The real interests that lie behind NATO's entry into Macedonia

Nato is to send 3,500 troops to Macedonia with the stated aim of disarming the Albanian rebels who have been involved in armed conflict with the Macedonian army. NATO is going in because Macedonia is on the verge of open civil war. If this were allowed to spread and get out of control it would have far greater consequences than simply that of destabilising Macedonia itself. It could bring Greece and Turkey (both NATO members) into a war where they would be fighting on opposite sides thus seriously weakening NATO's south eastern flank.

On Wednesday, August 15, NATO approved plans to send 3,500 troops to Macedonia to take part in 'Operation Essential Harvest', with the stated aim of disarming the Albanian rebels who have been involved in armed conflict with the Macedonian army over a period of months. Those troops have now started to arrive. But even as they were arriving the supposed cease-fire was being broken by fighting between the Albanian rebels and the Macedonian army.

The real reason for the deployment of NATO troops is to attempt to prevent Macedonia's descent into open civil war. If this were allowed to spread and get out of control it would have far greater consequences than simply destabilizing Macedonia itself. We have explained many times that a war in Macedonia could spark off a far wider war, involving Albania, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia.

The role of Turkey is a complex one. The Turkish speaking population in Macedonia so far has not come into conflict with the Macedonian state. Although the Turks are Muslims, like the Albanian population, they haven't shown any "sympathy" for the rebels. Quiet the contrary, they have condemned the terrorist actions of the NLA and together with the other forgotten minorities they have urged for some kind of peaceful solution to the conflict.

The Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ismail Cem, visited Macedonia recently, but the Albanian political leaders were not satisfied with the position of Turkey which showed no willingness to intervene in a war in Macedonia. The Turkish government is obviously under pressure from US imperialism and it is being pushed into using its weight to convince the Albanian rebels in Macedonia to agree to a peace deal. Albania, however has a de facto agreement with Turkey in the case of war. If Albania were to be sucked in "to defend" the Albanian minority in Macedonia this would increase pressure on Turkey to come down on the side of Albania. .

Bulgaria would probably be the first country to intervene as they regard Macedonia as simply a part of Bulgaria anyway. They would, of course, disguise what would be a de facto attempt to annex parts of Macedonia to Bulgaria, as helping their "brothers". Greece and Serbia would also attempt to carve up spheres of influence for each other. With the intervention of Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece, Turkey would find an excuse to intervene in place like Cyprus and Bulgarian Thracia.

What is most worrying for Western imperialism is that this whole scenario would inevitably involve a war between Greece and Turkey, who are both members of NATO. Thus it would seriously weaken NATO's south eastern flank. NATO is attempting to pre-empt such a disastrous scenario. These are the real concerns of the imperialist powers in the Balkans - not the interests of the peoples.

The August 13 "agreement"

The sending in of NATO troops is based on the so-called "agreement" of August 13. This agreement ended the long drawn out talks with the president. These "talks" between the president of Macedonia, the four leaders of the strongest Macedonian political parties (two from the Macedonian side, Georgievski and Crvenkovski, and two from the Albanian side, Xhaferi and Imeri) were "mediated" by the so-called "alleviators" [Note: this is the term which has actually been used in Macedonia, and which to many Macedonians is seen as both vulgar and a joke] the frenchman Leotard and his companion Perdew from the USA. The imperialist powers imposed this illegal and feudal-like institution, consisting of the same parties that are presently engaged in a broad coalition government. This body is to overlook the proposed changes to the Macedonian constitution.

The result of these talks, under the pressure of the NLA attacks, has been a political piece of paper, a draft preliminary document, which states that Macedonia will continue to be one sovereign state, indivisible and integral. The proposed constitutional changes are in the domain of the usage of languages and the police forces. Thus Albanian would become an official language. And positive discrimination would be applied in the distribution of nationalities in the public sector. The key to one's future employment would be one's ethnic origin.

This will not solve the problem in Macedonia. If applied it would actually exacerbate the conflict. In a situation where unemployment is so high, reserving jobs for people on the basis of their ethnic group will only lead to resentment on all sides. Jobs will not be allocated on the basis of need but on the basis of ethnicity. It will lead to a revolt among the skilled workers (both Macedonians and Albanians) who would feel themselves discriminated on the basis of this method.

All this is a concession to the Albanian guerrillas. They have promised to give up their arms on the basis of these concessions. In reality they will not disarm. Thus the Macedonian speaking majority will be further enraged. This agreement solves nothing. It only prepares new conflicts in the future.

NATO will not be able to leave

The 3,500 troops are supposedly going on a very short term mission of 30 days, in which they are to disarm all the Albanian fighters in North Western Macedonia. This is going to prove an impossible task. As NATO spokesman asked "If 100 per cent of the weapons will be handed in? The honest answer, I think is no" (Financial Times, 13.8.01). The fact is that NATO does not know how many weapons are held by the rebels. Most likely the rebels will make a show of handing over their guns, while the bulk of their weaponry will be stashed away in safe hiding places within Macedonia itself and also just across the border in Kosovo.

Thus the NATO troops will not be able to leave. If they left the conflict would flare up again. In Bosnia and Kosovo, where 20,000 and 40,000 NATO troops respectively, are stationed there is no indication of when they are to withdraw. In the region as a whole, there are around 80, 000 troops.

Anyone listening to the TV news programmes in the West would think that it is going to be a quick, easy operation. But the more serious bourgeois commentators have a much more sober approach. In an editorial statement in The Economist of August 18th, we read the following: "NATO insists the job will last only a month - though all past experience in the Balkans suggests that the task it is about to take on will turn out to be neither that simple, nor that short.

"If the going does get tougher for NATO, that will come as a rude shock to most of its citizens. Their governments have told them remarkably little about this latest outbreak of the Balkan disease - or about its potential to re-poison the entire region with a deadly mixture of ethnic hatred and opportunistic violence. they have instead played down the gravity of the situation, and hence the difficulty of NATO's task. That may yet prove to have been a mistake. The stakes in Macedonia are ominously high."

The same statement reminds the readers of The Economist that the "peacekeeping" mission in Bosnia was plagued by "backbiting and buck-passing between the nations involved". The problem is that each country that contributes troops to the various missions in the Balkans has its own agenda. Internationally there is a conflict of interest between the USA and Western Europe, in particular with the French. Macedonia is not an exception to this. This explains why it has been invariably US troops that have been used to protect the NLA guerrillas inside Macedonia, and also why the Macedonian speaking majority of the population in Macedonia particularly mistrust the US troops.

What is happening now is a de facto extension of NATO's protectorates in the ex-Yugoslavia. Macedonia has already become an economic colony of imperialism. The presence of imperialist troops merely confirms this position.

Western imperialism has plans for this region. In particular they wish to build an oil pipeline from the Caucasus region to the Adriatic. For this to take place they need stability on the Balkans. But the only way they can achieve this is by a permanent military presence throughout the region. They cannot achieve it by economic or political means. And this means that no long lasting stability is possible.

But it is imperialism itself which is to blame for this whole mess. Through the IMF and the World Bank they have imposed stringent economic policies on all these countries. They have demanded the rapid privatisation of these countries' economies, which has led to a massive collapse in living standards, with huge increases in unemployment and the consequent poverty that goes with this. These are the social and economic conditions in which ethnic conflicts can thrive.

Plight of the Macedonian Workers

An article that appeared in the AIM based in Skopje (by Branka Nanevska, May 28, 2001) gave a clear picture of the dire situation facing the Macedonian workers. The title itself was eloquent enough: 'The March of the Hungry'. It described the situation facing about 40 factories in Macedonia. These have been producing at a loss now for some time. The IMF and World Bank have been putting pressure on the Macedonian government to sell off the factories quickly. This would lead to a further 35,000 job losses. This in a country where unemployment already stands at 360,000, around 45%! In May the workers of these factories organised a series of protests. They had had enough after months, and in some cases years, of not receiving their wages. In some cases they set up barricades and road blocks. They were demanding that the managers be changed, many of whom are out simply to line their own pockets. The workers wanted to know whether their jobs would be guaranteed by the new owners who were to come in.

Faced with this situation the parties in government (a coalition of Macedonian and Albanian nationalists plus a few others) have been slowing down the process of privatisation (of what little is left of the old state run companies) because of the social and political consequences. The government fears the wrath of the masses. The mass movement of the workers in Yugoslavia itself (Serbia) is a lesson that is not lost on them.

Nationalist cliques on both sides of the divide

This also explains the totally inconsistent, confused propaganda of the bi-nationalist "government of national salvation". It is totally incapable of solving any of the economic problems facing the workers of Macedonia. That is why the ruling Albanian and Macedonian speaking nationalist petty bourgeois cliques are attempting to divert attention away from the social problems by whipping up anti-Albanian feelings on one side or by presenting the false image of Macedonians as murderers "worse than the Serbs" on the other, depending on which of these two bourgeois cliques is "yours".

This has created a paradoxical situation for western imperialism. In 1998 the VMRO-DPMNE (a right wing conservative nationalist party) led by Georgevski won the elections, ousting the previous government led by the SDSM (Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia). The SDSM is made up of former bureaucrats of the ex "Communist" Yugoslavia. Thus with the coming to power of Georgevski the West thought they had found a reliable ally who would speed up the process of privatisation and bring Macedonia more in line with the interests of western imperialism. Georgievski acted as a harlequin during the NATO bombings of Yugoslavia in 1999. He is a career politician, out for himself. He placed all his trust in NATO and the EU. But he has had to discover that NATO is no longer prepared to be a Santa Claus anymore for him and his criminal followers. So in the recent period Georgevski has been lambasting NATO and the West for their policies in Macedonia. He and his nationalist party, have been whipping up Macedonian patriotism, which is actually an expression of a deep felt frustration among the Macedonian masses towards the West.

The VMRO-DPMNE would actually have preferred outright war against the Albanian rebels. This would have set in motion the nightmare scenario outlined above. Thus even someone who appeared to be a western stooge can turn against his masters. The fact is that the leaders of the VMRO-DPMNE have been busily enriching themselves at the expense of the workers of Macedonia, both Macedonian and Albanian speaking! Knowing this the deal that has just been brokered with the Macedonian government has been based on the promise of an extra $27 million in aid for the country. This is nothing but a bribe to convince the parasites now occupying ministerial positions in Macedonia. It is actually a pittance compared to what the Macedonian needs and will not serve to alleviate the suffering of the workers in Macedonia.

The Macedonian masses do not trust NATO

The Macedonian speaking masses mistrust and despise NATO. The fact that the Albanian rebels possess US weapons, with special high tech night vision goggles supplied by US advisers, justifiably adds to their mistrust, especially of the US. Furthermore, the Macedonian army has few offensive weapons. The Ukraine had been supplying them with armoured vehicles, but under US pressure the Ukraine stopped these supplies.

What happened in the village of Arachinovo illustrates the situation very well. In the middle of June, the Macedonian police decided to take back the big village of Arachinovo, 8 km east of Skopje. The Albanian rebels, armed with long-range (up to 3 to 5 km) 120mm and 82mm guns, were threatening to bomb the nearby International Airport and the only Macedonian oil-refinery, Okta. The NLA had expelled the Macedonian speaking peasants from that village. The activities of the NLA were also the reason why many Albanian speaking Arachinovo people had fled, mostly to Kosovo, for fear of war. The village was thus abandoned. Only the terrorists remained and they occupied the best houses and used them as temporary barracks. The head of the Ministry of the Interior, (the photogenic mealy-mouthed poet, Ljube Boshkovski), ordered an attack on the village. Three days after his famous military-style and provocative statement in front of the TV cameras, when he said "I will give you my interview in the centre of the village this evening", he was unable to do so. The rebels fought the Macedonian forces but after seeing that they could not withdraw safely, they called in Solana from NATO, who at that time was in Macedonia on one of his regular "peace-missions".

NATO immediately entered Arachinovo. They formed a shield protecting the Albanian rebel forces. The result was that the rebels were allowed to be dislocated. From Arachinovo the NLA forces were relocated to Nikushtak (3 km to the north east). Once established there, they started to open fire from the village. What had happened to their weapons? NATO, according to their policy, only had to relocate the armed groups, so the guns, the bombs, mines, etc.,, were temporarily held and then returned! After this shameful and disgraceful intervention on the part of a Kfor group (based in Kosovo across the border and made up completely of US troops) the anti-NATO mood of the Macedonian population reached boiling point.

Thousands spontaneously gathered in front of the Parliament building and demanded an explanation of what had really happened. After this initial violent demonstration against NATO and the Western powers the mood soon calmed down again, and only bitterness and despair remained. Considering the historical memory of the Balkan nations NATO needs to be very careful. The Macedonian people see NATO's role as that of partitioning the country, similar to what happened in Bosnia and in Kosovo. Thus the present government will pay a heavy price for the deal it has struck with NATO.

NLA proposals

On June 14 the NLA published its "peace plan". In this it agreed to disarm on condition that its fighters be integrated into the Macedonian Army and Police. This means that in reality they would not disarm. They would simply police their own territory under the protection of NATO. This is similar to what has happened in Kosovo with the so-called Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC), made up of 5000 ex-KLA fighters. It is a known fact that many KPC officers have been involved in supplying arms to the Albanian rebels inside Macedonia.

As Stratfor pointed out (9.8.2001): "Other NATO-led missions intended to disarm ethnic Albanian militants in Kosovo and Serbia have not deterred fighters from rearming. KFOR disarmed thousands of ethnic Albanians as part of a surrender of the Kosovo Liberation Army in September 1999. But the KLA rearmed, with UN. consent, under the Kosovo Protection Corps (KPC). KFOR recently detained and disarmed hundreds of soldiers loyal to insurgents in Serbia's Presevo Valley, only to clear them of any human rights abuses and send them back to base camp, where they later established the Albanian National Army. Even if NATO could disarm rebels in Macedonia, resupplies would promptly return into northern Macedonia."

The NLA leaders were also demanding they be integrated into the state institutions of the Macedonian Republic. In other words they want a share of the spoils that are flowing from the process of privatisation in Macedonia

But what is most interesting is the demand of the NLA for NATO troops to be positioned throughout the "whole territory" of Macedonia, not just in the areas where the present conflict is taking place. This is reminiscent of NATO's demands in the Rambouillet accord which demanded the presence of NATO troops throughout the whole of the Yugoslav Republic, i.e. in the heart of Serbia itself.

There is a logic in this demand. To apply fully the programme of the IMF and World Bank in Macedonia would require a force to police the Macedonian workers. The Macedonian soldiers and police cannot be trusted to do this. But this will remain a pipe dream of the NLA, as to implement it would mean NATO having to fight the Macedonian people as a whole.

The NLA leaders were perfectly aware of the fact that they could not win an outright war against the Macedonian army. Their strategy was to create a situation whereby NATO would be sucked into the situation. Behind NATO protection they hope to achieve some kind of permanent control over those parts of Macedonia where the Albanian speaking population is a majority.

As The Economist (August 18,2001), pointed out: "The fighters made it plain they would welcome a NATO deployment if it sheltered them from the government's tanks and helicopters, and left them in de facto control of the north and west of the country." But the NATO leaders understood this alone would have been unacceptable to the Macedonian speaking majority. That is why they added the demand for disarmament of the NLA as a condition for them coming in. And the NLA leaders accepted this, knowing they would never give up all their arms anyway.

The NLA was not in a position to defeat the Macedonian army, but it does have the capability of waging a guerrilla war of attack and retreat. Tit-for-tat killings would have continued over a long period. The NLA would continue to harass the Macedonian speaking population in the "Albanian" areas, while the same fate would await those Albanian speaking people living among the Macedonian speaking majority. The prospect would be one of terrible "ethnic cleansing" on both sides. There are already 67,000 Macedonian refugees who have been internally displaced, mainly from Tetovo and Kumanovo. The number of ethnic Albanian refugees that have fled to Kosovo is 52,000. (Data from UNHCR).

The role of NATO

Thus the role of NATO troops will be to hold the situation, to stop it getting out of hand. NATO is terrified of getting involved in further fighting. At the same time it must intervene if it is to avoid the conflict spiralling out of control. Thus it is going in on the basis of a "voluntary" agreement of the NLA to hand over its arms. This means that real disarmament will not take place. What we will see is a situation where the Macedonian Republic will remain on paper. But in practice the North Western strip of Macedonia, where the population is overwhelmingly Albanian speaking, will be run by the NLA under NATO protection.

NATO is forced to intervene in Macedonia for the reasons we have explained. But NATO fears for the safety of its soldiers. The Americans, ever since the experience of the Vietnam war, will only provide a token force. The bulk of the troops would be provided by the British army. As usual, Britain plays the role of loyal lapdog to the USA. It is seen by the Americans as the most reliable of their European allies. The British ruling class no doubt sees Macedonia as belonging to its own sphere of influence. In reality they are a proxy for the Americans, who do not trust their other European "allies".

However, is it true that NATO "was called in"? Someone once said "if you tell a lie a hundred it becomes a truth". Lord Robertson and Mr. Solana have been using this method. In the case of this recent NATO mission to Macedonia, many have repeated that it was Macedonia that called NATO troops to come in. This is a lie. NATO has entered Macedonian territory before, without the support of the Macedonian parliament and or of the Macedonian people, as the example of Arachinovo illustrates.

All the political parties in Macedonia are sceptical about the success of the voluntary disarmament of the rebels. The rebels have announced they would hand over about 3,000 old and useless Chinese guns. It is in fact a farce. Any young and inexperienced playwright could have written a much better script and outlined a more logical scenario for the tragedy which we are about to watch on our TV screens.

This will not satisfy the Macedonian speaking population. The NLA has harassed Macedonian speaking people in the areas it controls, and many of these people have been forced to leave. This will stoke the fires of Macedonian nationalism. Thus the problem will fester and will flare up again and again over the coming years.

NATO and the Western powers cannot offer any lasting stability to Macedonia, because their capitalist system cannot solve any of the economic and social problems facing the country. They will insist on privatisations, sackings, cuts in welfare and state spending in general. They will suck every last drop of blood out of Macedonia, and it will be the workers, both Albanian and Macedonian speaking, who will suffer.

Learn from the past!

In the recent period we have seen major movements of the Macedonian workers. The working class of Macedonia is the only class capable of offering a way out of the impasse facing the country. But, as we have said many times before, the workers of Macedonia are leaderless. It is necessary to learn from the past history of the ex-Yugoslavia. In the mid 1980s there was a mass protest movement of the Yugoslav workers. Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Macedonians, Albanians, all marched together against the then federal government in Belgrade. But all that revolutionary potential was lost because the workers did not have the revolutionary leadership they deserved. In those conditions nationalism raised its ugly head. In order to divert the attention of the masses away from the real causes of the economic crisis each local bureaucratic clique blamed the other nationalities. Thus Yugoslavia was plunged into a series of terrible wars, in which over 200,000 Yugoslav citizens lost their lives. Today, none of the problems of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia... have been solved.

The present conflict in Macedonia is a continuation of the wars that started back in 1991. Genuine Marxists on the Balkans must warn the workers of Macedonia. Do not listen to the nationalists, whether they be the NLA or Georgevski and his friends. In reality the NLA and the present Macedonian coalition government are arguing over who is to have the greater share of the spoils. None of them have any care for the suffering of the workers on both sides. Still less can the workers have any faith in NATO or western imperialists whose sole concerns as ever are their own interests - markets, raw materials and spheres of influence.

Imperialism has always used the tactic of divide and rule whereby they set one nation against another. To them the different peoples that inhabit the Balkans are mere pawns. In Kosovo, when their main aim was to topple Milosevic, they claimed they were intervening to defend the "poor little Kosovar Albanians". Once Milosevic had been overthrown and a pro-western government was installed in Belgrade the Kosovar Albanians became less important. The imperialist powers were never going to allow the Albanian speaking people to gather together in one Greater Albania, or even have an independent Kosovo. The Albanians of Macedonia may believe that NATO is a friend today. Tomorrow they will get a big surprise. The last thing NATO wants is for the Albanian speaking population of this region to come together as one nation. This would destabilise the region and make it more difficult for the imperialists to implement their plans.

The task of building workers' unity is an urgent one. But this can only be achieved on the basis of breaking with all those who wish to restore capitalism in Macedonia, irrespective of the language they speak. What is needed is a return to the genuine ideas of socialism, of workers' democracy and a democratically controlled planned economy. The working class needs its own voice, its own political force. This can only be based on a programme of expropriation of the various pro-bourgeois cliques in the area. In this programme the rights of all nationalities would be taken into account, such as the right to use one's own language and to decide on one's own future. Only within an all-Balkans Socialist Federation could this be achieved. Either this or, in the long run other bloody wars will flare up in spite of NATO's efforts to hold the situation today.