Dissolving Boundaries between Domestic and Regional/ International Conflict


What factors precipitated the 2001 Macedonian crisis: external or domestic? By answering the above question this paper would identify the crisis agent, as well as the circumstances under which it acts. The paper should also make an input to the theoretical discussion on the formal and substantial divide between Comparative Politics and International Relations.

My study of the 2001 Macedonian crisis was third in my research in the Balkan crises from the 1990s. For all encouragement and advice, I would like to thank to my colleagues at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland, College Park, and especially to Dr. Ted Robert Gurr.

I would also like to express my deep gratitude to the Institute for Regional and International Studies in Sofia/Bulgaria for inviting me in 2001 to participate in a Balkan Security Project which helped my empirical research in the Macedonian crisis and refreshed my ties with regional scholars and NGOs.

I also owe special thanks to Alice Ackermann, Professor at George Marschall European Center for Security Studies at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany for sending me her work on Macedonia at the crisis time and for e-mailing her comments on Macedonia’s developments.


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On 2 March 2001 nearly 200 ethnic Albanian guerrillas, wearing the insignia of the National Liberation Army (NLA) crossed the Kosovo-Macedonian border and appeared in the Macedonian border village of Tanusevci. (The Daily Telegraph, 2 March). On 5 March the Macedonian army announced mobilization (Mediapool.bg). A six month state-political and ethnic crisis followed in Macedonia. The crisis embarrassed politicians and analysts who believed that having managed successfully her interethnic relations for the past decade, Macedonia had luckily evaded the ethnic crises that occurred in all post-Yugoslav republics.

Two contending crisis explanations existed in Macedonia. One was shared by the Slav Macedonians. It maintained that the crisis “came from outsiders entering from Kosovo to disturb Macedonia’s stability” (1). This explanation pointed to preceding cross-border incidents that has led to the staging on 25 February of Macedonian military border posts aimed at preventing infiltrating Albanian ethnic guerrillas (2). This explanation was most clearly pronounced by Macedonian officials who identified Ramush Haradinaj, former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and commander of the Alliance for Kosovo, as organizing the incursions. Macedonian officials argued that the real motif behind the Kosovar Albanian incursions in Macedonia was the recent ratification of a border treaty between Macedonia and Serbia internationally legitimizing the Yugoslav-Macedonian border (3). The act, ran the argument, made the Kosovar Albanians anxious lest external to them forces, like Yugoslavia and Macedonia, close down one of the ethnic Albanian smuggling routes in the Balkans and forcibly determine the status of Kosovo, existing at that time as an international protectorate.

The alternative explanation belonged to the Macedonian Albanians. Their leaders maintained that the crisis “was a result of internal factors”. The crisis, the ethnic Albanians argued, was to be explained by the daily “unfair treatment received by the Albanian population in Macedonia” (4). The ethnic Albanian grievances were mostly related to their constitutional status of allegedly “second class ethnic group”. Ethnic Albanians also complained about the status of their language and education rights and their insufficient participation in the structures of state administration (5).

What factors precipitated the 2001 Macedonian crisis: external or domestic? By answering the above question this paper would identify the crisis agent, as well as the circumstances under which it acts. The paper should also make an input to the theoretical discussion on the formal and substantial divide between Comparative Politics and International Relations.

It is argued here that the 2001 Macedonian crisis was caused by external and domestic factors at once. More specifically, the crisis was instigated by a transborder actor, the Albanian Ethnoterritorial Separatist Movement (ETSM), operating at both sides of the Kosovo-Macedonian border, and utilizing favorable opportunities of domestic and international environment.

This paper is a part of a monograph project studying ETSMs in the Balkans at the end of the past and at the beginning of the new century. Other than the Macedonian-, the monograph also examines the Kosovar-, and the Bosnian crises from the 1990s. This paper however presents a case study of Macedonia in the spring/summer of 2001. It is based on a 6 year work for the Minorities at Risk Project run through the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland, College Park. The work included, among other things, also tracking and assessing the situation in Macedonia. Key for my research were publications in local, national and international newspapers. Secondary source analysis was beneficial as well.

My research also profited from workshop participation, discussions, participant observation, and fact-gathering in the Republic of Macedonia. All that was conducted within the framework of a one year regional project, Security Challenges and Development of the Southern Balkans, sponsored by the Freedom House, with funding provided by the United States Agency for International Development, and by the Open Society Foundation in Sofia. The project was initiated and organized in 2000-2001 by the Bulgarian think-tank Institute for Regional and International Studies. The project was conducted in cooperation with the Euro-Balkan Institute in Skopje, Macedonia, and the Institute for Contemporary Studies in Tirana, Albania.

Framework for Analysis: The Emergence of a Transborder Non-State Actor

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ETSM is a useful unit of analysis for transborder ethnic conflict. It is described as a transborder movement, composed of territorially contiguous but politically bi-sected ethnic communities. The Albanian ETSM, the agent of the Macedonian 2001 crisis, thus comprises the Albanians of Kosovo, Macedonia, south Serbia and Montenegro (6). Not all of these (four) ETSM’s segments are permanently active. An ETSM’s segment becomes active depending on availability of favorable political circumstances. The most active segment of the Albanian ETSM in the XXth century were the Kosovar Albanians. The ETSM’s active segment raises mutable territorial goals ranging from autonomy to separatism to irredentism (Horowitz, 1991), (Chazan, 1991), (Samarasinghe, 1990). By undertaking pursuit of claims that transcend state borders ETSM’s most active segment diffuses communal action across borders and frequently causes that domestic communal conflicts spillover on the (regional) international system. Thus the activities of the Kosovar Albanians in the early 1990s, aimed at achieving independence from Serbia, diffused across borders and precipitated the 2000 ethnic crisis in south Serbia, as well as the 2001 ethnic crisis in Macedonia.

What theories address issues of ETSM? What are ETSM’s specifics? The answers to these questions would help in building of a framework for analysis of crises, like Macedonia 2001. Three fields of research underlie the concept of ETSM. They are: ethnic conflict, rational actor and social movement. In combination, the three of them introduce a new actor in international politics. Specifics of this actor are: ETSM is a non-state actor, which activities have significant impact on domestic and international politics; ETSM’s sources of mobilization are ethnic affinity and rational choice; ETSM is persistent over time.

ETSM – a communal actor in domestic and international politics?

What actor is ETSM? The above description of ETSM presented to us a non-state international actor. The movement, argues ethnic conflict theory, evolves out of a regionally concentrated ethnic group. Moreover, the group needs to be separatist. To paraphrase Naomi Chazan, key for an ETSM to emerge is the ethnic group’s quest for self-determination. ETSM is therefore the political organization of regionally concentrated groups which wish to demonstrate cultural cohesiveness and political solidarity by contesting the ethnic legitimacy of existing state boundaries (1991: 1).

The Kosovar Albanians, the most active segment of the Albanian ETSM are an example. They populate the south western part of Serbia, and they also border on Albania proper, as well as on areas populated by ethnic Albanians in Montenegro in the north, Macedonia in the south, and Serbia in the east. In the 1990s the Kosovars numbered up to 2,000,000 and constituted 90% of the local population (MAR Project). The Kosovar Albanians are known for their strong ethnic identity. Having remained outside Albania in 1912, and having been incorporated in Yugoslavia in 1913, the Kosovar Albanians fought nearly a century long battle against the Serb authorities for their right to self-determination.

How could a community, like ETSM, be simultaneously a domestic and an international actor? To answer this question we need to look at the goals of ETSM’s most active segment. ETSM’s separatist demands range from autonomy to full independence. Where movement aims at autonomy, it acts as a domestic actor. Alternatively, where secession is at stake, ETSM evolves from a domestic actor having territorial argument with its host state alone, into an international actor separating itself from its host state and establishing itself as a sovereign unit in international politics. Horowitz calls the ensuing international act, “subtracting” from one state.

Certain periods in the evolution of the Albanian ETSM can serve as an example of how a separatist movement operates as a domestic and international actor at once. In the early 1990s for instance, the movement’s goals and activities, formulated by its most active segment, the Kosovo Albanians, indicated that the community was undergoing a rapid evolution. Thus on 2 July 1990 the Kosovo provincial National Assembly adopted a declaration which proclaimed Kosovo a republic equal to other Yugoslav republics. The same objective appeared again in Kosovo’s new constitution from September 7, 1990, secretly adopted in the town of Kacanik. However, on 19 October 1991 the Kosovo legislature declared the province a sovereign state. On 23 December, 1991 Kosovars appealed to the European Community for Kosovo’s recognition as an independent state (RFL/RL v1, #14,3 April 1992). Thus in late 1991 the Kosovar Albanians acted simultaneously as a domestic and an international factor.

How does an ETSM affect the international system? Autonomy and secession do not exhaust the whole spectrum of ETSM’s objectives. The movement frequently articulates irredentist objectives. ETSM is capable of pursuing them because of its territorial-demographic disposition. As observed from the geographic disposition of the Kosovar Albanians, they are not an ordinary separatist group. They are “ethnically embedded”, being surrounded by kindred groups across their “territorial borders”. In times of conflict, the Kosovar Albanians can easily drag in either of the cross-border kindred groups in their disputes. Boundary adjustment that may ensue would then affect not solely the state, hosting the contending group. By confronting two or more states, the acting ETSM may instigate a series of inter-state conflicts and border disputes.

Boundary adjustment, as described by Horowitz, may be initiated by communal group aiming “to detach land and people divided among more than one state in order to incorporate them in a single new state” (1991:10). It involves subtracting from two or more states and integration of the subtracted parts into a new state. Horowitz points to a Kurdistan, “composed of Kurds … living in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey” as an example (1991:10).

This research looks at the establishment of a Greater Kosovo as an example of a Balkan boundary adjustment. The idea was raised by the Kosovar segment of the Albanian ETSM, more concretely by Rexhep Qosija’s Forum of the Albanian Intellectuals of Kosovo. The Forum called for carving up of all Yugoslav territories populated by ethnic Albanians and assuring for them “an ethnic Albanian space” where the ethnic Albanians should have the right of national and political self-determination (RFE/RL Vol 2, #44, 5 Nov 1993).

Adjustment can also involve “subtracting from one state and adding to another state” (Horowitz, 1991:10). An example is the establishment of Greater Albania. The idea was raised in the 1990 program of the Democratic Party of Albania, endorsing “union” with Kosovo (RFE/RL Vol 1, #14, 3 Apr 1992). In such occasions the mother state plays a central role in ETSM’s activation. Is then ETSM exclusively a communal actor, however?

At first glance, the above example questions the communal nature of ETSM, presenting its activities as an aggressive, expansionist and nationalistic state politics. Studies of separatist conflicts amount with similar examples where irredentist mother states, not communal groups, are instigators of border disputes. Those examples notwithstanding, scholarship on separatism tends to view ETSM mainly as communal actor. In recent times, runs the argument, mother states rarely embark on retrieving ethnic kin across border (Horowitz, 1991), (Heraclides, 1990).

Based on research in secessionist movements this paper tends to look at ETSM as mainly a communal actor. My study on the recent evolution of the Albanian ETSM indicated that mother state Albania preferred to lending support to the separatist activities of the Kosovar brethren, rather than pursuing herself integrationist objectives across the border.

ETSM – an ethnic affinity-, or a rational actor?

The above discussion aimed at presenting ETSM as a transborder, i.e. as a non-state actor, which is as much domestic, as international. I now look for an explanation of what makes an ETSM work.

Conflict scholarship has paid little attention to issues of transborder mobilization and action. The reason is that conflict literature is traditionally state centered and it views contentious communal groups mainly as domestic actors. Not surprisingly, internationalization of ethnic strife is traditionally examined from the perspective of a third party intervention in domestic conflicts (Suhrke and Noble, 1977; Heraclides, 1991; Carment, 1994).

ETSM framework provides an alternative analytical perspective on regional communal conflict. Within it, regionalization of communal conflict occurs as a result of mobilization and action of a transborder ethnic actor. Ted Gurr first introduced the idea of transborder mobilization. He discusses it in terms of “spillover processes” concerning kindred groups that straddle interstate boundaries whereby “conflict in one country directly affects political organization and action in adjoining countries” (1993: 133).

What factors account for ETSM’s transborder mobilization? As with domestic actors, Gurr points to common ethnic identity as primary source. He argues: “The most important spillover effects in communal conflict occur among groups that straddle interstate boundaries” (1993: 133). The analyst then goes on to identify the concrete manifestations of transborder mobilization and action. They are: providing sanctuary and support to adjacent kindred group involved in conflict across the border; rendering of diplomatic, political and military support (1993: 133).

Gurr points to transborder mobilization of the Kurdish movement in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran as an example (1993: 133). The Albanian ETSM too provides an example of how ethnic identity becomes a primary source of transborder mobilization. Thus it was the transborder ethnic affinity that explained why did the refugee fled Kosovo to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro in 1999 following the commence of NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia (The New York Times, 3 April, 1999).

While important, ethnic affinity does not exhaust all sources for transborder mobilization and action. Ethnic affinity is used by leadership to mobilize communal groups. However, leadership carefully calculates costs and benefits of spillover mobilization and action. Horowitz observes: “[n]either secession nor irredentism is a spontaneous, unorganized movement”. Rather, calculation of rational interest underlies strategic choice (1991:21).

Perhaps the best proof that transborder actor makes rational calculations in selecting its political strategies is the frequent convertibility of its secessionist and irredentist objectives. Moreover, convertibility also indicates that actor looks for available opportunities in domestic and international politics, and readily makes use of them when they promise access to power or improvement in communal status. Horowitz notes, “For transborder ethnic groups, it stands to reason that if conditions are not propitious for irredentism, those groups may turn to secession, and vice versa”.…

The Yugoslav ethnic Albanians in early 1990s underwent a process of rapid in-group consolidation. Both, affinity-, and rational motivation were behind the group’s transborder mobilization. Secessionist and autonomy objectives were identified as appropriate, and then pursued in view of available opportunities in domestic and international politics. Thus having declared Kosovo an independent republic, the Kosovar leadership undertook steps aimed at internationalization of the Kosovar issue. To this aim a body was established, the Coordination Council of the Albanian parties in the former Yugoslavia, which sought to achieve consensus and mediate the policies of the major Albanian parties in Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia proper. The Council formulated a joint foreign policy including: securing support for the sovereignty of the Republic of Kosovo; obtaining recognition of the Macedonian Albanians as a constitutive people of the Republic of Macedonia and not as an ethnic minority; and securing a guarantee of autonomy for the ethnic Albanians in south Serbia and Montenegro (RFE/RL Vol 2, #44, 5 Nov 1993). The Council thereby integrated on ethnic principle the entire Albanian diaspora of former Yugoslavia. Simultaneously it assigned different tasks to its segments depending on available circumstances.

ETSM – how old and how durable?

Clearly, ethnic affinities, rational choice and available opportunities are key in mobilizing and activating ETSM as a transnational communal actor. How persistent are these factors over time? How old and durable is ETSM itself?

ETSM is not a newly emerged movement. Its’ precursor, the Movement for National Liberation and Unification (MNLU), came into being in the XIXth century East Europe. The driving force behind the two movements is the quest to establishing states along ethnic lines. The movements however differ in that they challenge different state units. MNLU challenged territorial and overseas empires. ETSM challenges nation states.

MNLU represented the interests of different ethnic nationalities composing the multicultural society of the Russian, the Ottoman and the Habsburg empires. MNLU questioned the territorial integrity of the above empires and eventually helped their disintegration into smaller ethnonational states. By end of the XIXth century, Romania, Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria emerged on the political map of the Balkans. At the end of WWI Hungary, Poland, Czehoslovakia and Yugoslavia followed the suit.

The establishment of ethnonational states however did not put an end to ethnonational conflicts. The newly emerged nation states embarked upon retrieving ethnic brethren who remained beyond their borders. The international system established at Versailles opened opportunities for irredentist states to become active. Indeed, while endorsing the establishment of nation states the Versailles system failed to draw boundaries along ethnic lines. Large territorially contiguous ethnic diasporas remained outside nation-state’s borders and turned into a pretext for intense border disputes.

The establishment of the Albanian state in 1912 left large ethnic Albanian lands outside Albania’s state borders. In 1913 Kosovo and other smaller areas populated by ethnic Albanians, such as west Macedonia and Montenegro were incorporated in Yugoslavia. Since then until present Albania pursued irredentist politics, depending on her own domestic integrity and stability. During WWII Kosovo and west Macedonia merged with Albania, to establish, though as an Italian protectorate, the short live Greater Albania.

ETSM emerged upon end of WWII. At that time irredentism seemed to have been outmoded and states lowered nationalistic flags. Ethnonationalism however survived by inspiring the political activities of communal groups. An initial act marking the establishment of the Albanian ETSM was the 1944 insurrection of the ethnic Albanians of Yugoslavia. The revolt aimed at integrating Kosovo and Western Macedonia with Albania proper (Vickers, 1995:161). Mother state was unable to come to the help of its ethnic brethren across the border and the insurgency was violently suppressed. This episode in the history of the Albanian movement seemed to have impacted significantly on the demands of the Kosovar and the Macedonian Albanians. Union with Albania proper did remain at the agenda. However autonomy calls took the lead. The Albanian ETSM thereby emerged.

The Albanian ETSM became active three times in the post war period. In 1968 the Kosovar Albanians went to their first-scale demonstration. Kosovars called for republican status for the province. Echoing Kosovars’ demands, the Macedonian Albanians raised claim for federated Albanian republic (Fackler, 1997:50). Than in 1981 Kosovars again began mass scale protests. Their unrest followed the demise of the Yugoslav president Tito, considered to be the Kosovars’ protector and beneficator. The demonstrators demanded that the “de facto” republican status granted by Tito in the 1974 constitution be legally enshrined (Poulton, 1991: 61). Events in Kosovo spread to Macedonia where protestors called for language equality and the establishment of an Albanian university in Tetovo (Vickers, 1995: 205). Than again, in early 1990s Kosovars raised claims for full republican status for the province but soon reformulated it calling for the establishment of independent Kosovar state. The move initially radicalized the Macedonian Albanians and they kept on raising territorial claims from 1990 through 1994.

In sum, ETSM as an affinity and rational transborder actor, is the post WWII representative of the traditional ethnonationalist movements. ETSM’s quest for self-determination at times when opportunities open up, and its work for the diffusion of contentious activism across borders from more mobilized to less mobilized segments, are what makes out of isolated ethnonationalist contentious acts, a sustainable ethnic movement. Is not ETSM then an example of what Tarrow called ‘social movement’(1994)?

The Albanian ETSM and the Macedonian Crisis: affitinies, rational choice, opportunitiesto the top

The following discussion aims to test the major assumptions of this research. The empirical data gathered and systematized below will have to prove that the 2001 Macedonian crisis was caused by the Albanian ETSM, acting simultaneously at both sides of the Macedonian-Yugoslav border, at times when opportunities for this emerge. The discussion is focused on a transborder communal agent, the Albanian ETSM, and specifically, on its Kosovo and Macedonia segment.

The Albanian ETSM underwent a rapid identity and organizational evolution in the 1990s. Three periods stand out in its development. One embraces the first years of the 1990s nearly up to 1994. The second lasts from 1994 through the 1999 Kosovo crisis. The third begins with the Kosovo militarized conflict and seems to be ending with the general settlement of the Macedonian crisis.

Affinities: 1990 - 1994

From 1990 though 1994 ethnic identity became a strong source for intra-communal mobilization throughout the whole Balkan region. The reason was the Yugoslav disintegration and the ensuing violent ethnic crises in Croatia and Bosnia. Within the ethnic Albanian diaspora, Kosovo stood out as most conflict prone. The proclamation of Kosovo as an independent state in October 1991 and the establishment through 1993 of parallel, though shadow economic, social and political institutions in the province indicated that Kosovo, would be the place to generate and diffuse ethnic tension.

In neighboring Macedonia, ethnic identity too became a primary source for mobilization and action. Episodes of ethnic consolidation and communal self-establishment abounded.

On 20 November 1991 the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) holding 25 out of 120 seats in the Macedonian parliament boycotted a special parliamentary session dedicated to the promulgation of Macedonia’s new constitution and to country’s proclamation as an independent nation. The act aimed to protest the preamble of the Macedonian constitution which declared Macedonia to be “the national state of the Macedonian people”. Ever since than well until negotiations on the constitution’s preamble began in 2001, the ethnic Albanians never really seemed to have recognized the sovereignty of their host state. Intra-communal loyalty took precedence over loyalty to the state.

Soon after the ethnic Albanians contested Macedonia’s constitution they themselves organized a referendum on the establishment of a separate Albanian republic of Illirida. The referendum came as a response to the Macedonian authorities’ reluctance to recognize the ethnic Albanians as a constituent people. Interestingly, the referendum of the Macedonian Albanians was held shortly after Kosovo declared its independence in 1991 and shortly before Kosovo held its first parliamentary and presidential elections in 1992.

Again in 1993, the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity boycotted a parliamentary session of the Macedonian Sobranie. The session voted for the acceptance of Macedonia’s temporary name, FYROM, admitting the country to the United Nations. PDP argued that Macedonia should not receive international recognition, as long as the country had a poor minority rights record.

In January 1993, a United Nations Protection Force troops deployed in western Macedonia to monitor the border separating Kosovo and Macedonia. The measure proved timely: in 1993, ethnic consolidation acts were taking place alongside with episodes of ethnic militarization. A military unit emerged which was said to be the predecessor of the Kosovo Liberation Army (Cordesman, 1999:6); (Judah, 1999: 21); (North, 1998: 50).

Thus in November 1993 the Macedonian authorities reported of a discovery of a secret paramilitary organization calling itself the All-Albanian Army (AAA). The organization was said to be operating within the army of the Republic of Macedonia (RFE/RL Vol 3, #4, 28 Jan 1994). Analysts attributed the event to espionage (RFE/RL Vol 3, #4, 28 Jan 1994), as well as to plans for staging of an armed rebellion in Macedonia with the intent to create the Republic of Illirida (Fackler, 1997: 74). In January 1994 arrest of ethnic Albanian leaders followed. The leaders were charged with separatist activities, as well as with involvement in an AAA plot aimed to smuggle weapons in Macedonia and develop an Albanian ethnic militia.


Rational choice: 1994 - 1999

From 1990 through early 1994 the activities of the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia aimed at the federalization of the country, and even at secession of Albanian populated areas. Since 1994 however the ethnic Albanian radicalism seemed to be weakening. A new period of ethnic politics began where rational calculations were gathering momentum.

To be sure, ethnic unrest did occur in Macedonia from 1994 through 1999. Clashes on the occasion of a forthcoming population census were reported in July of 1994 in the city of Tetovo. Clashes between ethnic Albanians and the Macedonian police were again reported in 1995. At that time the issue of discord was the opening of the illegal Albanian-language University. In July of 1997 another incident occurred. Macedonian special forces were sent to Gostivar to take down the Albanian, Turkish and Macedonian flags flying outside Gostivar’s town hall. What distinguishes that ethnic unrest from conflicts of previous period however were the newly formulated objectives of ethnic Albanians. As we shall see, none of those objectives exceeded or abused the basic norms of democratic group participation.

The new period of ethnic politics began for the Albanian ETSM in early 1994. More concretely, in February 1994 the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity held a congress where the party split into a moderate and radical wing. While the radical faction, led by Arben Xhaferi and Menduh Thaci heavily criticized the government, the moderate faction announced that it was determined to work within the political system, and achieve ethnic Albanian demands through compromise. The new goals of the ethnic Albanians remained unchanged well until the beginning of the 2001 crisis. Federalization of Macedonia was abandoned. Instead, the new goals included proportional representation of the ethnic Albanians in state institutions; change of Constitution in its part specifying the status of the ethnic Albanians; establishment of an ethnic Albanian university; establishment of media and education in minority language (BBC, 17 August, 1994); (Reuters, 13 October, 1994). In 1997 Xhaferi’s Democratic Party of the Albanians reiterated the same demands. Xhaferi said, he was determined to challenge the government on crucial issues, such as higher education for the ethnic Albanians, as well as broader use of the Albanian language.

At the time of the Kosovo crisis, the Macedonian Albanians again acted rather moderately. In fact, Xhaferi’s Democratic Party of the Albanians reaffirmed its support for the temporary government of the Kosovar radical Hasim Thaci (BBC, 30 April, 1999). Likewise, all Albanians of Macedonia expressed their firm support for the independence of Kosovo, while their two largest ethnic parties issued a joint statement calling on all Kosovo political forces to continue their state-constituent effort (BBC, 6 May, 1999).

However, there were no calls for the federalization of Macedonia. During a visit to neighboring Bulgaria in February 1999 Xhaferi admitted that the situation of the Macedonian Albanians was different from that of the Kosovars. Xhaferi rejected the possibility of reshaping Macedonia’s borders, pointing to the fact, that the Macedonian Albanians have been politically, but never administratively separate (BBC, 5 February, 1999). At a later point in time, the ethnic Albanian leader was quoted as saying that his party’s duty was to “stabilize Macedonia and achieve unity”, urging the Macedonian Albanians not to get directly involved in the Kosovo conflict (BBC, 31 March, 1999).

The moderate position of the ethnic Albanians should barely be attributed to the group’s good will to keep Macedonia’s borders intact. Most likely, there were cleavages within the (Kosovar) Albanian leadership, which prevented the Macedonian Albanians from taking a radical stand. Sympthomatically, Arben Xhaferi has expressed recurrent concern about the ethnic Albanian intra-communal unity (BBC, 31 March, 1999); (BBC, 6 May, 1999); (BBC, 15 May, 1999). Whatever the reasons behind the moderate stand of Macedonian Albanians, rational calculations seemed to have had as much space in shaping the politics toward Kosovo, as did affinity considerations.


Opportunities: 1999 – 2001

The militarization of the Kosovo conflict created an opportunity for the Macedonian Albanians to exert additional pressure on their own government. The opportunity: the actors, capable of interacting with the Macedonian government doubled. One actor were the Macedonian ethnic parties legitimately participating in Macedonia’s political process. The other actor however were the paramilitary groups formed by ethnic brethren across the border with Kosovo. The Albanian ETSM has evolved into a factor capable of challenging states at both sides of their borders. Moreover, the transborder ethnic network of the Albanian ETSM enabled Kosovo paramilitary groups to even challenge the Macedonian government on its own soil.

Spillover of conflict from Kosovo to Macedonia did not occur at the end of the 1999 Kosovo conflict. However in 2000, crisis from Kosovo was imported in south Serbia. In the spring of 2001, militarized conflict was transferred from Kosovo to Macedonia.


The Macedonian crisis: the Albanian ethnic factor

The Macedonian crisis lasted from early March through mid August 2001. It passed two stages. Stage one embraced the month of March alone. Crisis at that stage was clearly imported from Kosovo. Stage two stretched from early April through mid August. This was a violent domestic crisis sparked by the insurgence imported from Kosovo. Here are the facts:

The Macedonian crisis began in late February with sporadic incursions from Kosovo to Macedonia. It broke out in early March, when insurgents infiltrated Macedonia and fought separate battles near Tanusevci (2 March), Kumanovo (9 March), Tetovo (15 March).

In the course of the month, no statement was made on the goals of the insurgence. It was only known that Albanian guerrillas were crossing from Kosovo, and were wearing the insignia of the National Liberation Army (NLA). Arben Xhaferi, leader of the Democratic Party of Albanians, did not officially distance himself from the insurgents. However, he did admit that there was no organized campaign of ethnic Albanians against the Macedonian authorities (The New York Times, 25 February, 2001), and promised to work hard to diffuse fears that Tanusevci incident could lead to interethnic clashes in Macedonia (Financial Times, 2 March, 2001). From Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher qualified the incidents as “acts of violence by extremists who are seeking to undermine the stability of Macedonia, Kosovo and the region” (The Guardian, 6 March, 2001).

About mid-March the insurgents stated that they wanted to talk to the Macedonian government. The subject of talks was not specified (mediapool.bg, 18 March, 2001). In the last week of March, analysts came to assume that the insurgence goal was articulated in a joint statement by the Kosovar leaders, Ibrahim Rugova, Hacim Thaci and Ramush Haradinaj. The three leaders called on the insurgents to stop fighting but also urged the Macedonian authorities to find a solution to the problems of the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia (mediapool.bg, 23 March, 2001). This statement implied that the status of communal rights of ethnic brethren across the border, rather than a quest for seizure of ethnic territories, has brought guerrillas from Kosovo to Macedonia.

Eventually, by end March domestic crisis actors emerged. The two ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia were taking on from the Kosovar insurgents. In concrete terms, it was decided that the coalition Slav-Albanian government of VMRO-DPA, would be replaced by a Grand coalition, to include, additionally to the above two parties, also the opposition Slav party, SDSM; as well as the opposition Albanian party, PDP. Cease-fire was announced and negotiations commenced. With domestic Albanian parties taking on from the Kosovars, stage one of crisis ended, and stage two began.

At stage two however the agent of crisis was again the Albanian ETSM, not the Macedonian Albanians alone. While the two ethnic Albanian parties of Imeri and Xhaferi were officially taking part in minority right’s discussions, guerrillas were fighting the Macedonian army and police, seizing territories, attempting to assure access to the negotiation table, and formulating communal demands. The Macedonian government faced an official challenge on two fronts.

Thus eleven days following the establishment of the coalition government Macedonia again was on the verge of chaos due to the activities of the Albanian ETSM. It was established that the Albanian parties – members of the Grand coalition - have signed a secret peace deal with the Albanian guerrillas. The deal was condemned by the Slav Macedonian parties, as well as by the US and the EU. However, while widely criticized the deal marked an important step in the crisis evolution. The secret intra-Albanian deal finally made clear what the rebels’ goals were. The deal stated that the two Albanian parties and the NLA shared a common political platform aimed at changes in constitution, recognition of the Albanian language as the second official language, proportional representation for the ethnic Albanians in state institutions and more local autonomy. The deal also demanded “amnesty for NLA fighters in return for cease-fire” and “NLA right to veto decisions regarding ethnic Albanian rights”. The deal admitted that there was no military solution to the conflict and promised to preserve the territorial integrity of the state (cited after Ackermann, 2001).

In fact, the above goals presented the platform of the Albanian ETSM, rather than that of the Kosovar Albanians. This joint platform was the best proof that the crisis actor was a transborder movement. The international community employed separate approaches to different ETSM’s segments. The US and the EU made it clear to the rebels that the latter would not be admitted to the negotiating table. Alternatively, the Macedonian Albanians were invited to outline their vision for political reforms in Macedonia.

However, the ethnic Albanian guerrillas were to remain a key crisis factor. Shortly after Javier Solana, EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, negotiated with the Slav Macedonian parties a declaration unpicking the intra-Albanian agreement, the guerrillas seized Aracinovo, the largest suburb of capital Skopje (Financial Times, 9 June, 2001). By blackmailing the government, threatening to hit strategic targets near and inside Skopje, NLA failed president Trajkovski’s peace plan, which aimed, among other things, to isolate and disarm the rebels.

Thanks to international backing Trajkovski succeeded in isolating the rebels from political discussions. However, rebels’ demands determined the crisis future agenda. Rebels’ disarmament was to be arranged on NLA’s liking. NLA demanded that NATO deploys its troops in Macedonia.

NATO, on its part, made clear the conditions for the deployment of its troops. They included: peace deal among political parties; durable cease-fire; and agreement between government and guerrillas on disarmament plan to include amnesty for those turning over their arms. Thereby by late June the two fronts challenging the Macedonian authorities clearly stood out: political negotiations were to be led with the ethnic Albanian parties in Macedonia; military disputed were to be settled with the Kosovar guerrillas at the battle field.

A follow-up agreement brokered by Javier Solana moved the rebels away from capital Skopje and assured cease-fire. Diplomats and Macedonian politicians turned than to deliberations of political reforms aimed to improve the situation of the ethnic Albanians in Macedonia.

In late July NLA again interfered in crisis. At that time talks on the peace plan drawn up by envoys from the EU and the US stalled as the Macedonian government refused to agree on recognizing the Albanian language as the second official language. The government accused NATO and the West of siding with the ethnic Albanians saying, the proposals would tear Macedonia apart. In its quest to exercise a pressure on the Western mediators, the government closed its border with Kosovo thereby interrupting the vital supply line for NATO-led KFOR in Kosovo. As a result, fighting between the Macedonian government and NLA resumed around Tetovo forcing 10,000 Macedonians in the region to flee their homes. For first time rebels moved out of the bush, re-occupying territories free at the time of cease-fire, and preventing Slav-Macedonian refugees from returning home. Peace negotiations only resumed after Lord Robertson, NATO Secretary General and Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, brokered an agreement under which the NLA’s guerrillas were to draw back from Tetovo and Macedonian refugees were to be allowed to go home.

NLA kept on interfering in Macedonia’s politics after signing of a peace deal and of an amnesty pact in mid August. In a statement to news agencies, Commander Shpati, a senior officer in NLA said, he expected that the August peace agreement will result in NLA disarmament but only if minority rights were implemented concurrently. NLA reserved for itself the role of an agency enforcing the peace deal.

Transition to normality went relatively smoothly in Macedonia. NATO Operation Essential Harvest responsible for the collection of NLA weapons began on 20 August and ended on 26 September. On 28 September Albanian guerrilla movement announced its dissolution.

To recapitulate, the Macedonian crisis of 2001 was caused by domestic and foreign factors at once. They were: the leadership of the Macedonian Albanians who complained about the lack of progress in the rights of the ethnic Albanians; the insurgents coming from Kosovo, who claimed they fought to ‘end a decade of oppression by the Slav Macedonian government’ (cited after Ackermann, 2001). The two factors were part of a same unit, the Albanian ETSM, which remains persistent over time regardless of its concrete historical or geographical manifestations. Symptomatically, with the dissolution of NLA, on 11 September 2001, the establishment of a new All-Albanian unit was reported. It was called the Albanian National Army (ANA) and it aimed to integrate west Macedonia, Kosovo, parts of Montenegro and even parts of Greece into a new Albanian state (RFE transmission in Bulgarian).

Conclusion: Theory Implications

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Is ETSM then one of those movements introduced by social movement literature as new actors in international politics? My research would answer this question in the negative. ETSM does not seem to belong to the “recent generation” social movements, legitimately admitted to the field of International Relations (Wilmer, 1993), (Keck and Sikkink, 1998).

The reason: most of recent social movement research addresses communal activism of indigenous-, feminist-, and environmental movements. These movements distinguish by their peaceful activism, or by what Wilmer called, “the use of persuasive, rhetorical, and symbolic power” (7). Recent social movement scholarship thereby provides a link between Comparative and International Politics not only by legitimizing non-state actors in world politics, but also by sanctioning this actor’s normative-based approach-, as an alternative to the existing power-based approach in international relations.

ETSM is indeed a non-state actor. However, it is more than obvious that its international activities are power based. Its response to politics across borders is an equivalent to the states’ external intervention.


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(1) International Fact-Finding Mission to the Republic of Macedonia, April 23 - 29, 2001:27. Institute for Regional and International Studies, Sofia: Open Society Foundation.

(2) The border incidents were discussed in the 25 January issue of The Times, and the 19 February issue of The Scotsman. The border measures undertook by the Macedonian government were discussed in the 25 February issue of The Observer.

(3) This view was presented by SDSM leader, Georgi Spasov, at his lecture before participants in the international Fact-finding mission to Skopje on April 23, 2001.

(4) International Fact-Finding Mission to the Republic of Macedonia, April 23 - 29, 2001:27. Institute for Regional and International Studies, Sofia: Open Society Foundation.

(5) This view was presented by Vejseli, representative of the ethnic Albanian PDP leader Imer Imeri, at an official discussion with members of the International Fact-finding mission to the Republic of Macedonia, April 25, 2001.

(6) The Albanian ETSM is one of the three Balkan ETSMs that have been active in the Balkans in the last decade of the XXth century. The other two movements were the Serb and the Croat ETSMs which in early 1992 became responsible for transmitting violent ethnic conflicts from Croatia into Bosnia.

(7) Wilmer, Franke. (1993). The Indigenous Voice in World Politics, Sage Publications, Newbury Park, California.


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Ackermann, Alice. (2001). On the Razor’s Edge: Is There Still a Place and Time for Long-term Conflict Prevention in Macedonia? Paper presented at the Annual International Conference of the Centre for South East European Studies (CSEES), University of London, June 14-16, 2001.

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Judah, Tim. (1999). The Growing Pains of the Kosovo Liberation Army, in Drezov, Kyril, Gokay, Bulent, Kostovicova, Denica, eds., Kosovo. Myths, Conflicts, War. Staffordshire, UK: Keele European Research Centre.

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Logoreci, Anton. (1984). A Clash between Two Nationalisms in Kosova, in Pipa, Arshi and Repishti, Sami, eds. Studies on Kosova. Boulder: East European Monographs.

Minorities at Risk Project, the Yugoslav Albanians file.

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Oschlies, Wolf. (1998). Makedonien im Sommer 1998. Politisch-oekonomische Memantaufnahmen in Schatten des Kosovo-Konflikts, in Berichte des Bundesinstituts fuer ostwissenschaftliche und internationale Studies, August Vol 39.

Olson, Mancur. (1965). The Logic of Collective Action. Public Goods and the Theory of Groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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Putnam, Robert. (1998). Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two Level Games, in International Organization, Vol 42: 427-460.

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Samarasinghe, S.W.R.de A. (1990). The Dynamics of Separatism, in Premdas, Ralph, Samarasinghe, S.W.R. de A. and Anderson, Alan., eds. Secessionist Movements in Comparative Perspective. New York: St.Martin’s Press.

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Wilmer, Franke. (1993). The Indigenous Voice in World Politics. New Burry Park: Sage Publications.

Journals and Newspapers

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BBC, 17 August 1994. 
BBC, 5 Feb.1999. 
BBC, 31 March, 1999. 
BBC, 30 Apr. 1999. 
BBC, 6 May, 1999. 
BBC, 15 May, 1999. 
The Daily Telegraph, 2 March 2001
Financial Times, 2 March, 2001. 
Financial Times, 9 June 01. 
The Guardian, 6 March, 2001. 
Mediapool.bg. , 5 March 2001
Mediapool.bg. 18 March, 2001. 
Mediapool.bg. 23 March, 2001. 
The New York Times, 3 Apr. 1999. 
The New York Times, 25 Feb. 2001. 
Reuters, 13 October 1994. 
RFE/RL, vol 1, # 14, 3 April 1992
RFE/Rl, vol 2, #44, 5 Nov 1993
RFE/RL, vol. 3, #4, 28 Jan. 1994. 
RFE transmission in Bulgarian