The Dead Line

The Albanian NLA in Macedonia

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Winter is afoot and, with it, desperation. The NLA relies heavily on logistic support from Kosovo and Albania. The latter has ostentatiously sealed its border with Macedonia against weapons smuggling, thus ingratiating itself with the West. The narrow mountain paths from Kosovo will be rendered impassable, by the first rains, to horses, mules, and fighters saddled with the tons of munitions and supplies needed daily to sustain even low intensity warfare. Moreover, the NLA has unwisely driven both Albanian and Macedonian villagers out of their homes. The first fled to Kosovo for fear of the NLA's unsubtle recruiting tactics and an aversion to war that is the attribute of farmers since the dawn of humanity. The latter were ethnically cleansed by intimidation. Now the NLA has no local food supplies to subsist on. KFOR and NATO, unsettled by rising anti-Western sentiments in hitherto obedient Macedonia, are flexing their muscles and obstructing the NLA's cross border escapades.

Thus, contrary to all appearances, the NLA is in dire straits.

The only thing more ominous than a terrorist organization is a desperate terrorist organization. This is coupled with the rise of rabid, exclusionary, paranoid, and uncompromising nationalism on both sides. Moreover, the nearing elections, are potentially disastrous to all the negotiators around President Boris Trajkovski's table, except the two international mediators. The ruling party, VMRO-DPMNE, stands to be wiped out unless it harnesses the tiger of nationalism and patriotism. The Albanian parties may fare no better. It is an explosive formula. The remaining three years of the President's term translate into the Balkan version of long term vision and rising above the fray.

Hence the need by everyone to pretend that they are negotiating fiercely on behalf of their constituencies. In reality, there is nothing to negotiate. The West cannot afford not to have an agreement concluded and its will shall be done. The final agreement is bound to bear a striking and unmistakable resemblance to the first draft presented weeks ago by the urbane but bumbling Leotard and the abrasive go-getter Purdew. But both Georgievski and Xhaferi have to be seen by their electorates to be tirelessly driving a tough bargain.

In the long term, Macedonia must adopt one of three models.

The first type of settlement involves partition, either through federalization, or through the positioning of a military ("peacekeeping") contingent between the parties. The country can be federalized, or confederalized in numerous ways, but the end result is bound to be Cypriot - a disintegration of Macedonia into two reciprocally hostile, mutually exclusive, economically non-viable, political entities. This is the Bosnia game plan.

The second model involves constant guerrilla warfare, urban and eco-terrorism, low intensity conflict, with occasional flare-ups and battles. This has been the reality of the State of Israel and of Palestine before it since, at least, the end of the 19th century. The NLA cannot defeat the Macedonians, simply because it lacks support anywhere outside the lines it has established in western Macedonia. It cannot cross the formidable barrier of Skopje to the south. And it is losing international empathy fast, especially with the spread of the uprising to Montenegro and, in the future, Greece. The Macedonians cannot defeat the NLA because their army and police are not up to it and were not trained and prepared to suppress a Chechniya within their borders. The West is already tightening the noose of an arms embargo on Macedonia and has imposed economic sanctions in retaliation for what it unjustly regards as the brutal intransigence of its leadership and armed forces.

The third model, hitherto quite successful in Lebanon and Ireland, involves gradual disarmament ("decommissioning") coupled with tangible advances in political re-integration of yesterday's terrorists in today's government - all under the eye and guidance of benevolent outsiders. Alas, this model is inapplicable to Macedonia. It works best when the warring parties have a lot in common. In Ireland both sides are, after all, Irish. In Lebanon, both are Arab and united in their virulent hate of Israel and contemptuous scorn of Syria. The Albanians and Macedonians, by comparison, have nothing in common and a everything in opposition.

Moreover, the NLA (which was not party to the negotiations) is not a monolithic entity. It is more like an umbrella organization with serious and fracturing differences of opinion regarding the ultimate goals the insurrection and the means to obtain these goals. Roughly, it is made up of one third veteran Kosovo fighters, some of them professional soldiers, who also fought in Croatia, or in the Foreign Legion. These people are bitter and disgruntled by what they see as the betrayal of the West in refusing to guarantee an independent Kosovo and the failure of the current Kosovar leadership to integrate them economically into the emerging polity there. Their motives are part emotional and part pecuniary. Another third is made of unemployed, young Albanians, mainly from Macedonia itself. Their fighting is self-interested. They get a monthly salary and perks and, lacking education and skills, they don't have much of a choice outside the killing fields. The rest are diehard, hardcore, idealists who either fervently espouse a Great Albania, or would like to take over Western Macedonian in a "constitutional coup" which will grant them their own police force, municipalities, institutions, universities, budgets, and semi-political structures. The NLA itself is not directly involved in criminal activities, though a few of its members are. But the money that finances it (from the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, and the USA) is tainted by drug dealing, white slavery, illegal immigration, and the smuggling of everything illicit, from cigarettes to stolen cars, to weapons. In this they collaborate with politicians and criminals in Macedonia - both Albanian and Macedonian. Lobby groups in the USA are not known to be involved in crime, though.

The NLA must now ethically cleanse its hinterland (especially Tetovo), capture the Tetovo-Skopje route and re-enter mixed population villages around Skopje (including Aracinovo).

It stands to reason that Montenegro is next in line, followed by Greece. Both have restless Albanian minorities.

Albanian terrorists, in both Kosovo and Macedonia, have hitherto never acted in the manner of Palestinian terrorists (hijacking planes, disrupting international events, etc.). They clung to their "constituencies", recruited from the rural population, obtained logistical supplies (food, medicines) from the hinterland via short supply lines and attacked, largely, only the military and the police.

Thus, this Balkan tragedy unravels. An agreement will be signed. It will be vehemently disowned by the NLA. Demagoguery will flourish. Flags unfurled. Lines drawn in bloodied sands. Fighting will continue. Macedonia faces a hot summer followed by a chilling winter.

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