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Balkan Report: March 16, 2001

16 March 2001, Volume 5, Number 20

QUESTIONS FROM TETOVO. A Macedonian Interior Ministry spokesman told journalists on 14 March that the security situation is "horrible." He added that "we have information that new flashpoints [of violence] could appear throughout the country" at any time. London's "The Guardian" wrote the next day that Macedonia appears "to be on the brink of civil war." These very serious developments serve to raise a series of questions regarding Macedonia's future in the short, medium, and long term.

The first question that comes to mind is: just who are these insurgents who have emerged in recent weeks to threaten the stability of probably the most strategically sensitive country in the Balkans? Their political wing says they want full equality for the 23 percent Albanian minority with the Macedonian majority and the restructuring of Macedonia as a federation of two equal peoples -- all of which is a non-starter for the Macedonian leadership. But are the rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) a cohesive group, or are they a collection of diverse elements that may or may not coordinate their activities? To what extent do ex-guerrillas and money from Kosova play a role? Is the Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac (UCPMB) active in exporting violence across the border? And is there a link between the insurgents (and their apparently well-stocked arsenals) and the notorious bands of smugglers and drug traffickers for which western Macedonia has long been known?

A further question is: what support do the insurgents enjoy among the population? A few thousand nationalist supporters turned out in Tetovo on 14 March to applaud the sounds of gunfire in the hills, but that does not of itself suggest a groundswell of support for a violent insurrection that would put lives and property in jeopardy.

It will be particularly interesting to see what the Macedonian authorities will do. Will they act quickly to isolate the rebels without polarizing society along ethnic lines? Will they move decisively to address long-standing Albanian grievances regarding civil, cultural, and economic rights, including access to government jobs and Albanian-language higher education? Will former President Kiro Gligorov and others in the opposition play a responsible role in the crisis, or will they attempt the wrongfoot the government for partisan political ends?

This leads to a series of questions regarding developments in the medium term. Is it possible that a full-scale civil war could actually break out? Could Skopje become another Sarajevo or Mostar? Who would stand to gain from a major insurgency? Surely even the most hardened Albanian nationalist is aware that no mainstream party in Albania, Kosova, or Macedonia is prepared to support the insurgents, to say nothing of the international community (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). Macedonia has its problems, but it looks like an oasis of prosperity to a traveler coming in from Albania. Macedonia's Albanians have their grievances, but these pale compare to what the Kosovars endured for over a decade. One of the two leading Macedonian Albanian parties is in the present government, and its rival was in the last one. This adds up to much more access to political power than the Kosovars had under Milosevic or the Albanians of the Presevo Valley have now.

And if Macedonia degenerates into civil war, what will be the effects on the region? The political and economic development of Albania and Bulgaria will most likely be adversely affected, and the jitters will probably extend to Greece and Turkey as well. Investors could be scared away from the Balkans as a whole, dealing a severe blow to the EU's Balkan Stability Pact, not to mention the EU's efforts, and those of others, aimed at conflict prevention and mediation. Finally, a panicked international community might turn up the pressure on Montenegro not to declare independence, even if a referendum shows strong support for it.

And might not there be some in Belgrade who would see growing turmoil in Macedonia as favorable to Serbian interests? They could argue that a frightened Macedonian government would become a strategic ally against a "greater Albania" (even though no mainstream Albanian party anywhere endorses that concept). They could also say that NATO's inability to control the movements of rebel bands has been demonstrated, and that the alliance should leave the job to Belgrade and Skopje. Most importantly, international attention would become focused on "Albanian extremists and terrorists" and not on the extent to which Serbia's leaders and political culture have truly broken with the ways of the past.

Finally, the prospect of civil war in Macedonia raises additional questions for the long-term future of the Balkans. What does it say about the future of multi-ethnic states in the region if Macedonia splits apart, despite careful attention by the international community over the years on behalf of a united and multi-ethnic Macedonia? Might a full-blown insurgency in Macedonia give credence to those who argue that many of the countries of the region will be unable to escape from a cycle of poverty, instability, and violence? And what would that suggest about the future of poorer post-communist states as a whole? (Patrick Moore)

THE LEGACY OF VIOLENCE IN KOSOVA. Since the end of the Kosova war almost two years ago, many observers have been asking whether it will ever be possible to eliminate violence from public life in the province. It has, in fact, become clear that small armed groups of ethnic Albanians remain active and have even helped export the conflict into neighboring southern Serbia and Macedonia.

The continuing violence indicates not only that the access to arms and the readiness of nationalists to use them are still very much a factor. The violence also shows that Kosova's social structure has significantly changed since the early 1990s.

Kosova has traditionally been a conservative and rural society. Senior political leaders in the early 1990s were able to pursue a non-violent policy by maintaining strong social control through the village structures. This non-violence won them much sympathy in the West (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 February 2001). Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK) and its officials managed to keep the Kosovars united behind their strategy until early 1996, when the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) emerged.

The new group seized the political initiative from the older generation of politicians, who in the eyes of many young UCK fighters had failed to offer them a serious perspective for the future. Indeed, in 1996 LDK officials still denied the existence of the UCK and blamed its attacks on Serbian agents-provocateurs.

Only in 1998, with increased Serbian military operations in Kosova, did the UCK gain mass recognition in the broader public as a protector of villages and towns. The development of the political party system since the war shows that a rift runs through society, between the older generation shaped by the tradition of non-violence, and the younger generation, which has grown up with the experience of the failure of non-violence and was socialized in war.

Inside Rugova's shadow-state, democratic discourse among the Albanian political parties never had a real chance to develop. In many ways, the shadow-state was a product of the political experience of socialist Yugoslavia. Shadow-state media reported about political events in much the same dry and boring way that socialist-era publications did. Politicians and journalists avoided pursuing real discourse or openly discussing their differences, saying instead that all Kosovars are united in their aim of independence through non-violence.

After the end of the Kosova war, that picture changed with the emergence of more competitive independent media. But at the same time, a democratic political culture is only just starting to develop.

The October 2000 local elections -- in which the moderate LDK won most mayoralties in smaller communities and larger city councils -- clearly showed that most Kosovars have little sympathy for the questionable commitment to democratic principles and transparency on the part of the parties that emerged from the UCK.

But others, who grew up politically through the structures of the UCK, obviously find it difficult to re-integrate into a peacetime society. Many of them are now struggling to get food on the table in an impoverished region with a sky-high unemployment rate.

Members of that generation lost their chance to get a proper education unless they emigrated. At best, they received basic schooling in the shadow-state's underground school system. Their employment opportunities are now minimal, and for many it is more lucrative to get involved in criminal activities than to seek regular work.

In addition, the psychological legacy of the recent conflict, mixed with a desire for revenge and uncertainty about their future, makes it difficult for some people to overcome their wartime traumas. Even though most UCK fighters have given up their weapons and many have found a new lease on life within the newly-developed civil service, re-integrating those who have learned nothing but fighting and resistance will remain a difficult task. (Fabian Schmidt)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "We condemn any form of extremism. We do not support the people who have launched an armed conflict" in Macedonia. -- Hashim Thaci, to Vienna's "Die Presse" of 13 March.

"I very much hope that the Albanian community of the Presevo and Bujanovac area will understand that this is the right time to try to move from an armed confrontation to a peaceful negotiation." -- General Carlo Cabigiosu. Quoted by RFE/RL on 12 March.

"We believe that the behavior of the Serbian troops towards the local Albanians will be fair." -- Cabigiosu. Quoted in Vienna's "Die Presse" on 13 March.

"I'm not against someone who did a stupid thing by beating a UN police officer getting arrested. But I think the UN police chose a bad day." -- Mitrovica Serbian leader Oliver Ivanovic, quoted by Reuters on 14 March. A Serbian mob had just attacked a UN police station and burned a police car to protest the arrest of three Serbs for beating two UN police.

"One man showed his knife and said, 'No UNMIK. Go out from Mitrovica.' We came to protect these people." -- Satish Kumer, a UN police officer from India, after a crowd of 25 Serbs attacked him in his flat.

"Taking territorial issues (about Montenegro and Kosovo) off Serbia's political agenda will only help and not complicate the democratization process." -- International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, in a statement on 15 March.