Albanian Extremists Pose Regional Threat

Albanian politicians must rally to curb the activities of extreme nationalists.

Albanian Extremists Pose Regional Threat

Albanian politicians must rally to curb the activities of extreme nationalists.

Following the uprising in the Presevo valley of southern Serbia, another Albanian insurgency has broken out, this time in Macedonia.

Unlike the Kosovo Liberation Army of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac, the new guerrilla movement has a more catchy and ambitious name, the National Liberation Army.

Its acronym is identical to that of the Kosovo Liberation Army, UCK, whose liberation war against Serbian forces culminated in last year's NATO bombardment.

As a result of the emergence of these radical groups, the international community is now concerned about what it sees as growing Albanian militancy.

The Skopje and Belgrade press, including some Western media, claim Kosovo is exporting radical movements which not only threaten Serbia and Macedonia but overall regional stability too.

The Albanians are acquiring the image of a war-mongering nation, taking over from the Serbs as regional troublemakers.

Violence against Serbs in southern Serbia and Kosovo and other minorities reinforces this. Some are beginning to ask: did the

Kosovo Albanians deserve the intervention of NATO forces?

With the main political parties in Kosovo and Albania largely inert, the Albanian militants are coming to the fore, imposing themselves as the patriotic leaders of the entire nation.

I am familiar with the ideology, mentality and motivation behind the forces provoking the armed conflict in Macedonia.

I have come to know these fiery Albanian patriots, especially the émigrés in Europe. And they've tried to persuade me that Macedonia is an artificial creation, formed to the detriment of the Albanian nation.

They have long maintained that the enforced division of the Albanian nation was an historical injustice, aimed to prevent it from being equal to its neighbours in the region.

The injustice would be rectified, they said, by dividing Macedonia into Slav and Albanians parts and allowing the latter to unite with Kosovo or, even better, incorporated into a unitary Albanian state.

After the disintegration of the Yugoslav federation, some of these patriots changed their minds, realising that the division of Macedonia was a risky, if not unfeasible, business.

Macedonia cannot be divided without precipitating a major crisis.

It is no coincidence that NATO troops are deployed there. They've been present since the start of the Yugoslav conflict to prevent it spreading across the Macedonian border and tearing the country apart.

The Albanian radical movements are fighting a war that they cannot win.

They may be right in believing that they could break up Macedonia, but this would be a bad strategic move as the conflict is likely to spill-over into other parts of the region and provoke an international backlash.

Those who support an uprising in Macedonia naively believe that the great powers, in particular the Americans, will side with the Albanians.

Such forecasts are very dangerous, as the Americans will always "side" with those who support their geo-strategic interests - and the Albanians must realise that the partition of Macedonia is not on the US agenda.

There's no doubt that Macedonia is neither a stable nor an ideal state. The Albanians have well-founded objections both to the country's constitution and to various forms of political, national and

economic discrimination inherited from the Yugoslav era.

But Macedonia must exist. And NATO's warnings that it will not tolerate the destabilisation of the country should be taken seriously.

The so-called National Liberation Army is active in the Macedonian border area controlled by NATO, and it would be very unwise for the guerrillas to clash with Alliance troops.

Albanian political forces in Kosovo and Macedonia seem powerless to prevent the activities of extreme militant groups.

The former, though, are beginning to realise the international community's perception that Kosovo is exporting the radicalism could harm the province's long term prospects.

They are aware that there is no military solution to the Albanian question.

Meanwhile, all the political representatives of Albanians in Macedonia, be they in government or opposition, have clearly distanced themselves from the uprising.

And they expect to get backing for this position from their counterparts in Albania and Kosovo, whose response thus far has been lukewarm and confused, due to intense ideological conflicts and a lack of strategic coordination.

But they must overcome their problems quickly, since they have an important role to play in calming passions and preventing the escalation of a new conflict.

Albanian political forces outside Macedonia should give much stronger backing to the likes of Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the Party of Democratic Prosperity of Albanians in Macedonia, who have been unequivocal in their condemnation of the militants.

What's clear is that whether in government or opposition, they will have to work harder to stop radical groups from taking the fate of the Albanian nation into their own hands.

The author is the writer and the head of the Radio Free Europe Office in Pristina.

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