Macedonia: Anti-Albanian Vote Appears to Fail

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Nov 8 13:47:59 UTC 2004

>>From the New York Times, November 8, 2004

Anti-Albanian Macedonia Vote Appears to Fail

SKOPJE, Macedonia, Nov. 7 - A referendum to end the autonomy granted to
Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority appeared to be defeated Sunday
because of insufficient voter turnout.

The defeat of the referendum was a victory for Macedonia's multiethnic
coalition government, which had urged voters to boycott it. Not showing up
to vote was in effect a no vote on the measure, which had been supported
by Macedonian nationalists.

The United States and European nations had also urged defeat of the
referendum, contending it would have weakened Macedonia's political
stability and diminished the prospects for the country's entry to NATO and
the European Union.

"It was a choice between voting to go back to the past or look ahead to
the future," said Teuta Arifi, a member of the Democratic Union for
Integration, an ethnic Albanian party that is part of the coalition
government. "People are clearly looking to the future."

Poor weather and a boycott by ethnic Albanians, who make up roughly 25
percent of Macedonia's two million people, contributed to the low turnout.
The State Electoral Commission said that by late Sunday, fewer than 30
percent of Macedonia's 1.6 million eligible voters had turned out, far
below the minimum 50 percent needed. Official figures were expected to be
confirmed Monday.

Prime Minister Hari Kostov had urged voters to boycott the referendum and
had threatened to resign if it passed.

Western diplomats and government officials had warned that, if the measure
succeeded, it would undermine a peace agreement signed in August 2001 that
ended seven months of fighting between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and
security forces.

The referendum had been called by the nationalist World Macedonian
Congress, a group opposed to the 2001 agreement, known as the Ohrid
Accords. The nationalists maintain that the reorganization of municipal
boundaries, which has been put into law but not into effect, grants ethnic
Albanians too much power in several important cities.

European Union and United States officials, the main sponsors of the Ohrid
Accords, say the changes, which reduce the number of municipalities to 84
from 123, are an essential part of the peace agreement giving more power
to the local authorities and increasing minority rights.

It was unclear how nationalist groups would react to their defeat.

Senior Western diplomats said they were concerned that hard-liners
dissatisfied with the outcome could try to cause a crisis. Some diplomats
recalled that in September 2002, Macedonian and Albanian nationalists
opposed to the Ohrid Accords engineered a hostage crisis shortly before
parliamentary elections.

A move last week by the United States to recognize Macedonia, a former
Yugoslav republic, by its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia,
was expected to allay some nationalist discontent in the majority
Christian Orthodox population. Greece, which has a province named
Macedonia, had protested this country's claim to the name since the
Macedonian breakaway from Yugoslavia in 1991.

State laws prohibited political campaigning in the 48 hours before the
vote. But the government made maximum use of the American announcement,
holding a folk and rock concert in central Skopje, an event that was given
widespread coverage on local television on the eve of the vote.

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