Macedonia's Crisis Long in the Making

(Map: CIA World Fact Book)

It is now clear that the roots of the growing Macedonian crisis lie not in temporary or random factors, but in a combination of long-standing internal and external causes. [Macedonian troops and ethnic Albanian rebels have been fighting on Macedonia’s border with Kosovo since February.—WPR] There is a real danger that the involvement of outside parties could potentially threaten the stability of Southeastern Europe and, to some extent, the whole continent.

The crisis in Macedonia has been long in the making. Like other conflicts in post-communist Yugoslavia, it was a consequence of the model of regulating international and interethnic relations that was adopted after World War II. For a long time this model was ideologically propagated as the sole option, while in fact it was characterized by vulnerability and instability. When the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) disintegrated, the model showed itself to be inadequate for the new domestic and international realities of the late 1980s.

In the first half of the ’90s, Macedonia appeared to be one of the few states not plagued by ethnic instability. It is well-known that its separation from Yugoslavia as an independent state in 1991 was peaceful. Until the crisis began this spring, Macedonia was held up as an example of a country with the existing constitutional and political foundations for a multiethnic state.

For almost a decade, Macedonian Albanians, one of the two major ethnic communities of the population, did not raise complaints about the restrictions on their civil, political, or economic rights. Their two major political parties— the Democratic Party of Albanians, headed by Arben Xhaferi, and the Party for Democratic Prosperity, headed by Imer Imeri—hold a total of 25 seats in the current Macedonian parliament.

Macedonia is a country with a historically high potential for vulnerability. The vulnerability is a consequence of the way it was formed as a republic within FRY, the brevity of its existence as an independent state, its dependence on the policies of neighboring countries, and other external forces.

The difficulty of forming a unified Macedonian nation remains a serious problem. This is especially true for ethnic Albanians, whose nationalism became manifest under the conditions of the independent Macedonian state and rapidly became transformed into separatism under the strong influence of external forces. As in the majority of the other states and peoples of the former FRY, the growth of nationalism sprang from the inadequacy of the interethnic model sustained for several decades.

But unlike the other former Yugoslavian republics, Macedonia fell victim not to Serbian nationalism but to rising Albanian nationalism. Initially, it manifested itself as an aspiration toward ethnic independence but quickly evolved into a strategy whose final aim was the formation of a unified Albanian state. At the core of this strategy is the idea of the creation of a “Greater Albania,” which would comprise the territories of the former Kosovo vilayet (which includes Kosovo and Metohija), the northern part of Montenegro, southern Serbia, and the regions around Skopje and Tetovo in Macedonia. In 1998 this idea was announced as a platform of the Academy of Science in Albania, which rested on the ideology of “Panilirism,” according to which today’s Albanians are heirs to the Illyrian peoples who in the past occupied the central part of the Balkans.

Kosovo, where Albanian separatism appeared even before the disintegration of FRY and reached its culmination during the 1999 crisis, has a key role in the realization of this strategy.

Undoubtedly, the extremist Albanian leaders see an opportunity to proceed toward the next phases of the strategy to form a Greater Albania. Under present conditions, the federalization of Macedonia becomes part of the strategy. In this respect a logical question arises: Why has the international community failed so far to counteract Albanian aspirations, which pose an immediate threat to the whole region?

On the one hand, the policies of the NATO and European Union countries, which imposed their own approach as the sole solution to stabilizing the west Balkans, show their obvious inability to offer, let alone carry out, a successful strategy for dealing with the complex problems in the region. This is especially true for Kosovo, where the decisions to form a functioning democratic, multiethnic civil society are far from being carried out.

The only result of Western diplomatic activity so far has been the escalation of Albanian demands and growing pressure on the Macedonian government to make concessions. On the other hand, the inefficacy of Western policies in countering Albanian aspirations to form a Greater Albania causes apprehension as to whether that could be a deliberate tactic to preserve the present state of affairs in international relations, or a tactic encouraging the redrawing of the national borders in the region.

The inability of the West to help to resolve quickly the Macedonian crisis only increases the mistrust in the existing structures for ensuring international peace and security.

One of the important lessons we can learn from the crisis is that the ethnic problems in the Balkans are not over and that we should be ready to face them, even here in Bulgaria.