War criminal's release provides closure for Macedonia

20/04/2013

Convicted war criminal Johan Tarculovski returns home to a hero's welcome.

By Aleksandar Pavlevski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 20/04/13

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Johan Tarculovski (fourth from left) is joined by Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (third from left) at a celebration in Skopje last week. [Tomislav Georgiev/SETimes]

The return home of convicted war criminal Johan Tarculovski helped bring a sense of closure to the 2001 insurgency by ethnic Albanians. Tarculovski was convicted by The Hague tribunal in the murder of three ethnic Albanians during a police action in Ljboten. He was the only person convicted in connection with the 2001 uprising.

Tarculovski returned to Skopje last week to a hero's welcome after serving eight years of his 12-year sentence.

"Tarculovski was unjustly tried and convicted in The Hague as a war criminal. He was defending Macedonian citizens and the law and order, which he is sworn to do, from armed combatants," Pavle Trajanov, former interior minister and chairman of the Democratic Alliance, told SETimes.

"The act of freeing Tarculovski contributes to the sense of justice among Macedonians after they were equated with war crimes through Tarculovski's verdict," Trajanov added.

Albert Musliu, an ethnic Albanian political analyst from Skopje, said although the celebratory atmosphere resulted in disappointment among the Albanian minority in Macedonia, he does not anticipate substantial consequences.

"Freeing Tarculovski and the celebrations to mark his arrival in Skopje will increase the distrust between Macedonians and Albanians in the country and will increase the co-operation gap in the system," Musliu told SETimes. "Still, the situation will not result with public dissatisfaction by Albanians, nor there will be tensions among political parties or ordinary citizens."

He added, "Regarding the ruling coalition between VMRO-DPMNE and DUI, there also will not be repercussions in their relations and there is no threat that Macedonian-Albanian political coalition will disintegrate. Their relations will be stable as long as they have significant support among the citizens and win elections."

Biljana Vankovska, who teaches political science and military law at the University of Skopje, agreed that the support for Tarculovski should not affect the Macedonian-Albanian coalition that holds power.

"Macedonia is divided society and everyone is crying on the graves of their own and glorifying their heroes. … No matter how strange and complicated it seems, in split society it is a normal situation, and I do not expect it to shake the ruling coalition," Vankovska told SETimes.

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Tarculovski's homecoming included meetings with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and President Georgi Ivanov. The celebrity treatment of a convicted war criminal drew criticism from ethnic Albanians, but Macedonians downplayed those concerns.

"If the Albanians can celebrate with great nationalist fanfare in Skopje 100 years of the Albanian flag, if the Serbs can celebrate in Kumanovo the 1913 victory over the Ottoman Empire, the Macedonians too can celebrate their hero who defended them from Albanian aggression," Stojan Bozinovski, a pensioner from Kumanovo, told SETimes.

Asked whether she had any misgivings about celebrating Tarculovski's return, Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska replied, "Not only don't I feel any responsibility, but rather I feel proud that we welcome the man who did everything he could in the interest of Macedonia."

How do you think Johan Tarculovski's homecoming will impact inter-ethnic relations in Macedonia? Share your comments below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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