FYROM: Towards Cantonization?


(“Kathimerini”, English edition, June 13, 2001)

It is highly unlikely that the agreement among the four parties of the government coalition will manage to defuse the crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). The constitutional change, a belated offer by the Slav-led government to the ethnic Albanian community, does not seem to have appeased the National Liberation Army (NLA). Prompted by its military success, the NLA insists on turning the state into a federation or to give the Albanian-dominated northwestern provinces a status of increased autonomy.

The West has officially rejected this demand but has failed to stop rebel activity. EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana’s successive missions to Skopje have not yielded much fruit, while political dialogue between the two ethnic groups has proved to be no panacea.

It is no coincidence that the EU’s General Affairs Committee, meeting in Luxembourg yesterday, discussed the prospect of military intervention. Europeans realize that they run the risk of losing control of the situation. On the other hand, the US appears unwilling to undertake such a commitment, forcing NATO to stay inert.

Athens has its own reasons to favor an international military intervention: First, because it believes that the deployment of Greek, Bulgarian, or Serb troops in FYROM will rekindle traditional rivalries which will destabilize the Balkans; and second, because Greece has considerable investments in FYROM which need protection. And the best protection is a force with strong political legitimacy.

But even if the US finally agrees to send an international military force, it is highly unlikely that this will restore the conditions for normal coexistence between the Slav-Macedonians and ethnic Albanians because of the deep polarization between the two ethnic groups at societal level. It should be remembered that KFOR failed to restore those requisite conditions in Kosovo.

The presence of an international peacekeeping force in FYROM cannot avert ethnic conflict. At best, it will prevent the crisis from degenerating into a generalized and chaotic interethnic war. The crucial question is whether the West will allow matters to move to a de facto partition, or at least to the formation of two ethnically homogeneous entities, so as to prepare the ground for a political settlement which is already being discussed behind the scenes.

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