Macedonia’s top general wants conscripts to bolster the country’s cash-strapped forces, but the defence minister disagrees.The head of the army’s general staff, General Goranco Koteski, said that conscription could boost Macedonia’s security but defence minister Fatmir Besimi rejected the idea of reintroducing non-professional soldiers.
“We should remain consistent to our reforms in accordance with NATO standards,” Besimi said.
The army abandoned the conscription system back in 2006 and opted for a fully professional army of around 8,000 people while it was getting ready for what was then seen as imminent accession to NATO.
But after Greece blocked Macedonia’s entry to the Western military alliance in 2008 over the countries’ name dispute, the prospect of NATO membership has receded. Since then Macedonia’s armed forces have seen spending fall, prompting concern that they are being sidelined.
“Recruiting of conscripts would be cheaper… and important for the country’s security,” General Koteski explained in an interview in late December that sparked the debate.
He said that conscripts could make up some 15 per cent of the armed forces, serving up to three months to replace professional soldiers in less important posts.
Although the country’s president and commander in chief, Gjorge Ivanov, has not spoken about the issue yet, it seems that others close to the general staff are in favour.
“We are in dire need of young soldiers… those recruits will later be a base for filling professional army posts,” said the former head of the general staff, retired General Mitre Arsovski.
Macedonia’s army was formed in 1992 shortly after the country’s independence from the former Yugoslavia.
Its troops saw action in 2001 during the conflict between the authorities and ethnic Albanian rebels that ended with the signing of a peace treaty the same year.
Retired army colonel Vladimir Terpovski said NATO could not tell Macedonia what kind of army it needed.
“Those assessments are ours to make and the assessments are that our neighbours have some hostile intentions, including Albania,” Terpovski said.
In November, marking the 100th anniversary of Albania’s independence, Albanian prime minister Sali Berisha stirred controversy by saying that the country’s 1912 independence declaration had applied to Albanian areas stretching from Preveza in Greece to Presevo in Serbia, and from the Macedonian capital Skopje to the Montenegrin capital Podgorica.
Albanian officials said he was only speaking about the historical context of a century ago and did not intend to imply any territorial claims but his words nevertheless raised some concerns in neighbouring countries.