Wolfowitz in Skopje
What Next for Macedonia?
A total eclipse of the full moon on Friday morning, street warfare between Macedonians and Albanians in Tetovo on Friday night could these portentous events have had anything to do with the next day's visit from US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz?
Über-hawk Wolfowitz touched down briefly in Skopje on the third leg of his Balkan tour. At his first stop (Sarajevo) Wolfowitz oversaw the signing of a treaty guaranteeing that Bosnia will never extradite an American soldier to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes. At the second stop, Kosovo's Camp Bondsteel, Wolfowitz inspected the troops at this all but forgotten imperial outpost.
Wolfowitz's trip to Macedonia was decidedly low-key, and lasted only a few hours. Officially, he came for the photo op and speech praising the Iraq-bound Macedonian conscripts. However, the fact that he also met in private with former NLA boss Ali Ahmeti, President Boris Trajkovski, and later with Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski and Defense Minister Vlade Buchkovski seems to indicate that Rumsfeld's right-hand man came to talk business.
Operation Evade Journalists
However, it is slightly unclear as to what that business was. Wolfowitz's entourage, which included US Ambassador Laurence Butler and the proverbial men in dark suits and sunglasses talking on mobile phones, were escorted briskly in and out of government buildings all morning, leaving little chance for interrogation. Although Wolfowitz answered two or three mundane questions in a mundane way when meeting with Trajkovski, no real explanation for his visit was given. And the US Embassy on Saturday claimed to have no one available who could speak on the matter.
Saturday's final photo op for Wolfowitz was the Macedonian Army's Ilinden barracks, a sprawling encampment situated on a high wooded bluff overlooking Skopje. Here Wolfowitz gave a short speech to the 39 Iraq-bound Macedonian soldiers. Among them are members of the Wolves (special forces), as well as army medics.
Flanked by officials, Wolfowitz stood opposite the neatly-arrayed Macedonian troops and thanked them for playing their part in the "liberation" of the Iraqi people from "…one of the worst dictators of modern history." He also alluded to the US-imposed Ohrid Agreement when praising the Macedonians for "settling issues by talking instead of by fighting." He then proceeded down the row, cordially shaking hands with each of the conscripts. Much snapping and flashing ensued from the thicket of cameras adjacent.
A Bizarre, Yet Oddly Fitting Juxtaposition
This photo op session was an exercise in incongruity a perfect example of the surreal story of Macedonia since the war. Along with Wolfowitz were US Ambassador Butler, Defense Minister Buchkovski, and Deputy Defense Minister Rizvan Suleymani.
In other words, you had the representative of the world's most powerful military, cheerfully thanking Macedonian soldiers for helping the US fight terrorism in Iraq even as his counterpart (Suleymani), brought to power by the very same terrorists who destabilized Macedonia two years ago looked on. In this light, Wolfowitz's statement about "talking instead of fighting" really said it all. In Macedonia, land of endless simulations, it's no wonder that the soldiers then gave such profuse thanks to a man who helped put their lives and homes at risk once before, and who is now sending them into an unknown and perhaps dangerous situation once again. In Macedonia, reality has indeed left the building.
A Ray of Hope Shines Down on Macedonia…
It all goes back to 2001, and the Albanian war against Macedonia. Buchkovski, then Minister of Defense, was fired for allegedly not prosecuting the war hard enough. Now that the government has changed, he is back in charge. The US, though it continues to deny doing so, supplied covert aid to the Albanian militants. The manageable destabilization that resulted was pleasing to the anti-Europe faction in Washington. We should remember that the war began barely a month before Macedonia was to receive a big boost for its EU membership drive, in the form of a bilateral agreement with the Union on economic and other cooperation. In early 2001, Macedonia's economic outlook was optimistic, and it was regarded as an exemplary model for human rights and ethnic harmony in the Balkans. Everything was ruined overnight by the NLA's selfish and ultimately self-retarding war of aggression.
After two tepid years of international babysitting, Macedonia is just beginning to return to the position it had attained before the war. Foreign investors are slowly being lured back. Western leaders are cautiously optimistic about the country's future. In a very positive development, the once-hostile Greek Parliament is going to ratify the Stabilization and Association Agreement that will bring Macedonia closer to EU membership. Long alienated by the name problem, the Greeks are now among Macedonia's firmest backers.
…Just as a Dark Shadow Falls Across the Land
However, not everything is rosy. The arrival of Paul Wolfowitz was immediately preceded by an unusual night of heavy fighting in Tetovo, which left several injured and saw Albanians shoot at police and fire RPG's at army facilities. On the same day (Friday) a few thousand Albanian students blocked the main street in Kumanovo during a protest demanding their own segregated school. Government officials trying to visit Kumanovo were unable to get through a situation akin to last weekend, when the Interior Minister, Hari Kostov, and US Ambassador Butler were humiliated by Albanian villagers near Vejce, and not allowed to hold a commemoration ceremony for Macedonian soldiers ambushed and massacred in the war. Absolutely powerless to take any kind of control over the situation, Macedonia's police boss and the representative of the most powerful nation on earth were forced to negotiate with some bad-tempered shepherds about whether they could use a simple road or not as if they were seeking visas to enter a foreign country!
Although in the end approval was granted, reasons for concern remain. At least one well-placed international official in Skopje believes that these villagers were prompted to act and supported by one of the Albanian political parties. What could be gained by such provocation, one wonders? Hasn't the Albanian "liberation" movement already run its course?
Losing Control in the Rest of the World, Washington Eyes the Balkans
American foreign policy has changed dramatically since 9/11. While in early 2001 Macedonia was fun as a plaything for idle entertainment, provoking ruinous Balkan wars is no longer a top US priority. In early September 2001, the Americans were only starting to enjoy managing the conflict, and holding Europe at bay. However, very shortly thereafter Osama bin Laden took center stage, and the Balkans were all but forgotten.
Arrogantly, the Americans had assumed that Albanian militancy would be controllable thus ignoring the historic failure of all of the previous "Great Powers" in this regard. Now, halfway through 2003, Washington does not have the time or energy for another war in Macedonia; the one on terror (orchestrated by Wolfowitz and Co.) seems to be unraveling fast. Having bitten off far more than it can chew, the US is quickly becoming unable to contain fighting and/or terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Morocco and who knows where next.
Wolfowitz in Macedonia to Pressure on the ICC Treaty?
Nevertheless, the Bushies still persist in the incredible belief that, having come thus far already, a little more bullying won't hurt. And so the conscription of Macedonia's soldiers for Iraq, at the same time that its obedience is demanded on the issue of non-compliance with the International Criminal Court. The US has given all countries a strict deadline of 1 July to sign up or else face the prospect of losing American military aid.
The US is firmly opposed to this European-backed, Hague-based venture with jurisdiction over war crimes. Washington bristles at the thought that any of its own soldiers could be tried by a foreign court. Detached from any specific context, there's a lot to be said for this argument. However, it's more than a bit rich for the US to demand the former Yugoslav countries to comply with the Hague, while at the same time ordering them to under no circumstances send its own citizens there.
During the 2001 war, it is known that Macedonian generals were afraid to give commands for engagement, knowing that the US and its "watchdog" lackeys were chafing at the bit to make indictments. The threat of the Hague was used indirectly by the US in forcing political pressure, especially in regards to former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch.
Of course, Macedonia is not suicidal and so will comply with whatever the US demands. In fact, there are a few who gladly support Washington notably, the country's US-educated President Trajkovski, a Methodist who in the mind's eye can be imagined sporting a varsity letterman's jacket with "State" emblazoned across the back. Indeed, Quarterback Ken has spoken out in favor of the US-imposed treaty and on Saturday made the debatable "personal observation" that "…millions of people will remember Iraq's liberation as an act of democracy."
In signing the treaty, Macedonia will join a veritable who's who list of banana republics, including Tonga, Tajikistan, Rwanda, the Dominican Republic, Congo and now, backwards neighbor Albania. No doubt, being seen in such illustrious company will surely boost Macedonia's already auspicious stature.
Macedonia: Toeing the Line
Although most of its leaders and almost all of its citizens opposed the war on Iraq, Macedonia has no option but to be a yes-man for George W. Bush and the gang. Powerful hawks like Wolfowitz are well aware of the general dislike Macedonians (and most Europeans) have for the administration. Pressure and intimidation may prove useful yet, especially if the country dares assert its independence in any way. It is still not in the interests of the Pentagon-dominated administration for Macedonia to join the EU. Measured instability is still a desirable thing for the hawks, who can readily unleash a new round of Albanian terrorism again, should they so desire.
That said, Wolfowitz's visit can be understood as both a thanks and a menace. The support Macedonia has given for the Iraq adventure is no doubt sincerely appreciated by the administration as is the donation of conscripts to the US Army in Iraq, and the concomitant distribution of Macedonian civilians to the Middle East, where they will serve the Department of Brown & Root.
The Darkness Before the Storm?
It would be one thing if things were just that simple. However, the fact that significant hostilities occurred on the eve of Wolfowitz's arrival may bode ill for Macedonia. When his long, dark shadow fell across the land this weekend, was it some sort of a signal for the militants to resume?
Despite all the plaudits from interventionists looking to secure their legacies and justify the fortunes they have made off of the country's misery, the truth is that Macedonia is still in danger. And ruining it won't require another large-scale war; even low-intensity sustained violence will be enough to scare off investors and tourists. I am told that the England-Macedonia football match, scheduled for September 6th in Skopje, is on a knife-edge, due to British queasiness. Yet the country badly needs this and any other international events of the kind. It would be a pity for everything to be ruined because an indoctrinated minority could be led to once again spew its misdirected bile on Macedonia. It's even worse to imagine that such a movement could again be surreptitiously directed by a war-crazed American administration in chronic denial regarding its deadly and disastrous interventions. Let's just hope that the war party has not lost its contact with reason entirely, and decides to spare Macedonia from the current war without end.
Previous articles by Christopher Deliso on Antiwar.com
Christopher Deliso is a freelance writer and Balkan correspondent for Antiwar.com, UPI, and private European analysis firms. He has lived and traveled widely in the Balkans, southeastern Europe and Turkey, and holds a master's degree with distinction in Byzantine Studies from Oxford University. In the past year, he has reported from many countries, including Serbia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Hungary, Greece, the Republic of Georgia and the Turkey-Iraq border. Mr. Deliso currently lives in Macedonia, and is involved with projects to generate international interest and tourism there.
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