February 8, 2001

March of the Black Eagle

Two weeks ago, Carla Del Ponte marched into the presidential palace in Belgrade demanding the head of Slobodan Milosevic. What she got were marching orders, and none too gentle, either. Within a week the United States sent two heavy-hitter Senators, known for their extreme hostility to Serbs, to follow up on Del Ponte’s message: You will surrender; resistance is futile.

Two years ago, during the NATO attack on Yugoslavia aimed at rescuing the KLA from a military disaster, Senator Lieberman proposed arming the KLA so "Kosovans could defend themselves." At the same time, Senator McCain advocated a ground invasion of Serbia in order to save the KLA. Sending these two into Belgrade was, by itself, a very clear signal on the part of the US establishment.

It is most intriguing, then, that the visit by such "distinguished" characters coincided with the launch of a violent series of attacks by Albanian militants, first in Kosovo, then in the Presevo valley. The valley lies in that narrow strip of land into which the Yugoslav government is forbidden to go lest it provoke NATO’s wrath – but which any Albanian "Liberation Army" is allowed to use freely for artillery deployment, sniping and calculated acts of terror.


After Del Ponte’s fiasco and the lackluster follow-up by McCain and Lieberman, the axis of pressure on Belgrade shifted. For four days, Albanians rioted in Kosovska Mitrovica, the only town in that occupied wasteland where Serbs made a stand against ethnic cleansing and thus survived. They attacked French occupation troops and hurled themselves at the bridge leading into the part of town where the Serbs were barricaded. The Albanian government actually demanded a "demilitarization" of Serb parts of Mitrovica, demanding "coexistence and cooperation" from the Serbs. On Saturday, the attacks stopped and the Albanian crowds dispersed, as if nothing happened. French reporters credited "snow and fatigue" for this development, but that is by far not the only possible explanation. Snow did not stop the Albanians of Presevo valley, after all.


On January 26, the so-called "Liberation Army of Presevo [Preshevo], Bujanovac [Buyanovats] and Medvedja [Medvegya]" gathered in the town of Dobrosin [Dobro’shin] and celebrated its anniversary. Under the very noses of American KFOR troops, sitting on a hill above the town, UCPMB commanders pledged to fight for "freedom" of the "people of this land," and not accept "slavery" – meaning, presumably, staying in Serbia. The aforementioned "freedom" – meaning, no doubt, annexation to an independent Kosovo – was promised by next year.

Three days after the rally, the Albanian "army" – known as UCPMB – attacked the border positions of the Yugoslav Army for the first time, wounding four soldiers and killing one. The attacks have escalated ever since, ranging from random shots in the direction of Bujanovac to a major push into Lucane [Luchane] and Veliki Trnovac [Trnovats]. The attacks were violent enough for Yugoslav President Kostunica to leave the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and rush back to Belgrade.


Kostunica’s reaction to the attacks was at least coherent. Some American commentators proposed that NATO should occupy the DMZ and thus "solve" the problem. Of course, NATO’s procedures would call for another DMZ beyond that perimeter, and the whole lurid business would start all over again, but who can bother with such details?

NATO itself issued contradictory statements for days. First it advocated "restraint," while Secretary-General George Robertson urged the Yugoslav government to give in to UCPMB demands and make the militants into local police – the Alliance’s preferred solution in Kosovo. Only two days later, NATO officials stated that the DMZ will be narrowed to enable Yugoslav security forces to deal with the militants. Another official even said that UCPMB’s agenda might be Greater Albania – something that’s been painfully obvious for a long time now, but as realizations go, better late than never…

Yet instead of seizing this opportunity, the Serbian government – run by Zoran Djindjic, who was at the time receiving instructions and demands from Colin Powell in Washington – ran around like a headless chicken.


When Djindjic returned from Washington, he announced that his government was willing to talk terms. His deputy, Nebojsa Covic, actually put together a plan giving the Albanians precisely what Lord Robertson suggested. Covic also ordered Yugoslav troops in the area not to engage the militants – violating the constitutional chain of command.

Covic and Djindjic’s Herculean effort to offer appeasement was met with renewed UCPMB attacks, which Serbia’s Minister for Ethnic Minorities – a moderate Muslim, as it happens – described as an obvious sign that the militants "do not want negotiations."

If I were running the UCPMB, I would keep fighting, too. The harder they fight, the more they are offered in exchange for stopping. Following their logic, some day they might even be given everything they want. And if the Yugoslav security forces actually manage to deal with their political leaders’ cowardice, there is always the implicit protection of NATO – which is determined not to allow any armed Serbs into the DMZ, whether it’s crawling with heavily armed Albanians or not. Serbian and Yugoslav governments say they would never compromise their territorial integrity, but they have shown no readiness to act upon those words. With NATO – which graphically demonstrated that "territorial integrity" and "international law" are just empty phrases – at their back, Albanian militants feel they can do anything they want. There is nothing to stop them, and they certainly do not lack commitment.

Text-only printable version of this article

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo, and had contributed to the Independent. As a historian who specialized in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia and Serbian politics, which were published by the Serbian Unity Congress. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

March of the Black Eagle

Showdown in Belgrade

Out of the Shadows

With a Grain of Salt

Crusade's End

The Worst of Times

Moments of Transition

Déja Vu

The Crucible

Bandits on the Border

It's the Spelling, Stupid

Zoran Djindjic: Serbia's Richard III

Wheels of Injustice

The Tragedy of Bosnia

The Suspended Castle

Hand Of The Empire: Decision in Kosovo

Introduction: The Balkans Babylon

ITN: Case Closed


How does one solve a problem like Presevo? There are no easy answers – not any more. NATO and Belgrade either do not know what they want, or lack the verbal skills to communicate it to the rest of us. One can only hope that the people running Yugoslavia haven’t completely lost their minds, since they seem to be pretending that the past ten years never happened, and trying to roll back the Albanians through the emasculated UN bureaucracy and cooperation with NATO – with predictable results.

Albanians, on the other hand, know precisely what they want.


Anyone who wants answers to questions about the Albanians' political, cultural and military agenda need only visit the web page of their main lobby in the United States, the Albanian-American Civil League – headed by former Congressman Joe DioGuardi. Its portal leaves no room for doubt. There, on a blood-red background, stands a map of Albania as they envision it, encompassing both the current state, Kosovo (Kosova), Presevo valley (Kosova Lindore, or "Eastern Kosovo"), southeastern Montenegro, northwestern Greece (Chameria) and western Macedonia, including even its capital, Skopje (Shkupi). Simply put, Albanians have designs on every neighbor’s land – and choice parts thereof, too.

This program has advanced the furthest in Kosovo. Three major Kosovo Albanian leaders spoke in one voice during this week’s visit to Washington, where Colin Powell promised them continued US engagement. There is a certain vindication in seeing Hashim Thaci, Ibrahim Rugova and Veton Surroi act as one. It proves that there is no real difference between them, no distinction between "hard-liners," "moderates" and "intellectuals." They are, first and foremost, Albanians determined to have an independent Kosovo.

In that respect, last week’s violence in Mitrovica might not have been aimed at the surviving Serbs. More likely, it was a show of force to KFOR and NATO, a warning message: to be aware and afraid that the Albanians could rise up and attack them at any moment, should KFOR step between them and their goals.


For the past decade, America’s policy in the Balkans was rationalized by the claim that Slobodan Milosevic was executing a plan to create a "Greater Serbia." This accusation was first made, and endlessly parroted, by the regimes in Croatia and Muslim Bosnia, as they fought to remove or subjugate Serbs within their desired boundaries.

Interestingly enough, the concept of "Greater Serbia" as a bogeyman dates all the way back to post-1903 Austria-Hungary, which viewed Serbia as a threat to its imperial ambitions in the Balkans. Though that ultimately led to Austria-Hungary’s demise in World War I, the concept never lost its propaganda value. It was seized upon by the Comintern in the interwar period. The Yugoslav Communist Party adopted it as one of the major program points, and even used it to openly endorse the creation of Greater Albania at its Fourth Congress in Dresden in 1928. The Communists never offered any evidence to support their theory of the "Greater Serbian imperialist bourgeoisie’s" supposed "enslavement" of Balkan nations. Then again, those who believed in Communism never needed much evidence for convenient theories.

Serbia’s two-headed white eagle thus became a symbol of an evil class enemy, while Albania’s two-headed black eagle became a tool to be used in that struggle. For the better part of the 20th century, whether in Tirana or in Belgrade, the fate of Kosovo was determined in accordance with that understanding. The results of this policy are rapidly becoming apparent.


First came Kosovo. Then Presevo. Now, Albanian aggression is spreading even further. Last week militants from Presevo attacked a British patrol that tried to stop them from crossing into Kosovo, as another group declaring itself the "Albanian Liberation Army" of Macedonia fired a missile into a police station in the western Macedonian town of Tetovo. Needless to say, Tetovo is a town with a large Albanian population.

On January 30, the Hungarian daily Nepszabadag identified the clashes in Presevo as part of the drive for Greater Albania. This remarkable fact – that a paper from a very zealous NATO country would put the two and two together and come up with a conclusion NATO and the US have tried to desperately to ignore – went completely unnoticed in the US.

The cancer of Albanian irredentism is spreading. For most of the century it was contained in Kosovo, where it erupted violently in 1915-18, 1941-46, 1968, 1981 and 1989. Its latest malignant manifestation – the KLA – was boosted by NATO’s 1999 air war. It has incubated for a year in the Presevo valley, where NATO is again vetoing any intervention. Now it is beginning to waken in Macedonia. Albanians in Montenegro are still quiet, since the separatism of Djukanovic’s regime is actually serving their purposes, but if Montenegro is allowed to leave the Yugoslav federation I am willing to wager there would be a "Montenegro Liberation Army" springing up soon thereafter.


What happened in Kosovo after its "liberation" offers insights into the possible shape of a Greater Albanian state, and the position of all non-Albanians in it. Anyone who has monitored the disastrous course of NATO’s occupation – personally, or from sketchy reports that still described enough of the horror – is well aware that life in such a state would come close to the darkest visions of hell; a hell NATO and its Imperial leadership – in their arrogance, ignorance and boundless stupidity – will have helped create. This hell is not yet inevitable. If the current trends continue, however, that will only be a matter of time.

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