It was in December 1999, a week before the much-anticipated millennium, that a twenty-three year old Macedonian student named Ida made this gloomy prediction: "we will have a war," she told me. "I don't know when, but it will happen."
At that point, eight months after the NATO bombing of Serbia, Skopje was still a relatively quiet and peaceful city. Yet many Macedonians even then had strong suspicions that the Albanians would eventually try to unleash Kosovo-like chaos on their country. Even then, in 1999, the two populations were divided. Ida mentioned several stories that highlighted these divisions. She spoke of certain illegal, unregistered taxi companies (with names like "Union" and "Playa Vista") run by Albanians, which Macedonians avoided, because some Macedonian girls had been raped by the drivers. The Albanians in Skopje had a reputation for being lazy, or criminals, or both. The Macedonian National Library, said Ida, was full of Macedonians studying; the Albanians, on the other hand, went there to sleep. But a kind of political correctness was in effect, she alleged, whereby Macedonians could not say anything bad about the Albanians, even if it were true.
Macedonians had always been fearful of the inordinately high birth rate of Albanians. Ida told me that Albanian women from Kosovo or Albania proper would sometimes come across the border to have their babies, in order to claim Macedonian citizenship for the child. Or, she claimed, an Albanian family would just bring their newborn to Macedonia for the same purpose. The anecdotal nature of the charge notwithstanding, the problem was taken seriously enough by the authorities that midwives and gynaecologists (her mother was one), had to make official reports for every home birth they attended. Now, two years later, Macedonia is under siege because of both Albanian population shifts and tolerance of the KLA by NATO.
Recently I spoke with Ida again, in an email interview that re-addressed the issue of what has happened to Macedonia since 1999. Like many Macedonians, she does not believe that the NLA is fighting for "human rights." She reminded me of the rights that Albanians enjoyed before the violence began this March. "They (the Albanians) had their own primary and secondary schools, and as a minority they needed less points than Macedonians to enroll in University. They had TV and radio stations in Albanian language, taxi companies, and over time they took half of Skopje, as far as the Stone Bridge (on the River Vardar). So they had Bit Pazar (the old Turkish bazaar), Chair, Gazi Baba, Saraj, all those neighborhoods around Skopje; now was the perfect time to ask for their rights, since they were all around the city."
According to Ida, this phenomenon was repeated in other Macedonian towns: "The same is the case with Veles. They (the Albanians) colonized the villages between Skopje and Veles and in 1997 most of them got citizenship. That happened when (the politician) Branko Crvenkovski decreased the fifteen year period of living in Macedonia (to five years) he needed extra votes for the election. But none of this is a fact you could prove."
The Economic Angle
Without a doubt, changes in population played a large part in emboldening Macedonian Albanians to join forces with their cohorts in the KLA. The single most important event in population dynamics was the huge influx of Kosovars accepted by Macedonia during NATO's war against Serbia. The economic effects of this influx were compellingly presented to me in a recent interview with Dr. Sam Vaknin, until a month ago economic advisor to the Macedonian government. Dr. Vaknin, author of the critical study "After the Rain: How the West Lost the East," has an intimate knowledge of the Macedonian economy and its problems. The massive influx of Kosovars was, according to him, "a mixed blessing," but one that was more negative than positive. "The burden of accepting, harbouring, feeding, and accomodating 300,000 refugees (equal to 15% of the population) was crushing," Dr. Vaknin said. "Macedonia's infrastructure nearly collapsed under this onslaught and due to the heavy use by NATO/KFOR." The specific negative results of this "onslaught," according to Dr. Vaknin, were the cancellation of manufacturing orders for textiles by large German and American firms (and to a lesser extent, Greek). Agriculture also suffered badly, and the Macedonian wine and tobacco industries were "virtually demolished."
On the plus side, Dr. Vaknin claimed, the establishment of more than 60 NGO's in Macedonia after Spring 1999 meant the arrival of over 10,000 well-off foreigners who helped revitalize the service sector. Whether the establishment of such organizations has been good for Macedonia, however, is debatable. Some critics, such as Professor Michel Chossudovsky of the University of Ottawa, contend that "human rights organizations" such as the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch are, despite their rhetoric, harmful to Macedonia. While they claim to be primarily concerned with promoting democratic values and inter-ethnic reconciliation, alleges Chossudovsky, "they work hand in glove with NATO. They are an integral part of the military-intelligence ploy. The role of these front organizations is to ensure that public resentment is directed against the Macedonian government and military rather than against Washington, NATO, or the IMF." (M. Chossudovsky, "Washington Behind Terrorist Attacks in Macedonia," Antiwar.com, 7/23/01).
The influence of Western organizations, from NATO all the way down to the smallest NGO, has had paradoxical effects on Macedonia. According to Dr. Vaknin, Macedonia's economy since 1999 had actually greatly improved, up until the NLA terrorism began in March. New legislation initiated by Nikola Guevski, Minister of Finance, gave Macedonia "an advanced legal infrastructure." The state also shut down most of its "loss-making industrial behemoths," and foreign investment had quintupled. At the beginning of this year, Macedonia was blessed with a budget surplus, due to new implementation of VAT. A 5% increase in the country's GDP was reported. "Things looked rosy," said Dr. Vaknin, "but the eruption of the insurgency by the NLA has changed all this painfully."
Most foreign deals were abrogated. "Trade collapsed by 20%. Industrial production plummeted by 9%, from an already delapidated base. Manufacturing orders and production contracts were called off." As violence spread this spring, airlines cancelled their flights to Skopje and fearful foreigners left the country. "The IMF did not renew the arrangement with Macedonia and the EU has suspended credit and aid facilities to exert pressure over Macedonian decision makers to show more transigence in the negotiations with the Albanians. The damage to the country's image as an investment destination is irreparable and irreversible."
But how did Macedonia get to this point? In the next part, I would like to show how the same foreign forces that were responsible for Macedonia's economic improvement also guided its descent into war. Simply put, Macedonia was the "fatted calf" being led to slaughter by the West; as we will see, the "mixed blessing" of Macedonia's aiding of NATO in 1999 has turned out to be a curse. Nowhere is the hypocrisy of Macedonia's "allies" in the West seen more clearly than in the curious and sinister transformation of the status quo between March 2001 and today.
HOW THE NLA BECAME FIGHTERS FOR 'EQUAL RIGHTS', AND THE MACEDONIANS BECAME 'ANGRY SLAVS'
The last 6 months: Does anyone remember what the status quo was, anyway?
The policy on the Macedonian crisis, as voiced by NATO, the U.S., and the mass media, has shifted significantly in three respects.
1. In the Western media, the NLA is condemned as "terrorists"; NATO's Lord Robinson calls them "murderous thugs." Albanian political parties in Skopje shun the NLA.
2. The West wholeheartedly gives its support to the Macedonian government, and also supports their refusal to negotiate with the NLA.
3. NATO states that Macedonia was "within its rights" to act militarily and purchase weapons in its own self-defense.
1. The NLA and Macedonian-Albanian parties are regarded as one and the same that is, legitimately struggling to win "equal rights" for their "oppressed" minority. The press refers to the NLA far more often as "ethnic rebels" or "freedom fighters" than as "terrorists." On the other hand, Macedonians are portrayed in pejorative terms, as "angry Slavs" or "hardline nationalists," who "rampage" for no reason.
2. The West repeatedly threatens the Macedonian government to force it to capitulate to Albanian demands. NATO plans a program of "voluntary disarmament" for the NLA, while demanding that these terrorists be exonerated and re-integrated into Macedonian society.
3. Macedonian use of force is condemned by NATO; Ukraine is strong-armed by America and the E.U. into suspending arms sales to Macedonia.
The best defense is a good offense
The disparity between March and August is startling. For someone who had been trapped on a deserted island for five months, it would not even seem like the same conflict. Two incidents in particular have changed the status quo completely. The first was Prizren; the second was Aracinovo.
In the first case, an American diplomat, Robert Frowick, aided the main Albanian parties in secretly joining forces with the NLA. The two sides met in Prizren, which was also the site of the first campaign for "Greater Albania" launched at the end of the nineteenth century. As such, the location had great symbolic value for the Albanians. Yet the secret dealings were revealed to the press on May 24. A firestorm of protest broke out from the Macedonian side. We must remember that up until this point the Albanian political leaders had pledged to support the legitimate government of Macedonia (of which they were a part), and deny the validity of the NLA. But with the revelation of a secret deal in Prizren, the cat was out of the bag: Xhaferi et. al were in collusion with the terrorists.
In the second case, a group of NLA rebels, holed up in the Skopje suburb of Aracinovo, were facing defeat by Macedonian security forces. Victory here would have been an enormous morale boost for the Macedonian people and a blow to the terrorists. Things took a spectacular turn when the NLA soldiers were evacuated, with their weapons, by American troops. When it was revealed that the U.S. had acted to protect seventeen American mercenaries (from the government-linked MPRI defense firm), it became obvious that the U.S. was playing an active role in training and fighting with the NLA, that is, with their professed enemy. Again, the cat was out of the bag: the U.S. was not Macedonia's ally.
The fascinating part of these two incidents is the similar reaction of the guilty parties. In both cases, they hit back with outright rejection and denunciation of the Macedonians. Obligingly, the Western mass media started emphasizing the angry reaction of the Macedonians over the blindingly obvious deceptions of the Albanians and the U.S., respectively. From late May, when the Prizren deal was revealed, to mid-June, when the Aracinovo farce occurred, the media has begun to "Serbify" the Macedonians that is, to apply to them all of the same baseless and inaccurate descriptors (such as"angry," "enraged," "riotous mobs") that were used so effectively in turning Western public opinion against the Serbs in 1999.
The Western media also began spouting outright lies, that subtly passed by without much notice. The most ludicrous was a piece by Juliet Terzieff, run in the San Francisco Chronicle ("Uproar over Pact with Macedonian rebels," 5/25/01). This article, which was actually concerned with reporting the Prizren deception, was a classic piece of anti-Macedonian rhetoric. In addition to the general pro-Albanian bias of the article, it was claimed that the "Slavs" and Albanians each comprise thirty percent of the population. The Macedonians, of course, comprise at least 67% of their own country. Despite several inquiries, the Chronicle neither explained nor retracted this clearly false statement.
The bottom line is this: when you're clearly in the wrong, a good offense is the best form of defense. The longer this conflict drags on, the more desperate the U.S. and NATO become. The more desperate they become, the louder they shout to drown out the clearly obvious truth: they have shifted the status quo, and Macedonia has been betrayed.
All's well that ends well for NATO and the NLA, at least
The concerted efforts of NATO, the media, and the NGOs has allowed there to exist now a treaty proposal which would have been laughed right off the table in March. In exchange for pardoning the NLA terrorists, and giving the Albanian language official status (both paving the way for the partition of the country and continued ethnic cleansing by the Albanians), the Macedonians get the assurance from NATO that the rebels will "voluntarily disarm." Actually, however, they don't really have to do so if they don't want; for NATO doesn't have the will to really enforce the disarmament agreement ("NATO says won't directly disarm the Macedonia rebels," Reuters, 8/8/01). A Macedonian demand that the rebels disarm when the treaty is signed was rebuked by NATO as being a "deal-breaker" ("Macedonia Peace Talks hit Roadblock," Reuters, 8/10/01). In other words, the Macedonians had better obey if they want to walk away with anything at all.
In short, it is endgame for Macedonia. While the reasons for Western interests in colonizing Macedonia including the AMBO oil pipeline, business expansion, and an Albanian-Turkish axis are too many to be discussed here, it is clear that NATO, to ensure a reason for its own existence, and the U.S., as usual, motivated by imperialistic greed, are in collusion with the NLA to rip Macedonia apart. The final goal is to chop the Balkans up even more into small, weak states that can easily be assimilated into the American economic empire. With their loyal helpers in the mass media, the U.S. will without a doubt find a way to eventually resolve the Macedonia crisis so that the NLA becomes the good guys, and the Macedonians just another bunch of "angry Slavs." The firmest ally of propaganda is repetition; if the media says for long enough that the world is flat, eventually we would have to believe them.
I asked Ida, the university student interviewed at the beginning of this article, how she felt now that her prediction about the war has come true. She now hopes to leave Macedonia, since it seems that the NLA will destroy her country. "Hopefully I won't be here to see that," she said. "I just hope my (unborn) children will have someone to speak to in Macedonian."
I asked if young Macedonian men were fired up with nationalistic patriotism to fight against the NLA, as the media has made it seem. I asked if they were all rushing to enlist in the army. Her answer was surprising.
"All the guys are in the bars or in (the resort town of ) Ochrid," Ida demurred. "They know, or most of them know, that the game is sold. They wouldn't risk their lives for nothing."
The eulogy for Macedonia has begun. And nothing, it seems, is what the Macedonians will be left with. The credit for this must go equally to NATO and the NLA.
The article originally appeared in Pravda.
Christopher Deliso is a San Francisco-based travel writer and journalist with special interest in the Balkans. He received his BA in Philosophy and Greek (Hampshire College, 1997) and an M.Phil with distinction in Byzantine Studies (Oxford University, 1999). From 1997-2000 Mr. Deliso lived and worked in Ireland, England, Turkey and Greece, and he spent one month in Macedonia in January, 2000. He is currently involved with investigating media and governmental policies regarding the Macedonian crisis, and he publishes regularly on European travel destinations."
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