Peace in the Shadow of War:
A unique perspective on issues of Macedonia national security including last year's war, relations with NATO, and trouble from Kosovo is that of Col. Blagoja Markovski, Macedonia's outgoing defense spokesman. Recently, I met with the cheerful colonel in his office in the Ministry of Defense, only a week before he was to pass over his duties to the new spokesman, Zoran Sekulovski. Col. Markovski is leaving his job in order to undergo further training in Bulgaria which may well result in his promotion to general after returning to Macedonia next year. Col. Markovski's insightful views provide an interesting viewpoint, for anyone concerned with the past, present and future of Macedonian security.
Behind NATO's Recent Orders for Disarmament
CD: NATO has lately been demanding that Macedonia eliminate its arsenal of Ukrainian-bought tanks and planes as a condition of joining the alliance. As we know, from the beginning last year NATO countries demanded that Macedonia discontinue the program. Condoleeza Rice herself went to Kiev to order the Ukrainian president to stop it. Any comments?
BM: As you know, the crisis situation in Macedonia last year forced us to purchase several advanced T-72 tanks, as well as attack and transport helicopters, and 4 Sukhoi SU-25 fighter planes, from Ukraine. This action was done entirely for the defense of the country at our greatest moment of need.
At the very beginning of the crisis, we first asked for help from NATO countries. We pleaded with them to purchase weaponry for Macedonia's defense. But we received no response just silence. They don't admit it, but we were forced to go to Ukraine and Bulgaria after the NATO countries would not help us.
For the help of these countries, and Ukraine especially, we are eternally grateful. They answered our cry for help on the very day that we asked them. In fact, Ukraine gave us helicopters before we had even paid for them. We do not feel guilty about having such great friends in the east.
NATO Stipulations and Jamie Shea
BM: But in the end we were not allowed to use most of our new weapons. Last year, NATO told us that the T-72 tanks would not be used, because they could cause greater collateral damage, and we did not want that. These tanks are currently in (the southeastern city of) Strumica, while many of the older T-55 tanks which we did use are still in the former crisis region of the west.
The policy now in regard to weaponry purchases is different. The Republic of Macedonia no longer limits itself to purchasing weaponry from the east… for the time being, we do not need heavy artillery, but we do need one more battalion of tanks. So here is a call to the NATO countries of the West give us a good offer, with no preconditions attached!
CD: In May, I reported on Antiwar.com that Jamie Shea told students in Brussels that Macedonian tanks should not be relocated from Strumica. Allegedly, he said, "but how would an ethnic Albanian feel at seeing such tanks in his village?"
BM: Jamie Shea is not popular in our country. He left Macedonia under pressure of the army, because he comments too much on things over which he has absolutely no authority.
I should make it clear that the tanks the Republic of Macedonia owns are not just for the defense of (ethnic) Macedonians. They are for all the citizens of the republic for the Albanians, Serbs, Roma, Vlachs and the rest. We will use them to defend equally all of our citizens from external and internal threats. Remember, last year's crisis was largely an "import" from Kosovo Albanians. It did not start with our citizens.
We have already been organizing informative meetings with all of the citizens of the crisis region, to discuss our policies and our presence. And since there are a lower percentage of Albanians in the ARM, we are taking measures to increase their numbers.
On the Lack of Albanians in the Army
CD: That is a laudable goal. Yet the entire July class of Albanian inductees deserted. In light of this, do you realistically expect that the Albanians will ever want to join?
BM: We must distinguish here between recruits and professional soldiers. Yes, there is a great problem with a lack of Albanians in the former. They are the ones who you may have read about in July, who chose not to fulfill their obligations.
If they decide not to answer their national duty for serving the country, there are appropriate punishments by law… we have sent a clear message that this is a problem to be worked on.
But in the latter (the professional cadre), Albanians are better represented and even at the highest levels of the ARM's command structure. The third-ranking general is an Albanian, for example. And we have full reason to trust their loyalty to the Republic of Macedonia. Indeed, we had an Albanian sergeant who was killed defending the country in Tetovo.
A few months ago, we counted only 3.5 percent of professional soldiers as being Albanian. We are working on it. We have organized several training courses for them including the reservists. Albanians officially make up 23 percent of the republic's population. Therefore, we would like to represent this percentage proportionally in the make-up of the ARM. We hope to have increased the number of Albanian soldiers significantly by the end of the year, and to reach the full 23 percent by the end of 2005.
It is important to note that we were not ordered to do this. It was our initiative, not NATO's.
On Macedonia's Continuing Instability and the Likelihood of New Violence
CD: Tell us something about the current security situation in the west of Macedonia. As the September 15th elections near, there seems to be a renewal of violence. And then there is the issue of the so-called "Army of the Republic of Illirida." What can you tell us?
BM: As for the former crisis region, we know that it has largely been stabilized but not yet completely. A lot of weapons still remain, but there are not large-scale direct attacks. Today, the Republic of Macedonia is hopefully near the end of the problems meaning we should concentrate on eliminating these smaller (Albanian) groups who are threatening the peace.
CD: Yet there have been several attacks on border installations, barracks, and the murder of two policemen in Gostivar recently. It would seem that Macedonia is not yet out of the woods. Any comments?
BM: I believe that these are not well-organized attacks, but more sporadic and individual… the problem is that these terrorists we have now are connected with those in Kosovo.
CD: Do you have any new evidence about who is organizing these people?
BM: Well, (KFOR) is starting to do a better job of arresting instigators before they act, and so we have a good idea about Kosovo. But there is also the case of Albania itself. We are receiving new intelligence from our sources in Prizren (in Kosovo) that UCK terrorist training camps are currently operating in the inaccessible parts of Central Albania.
CD: Can you tell us specifically where?
BM: (Chuckling) Sorry, no.
On the Likelihood of a Future War
CD: Given these continuing disruptive elements, do you think there is a possibility of a new war in Macedonia's future?
BM: No, I don't think so. We have reason to be optimistic. Especially what encourages us is that these terrorist groups have very little support from the local population. The average Albanian civilian has realized that this fighting leads nowhere they are as fed up with war as we are. The Albanians here also know that it is high time to commit to a peaceful life. In fact, members of both the Macedonian and Albanian populations (in the crisis region) have been asking for the army's help in taking out these gangs.
A future war is not possible for three reasons. First, as I said, the local population does not want it. Second of all, the ARM is well-trained and well-equipped now. Also, we have improved cooperation with KFOR in Kosovo and NATO here. There is a better exchange of information, and as we can see, they are starting to be more proactive in making arrests.
Yesterday, I sent a message out to the terrorists that the ARM is ready and able, and closely following the situation and that I would not recommend for anyone to challenge it.
The $64 Million Question: Would NATO Allow Macedonia to Defend Itself?
CD: But, in the possibility of war, would NATO allow it? We saw last year how the internationals constantly pressured Macedonia for a "restrained response" whenever the country was threatened. Would it be any different the next time around?
BM: Last year during the crisis, we did not have the Framework Agreement, meaning that the terrorists could act with impunity, and cover their actions with grand speeches about "fighting for human rights." Whether or not you agree with that argument, it is clear that such rhetoric is impossible to justify a future war the Framework Agreement covered all of their demands. Many Macedonians thought the Agreement was a disaster for us, but there is one indisputably good thing to come from it: a red line has now been drawn. Because they got their demands, any future terrorists cannot cross it. If they decide to cross that red line, the ARM will be forced to act.
We have explained to NATO that it is a constitutional right of Macedonia like every other country to defend its sovereignty. No one has the right to prevent us from exercising this right.
Now, NATO has accepted this. Regardless of whether or not another war could occur, NATO knows that we will act if the country's survival is at stake. If the terrorists attack with 100 people, we will have 200. If they fire 20 mortars, we will retaliate with more. There is no chance they would gain any territory or anything else from a new war.
On Yugoslav Cooperation and Border Headaches
CD: Is the ARM currently doing any exercises or planning with the Yugoslav army?
BM: At present, we are having no joint exercises with the JNA. And this because there are no large, cross-border violations that would warrant such exercises. But we do have great cooperation in military intelligence, because of the sometimes unstable border situation.
CD: Any word on the situation in Presevo? Some predicted that a new flare-up of violence would soon be occurring there.
BM: There is no information to speak of regarding Presevo. It is relatively quiet now.
However, regarding Albania, I can tell you that the border is still unsecured. From the Macedonian side, we make our best efforts to police the border, and I believe we are generally successful. However, the security forces of the Republic of Albania have failed to secure their side of the border. It is a big problem.
CD: Do you think that the war last year would have happened, had the Yugoslav army still been operating in Kosovo?
BM: During 2001, KFOR did not secure the border as it should have. Article 9 of the Kumanovo Agreement, which ended the 1999 NATO bombing campaign, deals with this subject. According to it, KFOR had the obligation to vigilantly guard our border with Kosovo. But they claimed that they were not responsible for it, because they took a different interpretation of Article 9, and therefore did not act as strongly as they could have.
It is interesting to note that the height of the illegal weapon trade was during that period, 1999-2001. Now, however, the situation has changed. But getting back to your question, if the Yugoslav army had been in Kosovo, I believe that the illegal trade of weapons would have been much more contained. It is clear that the war of 2001 was an imported crisis, from ex-members of the UCK and KPC (Kosovo Protection Corps). So the blame must fall on KFOR as well.
On the Upcoming Elections and the Future of the ARM
CD: What effect will the upcoming elections have on the command structure and makeup of the ARM?
BM: The commander in chief of the ARM is the president Boris Trajkovski. The ranking of the army comes from him. Since these elections are for the parliament members, not for the president, the government has little effect except for in who will be appointed minister of defense.
Still, however, the minister does not command the president does, along with the chief of the general staff.
But also, you should know that the ARM budget comes from the ministry of finance. So whoever is appointed finance minister will have the power to decide how much money to give us. If he decides not to respect what has been agreed, there could be some detrimental changes… but in general, we do not expect great changes within the army command structure. We are separate from the political structures, and therefore enjoy support from all of them.
CD: What do you see for the future of Macedonia?
BM: Macedonia has survived for centuries, throughout all kinds of occupations and against all odds, and it will continue to survive in the future. This is not only my opinion, but the opinion of all who love this country.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
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