The Sudeten in Macedonia

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Bernard Kouchner, the former administrator of Kosovo, has warned against producing a a second Cyprus in Macedonia. He probably meant a territory divided along ethnic lines by a foreign army. But here the comparison ends. The ethnically cleansing invading Turkish army was not invited by both parties to the conflict in Cyprus to make peace. The Turks were reacting to a military coup by members of the majority Greek-Cypriot community in cahoots with a vicious junta in Athens and to a series of deadly inter-communal clashes.  If MFOR ever makes it, it will be by the will and invitation of both Macedonians and Albanians.

Other have called the smuggling routes used by Albanian fighters to haul weapons and supplies the Ho Chi Minh trail and the reconciliation agreement, imposed by the West, Macedonia's Treaty of Versailles.

But what could fast become the dominant metaphor is Czechoslovakia and the Sudeten Germans. Ostensibly, the resemblance is striking. A small country with a belligerent and violent minority concentrated in its north western parts - sacrificed by an appeasing and war weary West to mollify a brutal neighbouring regime run by the minority's ethnic group.

No metaphor is perfect. Czechoslovakia was an artificial multi-ethnic creation (as its disintegration after 1992 has proven). Macedonia is much more homogeneous ethnically. Czechoslovakia was an industrial and military powerhouse (the 7th largest industrial producer in the world). Even the Germans were deterred by its well equipped and well trained army. Macedonia is low on military hardware and militarily inexperienced. The Sudeten Germans were pawns in Hitler's nefarious plan to conquer Eastern Europe as a much needed lebensraum for the Nordic race. The NLA is financed and controlled by Albanians in the West - but Albania, Macedonia's neighbour, is a relatively democratic and EU-orientated country. While it allows the guerrillas to train in its territory, to offload weapons in its ports, and to cross its borders with impunity - it is by far NOT a Balkanian version of Nazi Germany.

Allowing for these caveats, the similarities are startling.

Czechoslovakia was the reification of Wilson's naively detrimental principle of self-determination. It incorporated the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, including more than 3 million Germans in what used to be Austrian Silesia. These Germans were transformed overnight from members of the ruling majority in the Austrian Empire to a feared minority subjected to subtle forms of discrimination in their new country. The German region - the Sudeten - in western Czechoslovakia, bordered on Germany and Austria, where Germans ruled and German was spoken. Czechoslovakia refused to grant this restless and hostile minority an autonomy, lest it secedes, joins Hitler's "Great Reich", and deprives Czechoslovakia of important industrial and mineral assets and its rail links to northern Europe. Losing the Sudeten also meant losing Czechoslovakia's ability to defend itself against an ever more imminent German invasion.

The worsening economic situation in the Depression prone 1930's - unemployment, closure of loss makers, inflation - radicalized the Sudeten Germans. Support for Hitler and his pan-Germanic policies increased with every bloodless and bold victory: the militarization of the Rhineland and the Anschluss (unification with Austria). The extremist Sudeten German party, led by the puppet Konrad Henlein, blossomed after 1938.

Henlein collaborated with Germany to cause the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, "this French air carrier in Europe's midst", in Hitler's words. They demanded civil and human rights and, above all, the ability to exercise the right to self-determination enshrined in numerous international treaties. The status of the German language was a major issue as was the local participation of Germans in the police forces and army. Henlein's instructions were - and I am quoting Hitler: "You must always demand so much that you cannot be satisfied". Hitler's worst fear was that Czechoslovakia will accept ALL the demands of its bellicose minority (as, indeed, it did a few times during this artificially provoked crisis).

"Spontaneous" demonstrations, protests, and riots erupted all over the Sudetenland. The Czechoslovaks were described by Hitler - and many in the West - as intransigent racists, bigots, and bullies. The French and Brits - their armies and economies unprepared for war, their leadership traumatized by the Great (first world) War, their politicians unabashed appeasers - pressured Czechoslovakia to make one unpalatable concession after another. Finally, they weighed on Czechoslovakia to make concessions which endangered its very existence, territorial integrity, unitary character, and sovereignty. In this campaign of brutish intimidation of the Czechoslovaks, the West - Germany, Britain, France, and Italy - collaborated fully and willingly, regardless of other differences. Britain and France effectively annulled their mutual defence pacts with helpless and hapless Czechoslovakia. Bonnet, France's Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time warned the Czechoslovaks not to be "unreasonable". Otherwise, he warned, France will "consider herself released from her bonds". Halifax, the British Foreign Minister, instructed his Ambassador in Paris about the "importance of putting the greatest possible pressure on Dr. Benes (Czechoslovakia's president - SV) without delay".

The Sudeten Germans, without waiting for the results of the world-class diplomatic efforts on their behalf, have established militias and commenced military urban guerrilla actions. Lethal clashes followed between Czechs and Germans in mixed towns. An "independent" British mediator - Lord Runciman - was dispatched to arm twist the Czechoslovaks. His instructions were to prevent war at any cost - especially to Czechoslovakia. "We will use the big stick on Benes" - warned Cadogan, permanent under-secretary in the British Foreign Office.

Henlein had his instructions from Berlin to sabotage the negotiations with the Czechoslovak government, which he did faithfully by constantly raising new demands or old, discredited ones. On September 4, 1938, an exasperated President Benes accepted all the German conditions without exception. This was rejected by both Henlein and Hitler as "too late". An idea of referendum in the Sudetenland (guaranteed to yield unification with Germany) was rebuffed by Hitler.

Finally, the French and the British presented this ultimatum to democratic, multiethnic Czechoslovakia, on September 22, 1938:

"One - That which has been proposed by England and France is the only hope of averting war and the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Two - Should the Czechoslovak Republic reply in the negative, she will bear the responsibility for war.
Three - This would destroy Franco-English solidarity, since England would not march.
Four - If under these circumstances the war starts, France will not take part; i.e., she will not fulfil her treaty obligations."
Quoted from: Donald Kagan - On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace - Doubleday,New York, 1995 - p. 399

Benes accepted this ultimatum as well but Hitler again demurred. Now he demanded that German troops occupy parts of Czechoslovakia to protect rioting Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovak retribution. In the Munich Conference of the leaders of the West these demands were essentially accepted and Czechoslovakia was no more. Hitler conquered it, in stages, and assimilated it in the German Reich.

Why did the West behave so duplicitously and treacherously?

The infamous British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain made this radio address to the British people in the heat of the crisis:

"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing ... However much we sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbours, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues that that."
September 27, 1938 - ibid., p. 402

APPENDIX - Interview Granted to Balkan Devlen

Q1: Was there any threat of economic sanctions against Republic of Macedonia by the international mediators and/or representatives of EU/US during the crisis of 2001?Were there threat or sanctions by the international community before 2001 due to ethnic tensions within the country?

A1: The answers to both parts of your question are in the negative. But one should distinguish overt threats - both official and informal - from "ambient" ones. While no one threatened the Macedonian government explicitly - many hints were dropped that a failure to resolve the ethnic crisis would lead to severe economic consequences. The main bullies were the American Ambassador at the time, Mike Einik, as well as various mediators, both American (notably James Purdew) and European.

Q2: How clear was the threat? Were they verbal or written? What kind of sanctions were brought into the table, such as withholding economic aid, trade sanctions, other financial sanctions etc?

A2: The implied threats pertained to Macedonia's ability to conclude a standby agreement with the IMF and the subsequent receipt of funds from donors. On various occasions, it was made clear that lack of "cooperation" would result in deliberate delays in the delivery of aid and the release of credit tranches agreed with both the IMF and the World Bank. The European Union went as far as actually discussing aid and trade sanctions in one of its inter-ministerial meetings.

The Americans also regarded the conflict as a commercial opportunity. They fumed at Macedonia's weapons purchases from Ukraine and openly warned that all aid and lending will be suspended if we did not switch our business to American suppliers.

Q3: What was the perception about them in the Macedonian Government? Did Macedonian Government took them seriously or only perceive them as "empty" threats?

A3: They were taken very seriously. The Ministry of Finance and the National Bank prepared a contingency plan for the event of sanctions. Its details are now available here: Economic Management in a State of War.

Q4: Were they important in Macedonian Government's decision to sign a peace deal? If yes to what degree they are effective?

A4: Not at the beginning. But, as the economy deteriorated sharply, the country's dependence on prospective injections of funds grew. Moneys forthcoming from a donor conference were deemed crucial to the state's ability to defend itself, or even survive - and the donors conditioned their support on an IMF agreement. We knew that the IMF is under the Americans' thumb, nothing but a long and obsequious arm of the United States. We knew that the Europeans wanted peace at any price. A Macedonian settlement was crucial to the EU's role in a unipolar world. NATO, an alliance is search of a purpose, was also very keen. We had no doubt that Macedonia would pay a dear price if it failed to comply with Western dictates.

Q5: In your opinion was the international pressure is "the" determining factor in reaching a peace deal? What role did threats of economic sanctions played within the context of international pressure?

A5: International pressure combined with a lackluster military performance in the battlefield to yield the Ohrid Framework Agreement. It was not "the" determining factor, though. True, the deal was concluded under strenuous pressure by the euphemistically named "international community" - but mainly because Macedonia ran out of economic resources and its army and police were stretched to the limit and unable to tip the scales.

More here:

No Albanian Intifada!

Surviving the Uprising

Macedonia at a Crossroads

The Disingenuous Dialogue

Thucydides' Honour - Can the Albanians be Bought off?

Macedonia - The Brink and the Cusp

The Sudeten in Macedonia

The Dead Line

Why the Agreement will Fail

The Macedonian Lottery

Interview with Minister of Finance, Nikola Gruevski

Interview with the Prime Minister, Ljubco Georgievski

Macedonia is not Bosnia - Interview with Edward Joseph

Interview with the President, Boris Trajkovski

After the Rain - Interview with the Minister of Finance, Nikola Gruevski

The Patriarch of Industry - Interview with Svetozar Janevski

Monitoring Macedonia

Macedonia - Economy and Nation (Interview)

Macedonia's Growing Dependence

Q6: Were there any positive economic sanctions (such as increase in economic aid, preferential trade agreements if a peace deal is signed etc) on the table too? Can you compare those positive economic incentives with threats of economic sanctions in terms of their effect over the Government's decision to sign a peace deal?

A6: Economic "carrots" or incentives were by far more decisive than the entire gamut of whispered threats. Macedonia desperately needed the $500-600 million it was promised in a donor conference which would follow the successful conclusion of an inter-ethnic agreement. This tantalizing prospect was alluring and important in Macedonia's final, though reluctant, acceptance of the Framework Agreement. There is a lesson here to be learned: governments - and I have served as economic advisor to a few - react far more to carrots than to sticks.

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