Containing the Balkan crisis

by Stavros Lygeros

(“Kathimerini”, English edition, August 17, 2001)

The interethnic — rather than civil — conflict in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is perhaps the final act of the Yugoslav drama. The wars in Croatia and Bosnia were triggered by the attempt of ethnic groups which made up the former Yugoslavia to carve up territory. Precisely because internal borders were mapped out in an arbitrary fashion and on the basis of the objectives of Tito’s regime, when the country started to disintegrate every ethnic group sought to create its own single-ethnic state at the expense of the others. Slovenia was the sole exception, as it was already ethnically homogeneous.

The crisis in Kosovo and in FYROM has its own special characteristics, but it still falls within the same general pattern. It was generated by the thrust toward independence by the Albanian element in the former Yugoslavia. Kosovo Albanians fought to secede from Serbia. They succeeded with NATO weapons and now are pressing for the international legitimatization of the military precedent. FYROM Albanians are not formally supported by the Western powers, but their toleration is enough because the rebels know they are fighting a weak enemy. This fact has allowed them to achieve military victories and thereby enhance their bargaining position.

Despite Western rhetoric, according to which neither Kosovo will become an independent state nor will FYROM be divided, it seems most likely that the Albanian dispute will be resolved via the formation of two-and-a-half Albanian states. At some point, Kosovo will cease to be a Western protectorate. In FYROM the unstable equilibrium provided for the two ethnic groups by the Ohrid peace pact will collapse and the ethnic division will also acquire a territorial and constitutional element.

The southern shift of the conflicts (from Croatia and Bosnia to Kosovo and FYROM) has also raised fears that the crisis could spill over to Greece. KLA threats to form a Cam Liberation Army have fanned such notions, but such a development is highly unlikely. This is not only because Greece is a military, political and economic superpower by Balkan standards, but also because it is ethnically homogeneous. Everything seems to indicate that the crisis will be confined within the contours of the former Yugoslavia. If not, the West knows that the region will witness a domino effect.


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