For the people of this ethnically mixed village in western
Macedonia, the crisis has passed, at least for now.
Artillery no longer booms from Army positions down the valley.
The "crisis committee" formed by Slav and ethnic-Albanian villagers
has ended its 24-hour vigil. Farmers are back in their fields.
The new Balkan war some feared might engulf Macedonia has not
come. But as the threat of war recedes, the hopes and fears of
people here now fasten on this week's talks between ethnic-
Albanian and Macedonian-Slav leaders, who face greater pressure
than ever to come to a political accommodation that has eluded them
for the past 10 years.
"This situation is not good for anyone," says Vladimir
Serafimovski, a Macedonian Slav in Tearce. "They're afraid, we're
afraid. We don't know what is going to happen next."
At stake in Macedonia is not only peace in the south Balkans, but
the survival of the most multiethnic state in the region. Ever
since the breakup of Yugoslavia a decade ago, Macedonia was held up
as a rare example of ethnic tolerance. More than half of
Macedonia's 2 million people are Slavs; a third are Albanian.
But the threat of violence has by no means passed. After its
successful offensive around Tetovo, Macedonia's second-largest
city, the Army shelled the hills north of the capital, Skopje, last
week, driving the rebels back into Kosovo. Macedonian officials say
the rebels used Kosovo as a staging ground, and that they are most
likely regrouping there now.
"It's entirely possible that from time to time we'll have to go
through with this all over again," says one Western diplomat about
the recent fighting.
But for the moment, attention has shifted to the political front.
Macedonia's government yesterday launched urgent talks with leaders
of the country's ethnic-Albanian minority. European Union security
chief Javier Solana and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson
were expected to travel to Skopje for the talks, and to push for a
negotiated settlement between the parties. "It's going to be very
hard," says a senior Western diplomat. "But the political
leadership is committed to do this peacefully. As long as you have
that, you have to have hope."
The rebels won the sympathy of ordinary ethnic Albanians, but not
enough real support to continue. Yet ethnic-Albanian leaders are
warning that Albanian patience is limited.
"One of the good things that came out of this conflict was that
we didn't have a lot of victims," says Teuta Arifi, a professor of
Albanian literature at the University of Cyril and Methodius in
Skopje. "That's a sign that people don't like violence here. But if
the tension remains, we can expect difficult times in the future."
On the agenda for the talks will likely be a change in
Macedonia's Constitution to make ethnic Albanians and other
minorities equal to Macedonian Slavs. Other grievances will take
longer to address. These include: demands for greater authority for
local governments, more ethnic Albanians in the police force and
other government positions, and state-sponsored university
education in the Albanian language. …