Greater Albania: a Place,
or Just a State of Mind?
When a Macedonian high school student was machine-gunned to death on a Tetovo basketball court the week before last, it came as further and tragic confirmation of the unsettling reality now gripping the country: that Macedonia is more and more becoming unsafe for Macedonians. Bombings and shootings are happening more and more frequently in the hills of western Macedonia, and even in Skopje. On 22 October, three unknown nighttime explosions left deep craters near the Macedonian Army’s main barracks. And Saturday, the good old Albanian National Army that mysterious wing of the NLA took credit for a mysterious bombing that was also claimed by Macedonian extremists. Indeed, the West’s forced installation of Ahmeti and the DUI in the government has set this embattled Balkan semi-state on an ethnic collision course.
Although the current trend has been visible for years, few in the outside world have had the stomach to publicly admit what’s going on that Macedonia is day by day inexorably slipping away. Now it is only a matter of time before the Greater Albania becomes a reality. And the ironic thing is, it won’t even have to involve the formal annexation of territory just the constant awareness of a declining standard of living will suffice.
GREATER BY THE DAY
Many can’t imagine that Macedonia’s international babysitters would allow the "sovereignty" and "territorial integrity" of the country to be compromised. But the quandary should not vex for too long. After all, when a political party of reformed terrorists can assume almost half of the government’s cabinet positions, despite winning barely 10 percent of the popular vote, there is no need for the redrawing of borders. Ali Ahmeti’s great coup legitimizing thuggery was achieved with nary an objection from the internationals, nor with much protest from the Macedonian parties. They were too busy slashing each other to pieces, figuring out ways to match old corruption with new, digging for ways to reappropriate a limited set of toys in a very small sandbox indeed.
Chances are they’ll be fighting over the scraps, oblivious to the continuing expansion of the Albanian opportunists, long after the time to do anything about it has passed. When such an inexorable decline happens to great empires, it is tragic; but when it happens to small countries who only distantly recall bygone days of empire, it is just pathetic.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
Ahmeti’s new ministerial nominees are all quite respectable older, suited, even well-spoken. Well, all except the hapless Musa Xhaferi. The nominee for Vice-Prime Minister is a citizen of Albania, and does not speak Macedonian. Can any American or German, Italian or Brit, for that matter imagine electing a parliamentarian with such great qualifications? No worries, however Xhaferi has pledged to start taking language classes soon.
The most interesting connection is that no less than four of Ahmeti’s new ministers were educated in Pristina, Kosovo. During Yugoslav days, this city was the epicenter for Albanian radicalism, a place where young revolutionaries were inculcated with the ideology of a Greater Albania, though they often had little in common with their countrymen trapped behind Hoxha’s iron curtain.
Doubtless, the Kosovo Albanians often had reason to chafe under Belgrade’s rule. But whether or not the creation of a pan-Albanian super-state follows logically from this is, or justifies bloody retribution, is sheerly a matter of personal opinion. However, very few non-Albanians share it. Those who do are generally wacko Islamic fundamentalists (see the "Albanian Islamic world" website) who regard territorial expansion as their religious duty. Yet despite the shiny, Saudi-funded mosques decorating many villages in Macedonia and Kosovo, Albanians are by and large not religious extremists. They have just learned to recognize a gift horse when one appears, whether it be a soft-hearted Western NGO or a deep-pocketed sheik of the desert.
In the end, what Ahmeti’s victory represents is the triumph of Kosovo’s "intellectuals" over the peaceful Albanian population of Macedonia. Ahmeti himself, his assistants and his ministerial nominees, all bear the ideological mark of Pristina. The hatred of Serbs preached there has simply been transferred to the much more hapless Macedonians.
Inured with the values of a different population, egged on and funded by radicals from further away in the diaspora, Ahmeti and Co. brought Kosovo first through war, then through politics to Macedonia. And their victory means nothing other than the imposition of a foreign element (the Kosovo Albanian intellectual programme) onto that little country.
CAUSE-AND-EFFECT GOES OUT THE WINDOW
Indeed, since there are plenty of Albanians in Macedonia who don’t seek secession, not to mention the other Muslims (Turks and Bosniaks) who don’t seek Jihad, isolating the problem is quite clear. But rather than tackle this thorny issue head on, the West has chosen to happily ignore it. To do otherwise, as critics have been saying for almost two years, would be tantamount to admitting that the 1999 Kosovo intervention was flawed. And not just that that it was a failure, a grievous mistake planned and executed by Western leaders having their own malevolent ulterior motives. And then, of course, the whole tightly-clustered ball of yarn would unravel. But this cannot be allowed to happen not until the genteel memoirs of Clinton, Blair and Co. have had sufficient time to sink beneath history’s harmless layer of dust.
Of course, the press had to ease us in gently to the idea of NLA thugs pontificating in Parliament. In any other context, it would just seem too strange, too abrasive a possibility. The pre-election coverage therefore followed the "golly gee, what a surprise" slant, when it came to chronicling Ahmeti’s rise to power. Western reporters actually pretended to marvel at the transformation, ending up sounding as if they’d been living under a rock for the past year. Or perhaps, they just hoped that their readers had been doing so.
DEMOCRACY, BALKAN STYLE
The latest proceedings are surreal, even for Macedonians who have lost all faith in the political process (for despite what the OSCE bravely affirms, they have). Macedonia’s coalition-style government means that a party can represent almost none of the population but still receive much of the power. This has proved to be an ideal breeding ground for parasitic left-wing enablers.
Indeed, one wonders how all the West’s "democracy-building" was hijacked by interventionists from so far on the left. In the end, the admixture of an extremist dogma of democracy with an extremist ideology of nationalist expansion has proved to make for a very lethal cocktail indeed.
The victors are now testing the waters, sticking in a toe to see just how deep they can take things. If they had their way, of course, the answer would be as deep as possible.
Ahmeti would like to have mandatory positions for Albanians guaranteed at every level of government, regardless of whether they win a vote or not. This affirmative action gone wrong is a mockery of everything encapsulated in the idea of democracy. If parity required a safeguard, one would think a better system would be to award each party a fixed number of ministries proportionate to the percentage of votes it received. But, since the Albanians would inevitably cry foul, this idea will never gain currency not, that is, until the place has been sufficiently Albanized, and selective democracy has run its course. Then they may warm to the idea.
The depressing thing about the DUI is that this outfit does not even represent any new idea, any "third way." Rather, they seem to be just a combination of Xhaferi’s rhetoric and (Hashim) Thaci’s guns. If the one fails, they can always go back to the other.
During the 2001 war, Ahmeti was mentored by DPA boss and yesterday’s Western favorite Arben Xhaferi, at one point deciding nothing without the elder statesman’s approval. Now Ahmeti seems to have eclipsed his master, despite Xhaferi’s attempts to radicalize the DPA and thereby "out-Albanize" the former fighters. It didn’t work, and the onetime media darling can now only muse weakly on the benefits of direct rule from Tirana.
USE THE BACK DOOR PLEASE, YOUNG MACEDONIAN
Besides the upsurge in violence following last week’s Tetovo murder, recent months have seen an increasingly aggressive Albanian campaign to "acculturate" Macedonia. This has involved the renaming of streets and civic places, as well as the erection of patriotic statues (one recently put up in a city square of Tetovo by Albanians keeps getting knocked over by Macedonians). The end result has been a hardening of attitudes which does not bode well for the future. An Albanian elementary school principle in Tearce airily said that Macedonian students "can use the back door" if the statues of NLA heroes offend them. In Skopje’s internet cafés, little children of both ethnicity play violent combat games, blissfully unaware of their portent, only concerned with "killing" their ethnic foe on the next computer.
OHRID FORMALIZING THE WHITEWASH
Ohrid, the lakeside resort and chief town of southwestern Macedonia, is also the place most treasured by Macedonians. It once boasted 365 churches (one for every day of the year) and has historical significance going back thousands of years. It is one of the few places in the country in which Macedonians take great pride. And this partially explains why, when a large house in the city’s ‘old town’ was purchased for an exorbitant amount by an Albanian, the neighbors stood around and threw stones and shouted. After a few weeks, the new owner decided to sell.
"It seems extreme," conceded one Ohrid man, "but we have learned that if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. In Tetovo, Gostivar, and now Skopje and Kumanovo, Albanians pay big money for Macedonians’ houses and shops just in order to make the areas exclusively Albanian. They would love to do that here, if we only let them... but if the economic situation does not improve, it might start happening."
This reasonable paranoia seems oddly fitting, in the town where Macedonia’s constitution was irrevocably altered in the summer of 2001. The Ohrid Framework Agreement, which proved that violence can get results, was just the first step in the formalization of the NLA’s political goals. Since the West has chosen to come along for the ride, the crucial thing is to elevate the Ohrid agreement, its mandates and its decrees, to the level of scripture. The good folks at the IWPR have obliged by putting out the official whitewash in the form of a book. It is good to know that everyone will finally have the true version of recent Macedonian history. And we can all sleep better at night knowing that the future is in the safe hands of erstwhile "freedom-fighters" and their complacent enablers.
BUT WHO HAS WON?
In these circumstances, its hard to tell who the real victors are. Could they be the West-leaning media crew, as they are writing the history? Or perhaps the former NLA gang in the DUI, since they have grasped the reins of power?
It is hard to believe that any Macedonian no matter how "liberal" is very happy about Ahmeti’s big win. It is also equally doubtful that the locally-employed interventionists are overjoyed about it either; the new reality represents just one more headache for them. It would seem, therefore, that only Ahmeti and Co. should be celebrating now. But perhaps they are starting to realize just how uncomfortable overt political power can be, if the recent inter-Albanian bomb attacks are anything to go by.
The next few months and especially after November’s controversial census will most likely be marred by inter-Albanian fighting of the kind witnessed last Spring in Tetovo. And, as the rival groups get hungry for bigger and bigger slices of the pie, the accompanying violence will also grow accordingly. And so the anarchy that was once limited to northern Albania, the street wars that were once limited to Kosovo and after, that which spread to Tetovo and the west of Macedonia will spread further.
It was Ahmeti’s decision to base his party in Skopje that brought violence to that fair city. Now, I suppose because the political aspirations of militants must come first, its citizens will be subjected to their imported gang wars.
AS USUAL, A LACK OF FORESIGHT PORTENDS RUIN
The scariest thing is that the situation may soon prove beyond the control of not just the Macedonian authorities, but of the Albanian parties themselves. No act of confidence-building, no dictates from aged diplomats, and no amount of legislation can control a movement which is directed, funded and ideologically indoctrinated from outside. It was a delusion for the West to imagine that any military/ideological campaign beginning from Kosovo would have any other result than simply that: more Kosovo.
In the spring of 1999, when the bombs began to fall on Serbia, the Albanians’ "liberators" should have understood the results of their actions that they’d better be prepared to go all the way with the liberation. The recklessness and short-sightedness of the Kosovo intervention will come back to haunt the very people who started it and unfortunately, all of Europe will suffer from the "contained" instability of the Balkans.
Most ironic is that it is not even in the best interests of the Albanians themselves to take over Macedonia. And besides, for all the enormous cost and effort of an intervention that refuses to die, the ethnicities have never been more alienated, never been more polarized from one another. This weekend’s bombing claims by two rival groups the "Macedonian People’s Front" and the "Albanian National Army" show this clearly.
In short, every "solution" presented by the West has been either a whitewash or just a stop-gap measure. Now, with the elevation to power of hardcore nationalists like Ahmeti, the changes are being forced suddenly and with force. If the country really does descend into gang war between rival ethnic extremist groups, will it really be such a surprise? Will it really be something that couldn’t have been predicted?
Fortunately for the representatives of the foreign powers in charge, they unlike the locals will get to continue their careers somewhere more attractive, when it all goes to hell.
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.
Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us