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Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 11:15 GMT
Coalition under strain
Ethnic Albanians pass a Macedonian armoured personnel carrier in Tetovo
The Macedonian army has stepped up efforts to flush out ethnic Albanian rebels from around Tetovo
By the BBC's south-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The rebel Albanian campaign has put Macedonia's multi-ethnic coalition under severe strain.

The main Macedonian Slav opposition parties have been criticising Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski's government for not doing enough to crush the guerrillas.

Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski has been criticised for not doing enough to crush the rebellion
Criticised: Prime Minister Ljupco Georgievski
They believe Mr Georgievski has already conceded too much to the ethnic Albanians since his previously nationalist party, known as VMRO, formed a seemingly improbable marriage of convenience with Arben Xhaferi's once equally nationalist ethnic Albanian party two-and-a-half years ago.

According to the opposition Social Democratic Alliance, made up of former communists, Mr Georgievski gave in to ethnic Albanian demands in order to stay in power.

They say he wanted to secure the election of his party's candidate Boris Trajkovski, in the 1999 presidential elections.

Partners undermined

Meanwhile, Mr Xhaferi, whose party is an influential junior partner in the coalition government, has also come under attack from his own side.

His Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) has been denounced by more militant forces for not achieving enough to improve the lot of Macedonia's ethnic Albanians.

Two ethnic Albanians from Tetovo in Macedonia wait to be registered by Albanian border police
About 1,000 ethnic Albanians have fled Tetovo

They argue that one of the key achievements on the inter-ethnic front - the forthcoming opening of a university in Tetovo where Albanian will be the main language of teaching - does not go far enough because the university will be a private foundation, not a state-funded institution.

Until now, the governing coalition has held together remarkably well.

It weathered the massive inflow of Kosovar Albanian refugees during the Kosovo conflict in 1999 which some feared was going to upset Macedonia's precarious ethnic balance.

And it has survived the departure from power of a previously key coalition partner.

But the outbreak of fighting has created an entirely new situation.

Federation ruled out

The guerrilla campaign has produced a dilemma for Mr Xhaferi's party.

The party agrees with many of the fighters' demands for ending what they see as discrimination against ethnic Albanians, but it has also condemned the fighting.

The federalisation of Macedonia is against the interests of Albanians

Arben Xhaferi, coalition partner

Meanwhile, Mr Xhaferi told the BBC that he has now come out against the federalisation of Macedonia which would establish autonomy for ethnic Albanians in the western and northern part of the country:

"From the start my stance has been that the federalisation of Macedonia is against the interests of Albanians and I have never supported this idea.

"It is in the interest of all the Albanians for Macedonia to have a consensual democracy where some of the dilemmas in the society can be solved through consensual decisions."

Although the establishment of a federation is not an explicit demand made by the guerrillas, it is a policy that is expected to be on their agenda in the medium term.

And by pursuing this, and other objectives which many ethnic Albanians in Macedonia find attractive, the militants are putting pressure on Mr Xhaferi's party.

As a result, the DPA is torn between agreeing with some of the guerrillas' demands but opposing their use of force.

Xhaferi's dilemma

As a result of this ambivalent stand, Mr Xhaferi's party has been losing some of its influence.

On the other side of the ethnic divide, but also within the governing alliance, VMRO is under pressure from Macedonian public opinion.

Mr Xhaferi's coalition is looking increasingly beleaguered as the DPA has reiterated that it will not stay in government if a state of emergency is introduced.

One solution that has been hinted at is the possibility of a grand coalition bringing in some of the opposition parties.

But it is not clear whether they would want to find themselves saddled with responsibility for an increasingly serious political and security crisis.

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