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As rebel ethnic Albanian forces close to within mortar range of Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, panicked citizens seeking the means to protect themselves are running up against a brick wall – the resistance of their own government.
According to reports from the Macedonian Information Agency, the official news agency of the Macedonian government, citizens in the area around Skopje have demanded that “the [Interior] Ministry … supply them with weapons, so as to organize themselves into night watches, but the police rejected this demand.”
Those wishing to defend themselves and their families were informed that they could seek to join the local police force or enlist in the army.
Severe firearm restrictions are traditional in Europe, where the right to bear arms is the monopoly of the ruling class or the central government – both often fearful of uprisings among the general population.
The experience of the soldier-citizen during the American Revolution – recalling the warrior-citizen of ancient Greece – gave impetus to the uniquely American Second Amendment, guaranteeing the “right to bear arms.” Recent Supreme Court decisions on the interpretation of the meaning of the Second Amendment, however, threaten to put U.S. law increasingly in line with the restrictive European firearms model.
The Macedonian government, apparently adhering to prevailing European Union gun ownership norms, is seeking only to reassure citizens in Skopje that “the security forces have control over the situation.”
“Nevertheless,” an official government statement continued ominously, “the citizens should take into consideration the complexity of the situation and be very careful,” according to the Macedonian Information Agency.
The citizens of Macedonia are forced to rely entirely upon an uncertain peace process, as a rebel offensive threatens.
“The alternative is … a state of war,” should the latest in a series of peace plans fail to “produce results” for Macedonia, declared Prime Minister Ljupco Georgijevski. “The government will do everything for the peace plan … but the Albanian side also decides on this,” stated Georgijevski, according to official Balkan news sources.
Radio Yugoslavia, the official broadcasting service of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, reported Georgijevski’s statements, in turn citing a report from the newspaper Dnevnik, a leading periodical in Skopje.
Macedonia has been wracked for months by interethnic violence. Some observers claim that ethnic Albanian separatists are seeking to alter the borders in the region, a move eliciting still-vivid memories of the rule of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
Ethnic Albanians state that they are only seeking the political rights of Albanians living in Macedonia.
Many regional politicians fear the establishment of a new Islamic state near the heart of Europe and along a main land route between Europe and the Near East.
“All political leaders” in the country support a peace plan initiated by the Macedonian President, Boris Trajkovski, stated Javier Solana, the European Union’s high representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, and ex-NATO secretary general, as reported by the Macedonian Information Agency, that nation’s official news source.
Solana ended two days of meetings with the Macedonian political elite, and urged them to “continue and intensify the ongoing political dialogue. … Once again, I would like to say that nothing politically can be achieved through violent means.”
Many in the region, however, do not share Solana’s optimism.
The Foreign Minister of the neighboring country of Bulgaria, Nadezhda Mihailova, stated that “the development of the situation in the Republic of Macedonia” has pushed that nation “to the brink of civil war,” and he has requested that NATO “take steps to end the conflict,” according to the Bulgarian News Agency.
Mihailova expressed his support for EU and NATO peace efforts and urged NATO “to take all necessary measures to stop the escalation of the conflict, which threatens … Macedonia’s disintegration.”
Another neighbor of Macedonia, NATO member Greece, is also quite concerned about the possibility of a civil war on its northern border.
While stating that Athens will not “unilaterally” intervene in Macedonia, Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, nevertheless, warned that if the crisis deteriorates further, “the international community will be called on to intervene militarily,” to prevent Macedonia from fragmenting into separate states, according to the Athens News Agency.
Papandreou proposed that the EU draw up a list of those who fund the rebels in Macedonia and bar them from entry into EU nations. Papandreou also stated that his government was aware of threats of attacks against Greek interests in Macedonia and was urging the Greek diplomatic service to take “all necessary precautions.”
Former Macedonian president Kiro Gligorov warned of the formation of two new Albanian states, one from the present Yugoslav province Kosovo and one carved out of the nation of Macedonia, “if the armed Albanians have their own way.”
Gligorov stated that the West could “proceed immediately with the disarming” of the ethnic Albanian fighters and should order the “blocking” of bank accounts used by supporters of the Albanians for the purchase of arms.
While the separatist rebels appear well-armed, the remainder of the Macedonian citizenry have no such alternative.