A veteran UN worker in Kosovo recently put it
to me like this:
"…after one month in the Balkans, you're so excited that you vow to write a
book about the place.
"After one year, however, you only want to write an article. After two years
– you don't want to write a single word."
Being near the latter stage myself, I rather take the gentleman's point. A
fine example of the endless intriguing and banal infighting that characterize
the Balkans is the current "mujahedin"
scandal in Macedonia, in which previous top cop Ljube Boskovski stands
accused of staging the murders of six
Pakistani (and one
Indian) illegal immigrants. According to a widely circulated new report
from Macedonia's current interior ministry, Boskovski and a handful of high
police officials were hoping to portray the dead men as Islamic holy warriors
bent on getting to the West to commit terrorist attacks. Well, they were indeed
trying to get to the West, authorities now attest, but merely in order to work
menial jobs to support their families back home. Early critics of the
police action thus seem to be vindicated.
Boskovski swears the men were truly mujahedin, and vowed to defend his
position. Yet because he skipped a court hearing Tuesday, an arrest warrant has
been issued. It is not yet clear whether he's on the lam, or is just
continuing to protest the ad hoc manner in which his parliamentary immunity from
prosecution was stripped. According to a Reality
Macedonia report on Wednesday, his lawyers claim that this action, performed
by a small committee, was invalid because "…only the Parliament as a whole may
dissolve this privilege."
As if things weren't Balkan enough already, Boskovski's lawyers are also
claiming that "…the police abducted their client in the morning of May 4, and
keeps him hidden in an unknown police station in Skopje, in order to manipulate
the media." With reality comfortably obfuscated in the usual Balkan fog, the
rest of the drama is sure to be as sensational and confusing as ever.
Some Background on "Brat Ljube"
from the ministry condemning the killings have been directed predominantly
towards Boskovski. "…That was an act of a sick mind," Spokesman Mirjana Konteska
said. "They lost their lives in a staged murder." A Macedonian media observer
told me that in his opinion, "Yes, Boskovski probably is crazy enough to do
something like that." The former minister, known for his blunt speech and strong
nationalist rhetoric, began to suffer in the polls after the Western-imposed
peace plan of 2001 took effect the following year, and as his vision of Macedonia
started to appear less and less like the imposed post-war one. Boskovski's special
police, the Lions, were criticized for their heavy-handedness and dismissed
as being nothing more than the minister's private security detail. The nadir
was reached in May 2002, when Boskovski accidentally
shot up four bystanders while demonstrating his prowess or lack thereof
with a grenade launcher. The final months of his tenure saw a journalists'
protest against police brutality. The following May saw the addition
of his name to the US blacklist, and an ongoing but ultimately
unsuccessful investigation by The Hague Tribunal regarding alleged atrocities at the
battle of Ljuboten. However, even by The Hague's liberal standards, this was
a bit of a stretch.
A colorful character to say the least, "Brat Ljube" ("Brother Ljube") as he
made himself known was perhaps best known for his longstanding relationship with
Croatia, where he has citizenship, property, and a restaurant. He spent much
time there during the 1990's, allegedly working for the Croatians during their
war of secession against Yugoslavia – which bizarrely would have allied him with
Ceku, a Kosovo Albanian warlord whose own merry bunch of bandits would
attack Macedonia in 2001, when Boskovski became interior minister.
Release of the Evidence and a Thwarted Candidacy
The Pakistani revelations came out on April 30,
or two days after the presidential
election won by the sitting prime minister, Branko Crvenkovski. Incidentally
enough, Boskovski had declared himself a candidate against the wishes of
his own party, VMRO-DPMNE, which had already selected a more moderate nominee,
heart surgeon Sasko Kedev. Not to be
deterred, "Brat Ljube" collected the requisite 10,000 signatures and vowed to
run as an independent. However, the State Elections Commission ruled that Boskovski's
candidacy would be nullified – based on the fact that he hadn't
lived in the country for at least 10 of the past 15 years.
At this, Boskovski pointed out that in previous elections other candidates
not meeting the residency requirement had been allowed to run. When still turned
down, Boskovski declared that he would boycott the election as a form of
protest. His former coalition partner, the equally disqualified Arben Xhaferi of
the Albanian DPA, had also previously declared his party would boycott the
elections. Apparently, the "reformed" VMRO of Kedev had refused to make a deal
that would reward the Albanians for their support with the creation of a new
vice-presidential post – something entirely gratuitous and unconstitutional.
When Kedev refused, Xhaferi declared the boycott. However, Xhaferi later
announced that rather than boycott, the DPA would simply support neither
Why is this all worth mentioning? Like neighboring
Serbia, Macedonia has a law that states at least 50 percent of eligible
voters must turn out in order for the election result to be valid. While hardly
representing the "Nader Factor," Boskovski could still command a few thousand
votes; if Xhaferi had joined him in the boycott, the required 50
percent may really not have materialized. At this point, Boskovski became
not only an embarrassment to his party but also a hindrance to the smooth
workings of government. In short, it was high time for him to get the chop.
Quite obviously, the Pakistani liquidation was far from being the perfect
crime. Its resolution, however, has turned out to be the perfect antidote for
almost everyone involved. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the whole
affair is that for once, the interests of almost every party have been satisfied
by the same action: in this case, eliminating Boskovski. This makes perfect
sense in light of what must happen by the middle of this month – that is, the
formation of a new government.
The Hypothetical and the Actual Scenario
When SDSM party chief and Prime Minister Branko
Crvenkovski won the president's chair on April 28, big changes in the country's
leadership were set in motion – the biggest in fact since September 2002, when
Crvenkovski's party and their Albanian partners (the DUI of former militant
leader Ali Ahmeti) stormed to victory in parliamentary elections, deposing the
VMRO-DPMNE government of then Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski.
In Macedonia, presidential elections are held every five years. Until the tragic
death of President Boris Trajkovski in a February 26 plane crash, they had
been scheduled for November or December of this year. But the president's death
exacerbated the political process, forcing the parties to commit to candidates
and campaign long before they had been prepared to do so. It is quite likely
that, had Trajkovski lived and all gone according to plan, neither Crvenkovski
nor Kedev would have been candidates at all. It's also likely that in this case
the Boskovski-Pakistani revelations would not have been unveiled now, but
instead saved for a later date. Of course, these are all conjectures, but in
light of the way things usually work here, not outlandish ones.
Interests Satisfied in the Opposition Party
The elevation of Crvenkovski to the presidency
has left a huge, sucking void in the Macedonian government. Not only will his
former post have to be filled, but so will the vacated post of his successor,
and any other ones affected. And, now that SDSM will have control over the two
top positions, the Albanian coalition partners will have to be satisfied as
well. A whole game of Macedonian musical chairs is thus set to begin.
Yet there's more. What makes this story almost worth writing about (in
respect to my introductory anecdote) is that the opposition wins, too. For a
long time it has been clear that Boskovski was past his sell-by date. Since
close ally Ljubco Georgievski made the unprecedented move of giving up the VMRO
party leadership last year, the party has been
trying to "reform" itself, moving away from the tough nationalist positions
espoused especially by Georgievski and Boskovski. The elevation of former
Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski as party boss also upset other old-guard
members such as Marjan Gorcev, a former agriculture minister hailing from the
farming heartland of Strumica. Although broadly representative of the party's
rural, nationalist roots, Gorcev, Boskovski, and Georgievski were out of step
with the new direction the party has been forced to take since the botched war
With the framing of the Ohrid Agreement in June of that year, and with the
increased shaping influence of Western interventionists since, the VMRO seems to
have learned its lesson. Under the tutelage of Gruevski, the party is striving
to become more cosmopolitan, more PR-conscious, and more in line with EU policy
as they perceive it. Whether or not this will really helped their electoral
chances is debatable: like the British Tories, who have been out to pasture for
the past seven years of Blairite rule, the VMRO and other European nationalist
parties have had their traditional platforms cut out from under them by the EU's
virulently anti-nationalist policy – a gigantic, prolonged abreaction to
Europe's fascist past that is itself beginning to take on totalitarian
In any case, there's no question that eliminating Boskovski without having to
do so themselves is in the party's long-term interests. Now they have the best
of both worlds: to be rid of his influence, while at the same time seeming to
uphold the "rule of law" by protesting the manner in which Boskovski lost his
parliamentary immunity last weekend, at the hands of a hastily appointed
committee. The intention of this defense is to point out the political nature of
the move. Yet they have kept relatively quiet about contesting the actual
killings themselves. Boskovski is apparently the only one left who believes in
the original version of the 2002 events.
Interests Satisfied in the West
The sudden, headline-grabbing immigrant murders
scandal has been a big relief for the West, too. Not only did was it a vindication
of their disdain for Boskovski and his government, but it also took world attention
away from criticisms of election corruption. Immediately after the election,
VMRO cried foul,
charging the victors with mass ballot-stuffing and other voter fraud. They demanded
that the election even be redone in certain municipalities.
While the OSCE and other international monitors conceded that "some"
indiscretions had taken place, they declared that the election had been "generally
democratic" and quickly moved to hail the new chief, Branko Crvenkovski.
Nevertheless, the top story for one whole day – until the breaking of Paki-Gate,
that is – was election fraud. The losers produced a long list of misdemeanors,
all of which allegedly took place through the agency of sometimes armed DUI
thugs in Albanian voting areas. The Macedonian Helsinki Human Rights Commission
condemned the elections, and any day now, their British counterparts are expected to release a
similar critical report based on their own observations.
Whether or not the election had been fair and free, repeating it would have
been a major headache. First of all, perhaps the turnout would have been too low
– thus nullifying the whole result, and instigating a whole new election which
would have seen a lower turnout still from Macedonia's disillusioned voters.
Second of all, the whole tiresome procedure would have contributed to prolonging
Macedonia's political and economic limbo. Since the country has no independent
policy of its own, this was seen as being an unreasonable irritation. "It's not
important who the president is – just give us one so we can start dictating
orders." And so the West.
Paki-Gate: Paving the Way for a New Prime Minister
Now more than ever, what Macedonia needs is a
manager. Someone like Zoran Djindjic
was in Serbia, but perhaps less slippery and less outspoken. The best candidate
would seem to be Interior Minister Hari Kostov, a former
business whiz who led Macedonia's leading Commercial Bank to international awards and plaudits.
While putting him in a police uniform rather than the finance ministry never
did seem to make sense, this and certain other appointments were explained by
some commentators as a fine way for Crvenkovski to keep underlings from becoming
too powerful by working in their chosen areas.
Kostov's notable acumen and business background make him a good choice to the
West. In contrast, the other senior candidate, Defense Minister Vlado
Buchkovski, is perceived as being less of a diplomat and more of a technocrat.
One government insider told me that "Buchkovski is loyal, and a good listener.
He will always confer with Branko [Crvenkovski] first. But he will probably
remain in Defense or, perhaps, become interior minister."
In this light, we can read the remarkable confluence of recent events as
setting the course for the future shape of Macedonia's political leadership. It
was bad news for Buchkovski when a defense ministry associate, Ljubomir
Popovski, was accused of
taking bribes on the day after the election. Simultaneously, Kostov and his
police were receiving international praise for indicting Boskovski over the
immigrant slayings: It was "very
much a positive step" for the country, stated NATO Spokesman Craig Ratcliff.
Finally, the long-awaited
extradition of two wanted Albanian militants from UNMIK in Kosovo was
announced on April 29. In other words, three major victories for the Macedonian
police – and all won just one-to-two days after the election.
The rapid succession of all these events may thus be a way to clear the path
for Kostov's elevation to the post of prime minister. Considering the timing,
the sudden action against his predecessor Boskovski seems almost as contrived as
the latter's immigrant murders were.
The Real Power Brokers in 2004: the Albanian DUI
Not only is the position of prime minister up
for grabs, of course. While Crvenkovski publicly denied that his Albanian DUI
coalition partners would get a special reward for supporting him, tradition
decrees that they will. The election of 2004 was only further confirmation that
the Albanians have (and have always had) the real electoral power in Macedonia,
owing to their great importance in creating a majority along with one of the
two major Macedonian parties. Now it seems a perfect symmetry has been attained:
1999, Boris Trajkovski was elected president as VMRO's candidate, under
murky circumstances and with the help of the Albanian DPA. Today, the SDSM candidate
won, with the help of the thuggery of the Albanian DUI.
Whether legally done or not, you got to hand it to them – they got out the
vote. The Albanians saved the election, and SDSM knows it. They will indeed have
to hand it them, perhaps in the form of a major position in the imminent
government coalition. Is it beyond the limits of the surreal that an Albanian
who only three years ago fought against the Macedonian army would today be put
in charge of that army? It's unlikely, but not impossible. Maybe they will be
content with the finance ministry. But for sure the DUI (which already heads
four major ministries) is in line for something.
In short, everyone seems to win from the liquidation
of Boskovski – the government, the opposition, the West, and even Pakistan, which
can use this as an opportunity to show it is not really a terrorist sponsor.
Yet it's not feasible to expect everyone to win in any one contest, which is
why the whole government reshaping project means actually a potential implosion
of Macedonian political life.
"There are a lot of fractures in all the parties," the same government
insider told me. "I have spoken with a lot of people who think there will be
more splintering as factions break off, maybe to start new parties."
We have already mentioned the VMRO splintering. SDSM too may be afflicted by
the same disease. The party's former presidential candidate in 1999, Tito
Petkovski, is rumored to be growing estranged. His defection would be a
substantial one for the party. In general, both parties are undergoing a period
of metamorphosis in which their old guards are forcibly retired, promoted, or
challenged by younger and more unknown aspirants/technocrats.
While the whole intrigue over the new government will play out in the next
two weeks, the long-term effects will not be felt until the fall. This is when
the local self-government elections mandated by the war-ending Ohrid
Accord are set to be held. Macedonia has made a substantial reduction in the
number of its municipalities – simply by uniting and enlarging them in a
quixotic, paradoxical attempt to devolve more power to the local people.
The reduction of municipalities has broadly favored the large Albanian
population areas, by subsuming adjoining Macedonian minority areas into them.
Even in areas where Albanians make up the minority, if they are at least 20
percent the Ohrid Accord's special privileges will kick in. With the Macedonian
political scene descending into completely vindictive and fragmentary
dissolution, the only result can be a gradual solidification in Albanian power.
The plan for the future federation is already set; the only task that will
remain for Macedonian leaders in their obsolescence is to sign the relevant
forms as set out by the European Union to formally codify what is already a
A Time for Cynicism?
As I think has been abundantly demonstrated, the
whole immigrant slaying issue is incidental, a minor but telling detail in the
bigger picture of Macedonia's political reality. Nevertheless, for the Western
media it is a "top story" in its own right. The four major "stories" of the
Macedonian year so far have been: the death of Trajkovski; the election of Crvenkovski;
Paki-Gate; and (soon) the formation of a new government. Yet the mass media
has neither the wherewithal nor reader attention span to make a detailed report
of what underpins and links all of these events.
One possible spin-off story, in the wake of the new revelations, would be a
cynical report debunking once and for all the "myth" of foreign Islamic fighters
penetrating Macedonia. The West has never wanted to admit the idea of mujahedin
collaborating with Albanian militant elements in Macedonia and Kosovo, as doing
so would mean admitting that they'd abetted their presence, in some cases
knowingly and in others through sheer ignorance. The example of the Pakistani
immigrant deception might even lead to a wholesale media dismissal of the
possibility of mujahedin in Macedonia.
On the other hand, it perhaps doesn't matter what the media believes. That
will not affect the actions or investigations of the Macedonian authorities into
the detrimental presence of Islamic fighters in their country. Nor will it
affect the interest of Macedonia's foreign partners in this regard. Over the
past few months, representatives of various Western intelligence agencies have
visited the country to confer and also arranged visits for their Macedonian
colleagues. Collaboration with Serbia and Greece is obvious. Israel, which
regards the Balkans as the second most dangerous region to its security after
the Middle East, has also taken a keen interest. And the Americans are riveted
by the topic, if somewhat unsure about what to do about it.
Of course, the ultimate irony would occur if the current "outrage" in
Pakistan over the killings spills over, provoking some disgruntled terrorists to add Macedonia to
the target list.
It's unlikely that the Macedonian government will ever again take to
liquidating illegal immigrants illegally. That is perhaps the best result of
this whole complex, sordid mess. In the future, the burden of proof will fall
upon the government to prove any would-be terrorists are in fact terrorists
before dusting them. The very American, "Shoot 'em all and let God sort 'em out"
ethos clearly does not apply in civilized Macedonia.
However, this is not the only sort of cynicism that should be inspired by the
"mujahedin" killings. In the bigger picture, all of the events linked to the
April 28 election should be taken with a grain of salt. The current government
should be commended for striking a blow for truth and justice in pressing the
case of the slain immigrants. But we shouldn't imagine they are shedding too
many tears for the deceased, who are after all being politically manipulated in
death just as they were in life. What the mass media sees as the story of a
human tragedy is, in its larger context, more of a depressing farce. And a
tragic one, to be sure, for the future of acrimonious, self-devouring