May 11, 2001 3:46 PM The Saddest Balkan War

The Saddest War of The Balkans

Slobodan Milosevic, that ur-perpetrator of the Balkan evil, is now in prison. Currently, all emerging post-Yugoslav societies are multi-laterally recognized sovereign countries ruled by democratically elected officials and Constitutions modeled upon the noble Western examples. There are three documents in place that hold the patchwork together: the overall E.U. Stability Pact, the Dayton agreement in Bosnia and the Rambouillet agreement in Kosovo. Rambouillet was re-affirmed and further"enhanced" with the Airlie Declaration in summer 2000. The stretches of territory that were impacted and damaged by the war to the largest extent are still administered and patrolled by the foreign militaries. Thousands of soldiers from the world’s mightiest armies are present there to keep the peace.

How is then possible that at about the marching distance from the second largest U.S. military base in Europe (Bondsteel, Gnjilane) a new undeclared Balkan war is raging? Obviously, we can’t blame Milosevic. He is in jail. We can’t even blame Yugoslav Army. It is not involved. It is actually the first military conflict in post-Yugoslav area that does not involve Serbs at all. Still, the pattern is awfully familiar. We saw it in Slovenia. We saw it in Croatia. We saw it in Bosnia. And we did see it in Kosovo. The original sin of exclusivist, intolerant, chauvinist, hateful nationalism, that is again mutually present among the conflicting parties. The pattern of exaggerated fear at root of ever more and more heavy-handed actions. The spiral of violence that does not stop until one side is fully ‘cleansed’.

The ethnic tension between Albanian and Macedonian population in Macedonia is present for decades. Movies were made about it. But, in Macedonia, Albanians were actively involved in the political life of the country for the entire time after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. President Kiro Gligorov managed to maintain the delicate ethnic balance in peace. The new Macedonian government, however, is a nationalist one. They did learn lessons of Croatia and Bosnia, and their nationalism is far more tongue in cheek than Tudjman’s was, for example. But they got exposed to challenges that even more stable countries would have hard times surviving. The seemingly endless stream of refugees from Kosovo during the war there, and the presence of such a devastating war so close to Macedonian capital, scarred new Macedonia and changed the political balance of powers.

At the same time, that the Albanian population, empowered with the Kosovo outcome, became more vocal in their, many times, justified demands, the new Macedonian government became more recalcitrant in rejecting them, almost as such a rejection became the only means of asserting the government’s legitimate power. The Tetovo Albanian language University is a good example for that. The divisions in Macedonia between the two largest ethnic groups deepened. And, yes, everybody there knew how that ended in the other former Yugoslav republics. So, the paranoia started creeping up, and by the time Albanian smugglers holed themselves up high in the Sar mountain range, angry with new border rules, the fear in Skopje was high enough for the government to send heavy armor against them.

The pattern of all too familiar escalation followed. Many civilians died. And Macedonian army now uses newly purchased Russian helicopter gunships flied by Ukrainian pilots against Albanian fighters. The West pursues (again all too familiar) ambivalency: they don’t object against Macedonian Army using all force necessary to win this war, but they also beg Macedonian government not to declare the state of war (something that Russia urges Macedonia to do). Meanwhile, the West, despite its full military control of Kosovo, seems reluctant to seal the border with Macedonia, and cut the Albanian fighters there from their support and logistics in Kosovo. Macedonian government is now torn between the declaring the state of war, and by that instantly losing support of its entire Albanian population and engaging in the costly all-out war, or not declaring the state of war and bleed themselves to death slowly with the costly protracted border struggle, that they can’t win without outside help.

The West does not want Macedonia to declare war, because there can’t be war there with Milosevic in prison and democratically elected governments in all five emerging post-Yugoslav societies and SFOR in Bosnia and KFOR in Kosovo, 20 miles from the present frontlines. That would be a public-relations disaster! The Western powers might even be found culpable! Sooner or later, though, media will start asking "indecent" questions. Like - how is it possible, that six years after the Dayton agreement and with all the Western armies in Bosnia, did Serbs in Banja Luka just a few days ago got a chance to beat up Bosnian Muslims, injure international officials and set their buses on fire in protest against re-building of the Ferhadija mosque (the 16th century mosque that Serbs razed to the ground, and poured asphalt over) - the incident that went largely overshadowed with the war in Macedonia? And, of course, not to be undone, somebody threw a bomb on the Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnian Muslim controlled Sanski Most the very same day. Or - why the politically motivated assassinations of pro-independence Montenegrins with leadership qualities go largely unreported?

Samir Usenagic (36), multiple world champion in karate and kick-boxing and the trainer of Djukanovic’s special police forces, was shot dead on the street in the broad daylight (1:30 pm) in downtown Podgorica (Montenegro’s capital) yesterday (May 8, 2001). He is the fourth such casualty since January. He is the highest ranking casualty among the four and the first to occur after the narrowly won referendum for independence. Samir’s suspected killer, Zeljko Bulatovic is currently at large. Yugoslav military police (that also, curiously, appeared at the scene of shooting), tried to dispel intense rumors that Bulatovic was a member of the 7th Battalion of Yugoslav military police. The 7th Battalion was believed to be the primary Milosevic’s weapon to prevent Montenegro’s secession.

Montenegro is a small, sparsely populated country. The pro-independence movement that won the referendum is actually just a couple of hundreds of thousands of people (women, children and elderly included). With such a small base, it is enough to remove a dozen of leaders (those who could mobilize people under arms behind them) to destroy the capability of the movement to mount the resistance. Such tactics could not work in Croatia or Bosnia, because they had much larger populations and hence greater degree of redundancy among resistance leadership. It could maybe worked in Slovenia, but Slovenes were faster, and YA never got a chance. Kosovo Albanians had a large exile population that provided support to their resistance movement at home - something that pro-independence Montenegrins simply do not have.

The new Yugoslav/Serbian government lead by Kostunica and Djindjic is quite uncomfortable with the Montenegrin situation. Reasonably, they don’t want Montenegro to secede. Montenegro provides Serbia’s access to the sea, and the deep water port of Bar. But they also cannot use force to keep Montenegro in the Union against the will of Montenegrin citizens - that would be contrary to their pledges that they made to the world and to their own electorate. Eventually, therefore, they will be pressed to grant Montenegro independence. That, of course, would be more palatable to them if those people who are perceived as possibly troublesome, in a sense that they might have a mind of their own and resist being puppets, simply disappear from Montenegro’s leadership roster. It seems that the new government in Belgrade abandoned Milosevic’s unworkable idea of bringing all Serbs in a single state and instead adopted a more flexible approach: multiple states, but run by people loyal to Belgrade. This approach works splendidly with Republika Srpska, which the recent display of cockiness in Banja Luka perfectly underscores, and it might work well with Montenegro, too - with the right people in the right places, and with the ‘wrong’ people six feet under. Now, war in Macedonia and riots in Republika Srpska are keeping Western Balkan reporters busy, could it be better time chosen to off somebody like Usenagic?

With the war spilling over into Macedonia, which should not have happened, as per NATO intervention and bombing campaign of 1999, that was said to had been supposed to deter spilling of the war further South in the Balkans, and with the reconciliation of ethnic groups not only in Kosovo, but also in Bosnia, obviously, still very far from happening, and with the sly, byzantine take-over in Montenegro unraveling silently behind the scenes of the war that shouldn’t have happened, and (I almost forgot) with the war criminals still at large - all this right in front of the hundreds of thousands of supposed international peace keepers - the questions about the ‘internationals’ purpose and goals seem to me inevitable and justified at this point. What the hell are they doing?

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