By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Macedonia’s President has criticised the presence of government ministers at a ceremony laying flowers before a monument to ethnic Albanian guerilla fighters killed in the 2001 conflict.
In the country’s first ever institutional expression of respect for former National Liberation Army fighters who died in the conflict, Defence Minister Fatmir Besimi, an ethnic Albanian, accompanied by other ethnic Albanian ministers and uniformed persons, laid flowers and bowed before an NLA monument in Slupcane, near Kumanovo, a former NLA stronghold.
The ceremony was part of the events marking 11 years since the signing of the Ohrid Peace Accord, which ended the 2001 conflict by extending greater rights to the Albanian minority.
“The President urges all institutions to refrain from misusing the army for political or party objectives,” Gjorge Ivanov said in a press release adding that “Institutional regulations and procedures were not followed” in this case.
The event caught by surprise the government, the Army General Staff and the main ruling VMRO DPMNE party. They have all condemned the move and denied any involvement, saying the Defence Minister acted alone.
The Army has said that the uniformed men seen at the ceremony were not part of the Army but were merely employees of the Defence Ministry.
The opposition Social Democrats have also criticized the move, asking whether the head of state, who has overall command of the armed forces, approved it.
Paying respect to war memorials built by the Albanian community remains highly controversial among the Macedonian majority.
But the Defence Minister in question, a member of the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, a party in government, has not backed down.
“I sincerely regret that the act has not been perceived as one of reconciliation in the spirit of the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which is an integral part of the constitution,” Besimi said on Wednesday after an informal meeting with the army chiefs.
He said he did not need the President’s consent for his move, arguing that the Framework Accord clearly implies the right to equally respect all victims of the conflict.