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interview with Boris Trajkovski

Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, was interviewed for
European Viewpoint by Robin Wright of the Los Angeles Times. The United States, the EU and NATO are scrambling to prevent Macedonia from becoming the fifth Balkan war. Visiting Washington last week, Trajovski received a pledge of $55 million in aid from U.S. President George W. Bush.

How real is the danger that the sporadic unrest in Macedonia could evolve into the fifth Balkans war?

We will do everything in our power to stop any kind of unrest and find the people who cause the problems and punish them properly. No one is supporting these people.

EV: At the heart of Macedonia's problems are the grievances of ethnic Albanians. What is your government doing to address their requests for greater political representation and a proportional share of national resources?

One of the things to be discussed will be political
representation -- in the public administration, public institutions ....
But let's also ask (Albanians) how many are paying taxes to the state. New laws for local and state government will oblige them to pay (taxes) and to show their loyalty to the government. We also initiated a university at which a first-class education will be taught in three languages. This was donated by the U.S. government and was endorsed by the Albanians.

Are you willing to change the constitution to accommodate the
demands of ethnic Albanians who complain of being second-class citizens?

TRAJKOVSKI: Since independence 10 years ago, we have had great respect for human rights, and we have had great representation of ethnic Albanians at all levels of government and in everyday life. They are schoolteachers, professors, medical doctors. Macedonians must recognize that the country is a model of good inter-ethnic relations. But we are going to discuss creating a society ... based on individuals, not ethnic groups, on citizens, not minority groups. There is no doubt that the constitution says
that we have equal rights here. But you have to take all requests into account.

EV: What is the National Liberation Army? Where does it get its arms and supplies and financial support?

They are terrorists. They are not fighting for any kind of rights or institutions. They fight for territory. Mostly they are from Kosovo. A small part is from Macedonia. They are funded by criminal activities -- smuggling weapons, prostitution, drugs.

Regionally, Bosnia-Herzegovina has witnessed renewed ethnic tension from Croat extremists. In Serbia, Kosovo is still a hot spot, and Belgrade has still not turned over international war criminals to the court in The Hague. How long will it take to bring democratic stability to the former republics of Yugoslavia?

The dissolution of Yugoslavia left a real mosaic. A lot of nations had illusions about creating a greater Croatia, greater Serbia or greater Albania. This was not a goal for Macedonia, which has built a strong democracy, rule of law and inter-ethnic life .... Maybe the Albanians are the last ones who would like to identify their nationality and create a greater consolidated Albania .... When this period has passed, the political situation will stabilize. But without economic development and investment, there will still be problems.

Do you believe Kosovo should be independent of Serbia?

TRAJKOVSKI: We respect the rule of law. A democratic life and democratic institutions have to be built there. Any unilateral decision will not be good. Agreement has to be made on both sides.

EV: Montenegro is the last of Yugoslavia's six republics to remain
attached to Serbia. But in an election in April, a slight majority
indicated they want independence. Should they have it, even though the international community does not support it?

The election results were pretty close. It is a good
approach by Belgrade to discuss changing the constitution. Also, I think (the Montenegrin capital of) Podgorica has to exhaust all democratic means first.

EV: You made your first trip to the United States in February, when you couldn't get an appointment with President Bush. But two months later, before many other foreign leaders, you were invited to the White House. How do you explain this sudden shift in U.S. interest and involvement in Macedonia?

The invitation, the timing, the level of meetings at the State Department, the White House ... (all constitute) a clear signal of major support by the United States. We are the best partners in the region .... We share the same values: the rule of law, prosperity and democracy. Also, Macedonia is seen as a valuable anchor of U.S. interests in the Balkans. We accepted NATO's rapid reaction forces; we sheltered 360,000 refugees from Kosovo; we provide the logistic base (for NATO troops) of FOR, especially U.S. soldiers, and the air space used for airstrikes. Other countries, even some NATO members, hesitated or opposed this. But we gave it. The United States has not only a moral right, but a moral obligation to remain in the region.

Did Bush assure you that he would support continued U.S. troop presence in the Balkans?

TRAJKOVSKI: Yes. It's not so much the number but the quality of the troops there. I very much appreciate the U.S. administration's (desire for an) exit strategy. But the stabilizing influence of the United States has to remain; any withdrawal of U.S. troops might cause negative consequences for the credibility of (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). The U.S. presence is indispensable to resolving and calming the situation.

(c) 2001, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate
International, a division of Tribune Media Services.

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