Kosova's Threat to Macedonia

By Patrick Moore | 1998-09-01 12:00:00

The emergence of the crisis in Kosova and the possibility that the violence could spill over into other countries has drawn international attention to Macedonia and its security problems. The country faces two sets of issues: long-term and more immediate. Regional democratization and cooperation are the keys to a secure future for the small, land-locked state. Macedonia's democratic institutions are new and fragile, and the fate of the country's stability seems all too bound up with that of one man, namely President Kiro Gligorov. Politics, like society, are highly polarized by the divide between the Slavic, ethnic Macedonian majority, and the Albanian minority. The Albanians make up 20 - 25% of the population and are concentrated in the western part of the country, which borders on Albania and Kosova. Macedonia's military came into being only after independence in 1992. Geography also presents security problems. To the north is Serbia, which recognized Macedonia's territorial integrity only in 1996 and which as recently as April 1998 called for changes in the Serbian-Macedonian border. To the south is Greece, which conducted an economic blockade of Macedonia (1992-1995) in a dispute over Macedonia's name and state symbols. Macedonia enjoys relatively good relations with Albania to the west and especially with Bulgaria and Turkey to the east. But it will be many years before projected road and rail links connecting to Istanbul via Skopje and Sofia are operational. Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano recently said that his country, Macedonia, and Greece have a "good partnership," but Macedonia's ethnic tensions remain a difficulty.

The worst problems for Macedonia's security since early 1997 have come from the "arc of crisis" running from western Macedonia into Albania, Kosova, and Serbia proper. Ethnic tensions rose in western Macedonia during 1997 in response to the Macedonian authorities' refusal to legalize the underground Albanian-language university. Nano has reminded Skopje that Tirana is not indifferent to the plight of Macedonia's ethnic Albanians.

The Albanian government has made it clear that it has no interest in destabilizing Macedonia or in conducting an irredentist policy against its neighbors. Albania did become a factor for regional instability in early 1997, however, when anarchy broke out following the collapse of pyramid schemes. The June 1997 elections led to the restoration of basic security and economic life.


The most pressing danger for Macedonia is the conflict in Kosova because Macedonian Albanian and Kosovar societies are linked following decades of common statehood in the former Yugoslavia. Many leaders of the two communities studied together at Prishtina's Albanian-language university.

Serbia's huge military power is the greatest direct threat to Macedonian security, especially as long as Milosevic remains in power. Unconfirmed reports, moreover, suggest some links may exist between anti-Albanian nationalists in the Serbian and Macedonian security services, which could bode ill for regional security. Finally, Milosevic enjoys popularity among some ethnic Macedonians who feel that only "Slobo" knows how to deal with Albanians, namely through violence.

There are at least four steps that the international community might consider in order to stem the immediate threats to Macedonia's security. First, NATO could station troops on Macedonia's and Albania's frontiers with Yugoslavia as a deterrent. Second, the Atlantic alliance could consider what to do about Milosevic's capability to wage war in Kosova and potentially against his Balkan neighbors. Third, NATO could expand its Partnership for Peace program in Albania and Macedonia. And fourth, the international community could implement a large program to promote democracy in Serbia.

The democratization of Serbia may prove the key to regional stability. A second factor would be for Greece to take the lead in integrating its neighbors in Euro-Atlantic structures. Athens should avoid a return to the nationalist grandstanding that has often characterized its policy in the region. Third, the international community could augment its already generous aid package to promote east-west transport links in the Balkans and thereby reduce Macedonia's dependence on Serbia and Greece. Fourth, the international community could take further steps to promote the security and prosperity of Albania as an investment in regional stability.

Patrick Moore writes for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, source of this paper

Peace Magazine Sept-Oct 1998

Peace Magazine Sept-Oct 1998, page 20. Some rights reserved.

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