Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wall Street Journal

The best solution for Balkans

May 22, 2001 By Nicholas Gage

As battles mount in Macedonia between Albanian insurgents and government forces, the likelihood grows that the Balkans will remain engulfed in conflict for years to come. If the violence continues its southern trajectory, it may well envelop Greece and Turkey, NATO allies but traditional enemies, and turn the whole region into the kind of enduring battleground it became during the first quarter of the last century.

With the Serbs crushed and Slobodan Milosevic under arrest, the most powerful threat to stability in the region is Albanian nationalism. Like Serbs, Albanians see themselves as a fragmented nation. The borders of the Albanian state fixed in 1913 left almost half of them outside it. Other Europeans have long accepted having large minorities in neighboring countries, but nationalism is still an intense force among Albanians, and many still dream of uniting all their people into one nation. While Albania itself is too weak militarily to promote a regional drive for a greater Albania, there are enough arms and fervent nationalists in the Albanian enclaves of the former Yugoslavia to fuel a conflict in the area that could be even more devastating than any we have seen so far.

Two years after 37,000 NATO troops moved into the largest of these enclaves, Kosovo, they have not been able to fulfill their mission of restoring peace to the region. The campaign by Kosovar Albanians in Kosovo has so far forced more than 100,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians to flee the province.Encouraged by their success in Kosovo, Albanian nationalists, flush with funds raised from supporters abroad and from drug trafficking and prostitution at home, have moved on to their next target -- Macedonia.

In response to the mounting violence, the United States has strengthened its contingent of troops sent to Macedonia several years ago and has increased its military involvement with Albania. But, as Michael Roskin, formerly of the U.S. Army War College, has written, "What precisely will U.S. peacekeeping forces do in Macedonia? If the Albanian areas of Macedonia attempt to secede, will we have to stop them in order to preserve Macedonia's territorial integrity? If fighting erupts between Albania and Macedonia could there be U.S. troops on both sides? Do we, in fact, have a policy?"

Other than urging moderation, we do not have a clearly thought-out policy for ending the mounting conflict in Macedonia any more than we do in Kosovo. As long as Albanian nationalism is not contained with a strategy that will end ethnic strife in the southern Balkans as a whole, it is certain that the conflict we are now seeing in Macedonia will spread southward and reach the borders of Greece.Lest anyone think this is a phantom fear, let me point out that when former Greek foreign minister Theodoros Pangalos met with Kosovo Liberation Army leaders in Tirana two years ago, they made it clear to him that they had claims on Greece as well as Macedonia. He told reporters later that he was "amazed with what great politeness and calm they told me" about their demands.Are the southern Balkans then doomed to become the bloody battleground in the new century that they were at the start of the last one? If the West continues to pursue a piecemeal approach to dealing with conflict in the region, the answer is yes. But if it learns from its mistakes and develops a comprehensive strategy for dealing with ethnic tensions in the region, further bloodshed can be avoided. How? The United States must call an international conference on the southern Balkans to deal with the main cause of conflict in the region: the treatment of minorities.

The key to the success of such a conference is to base it on the principle that the same rights have to be shared by all minorities in the region -- Christian minorities in Albania as well as Albanian minorities in the former Yugoslavia. If that is done, Albanians will be forced to scale back demands for their enclaves in the former Yugoslavia, because they will have to give the same rights and the same political status to Christian minorities in Albania itself. A successful conference on the southern Balkans, based on shared rights and on the inviolability of borders, is the best way to end the conflict in Macedonia and the threat of a wider war in the region. It will also give all the countries concerned the chance to focus on what their people need most -- economic development. Everyone involved will be a winner.

Two years ago, in an article I wrote for this newspaper [op-ed, April 26, 1999], I proposed a similar conference as a way of ending the conflict then raging in Kosovo and preventing it from spreading southward, as it now has into Macedonia. After the article appeared, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright called me and asked me to come to Washington to discuss the idea further with her and her staff. I flew down and met with her for more than an hour after first meeting with her top aides for an hour and a half. At the conclusion of the meeting she told me that she agreed that a conference would have to be held eventually on the southern Balkans to resolve minority issues in the region in a comprehensive way and to put an end to the conflict they instigate.

But she said it would be necessary to "deal with Milosevic first." By the time Milosevic was forced from power; however, she too was on her way out, and nothing has been done to pursue the idea of a comprehensive solution to the Balkan crisis.The time to act on such an approach is long overdue, and the new administration should recognize that it offers the best way to finding a way out of the Balkan quagmire.

Almost 10 years later, nothing has changed. Washington, on behalf of human rights, believes that only Albanians are privileged to have the luxury of other nations, including among minorities in the Balkans. Analysis of writer Nick Gage 10 years later, the Balkans remains the same parameters, only the roles being exchanged, from Washington to Paris and Berlin.

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