Why Macedonia's Prospects for Avoiding War Are Looking Grim

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Empty cartridges lay on the ground after an exchange of fire in Tetovo

From what you're seeing in the Macedonian capital right now, what are the prospects for halting the slide into civil war?

Andrew Purvis: It's difficult to tell at this point. The army rolled into Tetovo today. They're pounding the hillsides with heavy artillery, and there's talk of an offensive into the mountains sometime in the next couple of days to dislodge the guerrillas. But all the indications are not very promising. The rebels are dug in, and even if they're pushed back by an offensive, they won't simply go away.

Both the Albanian and Slav populations of Macedonia have been radicalized by the new insurgency. Voices of moderation are growing fewer. There's a lot of anger in the Slav population about the Albanian guerrilla offensive, particularly because Macedonia took in refugees from Kosovo two years ago, and they feel like they're being paid back with this violence.

There was a major protest over the weekend by Macedonian Slavs from Tetovo, calling for civilians to be armed. On the Albanian side in Macedonia, the political leadership seems to be playing a double game. On the one hand they're making conciliatory statements to the Macedonian audience. On the other hand, when they're talking to foreign journalist they're calling for things Macedonia will never accept, such as creating a federation. The government won't accept this solution, because they see it as an inevitable step toward the disintegration of Macedonia and the creation of a Greater Kosovo, or Greater Albania.

Surely, though, if the Macedonians see this as an insurgency exported from Kosovo, then they could see their way clear to continue working with Macedonia's Albanian population?

Yes, the Macedonians certainly see this problem as exported from Kosovo, and deny that the guerrillas have indigenous roots. So there's some hope among Slavs that there are still moderate Albanians in Macedonia who would be willing to work toward some kind of political solution. But even the Albanian leaders here who have been working in the Macedonian political system have been calling for constitutional changes, such as a federation, which the government won't do. In theory there should be some room for further talks, further conciliation. But the presence of these rebels in the hills, and the fact that there's a civil war in Tetovo, is radicalizing the population.

Much then depends on what direction Macedonia's Albanian community chooses...

The only route to avoiding war, presumably, is constitutional talks, but at this point there's no one in the government or the international community who is prepared to recognize the rebels as a legitimate force to talk to. The fact is that there are Albanian parties in the government, and there have been ongoing discussions. But the rebels are doing an end run around those politicians and trying to force the issue. And both Macedonia and the international community remain skeptical as to whether the guerrillas are actually a force for democracy. So there's unlikely to be any progress on the political front while the rebel fighters remain active.