The Macedonia Mess
by Stephen Schwartz
Supporters of the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, and those sympathetic to the claims of the Albanians, have every right to be concerned about the conflict that has erupted in Macedonia, Kosovo's small, hitherto-peaceful neighbor. To put it simply: Albanian nationalist extremists are betraying their people and their Western friends.
Photos and news reportage from Macedonia show a familiar post-Yugoslav pattern: Guerrillas in the hills rain shells on the cities, tanks run through villages, homes are left in flames, refugees flee across the borders and civilians are shot down in the streets.
In a recent and shocking incident, worldwide news video showed two Albanian men, a father and son, riddled with bullets by Macedonian troops while apparently trying to throw grenades at a checkpoint.
Kosovo Albanians are stirred by these images to think they should run to sign up in the so-called National Liberation Army, which is fighting in Macedonia. Meanwhile, Slavic Macedonians, the majority in the country, are ready to label all Albanians - that is, at least 30 percent of their citizens - as terrorists.
There's plenty of blame to go around in this latest Balkan horror show. NATO "saved" Kosovo but installed an international administration that failed in its mission to reconstruct the country, leaving the people unemployed and restive.
For their part, Slav Macedonians have refused to allow the Albanians higher education in their own language and other recognition of their full citizenship. Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, taking a leaf out of the book written by former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic, accused the U.S. and Germany of encouraging the guerrillas to attack his country - even while he was receiving intelligence and promises of military aid from Washington.
But Albanian patriots - including hundreds of thousands living in the New York area - need to send a message to such hotheads as Ali Ahmeti, alias Abaz Gjuka. Ahmeti, the head of the armed group operating in Macedonia, is a renegade from the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). A founder of the KLA's underground organization in Kosovo, he fell out with the group's main leader, Hashim Thaci, who went on to stand alongside Madeleine Albright at the Rambouillet conference that preceded the NATO intervention.
Ahmeti was reportedly booted out of the KLA for irresponsibility and extremism that the main leaders feared would sabotage their fight for Kosovo. Now, with Kosovo stagnating under foreign administration, Ahmeti has found his hands freed to set Macedonia afire.
He's getting plenty of help from some Albanian media. The Albanian-language daily paper Bota Sot (World Today), published in Switzerland and read as far afield as The Bronx, lifted photos of the grenade-throwing incident but airbrushed out the grenade, to make it look like the two men were innocent victims.
Albanian-Americans, moved by such propaganda, may contribute money and lives to the armed conflict in Macedonia - a campaign that threatens to drive their people back into isolation and even worse desperation.
NATO and the West put lives on the line, including those of thousands of American service men and women, to rescue the Kosovo Albanians from deportation and murder. It was the right thing to do. The Albanians came out of the obscurity and impoverishment in which they had lived for generations and began to construct a European role for themselves. Thousands of foreigners went to Kosovo to try to help them in that task.
The aftermath of the intervention was flawed and many Albanians feel disappointed. But an effort as big as that NATO undertook also imposes responsibilities on those who received the help of the West. NATO should press the Slavic Macedonians to proceed cautiously lest they widen the war. But the Albanians in Macedonia should immediately end their insurgency. Setting your own house on fire is no way to keep warm, now matter how cold it is outside.