Why Macedonia?

We have received this article from Alek Atevik in Skopje, Macedonia. It analyses the historical background and the situation facing Macedonia today. Particularly striking is the reference to workers strikes. As the author points out, when it is a question of defending jobs and wages, such as at the Yugohrom factory, there is no divisions between Albanians and Macedonians. Workers' unity cuts across the ethnic divide!

We have received this article from Alek Atevik in Skopje, Macedonia. It analyses the historical background and the situation facing Macedonia today. Particularly striking is the reference to workers strikes. As the author points out, when it is a question of defending jobs and wages, such as at the Yugohrom factory, there is no divisions between Albanians and Macedonians. Workers' unity cuts across the ethnic divide!

Historical background

The Balkan Wars (1912-1913) between the various Balkan monarchies and "the sick man from the Bosphorus", post revolutionary Turkey, were wars of expansionism and conquering territories. They were a continuation of the dirty bourgeois policy elaborated at the Berlin Congress (1878) where it was decided that Macedonia, part of Serbia, Thrace and Albania were to remain under the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Bosnia and Herzegovina were to be 'sold' to the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Monarchy and Russian expansionism was to be replaced with that of German and Austrian imperialism. But, the designs of the capitalist military tailors have never solved anything anywhere. Any attempt to deny the right of nationalities to decide their own future will always will come back as a boomerang. This is their fundamental democratic right and they will eventually demand the right to govern themselves. Nationalist bourgeois and petit bourgeois cliques on the Balkans took history into their own hands by "liberating" the remaining parts of the decaying Ottoman Empire, but at the same time they became the new occupying force.

That was the first Balkan War. The great powers (mainly Italy, France and Germany) granted Albania independence. The policy of the USA (and of Serbia and Greece), aimed at dividing Albania, with its northern parts going to the Serbian monarchy and its southern part to the Greek King. Macedonia was a troublesome area. "How should we divide it up?"-was the problem facing the imperialists. The USA's idea was: grant it independence and provide protection forces from England, France, Germany, Austria. Russian tsarist diplomacy wanted a strong Slavic pawn in the area. For a long time it had been counting on the Bulgarian state as its best candidate for pan-Slavic expansionism. Thus it maintained that Macedonia should belong to Bulgaria. However, the Serbian nationalists having lost Albania decided to changed their demands and discovered their "Southern Serbian brothers", the Macedonians. They still describe the Macedonians in this way today. The position of the Greek nationalists was: "The Macedonians are just Greeks who speak a strange dialect and we must 'free' our slavophone brothers"... and so on.

The second Balkan war was fought mainly over Macedonia, with all the other powers against Bulgaria. Every side of the conflict claimed that the other side was occupying its 'natural' and often 'sacred' places. In the end, with the Treaty of Bucharest, Macedonia was divided into three parts. The Vardar region was annexed to Serbia, the Pirin region to Bulgaria, and the Aegean region to Greece. All these areas are called Macedonia. The regimes of all these monarchies oppressed the Macedonians. The ethnically mixed territories were forcibly changed after the First World War. In the 1920's there were exchanges of population between Greece and Turkey. The Muslim population (of Turkish and Macedonian nationality) were exchanged for orthodox Turkish citizens from Asia Minor, and similar exchanges took place between Bulgaria and Greece. Under capitalism everything has its exchange value, so why not treat some poor humans as if they were mere objects with a price tag? The Greek Civil War also changed the distribution of nationalities in Northern Greece (Aegean Macedonia). Officially, there are now no ethnic Macedonians in Greece.

What we are dealing with here is the military crisis in Macedonia as it is constituted today. Only the Vardar region of Macedonia, the part occupied by Serbia in 1913, gained its freedom. The Macedonian nationality, a small European nation living in the heart of the Balkans Peninsula, together with all the other nationalities that lived in Yugoslavia was allowed to constitute its own Republic.

The role played by the Yugoslav Communists during the Second World War was crucial. They were the only ones to understand the right of nationalities to self-determination, and they also understood that it was their duty to take part in organising and leading the anti-fascist resistance. All other parties and movements were nationalist and treacherous, standing together with the fascists and nazis.

 During the national liberation struggle (1941-1944) in Macedonia, the partisans defeated the German and Italian fascists, although with big losses of 25,000 comrades. Fighting on the side of the fascists were the Ballists (Albanian nationalists famous for their brutal methods, including the slaughter of women and children) and the Bulgarian fascists led by tsar Boris the Third - "The Liberator" as he was referred to in Bulgaria. They divided the Vardar region of Macedonia into two parts. Today, this historical division is once again being referred to in the demands of the nationalists. Macedonians from the Macedonian region in Greece also took part in the partisan movement fighting on the side of the Communists. The Macedonians in Bulgaria were also great fighters. They rose up against the fascist regime in Bulgaria in June 1941. This was a major blow to the Bulgarian monarchy.

What now?

Macedonia maintained its autonomy within Tito's Yugoslavia, whereas Macedonians in the other regions were oppressed, denationalised and even forced to leave the countries they were living in. June 25th, 2001, marks the tenth anniversary of the break-up of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It marked the beginning of all the subsequent wars that have taken place in the ex-Yugoslavia.

There are many common features between these wars and the Balkan Wars 90 years ago. However, the obsession with national question is the basic raison d'etre for all of them. Also, it is obvious that they haven't solved any problem. Bourgeois democracy is not capable of changing the growing tensions and bloody aftermath. It leads only to merciless and devastating competition between the weak national economies, which only plunges into misery all honest hardworking men and women.   We could add that the nationalists (who were merely remnants from the previous period) with their acts of terrorism were successfully defeated during the period of growth of the Yugoslav economy until the 1970's. From that time onwards, as the economy entered into crisis, the nationalist bureaucracies were strengthened. The struggle of the proletariat was diverted along national lines by the nationalist bureaucrats with their demands for so-called "freedom and wealth". The 'revolution' (or better, the 'counter-revolution') that took place in the late 1980s, with slogans for "democracy" brought capitalism in its worst form. Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia peacefully, but it faced several problems. Strong nationalist interests in Greece didn't allow Macedonia to call itself Macedonia, but insisted on the acronym FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia). Border disputes developed with Serbia (finally resolved last November). Great Bulgarian nationalism also posed a problem. The official policy of Bulgaria is that Macedonia is the cradle of the most heroic part of Bulgarian history, that everything that is Macedonian is in fact Bulgarian, and that it was the evil communists and Stalin who separated the 'Macedonians from Bulgarians. The flag of Bulgaria is made up from three colours, green and white, for Misia and Thrace, and red, for Macedonia. There were also problems with Albania. Macedonia has a big ethnic Albanian minority (about 23% of the population, according to the 1994 census) with a high population growth rate (about 18 per thousand).

The areas of Macedonia, where the Albanian population lived, were mainly of a rural nature. The pace of industrialisation of these areas was very slow during the old Stalinist regime. The processes of education and integration in society was a slow one. However, the new bosses of the privatised factories fired many workers or are preparing to fire many. Privatisation has brought only agony for the workers, no matter which nationality they belong to.

The Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha simply isolated Albania from the rest of the world, thus having negative consequences to Albanians in former Yugoslavia, where national discrimination was unknown. The reasons for their social position in society are of a historical nature, and not of a genetic one, as many Macedonian and Serbian nationalists are claiming. The overwhelming majority of the Albanian population in Macedonia is rural, owning small pieces of land where they grow vegetables, potatoes, tobacco, sugarcane and fruit, such as strawberries, melons, etc. There is not much money to be made from agriculture. This is also true for the Macedonian speaking farmers, the difference being that the rural population among the Macedonian speaking population is a minority of the overall population. This explains why large sections of the Albanian speaking population has been forced to turn to other highly profitable activities, such as drug trafficking or dealing (unfortunately many have also ended up as addicts), prostitution and trading in "white slaves" from the poorer areas of Moldavia, the Ukraine and Bulgaria.

All this was accelerated after the arrival of the K-FOR peace mission in Kosovo. Kosovo has become famous as the European "golden triangle". Economic power in Kosovo is now mostly in the hands of very powerful 'godfathers' (basically a Mafia).

As a result of ten years of severe economic decline, the black market economy has become the easiest way of making money, maybe the only way. Foreign journalists portray Macedonia as a poor economy, but their picture is greatly disturbed by big, modern cars driven around by youngsters. Ordinary working men and women working hard with their own hands just to provide the basic necessities for their families can see who is involved in criminal activities because the criminal elements owns goods that are so expensive, that no legal, decent job could pay for them.

Is capitalism a solution?

Many so-called independent intellectuals have repeated a million times over that we are in "transition". Now, after ten years, they are telling us once again that we are facing a crisis but that we are on the road to stability and prosperity, that we are living in a post-capitalist period. However, the facts show the opposite. It is the workers, both young and old, who are suffering. Our economy, dear "ex-comrades", is of an anarchic or "liberal" nature, but it is still based on the principles of capitalism.

Let's look at some figures:
Year 1995 1998 2001[1]
debt portion of GDP (%) 27 44 51
[1] According to the optimistic projections of the IMF

What we can see from these figures is an unstoppable increase of the debt. Bourgeois economists maintain that this debt isn't really so big. We are a "medium" indebted country. According to them, there is no danger of a financial crisis (i.e. inflation with devaluation of the currency, and destruction of the so-called macroeconomic 'reformed' economic stability). But the staggering figure of $120 million of foreign reserves spent on maintaining the unrealistic exchange rate of the national currency, together with the flight of foreign capital in recent months, demonstrate that the Macedonian bubble is about to burst.

Other figures clearly show the desperate situation the economy is in. The rate of overall unemployment is more than 50%, although many sources are reporting a figure of 40%. There are 370,000 registered unemployed and the numbers in employment are 350,000. How can a figure of 40% be worked out from such obvious numbers? In 1998 Macedonia had 109,000 workers employed in so called "wasteful" (!) industries (i.e. producing losses instead of profits). In 2000 138,000 workers were registered as workers in the unprofitable industries. That is more than one third of the workforce and at the same time 60% of industrial workers are on a list waiting to be fired. And because the majority of the Albanians live in the countryside this means that more than 60% of the urban Albanians are unemployed. Is it that difficult to imagine what could happen with this army of unemployed? The chain will break sooner or later. The main factor in the situation is always the economy. And "the national question is always a question of a bread". The social explosion has been diverted along the nationalist and terrorist road. But to act as if the social explosion will fade away is to behave like ostriches, burying our heads in the sand.

The 'international community'

Anther key factor in the situation are the policies of the so-called 'international community', the euphemism meaning US and western imperialism. The bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia two years ago, created a monstrous KLA (or  UCK in Albanian) that has only changed its name to the Kosovo Protection Corps. The leaders of the KLA came to power after the war with Yugoslavia, and created a military, 'ethnically cleansed', state. But, the 'international community' was aware of the fact that the KLA had a strategy of liberating the territories from the Slavs and creating a Greater Albania (Albania + Kosovo + Western Macedonia with Skopje + Western part of Greece + Southern and Eastern Montenegro + part of Serbia). Some said it was the conspiracy of the 'green line', the Islamic states from Bosnia through to Turkey. This was a plan for war. But it was a stupid childish game that would not be permitted by imperialism.

The problem facing Macedonia now is how to stop the paramilitary armed forces of the National Liberation Army, NLA (called the UCK, the same as the KLA!), recruiting ethnic Albanians, who are paid 1000DM per day. The money comes from donations from the Albanian community living in Western Europe (Belgium, Germany and Switzerland) and USA. These rebels are not a militia of ordinary people. It is a force created out of well trained murderers of the KLA (UCK). They do not protect the local inhabitants, but do just the opposite: they force them to work for them and they are forced to enrol in the UCK. This guerrilla force is ethnically and religiously pure, so they are hostile to Macedonians or Serbians and even to non Albanian Muslims, such as the Turks or the Gypsies. They are even hostile to ordinary Albanians who are unwilling to join their terrorist activities! The demands of the terrorist UCK are for the federalisation of Macedonia. But this is impossible without war. Under the slogan of "poor little Albanians" the rebel Albanian nationalists are fighting the Macedonian state forces. The truth is that the Albanian nationality is not oppressed in a formal sense. This armed conflict is not a rebellion of the Albanians living in Macedonia. It is in reality a continuation of the more general crisis afflicting the whole region. Macedonia doesn't have any laws that discriminates against Albanians or others ethnic minorities. In other words the ethnic Albanians are not nationally oppressed within the Constitution of the Republic of Macedonia. They have every possible democrat right that can be given within Macedonia.

But having said that, what has to be understood is that it's easy to develop the feeling of being nationally oppressed when you are really oppressed by the continually worsening economic conditions, when you are jobless, when you have very little money.

The recent proposal of NATO to send 2000 troops into Macedonia as "observers" as part of the plan of the President of Macedonia for disarming the UCK only serves to demonstrate their imperialist intentions. It would also reveal the true policy of the biggest Macedonian parties, the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE and the Social Democrat Union, as being both short-sighted and bourgeois.

The true nature of "help" from the NATO countries for Macedonia was clearly shown in the past. It meant entering the UN under the compulsive and ridiculous name of FYROM. It meant the workers suffering because of sanctions from 'friendly' Greece. It meant devastating the Macedonian economy through the wars in the former Yugoslavia. 350,000 refugees fled from Kosovo, and none of the NATO countries responsible for the exodus, did anything to help Macedonia. And the bourgeois clique running the country never did anything to alleviate the suffocating Macedonian economy, but rather did the opposite. The small amount of foreign investments were withdrawn. The fact is that the Macedonians do not need military assistance aid. The reasons for the present crisis are not the terrorists. Rather it is the contrary. The present armed conflict is a consequence of the unsuccessful attempt to revive capitalism in Macedonia!

What Can We Expect?

In the middle of this crisis our government plans to close down all unprofitable concerns under the supervision of the IMF. It should be noted that the Macedonian government led by the nationalist Lubco Georgievski fell and a new one took its place, again led by the nationalist Georgievski, but also including the opposition parties. It is a government of disharmony. The imperialist policy, lead by Xavier Solana, forced the opposition parties to enter into the same government, quite an impossible task if it had not been for a little push from Solana himself. The government plans to stab 35,000 workers in the back. That is 10% of the total employed workforce in Macedonia. These 35 thousand working men and women will join the 370,000 queuing up in front of the Bureau Of Employment. This announcement that 35,000 workers would lose their jobs passed almost as if nothing had happened.

The labour movement, and not just that of Macedonia, but throughout the Balkans, is in a lull. One in five workers in Macedonia is living below the poverty line. No mass strikes or mass demonstrations have been called. There were attempts to organise mass labour strikes for May Day and a general strike in the middle of May. Unfortunately, the timing was bad. That was the time when Macedonia was grieving for 8 murdered policemen. The Federation of Unions of Macedonia organised a strike in spite of the escalating military crisis, but the workers did not turn out. Only 1,000 were present out of the expected 12,000. Many political parties and the government slated the Union and also revealed their hypocrisy by saying that they understood the social condition of the workers, but that it was not time for strikes.

At the end of May, there was a strike of workers in "Yugohrom", a factory in the metal industry sector. Workers, both from Macedonian and Albanian speaking population, blocked the main road Skopje-Tetovo. The only "nationality" they expressed was the "labour nationality". The demands of the "Yugohrom" workers were against the closure of their once highly respectable factory.

However, there are strikes taking place everyday and all over Macedonia. They are local strikes and the organisation of the strike is not linked with those of their comrades in other fields of production. The demands of these small strikes are primarily economic. The political demands, so clearly expressed by the workers, in the slogans they shout on their demonstrations are not taken up by the leadership. The results of these strikes often lead to despair. The latest proposal from the present broad coalition government is to introduce a military tax. The ministry of Finance elaborated the prized paid solving the crises: 350 millions DM. Next day the Ministry of Economy stated that 800 DM are a rough damage caused to Macedonian economy. The media, in all its forms, is constantly reporting the social position of the workers. Public opinion is on one side, the bureaucracy of the various parties is on other. The present capitalist system will remain a source of human and national degradation.

The looting of the workers' property all over the Balkans on the part of a local political cliques, and the foreign and domestic nascent bourgeoisie must be stopped. Democracy must be established in its true meaning for proletarians, as socialist democracy. Our faltering market economy must be replaced with a planned nationalised economy. Only the unity of the workers, from all sectors and from all nationalities, can put a stop to this anarchy. These political changes have to be led by a vanguard, a vanguard of genuine Marxists. Every other solution, as seen in Bosnia, would bring division of the workers along national lines; every other solution would lead to the imperialists becoming the rulers of the Macedonians and others nationalities on the Balkans. Any other "solution" would make stability and progress impossible, and would bring protectorates and regression.

For joint action for workers' democracy!
Workers of the Balkans unite!