April 2, 2001

Confusion in the Balkans
Just what is the West up to in Macedonia?


The situation in Macedonia is in some ways startlingly clear, by Balkan standards. There is a clearly democratic government, that of Macedonia, who have made some efforts with the massive Albanian minority. There is no historical question as to whether Macedonia was or was not a unitary republic in Yugoslav times. Although there are refugees, they do not seem to be coming out of the woodwork at quite the pace they usually do in that part of the world. On the other side is a terrorist group with terribly weak demands – Albanian as a second language and state sponsorship of the Albanian – which are weaker when one remembers that an Albanian party is actually in government in Macedonia. As is quite rare in the Balkans (and yes, I do include Kosovo here) it is obvious who are in the wrong.


What is confusing is the response of the West. On the one hand there’s the feeling that terrorism has to be resisted, that dismantling Macedonia will bring in to the main game all sorts of players, like Greece and Bulgaria, who have been to date confined to the sidelines. Macedonia has been told to stand firm, and some quiet aid has been given. On the other hand, Macedonia has been told to negotiate with the terrorists. Let us be completely clear on this – the Macedonians have not been told to give the Albanians a better deal. If it were a matter of improving the lot of the Albanians then the present process, whereby the government is made up of both Slavic and Albanian parties, would be enough. Macedonia would just be told to ignore the political demands of the rebels and let the coalition horse-trading continue. This has not happened. These conflicting signals are confusing, and this confusion has spilled over into the pages of Antiwar.com. John Laughland claims that the West has performed a dramatic pirouette and taken an anti-Albanian line and with Justin Raimondo and George Szamuely claiming that the west is still backing their Albanian cats paw.


The problem is quite simple, the big picture which the diplomats and the Foreign chancelleries love – which comprises of a stable Macedonia as part of a stable southern Balkans – contrasts with the situation on the ground. On the ground, that is, in Kosovo. Despite the threadbare assurances that the movement in Macedonia is spontaneous, they are obviously armed, led and to an extent manned by Kosovans. Although KLA sympathisers have been losing out recently within Kosovo, they are still a strong force on the ground. What would happen if they were defeated in Macedonia with Western help? Western governments are critically aware of this, and their officers must be informing them of the danger all the time. In effect the KLA hold the West hostage.

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Emmanuel Goldstein is the pseudonym of a political drifter on the fringes of English classical liberal and Euro-sceptic activity. He is a former member of the Labour Party, who knows Blair and some of his closest buddies better than they realise, yet. He has a challenging job in the real world, working for a profit-making private company and not sponging off the taxpayer in politics, journalism or the civil service. "Airstrip One," appears Mondays at Antiwar.com.


There is nothing more sinister going on in Macedonia than Imperial overstretch. On the one hand an Albanian victory, even if short-lived, would destabilise the whole of the Balkans. Bulgaria has already offered Macedonia substantial military aid (many Bulgarians regard Macedonia as western Bulgaria) turning the country into a protectorate of Bulgaria. If the Albanian victory was to become permanent, then the strength of the gangsters within greater Albania would be greatly strengthened and their grip on trade routes through Macedonia (including any oil pipelines) would be established. Serbia has an obvious interest in the place, as it faces a similar threat of Albanian irredentism. Then there is Greece, with its Slavic-speaking minority, which does not really recognise Macedonia’s right to exist. Behind Greece there is Turkey, which although it does not seem to have much of an opinion on Macedonia itself, knows that if Greece is against something, then Turkey is for it. On the other hand, there are the NATO service chiefs who really do not want to be fighting an anti-guerrilla action in Kosovo, a caution fortified so close to elections in both Britain and Italy.


For the moment the "stability" camp seems to have trumped the "caution" camp. This can be seen in the low-level help being offered to the Macedonians, for example by vainly attempting to close off the border with Kosovo. This may change within the corridors of power, but if it does not then one outcome is almost certain – the KLA will hate it. To get a free hand in Macedonia and Southern Serbia (and the internal politics of Kosovo and Albania) they will judge the presence of the west to be no longer useful. This will be a raw deal for the British and American forces that have consistently backed the KLA against Ibrahim Rugova’s Democratic League of Kosovo, but the KLA are an unsentimental bunch. This will be unwelcome to the west as their soldiers will be targeted, and the electorates will start asking just why their soldiers are in Kosovo. The KLA are already making plans to raise an army for Macedonia. Where will this army be used?

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