Fura and Macedonia's Emerging War
The hulking Macedonian Army helicopter touched down on the mountaintop, blowing grass and debris over the edge of the wooded ravines to all sides of us. As we jumped down and onto the muddy track, I could see the tanks, APC's, and soldiers all around. This was Kodra Fura perhaps the most strategic place in the Balkans today.
Together with a handful of journalists and officials including US ambassador Lawrence Butler I had come to check out the volatile Kosovo-Macedonia border, scene of several recent armed provocations from the Kosovar Albanians. We were also to visit the nearby Tanusevci border checkpoint where the war began in earnest in February 2001, with the surprise killing of three Macedonian soldiers. Several Macedonian generals and officers were on hand to recount this event as well as the future of the much-desired redoubt.
Straddling the border between Macedonia and Kosovo, Kodra Fura and the hills above Tanusevci command all approaches. Right now, this is perhaps the most important security region for Macedonia. From here, one beholds all: the rolling hills of Kosovo, distant villages and fields, the glittering expanse of Camp Bondsteel, and the vital Skopje-Kumanovo corridor within. It is the key to controlling not only Macedonia's most populous area, but also the Kosovo and South Serbia borders.
Kodra Fura also overlooks a maze of smuggling routes. Drugs, weapons and women are regularly smuggled through here, on an invisible highway stretching from Bulgaria to Kosovo and points beyond. Further, this stronghold is situated dead north of Skopje, the capital.
For all of these reasons, Albanian militants from both sides of the border would dearly love to control this area: it is the puzzle piece they are missing in order to connect their Tetovo-area villages with their Kumanovo-area ones. If they can take Kodra Fura, the end is near for Macedonia and the entire South Balkan region as well.
Understandably, Macedonia is taking every precaution necessary to protect this strategic location. Now, with the increasingly bellicose rumblings from Kosovo's "government," securing the border is more vital than ever.
THE KOSOVO PARLIAMENT: A PEANUT GALLERY OF MALCONTENTS
In this region, border belligerence is nothing new. The latest anti-Macedonia provocations started almost six months ago and I have been tracking the situation ever since. This increasingly surreal story of belligerence, hypocrisy and deception is fast descending into farce and one with mighty serious implications for Macedonia's future.
The headaches began when Albanian peasants from Kosovo started complaining about their "fields," which have allegedly been swallowed up by an "illegal" border. This dubious claim regarding a suspiciously mountainous region was quickly elevated to scandal when US Brigadier General Keith Huber in a statement that was quickly retracted supported the Albanians' disdain for an internationally-recognized border. Street protests in Vitina (12 KM north of the border) were followed by April's armed attack on a Macedonian border checkpoint. Tensions were raised again recently by another Albanian assault on the Tanusevci army station.
The really startling thing about all this, however, has been the politicization of the issue. The Kosovo "Parliament," in an astonishing display of intransigence, recently announced that it was officially condemning the Kosovo-Macedonian border. The token Serbs in that august body walked out in disgust, and UNMIK chief Michael Steiner instantly vetoed the statement. The US Embassy in Skopje quickly followed suit. KFOR is now dutifully trumpeting the same objection.
Despite the blanket negation of this "resolution," however, the fact that it was made by Kosovo's infantile "government" lends to it an unfortunate air of legitimacy. After all, wasn't NLA chief Ali Ahmeti able to transform himself from terrorist to politician just by putting on a suit? This trend is especially unsettling, when we consider the latest decree from the north.
"KODRA FURA IS OURS!"
On 30 May, the Kosovo parliament came out and said it: "Kodra Fura is ours, and Kosovo will return this piece of its territory."
Riiight. And if the territory is indeed "returned," I'm sure many a pleasant pastoral idyll will be spent atop that particular grassy knoll.
No, the truth here is unavoidable: by laying claim to the most strategic mountaintop in the Balkans, the Kosovar Albanians have finally said it. With one voice, they have finally announced their plans for Macedonia.
PLEASE, JUST DON'T MAKE THEM MAD!
While the Kosovar Albanians should be entering a world of pain right about now, they're not. The reactions from the West have varied from cynical amusement to blasé disinterest. And this euphemistic frenzy shows no signs of abating as can be seen all too easily.
Take one example from my brief survey. In Belgrade, I asked one high-level Brit to comment on these bellicose rumblings from Kosovo's "government." His answer? "Well obviously, they're going to make some mistakes at the beginning." Huh? When have legislative threats and attempted invasions ever been called "mistakes?"
Then there was the inimitable Jamie Shea, who back in April fielded questions from students in Brussels. A Macedonian student asked Mr. Shea why NATO has been pressuring the Macedonian army to end its weapons modernization program. Indeed, why are those state-of-the-art new tanks rusting away down in Strumica? Replied Shea: "well, how would an ethnic Albanian feel if he saw a tank like that entering his village?"
In other cases (such as illegal logging by Albanians in Tetovo), self-professed "confidence builders" like the OSCE claim they are powerless to implement justice. They are strictly observers; arrests are left up to the Macedonian police. Of course, however, the OSCE advises (rather strongly) that no such arrests be made, lest they inflame the Albanians. Consequently, no one is ever arrested, and the wild, wild west of Macedonia slips further into uncontrollable criminality.
Finally, let me add the comments of an American in Skopje who ignored the issue completely and instead took the opportunity to condemn Macedonia. Apparently, those unhelpful Macedonians just aren't giving the Kosovar Albanians enough free run of the country which they really should (he implied), simply because the US has decided to run its visa-for-Kosovars program out of Skopje. This gentleman also predicted that Kosovo will be independent, and Macedonia perhaps non-existent, within ten years. Of course, there would be no connection between the twin disintegrations…
THE BOTTOM LINE
There is no way that the West cannot see the Kosovo border situation for what it is an outrageous and unprovoked declaration of war. By failing to take a tough stance on Albanian irredentism, Macedonia's Western overlords are more than irresponsible they're downright clever. In the absence of a strong and concerted Western denunciation, the Macedonians naturally come off as the loudest complainers of all. And so, because of their oh-so tiresome objections to foreign invasion, the Macedonians will inevitably just fall back into the same old trap "hardline nationalism."
Ahh, at least everything's back to normal!
COULD IT GET WORSE?
Perhaps more dangerous than Western disinterest in the border provocations, however, is the situation on the home front. Quite simply, Macedonia is fractured beyond repair. Although they are purposefully not saying it, the internationals must be aware of the truth: inter-ethnic cooperation in Macedonia will never occur again. The evidence is not long in coming.
Take Ali Ahmeti former chief of the NLA, and still listed on President Bush's terrorist blacklist. Ahmeti has been yearning for political legitimacy since he started the war in March 2001. Now, with his recently launched political party, he seems to have gotten it. Ahmeti's estranged colleagues in the DPA and PDP, by the way, made a point (on 29 May) of ruling out any inter-ethnic dialogue between Albanians, Serbs and Macedonians. Yet according to the West, those unhelpful Macedonians are the ones who won't cooperate.
YES AND IT ALREADY IS
Things get even more bizarre, however. In an influential piece which appeared in Skopje's Dnevnik a few days after Kosovo's border "resolution," critical thinker Jason Miko raised the stakes by calling the bluff of Macedonia's Albanian politicians. The challenge was clear even from the title: "A time to decide." In the article, Miko suggested that the Macedonian Parliament adopt a resolution condemning the Kosovo decree. This, he argued, would give the Albanian MP's the chance to show where their true allegiances lay:
"I want to see who votes for this resolution and who votes against it. I want to see the Albanian deputies stand up and collectively say, "I am proud to be a citizen of the Republic of Macedonia and I will fight for the territorial integrity of the country. I condemn this action by the Kosovo parliament."
As expected, the resolution was passed. In a rare show of unity, all of the Macedonian MP's voted to affirm their nation's sovereignty. Astonishingly, however, none of the Albanian MP's not one voted to condemn the Kosovo Parliament's bellicose resolution. Some managed to conveniently "disappear" at the time the vote was held, while all the rest voted against their own country against the country which they have been elected to serve.
A more damning verdict than this cannot be imagined. It is now absolutely irrefutable: the Albanian political leaders in Kosovo and Macedonia are actively working together towards the same goal a united Greater Kosovo.
GAME OVER, INSERT ANOTHER QUARTER
Just for fun, we can compare this the political status quo of June, 2002 with that of the decidedly more volatile February 2001, when the war first began. For it was right here, in this very same Tanusevci, that three Macedonian soldiers were murdered. Yet despite the greater threat to state security then, morale was much different:
"This event marked the beginning of the crisis, and the coalition government of the Prime Minister Lj. Georgievski as well as the Parliament condemned the 'armed groups of extremists' and asked for foreign military help. The public was scared, confused and not ready for what was to follow. It should be noted that at this moment the Albanian political leaders in Macedonia demonstrated a high degree of loyalty… if necessary, the territorial integrity of Macedonia would be defended."
Further, in the all-party summit which followed shortly thereafter, this policy was clearly stated:
"The leaders of VMRO-DPMNE, SDSM, DPA and PDP supported the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Macedonia; they agreed that the army should occupy the Macedonian border and KFOR should strengthen the control on the other side of the border."
It is all too obvious that nothing has improved. For all the confidence-building, for all the peace treaties and inter-ethnic reconciliation in short, for all the millions of dollars spent on making Macedonia whole again, it has only become more polarized than it was before the war. Is this the legacy the international community wants to leave behind?
NO SHORTAGE OF ROCKET SCIENTISTS HERE
With their manpower, high-tech equipment and bloated salaries, one would assume that the international "peacekeepers" might understand the implications of tolerating this threat from the north. And they also might perhaps understand the gravity of the Albanian parliamentarians' domestic treachery something which is way, way out of line. Consider the hefty concessions the Albanians won under 2001's Framework Agreement: amnesties for NLA fighters, village reconstructions, greater local self-government, funding increases across the board and this is how they repay their country?
No, the international braintrust surely understands the ramifications of Kodra Fura and the brewing conflict. For whatever reason, however, they are not very interested. Whether you want to chalk it up to laziness, boredom or simply their desire to drag out the crisis situation (and with it, their jobs), it's clear that Macedonia's minders are missing in action.
Anyway, if some other, more serious motive lies behind this gaping neglect for Macedonian state security, we'll probably never find out. Nevertheless and I'm just throwing it out there if the Kosovar Albanians really are ticked off about missing farmland, shouldn't they bring it up with the good folks who swallowed up over 1,000 acres of it?
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 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.
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