The Instability Myth, Free
Markets and Macedonia's Future
We are frequently told that Macedonia remains "unstable" after the 2001 conflict, and therefore requires foreign overseers ones who can somehow manage this instability and artfully transform it into something more akin to Western realities. This could conceivably involve ending the age of open-air shopping malls, while widening highways, making pizzas with tomato sauce instead of ketchup, and banishing forever the irrational but widespread fear of promaja (a draft).
Hypotheses and Reality
Yet since none of these is likely to happen in the near future, foreign planners are wondering how to come up with something better. There are vague invitations to join the European Union and NATO, two distant goals that some believe will suddenly solve all of the country's problems, and banish forever the threat of Albanian secessionism. The theory goes that any future "freedom fighters" will be held in check by the stern hand of Brussels. Whether or not this is true, of course, is a hypothetical for now. It is, however, based on the untested belief that the strength of the Union precludes internal fighting. It is also to ignore the reality that the future status of Kosovo will ultimately determine whether Macedonia is to remain one country.
Losing the Race
To Macedonia's great embarrassment, other, less developed countries such as Romania and Bulgaria are well ahead in the race to join NATO and the EU; Macedonia has only vague assurances. Even Turkey will negotiate for EU membership before Macedonia though 96 percent of its territory lies in Asia. Despite its essential place historically and geographically in Europe, Macedonia remains forgotten. Why?
To be sure, some operative factors are out of Macedonia's control, chief of all Turkey's enormous importance for American foreign policy, especially now in Iraq. But the major internal setback (the 2001 war) arguably could've been prevented or ended sooner than it was. While many theories abound as to why the army could not quickly defeat a motley assortment of guerrillas, the fact remains that the West was not eager to help. In fact, former ARM spokesman Col. Blagoja Markovski told me in September that Macedonia was forced to buy weaponry from the Ukrainians only after requests to the NATO countries were quietly ignored. However, when the Ukrainian sales went ahead, US and NATO leaders loudly protested. And then there was the little factor of the United States government covertly supplying the Albanians with weapons, intelligence and logistics for reasons that are still unknown.
By the time NATO had invited itself over in August, anti-Western sentiment was unfortunately but understandably high among most Macedonian citizens. Of course, after setting up shop, NATO and its apologists claimed that the country could not have survived without them although this was a completely unproveable and hypothetical argument.
NATO's Tenure: Overseeing the Surreal
Now, almost a year and a half later, NATO remains here in smaller numbers but the story remains the same: Macedonia still needs outside direction. Meddlesome outfits like the ICG continue to lecture the Macedonians about why they must rely on and be thankful for NATO. And now that it is scrambling to "join the club," Macedonia is indeed scrapping Russian and Ukrainian armaments to buy only from NATO countries.
This reality is both tragic and confusing. The West did not treat Macedonia as an equal partner in early 2001, when there really was a chance to quickly and decisively end the war. When Macedonia was seeking Western support, it was withheld, only to re-emerge later when terms were more favorable for Western (and Albanian) negotiators. And what happened in between? Death, destruction and displacement, and a still-lingering suspicion of the West among Macedonians. NATO and the US have no doubt spent many thousands of dollars trying to convince Macedonians of their benevolent intentions. The irony is that they wouldn't have had to spend a cent if they had just treated Macedonia as an equal from the beginning. But they didn't. Now, the nadir has been reached, as it seems NATO cannot remember the country's official name or language an insult anywhere, but practically an act of aggression in beleaguered Macedonia.
But what's done is done. Macedonians are now tired of thinking about conflict, about NATO, and about anything except securing their own economic survival. Every surreal Albanian provocation most recently, the arrival of a triumphant Ali Ahmeti in Parliament has failed to faze a disillusioned people convinced of their own powerlessness. In fact, the only ones who still care about these issues are the think-tanks, media and conflict-resolution organizations who will find themselves out of a job quite quickly, if certain controversies are not surreptitiously kept alive.
Calling Their Bluff
But they can't have it both ways. If the Western intervention was indeed both necessary and successful, as they claim, then why must they continue to paint Macedonia as an "unstable" country that is still fundamentally a danger to itself? Is it for any other reason than to keep their jobs and their influence?
The funny thing about stability (and here's a very Western idea) is that it's all in your outlook. If people are told enough times that they live in a terrible, unstable and hopelessly corrupt country, then they will believe it. And not only that, they will act like it. Macedonia is a prime example of this.
However, if the people or even a few of them believe that they have some reason to be proud of their country, that they have something to offer to visitors, and that they have a good reason for being (quite literally) on the map, then the reality can slowly change. But if something cannot be imagined, it cannot become a reality. All great inventors and scientists were ridiculed for their impossible dreams until they made them come true. With dark foreboding, the "Macedonia Experiment" is often thought of as an accursed idea destined to fail, an unworkable coalition of identities, territories and ethnicities bent on its own self-destruction. But how could the experiment turn out for the better? Is there still a chance to save this great, though little country?
Prologue to a Solution
As with every other nation, the answer lies with the people themselves. In the same way that the voters get the leaders they deserve, the citizens get the country they deserve. But as regards NATO and the "instability" myth, there is an alternative and one that almost certainly would work, with but a little effort.
When the media make vague statements about the "crisis region," they generally mean the barricaded Albanian villages of the Tetovo and Kumanovo regions. It is commonly believed that these areas need policing and security, so that they won't be lost forever. Yet there are still cases of Macedonian army and police being shot at by Albanian villagers; even NATO itself was attacked by Kosovo Albanians a few months ago. Do armed watchmen really diminish the chances of violence?
If one compares the United States, where policemen carry guns, to Ireland where they don't, the contrast is striking. I lack the per capita figures, but anyone who has been to these two places would agree that the latter is far safer. Heavily armed, isolationist Albanian villagers will always perceive Macedonian security forces as their enemies. And probably they will always shoot at them. The police will no doubt always regard these villagers as potential terrorists, and therefore provoke them. And so the endless cycle of violence.
What's needed is unarmed police and revenue-generating ones at that. What could be this unknown commodity?
The Road to Peace, Understanding and Money
Foreign investors, tourists and other visitors are the only people who can in a completely unofficial, independent, and non-institutional way guarantee a safe environment in areas of "instability." The "non-governmental" organizations that have sprung up all over Macedonia have made the country easy to control like some hazy land of the lotus-eaters. By simply registering a start-up organization with some touchy-feely name, and applying for grants, opportunists of all ethnicities are able to fleece both American and European taxpayers. The amount of money laundering, re-appropriated resources and outright theft that have accompanied the rule of the NGO's is simply staggering though hard to prove (after all, who wants to bite the hand that feeds them?).
But when one sees an "oppressed" Roma trade in his beat-up bicycle for a Land Rover, or some Macedonian villager buy a new house overnight, one has to wonder how they've done it. In some cases, newfound wealth actually does come through hours of hard work. But in many others, theft of grant money from NGO's and US government agencies has been the great enabler.
And so, despite hating the Western interventionists for helping the Albanians in 2001, Macedonians have become reliant, and therefore acquiescent. In such conditions, there is little incentive for Macedonians to strike out on their own and try to foster a free-market atmosphere. The path of least resistance offers a pleasing, narcotic escape. Considering that they would have to deal with asinine governmental regulations and stifling bureaucratic slowness in order to start a private enterprise, it's no wonder that they have opted for the easy money of the colonizers from abroad. Albanians who have felt shut out have turned to drug, weapons and human trafficking.
The Biggest Investment of All
Yet if Macedonia is to really "stabilize," as is hoped, it will depend on the development of a truly independent media and a real free-market economy, fostered by foreign investors and local entrepreneurs alike. Although we have seen some hopeful signs this year, 2003 will be the true test of Macedonia's economic mettle. It could happen don't forget that 2001 was supposed to be the year that Macedonia's economy finally turned the corner. But this optimistic hope was abruptly killed by the arrival of war, almost two years ago.
Getting back to the subject of tourism it is impossible to overestimate the value of having unarmed, unaffiliated foreigners in the most dangerous parts of the country. Forget about OSCE or EU monitors with their special badges. Forget about army or police patrols. The former only causes the Albanians to preen for their supposed benefactors. And the latter only inspire them to exhibit their martial qualities. Neither let them be themselves.
The supporters of the former NLA are well aware of the need for good public relations. Although they can always cook up a good excuse for killing a Macedonian, they can't do in a foreigner it would be too bad for their international image.
Therefore, bringing foreign visitors into precisely those areas that are usually "off-limits" is the best way to open up the country and really integrate it economically. To be sure, setting up a DUI office in Kocani was certainly not the way towards "integration." Even if they were to put an SDSM office in Sipkovica, it wouldn't be a step forward.
Democracy, the State, and Tourism
The idea that inter-party, statist initiatives can foster democracy is a sham. Such a goal which, after all, is fundamentally an expression of non-coerced tolerance between citizens can only be reached through independent initiatives, not through cynical ploys meant to score political points. Forget the political parties. It's time for entrepreneurs, investors and especially, those innocuous, twenty year-old backpackers to descend on Macedonia.
Ali Ahmeti's DUI party claims "integration" to be its primary goal. The implication is that Macedonians (or Slavs, as they would contemptuously call them) are the ones who need to learn to "integrate" their identity and mindset with his. The truth is, the areas that really need an attitude change and now are those isolationist Albanian villages that have basically become small fortresses. But of course, Ahmeti's insurrection was born in those mountain enclaves. I know of no Serb, Vlach or Macedonian village where a foreigner would feel endangered. Can we say the same for these others?
The answer, I hope, is yes. But the only way to know for sure is to go to these villages, to get tourists to go to these villages many are set amidst breathtakingly beautiful nature and to build or rebuild tourism centers in them. The prime example is the ski resort of Popova Sapka near Tetovo. Once Macedonia's most popular, it was destroyed by Albanians who simply did not like outsiders. Theirs is the attitude that needs to change if Macedonia is to join the modern world as a united and functioning state.
Besides, developing tourism would also give these people some legitimate source of income, so that they will desist from mafia business and not complain about being the forgotten victims of an uncaring system that they never wished to join anyway.
A Breath of Fresh Air
Finally, taking such a gamble will prevent crisis-management groups from taking credit for things they didn't do. Many people are tired of these pompous, self-appointed overlords, who cannot think beyond the formulaic and bureaucratic language of "mandates" and "confidence building." They are uncreative, unimaginative, and utterly humorless. A country molded in their image would be a frightening place indeed.
It's true that without the West, any small Eastern European country is lost. The Macedonians, however, have seen the less attractive side of the West. A change would certainly be refreshing.
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. He just returned from a long stay in Turkey, near the Iraqi border.
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