Danas (BG) Interview with Arben Xhaferi
Interview: Arben Xhaferi, president of Macedonian
Democratic Party of Albanians
We Do Not Want new Vukovar in Macedonia
I remain because I want to participate in the
government that can stop a civil war between
Macedonians and Albanians. If I leave the government,
I would clearly demonstrate that the deep chasm
between the two ethnic communities would create
tension and a total ethnic war
by Jelena BJELICA
Danas, Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia, May 10, 2001
"If the Serb authorities changed their virtual policy
and directed it towards the unification of all the
territories where Serbs live, it would be very easy to
resolve the Albanian question," Arben Xhaferi,
president of the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh)
in Macedonia says.
Educated in Belgrade and a philosopher by vocation,
Xhaferi worked for years in Pristina as a journalist,
only to continue his career in Macedonia as a
politician. Xhaferi, who suffers from Parkinson's
disease, is advocating humane and moderate views. His
political party is in a coalition with the ruling
Democratic Party for Macedonian Unity (VMRO-DPMNE),
but in the newly created situation, when the
declaration of the state of war is "hanging in the
air", this alliance, after several months of tense
relations, is on a verge of breaking. In a
conversation with Danas, conducted in Tetovo, Xhaferi
talks about the situation which resembles the
beginning of a civil war.
"I am still sitting in my office, trying to stop a
civil war or, more precisely, a war between
Macedonians and Albanians. There is extreme ethnic
enmity, which has caused tension between the two
communities. Finally, the only solution is a political
one, we must open the way for dialogue, so that the
local authorities can resolve problems through
negotiations, rather then by fighting."
DANAS: Is dialog possible if the UCK is shooting every
XHAFERI: Mistakes in the conduct of the true dialog
strengthened the UCK. If we had dialog, no one would
have taken up weapons to achieve his political goals.
We have a problem, similar to the crisis that took
place in other parts of Yugoslavia. We must resolve it
in a civilized manner - through political dialog.
Why did the negotiations stop?
Because it is very difficult to negotiate on the basis
of soft "ethnic" dialog and because people want to
protect their previous political positions. Now we
must transform into a modern society and bring
European standards here. The mentality is old, we want
it to be new. Divisions in layers create lack of
understanding. I think that Macedonia must transform
her system of values and accept a new democratic and
European system. That transformation can resolve
ethnic tensions, provide more rights for everyone and
liberalize the society.
What are the demands of the Albanian community in
Obviously, Albanians in Macedonia feel extremely
marginalized in the society. One third of the
population of Macedonia participates in the state
administration by only three percent. This extreme
marginalization has provoked frustration in the whole
Albanian community and, then, that community has lost
rights it had in the previous system. Then they had
the right to use the Albanian language even in the
federal parliament, and now they can't even use it in
small institutions. Also, they've lost the right to
use their symbols.
Will you remain in the coalition with the ruling
I will, because I want to participate in the
authorities that can stop a civil war between
Macedonians and Albanians. If I leave the government,
I will clearly and openly demonstrate that the deep
chasm between the two ethnic communities will create
ethnic tension and a total ethnic war.
My impression is that the relations between your party
and the rest of the ruling coalition are less than
There are some indications that the negotiations
between us and the Macedonian political parties are
tense, but we are still working because we want to
keep an open path for hope in Macedonia. It is easy to
make big gestures, but it is difficult to maintain
peace. We must work every day, every minute to keep
the links between the people in Macedonia alive,
instead of pushing the problem to the brink of war.
Therefore, the PDSh will definitely stay in the
It depends on whether there will be more victims in
military actions. We cannot stay in this government
because we do not want to share responsibility for
civilian victims in the villages. Everything depends
on practical moves, rather than on ideological
decisions. If there are too many bad moves, such as
for example, unacceptable civilian victims, we will
not be able to wait for six months for a change in the
constitution. We won't be able to wait for even six
Therefore, if the conflict escalates, you'll leave the
Will the current situation in the future split
Macedonia into two entities?
Experiences from Yugoslavia indicate that every ethnic
conflict ends with that type of division - separation
of communities, cities, families. Everything started
with Yugoslavia, but if we work on integration, we can
stop further separation.
Would you care to comment on the claims that the
Albanian people in Kosovo, Macedonia, in the south of
Serbia, and Albania is working on the creation of
I've heard that argument many times, but you must
understand that Albanians did not cause the break up
of Yugoslavia. We are divided into four or more parts,
in Montenegro, Kosovo, Presevo and Macedonia. And none
of these Albanian issues has been resolved. These are
still open issues, which creates much frustration
among Albanians. Albanians demand their rights and if
they are rebuffed, they will try to find a different
way to fulfill their demands.
How will you control the situation if you leave your
We still control Albanian population. Ninety percent
of them do not want a war, they want a peaceful
solution. I represent them. If I stop being able to
control a majority of Albanians in Macedonia I will
withdraw, because I won't be able to take
responsibility for their projects.
You represent a political threat to the radical
elements - I am referring to Ali Ahmeti, the political
representative of the UCK. If you withdraw, will that
be the end of political dialog?
That is the fate of politicians. We are not working in
good conditions. I know of threats and challenges, but
I want to remain within the political framework, to
continue with negotiations.
The Macedonian government spokesperson claims that the
UCK is using civilians as live shields, while you talk
That is the same type of thinking as in relation to
Grozni and Vukovar. We do not want another Vukovar in
Macedonia, we want to find a civilized response to
threats. It is impossible to fight guerrillas by
threatening civilians. A professional army must be
well-trained so that it can fight the rebels. You
cannot allow them to fight the civilians, because
civilians are victims in this case.
The international community, including [U.S. Secretary
of State] Colin Powell, stated last week that
guerillas are a terrorist organization. Why is the
wider Albanian community not exerting stronger
pressure for further negotiations?
You seem to imply that the problem is in vocabulary,
but this is not a semantic problem. We have a chasm
between our two communities. The question is how to
resolve the problem. We are offering dialog, and it
still hasn't started and that is the problem... Not in
the choice of words.
What are your specific demands?
We define our rights in three categories. The first
category is the unalienable right of Albanians from
the previous system, the second is democracy and the
third human rights. At all three levels solutions are
still lacking. We are trying to create democracy by
consensus. We do not want to threaten the state unity
and integrity. We are seeking a mechanism that will
create equal human rights and will implement decision
making by consensus. You must take into account the
problem of the concept of the Macedonian state - it is
ethnocentric right now. You must look at the heart of
the problem, and that is how to live together.
But, isn't it true that Albanians and Macedonians
lived together until the extremists raised tensions?
I'd like to correct your formulation. They did not
live together, but in the same state leading parallel
lives. We face serious ethnic divisions. Ethnically
mixed marriages are less than one percent of all
marriages. There was a lot of tension in the past as
well. We had a chance to stop violence in the
nineties. Now the crisis has reached its peak. Ethnic
divisions in the Balkans are the problem.
There were claims that other players are also involved
in this conflict?
I refuse to discuss conspiracy theories, claims that
some external enemies are stoking tensions. We have
our own problems and I want to resolve them. There are
two principles in the international law - the right to
freedom and the right to the integrity of the state.
The first right is important because no one can deny
the right to freedom, and the second right is of
technical nature for the protection of the state. We
must find a solution between those two rights.
Do you think that that is the basis of the current
conflict between the two sides?
Absolutely, but we are the third side of the problem.
We do not accept armed struggle as a way to resolve
the problem. We only accept a peaceful solution, which
will create a healthy state.
Do you accept the project of the Southeastern Europe
Above all, there are two issues regarding the
development of the Balkans - the Serb and Albanian
issue and after that integration. We cannot integrate
until we resolve the problem of self-determination of
nations that live here.
Currently, there is an international protectorate in
Kosovo. Could a similar solution work in north-western
Macedonia as well?
A protectorate exists because Albanians have a
problem. Albanians do not cause trouble, they have
trouble with the Balkans. They are divided into four
or more parts, have problems with democracy and human
rights. They are extremely marginalized in the new
societies and there is a tendency in the region to
create ethnic states from multi-ethnic societies.
Albanians, who live in different parts of the region,
only react to that tendency.
In 1998 you insisted that the Macedonian Army leave
the border region of Macedonia, as their presence was
irritating the Albanians who live there?
That is a wrong perception, I never insisted on that.
Also, the Macedonian Army never pulled back from those
positions, it was there all the time. You cannot
resolve a problem by force. I think that as far as
weapons smuggling is concerned, there are big arms
producers who are involved. For example, the Serb arms
industry, as well as Russians and Bulgarians and
others. Albanians do not produce arms - just as they
do not organize illegal selling of weapons.
Are you claiming that Albanians are not involved in
I think that Kosovo and Macedonian Albanians are not.
In that case, where does the UCK get its arms?
Arms come from all over, from the countries that
Are you then saying that some Western countries are
trying to destabilize this region because of their own
No, that is another conspiracy theory. I think that
the break up of the country known as Yugoslavia is the
problem. The problem is how to regulate mutual
relations after the break up. This is a historical
question. We must find a solution and figure out how
to negotiate after the break up.
You've stated in an earlier interview that you're
prepared for a long race, but it seems other wanted to
sprint. Are you doing anything about these sprinters?
As I said, I am a marathon runner - a long distance
runner. I know that after every armed clash we must
have a dialog. But there are individuals who are
impatient to change their position. I refuse that
logic and continue on my path.
Are you in the position to influence a quick change of
Constitutions are not a Bible, some are written by
smart, some by stupid individuals. We can easily
change it to protect the lives of our citizens.
Why don't you insist on the immediate change of the
Because we must change the mentality of the people -
there is a lot of xenophobia in this region.
Will the Stoel's university, which you managed to
establish with Soros' assistance, and which will, if I
am not mistaken, start working next year, change that
A university can change mentality, but cannot resolve
problems. It can give better cultural and civilized
background, but only in some near future.
Then, it seems those sprinters will beat you to the
Even if they do, that will be an illegal victory!