March 29, 2001

Empire At the Gates
KLA hurt, its patrons launch diplomatic offensive

Having tarried for a week, Macedonian Army (ARM) and police units finally launched their promised assault on Albanian militants above Tetovo this past weekend. Reinforced with two Ukrainian attack helicopters, they rained shot and shell on the Albanian "Liberation Army." Its vaunted fighters, who vowed to exact a bloody price on any Macedonian attack, melted away into the woods and ran for the safety of NATO-occupied Kosovo, leaving the Macedonians victorious. The "NLA" headquarters in the village of Selce was empty Tuesday morning, after the bandits ordered the civilian population to retreat with them. NATO’s patrols reportedly detained several armed men that crossed into Kosovo posing as refugees.

Macedonians welcomed this show of force. The government in Skopje showed it had the will and the way to resist those who sought to "talk" with it through threats and blackmail. One would think the "international community" would welcome this development as well. NATO – the self-appointed adjudicator of all Balkan disputes – supported Macedonia’s sovereignty with plenty of words, but no action. Surely, now that the Macedonians have managed to deal with the problem by themselves, the reluctant superpower should be overjoyed it doesn’t have to tackle the problem. Moreover, Macedonia had full support for this military action. Javier Solana, NATO’s former trigger-happy GenSec turned EU policy czar, himself told the Macedonians last week that one should "not negotiate with terrorists."


Yet Solana, who seems to have the uncanny ability to say two different things in the same sentence, was at it again Tuesday. Now that the ARM did exactly what the rest of the world does to terrorists, Solana rushes to stop them and give political advice to the bandits.

"I think a country has a right to control its territory," Solana said Tuesday – forgetting his role in a war NATO started two years ago to deny Yugoslavia that very right. Then he said something most chilling: "The battle to stabilize the Balkans goes on. We still have a lot to do."

Do what? Neither the EU nor NATO has in any practical way aided the Macedonians in their legitimate struggle. Rather, they’ve hindered it every step of the way. What could they possibly hope to contribute to the "battle to stabilise the Balkans", if that is how this is called? The obvious answer is just too dark to contemplate…


NATO was hardly overjoyed with ARM’s success. Reuters’ choice phrase was "considerable dismay." As soon as humanly possible, high NATO and EU officials flew into Skopje and demanded that the government – stop the police action and appease the Albanians!

Robin Cook, Britain’s repulsive Foreign Minister who was one of the loudest advocates of NATO’s 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia, spoke out against "violence" as soon as the Macedonians started to fight back with any success. NATO’s GenSec George Robertson, another 1999 bombing enthusiast, demanded of Skopje not to use "excessive force" and "get involved in a political discussion" with Albanian parties – though one of them quit the parliament in protest over the ARM action. Even Colin Powell, the man who replaced Madeleine Albright at the helm of US Department of State, said that Macedonians should immediately change their constitution to accommodate the militants’ demands.

President Trajkovski found himself in a paradoxical position. His troops have chased the bandits off the Tetovo hills, but his state might yet be destroyed by the "well-wishing" Westerners who insist he appease the Albanians! Even though the Macedonians have won a battle, it seems they are being set up to lose the war.


Last week, the media swung sharply against their Macedonian hosts. Sensing perhaps a coalescence of policy in imperial power centers, agencies and newspapers universally derided Skopje’s actions. Even before the attack on Albanian bandits began, reports began to appear of Macedonian paramilitaries being organized, and even linked them to Serbia’s Tigers, commanded by the late Zeljko Raznatovic-Arkan. Needless to say, these phantom militants were nowhere to be seen during the weekend’s fighting.

The Washington Post openly called ARM’s action "a turn for the worse," in an editorial that categorically said that any long-term peace solution for the Balkans must satisfy Albanian interests, and – what a surprise! – that the only country capable of effecting such a solution was the US. The fact that Macedonia’s government is not only democratic but "pro-Western" either matters little, or means that it will roll over and accept NATO’s demands that much easier.

Jane’s Intelligence Review sought to minimize the bandits’ importance, portraying them as a band of smugglers that could only grow stronger if the government cracks down on them. Presumably, giving in to their demands would destroy them.

To hear the wires describe it, the conflict consisted of Macedonian stormtroopers intimidating innocent Albanian women and children (whose husbands and sons, by the way, were away in the KLA), mistreating Albanian teachers and torching empty villages. Others saw Macedonians as scared, incompetent bullies, who could not hit the broad side of a barn and stood no chance against the militants.

The New York Times even tried to describe the bandits as offering determined resistance.

A careful analysis of terminology reveals a shift as well. Macedonians are now "ethnic Slavs," fighting "ethnic Albanians," while both people, presumably, merit the name "Macedonians." What an amazing coincidence that turning Macedonia into a bi-ethnic "federation" of Albanians and Macedonians is exactly what the "NLA" is advocating by force, and its "moderate" wing in the government (DPA and Arben Xhaferi) want to achieve through negotiations.


What exactly do Macedonia’s Albanians want? Turns out, they have a long-standing agenda. Statehood status, first of all. Amending the constitution so that Macedonia, currently a nation-state of Macedonians with full civil rights of minorities, would become a nation-state of Macedonians and Albanians. Albanians also want a third of all state jobs (a lot to ask in a still-socialist economy), which is more than their population percentage. Finally, they want the Macedonian state to fund their ethnically exclusive universities and media. In a somewhat blunt translation: Give us power, privileges and rights we don’t deserve, and pay for it, too!

No wonder the Macedonians are fighting. Wouldn’t you?

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

Empire at the Gates

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


Ramming the message home were the expressions of solidarity by Albanians in occupied Kosovo and southern Serbia. Over 10,000 Albanians rallied Monday in Pristina to express their support for the "NLA" and independence for Kosovo. And though Albanian leaders had signed a document earlier, calling for the "NLA" to lay down its weapons, they did so only under intense pressure from NATO officials keen to avoid embarrassment.

The Presevo KLA, meanwhile, launched a vicious attack on Serb police the very day the Yugoslav army returned to most of the NATO-imposed buffer zone around occupied Kosovo. One of its leaders, Nijazi Azemi ("Commander Mjekrra"), died in the fighting.


Macedonia’s predicament is tragic, but also ironic. Those who previously denounced NATO’s meddling in other countries’ affairs are just about begging the Alliance to intervene in Macedonia. NATO is playing reluctant, citing international law, lack of mandate and abhorrence of violence, even though its non-mandated use of raw violence destroyed the foundations of the UN and international law two years ago to help those very same Albanians attacking Macedonia today.

Having nurtured the KLA and given it a territory to call its own, there is no imaginable way in which NATO could intervene against the Albanians. Such action would not only cause politically unacceptable casualties, but also expose the Alliance’s role in the KLA’s sinister origins. As one NATO official told the Sunday Times, "we simply can’t be seen to be in the business of killing Albanians."

If there is to be an intervention, it would probably be aimed against the Macedonians. They cannot retaliate, after all, and it is a lot easier to caricaturize them as monsters than tell the truth about the Albanians after all these years.


NATO has admitted the already known fact that it helped the KLA well before its attack on Yugoslavia in March 1999, as well as that the Macedonian Albanian brigands are part of that original KLA.

In a bizarre twist, the New York Times made such a confession as well. Steven Erlanger’s piece this past Sunday acknowledges that NATO had allowed Albanians to run rampant in Kosovo after June 1999, murdering and expelling Serbs and others, then looked on as the KLA spread into Presevo and Tanusevci. Of course, NATO did much more than that – it actually trained the Presevo KLA to use as leverage against Milosevic’s Serbia. But even Erlanger argues that Albanians are "victims of Slav discrimination" and that the US is the only power with influence in the Albanian community – as masterminds of Kosovo’s "liberation," presumably.


Macedonia’s Albanians are playing good cop – bad cop to the hilt, with NATO’s overt and covert support. The media are falling back in line, supporting Albanian demands and even generously entertaining the idea of US occupation of Macedonia – all for the most humanitarian of purposes, to prevent "violence." Naturally, said "violence" is abhorrent when used in self-defense by Macedonians or Serbs, for instance, but a holy sword of justice when wielded by NATO in any circumstances, and certainly a "legitimate" means of democratic expression when used by brigands and terrorists who serve as NATO’s satellite militias.

Macedonia is now firmly in a trap dug almost three years ago, when the KLA first signed on to do NATO’s dirty work – and possibly even earlier, in the heads of policymakers planning the involvement of NATO and the US in the Balkans. It can try to fight the Albanians and win, but NATO will never allow that to happen. It cannot fight NATO, because it had watched Yugoslavia get shredded to pieces in that war. It cannot give in to Albanian demands, because that would be practical suicide. Worst of all, it cannot admit the truth of all this, because then its people would abandon all hope. And all Macedonians can do right now is hope that somehow, some way, they will be able to dodge the nightmare that lies ahead, though everyone else before them had failed.

It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But as long as the US and NATO are allowed to have their way in the Balkans, the hopes of Macedonians – and all others who suffered at the hands of foreign powers – will remain false and futile.

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