TFF logoFORUMS Power Columns

With Macedonia Do We Have
to Have Another Balkan War?




March 28, 2001

LONDON - After ten years of Balkan sectarian madness the outside world thought it had caught its breath. The hard-line nationalist president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, died in 1999. Last year the ruthless Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic resigned due to old age. Most marvellous of all in October Slobodan Milosevic, who began the Balkan wars, was finally voted out of office. Yet as the new fighting in Macedonia abundantly makes clear the forces of disintegration in the region remain stronger than those of integration. It takes a quarter of a million Nato soldiers to hold the ring and still there is no peace.

The issue posed by President Boris Trajkovski of Macedonia hangs in the air, imperfectly answered. "We cannot redraw borders and boundaries, making smaller units of ever purer ethnic states. We cannot survive as a region if ethnicity becomes the sole defining justification of statehood."

But why not? Go back no further than the Dayton agreement that ended the war in Bosnia. As Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and now the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy to the Balkans, has pointed out, the key to Dayton was the American acceptance of a highly autonomous Republika Srpska within the framework of a very loose Bosnian state. "The deal met the minimum demands of everyone", says Bildt "and the maximum demands of no one."

Indeed, if the Americans had accepted the concept of an autonomous Republika Srpska earlier the bombing by Nato could perhaps have been avoided.

The Balkans is the last part of Europe to come to terms with the Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the idea of the ethnically homogeneous nation-state, a transition brought to fruition by the Treaty of Versailles at the end of the First World War. It caused immense upheaval in Europe at large, but the nation state, for the most part shorn of strong ethnic minorities, was some sort of solution to the empires, dynasties and feudal states that preceded it. It made for a more harmonic and sustainable development of democracy than had been possible before.

The Balkans is both the end of this process and its most difficult. Nowhere else in Europe was there such a mosaic of peoples, cultures and languages.

The initial impulse of the United States, after Milosevic's concessions following on Nato's bombing over the issue of Kosovo two years ago, was to renege on the promise it had just made in the peace agreement and give the Albanian Kosovars the independence they sought. But, constrained partly by the agreement and partly by its European partners and later by the fall of Milosevic, it backed away from this. Now all the Nato countries together with Russia, anxious to secure a peaceful transition in the new Yugoslavia, stand shoulder to shoulder against its further break up. Indeed, they have gone so far as to allow the essentially Serbian army of ex-Yugoslavia into the largely Albanian-inhabited buffer zone that lies north of Kosovo just inside Serbia, in an attempt to push the Kosovar Albanian guerrillas back into Kosovo proper.

Yet the historic argument for keeping Kosovo inside the new Yugoslavia is thin indeed. In the last century alone there were six wars between Kosovars and Serbs. Before that there had been 500 years of Ottoman rule, during the latter part of which the Albanians of Kosovar had asked unsuccessfully for autonomy. Moreover, Tito himself promised them the right to unite with Albania.

The truth is the insurrection of the Albanian militants inside Macedonia is most likely a feint by the extremist wing of Kosovar nationalism. Feeling they are in danger of being sidelined after the fall of their bete noir, Milosevic, which made the world sympathetic to their cause, combined with the political resurrection of the once dismissed pacifist-inclined Kosovar leader, Ibrahim Rugova, they have opened up a new flank inside Macedonia.

Nato would have an uncomfortable choice if the war escalates. Either to back the Macedonian forces and do battle with the insurgents or to defuse the issue by re-opening the question of Kosovo's future destiny, which means in effect discussing the destiny of the whole Albanian Diaspora, including the part which hitherto has resided reasonably happily within Macedonia, (but not for much longer if the central Slav-dominated government of Macedonia goes for overreaction and bloody crackdown as is the norm in this part of the world). The question of a united Greater Albania and a rump Macedonia that is incorporated into Bulgaria, its historical homeland, perhaps cannot be deferred much longer.

As Mr Bildt argues, what Nato needs at this juncture are "smart ideas not smart bombs", one of which should be to underline to all the parties in a substantive way that their real future lies in a united Europe where tribal and ethnic allegiances count for less. Otherwise it could be another horrible round of war making.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2001 By JONATHAN POWER



Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name















The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512   E-mail:

Contact the webmaster at:
© TFF 1997-2001