Macedonia Moving

12 mars 2005

It might not be the biggest global story at the moment, but the first round of the local elections in Macedonia this Sunday are not without interest.

I was there when the country descended into fighting that brought to the brink of large-scale civil war in 2oo1. It was essentially a spill-over from Kosovo – most of the key rebel fighters had crossed the mountains from there in order to launch the attack on Kosovo – but still reflected some of the divisions in Macedonian society.

After heavy political intervention by the EU and the US, a political deal was brokered in Ohrid, and the country set on a new path with greater rights for its Albanian minority, consisting of somewhat more than a fifth of the total population.

The Ohrid Agreement has been under threat a number of time since then, but it has held. Now, a major reform of local administration has been done, including some highly controversial redrawing of municipal boundaries, and the elections now are to elect new local leaders to these partly new local administrations.

On a brief visit to Skopje, the political athmosphere was unsually calm. In Skopje, the battle will be within the Macedonian majority there, while in Tetovo, which is the key Albanian city, there will be fought a major electoral battle between two Albanian parties. The war leader from 2oo1, subsequently part of the government that implements the Ohrid Agreement, might well fail to unseat the dominance of the party that dominated the Tetovo region prior to the rebellion.

We’ll see. Either way, there is no reason to expect major drama. And it’s really the absence of major drama that is the big unreported story coming out of Macedonia. War makes headlines – peace really doesn’t, not even in places that have been on the verge of major war.

I was there for a major conference on economic development that brought most of the leaders of the region together. With growth rates of 4-5% and with foreign investment starting to increase there is a reasonable story to tell about the region.

But much more needs to be done, and that was the subject of the meeting. And at the centre of the discussions were the prospect for closer relations to, eventually leading to membership of, the European Union. That is seen as the safest way to both peace and prosperity for the region.

The silent success of the Ohrid Agreement has showed the peace possibilities – and the economic integration will over time show the prosperity potential.


Kofi Annan in Madrid on Terrorism

10 mars 2005

The Secretary-General’s Statements

Today UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke in Madrid and presented his ”5D-plan” for work to combat terrorism.


Terrorism Conclusions One Year After 11-M

10 mars 2005

It is one year since the largest terrorist attack on European soil. 191 people were killed as ten bombs went off on four trains heading for Atocha station in central Madríd.

We now know that the attack was masterminded by circles that are likely to have been connected to and drawn inspiration from al-Qaeda networks.

The March 11 attack was designed to be even more devastating than it turned out to be. It was planned to be the beginning of a campaign of terror across Spain in the months to follow.

It was only when seven of the conspirators blew themselves up after being surrounded by police that the planned continuation of the terror campaign was stopped. Only the day before, a bomb had been found on the high-speed train between Madrid and Sevilla. Investigators are now talking about a series of other planned targets – among them a college in the suburb of La Moraleja and a synagogue in Avila.

No less than 74 persons have no been indicted for their part in the March 11 attacks, but the actual trials are not expected to start until early next year. Inquiries are still carried out in Morocco, Algeria, France and Belgium in order to get a full picture of the plot that resulted in 11-M.

When many world leaders – including 23 heads of state – gathered in Madrid during theses days, it was natural to try to take stocks of what has been learnt and achieved since 11-M.

Much has certainly been done to strengthen anti-terrorist coordination inside the European Union, although more needs to be done. The glaring deficiencies identified in the Spanish system prior to 11-M should hopefully have been eliminated throughout Europe, but there are countries that are seriously lagging behind.

There has also been a continuing strengthening of cooperation across the Atlantic on these issues. As was the case also before 11-M, it is particularly worth noting the discreet success of US-French cooperation on these issues.

But the most remarkable aspect of the discussions in Madrid was really how there has been a general rapprochement between US and European views of the so called root causes of at the least this global terrorist phenomenon.

There has been a noticeable coming together of views on both the need to try to move the conflict between Israel and Palestine to some sort of settlement, with importance this would have also in the wider Muslim world, and of the need to pursue what President Bush has called a “forward strategy of freedom” in the entire region.

In Madrid, you heard people who otherwise are almost genetically anti-American and fundamentalist anti-Bush stand up and de facto echo the rhetoric on this issue coming out of so called neoconservative circles in Washington.

Indeed, the very theme of the Madrid meeting was “Democracy for a safer world”, although the more nuances discussions pointed out that while important for numerous reasons, the advance of democracy would not necessarily eliminate terrorism. Spain itself is a case to the point.

There was a mood of cautious optimism in the discussions on these issues. Israelis and Palestinians talked to each other in the debates, the corridors and the closed rooms. And Egyptian opposition activists and regime representatives could share a laugh or two in the discussions.

Sometimes there was a flare-up, as you would expect.

A prominent Arab editor of a newspaper known for its previous links to the Saddam Hussein regime launched a vicious attack against US F16’s allegedly killing tens of thousands in Iraq during the last year.

But he rapidly feel silent when a young girl stood up in the middle of the audience and said that without these F16’s – or whatever – many tens of thousands would continue to be routinely killed by the henchmen of Saddam and any discussion on building democracy in Iraq – and perhaps the wider region – would have been impossible.

Not everyone in Madrid was prepared to agree explicitly with her. But the entire theme and approach of the meeting was an implicit recognition of the truth of what she said.

11-M reminds us of the terrorist threat that is still there and the challenges ahead of us.

It is vitally important to achieve a democratic stability in Iraq. It remains important to strengthen police and security cooperation in Europe. More must be done to address the integration challenge also of 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants from these regions.

And not the least must the European Union be prepared to be – as El Pais quotes me as saying in one of the debates – more hardnosed in the use of its soft powers to promote the opening up and reforms of the often ossified regimes of the Middle East and North Africa.

Perhaps the discussions in Madrid – I’ll post the conclusions when they are ready – can be described as the opening up of a new “second front” of political action in the fight against global terrorism. If so, it has certainly been well spent days in the sun of Madrid.


Statement by President Vike-Freiberga

08 mars 2005

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia: Declaration by H.E. Dr. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of the Republic of Latvia regarding 9 May 2005, Riga, 12 January 2005

And here is what President Vike-Freiberga of Latvia had to say about her decision to attend the celebrations in Moscow.

History isn’t just the past in large parts of Europe – it’s also the present.


Statement by President Adamkus

08 mars 2005

Lietuvos Respublikos Prezidentas -STATEMENT BY H. E. Mr. VALDAS ADAMKUS, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF LITHUANIA

Here the official statement by President Adamkus of Lithuania explaining his decision not to go. A well-balanced statement – but nevertheless I think it’s a mistake.


Regrettable Baltic Split

08 mars 2005

It has now been confirmed that Vaira Vike-Freiberga of Latvia will be the only one of the three Baltic Presidents to attend the May 9th celebrations in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Arnold Ruutel of Estonia and Valdas Adamkus of Lithuania have decided to stay at home.

One can well understand the difficulties they are having with the Moscow celebration. For them, what happened 60 years ago was that one occupation was replaced with another. In a way, that day was the day that sealed their dark fate during the nearly a quarter of a century of Soviet occupation that followed.

And things have certainly not been made easier by Russian insistence that they weren’t really occupied, but that there was some voluntary element in their incorporation into the Soviet Union. The controversy over the Stalin-Ribbentropp agreement of August 1939, which really paved the way for WWII by dividing up Eastern Europe between the dictators, is as fierce as ever.

Nevertheless, I think the Estonian and Lithuanian Presidents are making their country a disfavour by not going to Moscow. They will make themselves too easy a target for those in Russia already eager to smear down the record of the Baltic countries during that very difficul period of their history.

We’ll see what the reaction will be. But I think it would have been better if they all would have gone.

Hats off for President Vike-Freiberga, who now on her own will have to explain the position of the three Baltic countries when European and world leaders meet in Moscow.


Madrid Democracy Summit

06 mars 2005

International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security | Safe Democracy

Here is the link to the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security that takes place in Madrid March 8 – 11. It will bring together UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and around 20 heads of state and government as well as 200 experts in the fields of democracy and terrorism.

The program on the website is still rather rudimentary, but I expect that they will update before and when the summit starts.

I will unfortunately not have the possibility of taken part in all of the summit, but will be part of the key discussion on Wednesday on prospects for democratic reform in the Middle East. I would expect that Egypt will be in the focus of that discussion, but we’ll see.