Blurring the Boundaries in Macedonia

NATO DROPS THE BALL From the beginning of the Macedonian crisis, apologists for Western intervention were forced onto the defensive. In the face of mounting criticism, they denied that Kosovo was the main contributing factor to violence in Macedonia. Although this outcome had been predicted even two years prior, Western apologists went on for months protesting any Kosovo-Macedonia connection. The former region was home to the Kosovo Liberation Army; the "freedom fighters" in Macedonia were called the National Liberation Army. The Albanians in Macedonia, they declared, were different and had different grievances than their kinsmen in Kosovo; in short, Nato had run a neat, contained operation with minimal chance for spillover or "blowback." As evidence attesting to the contrary mounted, the denials grew so loud that they turned into attacks. By July 2001, the Macedonians were being compared in the media with "the Serbs," as the embodiment of brutality and minority repression. As such, the argument was deflected; no longer was the question about the relative benefits of NATO intervention. Rather, it became a question of whether those "evil Slavs" deserved second helpings of intervention. With this substantive manipulation of the main argument, NATO's positive role in Kosovo was tacitly implied, and the ground was prepared for a new intervention in Macedonia. But this is old news. A new development in the tangled tale of NATO intervention, however, happened just last week. It was a narrowly-averted diplomatic disaster, initiated when an American, Brigadier General Keith Huber, made some inopportune comments to the press regarding the Macedonia-Kosovo border demarcation: "Brigadier General Keith Huber, the KFOR Commander of the Multinational Brigade East, stated at the press conference in Gnjilane last week that the agreement between Skopje and Belgrade for correction and re-defining of the border is "illegal." The General added that the UN Secretary-General has also confirmed this. According to Fakti daily in Albanian language, which has reported Huber's statement, the US General was concerned that the agriculturists from Kosovo have landed from the Macedonian side of the border and were not able to cultivate it. In the statement for the Kosovo media he said that he will send his troops to secure the agriculturists." SAY WHAT? Now this is something. Deploying NATO troops for a Kosovo-Macedonia border showdown? Would a US general really risk his men in order to "secure" a few Albanian farmers? And who would they even be fighting against, anyway? Of course, the hapless general was threatening something far more grandiose, something far more- principled. ADMINISTRATIVE HURDLES- OR COLLUSION? The significance of this showdown is fundamental to the nebulous, insecure status of Kosovo since its "independence" in 1999. Although nominally still a part of Yugoslavia, Kosovo is a free-for-all protectorate under UN administration – and mafia "protection." The services arranged by ex-KLA thugs (many reborn into the KPC police force), include forced evictions of their fellow Albanians – to make room for the "war heros" of Kosovo and Macedonia. Although heavy weapons are still being stockpiled, and all sorts of smuggling continues, UNMIK police are neither able nor allowed to do much about it. A Reality Macedonia interview claims that certain "inside" forces are hindering UNMIK police. A mixture of insipid red tape and direct decrees have resulted in failures to make arrests, and the inexplicable releases of criminals caught red-handed. A former peacekeeper states: "I remember one case where a Swiss military police officer observed a car in town with Swiss license plates. The officer called the Suisse Police in Switzerland and discovered that the car had been reported stolen. The MP's seized the car and arrested the driver, a TMK officer.Through the KFOR chain of command, the MP was ordered to release the driver and the car because he (the MP) had "illegally" accessed the Swiss Police database. I know of another incident where some Italian police officers stopped a car near Orahovac that was occupied by Akim Cheku and his bodyguards. An armed standoff commenced when Cheku's bodyguards took defensive positions around the car armed with automatic weapons. The Italian officers were ordered by the regional commander (a German) to release Cheku and his men. The regional commander seemed to know what was happening as it was happening. This incident was not discussed at any staff meeting I attended, so I don't know where the orders came from." AFTER ALL, THEY NEED TO TAKE SOLACE IN SOMETHING If such testimonial is evidence of UNMIK's uselessness in Kosovo, it helps explain a bombastic comment like Huber's. Perhaps, it was meant to remind the Macedonians that UNMIK is still in charge in Kosovo: forget about Belgrade, baby – we're calling the shots now. This raises a fundamental question, and one which has never been resolved: the limits and applications of state sovereignty in the former Yugoslavia. Indeed, considering that they invited themselves in, it is rather ironic that UNMIK and NATO claim to support the rule of democracy, sovereignty and free elections. The only bodies which were never elected by the people, they nevertheless have assumed the right to govern. In failing to resolve the Kosovo question definitively, they have created a new, parallel nation – one belonging neither to its inhabitants, nor to the country which allegedly has sovereignty over it. Further, this regime would like to claim responsibility for dealing with neighboring states, without, of course, endangering themselves in any way. After all, Kosovo is just a protectorate. The UNMIK people can go home anytime they want. Indeed, US soldiers there are obligated to serve only one year, while their European counterparts generally stay for 6-9 months. UN stipulations bar any of them from serving more than 3 years in one place. So what do they care? It's a vacation, really. UNSTOPPABLE: THE MAK ATTACK That said, Macedonia's ire is not that surprising. The reaction from Skopje was swift and sharp. Government spokesman Giorgi Trendafilov declared that statements like Huber's are common to "those who have supported the armed conflicts in Macedonia." The Macedonian government reminded the West of five years of border negotiations, all overseen by the international community, which were successfully concluded last March. In regards to the landmark UN Security Council Resolution 1214, the Macedonians argued that: "The Resolution, which is also an obligatory document for the UN missions, does not consist (of) provisions that grant a right to the KFOR and UNMIK official in Kosovo to interpret resolutions in a manner that raise new tensions in the region, endangering the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries – the UN members. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs considers that such ungrounded statements are harmful, because they are not in compliance with the missions' mandate, and do not contribute to establishing of lasting stability in the region. All of the UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions on developments in SEE, affirm the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region." THE US FLINCHES; DAMAGE CONTROL MODE In an uncharacteristically strong defense, Macedonia then lodged a formal complaint with NATO. US reaction, for once, was muted. Ambassador Lawrence Butler demurred, "the US Embassy in Macedonia is not competent to say whether the bilateral agreement is valid." In a surprising admission (perhap intended to leave the headache for UNMIK to deal with), Butler stated, "…at the end of the day the US is not the one that should say whetherthe agreement is valid." Of course, this does not rule out future "modifications." Regarding the allegedly binding agreement between Macedonia and Yugoslavia, UN spokesman Perhan Haak stated that "I have no comment on that agreement. The countries can conclude agreements between each other. What I suggest is that similarly as it is the case with the other UN peace keeping missions, the territory where we operate is defined by the Security Council. We need a decision from the Security Council in order to make any changes or to reflect any changes, regardless of the bilateral agreements," Haak believes." By Friday's NATO press conference, all attempts were being made to suppress the scandal, and mollify the Macedonians: "NATO fully respects the Border Delineation Agreement signed between Macedonia and Yugoslavia on February 23, 2001," NATO Ambassador to Macedonia Klaus Vollers said at Friday's press conference." Much to the dismay of the Macedonians, Vollers also stated that no action would be taken against Huber. Presumably, however, he has shelved his plan for rescuing the "agriculturists" – for now, at least. It will be interesting to see how things proceed as the snow melts in Macedonia, and the temperature warms up for "war season." THE ENDS AND THE MEANS ARE THERE, AND MAYBE THE JUSTIFICATION TOO We have already asked why an American general would commit his troops to "secure" a "situation" that does not exist. My guess is that he would rather not secure anything at all, but rather use the threat to keep the Macedonian authorities from doing anything themselves. In the past few months, NATO has put pressure on Macedonia to vacate certain police checkpoints as part of "confidence building" measures. One checkpoint was even attacked in late January, when armed gunmen crossed over from Kosovo. The truth of the matter, however, is that there is no border between Macedonia and Kosovo – and UNMIK would like to keep it that way, either by swallowing up ill-defined territory, or by preventing the Macedonians from policing their own border. IF UNMIK had really wanted to crack down on drugs and weapons smuggling in the border area, they would have done so. The inside testimonial quoted above indicates a negligence that is now almost endemic. For obvious reasons, chronic instability on the border benefits the KLA-NLA and its criminal patrons. For less obvious reasons, it also benefits UNMIK's administrators. So long as the border remains unmarked, undefined and contested, UNMIK can move in and occupy space. Not the physical space of territory, of course. They gain instead a conceptual space- one inhabited by legislative, administrative, and mandate-producing decrees. Intervention, which replicates its physical entanglements with bureaocratic entanglements of this sort, thrives off of maintaining instability - the very instability it is allegedly there to minimize. The unfortunate statements of General Huber simply follow this pattern of diplomatic disruption. Although his comments have been erased from the record, the damage cannot be undone. Already suspicious of Western intentions, Macedonia is now on the defensive. Yet it has already wasted another golden opportunity. Its media failed once again to provide a lucid report, one that would explain the situation to a worldwide audience unfamiliar with all of the details and their implications. And by failing to coherently explain its grievances to the world, Macedonia will probably allow itself once again to be painted as the aggressor. And so, in the long run we might just find that achieving justice for a few rural "agriculturists" will far outweigh all other considerations for UNMIK authorities in FMRK – the Former Macedonian Republic of Kosovo.

Chris Deliso

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