Macedonia - the next powder keg?

What is unfolding in Macedonia today [March 2001] confirms what we have always said. There will never be a solution to the National Question on the Balkans so long as the underlying economic and social problems remain. After they thought they had brought the situation in Kosovo under control, the situation across the border in Macedonia is flaring up.

What is unfolding in Macedonia today confirms what we have always said. There will never be a solution to the National Question on the Balkans so long as the underlying economic and social problems remain. As Lenin pointed out the National Question is essentially a question of bread. Macedonia is one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Unemployment stands at about 40%. However, among the Albanian speaking minority (which makes up about 22% of the overall Macedonian population of 2 million) unemployment has reached the staggering figure of 60%! Average annual GDP per capita stands at about $1000. The break-up of the former Yugoslavia has been an absolute disaster for Macedonia which was already, together with Kosovo, one of the poorest parts of the ex-Yugoslav federation. Between 1990 and 1995 the economy contracted each year, in 1990 by 10%, in 1993 by 9%. Only in 1996 did the economy begin to pick up again, but only by a miserable one per cent or so. Macedonia is at the mercy of the foreign powers which now dominate it, in particular US and West European imperialism. It has to import all its oil and gas, and most of its machinery.

It is not at all surprising therefore that it is precisely in this small country that the National Question is once more flaring up on the Balkans. The immediate conflict has broken out around the mountain village of Tanusevci near the border with Kosovo. Albanian gunmen had, a few weeks earlier, seized the village, but what brought the situation to the attention of the world media was the killing of three Macedonian soldiers on March 4th. The reaction of the Macedonian army was to launch a heavy attack on March 5th and push the Albanian fighters back into Kosovo. The conflict had in fact been brewing for some time. Already back in February there had been an attack on a Macedonian police station in Tetovo. Fears are now growing that the situation could spiral out of control.

The problems in Macedonia are similar to those in all the ex-Stalinist countries of Eastern Europe. The old state run planned economy has been, and is being, dismantled, but what is taking its place is not a system that can alleviate the social and economic problems of these countries. In many of Macedonia's neighbouring countries (Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria...) we have pro-Western, pro-bourgeois governments eager to be seen as loyal servants of imperialism. They are all pushing the line that privatisation and investment from the West is the only road for solving the crisis gripping these countries. They are, in reality, gangster outfits capable only of building an unstable Mafia-type capitalism, based on corruption, patronage...

The government of Macedonia is continuing with a programme of privatisation of state resources. At present a coalition, including one of the Albanian Nationalist parties, the DPA led by Xhaferri, is governing the country according to the "logic of pragmatic politics, in which either you take part in the division of what is left of the nation's wealth or you are marginalised, without power, without a stimulus for the party and without a financial base" (from an article published in 'Forum', 8-21 December 2000). In fact the divisions among the various political parties are dominated by the desire to get a share of the cake of what is left of the state assets. Each party has a clique at the top that wishes to become part of the new bourgeoisie. None of the major parties, whether from the Albanian speaking minority or from the Macedonian speaking majority, represent the real interests of the peoples of Macedonia. That is the tragedy of Macedonia today.

The workers of Macedonia hate the government. It has support only among the up and coming capitalists (mainly based on foreign capital) and the nationalist petit-bourgeoisie. The working class have no confidence in this government. Unfortunately they do not have an alternative to turn to. The trade union leaders are ineffective and divided among themselves. However, recently we saw an example of the potential militancy of the working class. For three months (the strike ended on March 1st) the white collar workers of the judicial administration were out on strike. Practically the whole legal system was brought to a standstill for the duration of the strike. The strike revealed what the workers are capable of. The government tried to undermine the strike with all kinds of dirty tricks, such as bribery, withdrawal of wages, conspiratorial manoeuvres... The government, at one point, even tried to raise a scandal against the leader of the strike, but this had the opposite effect to what they had hoped. It in fact strengthened the resolve of the workers. Unfortunately this strike remained limited to one sector and did not involve the whole of the working class.

Precisely, because the workers do not have a genuine socialist alternative to turn to, the spectre of national conflict is coming back to haunt the area. We have witnessed this scenario many times before. If the labour movement proves incapable of providing an alternative then the vacuum left can be filled by the poison of nationalism and, in the conditions of the Balkans, this means war between the peoples that inhabit the area.

Unfortunately for the people of Macedonia, they are just one small pawn in the big game the Imperialist powers are playing throughout the whole of the Balkans. The main aim of imperialism in this area is to guarantee its economic and strategic interests. And to achieve this it will play one people off against another. One day they will "champion" the cause of the Albanians, only to abandon them the next. That is what has happened to the aspirations of the Albanians in Kosovo, and elsewhere. Let us remember that only two years ago NATO heavily bombed the Serb forces in Kosovo and also did extensive damage to many of the cities of Serbia itself. They did this in the name of defending the "poor" Albanian people. Now, in both Macedonia and Kosovo, NATO's Kfor troops have come into armed conflict with Albanian fighters. We consistently warned the Albanian people not to trust NATO. We explained that they would never achieve their aims if they allied themselves to NATO. That is now being proven by the events of the past few weeks.

Let us remember what we said over the past few years. We explained that Western imperialism would never tolerate an independent Kosovo precisely because this would tend to spread outwards, involving Montenegro and Macedonia, and that this would have far wider ranging consequences, that would be a threat to the real interests of imperialism.

In June 1995 we wrote the following: "The situation has reached a critical point in the last few years. If the Serbs were tied up in a war in the north, there would be the strong possibility of an uprising in Kosovo, which the Serb army would attempt to put down, with terrible bloodshed and the exodus of a large number of refugees. This would threaten to drag Albania into the conflict, since its shattered economy is in no position to absorb a huge influx of people.

"Most seriously of all, it would destabilise Macedonia where a very precarious balance exists between the Slav majority and the Albanian minority. The fact that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is the most dangerous flashpoint in the Balkans is recognised by the international strategists of capital. That is why it is the only part of the ex-Yugoslavia where the USA has a military presence, albeit a token one. The Macedonian question has been at the root of other Balkan wars in the past. It has not been resolved by the declaration of an independent statelet called Macedonia. On the contrary. The old problem has thereby been put back on the agenda of Balkan politics.

"In reality, none of the surrounding states accepts the independence of the new Republic of Macedonia which used to be part of Yugoslavia. The Serbs still refer to it as 'Southern Serbia.' The Bulgarians have always maintained that the Macedonian Slavs are Bulgarians. The Albanians put themselves forward as the defenders of the sizeable Albanian minority in Macedonia, and would lay claim to at least part of its territory. The Greeks have been most vocal in their opposition to the setting up of a Macedonian republic. They blocked the recognition of the new state until it dropped the name of Macedonia in international usage. They have organised mass rallies with the slogan 'Macedonia is Greek' and launched an economic blockade of its northern neighbour.

"The attitude of Greece has enraged the EU, who are terrified of the consequences of the destabilisation of Macedonia. The Greek bourgeois has entered into a de facto alliance with Serbia. In the event of the war spreading, it is quite possible that Serbia will invade Macedonia on the pretext of defending the Serb minority there. It is likely that the Greek army would move across the border (purely as a 'defensive' move, of course). But this would not go unchallenged by the others. Bulgaria, Albania and, most importantly, Turkey immediately recognised the independence of Macedonia. Turkey and Albania, in addition, are in a military alliance. "

We repeated this point in June 1999, "Western imperialism does not want an independent Kosovo precisely because this would tend to move towards a Greater Albania, affecting Albania, Macedonia and even parts of Montenegro. It would involve the break up of Macedonia where a new war would inevitably be fought out. This time however countries like Greece and Turkey would be involved. It would mean an all Balkans war with two NATO members, Greece and Turkey on opposite sides. Thus, as events unfolding in places like Prizren show, NATO will be forced to disarm the KLA if it is to achieve any control over this whole bloody process."

The present events bring this nightmare scenario even closer. After the Macedonian army's 5th March attack against the Albanian guerrillas, NATO came down firmly on the side of the Macedonian army. The day prior to this attack the "governor" of Kosovo, Haekkerup and the commander of the KFOR troops, Cabigiosu, went to the capital of Macedonia, Skopje, where they came to an agreement with the Macedonian government on how to coordinate military operations. Thus the US troops, that are part of Kfor in Kosovo, occupied the small Kosovar village of Debelde, a base from where the Kosovar Albanians were carrying out their operations inside Macedonia, just across the border. At the same time, in the US controlled areas of Kosovo, a massive wave of arrests began to take place of anyone suspected of being an "Albanian extremist". This was the first serious armed conflict between NATO troops and Albanians!

Recently the government of Macedonia also signed an agreement with the Serbian government in which the border between the two countries has been fixed. This has upset the Albanians in Kosovo and in the surrounding countries because the agreement recognises that Kosovo is a part of Yugoslavia. Now that the friends of imperialism (the DOS) are in power in Serbia, NATO has turned against the Kosovars. This shows that the Kosovar Albanians were, as we have repeated many times, just one pawn in the imperialists' endeavour to overthrow Milosevic. It had nothing to do with defending "human rights", or the right of "self-determination". Now NATO is going one step further in betraying the Kosovar Albanians. They have recently allowed Serb troops into the "buffer zone" between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia and they are planning to gradually reduce the zone altogether.

Bulgaria also is showing an interest in stationing its troops in Macedonia. Its President, Stojanov, has offered to send Bulgarian troops to Macedonia's border with Kosovo. It has already provided the Macedonian army with tanks and other equipment and is preparing to massively increase this in the coming period. It has also announced that it intends to sign an agreement with NATO giving its troops permission to use Bulgarian territory for its operations in the area. The extreme right in Bulgaria have also been raising their voices against the Albanian minority in Macedonia, presenting it as a threat to "stability on the Balkans". The Macedonian government has asked for an international force to be stationed within a "security zone" on the border with Kosovo. The Serbian government immediately suggested it should be made up of Greek, Bulgarian and Yugoslav soldiers! The Greek government has also declared that it would provide troops to be sent to Macedonia as part of an international "peace-keeping force". And everything the Greeks do the Turks monitor carefully! As the Bulgarian journal, 'Sega' put it, "History has taught us that when such guests visit Macedonia, each one of these, from the very first day, are thinking of what they can steal from it." ('Sega', March 8th, 2001).

Thus all the forces that we referred to in our past material (Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia...) are preparing to intervene in Macedonia. Of course they would do this disguised as "peace-keepers". In reality they would be carving out their own spheres of influence within Macedonia itself.

At the moment NATO is trying to avoid such a scenario, and is hoping to stem the conflict that is unfolding. It may succeed in the short term. But the underlying social and economic problems will not go away. The peoples of Macedonia urgently need to find a solution to unemployment, low wages and poor infrastructure. With the policies of the present government no such solution will be forthcoming. Thus in the long run, either the labour movement comes forward with a class alternative or nationalism will be whipped up on all sides and the danger of a new war will become a reality. The break up of Macedonia would be one more disaster to be added to the long list of disasters that have hit the ex-Yugoslav republics. If Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia cannot find a solution to their problems, what chance does Macedonia have? Recent events in Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo demonstrate that these problems have not been solved.

In Serbia itself, however much NATO and US imperialism may have intrigued, Milosevic proved very difficult to bring down. The task of bringing down Milosevic was accomplished only when the working class intervened decisively. He fell because of the internal contradictions that had built up. We were laughed at in the past when we pointed out that neither US bombs nor the KLA would defeat Milosevic, when we pointed out that the task of overthrowing Milosevic lay in the hands of the Serb working class. The lesson of the Serbian experience is that if you want a job done you have to do it yourself. Thus in Macedonia today the workers can trust only their own forces, and their own brothers and sisters, the workers of the rest of the Balkans. No foreign power is going to come into Macedonia with the idea of helping the working people of this small country.

The situation in the short term may seem grim, but we must raise the only real solution, the building of a Socialist Federation of all the Balkans. Every single one of the peoples that inhabit the Balkans has suffered as a result of the collapse of the planned economy. Standards of living have fallen dramatically. The wars in the ex-Yugoslavia are a part of this process. And so long as capitalism dominates in the area there will be no solution. One conflagration will be temporarily brought under control only for another conflict to breakout elsewhere. What is necessary is an economic integration of all the countries of the Balkans, a pooling of resources. Instead what we have is military spending on all sides to fight the local "enemy". Thus we see how imperialism dominates the area by playing off each small country against another. The working class of Macedonia (whether Macedonian speaking or Albanian speaking) have no interest in taking part in this carving out of spheres of influence.

There is no solution under capitalism, except for the building up of further contradictions and conflicts between the peoples. The killings that we have witnessed in the past ten years have been ghastly enough. Capitalism means each one of these small countries competing with each other for favours, for crumbs, from the Imperialists. However, if these countries were united into a Socialist Federation they would have the resources to begin tackling all the problems they face. But this could only be done on the basis of nationalising all the big companies in the area and setting up an all-Balkans plan of the economy.

That is why the task of Marxists on the Balkans is to work towards the establishment of genuine workers' parties in all these countries, that will pose a class alternative to the barbarism which threatens to further engulf the area.