Radmila Sekerinska until recently was the leader of Macedonia's main opposition party, the Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia (SDSM). She was the first woman to lead a major political party in Macedonia, but resigned after a major electoral defeat in early parliamentary elections in June 2008.
When the first signs of a direct conflict between Albanian rebels and Macedonia's security forces became visible in January 2001, Sekerinska was a member of the opposition in the parliament. She was only 29 years old.
"I was afraid of what was going on in Macedonia: this surge of nationalism, hostilities, and extreme populism. We said we were the country of our citizens, regardless of their ethnicity. Macedonia was the only country from former Yugoslavia which had actually ensured primary and secondary education in all the minority languages. Albanian was already an official language at the local level. We thought that just by being the first we would end all the hostilities, buy more time, and solve some of the problems in the future."
She recalls the reaction within the Macedonian population after violent confrontations had erupted.
"You would presume that there would be panic but actually there was not because there was this feeling that somehow problems will disappear and that they will last for a week and that they are far away. And I have compared this attitude among the Majority of Macedonian citizens with the events in I don't know Croatia and Bosnia and actually saw that this is a typical pattern, people adjust to the conflict and they think that somehow it will not affect their daily life. We considered it 'oh this is just the neighbourhood of Kosovo' and this is why the problems have erupted.
When it (the conflict) moved to Tetovo which is 40 km from Skopje we thought that somehow the conflict is still contained, there are problems, there is shooting …, it will go away. It moved closer and closer to Skopje, it was in Arachinovo which is in the middle of the Road from Skopje to the Airport in Skopje and people were still leaving for a vacation in Greece or in Ohrid. I think it was pretty dangerous because it made everyone numb."
While tensions continued and Arachinovo was bombed, the parties were already negotiating secretly.
"Everyone wanted to see the hostilities end, but no one was prepared to politically pay the price for this. Politicians could cling to the story that we are not negotiating with the insurgents or the terrorists or the fighters. Some people thought that just by sitting down and negotiating among four political parties and the president we were already committing treason."
The negotiations preceding the Ohrid Agreement lasted until August 2001. After the all-party coalition government that was set-up during the crisis fell apart, the Social Democrats won the elections in autumn 2002 and were left with the task to implement the Ohrid Agreement, which was very much criticised by many Macedonians.
"People said well look all of these things in the Ohrid agreement are not to be rejected but did we have to negotiate them under the threat of arms? Maybe we would have reached the same decision even without the casualties and that is something very strong among ethnic Macedonians that they were pressured into accepting a deal that was not fair."
As deputy Prime Minster responsible for European Integration, Sekerinska oversaw important steps on Macedonia's path towards EU accession. During this period, Macedonia applied for membership and was awarded official EU candidate status by the European Council in December 2005. In doing so, Macedonia showed that it was ahead of many of its neighbours. Sekerinska declared:
"Macedonia is a living example of what can happen: If you deliver, there is progress… If you are a complicated ethnic mix, it does not mean you are doomed to conflict." (IHT 2005)