Alice Ackerman, 'Making Peace Prevail: Preventing Violent Conflict in Macedonia'

IssueDecember 2000 - February 2001
Review by Sian Jones

Alice Ackerman's case for the Republic of Macedonia, as a rare - if not unique - example of conflict prevention by preventative diplomacy, makes a welcome addition to a relatively small body of literature which looks at how we can prevent war.

By way of introduction, she includes a brief survey of preventative diplomacy - and its critics - from cold-war attempts by the UN to keep the superpowers out of local conflicts, to the Boutros Ghali doctrine of preconflict prevention and early warning. With a chapter on case studies in which she identifies the successes (Hungary-Slovakia) and failures (Rwanda, former Yugoslavia) of preventative diplomacy by outside actors, the main focus of the book is how Macedonia, despite its geopolitics, and internal ethnic divisions, managed to avoid war.

The regional context in which Macedonia found itself when it declared independence are well rehearsed elsewhere - particularly the dispute with Greece over its name and constitution. But the internal potential for conflict between the Slavic Macedonian the Albanian community are less well known - including the declaration of the Albanian republic of Ilrida in April 1992 - as well as issues concerning the Serb minority (who attempted to declare their own republic in January 1993).

The role played by internal actors, in this analysis, takes second place to the role of international actors, and perhaps a more critical analysis of international bodies would have been welcome. Ackerman, however, credits Macedonia's escape from war at the door of the UN's “Preventative Deployment Mission” - with its military, political and eventually humanitarian role - and the OSCE Working Group's work on mediation and direct talks. The role of NGOs is also acknowledged though the case studies presented are limited two organisations, one local, the other international.

In conclusion, she argues that the factors needed for the successful prevention of conflict are: the support of major international actors; a variety of multi-faceted interventions - from a UN protection force to the activities of local and international NGOs - and the moderate behaviour of domestic leaders. Both sides, she argues, engaged in constructive dialogue and were prepared to work around an agenda that involved compromise.

Ackerman does not see conflict prevention in Macedonia as over. In an afterword, written in the spring of 1999, she notes the testing of the relationship between ethnic Albanians and Slavic Macedonians by the sudden arrival of an estimated 250,000 Kosova Albanians; by differing internal reactions to the NATO bombing; and the effects of the economic blockade on trade with Serbia and the consequent rise in unemployment. And with the continuing and unresolved tensions between ethnic Albanians and Slavic Muslims - most notably around Tetovo University - and the moves to independence in Kosova next door, the process needs to continue.

Topics: Balkans, Peacemaking
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