(Kathimerini, May 27, 2001)
When future historians seek the causes of the growth of Albanian nationalism in the Balkans, one picture will most certainly spring to mind; the photograph of the American “Wizard of Diplomacy” Richard Holbrook with the leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which paved the way for the legalization of the organization which had, until that point, been labelled as terrorist by all and sundry. The consequences of Mr. Holbrook’s action are well-known.
It seems, though, that some people have not yet realized that realpolitik Holbrook style cannot be applied without taking account of a few elementary historical truths, especially in a region like the Balkans. One of these people is the American diplomat Robert Frowick, a former member of Richard Holbrook’s team and present special envoy for OSCE in the Balkans, who, acting unilaterally and on his own initiative, almost wrecked Skopje’s exceptionally fragile government of national unity, whose formation was generally held to be the last chance for avoiding civil war in FYROM.
Mr. Frowick’s reasons for arranging the secret meeting between representatives of both Albanian political parties participating in the government and the political leadership of the National Liberation Army (UCK) as it calls itself, have yet to be clarified. However, immediate reactions in the European Union and in Washington to news of this meeting and to an OSCE communiqué which in essence gave Mr. Frowick no support, but drew attention to the fact that he acted on his own initiative, were indicative of just how much anger is aroused by any attempt to give legality to the guerrillas.
The harsh phraseology of the announcements puts an end to claims that Washington is playing a two-faced game, publicly seeking the isolation of the rebels but supporting them behind the scenes, with a view to breaking up FYROM. This is a supposition with absolutely no rational basis, especially after the change of occupants in the White House.
Robert Frowick belongs to that school of diplomats who staffed Mrs. Albright’s team. That alone is enough to explain his actions.
Developments in southern Serbia, where the rebel Albanian organization UCPMB disbanded itself following agreement between political leaders of the Albanian minority in Presevo and the Serbs, with NATO acting as mediator, probably served Mr. Frowick as a good example for a similar settlement in FYROM.
But things are somewhat different in the case of Skopje. This is a country which will be dragged into civil war and end by breaking up if the rebels are not isolated immediately, as 30% of the population is of ethnic Albanian origin. So far the Skopje leadership’s efforts to contain rebel activity and prevent its spread to cities and villages of mixed population have been admirable.
A few weeks ago, when the country was on the brink of all out war following a lot of pressure from the West, good sense prevailed again and instead of declaring the country in a state of war the Slav-Macedonian leadership decided to cooperate with the Albanian political parties to form a government of national unity. The conditions, though, were clear; there was absolutely no question of co-op era ti on or discussions with the Albanian “terrorists” who were doing their best to break up the country in spite claiming that their only goal was equal rights for ethnic Albanians and Slav-Macedonians.
Continued fighting shows that there is no easy solution to the Skopje crisis. From one point of view, the armed rebel uprising, once begun, will lead unavoidably to the break up of the state, as the West, having originally supported the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, is now totally unable to put a halt to Albanian nationalism. Looked at this way, in an attempt to avoid something much worse Mr. Fenwick has merely accelerated a process which will not be long in coming anyway; talks with those who wield the weapons. But when someone is drowning, you do not grab him by the feet and pull him to the bottom of the lake; you help him reach the surface. Dynamiting efforts to conduct talks between the legal and less fanatic representatives of the Albanian community and the Slav-Macedonian leadership is not the best solution at this particular time.
Revelations about the secret meetings between leaders of the two political parties Arben Tzaferi and Imer Imeri, and the UCK political leader Ali Ahmeti, in Pristina last Tuesday led to a direct military response from the Slav-Macedonian leadership. The self-control displayed so far by government forces was the first casualty of the American diplomat’s unilateral action. If civilian casualties continue to rise, the guerrillas will have achieved their aims. Civil war will no longer be a threat; it will be a reality.