Macedonia: the Final Domino?

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The
scenario is a familiar one. Having captured a few villages and terrorized
(or expelled) their inhabitants, rebels demanding greater ethnic
— or some other form of — equality close in on the country's capital
seeking a showdown with the government. The latter tries to meet
force with force but is restrained from doing so by Western mediators
who fly in and out insisting on the need for u2018dialogue'. All of
a sudden, yesterday's u2018terrorists' are today's partners in a u2018peace-process'.

Talks
prevail, military front-lines are frozen and under the eye of the
international community fresh elections or a referendum on the rebels'
grievances are held. A semblance of normality returns and CNN gradually
loses interest in the story. But by now the poor place has become
ungovernable (which was always the rebels' main aim) and responsibility
for its internal affairs passes to some permutation of the following:
Nato, the OSCE, EU, UN, World Bank, etc.

Today
it is Macedonia which is in danger of becoming another sad little
protectorate in the Balkans. But this is a fate which few countries
in the region — especially those that were once republics in the
former Yugoslavia — have been able to escape over the last ten years.
Indeed, it was exactly a decade ago that that the first such domino
fell, when the legally-elected authorities in Zagreb found themselves
prevented by international pressure from re-establishing control
over parts of Croatia seized by Serbian forces.

The
irony is that throughout this turbulent period Macedonia has been
praised for its handling of inter-ethnic relations — which is always
(albeit often inaccurately) said to be the primary cause of conflict
in this area. Its Albanian minority, whether constituting 23% or
40% of the population (as the Albanians themselves claim), has since
the country became independent in 1992 enjoyed rights and a general
sense of respect other minority communities in the Balkans can only
dream about. Almost all governments formed in Skopje over the last
decade have had Albanian participation in them and there were few
protests when during the war in Kosovo in 1999 refugee camps were
set up for no less than 400,000 Albanians fleeing the fighting there.

But
whatever else the current crisis is about, it is not human rights
or democracy. In the autumn of 1999, elections were held in Macedonia
to choose a new president. Though these were harshly condemned by
Western observers on account of their blatant irregularities (which
were especially bad in places with a high concentration of Albanians),
this was seen at the time as the price worth paying in order for
the least known of the candidates, Boris Trajkovski, to win on a
ticket of inter-ethnic reconciliation and harmony. The outcome was
the opposite, as Slav Macedonians — enraged by the way in which
Albanian votes appeared to count for more than theirs, and the Albanian
minority — encouraged to believe they could cheat their way to power,
drifted further and further apart.

It
is unlikely they would have come to blows, however, but for events
in Kosovo in the aftermath of the war there. Despite the presence
of some 45,000 Nato troops and in Camp Bondsteel one of the largest
US overseas military facilities anywhere in the world, it has apparently
proven impossible to control — let alone disarm — the Kosovo Liberation
Army (KLA), which goes about its business of drug-smuggling, people-trafficking
and gun-running virtually unhindered.

It
was only a matter of time before the KLA would seek to extend its
criminal empire into neighbouring Macedonia. No doubt they were
puzzled when the very same representatives of the international
community who had championed their cause in Kosovo (often with grotesque
zeal: remember US secretary of state Madeline Albright greedily
kissing KLA leader Hasim Thaci?), denounced them in Macedonia as
u2018a bunch of murderous thugs'. But today (just a couple of months
on) Nato secretary-general Lord Robertson is far more cautious in
his choice of words and — in a classic shift of position — has begun
saying that it is the government in Skopje which must take measures
to end the escalating conflict.

Such
measures, however, exclude the use of robust force. Not only that,
the Macedonian authorities are meant to stand by as the international
community lends a helping hand to the other side — as happened a
couple of weeks ago when US troops escorted bus-loads of armed insurgents
away from a battle-zone just 10 km outside Skopje.

Enraged
by this incident, Slav Macedonians have conjectured that KFOR's
intervention was essential in order to guarantee the safety of a
small contingent of u2018advisors' sent in by the US to monitor and
instruct the KLA's Macedonian wing. To outsiders this may sound
like a typical Balkan conspiracy theory. But nowadays Nato member-states
vie with one another to take credit for having trained and equipped
the KLA in Kosovo at a time when they were still officially
condemned as terrorists.

The
difference between the two, of course, is that while Nato's intervention
in Kosovo was largely designed in order to bring down Slobodan Milosevic,
in Macedonia there can be no such motivation for their involvement.
So what is it then? Why does the international community seem so
anxious first to undermine and then to bring into its fold yet another
failed Balkan state alongside Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo,
Montenegro and Serbia? (By its recent decision to bow to Western
pressure to send yet more indicted Croats to the International War
Crimes Tibunal in the Hague, the government in Zagreb has effectively
surrendered the country's sovereignty and put Croatia on this list
too.)

Macedonians
have another conspiracy theory to explain this. In a word: money.
They point to plans to build a pipeline from Burgas (Bulgaria) on
the Black Sea to Vlore (Albania) on the Mediterranean, the aim of
which is to transport oil and gas extracted from the Caspian region
and Central Asia. They point to the investments in this pipeline
and accompanying road — both of which would cross Macedonia — made
by leading Western energy companies, and to positions held in these
same companies by several of the statesmen regularly sent in by
the West as Balkans troubleshooters.

The
current B-team of diplomatic retreads charged with finding a way
out of the impasse is for public consumption only. The real deal
was cut in May by Robert Frowick, a u2018special envoy' whose presence
in the Balkans always heralds disaster for the country concerned.
By bringing the KLA's offshoot, the National Liberation Army, in
out of the cold he reminded Macedonians of Mao's famous dictum:
power grows out of the barrel of a gun. From the self-proclaimed
cornerstone of the New World Order, this ancient nation — now condemned
to a fate of probable partition and re-colonization — had the right
to expect more.

July
12, 2001

Johnathan
Sunley has written about the Balkans for National Review
and The National Interest.

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