevant factors.

Instead of seeing a quick and clean end to the terrorists, the world saw many thousands of civilians leaving for Kosovo to avoid the line of fire, and at a time when NATO and the EU in particular have no more stomach for refugees from former Yugoslavia.

As it became clear that the Macedonian Army lacked the strategy and wherewithal for guerilla warfare and could not prevail easily with its artillery strategy, the attitude of NATO and the EU changed to one of taking the path of least resistance. As always in politics, any power will respect strength and the side that can deliver. NATO and the EU have found it easier to bully the Macedonian Government than to bully the terrorists. NATO and the EU seek only a solution and seem not to particularly care at what cost to Macedonia. Thus we have the national humiliation of Macedonia having to negotiate away parts of its sovereignty and even its "Macedonian-ness" with, indirectly but in fact, Albanian invaders and murderers.

The lesson is that strength works. On the two occasions when the Macedonian people have made their feelings plain, they were quickly given something for their effort. In less than two days after the people demonstrated en masse in front of parliament, US president George Bush issued his list of banned Albanians and promised to halt the flow of Albanian-American money to the terrorists. (Although we should not dismiss the possibility that this was a quid pro quo for the capitulation at Arachinovo.) On the second occasion, after the Macedonian Government threatened an all-out assault and the people demonstrated outside Western embassies against the ethnic cleansing by the terrorists, NATO quickly brokered an agreement for the terrorists to withdraw to the positions they held at the start of the present cease-fire.

This is how "real politik" seems to work.

It is not too late to show strength. But the Macedonian people, both inside and outside of Macedonia, must ask the hard questions:

1. Why was the Army not fully prepared for the insurgency?

2. Why does the Army not have specially trained and equipped units that can fully secure Macedonia's borders?

3. Why does the Army not have specially trained and equipped anti-guerrilla warfare units that can stop the terrorists and end the insurgency? 4. Why are the Macedonian police not able to capture the "Albanian mafia" and stop their criminal activities that are reported to be behind the terrorists' activities?

If it is to survive in a form that Macedonians can recognize, Macedonia must obtain these competencies as soon as possible, and, in the case of anti-guerrilla warfare, be prepared to act decisively at the first opportunity.

"Demographic War" It is also imperative that Macedonians tackle the real issue: the longer term "demographic war" between Macedonians and Albanians that will decide who will form the majority group and eventually control Macedonia.

The Macedonian Government must formulate a policy that addresses this issue in a way that both preserves Macedonia as a homeland for the Macedonians and is acceptable internationally.

As no policy on this has ever been forthcoming by any Macedonian Government, I have taken the liberty of writing such as policy myself, titled Stabilizing Relations Between Ethnic Macedonians and Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia. This discussion paper was published in Nova Makedonija.

The paper presents a range of internationally acceptable policy options for reversing the trend that has seen the Albanian proportion of the population rise from 13 per cent in 1961 to 22.7 per cent in 1994, while at the same time the proportion of Macedonians fell from 71.2 per cent in 1961 to 66.6 per cent in 1994.

While Macedonians were busy leaving Macedonia during the 1970s and 80s, Albanians from Kosovo were busy coming in. It is this dramatic change in demographics that has made possible the current insurgency and uprising.

Here is a clear example of the expression "politics is a numbers game". If Macedonians wish to keep "Macedonia for the Macedonians", we need to play this numbers game and win.

There are more than enough Macedonians around the world to re-assert the Macedonian right to control Macedonia. The problem is that more than half, on a conservative basis at least 1.5 million, live outside of Macedonia compared to 1.3 million inside Macedonia. It would go a long way towards solving the demographic problem if it were possible to some how pick up the Thomastown-Lalor-Epping region of Melbourne and place it between Tetovo and Gostivar. Likewise with the Macedonian part of Toronto, and for a number of other parts of the world.

Of course, this is not possible physically, and would be difficult socially, but it illustrates that Macedonia has more than adequate resources in terms of people, capital and talent.

There are many ways to tap these resources. One key strategy is the need to reverse the century old trend of Macedonians leaving Macedonia in search of a "better life": be it leaving ethnographic Macedonia for political freedom and economic opportunity, or, as in the 1970s to 1990s, leaving the Republic of Macedonia for economic reasons. Once these people leave and settle elsewhere, Macedonia loses not just them, their skills and capital, but also their children and grandchildren.

If the Macedonian Government or the Macedonian people so desire, it is possible to reverse this historic flow so that ethnic Macedonians including those born outside of Macedonia start to return to Macedonia in significant numbers.

While some Macedonians in the diaspora in a position to do so can simply vote with their feet and return to Macedonia at any time, for many others there is a need for Government encouragement and incentives and the creation of a Macedonia favourable to economic growth and political accountability.

Thus it is a matter of concern for many that when the Republic gained its independence the Government did not appeal to or encourage the diaspora to participate in the development of Macedonia, as did for example Croatia with its diaspora. This mistake has been repeated in the current crises. To date, there has been no request or initiative to encourage the diaspora to assist Macedonia in its time of need. By excluding the diaspora, Macedonia has been fighting with only one arm and, dare it be said, half of its brain.

One reason the diaspora is ignored is because it lacks formal economic clout. Informally Macedonians send many millions of dollars back to their families in Macedonia, and while this helps the families and the economy, it does not bring commensurate political voice.

So far, no one has harnessed in a formal way the economic resources of the diaspora as a means of economic development for Macedonia. It is a fact that well-to-do and well meaning Macedonians in the diaspora can invest almost anywhere in the world except in the development of Macedonia.

This because there are no professional, investment-grade funds and companies in which expatriate and other ethnic Macedonians outside Macedonia can invest and which use that capital for real business and development projects in Macedonia with measurable outcomes for the economy and real dividends for investors.

One example. Over the past nine years I have had the privilege of being the only full time venture capital journalist in Australia. Venture capital is new equity capital for start-up and fast growing businesses. Private equity, as it is also called, is itself a new financial service industry and a major world wide trend bringing huge economic development including employment and exports to those countries that are catching the wave.

Macedonia is not among them. The European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association lists Greece, Finland, Israel, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ireland and even Iceland among its 28 member countries - but it does not list Macedonia.

We need to change the view of Macedonia as a poor nation always with its hand out to other countries, and the attitude that the Macedonian people need to go somewhere else to seek work and fortune. Let's take back the responsibility for the economic development of Macedonia. Let's take back responsibility for the ethnic composition of Macedonia. Let's make Macedonia a place where Macedonians want to go back to, not run away from. In short, let's reclaim Macedonia.

Published in Australian Macedonian Weekly 7 August 2001

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