March 22, 2001

Macedonian Maelstrom

As many feared, the alleged demise of the "National Liberation Army" of Albanian militants two weeks ago was short-lived and grossly exaggerated. Forced out of their border base in Tanusevci, they struck deep into Macedonia and attacked its second largest city, Tetovo.

After a week of heavy fighting, Tetovo is beginning to look like Bosnia in the early days of 1992. Many inhabitants have fled, buildings are on fire, and small-arms fire echoes in between mortar shells and sniper shots over largely abandoned streets.

By Tuesday, Macedonia’s Army had brought up tanks, armored fighting vehicles and additional troops, shelling the militants’ positions and claiming to be preparing for a full assault. Dug into the hills above the city and controlling most of its mountainous hinterlands, the militants have no intention of giving up. They are demanding "peace talks," which would legitimize them as a force and internationalize their demands. Their actions have already had a profound effect, and further violence might nudge the crisis past the point of no return and into the hell of ethnic warfare. The Macedonian government is finding itself short of options and running out of time. Every minute that the NLA is allowed to exist only makes it stronger, but so does every bullet fired at it.

Frustrated, Macedonia is looking elsewhere for help, mainly among the NATO powers occupying Kosovo, where the NLA was founded. That quest has been, and will remain, fruitless. For it was NATO’s conquest of Kosovo that precipitated the militant actions of Albanians elsewhere, and directly caused Macedonia’s current predicament – one from which it may not recover.


The European Union pledged all nonviolent means of support – i.e. words. France actually called for Macedonia to improve the rights of Albanians, thus encouraging the militants. Germany is threatening action – but only to defend its supply outpost in Tetovo, which came under fire the other day and prompted four panzers to arrive from Kosovo as protection.

Macedonia also received extremely confusing signals from EU’s foreign policy czar, former NATO political head Javier Solana. Agency reports quote him as saying there is no alternative to a political solution, but also that there can be no negotiations with terrorists. Macedonians’ heads must be spinning, trying to understand Solana’s doublethink. Little has changed since 1999, after all.

Just in time to excuse itself from Macedonia’s pleas for help, NATO suddenly remembered it "had no mandate" in Macedonia. Lack of mandate certainly never prevented it from launching a war over Kosovo, which earned its current leader George Robertson his life peerage. Indeed, the KLA can feel absolutely safe with NATO behind them...

On the other side of the ocean, the US minced even fewer words. US Balkans envoy, James Pardew, showed his government’s "support" for Macedonia by criticizing an insignificant, minor Kosovo party suspected of NLA ties. At the same time, KLA’s masterminds Hashim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj, and the prophet of Albanian separatism, Ibrahim Rugova, have not been disturbed in any way. The Bush administration claims to be "isolating" the militants by giving "unequivocal support" to Macedonia’s integrity. Yet it repeatedly and clearly pledges not to move a finger to address the root of the problem, in a province – the very sector – its troops occupy. Meanwhile, Albanians in the US are sending money, weapons and men to the militants.

UN Balkan envoy Carl Bildt, who said Macedonia was standing on the precipice of war, and UN human rights envoy Jiri Dienstbier, who said Sunday that the current war was not about human or ethnic rights, but about creating a Greater Albania, were lone voices of sanity in a sea of indifference and obfuscation.


As the Macedonian crisis heated up, President Bush ordered the withdrawal of some 800 Americans from Bosnia, where their heavy weapons were no longer needed to keep the locals under submission. This way, the US deflected questions about its inactivity in Macedonia. The GIs just came home; it would be un-American to want to send them to the Balkans again...

Meanwhile, the media seemed intent to divert attention from the real causes of the conflict as well. The New York Times’ Carlotta Gall, famous for her outstanding work in glorifying the original KLA and the Chechen separatists, continued the tradition on Tuesday with an article filled with NLA’s racist drivel.

Though Western news agencies only made a passing note of KFOR’s arrest of five Albanians, suspected of the recent bombing that killed 11 Serbs on a bus in Kosovo, they enthusiastically covered the Hague trial of three Bosnian Serbs accused of running "death camps" for Muslims, with the prosecution’s allegations reported as uncontested facts.


Some specimens even tried to use this crisis to advance their pet goal of an independent Kosovo. Olivia Ward, the Toronto Sun’s chief Balkans propagandist, penned a syrupy piece on Dr. Flora Brovina, a KLA martyr who was recently granted amnesty and released from prison by the Yugoslav government. After countless tales of Serbian "atrocities," Dr. Brovina confided in her old friend that peace would only come when Kosovo becomes independent.

Her opinion is shared, unsurprisingly, by former NATO warlord Wesley Clark. In his Sunday Washington Post op-ed, Clark blamed the conflict in Macedonia on "real causes" of Albanian discontent, and "crippling progress towards self-government" for the "people of Kosovo." Clark is a board member of the International Crisis Group, a famously militant NGO that has loudly lobbied for Kosovo’s independence for years.


Refugees have become victims of media manipulation again as well. Newspapers illustrate reports of fighting in Macedonia with pictures of fleeing Albanians. Given the numbers of actual Albanian refugees, that coverage is grossly lopsided. While Reuters speaks of 2300 Albanians fleeing the fighting to Albania and 1300 to Serbia (yes, Serbia!), it also cites a figure of 4000 Macedonian refugees inside the country. Bloomberg news cited AFP reports of about 1600 in Albania, 480 in Kosovo and 1500 in the rest of Serbia, without giving figures for Macedonians, and AP does not mention Macedonian refugees at all. "Ethnic cleansing" must be happening again…

Somewhere along the way, AFP reported that the Macedonian government has kept a lid on people’s passions, rejecting citizens volunteering to fight the militants, and that many Albanians resented the militants. Amidst the sea of obfuscation, such commitment to peace and coexistence went largely unnoticed.

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 appears every Thursday.


Past Articles

Macedonian Maelstrom

Pax Americana

The Fourth Balkan War

Mayhem in Macedonia

Surreal Realm

Santayana’s Curse

The Croatian Conundrum

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


George Szamuely wrote on Saturday how the Macedonian crisis was a replay of NATO’s 1998-99 conquest of Kosovo. In many respects, he was right: an Albanian militant movement arises seemingly out of nowhere, claims to be a "Liberation Army" fighting for human and ethnic rights, then demands negotiations and international military protection.

If Jiri Dienstbier was right, and the NLA fought not for rights, but a Greater Albania, does that mean the KLA fought for Greater Albania as well? Just as – gasp – Slobodan Milosevic and his government had claimed?


It is obvious even to the uninitiated that without NATO intervention, the KLA would have been destroyed and pushed into Albania. What is less known is that it might never have been formed to begin with. There would have been no Kosovo war, no Presevo valley, no Tetovo.

The truth is something much worse altogether: NATO (with the US government pulling the strings) actually helped create and train the KLA as we know it, after the destruction of the initial movement in 1998. This new KLA was no more a tribal Jashari militia, but a force at NATO’s beck and call.

London’s Sunday Times reports on March 18 that the KLA cadres now fighting in Macedonia were trained by the British SAS "in the secretive training camps that operated above Bajram Curri in northern Albania during 1998 and 1999" – that is, before NATO began its war over Kosovo!

A genuine American war hero, Col. David Hackworth (Ret.), says as much in his recent WorldNetDaily column:

"For months our CIA has secretly trained, funded and supplied former Kosovo Liberation Army rebels conducting a guerrilla campaign into southern Serbia to undermine former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic – exactly the same kind of operation our spooks supported before and during the war against Serbia over Kosovo." (emphasis added)

Not only did the US train the "new" New KLA in Presevo – it had done so in Kosovo to begin with.

So there it is: the US trained and funded, in Hackworth’s own words, "one of the most cutthroat gangs of terrorists in the world," then launched a war of aggression on its behalf two years ago. The result was an occupied Kosovo, ethnically cleansed of most non-Albanians, where Serb, Jewish and Roma houses burned along with the hundreds of their churches and synagogues, and the KLA was in charge.

The evidence is preponderant, damning, and impossible to ignore – unless one is a paid shill or a fervent believer in NATO’s cause (whatever that might be), methods and ethics be damned.

NATO and the United States bear the largest share of responsibility for the events of the past two years – the destruction, the ethnic cleansing, the destruction of culture and history, but also terrorism, separatism and environmental poisoning. And now, for the Albanian insurgence that threatens to destroy what little fragile peace may be left in the region.


There is plenty of credible evidence for the claim that Western influence was crucial for the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Third Balkan war (1991-1995), with its policy of recognition and support for separatist client states. Yugoslavia may have been condemned to failure because its national question had never been resolved, but the US policy that supported that collapse certainly made it much worse.

People of the Balkans, however flawed, appear to have been nothing but pawns in a deadly game of imperial politics, played for higher stakes than some villages or a couple of square miles of territory.

This game took its toll on the Serbs, as the only pawns that refused to play as they were commanded. Serbia is now deteriorating by the day, as it turns out that the Milosevic disease was also its life-support mechanism. But other, more pliant and cooperative peoples have been through hell as well. Empire’s glory road has been paved with the bones of Balkan vassals, as well as enemies.


Croatia is in an economic abyss, selling off state property and treasures to the lowest bidder just to scrape enough money for next months’ pension payments, not to mention foreign debt servicing. Few have the luxury to remember the days when Croatian legions marched against exhausted Serb civilians in a glorious campaign to bring peace to Bosnia by destroying it.

Bosnia itself is a paradoxical confederacy, a colony-protectorate ruled by kleptocrats and foreign adventurers, the number of its people steadily dwindling as they leave for countries where one can believe in something more than survival. Montenegro is still a gangsters’ paradise, at least until the US aid trough is empty and the impatient, emboldened minorities present the butcher’s bill.

Even Macedonia, which had steered wisely through the Balkan maelstrom and avoided bloodshed, colonization and crushing poverty, has now come under attack by an enemy within – an enemy trained and equipped by the West for a different purpose, the same West which "protected" Macedonia for all these years and used it as a parking lot for invasion armies and refugees with high propaganda value.


In all likelihood, NATO and the US are not destroying Macedonia out of malice. They are just unable to react as their trained attack dogs are doing the destroying, because that would mean disavowing their allies, confessing to their disastrous policy, and admitting their responsibility for what is happening. Washington’s political creed has always been "Deny everything," while the US in general suffers from a pathological denial of responsibility, lest it be used against them in a court of law. The court of history, however, is not nearly so forgiving.

The Macedonian Army’s "final assault" on the NLA around Tetovo is likely to mark the beginning of a bloody war in that country. The blood of that war will be squarely on NATO’s hands.

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