Macedonia the new flashpoint

October 2, 1991

By Peter Annear

Following its September 8 referendum on independence, Macedonia could become a new flashpoint in the Yugoslav civil war. With a 75% turnout, 98% of voters favoured a sovereign and independent Macedonia which would have the right to enter an alliance with other sovereign Yugoslav states.

This is not acceptable to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who told Greek foreign minister Antonis Samaras in early September that Macedonia would not be permitted to secede — implying that it could be absorbed into a Greater Serbia.

In the course of the referendum, relations between the Macedonian government and parliamentary parties representing the large Albanian minority, which constitutes 20% of the republic's population, noticeably cooled. Despite negotiations between the two about the referendum, the Albanians boycotted the plebiscite, which commentators say may give rise to further anti-Albanian sentiment.

Sonja Licht, co-convener of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, told Green Left Weekly in Belgrade: "If Yugoslavia breaks apart, Macedonia will be in the greatest danger because, as well as tremendous internal contradictions, it is surrounded by competing territorial claims. This is despite the fact that the Macedonian government [of Kiro Gligorov] has been the most reasonable in trying to avoid clashes."

Immediately after the referendum, the Albanian foreign minister stated his support for the ethnic Albanians' boycott and said they must be given the status of a nation in Macedonia. Ominously, the Serbian deputy parliamentary speaker expressed concern about the fate of Serbs living there.

Officials from the Greek and Bulgarian governments have made it clear that neither recognises the existence of a Macedonian nation, adding, in one case, that an independent Macedonia would "harm Greek national interests".

Greece rejects the existence of a Slavic Macedonia. It claims an independent Macedonia might attempt to absorb the Greek province of the same name. And it is apprehensive about a possible Serbian-Bulgarian conflict over the province. Recently, Bulgarian President Zelyu Zelev revived a traditional view that the Macedonians are ethnic Bulgarians.

All this was no doubt the topic of discussions on September 19 in Athens between Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis, Bulgarian Prime Minister Popov and Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, already acting as the head of an independent Serbia. (Romania will apparently join a future such meeting in Athens.) The meeting followed "consultations" between Mitsotakis and his Albanian colleagues.

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