FYROM in Crisis

(Editorial from “Kathimerini”, English edition, February 22, 2001)

The Balkan summit is due to begin tomorrow in Skopje, capital of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which is increasingly being sucked into a fresh cycle of ethnic violence, amid escalating tensions in the southern Balkans. FYROM President Boris Trajkovski recently summoned the National Defense Council to take measures against ethnic Albanian secessionist groups along FYROM’s border with Kosovo.

The impending threat is so serious that Trajkovski has called NATO members’ ambassadors to Skopje to inform them of developments and ask for stricter controls along the Kosovo-FYROM frontier. At the same time, FYROM Defense Minister Nikola Kljusev made an appeal to NATO that ethnic Albanians aimed to cause a crisis that will also affect Skopje.

The main trouble spot in the region is the Presevo valley in southern Serbia, inhabited mainly by Albanians. “Has the next Balkan war already erupted in the Presevo region?” pondered Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group in Brussels, in the Wall Street Journal recently.

But while conflicts escalate and the death toll, mainly of Serbs, rises in Presevo, the crisis inevitably transcends the boundaries of the area. Hundreds of armed Albanians, former members of the formally dissolved Kosovo Liberation Army, are moving into the Albanian-populated areas of FYROM and are engaging in clashes with Slav elements. The situation is spinning out of control. According to newspapers in Skopje, 250 people recently took the oath as recruits into the Albanian Liberation Army of FYROM.

At the same time, early elections in Montenegro in April and the promise by pro-secession political groups to hold a referendum over the secession byYugoslavia’s sister-republic if they win the elections (which is almost certain) complete a dismal picture of the southern Balkans.

A few months ago, when the impending Balkan summit was scheduled, there was the illusion that it would take place in a calm climate, thus allowing it to deal with the vexing issue of Balkan reconstruction. Unfortunately, the summit will take place amid a growing crisis which threatens the integrity not just of Yugoslavia but of FYROM as well.

The Greek government should live up to the situation and take part in tackling the crisis. US and EU policies have failed to prevent the crisis from spilling over into the southern Balkans. Athens should have a strong say and display initiative. A segment of FYROM’s political elite, including Prime Minister Ljubo Georgievski, has realized that their country is threatened more by Albania than by Greece and now appears willing to agree on a compromise name. This is an opportunity for Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s government to prove that Greece can become a stability-enhancing factor in the Balkans.

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