World

TRYING TO CALM ETHNIC FEARS

BRENDA BRANSWELL April 26 1999
World

TRYING TO CALM ETHNIC FEARS

BRENDA BRANSWELL April 26 1999

TRYING TO CALM ETHNIC FEARS

What can Canada export beyond wheat, lumber and Pamela Anderson Lee? Ethnic tolerance, it turns out. As the Balkan crisis swirls, a Montreal-based management firm, Secor Consulting Inc., is advising the Macedonian government on one of the country’s thorniest issues: minority relations. With $750,000 in funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, Secor and a research institute based in Skopje, Macedonia’s capital, are looking at the cultural side of official decision-making and delivery of services. The 2.2 million population includes an ethnic Macedonian majority, an Albanian minority of about 900,000, plus Serbs, Turks, Romas

and Vlacks. Since Macedonia left the Yugoslav federation in 1991, Albanians have complained of discrimination and demanded a greater voice in government. During his first trip to the country last year, Secor partner Pierre Richer de La Flèche says he was struck by how “everything in Macedonia has an ethnic connotation. There isn’t an issue you can put out that is not interpreted somehow in ethnic terms.”

The Secor project, which began in January, is trying “in a very modest way” to help change that by making some governance issues non-ethnic, according to Richer de La Flèche. He says Macedonian officials want Canadian advice on beefing up the government’s effectiveness and increasing public trust. “If people have more confidence in their institutions—that the institution will treat them fairly or neutrally—then there is a bit less reliance on having to rally

yourself behind your ethnic group to defend your position,” he says.

Given the delicate topic, Secor officials stress that their approach is strictly management-based, not political. “What makes us so acceptable to the government,” says Pierre Racicot, another Secor partner, “is that we stated we have no views on the policies they should adopt.” Racicot, a former Cl DA vice-president, acknowledges that the tougher part of the project will be how far they can go in recommending management strategies when they report to the government in September. “As a Canadian, it helps me be extraordinarily sensitive to their own sensitivity,” says Racicot. “I would hate anybody coming to Canada—a Swiss, French or Belgian person—and saying, ‘You should do that.’ ” Tolerance, it seems, is never easy.

BRENDA BRANSWELL