The Conflict in Macedonia – Hypotheses for Development

The “Macedonian Question,” which had developed into a generally known question for over a century, ceased to exist in its classical sense after the fall of Yugoslavia and the consequent creation of the independent Macedonian State.

In the last ten years, the relations of the neighbouring Balkan countries towards Macedonia went through different phases of awareness about the indispensability for its independent existence as a state; for breaking-up, although with difficulties, with the historical illusions and massed prejudices and for searching new, more realistic and pragmatic approaches towards bilateral relations with the Balkan neighbour.

Bulgaria was the first country to recognize the independence of the Republic of Macedonia officially, even before the so-called Super Powers. The way in which the question that is open even today was left aside, no matter how rational and politically grounded this rush was at that moment, the semi-formula with which the then President Zheliu Zhelev announced the solution of this radical move, discovered the still ongoing “romanticism” among a substantiate part of the Bulgarian society as regards our western neighbour.

It is not worthless to mention what Zheliu Zhelev said in one of his interviews in 1991 for “Zie Deutche Zeitung:” “Bulgaria (it recognizes a Macedonian state, but) does not recognize a Macedonian nation, because this nation has been artificially made-up by the Komintern for a specific political goal.” 1

In this case we will not comment on the ideological, historical and theoretical aspects of Zheliu Zhelev’s understandings about Macedonia,2 and the fact that he as the president at that time continued both his and the inconsistent line of conduct of his advisers and refuted to recognize the Macedonian language, even though he allowed his own book to be translated in this same language and attended its promotion in Skopje.

As a matter of fact, the non-recognition of the official language was the reason for not signing a set of commercial and cultural agreements between the two countries in 1994. So, Bulgaria missed the opportunity to step permanently on the grounds of its western neighbour at the time when Greece announced its full embargo. The illusions melted too fast, fed by a part of the Bulgarian political elite, that by recognizing Macedonia it would be transformed into the most loyal Bulgarian ally in the Balkans. Nobody was trying to understand and accept rationally that the only way for Macedonia to be affirmed as a state with its own past, presence and future was to distance itself from Bulgaria even at the expense of forging its history.3

At the same time, neither officially nor unofficially, Bulgaria does not react to the obviously non-applicable formulas in the Macedonian Constitution that could be freely interpreted as territorial and ethnic aspirations outside the areas of the Republic, as well as to the rude historical forgeries that were then spread throughout Macedonia for the sake of backing and justifying similar formulas. The curious formula was then reached: Greek historians were proving the Bulgarian character of the territories and the population of Macedonia in the historical concept for the sake of rejecting the aspirations of their Macedonian colleagues and the official propaganda of Skopje.4

In 1994, we asked the mass media and the scientific publications the question about the pre-formulation of the Bulgarian recognition of Macedonia on the basis of a more pragmatic approach. In doing so, on the one side it has to do with the continuation of the already chosen foreign policy towards the new neighbour, while on the other side the Bulgarian national interests were protected from the ungrounded historical aspirations of the Macedonian propaganda. We will be free to paraphrase: “The Republic of Bulgaria recognizes the existence of an independent Macedonian State, of a Macedonian nation and Macedonian language only and uniquely within its present territorial borders.”

In spite of the expected reaction inside Bulgaria itself, opposed to such a “concession to national interests and treason of national ideals” on the side of some political and social circles at that time, this formula was obviously evinced as synchronous compared to the existing political realities in the Balkans at that time. At the same time, it categorically and clearly enough shows that there cannot be a compromise with the past and the history of the Bulgarian nation and state. The permitted mistake, which was on the highest level, of mixing modern policy with historical, ideological and emotional arguments, was paid for by Bulgaria with substantial political and economic losses. It was amended, although silently, not before 1999.

Greece approaches the problem of an independent Macedonian State in a different way. Greece has practically nothing to object to the existence of such a state – a buffer between the traditional rivals for the area of Macedonia, although, due to security reasons, it prefers to remain in the frameworks of the Yugoslav Federation. Grounded or not, among the Greek political elite, and henceforward the public opinion, there develops and strengthens the traditional fear that Macedonia will not survive as an independent state, which will foster the appetites of Serbia, but mostly Bulgaria, for re-shaping the borders and annexing territories and population.

Time was needed following Bulgaria’s recognition of Macedonia’s independence for Greece to be convinced that this act was not hiding any secret re-shaping directed against the Greek national interests. With the gradual invigoration of Macedonian state nationalism, in which territorial and ethnic aspirations towards its immediate neighbours are penetrating, a tumultuous and mass campaign is taking shape in Greece that has been literally transformed into a national psychosis against the recognition of Macedonia as a state in general. Macedonia declined from changing some symbols that irritated the Greeks from its bank notes, its state flag and coat of arms, as well as some paragraphs in its Constitution, which led to a deep crisis in the relations between Skopje and Athens that have passed through different phases of development since 1991 to date. A kind of an apogee is Greece’s refusal to recognize a republic under the name “Macedonia” and the imposition of a full embargo against the state.6

Serbia does not rush to officially recognize the Republic of Macedonia either, which did not lead to a cooling-down in the traditionally good relations between the two republics. On the one hand, this might be owed to the Serbian population, although in a minor quantity, living in Macedonia, as well as to the pro-Serbian feelings among a part of the new Macedonian political elite. Not even the unresolved and long-postponed border problem between the two states has transformed into a serious hurdle in bilateral relations. During the deteriorated political relations between Greece and Macedonia, especially in the first half of the 90’s, which was also the time when relations with Bulgaria were not dynamically developed, it was not opportune for Macedonia to corrode its relations with Serbia as well. At the same time, Serbia has been engaged in long-lasting military activities in the west and is suffering an international embargo, because of which it is neither interested nor strong enough to open a “new front” of counteraction. The fact that Serbia for Macedonia appears as the only natural support and ally in the context of the problem for both the countries – the existence of compact masses of Albanian population on their territories – is not the last in the row to be taken into consideration.

Finally, in spite of some demonstrated reservation as regards the formal recognition of the Republic of Macedonia by some of its neighbours, the three states – the elementary participants in the traditional “Macedonian question” - “de facto” represent their consent for Macedonia to exist as an independent state – a guarantee for a political balance among them. In practice, they stop playing the role of the factor whose direct interference conditions and defines the fate of Macedonia in the course of the past century and a half. Of course, this does not lead to a solution for the problems of Macedonia. Gradually, another basic factor is interfering in the state, moving the traditional rivalry among the three Balkan states. The huge and complicated Albanian question puts an end to the old and new plans for re-shaping and dividing Macedonia, and thus to the still unlived historical illusions and romantic plans connected to the past, the present and the future of this republic.

In its volume, the “Albanian question” incorporates a few mutually connected aspects that are directly or indirectly inflicting most of the Balkan states.

The nearly two million Albanians in Kosovo, which is the absolute majority of the population there, have been recently deprived of the incomplete autonomous rights. After NATO’s war against Serbia, the future of Kosovo’s development is depicted as independent for the major part of this area. The perspective for the Serbs is either to lose the entire Kosovo or most of it. There are a few alternatives and combinations that are hinted at as regards the status of the area. One of the possible solutions is to re-establish the status of Kosovo as an autonomous area in the frameworks of New Yugoslavia, which is similar to Vojvodina. Even though in various variants, this option is greatly backed by the “international community.” In spite of this, it can hardly have a real perspective considering the already categorical rebut of the Albanians to continue to live in the present Yugoslavia.

The second perspective would be to proclaim Kosovo a republic in the frameworks of Yugoslavia with an equal status to those of Serbia and Montenegro. This perspective is also hardly possible because of the ultimate reaction of the Serbs to such a solution that prepares grounds for secession through a referendum of the entire Kosovo from the Yugoslav federative community. On the other hand, rising radicalism among the Kosovo Albanians is also not helping to accomplish such a similar scheme.

The most realistic seems to be the third variant, according to which the area could be formally divided into a smaller Serbian part and a larger one dominated by the Albanian population. The latter could be first granted an autonomous or directly republican status in the frameworks of Yugoslavia, so that in the future there could be no obstacles for it to proclaim independence as an autonomous Albanian Kosovo state. Although in relation to the latest events in the area (the parliamentary elections in 2001) the idea for autonomy among the Albanians was nearly reduced to zero, a generally acceptable solution for the status of the area on the international plan has not yet been found.

The fourth variant, which would be just an interim solution, would be to proclaim the entire area of Kosovo an “international protectorate,” so that the United Nations would take measures for the protection of the multi-ethnic population in its frameworks. However, in practice, this means that the dominating population living in the area would sooner or later impose its views and model for the future of Kosovo, not caring about the wish of the other minority groups. In such a case, the usual time needed for accustoming world public opinion to the newly created situation and for accepting it as normal and natural is considerable. In such a situation, it is logical to get to the proclamation of an independent state in the expectation of the proper time for its official recognition by the UN. Such a development of the situation could, to a great extent, become analogue to the situation in Cyprus after the self-proclamation of the North-Cypriot Turkish Republic.

On the one hand, in this way the possibility for making true the fantasy of the Albanians to be united in a large state is augmented. Under special conditions, however (disapproval of the international institutions to sanction such a unification, inconvenient international situation, problems of an internal political character, and so on), as well as in the name of the strategic and tactical aims of the Albanians, the parallel existence of two Albanian formations – Albania and Kosovo so that the latter could include a part of Macedonia - could continue for an indefinite period. Under such circumstances, it would be neither strange nor an exception (such an indicator is, for instance, the “difficult” unification of Romania and Moldavia) if the political elite in the Albanian Kosovo state develops and gradually defines on a large scale the basic idea for an independent, different from that of the Albanians in Albania, an awareness for national affiliation in spite of the common ethnic roots. A part of the present Kosovo leaders are already giving such hints, and the existence of two, in every way close, Albanian states on the international plan can be of benefit for them. The real thing that is happening right now in the area is that the “international community” personified in the KFOR formally treats the area as a UN protectorate, not daring, however, to announce it officially as such. In this phase we can see no reasonable suggestion for a lasting solution to the question of Kosovo’s future. The longer the Kosovo problem remains unsolved, the greater the possibilities for its link with the other unresolved aspects of the Albanian question, which is to the benefit of the ultimate demands of the majority population living in the area. The parliamentary elections held in Kosovo on 17 November 2001, when the Democratic Alliance led by Ibrahim Rugova won, are in direct support to this claim. Although the West considers him “the most moderate” Kosovo leader and it looks to him as the hope for seeking and finding a solution on the base of a generally acceptable compromise, in the last two to three years the future Kosovo president has also become radical to such an extent that just before the elections he gave an interview for “Spiegel” in which he said “we are outside Yugoslavia” and “everything but independence is not acceptable for us,” and immediately following the elections he asked the “international community” to recognize the independence of Kosovo and the creation of a new state under the name “Dardania” in the quickest possible way.7

In this context, the reaction of the Serbian Cabinet is interesting. It did not subdue to these provocative statements and announced that Serbia would recognize the government of the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and cooperate with it. At the same time, it sends a warning to the Albanian leaders not to declare the unilateral independence of the area because this will lead the peace process there to a dead-end. The fact that the Kosovo Serbs are also not boycotting the elections is another indicator that they are aware of the danger of the secession of this area, they accept the “international protectorate” as the only chance in this phase of keeping the province as an integral part of Yugoslavia. In the present international situation, the West does not demonstrate an inclination to satisfying the aspirations of the Albanians, and harshly reacts to Ibrahim Rugova’s statements. However, there are no guarantees that this will be the permanent line of conduct in the future as well. The existence of three “international protectorates” in the former Yugoslavia can be hardly accepted as a long-term perspective, no matter whether under NATO, UN or any other international organization’s leadership.

All the four variants are waiting, and by their nature they will lead to a full ethnic “cleansing” in the area in reality and to a final separation between the Serbs and the Albanians, no matter under what “democratic” model this is befogged. As much as the Dayton Agreement is effective for Bosnia (in practice it is not functioning, ethnic cleansing continues there, so in reality there aren’t any possibilities for creating neither a Bosnian Serbian state nor a federation of the Croats and Muslims, while the “international community” pretends that such a problem does not exist), that much effective will be any attempt of the same “international community” to impose a kind of an “international protectorate” as a permanent and stable solution to the Kosovo problem in the interests of the two ethnic communities living in the area.

In this sense, the most rational solution to the problem may be the direct question for the ethnic division of Kosovo in real and appropriately satisfactory limits for both sides, in order to evade future conflicts between the Serbs and the Albanians there.

This may not be in conformity with the humane principles of the international community against ethnic cleansing in general, but as in the Bosnian, so in the Kosovo case the interference of this community on behalf of these principles led to the practice of more widespread ethnic cleansing.

The basic problem on an international level in such an unavoidable development of the events is the precedent that will be placed for changing the state-territorial borders on the basis of the rights of the ethnic minorities. On a regional level this will lead to a deepening of the problem (the question about the Albanian population and territory in southern Serbia has already been raised, and it is not a wonder if the same thing happens in the near future as regards the rights of the Albanian minority in Montenegro) up to its going outside the borders of Yugoslavia under the form of a chain reaction associated with the attitude of the Albanians in Macedonia.

part II


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1 Quoted from Insider, 1991, N. 11, p 27

2 See: TODOROV, V. Ethnos, Nation, Nationalism. Aspects of Theory and Practice, Sofia, 2000, pp 39-46

3 See: TODOROV, V. Relations Between Bulgaria and Greece As Seen By Their Political Elites. Athens, ELIAMEP 20, 1994

4 See Collection of Documents “The Events of 1903 in Macedonia as Presented in European Diplomatic Correspondence,” Thessaloniki, 1993

5 In ”168 Hours,” N. 24, 20-26 June 1994

6 For more details see HRISTAKUDIS, A. Balkan Policy of Greece, Sofia, 1998, pp 201-241.

7 Quoted from “168 Hours,” 23-29 November 2001.