How to Take
Down a Government, Part
Macedonia's parliamentary elections are slated for 15 September, and the US government is taking them seriously. So seriously, in fact, that Washington recently took a rare break from threatening Iraq in order to officially address the little Balkan country.
It was Philip Reeker, State Department spokesman, who (on 13 August) fired the opening salvo. After noting the one-year anniversary of the Ohrid Agreement and how it has helped "build bridges between ethnic communities" Reeker spelled out the official US interventionist policy, one which will doubtless be trumpeted by friendly media bodies:
"…we call upon all in Macedonia to support, contribute to, and build upon this momentum toward lasting peace, stability and growth. Macedonia's upcoming democratic elections must serve to solidify the gains made this past year. The world will be watching to see how Macedonia conducts these elections. We look to Macedonia's leaders to ensure that the elections are fair, free from violence, in conformity with international standards, and that the results are respected."
This, of course, is mere propaganda. After the Ohrid Agreement, ethnic relations worsened and continue to do so. Behind the rhetoric, the White House knows well that only ethnic partition and war are likely in Macedonia's future. The government also knows that the West allowed this situation to occur. The threat to the Macedonians that the elections be fair is of course baseless, coming as it does from an administration that won in 2000 through violence, obstruction, ballot tampering and other lurid means. As usual, America's moral imperative is left to others for implementation.
Nevertheless, the Ohrid Framework Agreement has become the interventionists' sacred cow. It is cited as the precedent and starting-point for Macedonia's future. Left by the wayside is the uncomfortable truth that there was indeed life before Ohrid. The agreement proves, first of all, that violence has its own rewards. It also shows the international community's desire to gloss over as quickly as possible the disturbing details that do not fit in their fairy tale of successful intervention. A year on, and the situation is infinitely worse than it was then. Although the internationals have to share at least some of the blame, they continue to deny this. Instead, they declare Ohrid to be a shining example of successful intervention. Yet will repeating the fairy tale ad nauseam convince anyone?
High Stakes: The US Banks on a Socialist Victory
Although Macedonia presently offers little excitement (for a war-thirsty media, at least), this could change instantly. The upcoming elections which may result in a palace coup for the opposition are certain to be bitterly fought, nasty and violent. The ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, buffeted by scandals and perceived capitulation to the NLA, plans to use all weapons at its disposal to stay in power including, their opponents fear, physical intimidation. The main opposition party, the socialist SDSM, is sure of a big victory and its leader, Branko Crvenkovski, has been exuding confidence lately. Branko is so confident, in fact, that he skipped the August 2nd national holiday in order to visit Bulgaria the alleged enemy of his party, and leading ally of VMRO and its Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievski. On 9 August, RFE/RL waxed ironic on the visit:
"…over the past decade, Crvenkovski has stood for a strict anti-Bulgarian line in Macedonian politics. But now he was received like an official guest by President Georgi Parvanov, who is the former chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), and by incumbent BSP leader Sergey Stanishev. Even Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski asked for a meeting with Crvenkovski.
If there was a clear sign of improving relations between Bulgaria and Macedonia, it was Crvenkovski's visit to Sofia on a day so important for Macedonian national identity. Supporters of the Third Ilinden a nationalist ideology calling for the creation of a Greater Macedonia at its neighbors' expense seem further from their goal than ever."
This account is truly mystifying, for two reasons. First of all, relations with Bulgaria were fine already. Secondly, there is no serious person in Macedonia who would even contemplate the idea of a "Greater Macedonia." The country has a hard enough time holding on to the territory it has. Yet on the contrary, there are many in Bulgaria who believe that Macedonians are really Bulgarians in denial, and that they have no unique history, culture or language. Many Macedonians are afraid of Bulgarian expansionist aspirations. It is undeniable that this report like many others we will consider as this series unfolds is intended to influence the elections.
Chaos in the Albanian Parties
For the Albanian parties, the stakes are also high. The traditional dichotomy between the DPA and PDP has exploded amidst a series of defections and splinter groups. Chronic infighting continues to characterize Albanian political life, as it has since Spring, when battles first erupted between supporters of the NLA's Ali Ahmeti and the mysterious "Albanian National Army" (ANA). There were assassination attempts on DPA vice-president Menduh Thachi, and on Ahmeti himself. Further fragmentation has occurred recently with the blacklisting of the Albanian politician Nezvat Halili. The announcement of a new "Army of the Republic of Illyria" in Kosovo, and continuing KFOR arrests there, may also cause a spillover of tensions, just as the ballots are to be cast.
Now, it seems that Ahmeti and his new "unity and integration" party are going to give the DPA a run for its money. Ahmeti's campaign has been consistently hyped in the Western media. In contrast, Arben Xhaferi and the DPA seem to be yesterday's media favorites. As we will see as this series unfolds, Ahmeti has close relations with very influential American interventionists. While he may not be Hamid Karzai, Ahmeti is clearly being groomed for bigger things.
In response to his popularity, the newly "radicalized" DPA accuses Ahmeti of having sold out the Albanian cause by signing the Framework Agreement. Despite having widespread popularity, Ahmeti is up against senior Albanian politicians who are much older, wealthier, more connected and cunning and who won't allow their turf to be violated. It remains to be seen whether Ahmeti will be the Albanian messiah, or simply the lamb left out for the slaughter.
Throwing in Their Chips
Nevertheless, it seems that the US has thrown in its chips with Ahmeti thereby, opposing the very same Albanian politicians whose assistance they sought in containing the young warlord last year.
It is unquestionable that the US is also determined to overthrow the current government. VMRO-DPMNE leaders Ljubco Georgievski and Ljube Boskovski are considered neither intelligent nor pliable enough for Western liking. Now, they must be replaced with the opposition SDSM who do not, however, represent something new. They were in power until four years ago when the US, in fact, helped to unseat them.
Essentially, however, it does not come down to parties. The biggest difference between Macedonian and American politics is the tribal character of the former. In the US, if you lose an election, your career is finished. The party simply moves on to another candidate. In Macedonia, however, the same old gang runs the show, year in and year out. This means that the country is dominated by personalities more than by issues or platforms. A return to SDSM rule will bring to power the very same politicians who owned the country until 1998.
In any case, the US seems to want an SDSM victory at all costs, and will try and attain this goal through every conceivable method of intervention possible. Its enormous arsenal includes international organizations like the OSCE, the media, "independent" NGO's like the ICG, and powerful financiers like the IMF and World Bank.
The OSCE: "Election Monitoring" and More
One of the long arms of American influence in the Balkans is the OSCE. In Macedonia, the OSCE is by far the least accountable of major institutions. "Confidence building" is its specialty, as is "advising" foreign governments. Another beloved practice is election monitoring. Spokesman Reeker's official statement was meant to reinforce this part of the OSCE mission.
Although the OSCE was technically invited to come to Macedonia, the country will not be able to verify its own election results without the OSCE's blessings. And these tend to be rather, shall we say arbitrary. After all, in Macedonia's 1999 presidential elections, the OSCE overlooked widespread irregularities to put America's chosen son (VMRO's Trajkovski) in power. Another example occurred in 1995 in Georgia, when the OSCE again turned a blind eye to corruption so that America's choice (Shevernadze) would win.
American Academia Plays the Albanian Card
"With the exception of the last presidential elections," says Dr. Sam Vaknin, "I have yet to recall such a strong campaign of intervention." Dr. Vaknin is a Balkan expert and former advisor to Macedonia's Ministry of Finance (we will hear detailed testimony from him in Part II tomorrow).
Recently, Dr. Vaknin was approached by an American professor, Harley Johanson, who had visited Macedonia in June. Johanson is the head of the Department of Geography, at the University of Idaho's College of Mines and Earth Resources. According to Dr. Vaknin, the professor was in the process of preparing a research proposal, probably to be financed by a US governmental agency, to produce a report on the finances of Macedonian versus Albanian municipalities. Professor Johanson was particularly interested in formal (i.e., governemntal) as against informal (i.e., gray economy) finance.
Dr. Vaknin responded:
"Tax evasion among Albanians is much higher than among Macedonians. Albanians contribute much less than their share in the population to tax intake, for instance. Tax inspectors are reluctant to enter Albanian villages for audit, collection, or enforcement work.
"Alas, this is informal knowledge gleaned from years of advising the government and other agencies. Data is not collected along ethnic parameters, nor is the data pertaining to tax collection in specific municipalities easily made public especially now when the situation is so sensitive.
"If I may venture a personal remark:
I clearly see the value of the data you seek as input for decision making
processes and research I think your timing is questionable. The
country is poised on a precipice and mutual inter-ethnic recriminations
are the order of the day. Positive findings in your work will immediately
and inevitably fuel this on-going conflagration."
These concerns were pushed aside by the professor, recounts Dr. Vaknin:
"the stunning answer I received was, 'no, we must publish this before the elections!' I replied, 'by publishing the report before the elections, you are pouring gas on an already raging fire."
Mysterious NGO's Spring Up In Macedonia
Lately, mysterious NGO's have been springing up in Macedonia. One, which is funded by American governmental institutions, has been purchasing 24,000 copies a day of newspapers exclusively anti-government ones to disseminate for free in Macedonian villages.
When Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski protested this, he was told that rural inhabitants who depend on state-owned television need to hear an alternative point of view. However, such inhabitants live in very remote areas of the country and make up around 2 percent of the population. Strangely enough, the project only aims to give these peasants an "alternative view" during the period of 15 August 15 September: in other words, exclusively in the month before the election. The cost of such an endeavor is estimated to be around $3,000 a day. This effort also flies in the face of everything free-market competition stands for. For example, says Gruevski, "one of the papers involved is Makedonija Denes, which has a circulation of around 2,000. Overnight, their circulation is increased by five times!"
Less mysterious NGO's include the NDI (National Democratic Institute) and IRI (International Republican Institute), both of which have been active in various facets of the elections. Through IREX operates an American "media training" firm (ProMedia) entirely funded through that American economic octopus, USAID, which has other election-oriented projects also underway.
Other Sources of Pressure: Think Tanks and the Media
Another NGO is the powerful ICG (International Crisis Group), whose Macedonia boss, Edward Joseph, has become the central figure in the interventionist campaign. His major report on corruption in the Macedonian government is, despite his stated disclaimer, intended to influence the elections directly in favor of the Socialists. This specific intervention will be a major focus as this series unfolds.
In short, a strong and concerted media campaign to disparage the current government and praise the opposition is well underway. It is being orchestrated by specific Western media groups, in tandem with the ICG. Detailed evidence of this collusion will appear later in the week.
In the meantime, stay tuned tomorrow for the compelling story of how the IMF and other financial giants throw their weight around in Macedonia and what impact it is meant to have on the elections.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
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