Macedonia, Terrorism Remains the Law
For months, Macedonia has claimed that the "rebel" forces of the Albanian NLA are nothing more than terrorists. Yet even in the wake of September 11th, Western governments have shown little interest in this designation. This despite the fact that exactly one year ago, when police station bombings started the crisis, the international community took a different view. "They are," commanded NATOís Lord Robertson, "nothing more than murderous thugs." A year later, and the situation is quite different. NATO "peacekeepers" do not plan even to make an investigation, following Sundayís murder of a 37-year old Macedonian man in Aracinovo. The man, Aco Stojanovski, was killed when he opened the door of his house, and a booby-trapped bomb exploded. It was apparently meant for his brother- simply because he was a policeman.
The Reality Macedonia report of the story describes the event, which also seriously injured a relative of the victim, Tomislav Stojanovski:
"He (Tomislav) suffered several injuries to his left shoulder, left chest, stomach and left leg. The doctors have pulled out about 30 pieces of explosive device out of his body during the surgery. Since last night his condition is stable but still remains critical."
is going to look after our three children, now?"
"One of the displaced people almost got killed by an explosive device set up in his yard by the KLA a few days ago. The device is still in the village. He avoided it by pure luck."
And so, as the headline proclaims, "confidence-building is dead" in Aracinovo. Despite the governmentís assurance that it is safe to return, the displaced Macedonians know that it is not. In any case, many of them have nothing to go back to, since the NLA bulldozed their homes and paved over the ruins last June.
For some of those affected by Sundayís act of terrorism, petitioning the government is futile. Take the widow of Aco Stojanovski. She has refused to meet both the Prime Minister and the President. "Who is going to look after our three children, now?" is everything that Mrs. Stojanovska is saying at the moment."
Macedonia at peace or, was it ever?
While the NLA claims to have disbanded, Sundayís killing is not an isolated incident. Random shootings continue in the Tetovo-Kumanovo areas, just as they have for months. Bombings continue, as do empty bomb threats. Ethnically-mixed police details, attempting "confidence building" exercises in volatile villages, are met with hostile threats from the Albanians. In one village, the carcasses of wolves were presented as warnings to the Macedonians. On the same day as Aco Stojanovskiís murder, armed gangs in Tetovo looted and vandalized a Macedonian-owned factory.
Given such provocations, it seems that the "disbanded" NLA is itching for a fight despite what official Albanian channels claim. For powerful leaders like Arben Xhaferi, the likelihood of new fighting in the spring is completely dependent on whether the Macedonians can behave themselves.
Yet whether or not an "official" Albanian militant group is willing to take responsibility for such actions as Sundayís terrorist murder in Aracinovo, there has been a very fine line between civilian and soldier in the NLAís strategy as is made clear by an excerpt from Scott Taylor's new book, which will be published on 23 February.
Civilians have their uses: method one
Clever and cynical, the NLA has made excellent use of civilians in two ways: one, to generate sympathy for Albanian "suffering," and two, to generate logistics information. Both methods were previously used, with great success, in Kosovo.
Taylorís report comes from one hot day in early August, immediately after the ambushing of a Macedonian army convoy that left ten soldiers dead. Taylorís exciting narrative chronicles his attempt to get to the scene, any way he can. Because the road is closed he is forced to take a delapidated bicycle. When he reaches the burnt-out ruins of the Macedonian army vehicles, he is ushered away from the scene by soldiers. Thatís when some enterprising local Albanians take him in.
The Albanians exult when they realize Taylor is a Canadian- and even give him a cell phone to call in the story to his editors in Ottawa:
"During my phone call, several Albanians had crowded around, trying to follow my story. When I finished, one of the older men asked, "Why didnít you tell them about how our women and children are suffering?" When I replied that I hadnít seen any women or children, I immediately realized that I had taken his bait.
A few men escorted me to the basements of some of Bojaneís larger houses. In each crowded cellar, there were approximately two dozen women and children sitting on mats around the floor, rocking back and forth and pretending to cry Ė from fear of the Macedonian police, I was told. I say pretending because the whole scene was so badly acted, it was embarrassing to be a part of. I knew that I was expected to express my shock and sympathy, but seeing the young girls laughing behind their hands at each otherís phony tears made it impossible for me to feign compassion. When my guide asked if I would like to photograph this "suffering," I lied and said that I was out of film.
"They have been down in this shelter since the fighting in June," he told me. When I asked if all they did was sit and cry all day, every day, he replied with a straight face, "Yes."
Method one of NLA propaganda soliciting fake sympathy has been used to great effect in the media. It remains the reason why, essentially, the Macedonian army has its hands tied. Its every move is carefully noted, to the point where international "observers" have the right to demand "proportional force" in other words, only enough force for (some of) the soldiers to escape with their lives. Forget about victory survival is the most the Macedonians are allowed. As government sources told me, "whenever our forces would engage them, the (Albanian) commanders would immediately pick up their mobile phones and call everyone, the BBC, CNN, and all the others."
Civilians have their uses: method two
Scott Taylorís anecdote from the Albanian village suggests another use for civilians: as soldiers and spies. We pick up the story with the Albanian deployment, after Taylor has been treated to lunch with the NLA:
"We had just finished eating the tough old rooster when a car pulled into the farmyard. The pair of UCK from the farm truck got out and were soon organizing the able-bodied men in the village into four-man detachments. A collection of pistols and rifles was distributed and a shift list made up. The Macedonian army had managed to re-open the highway and was now mounting a counteroffensive under the cover of darkness. The villagers were dispersed to observation posts outside of Bojane to monitor the Macedoniansí progress."
The trap is set... but will they take the bait?
Yet if the Macedonians do react, it will be interesting to see whether the principle of self-defense is a right unique to America alone. No doubt, Macedonia will face a barrage of hostility- and not just from the Albanians- should it attempt to defend itself. A sentiment that is now widespread, that of Macedonian "brutality," effectively blocks off most attempts at self-defense. Whereas the Macedonian government is a legitimate body, and as such must exist under the glaring lights of Western media scrutiny, faceless terrorists from the villages can easily escape censure and responsibility. In fact, they must not even exist. And so the senseless, unprovoked violence goes on, in a land where ineluctable principles are fluid, and only terrorism remains a constant.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a journalist and travel writer with special interest in current events in the areas of the former Byzantine Empire Ė the Balkans, Greece, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Mr. Deliso holds a master's degree with honors in Byzantine Studies (from Oxford University), and has traveled widely in the region. His current long-term research projects include the Macedonia issue, the Cyprus problem, and the ethnography of Byzantine Georgia.
Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us