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Issue 338

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Balkans

How a war begins
Untangling Macedonia’s ethnic conflicts

Ohrid, western Macedonia, is a holiday resort vainly preparing for the tourists whom everybody knows aren’t coming this year. Foreign bookings at its lakeside hotels have all been cancelled. Their facades stare emptily across the water at the mountain-ranges of southern Albania.

In the small hours of a Saturday morning one bar down by the harbour is playing Serbian music to a clientele of Macedonians, all young and mostly drunk. One group invites me to their table. They eagerly explain that their leader has killed many Albanians. Shaven-headed, with one pierced eyebrow, this ‘leader’ has Jesus Christ tattooed on one shoulder, a gremlin on the other. I ask him exactly how many he has killed. ‘Three or four,’ he answers, airily. ‘Which?’ I ask, ‘Three? Or Four?’ ‘Eight,’ he replies, rising to his theme. Entrance- and exit-wounds are described in detail. His girlfriend reassures me he’s just a boy really.

Word corner

Third World
In 1789 the Abbé Sieyès published his famous pamphlet ‘Qu’est-ce que le tiers-état?’ (‘What is the Third Estate?’). In pre-Revolutionary France the first two estates were the nobility and the clergy. Everyone else was the Third Estate.

In 1952 Alfred Sauvy, a French demographer, wrote an article in the French magazine L’Observateur which ended by comparing the Third World with the Third Estate: ‘ce Tiers Monde ignoré, exploité, méprisé comme le Tiers État’ (‘this Third World, unknown, exploited, scorned like the Third Estate’). Sauvy sometimes joked that one could compare the capitalist world to the nobility, and the communist world with the clergy.

Third World soon entered English and is still used to describe the developing countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Susan Watkin

Is this teen self-dramatization plus alcohol, or is this the stuff death-squads are made of? A clear answer to that, as to so much else in Macedonia, is very hard to give.

I tell this story to Tome Dzamtovski, director of Radio Ohrid, who is in his mid-thirties. He grimaces. ‘It’s true. There is this hate now. It is new. The young Albanians are the same. But I still hope some collective wisdom will prevail. We’re nothing like Bosnia – there’s no history of this hatred in Macedonia.’

That’s a valid point. Until February of this year Macedonia and Slovenia were exemplary: the only countries to extricate themselves peacefully from the post-Yugoslav nightmare.

But since then rebels along the northern border with Kosovo have taken up arms, demanding full legal rights for the country’s Albanian minority (30 per cent of the population). With no tourists, a stalled economy and unemployment over 40 per cent, tempers are shortening.

Macedonians maintain that their constitution, which the Albanians and the European Union (EU) now insist must be renegotiated, was drawn up in painstaking consultation with the Council of Europe and other EU bodies. They point to the 250,000 Albanian refugees they took in, sheltered and fed during the war in Kosovo.

The Macedonians point out that Albanian rebels are well armed and well trained while they themselves have no such network of weapons suppliers – in Kosovo the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) received military training from the West. Macedonia has had to accept military assistance from neighbouring Bulgaria, whose barely suppressed territorial ambitions in their country are an open secret.

However, Albanian grievances have some basis and it is from these inequities that the rebels draw their wider support. On paper, for example, education is freely available to all. Children are taught in the same building, each group in its own language. But they do not mix socially. There are Albanian night-clubs and Macedonian ones. In private Macedonians talk freely of the ‘primitivism’ of the Albanians – but at the same time refuse them a state-funded university. And they dismiss Albanian grievances as a cover for territorial ambitions.

There’s also a deeper problem. Macedonia’s ruling centre-right nationalist party (VMRO), which came to power in 1999, espouses a nationalism which still includes a certain anti-Islamic animus – and the Albanian minority is, of course, Muslim.

Back at Radio Ohrid, Dzamtovski says: ‘It’s true big mistakes have been made here in the past 10 years by all sides. The political parties have only looked for support from their own nationalities, not from all Macedonians. That has divided people. But it’s also true we have done a lot of things right here too. I don’t think it’s too late. And I don’t think we deserve a war.’

Horatio Morpurgo

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Human Rights

Dictators beware
Nigeria puts its past on trial

These days Nigerians are asking rather a lot of uncomfortable questions. Is it true that General Oladipo Diya, who was number two to the late General Sani Abacha, attempted to overthrow his leader and thereby earned the death sentence? Who planted the bomb that nearly killed Diya at Abuja airport a few days before he was arrested?

Questions like these, which have puzzled chroniclers of Nigeria’s recent political history, are gradually being answered, courtesy of a Nigerian version of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission that is raking up evidence on some of the country’s most sensational political cases.

Known as the Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, it is chaired by a former Supreme Court judge, Chukwudifu Oputa. It could yet prove highly explosive.

It has already heard evidence from President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was elected in February 1999 as the first civilian leader in 15 years. At the hearing Obasanjo announced that he had forgiven the military officer whose false evidence had implicated him in an attempted coup against Abacha and thereby earned him the death sentence.

This reconciliation of former enemies has chalked up plus marks for the Commission.

It has now summoned Obasanjo’s immediate predecessor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, to face questions on the death in custody of Chief Moshood Abiola, who won the presidential election of 12 June 1993 but was never allowed by the military to take office. The summons is in response to a petition by the family of Abiola, who died on 7 July 1998 – 29 days after the death of Abacha, who had imprisoned him.

When he succeeded the detested Abacha in June 1998, Abubakar began to undo most of the terrible effects of Abacha’s brutal military machine. He released from jail not only Obasanjo but many others whom Abacha had imprisoned for political reasons. Most people assumed that Abubakar would also release Abiola.

When Abubakar came to power, Abiola had already been in solitary confinement for four years. Journalists went en masse to camp at Lagos airport, waiting excitedly for Abiola to be flown down from the political capital, Abuja, to the commercial capital, Lagos. But they were fooled – almost daily for nearly one month – by false alarms.

The questions asked were legion. Why had Abubakar not allowed Abiola to be admitted to hospital, or even to be flown abroad? More important still, what business did a US government delegation, led by Under-Secretary for African Affairs Thomas Pickering, have to discuss with Abiola – it was during this discussion that Abiola collapsed and died.

The absence of answers has led many Nigerians to suspect that an international conspiracy was hatched after Abacha’s death to prevent Abiola from exercising the mandate which Nigerians gave him at the June 1993 election.

Also eagerly awaited are the Commission hearings about the November 1995 trial and execution of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight fellow environmental campaigners from the Ogoniland region.

There is a message here for Africa’s leaders. When in power don’t act with impunity. You could be next in the dock.

Cameron Duodu, Gemini News

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US green group under attack

Inspired by the Bush administration, a trio of anti-environmental groups and companies is launching a multi-tiered attack on the Rainforest Action Network (RAN). Best known for its headline-grabbing campaigns to protect forests, RAN has a proven track-record of altering corporate behaviour through a range of pressure tactics.

A conservative group called the Frontier Freedom Foundation (FFF) – heavily supported by tobacco, oil and timber money – is lobbying the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to revoke RAN’s non-profit status. At the same time, logging company Boise Cascade has aggressively targeted RAN’s funders with threatening letters, trying to undermine the organization by drying up its cash flow. Both are working with the anti-green Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise to cripple RAN’s effectiveness.

RAN executes highly visible, aggressive campaigns primarily against corporations destroying old-growth forests in North America and around the world. Its tactics include consumer boycotts and symbolic efforts designed to capture media attention, including abseiling down corporate buildings and unleashing giant banners. According to RAN, ‘data shows that Boise Cascade engages in global rainforest timber trade and contracts with companies that cut down old-growth forests in the US, Chile, Indonesia, Canada, Brazil and Russia.’ Along with Boise Cascade, RAN has also targeted Mitsubishi and Occidental Petroleum, among other corporate giants.

The first attack came from the FFF (founded by former Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallup, a close associate of Vice-President Dick Cheney), which charged in a letter to the IRS that RAN routinely engages in non-educational activity, violating the legal requirement that it be ‘operated exclusively for educational purposes.’ The FFF’s executive director, George Landrith, called RAN ‘fundamentally radical, anti-capitalist and lawless.’

In response, RAN says that the FFF is using the tax codes to attack its First Amendment rights. As many have pointed out, civil-rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People wouldn’t have been able to organize sit-ins to fight segregation if such a standard was in place.

‘We believe when laws are unjust, they can be broken in a symbolic way,’ RAN Executive Director Christopher Hatch told the Wall Street Journal.

Don Hazen, AlterNet
For more information, or to help defend the
Rainforest Action Network, visit www.RAN.org

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Nepal

Maoists and monarchs
Himalayan kingdom in crisis

Sanu Maiya Chhetri, a 33-year-old woman with four children, lives in a village near the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. A social worker with a monthly wage of $35, she faces the future with a mounting sense of insecurity as Nepal faces its worst political crisis in recent history.

Her fear is typical of many in Nepal today, the result of a declaration of ‘people’s war’ by the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist insurgents – and the recent murder of the popular King Birendra and his entire family.

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Seriously... You couldn't make this stuff up

The new black
Menswear designers are hopping desperately onto the anti-capitalist bandwagon to develop the laughable cultural trend of ‘protester chic’. Belgian designer Raf Simons has been influenced by balaclava-clad anti-capitalist protesters – presumably the ones wearing $3,000 tailored trousers. Meanwhile the revolutionaries at Prada, eager to borrow a whiff of authenticity, teargas, and genuine passion from the protest movement, are destroying capitalism with their new range of rioter-chic facial scarves. Scarf designer Megan Park says: ‘A scarf can change an outfit completely.’ A sentiment surely echoed in the dressing room of the black block anarchists getting ready for the streets of Genoa or Washington – where black is definitely the new black, darling.

The war on humbugs
In an attempt to persuade a skeptical US Senator of the wisdom of aerial-spraying the coca fields of Colombia with tonnes of Monsanto’s Roundup Ready pesticide, as part of the US ‘war on drugs’, the US embassy in Bogotá arranged a demonstration. Unfortunately, the ‘targeted spraying’ – which the US maintains destroys only the coca fields, not the subsistence crops around them – went rather wrong. With military precision the Senator, the US Ambassador and the Lieutenant-Colonel of the National Colombian Police were soaked from head to toe in the pesticide. If they have since suffered the same negative health effects of which Colombian peasants have been complaining, they are keeping quiet about it.

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Between them, the Maoist insurgency and police atrocities have already taken over 2,000 lives. Most are innocent civilians, victims of ‘disappearances’ and extra-judicial killings or killed by the police during torture. The massacre of the Royal Family happened on 26 May. Initial reports suggested that King Birendra’s son, Dipendra, had murdered his family following an argument and then committed suicide but people are not ready to believe that the royal massacre was simply a family matter. They assume that the murder has its roots somewhere in Nepal’s spreading civil conflict.

Nepal restored multi-party democracy in 1990: 30 years of absolute monarchy ended when the late King Birendra agreed to the demands of a left-democratic alliance and their ‘People’s Movement’ and became instead a silent but alert and benevolent constitutional monarch.

In the past 11 years, Nepal has experienced nine governments and weak coalitions have helped to foster political instability. The frequent changes of government have had more to do with power-mongering and financial gain than with the national interest.

Lacking a clear vision of national development, the country’s political leaders have surrendered to the forces of globalization such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank and transnational corporations, and failed to deliver on health, education, poverty reduction and water-resource development. The country is on the verge of total economic collapse. Tourism is almost dead, and the country hovers on the brink of a protracted civil war with the Maoist insurgents.

But there is some hope on the horizon. Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala was forced to resign in July after being implicated in huge corruption scandals.

The new Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, has made it his administration's top priority to enter a dialogue with the Maoists. Nepal’s future peace and stability depends on finding a politically negotiated solution to the conflict. This will require major compromises on both sides.

The Maoists view the recent royal massacre as a conspiracy by India and the US to suppress their revolution and block the process of peaceful settlement to the conflict that had begun with the late King Birendra. They have refused to recognize the new King Gyanendra as a legitimate successor to the throne, viewing him as a collaborator in the massacre. The Maoists demand that Nepal becomes a republic.

Meanwhile the army had been mobilizing to wipe out the rebels, particularly in the western region where the Maoists have already formed about 10 local ‘people’s governments’.

For now, however, the new Government has negotiated a ceasefire. If a future bloodbath is to be avoided, the new King has an important role to play – but so too do opposition parties and indeed aid donors and the international community, who bear a measure of responsibility for Nepal’s current economic, social and political plight.

Failure will mean descent into an indefinite and bloody civil war.

Gopal Siwakoti Chintan

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Biteback by Schrank, Independent on Sunday, UK.

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