Insecuring Macedonia

By Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 59 – March 18, 1999

Originally published here.

 

“NATO’s build-up in Macedonia is incredible, and goes virtually unnoticed – except in that country. The Macedonian Parliament has not even discussed the deployment of more than 12.000 heavily armed troops and NATO bars journalists from investigating what is going on. NATO is now stronger than the country’s own defence. It took the international community, read OSCE, 5 months to get 1500 civilian monitors into Kosovo, but it took only a few weeks to get the military build-up underway in Macedonia.

When does some one investigate how this happened or who pays for this and the NATO build-up around Yugoslavia? Or ask what Macedonian Prime Minister Ljupco Geogievski was promised by U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, when the had breakfast recently in Washington?” – says Jan Oberg, TFF’s director and co-founder who has just visited the country.

“Here is another reasonably relevant question: Since Christopher Hill, the main author of the Kosovo Agreement on the table in Paris and the diplomat who prepared the ground for those talks, is also the U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, did he calculate with this involvement of Macedonia and, if so, did he prepare Macedonian decision-makers in advance – or is this build-up something that has just unfolded as the things progressed? Is there any reasons for circumventing normal politeness and democratic decision-making by host-nation?

Why is NATO all over Macedonia, that already troubled and quite fragile state? For two reasons, namely a) to “extract” OSCE verifiers from Kosovo who can’t sit there if NATO decides to bomb Yugoslavia, and b) serve as a base for and reinforcement of the NATO forces stipulated in the Paris Kosovo document. Yugoslavia considers the extraction force a potential aggressor. It was NOT mentioned in the October 1998 agreement between Yugoslav President Milosevic and U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke – or so we assume since that agreement has not been made public.

The Yugoslav military and political leadership now perceive Macedonia as hosting forces aimed at aggression on Yugoslav territory – friends of your enemies being your enemies too. German forces are strongly represented and bring heavy equipment, and it is the first time they may get into regular warfare and not peacekeeping. Not surprisingly, Yugoslavs conscious of history will be reminded of last time Germany came to that region (1941).

Should NATO bomb Yugoslavia it can not be excluded that the Yugoslavs will retaliate against NATO troops where they are nearest, namely in Macedonia, e.g. in Kumanovo where, they are co-located with UN Blue Helmets. Thus, paradoxically, countries participating in bombing raids, such as Norway and Denmark, indirectly jeopardize the safety of their own UN peacekeepers in the region – unless they are “extracted” too. Do politicians in these countries not see the connection?

The new coalition government in Macedonia is anything but experienced and cohesive. Two of the three coalition partners are traditional “extremist” parties, the Macedonian VMRO and the Albanian DPA. The third is a newly formed party, the Democratic Alternative, DA. This government’s first foreign policy move was to recognise Taiwan in order to obtain a 1 billion US $ economic deal – that has not materialized yet – and thereby antagonize China (see below).

Macedonia IS a fragile country, economically constitutionally and in terms of unresolved problems in the relations between the majority Macedonians and the 25-30 per cent Albanian citizens. It has serious unresolved problems in the fields of education and in relation to its name and relations with its neighbours. The economy is a mixture of a petty market and pavement/pizza economy, black markets and far too few productive investments, profits run low, debts high. Recently when the three coalition partners were to evaluate the first 100 days, the Albanian DPA was not present. Be this as it may, it is not the least due to its prudent, gentleman-like president Kiro Gligorov, to the small but effective OSCE mission and the highly respected UN mission – that there has been some stability in Macedonia compared with other parts of ex-Yugoslavia. Will there in the future?

Macedonia’s ability to receive refugees is limited. It’s contingency planning covers 20,000. If things go really wrong in Kosovo, at least ten times more may run away. To where? Well, in contrast to last year, economic crisis-ridden Montenegro may close its border (it took 50,000 equivalent to 10 pct of its own people). No Serb or Albanian will run to Albania if they can avoid it. So Macedonia is where most will seek safety. Some 7000-8000 have already done so. Should it approach 100,000 or 200,000 the changing ethnic balance of the country and the general chaos would result in turmoil and breakdown. In addition, 12,000 soldiers now occupy hotels, schools, barracks and even hospitals – places that one would believe would be desperately needed should refugees flow into the country.

So, all in all the government seems to follow the policy of the ostrich, hoping everything will be fine in Kosovo, that money will come from Taiwan and security from NATO. It can hardly be called leadership. It’s a risky substitute for having one’s own policies and ideas – and it bodes ill for its future,” says Dr. Oberg who has conducted hundreds of interviews at all levels and with all communities over the last six years during many missions to Macedonia.

“The new NATO deployment amounts to the destruction of the only – and successful – example of preventive diplomacy, namely the UN peacekeeping mission, UNPREDEP. It has happened in two ways: Macedonia’s new government recognized Taiwan and, thus, provoked China which recently vetoed the extension of UNPREDEP in the Security Council. One may ask whether it was a calculated risk – in order to get the UN out and NATO in – and to get 1 US $ bn? Was the Macedonian government surprised by the Chinese veto?

So multilateral arrangements were replaced by bilateral ones and regional security concerns grossly ignored. There is no doubt that Western nations, the U.S. in particular, could have reasons to get rid of the UN, as they did in Croatia, Bosnia and elsewhere – to present NATO as the peacekeeper. Thus, “UN” will, in this field, stand for United NATOs. The question is whether this was a responsible act by China when seen in the longer perspective?

Macedonia can not get into NATO soon, but it can let NATO into Macedonia. The price? Give up every independent idea about economic politics, security politics and foreign politics and adapt completely to the “international community.” The U.S. and NATO “forgot” to ask the host, including President Gligorov, what the Macedonians thought about all this. It was never taken up in the Macedonian parliament. In short, a lesson for all in Western democracy…

In a long-term perspective, we are now witnessing the third round of Western-aided destruction of former Yugoslavia. First, there were the violence in Slovenia and Croatia; then Bosnia-Hercegovina and now present Yugoslavia/Kosovo threatening to not spill over into but drag Macedonia down in international warfare. In all cases, one or more actors were armed by Western powers, in all cases the UN was squeezed out and NATO came in, in all cases violence was not prevented in time and everywhere some peace plan was introduced that secured Western control and permit use of unlimited force “if necessary” – and in all cases ordinary citizens are the main victims while all the Presidents from 1991 remain on the top. It begins to look like a pattern, a strategy. Perhaps, after all, there was a plan somewhere?

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