IA-Forum Interview: His Excellency Kiro Gligorov, the former President of the Republic of Macedonia. 12/20/2004. By Violeta Dzoleva and Jasen Zubcevik Special thanks to Dr. Julie Mertus who contributed to this interview.
President Gligorov led the newly independent state for two presidential terms (1991 – 1999) during the brutal conflicts in the Balkans and the NATO intervention in Kosovo. Before becoming the President of Macedonia, Mr. Gligorov was one of the main political figures in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He served as the Assistant General Secretary in the Government, the Vice President of the Federal Executive Council, and the President of the Parliament. President Gligorov survived an assassination attempt in 1995.
International Affairs Forum: Your Excellency, the Republic of Macedonia was one of the six republics in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia. You were one of the main political figures for decades not only in Macedonia but also in the former Yugoslav federation. What are some of the primary factors that led to the fall of former Yugoslavia?
President Gligorov: It is widely believed that the disintegration of former Yugoslavia started in the 1980’s after the death of its leader Josip Broz Tito. I believe however, that the process of disintegration started much earlier. In the 1960’s, in Zagreb - the capital of Croatia, there was a meeting between the prominent Croatian academics. The meeting resulted in “the declaration of the language”. This declaration stated that the Serbo-Croatian language is nonexistent and that the only “real” languages are the Croatian and the Serbian language as separate languages. The Croatian academics declared that any effort, by the Yugoslav federal government, to create the Serbo-Croatian language as the official language of Yugoslavia is unacceptable.
This declaration shocked the federal government. Many believed that with this declaration, Croatia showed its initial tendencies for independence. I was then the President of the Federal Congress and because of the Croatian “declaration of the languages” we had to pass a law that required all federal documents, except the final ones, to be translated in all of the official languages spoken in the country (Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Bosnian, Albanian and Hungarian). This was one of the first factors that shook the unity of the federation.
The disagreements about the economy is another factor that led to the fall of Yugoslavia. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Yugoslavia had a very high GDP growth but as the time passed this growth started to slow down. The Slovenians and the Croatians were more developed. They were complaining that they are giving too much money for the development of undeveloped regions such as Kosovo. The undeveloped regions however, were complaining that they were not receiving enough aid. This created tensions between the more developed republics on one side and the less developed republics and provinces on the other. At that point, the federal unity that was promoted by Tito was nothing more than a formality.
IA-Forum: What were the relations between Yugoslavia and the two superpowers of that time – the Soviet Union and the US?
President Gligorov: We were constantly pressured by the Soviet Union. They were claiming that Yugoslavia and Tito betrayed “true” communism because we were a part of the non-aligned movement and were collaborating with the U.S. We were responding to those accusations by stating that our type of governance was better and that our non-aligned foreign policy strategy was consistent. It is true however, that we were secretly getting a lot of aid from the U.S. They were giving us and selling us the newest weapons, machinery, and other types of essential products. They were also selling us products and accepting payments in our currency, the dinar. Because they did not buy much from us, they had billions of dinars that got wasted. But they continuously gave us support.
In the late 60’s, Tito started talking about limiting our relations with the U.S. Tito believed that we could progress alone and should cut our ties with the great powers. But trying to prosper alone proved economically impossible. So we started buying on credit with high interests, our trade deficit jumped by millions, and our debt increased by billions. Meanwhile, the federal Yugoslav government started experiencing internal conflicts. Every republic was working for its own interests.
IA-Forum: Mr. President, what was the position of Western Europe in relations to the disintegration of former Yugoslavia?
President Gligorov: To my knowledge they opposed the disintegration of Yugoslavia but at the end they saw that keeping the federation together is an impossible task. Before the disintegration, Yugoslavia was a very powerful country both militarily and politically. Yugoslavia was one of the non-aligned founders – the biggest alliance of countries outside the United Nations. Unfortunately, that was not enough to keep the federation together. Yugoslavia had ultranationalist politicians who believed that their historic duty is to lead their republic to independence. That is what they succeeded at the end. As it was clear that Yugoslavia can not survive as a federation, the EU started supporting the disintegration of Yugoslavia. To encourage peaceful separation of the republics, in 1991, the EU created a commission (members: France, Italy, Germany, England and Holland) to evaluate which republics are ready to declare independence. Their conclusion was that only Slovenia and Macedonia were ready for independence since they were the only two republics who administered referendums on independence (overwhelming majority supported independence in both republics). However, the war had already started.
IA-Forum: As brutal wars escalated in Croatia and Bosnia, how did you react in this critical moment as the leader of the Republic of Macedonia?
President Gligorov: I was promoting a peaceful solution. My position was that we had lived together for 80 years in the federation and have very strong ties. I was also arguing that peaceful separation is possible by following the example of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. But nobody was listening. As the war started, my strategy was to recall all Macedonian soldiers from the Yugoslav National Army. I did not want Macedonian soldiers to participate in any of the wars. Luckily, 98% of the Macedonian solders succeeded in leaving the Yugoslav army and came back home early. In the meantime, as the Yugoslav federation fell apart, Macedonia needed its own army. We didn’t have anybody to protect our borders. A country that can not protect its borders is not a country. To make things worse, as we were trying to scramble some troops that would protect our borders, in the Serbian parliament, the Serbian ultranationalists were calling for a military invasion of Macedonia. I am still surprised that they decided not to invade us. They had a huge army.
I remember the Serbian army general Kukanjac, a really frightening individual, came to my office one day, without an appointment, and asked me to provide him with the lists of Macedonian recruits to enlist in the Yugoslav army. They wanted our Macedonian recruits to participate in the Serb attacks in Croatia and Bosnia. I tried to be personally nice to him, as much as I could, but I never gave him those lists.
IA-Forum: When NATO decided to intervene against Milosevic’s actions in Kosovo thousands of NATO soldiers were stationed in Macedonia and NATO was allowed to use the Macedonian airspace. Were there any disagreements between you and NATO in regard to the use of Macedonian soil against Serbia-Montenegro?
President Gligorov: Let me tell you the complete story. In 1999, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a mistake by recognizing Taiwan - a decision strongly opposed by China. My position from the start was that the recognition of Taiwan was a mistake. China always respected us and wanted to have good relations. In fact, China was one of the first countries that recognized us by our constitutional name. As our government recognized Taiwan, our relations with China worsened. In February 1999, China blocked the renewal of UNPREDEPs mandate - the international force that protected the Macedonian borders from a possible Serbian military aggression. As a result, the UN force had to pull out. Our military was no match for the powerful Serbian military machine. We were also very concerned because the Serbian ultranationalists were rapidity calling for a Serbian invasion of Macedonia.
As UNPREDEP was getting ready to leave, General Wesley Clark, the NATO Supreme Commander, came to my office and asked me if I would allow 750 NATO troops to be stationed on the Macedonia/Serbia border. I had a meeting with my advisers and we agreed with his proposal for the 750 NATO solders to be stationed there. However, shortly after our agreement, instead of 750 NATO soldiers, 22,500 NATO soldiers equipped with heavy weaponry showed up. We were shocked! It was clear to me that Gen. Clark broke the agreement.
A few moths later, I was invited to Washington for the 50 years of NATO celebration. On one of the official dinners our host was a five star U.S. general. From him, I learned that the U.S. and NATO are preparing two alternative plans in regard to the Kosovo crisis. Our Macedonian delegation never knew about these plans. The first plan was to send Special Forces to abduct Milosevic. The second plan, favored by Gen. Clark, was for NATO to station a huge force in Macedonia and invade Kosovo from there. This is how I learned that the primary goal of the NATO solders stationed in Macedonia was to prepare for the possible invasion on Kosovo.
IA-Forum: During that conference in Washington D.C. you objected for Macedonia to be used as a base for ground invasion on Serbia and Kosovo. Could you elaborate?
President Gligorov: During the second day of my visit to Washington we had a group meeting with President Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Javier Solana. During the meeting, I expressed my concerns regarding the planned NATO invasion on Kosovo. I said that Macedonia and Serbia are neighbors. If Macedonia is used for invading Serbia, the relations between our two countries will be in ruins for years to come. Later that day, as I was getting ready to leave Washington and return to Macedonia, I got a call from our (former) Ambassador to the U.S. Ms. Ljubica Acevska. She told me that President Clinton would like to meet with me at the White House. I agreed. During the meeting, I told President Clinton the same thing I said during our group meeting. I remember him telling me: “Mr. President, this is a war; in war you don’t choose the means.”
IA-Forum: As the NATO intervention ended and Slobodan Milosevic was overthrown, Kosovo became an international protectorate administered by the UN. Nowadays, the Kosovar Albanian politicians are calling for independence. What is your position on this?
President Gligorov: I am a member of an international commission located in Brussels that deals with this issue. Many members of the commission believe that since the Kosovar Albanians make up more then 90% of the total Kosovo population, have a functional government, and do not want to be a part of Serbia; it is time for them to become independent. I however, disagree. It is still not the time. Today in Kosovo, human rights violations are a daily occurrence. The members of the minority groups are often killed and mistreated. Kosovo can not be independent until the Serb, Roma, and other minorities are safe. Another problem is the idea of “Great Albania” – an idea strongly supported by the ultranationalists. This idea is supported by many members of the Albanian parties in Macedonia. Independent Kosovo would boost their aspirations for “Great Albania” and this may cause a conflict of large proportions.
IA-Forum: As the President of Macedonia, you let the country through some really tough times, both politically and economically. How do you view the current political and economic situation in Macedonia?
President Gligorov: The current political situation in Macedonia cannot be explained in black and white. We have accomplished a lot but there are many more things that need to be accomplished. When we became independent, we had nothing. In less then 14 years we succeeded in creating an army, saved ourselves from a brutal war, and became independent without any war casualties - that’s a great success. We are also moving closer to NATO and the EU membership.
Our biggest weakness is the economy. We left our economy to develop based on the “laissez faire - laissez passer” (let things alone, let them pass) idea. The economy can not develop based on a pure free market practices. There must be at least some control and regulations. Unsupervised privatization also led to a huge corruption.
I also think that it was a mistake to have very young, inexperienced politicians, run the country. Mr. Branko Crvenkovski was our first Prime Minister. His first real job was a Prime Minister of a country. That is unheard of! Our second Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievski was a philosophy major in college and after turning 28 years of age he become the Prime Minister. I was not happy with these developments. You need at least some experience to lead a country. When Mr. Crvenkovski and Mr. Georgievski were appointed as Prime Ministers, they had absolutely no experience in international politics or economics.
The second part of the interview with President Gligorov will be published shortly. In the second part of the interview President Kiro Gligorov talks to IA-Forum about the current political situation in Macedonia, the assassination he survived in 1995, the recent U.S. recognition of the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name, and the future of the Balkans.
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