with Ljube Boshkovski
Skopje, Macedonia – Ljube Boshkovski is Minister of the Interior for Macedonia, and is currently one of his country's most popular leaders. Young and energetic, Boshkovski has won the favor of the people and most of all the police, due to his "hands on" approach to governing. He is one of the few ministers who gets out into the community to assess for himself what are the challenges facing Macedonia. Mr. Boshkovski is also popular for his tough, no-nonsense attitude to Albanian extremism. In a government that has been criticized for failing to take resolute, unwavering action against the NLA, the Interior Minister stands out. Whether one agrees with his viewpoints or not, Ljube Boshkovski is unquestionably one of the most important figures in Macedonian political life today. Sparing euphemisms in favor of candor, Mr. Boshkovski's comments provide a sober view of the realities facing Macedonia today.
I spoke with Mr. Boshkovski in his spacious offices at the Ministry of the Interior. It was already evening, and I was informed that he was tired out after a long day. Nevertheless, after attentively peeling a kiwi fruit, Mr. Boshkovski fielded my questions on the pressing issues of the day for Macedonia.
CD: First of all, for the foreign readers who may not be familiar with your career, can you tell me something about your background and previous positions?
LB: First, for almost two years I was Deputy Director of the Public Safety/Police. After that, I became State Secretary in the Ministry of the Interior. Now, I have been Minister of the Interior since May 2001. I am a lawyer by training.
CD: You are currently enjoying great popularity with the Macedonian public. Recently I saw you on television, surrounded by enthusiastic students, when you answered their concerns with a promise for better student housing. This would be an example of one of the "normal things" that the government can return to, in the absence of war. To what extent has Macedonia been able to return to normal life?
LB: The answer, unfortunately, is not very much. Due to the situation, we are maximally dedicated to the security of the state. The most important thing for Macedonia now is the reintegration of the areas which are still not under control – meaning returning the Macedonian police to these areas. So there has only been a little bit of normalization.
CD: Is this new group, the Albanian National Army (ANA), distinct from the National Liberation Army (NLA)?
LB: The situation is, there are still groups of Albanian extremists from Kosovo, who are the same as the extremists from Macedonia. And they are always finding a reason not to have peace. They have only one aim – to create an unstable situation, which is good for the establishment of unstable businesses. That is, the trading in drugs, weapons, prostitutes, etc. Therefore, we can't distinguish between these bandits, because in their essence they are the same and the also have the same personnel.
CD: You have gained a reputation as being tough, and not compromising when it comes to the NLA. How does this affect your relationship with the international community?
LB: The international community is here on the invitation of the Macedonian authorities, and of course Macedonia – and we as leaders – are constantly requesting the international community to take an objective approach. But unfortunately it happens often for us that we are equalized, are equated with those who created aggression against the Republic of Macedonia. For us, it's important to deny these suspicions, and I think we are succeeding. Now, our relations with the international community seem to be improving.
CD: Since when?
LB: Since after the adoption of the constitutional changes and the Framework Agreement. But this (improved relationship) is not having a huge impact for the situation on the ground. Mostly, it has been just verbal support, and unfortunately during the crisis and during the biggest attacks, we weren't getting the biggest support we could from the international community.
CD: The subject of security checkpoints is perhaps the most controversial and important issue in Macedonia today. The Albanians and the international community are pressuring Macedonian police and army to withdraw from certain checkpoints in strategic areas. What are your thoughts on this?
LB: This plan with the checkpoints is not (carved in stone); this plan for redeployment of the police to the crisis region is a flexible one, and we are struggling constantly to make sure that, after the implementation of the constitutional changes, we'll have 24-hour patrols and contact offices. Otherwise, the function of the checkpoints is lost. Yet we also have proven that these checkpoints occupy strategic positions, and we cannot allow ourselves to leave them, until the very last Macedonian feels safe.
So in other words, we don't have a strict timeline for redeployment. We are being patient, and flexible. And this is what we feel we have been able to offer the international community.
CD: The NLA, or former members of that organization, still are disrupting the peace regularly in Macedonia. Have their tactics this winter changed at all from last year?
LB: Their concern now is in the cities, and the inhabited places generally. They are planning a change of strategy, with attacks on facilities, using classic terroristic methods true, there have been small provocations only, but the process of ethnic cleansing is continuing. All the villages in western Macedonia, and the city of Tetovo, are being ethnically cleansed, and the psychological warfare – threats, intimidation – has not stopped. These areas are susceptible because the Macedonians are a minority there. But even so, this fact has not significantly changed the attitude of the international community. In the last two months there have been some positive developments, but still, not enough.
CD: The question on everyone's mind is whether there will be a renewed war in Spring. Do you think this is likely?
LB: I think there could be, and even before this Spring. It depends in part on us, and whether we want to enter the occupied territories or not.
CD: On that same theme, I recently heard an unofficial comment from a NATO soldier, to the effect that NATO is already certain that there are some villages to which Macedonian police will never be able to return. What do you think of that?
LB: (Chuckling) We'll see.
CD: Now that the Macedonian army has had some combat experience and training, do you think they are now improved from last year?
LB: No, so far the improvement has not been shown. We'll see in the eventuality of any future clash.
CD: So what kinds of training could they do to improve?
LB: Well, in fairness, about 95% of our soldiers died in ambush, not in direct combat.
CD: So they aren't prepared for the NLA, because they have been using guerrilla tactics?
LB: Ambush is not a guerrilla tactic, it is a terroristic tactic. They are hiding behind people, using them as human shields, and hiding in sacred buildings. Macedonians, however, do not hide in churches and start shooting.
CD: During last year, NATO was frequently criticized for failing to control the border between Kosovo and Macedonia, and a great deal of weapons and other supplies slipped into NLA hands. Is NATO doing anything now to control the border?
LB: Yes, they are having a certain effect But the border territory with Kosovo is still extremely porous in certain places and of course, these places are the most dangerous ones for us.
CD: Finally, how do you see Macedonia one year from now?
LB: For sure, the democratic processes are on standby due to the continuing terrorism. And so the reforms – for a free market, for EU accession, not to mention all the world and European associations, and also the invesment structure and economy in general – these are all on hold. And we think that we were considering from the very beginning that Macedonia must defend its sovereignty as an internationally recognized country. We must also have implemented the same principles that are foreseen in the international conventions. We believe that the destiny of Macedonia is in the hands of the people, the strength of the security forces, which slowly are becoming respectable.
So we'll do our best, give our maximum, and cooperate with the international community. We will stress the importance of respecting the democratic process, respecting the individual, and human rights – while at the same time we must prepare ourselves in case we have to liberate Macedonia with our own strength.
(Thanks to Mr. Vladimir Gorcev for translating).
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
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