Macedonia - The Brink and the Cusp

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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"For years Hannibal's army roamed freely, ravaging much of Italy while no Roman army dared confront him ... The Romans were forced to fight for sixteen years ... suffering fearful casualties and terrible economic damage before they were able to prevail."
Donald Kagan, "On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace", Doubleday, New York, 1995

The first phase of the civil war in Macedonia has ended in what misleadingly looks like a resounding Albanian victory. The Albanians maintain effective control of Western Macedonia and have proceeded to ethnically cleanse it of its Macedonian denizens. Both Serbs and Albanians practised these tactics in Kosovo. The hinterland of the NLA (UCK in Albanian and not accidentally) is secure - a friendly Kosovo, brimming with lethal weapons and impotent Western peacekeepers. KFOR and NATO are powerless because they cannot hope to ward off an Albanian uprising in Kosovo with 40,000 badly trained and vacation-orientated soldiers. Such an uprising is guaranteed should KFOR/NATO elect to act against the rebel groups decisively. The West - led by many of the 1999 incumbents - equally cannot afford to admit its grave shortsightedness in Kosovo.

But, the NLA is deadlocked in Western Macedonia and unable to further its military achievements. It enjoys very little support outside Western Macedonia and would fail calamitously if it were to try and break out, through Skopje, to the south. In effect, the NLA is besieged in an enclave of its own making. Granted, the Macedonian army and police are not up to the task of dislodging the NLA. They lack the training, hardware and fighters needed to achieve this feat. But the worst scenario as far as Macedonia is concerned is a prolonged stand-off, coupled with sporadic urban guerilla actions, a situation similar to Israel's. The NLA, therefore, is pressed for time. It is facing a deadline imposed by its own paralysis. The recent bout of fighting in Tetovo erupted immediately after Purdew, the American procurator, said that "there is no deadline" to reach an agreement. The NLA reminded him vividly that there definitely is one.

The crowning achievement of the Albanians and a repeat of the Kosovo scenario - was their success in internationalizing the conflict. In this they were aided by a panic stricken Macedonian establishment. The wise men of West - the same people who brought you Dayton and Operation Allied Force - were called in to mediate. As I wrote elsewhere ("Thucydides' Honour- Can the Albanians be Bought off?"), the final agreement is likely to reflect the Albanian position:

"Here lies the danger to Macedonia's future. Both the USA and the EU are likely to coerce Macedonia to adopt a contract-based, multi-cultural solution to the crisis. The Americans are likely to impose on it an American style constitution - and the European are likely to implement a bevy of 'minority rights' measures. In a region still steeped in nationalistic lore and enthralled by the spectre of the nation-state, these would spell the end of Macedonia as a political entity. At the very least it would spell the end of Macedonia as the homeland of the Macedonians."

The Macedonians will reject such an agreement. They already feel betrayed by the West and anti-Western (especially anti-American) sentiments are running high. Such an agreement will be perceived as a "knife in the back" (as was the Versailles Treaty by the Germans). Politicians in Macedonia - both Macedonians and Albanians - have no moral authority and are thought by the populace to be part of a kleptocracy. They will fail to convince the people that the agreement was signed in good faith. Extremist Macedonians are likely to react with counter-terror, para-military activities and vigilantism. Virulent nationalism and its attendant xenophobia are the favourite staples of unpopular politicians, especially prior to elections. Many political figures will prefer to ride the tiger, rather than be devoured by it.

The West is likely to react with economic sanctions. These will prove to be much more effective against landlocked and aid-dependent Macedonia then they were against self-sufficient Serbia.

The agreement will also be rejected by the more militant factions in the NLA. These are already out of control and act pretty much as they see fit. If the agreement fails to cater to their needs - lucrative economic concessions, guaranteed employment, freedom of movement and political participation in dividing the loot - they will not lay down their weapons. They will carve out Western Macedonia as a noman's lands in which they can roam freely and pursue their legal and less legal commercial interests.

Macedonia is on the brink of being "Israelized" - or on the cusp of being "Bosnianized". What a choice.

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