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interview 26 May 17

Ziadin Sela Outlines Vision for a New Macedonia

Macedonian ethnic Albanian leader recalls the night he was almost killed in parliament – and says Albanians expect tangible results from their support for Zoran Zaev - starting with justice reform.

Jeta Xharra
 Zijadin Sela. Photo: BIRN

Speaking for the first time since he was seriously injured in Macedonia’s parliament in Skopje last month, after a nationalist mob broke in and attacked opposition MPs, Ziadin Sela told BIRN's “Life in Kosovo” TV show on Thursday that there had been a deliberate intention to kill him.

“The aim was to kill me and proclaim emergency situation [to suit] VMRO-DPME’s political aims,” Sela said, referring to the former ruling party – whose supporters dominated the mob that stormed the parliament. “Masked, armed people tried to find space to deal with me,” he added.

One month later, sitting in the culture hall of his hometown, Struga in southern Macedonia, Sela recalled the moment when the mob stormed the chamber in Skopje.

“I had two choices: leave or stay… I decided not to flee and to walk in the direction of the crowd that was coming towards me, looking for me. I thought this way I’ll protect the others who may get hurt on their way to get to me. I am sorry, but we are talking about manhood, and flight is not bravery. I think I acted rightly,” Sela said.

“There are moments when you don’t count the consequences. It looks like this element was dominant at that moment,” he added.

“I guess they [his would-be assailants] tried to shut me up, and tried to stop me thinking what I think. It is not possible, I will continue my same course.”

Sela emerged as an ethnic Albanian leader in Macedonia years ago when he turned against Menduh Thaçi, leader of his former party, the Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA, over the way he was running the party.

Months later, he established his own party, keeping the name of the old one - Democratic Party of Albanians - with an extra suffix - Movement for Reforms.

In the general election last December, his party won three seats.

But, as Ali Ahmeti’s Democratic Union for Integration DUI hesitated over whether to continue its partnership with Nikola Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE, Sela became a kingmaker in the newly formed alliance of Albanian parties with Zoran Zaev’s Social Democratic Party, SDSM.

Prior to this, he won the mayoral election in his hometown of Struga.

In one of Macedonia’s worst episodes since the armed ethnic conflict of 2001, VMRO-DPMNE supporters then stormed into the parliament building, on the hunt for SDSM and ethnic Albanian MPs.

Sela said his own supporters were positioned outside the building and the risk of all-out conflict had been severe.

“There were lots of Albanians around parliament. If I was not alive today, Macedonia today would be at war,” he maintained.

Now the country seems to have survived the worst, Sela says the new government must move ahead with internal and external reforms.

Sela says Macedonian Albanians are not that interested in the number of ministries their representatives hold in government.

He says they are more interested in “tangible laws” affecting their lives and rights, “starting from the Law on Use of Languages and on shedding light on politically motivated trials, as well as [ensuring] compensation for those who suffered in these [legal] processes”.

Sometimes called a “champion of a binational Macedonia”, Sela’s quest for a non-territorial federalised state has often drawn hostile reactions, but he insists
Macedonians have nothing to fear from his ideas in terms of Macedonia’s disintegration.

“I have never contested the unitary character of Macedonia but opened up a debate on another option to make this state fairer and more just - and that option was federalisation. I don’t think it is evil or damaging to discuss any topic,” he said.

He is not worried, either, by Zaev’s statement to the Belgrade-based paper Kurir, in which he called the Serbs “our brothers”, which has upset many [non-Slavic] Albanians, few of whom view Serbia so benignly.

“I don’t care if the Serbs are his brothers or his nephews as long as he respects the agreements he has made with his Albanian partners,” Sela added.

Speaking about the joint Albanian political platform signed in Tirana under the auspices of Albania Prime Minister Edi Rama, Sela said that it was of great importance, despite the fact that Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov then deemed it an act of grave interference in the internal affairs of Macedonia.

“The joint statement is a great achievement,” he said, even if it was unwelcome to those in the region, “in Macedonia and outside Macedonia, who… do not wish to see the unification of Albanian political entities”.

Although the main Albanian parties in Macedonia have pledged their initial support for Zaev to form as government, Sela hints that this support is not a blank cheque.

He says Zaev should start off with justice reforms that would allow for a review of some big legal cases in which Albanians were subjects.

“I am neither judge nor prosecutor. I am leader of a political party. But when I say justice reform, I mean that we need courts free of any political influence, be it from Ziadin Sela, Zoran Zaev, or Ali Ahmeti,” he said.

“If a VMRO-ized justice system turns into an SDSM-ized one, I see no change,” he added.

With many pending issues on the table, Zaev will also have to face the perennial issue of the name of the Macedonian state, which Greece has long contested and used to block Macedonia’s path towards European Union and NATO integration.

Sela says Albanians should be involved in the debate when all sides resume their talks.

“We should be part of the solution on the name for Macedonia. We know only what should not be Macedonia’s name. Albanians would not accept the name ‘Slavo-Macedonia’, because where would we be in that scenario?” he asked, referring to one of the proposed compromise names.

Contrary to what the public perceives as a great achievement for Albanians in Macedonia, Sela does not accord much importance to the election of an Albanian, Talat Xhaferi, as speaker of parliament, insisting that this will not change anything in the way “an ordinary Albanian lives in Macedonia”.

“When it snows, everything looks nice and clear. But when snow melts, the waste appears on the surface,” he concluded.

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