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More nationalist madness in the Balkans

Late June and early July saw much tension in Macedonia, threatening once more to ignite nationalist hatreds that have ripped the Balkans apart now for almost a decade.

It was uncannily ironic that as Yugoslavia was sending former president Slobodan Milosevic to stand trial in The Hague on war crimes, a mob of 5,000 Macedonian protestors, including police, soldiers and reservists, stormed their parliament and forced president Boris Trajkovski flee in fear of his life. His crime? He had agreed to a Western brokered cease-fire with Albanian rebels and also allowed NATO to ferry rebel fighters to safety from a village they had captured six miles away from the capital Skopje. Not only was the mob furious that their government had signed a cease-fire with a movement that Nato's own command had labelled "terrorists" and "murderers", but here was the West once again coming to the aid of insurgents.

Ostensibly, the Albanian rebels claim to be only interested in winning equal civil rights for Albanians and constitutional changes. This however is no civil rights movement. If so, then why the armed insurgents and why do they call themselves the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA)? The answer is simple, they are nationalists bent on creating a greater Albania. They are after territorial gain and control of the porous borders which show a fair profit in drugs and arms smuggling and the lucrative trade in "illegal" immigrants. Violence and guerrilla warfare as practised by the NLA is not normally the stuff of "civil-rights" movements, which generally pursue a non-violent agenda. It is the remit of liberation forces intent on wresting territory from its present owners. What has prompted the NLA to pass themselves off as a "civil-rights" movement is NATO's refusal to redraw the borders of the Balkans.

Moreover, why do they launch attacks on government forces? Simple - they hope to incur a heavy-handed response from Macedonian forces which would win them support from Macedonia's Albanian population, who perhaps need a little egging on, bearing in mind their social and economic gripes, and from Kosovo - Albanians and Albania itself. They have further counted on benefiting from a similar situation when their parent organisation, the KLA, incurred such a harsh and brutal response from Serb forces that NATO was forced to intervene on behalf of the Albanians in 1998.

The risk of all-out war is serious enough. It is feared that the mob fury could now be focused on isolated pockets of Albanians in Macedonia (they make up one third of the population) now that Trajkovski has agreed to the temporary EU brokered cease-fire. At present the rebels have captured areas of territory in the west of the country and have cut off water and electricity supplies, further inciting Macedonian hard-liners in Skopje to demand armed intervention - a situation made all the worse with the rebels threatening to descend on Skopje to protect Albanians living there.

Chief protagonists of the Macedonian Slav majority, including Prime Minister Ljubco Georevski still hanker after a ham-fisted solution to the problem and perhaps the fact that the government has recently taking delivery of eight new attack aircraft - doubling the size of its air force - and that Georgevbski's VMRO-DPMNE political party have recently handed out automatic weapons to 2000 reservists suggests they are not putting much faith in a peaceful solution to the crisis. If Macedonian Slavs, tired at the slow pace of a settlement in their favour, frustrated with the unchecked gains of the rebels, decide to even the score and attack ethnic Albanian areas, this will most certainly witness the beginning of a new wave of civil war.

 

A political settlement however is still on the cards, with negotiators from the EU and NATO having set an unofficial deadline for a peaceful solution, which would then pave the way for British, French, Italian and Greek soldiers to take part in a mission to disarm Albanian rebels. The cease-fire, signed by the heads of the Macedonian army and police force as well as the NLA, consists of two linked agreements - one between the NLA and NATO and the other between the Macedonian forces and NATO, with the NLA agreeing to disarm if a political settlement can be reached.

Critics, meanwhile, warn that by acknowledging the NLA as a legitimate protagonist in debates about Macedonia's future, the West has effectively conceded the carving up of Macedonia along ethnic lines - and this is cold comfort for Macedonian nationalists and the paramilitary groups now springing up and arguing for the expulsion of Albanians from Macedonia's mixed communities. Many Macedonians still remain distrustful of the US, who they see as pro-Albanian following the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and are contemptuous of any Western-designed solution.

Little surprise, then, that Balkan analysts see only a deteriorating situation and one that can't be solved by further Western solutions that sparked the storming of the Macedonian parliament.

To date the present conflict has not been as bloody as previous Balkan disagreements, but it has nevertheless resulted in 100,000 refugees who represent perhaps 5 percent of the population. It is perhaps too early to predict events in the coming weeks in Macedonia. Whilst nationalism, like the disease it is, can be diagnosed, there remains no immediate prognosis. For it feeds on fear and insecurity, alienation and ignorance which themselves can lead to irrational passions and attempts at quick-fix and spontaneous violent attempts at remedy which always prove counterproductive and detrimental to all concerned.

Nationalist conflict has raged for 10 long years in the Balkans. What, in all honesty, have any of the victors gained? What is the “independence” they yearn after, if it means being trapped within borders - artificial constructs, no, prisons - inside of the bigger prison of capitalism?

JOHN BISSETT