March 8, 2001
On Tuesday night it seemed as if the Albanian militants who invaded the Macedonian border village of Tanusevci [Tanushevtsy] were retreating, unhindered, into Kosovo after Monday’s pitched battle with Macedonian forces. Despite the fierce fighting, government forces did not manage to dislodge the militants, who were well-armed, even better positioned, and protected by minefields. Three Macedonian soldiers were killed during the operation – two hit landmines and bled to death, as Albanians shot at KFOR helicopters that tried to evacuate them, while one was killed by sniper fire. Parallel to NATO’s statements that the militants were supposedly retreating, the government in Skopje said the insurgency was far from over. The army detected traces of militants that suggested other villages in the area might have been affected. Prior experience indicates that this is not the last Macedonians have seen of the "National Liberation Army," or the last attempt of militant Albanians to carve out their desired Balkan empire.
Early in the 20th century, the continued Ottoman occupation of Balkan lands was of great concern to those nations that spent the prior century struggling for their freedom. In 1912, they formed a coalition and attacked the Turks in what became known as the First Balkan War, driving them almost all the way back to the Bosporus before Austria-Hungary intervened to stop the Turkish defeat. The great powers then dictated the terms of peace, creating Albania as a state and limiting the territorial gains of Serbia and Greece. Bulgaria, unhappy with its share of the spoils, attacked Serbia in 1913. Other allies joined Serbia and defeated Bulgaria in the Second Balkan War, which gave the Turks a chance to recapture some territory and cut Bulgaria off from the Aegean. Events of the 1990s could justifiably be called the Third Balkan War – as events from 1991 to 1995 represented a continuum that ended with the Dayton Agreement, once again a solution forced upon the combatants by the world powers. Given that the fighting in Kosovo, which started in 1998, stopped only under a temporary armistice between NATO and Yugoslavia in June 1999, we might as well face the stark reality that we are in the middle of the Fourth Balkan War. The stakes are as high this time as they were ninety years ago, or ten years ago, and the bloodletting may have just begun.
At the heart of this Fourth War is the Albanian drive for separation, not only from Serbia but from Macedonia, Greece and even Montenegro. Whether this separation serves the purpose of a "Greater Albania," or a "Greater Kosovo" seems immaterial. The program of Greater Albania is, after all, advocated by Kosovo Albanians more than any others, and the future capital of this "country" is supposed to be in Pristina, not Tirana. Albania proper may be on the periphery of events right now, and could even express public criticism in order to deflect bad press, but there is little doubt it would join a Greater Kosovo if that monstrous creation ever came into being.
From what little is known of them, it seems the Albanian militants in Macedonia have the same modus operandi as those in southern Serbia, even the KLA in Kosovo. It seizes and holds a village or multiple villages, provoking an armed response. At the same time, it rants and raves to the international press about the horrible "repression" Albanians are subjected to. Once attacked by government forces, the insurgents fight hard, then withdraw, taking or ordering many civilians along. These "refugees" are then used to bolster the militants’ claim of "genocide" now pursued by the government that have until then merely "repressed" them. Of course, the militants declare their absolute commitment to a peaceful solution, which invariably entails the de facto separation of the territories they claim, and its placement under international protectorate or armed occupation. This "peace process" should be "mediated" by an external broker, preferably NATO or the US. This was the case at Rambouillet in early 1999, and the Albanians claiming Presevo valley in southern Serbia are demanding it be the case again. If the pattern holds, Albanians from Macedonia are likely to make a similar demand in a month or so. All along, however, these militants will refuse to disarm, retreat or disband, claiming their existence is necessary to "protect and defend" their people. They are, of course, open to the possibility of "demilitarization" by submitting to NATO command and getting on the payroll, as the "reformed" KLA did by transforming into the KPC.
Another mark of Albanian militants is that their attacks usually follow the path of least resistance. If fought decisively they will retreat and regroup, but never quit. At this point, Macedonia and Yugoslavia are both theoretically strong enough to deal with the militants. However, they are hobbled by NATO’s insistence on restraint and, in come cases, indirect support for the militants. In Yugoslavia’s case, the lingering effect of the conflict with Kosovo militants has left a bad taste in Belgrade’s mouth – not to mention depleted uranium marks – and seriously undermined the new government’s will to fight. Barred from resolving the issue themselves, they demand of NATO to intervene on their behalf. The logic of this is most peculiar, especially in the case of Yugoslavia, officially still the enemy of NATO in Kosovo. For if Yugoslavia were not considered an enemy, there would be no need for KFOR’s continued occupation.
Both Macedonia and Yugoslavia have other problems, which further weakens their capability for self-defense. Macedonia has to find a way to act without alienating a large Albanian population, whose representatives are part of the ruling coalition government. The issue of its official name and southern border, which was about to be resolved with Greece, was postponed due to the Albanian attack, and represents a permanent strategic liability.
Yugoslavia also has to deal with a potentially fatal issue of Montenegrin secessionism, running more rampant as the country weakens. The cobbled-together government of Serbia is very politically unstable and often contradicting itself. As if that weren't enough, the US-funded War Crimes Tribunal continues to blackmail and pressure Belgrade on the issue of its former leaders, indicted for alleged (and yet unproven) war crimes as a boost to NATO’s position during the 1999 war. This relentless pressure also magnifies the scope of new Albanian claims of "repression and genocide," propaganda which defies countermeasures in a US/NATO-dominated media world. Even Macedonia has to be sensitive to these accusations, because Balkans mud does not come off easily.
The surrounding countries are also interested in the progress and outcome of the conflict. In the west, Croatia hopes the region would calm down but also secretly hopes Serbia would be further weakened and eliminated as a rival. Croat and Muslim ethnic interests in Bosnia are also watching, hoping that Serbia’s defeat could open the possibility of "revising" the Dayton treaty by taking out the Serbs within Bosnia’s boundaries. In the most moderate scenario, the Serbs would be assimilated into a unitary state. In some less amicable plans, they would meet the fate of Croatian Serbs at the end of the Third War.
In the north, there is a growing possibility that Serbia’s province of Vojvodina might split off if Albanians have their way. A sizable Hungarian population there could likely advocate annexation by Hungary. Bulgaria could also hope to increase its territory, by marching into what’s left of Macedonia after the Albanians are done. Some fear that Bulgaria’s offer to send troops to help fight the Albanians might be the first act of just such a move. Moreover, a week ago Bulgaria’s president signed a treaty with NATO giving its troops free access to all of Bulgaria.
Greece has plenty of reasons to worry, as Albanian aspirations include some of its territory as well. If Albanians are allowed to expand and grow stronger, it may be just a matter of time before Greece is "asked" by its NATO allies to relinquish the so-called "Chameria" region, "in the interest of regional stability," of course.
A common thing to all four Balkan Wars has been the presence of a "shadow participant" – the great power(s). In the First and Second, the strongest force was Austria-Hungary, backed by Germany. In the Third and Fourth, without a doubt, that force is the United States, through NATO.
Why? United States’ motivation is an area that deserves a column – and volumes of books – in its own right. But it is more than anything else, "realist". It seeks the greatest tangible gains at the lowest cost. American involvement in Bosnia, according to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, reasserted US leadership in Europe. This purpose was again served in Kosovo, when the US dragooned its European allies into launching a war against Yugoslavia in violation of the entire body of international law. Even though the war barely achieved its publicized objectives, it was far more successful at revamping NATO as the tool of US domination in Europe and elevating it above the UN as the supreme arbiter of conflicts in the "Atlantic" sphere of influence, wherever it might reach.
Some politicians in Yugoslavia and Macedonia live under the illusion that NATO fought the Kosovo war in the name of democracy, human rights and international law. This assumption has tremendous potential to prove fatal to both countries. The US (and hence NATO) could care less about the first two, save to use them as propaganda slogans, while they brazenly violated the third. If power is America’s foremost goal, why would it possibly risk aiding the powerless FRY and Macedonia at the expense of Albanian militants its special forces and contractors had trained and equipped, and on whose behalf its bombers went to war?
Last, but not least, the United States and its allies enjoy domination in the media theater, thanks to which they can effortlessly manipulate propaganda and perceptions in favor of their allies. Thus a Reuters reporter can write an absolutely irrational statement that NATO is "worried the gunmen, emboldened by the success or an armed struggle in Kosovo, might extend it to Macedonia" (Reuters, March 6), while leaving out that the "gunmen" owe the success of their "armed struggle in Kosovo" squarely to the Alliance’s bombing spree against everything that moved in Serbia, so that NATO’s concern stems from either idiocy or hypocrisy.
Manipulation of facts is a tremendously understated weapon. Hypocrisy is another. The US is officially striving for stability in the region. And indeed, it might be. A Greater Albania and an expanded Bulgaria, both in America’s fold and leaning on Turkey as a staunch US ally, would ensure US domination over southern Europe for decades, and enable the Empire to push into central Asia, towards the vast oil and gas fields of the former Soviet Union. As for the public US commitment to the integrity of borders, the same policy espoused by the Bush I administration never stopped Ambassador Warren Zimmerman from doing his best to encourage the destruction of Yugoslavia by 1992. As Zimmerman himself said to a Croatian magazine in 1992, "nothing is forever." Respect for borders and sovereignty would imply respect for international law, which the US and NATO got to be immune from since their 1999 bombing war. Hoping that the Empire would actually favor ideological ends protecting democracies, for example – over practical gains is, to put it mildly, irrational. Freed from any moral responsibility, the Empire would sacrifice anyone and anything – especially the people it has demonized for so long – if the result of that sacrifice was more power and more money.
Hence, if the US could interfere in the Third Balkan War to assert its domination over Europe and help start the Fourth to cement this leadership, what makes anyone think it would abandon that objective, or the war that leads to it, midway through the fighting? Two years after the armistice, under a new leadership anxious to prove itself in battle, it might be time again to show the increasingly uppity European vassals who the real rulers of the known world are, and if the Balkans is secured in the process, why that would be splendid.
Please Support Antiwar.com
A contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
Have an e-gold account?
Contribute to Antiwar.com via e-gold.
ur account number is 130325