The Framework Agreement for Peace is due to be signed this week by the government of Macedonia and someone who allegedly represents the Albanian rebels. I say "allegedly" because the rebels are not present at the negotiating table and it is not known whether they would adhere to the agreement. But what is known is that the Albanians have no desire to stay in the joint state, if they can help it they want to carve out western Macedonia (at least) and declare independence. The Macedonian government is aware of the Albanians' intentions and has no reason to put much trust in the Framework Agreement for Peace. Whether or not the agreement is signed, this is probably not even the beginning of the end of the fighting in Macedonia.
This has been the bloodiest week yet. Macedonia lost 10 soldiers in an ambush, then, a day later, 8 more were killed by a land mine outside Skopje. The US wildly praised Macedonia for its role in facilitating the policies of NATO in the region, especially during the 78 day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia but now it's Macedonia's turn to get the same treatment. This is what Macedonia signed up for when it dashed out of Yugoslavia in 1992. Macedonia could exist in relative calm and security only within the larger state of Yugoslavia.
There are two very different groups living in Macedonia and the key differentiating factor is not language, religion or hatred, but radically different birthrates. The Macedonians' birthrate is low, like elsewhere in Europe, while the Albanians' birthrate is similar to that of Bangladesh. I witnessed the result of this disparity way back in 1981 when I visited the city of Tetovo, which was by no means a purely Albanian city back then. A Macedonian was selling his house and an Albanian neighbor was inquiring about the price. After he heard the asking price he said something to the effect of: "Why should we pay you anything when we will come soon to claim all these houses for free."
This demographic competition would not produce anything more significant than minor skirmishes were it not for the incoherent behavior of the West, and particularly the US government, which offers declarative support to the legitimate, democratic government of Macedonia while thwarting Macedonia's efforts to obtained guns from Ukraine (guns for which Macedonia has already paid). The Albanian rebels, of course, get to play with the latest generation of NATO arms. If left alone, Macedonian forces would easily squash the rebellion, but instead they are forced to negotiate with rebels and sign detrimental agreements that will deal a deathblow to the state of Macedonia as it exists now.
This is the pattern: the rebels mount attacks on the police and army. The Macedonian government forces respond and when they threaten to eliminate the rebels, like in Aracinovo, the US and EU (who, together, believe that they represent the whole "international community") step in, and call for restraint, cease-fire and negotiations. Meanwhile, the rebels extract their men from the trouble zone and open another front against the government forces.
From a wider historical perspective of the destruction of former Yugoslavia we see the West-to-East movement of armed conflict: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo. Will Macedonia be the last or is this a prelude to more easterly military interventions? And how far east will they go? All the way to the Caspian, perhaps?
The author is Professor of Philosophy and Conflict Resolution at Portland State University. He is editor of War Crimes and Collective Wrongdoing (Blackwell 2001).
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