Balkan Express
by Nebojsa Malic

May 10, 2001

Enemies at the Gates
With Friends Like These, Macedonia Needs No Enemies

Fifty-six years ago yesterday, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies and ended the European part of World War II. Its Albanian allies in the Balkans continued fighting for another year, resisting the Communist government of Yugoslavia’s Marshall Tito even as it sought to appease them with land and privileges. It was under the same government that Macedonians were recognized as a separate ethnic group, and were guaranteed statehood. When Tito’s Yugoslavia imploded nine years ago, Macedonians alone achieved independence peacefully, and have sought to avoid conflict ever since.

It is ironic that Macedonia is now facing the likelihood of a most violent war itself. Even more ironic is that its enemies are those very same former allies of the Nazis, eager to claim lands drawn in red on well-publicized maps. But the supreme irony has to be that in its effort to defeat this fundamental threat to its existence, Macedonia is being hamstrung by the nations that had defeated Hitler over half a century ago.


There is a Latin proverb, told perhaps to schoolchildren who studied the fall of Troy the way we study the fall of Berlin: Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. "Beware of Greeks, even when they bear gifts." The Trojans had obviously not heeded this advice, as exemplified by their eager acceptance of the proverbial wooden horse, and their undoing that followed.

Yet all the "help" Macedonia has been getting from the "international community" – embodied in the US, EU and NATO – looks disturbingly like a large and completely useless wooden horse. Criticism of Albanian attacks has not been nearly as severe as the media are trying to portray it. Nor has media coverage itself been particularly kind to the beleaguered Macedonians – quite the contrary. And while the mellow, pointless words assure Skopje of the righteousness of its cause, actions on part of those very helpers undermine Macedonia’s precarious standing every day more.


When the Battle of Tetovo ended with a whimper in March, it was obvious that the Albanian "National Liberation Army" (UCK) was not destroyed. It had retreated to fight another day, just as it had done after the embarrassing skirmish at Tanusevci earlier this year. Also, further fighting would have done more harm than good, since the "support" of NATO and EU made the Macedonian government accept negotiations with Albanians’ political parties. Yet the politicians and the UCK demanded the same things, only difference being their preferred method of operation.

On April 26, Reuters reported that the UCK was becoming impatient with the talks. Hysni Shaqiri, a member of parliament (and the government-allied DPA party) who had joined the UCK, had already called for a war six days before. By April 29, UCK’s "Commander Sokolli" was telling Newsweek he had 18,000 men ready for war. A day before, a Macedonian patrol was ambushed near the Kosovo border. Four policemen and four soldiers were killed, then mutilated.

Negotiations were off. The government was incensed. So was the population. After the four policemen’s funeral in Bitola, angry Macedonians rioted throughout the city, beating up Albanians and attacking their property. Arben Xhaferi, leader of the aforementioned DPA, drew a pointed comparison with the Nazi Kristallnacht, when Hitler’s thugs had systematically smashed Jewish property. The lines were drawn. UCK attack on another patrol on May 3, killing two and capturing one soldier near Kumanovo, was merely the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.


Skopje’s response was swift. Macedonian army moved against the UCK-held villages near Kumanovo, deploying armor and artillery. Lacking manpower to attack the bandits head-on, it opted for the same approach that worked in Tanusevci and Tetovo – artillery attrition. On May 4, the US issued a statement of support, coupled with a curious warning: Washington considered civilian casualties unacceptable. The following day, it became conveniently known that the UCK was holding some 2000 villagers as human shields.

In the previous two battles, the UCK had evacuated most civilians from its areas of operation, thus neglecting to exploit the immense propaganda value of human suffering. This time, they completely reversed their approach. Those villages that were "evacuated" had in fact been ethnically cleansed of their Serb inhabitants, who sought refuge in Kumanovo.

Thus a Macedonian police action against a band of terrorists became a siege of hapless civilians, narrated for the Western press by UCK’s "Commander Sokolli." Sure enough, as Macedonian helicopters, howitzers and tanks pummeled UCK positions, NATO and EU diplomats scrambled to stop them.


While the Macedonian government prepared to declare a state of war, NATO issued a warning against such a step and – as usual – called for restraint. European officials swarmed to Skopje: Javier Solana, EU’s foreign policy czar, was followed by his successor at NATO, George Robertson, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh and another EU commissioner Chris Patten. Their message was more or less the same: Do not fight! Negotiate! Appease!

Washington joined Eurocrats’ pressure on Macedonia to change its mind about declaring war. Even OSCE, the pan-European "security" organization ordinarily specializing in monitoring elections in NATO’s occupation zones, argued for appeasement of Albanian demands last Saturday. At the same time, it issued a weak and confused report about "possible intimidation" of villagers by the UCK.

One is tempted to entertain a thought: were these not the very same people who chomped at the bit while bombing Serbia in 1999? That makes them uniquely credible to claim "violence" does not solve anything, indeed…

With "friends" like these, Macedonia hardly needs enemies.


News agencies as well as papers in the West described this outpour of leveraging as "support" to Macedonia’s fledgling government. As they gave plenty of coverage to "Sokolli" and his cohorts, they also adopted Albanian terminology: thus "Macedonian" came to mean citizenship, while the preferred name for ethnic Macedonians became "Slavs" (which describes about 300 million people worldwide). Macedonians were thus written out of their own state. Compare this to the enthusiastic use of "Kosovar" and "Bosniak," terms appropriated by Albanians in Kosovo and Muslims in Bosnia as a way to lay exclusive claim on those territories.


Macedonia did back off from declaring a state of war and martial law. Instead, it announced the formation of a unity government, encompassing both the current ruling coalition and the opposition parties. One Albanian party, however, blocked the deal Tuesday by demanding a unilateral ceasefire by government troops. They did not demand the same action by the UCK.

The "international community" endorsed the new coalition wholeheartedly. Macedonians living near the frontline scoffed at the idea. Tanks, they said, were a better guarantee of security than phony political coalitions. One can hardly blame them. Of the two main Albanian parties, one calls for the government to surrender, and the other compares Macedonians to Nazis and allows its members to join the UCK. If that does not raise concerns about whether these people are really opposed to the bandits, then it ought to.


One has to credit President Trajkovski with understanding other Balkan leaders have lacked, though. As soon as the war broke out, he flew to Washington to ask for US support. He knows that only those who created the situation in the first place have the power to stop it.

Washington saved the original UCK ("Kosovo Liberation Army" – KLA) from total destruction in the fall of 1998, then went to war on its side and occupied Kosovo on its behalf. Only then, and not a moment sooner, did the Albanian attacks in Presevo valley and Macedonia begin. While the Presevo KLA were armed and organized with the purpose of undermining Milosevic’s Serbia – if confessions of the CIA are to be believed – what purpose did the Macedonian branch of the KLA have? Even if one makes a claim that Washington was so completely blindsided it missed the Albanian plan for territorial conquest, surely it does not take this much time to put the two and two together? Unless it is in American government’s interest not to…

If President Bush’s and Secretary Powell’s promises of support were honest, the FBI would be arresting KLA activists throughout the US right now – people who are raising money and recruiting fighters for the wars in Presevo and Macedonia.

Lord Robertson reportedly called the UCK "murderous thugs" who want to destroy Macedonia. Widely quoted, this statement is much more restrained when compared to what America’s Balkans envoy Robert Gelbard had called the original UCK in the summer of 1998. Gelbard’s government then proceeded to aid this "clearly terrorist organization."


Even more disingenuous than its leaders’ words are NATO’s actions. While claiming to oppose Albanian separatism in Macedonia, NATO encourages it in Kosovo. Tax collection points on the border with the rest of Serbia remain, despite the protests of local Serbs and the Belgrade government. Elections set for later this year are supposed to create a Kosovo legislature. Deputy viceroy of the UN administration actually threatened Kosovo Serbs with isolation and disenfranchisement if they do not participate in this rubber-stamping of Albanian domination.

Giving Kosovo independence in order to appease Albanians elsewhere has long been a favorite argument of NATO shills, such as ICG’s Wesley Clark.

As long as NATO’s occupation force shoots Serbs who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, while "strongly condemning" the KLA that actually attacks their patrols, it will have no credibility to talk about preventing separatism, just as its very existence in Kosovo – as a consequence of an illegal aggression – automatically disqualifies its leaders from arguing against "violence."


Macedonia’s government has so far managed to stay on its feet, continue the battle against the UCK, and bow to NATO pressure without breaking. This particular act will be impossible to maintain forever, though. How exactly Skopje intends to treat the cancer of Albanian separatism still remains unknown.

What is known, however, is the role of "international community" in the entire dirty business. Both the UCK and the Skopje government are competing for its favor, begging for its help and asking for its intervention. Every day, their price gets lower, while NATO’s power and influence grow. When the price is sufficiently low and power sufficiently high, NATO would "reluctantly" step in and most likely make Macedonia into a Bosnia-like nightmarish protectorate.

It is not the UCK, then, but their sponsors and masters that Skopje needs to fear – especially when they are bearing gifts.

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