The Albanian Factor

by Stavros Lygeros

(“Kathimerini”, English edition, March 9, 2001)

The military intervention against ethnic Albanian rebels on the border between Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia no doubt marks a US policy-shift. This shift has been primarily caused by the pressure of events, but also by the fact that President George W. Bush’s administration is not bound by the political and psychological commitments of the Clinton administration. In spite of these, Washington remains reluctant to take measures within the NATO context that would eliminate the Kosovo Liberation Army offshoots. It obviously deems that Albanian irredentism continues to comprise a useful lever for handling the volatile Balkan equilibria.

Kosovo was the first link in the chain. Since the Albanians saw their irredentist visions become real, it was inevitable that they would try to recreate the same scenario in southern Serbia and FYROM’s northwestern provinces. The risk of a domino-effect has been evident from the outset.

Even after the political changeover in Serbia, Washington has used the Albanian factor as leverage for pressure in order to undermine the political autonomy of new President Vojislav Kostunica. American policy over the recent period has been a tough balancing act as it tries to maintain a very fragile balance.

The US is making genuine efforts to prevent a crisis inside unstable FYROM. Its military intervention is a signal to the Albanian side. Tirana, as well as the political leadership of ethnic Albanians outside their homeland, has shown restraint in order to avoid international diplomatic isolation. For this reason it seems likely that the coming months will witness an apparent easing of tension.

The damage however has already been done. The coexistence of Slav-Macedonians and Albanians has always been fragile but the armed conflicts have in essence rendered the gap unbridgeable. War only seems to be a matter of time. The most likely outcome is not FYROM’s immediate dissolution nor a Balkan war to divide the parts—as has so frivolously been said in Athens. NATO has the ability to divide the neighboring state into cantons and it will probably do so should the war seem inevitable. This is not a desirable outcome, but it does not seriously undermine Greek interests either.

 

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