Perspective: Will There Ever Be Peace in the Balkans?; as Macedonian Forces Exchange Fire with Albanian Insurgents Jess Hybert Asks Whether the Balkans, with Its Bloody History of Intolerance Can Ever Be Free of the Spectre of Violence
Byline: Jess Hybert
The Balkan tinderbox is again dangerously close to igniting. This time the stage is the Kosovan and Macedonian borders, but the script remains the same. Religion, territory and the deep scars carved by war, threaten to tear apart the fragile peace forged by desperate politicians and diplomats.
Though the Albanian rebels are relatively few, Macedonian forces have mobilised in the now deserted streets of Tetovo to fire mortars and artillery into the hillside. And the cost of this resort to violence could be the stability of the entire region.
Geography lies at the heart of the problem in the Balkans. Situated on the uneasy seam between the Christian and Islamic world, through history the former Yugoslavia passed back and forth between western and eastern rule. But despite the influence of outside forces, for hundred of years the multicultural society, comprising Muslims, Christians and Catholics, remained peaceful and stable.
Following the Second World War, strong leadership from the Communist party, under Tito, held together the federal republic, but after his death in 1980 the cracks began to show.
In 1986, new president Slobodan Milosovic - who rose to power on the back of anti-Albanian Serb rhetoric - proclaimed his wish to create a greater Serbia, cleansed of Islamic influence.
Slovenia and Croatia, distancing themselves from this tyranny, declared themselves independent in 1991. Federal troops (the Yugoslav Army mainly consisted of Serbs) immediately moved in. Thousands were dead before the UN-brokered a ceasefire and the EC recognised both countries' autonomy. Following their lead, Macedonia and Bosnia-Hercegovina followed suit and demanded independence.
The unhappy reality for Bosnia was that it was the most ethnically diverse of Yugoslavia's republics. The greatest ethnic group was Bosnian-Muslims (44 per cent) closely followed by Orthodox Serbs (31 per cent) and Catholic Croats (17 per cent). Milosovic and his nationalistic followers were not prepared to cede this valuable territory, or leave their Bosnian Serb countrymen to be ruled by an independent Bosnian government. A savage civil war erupted between Serb, Croat and Bosnian-Muslim neighbours.
Bosnia was carved up, the Serbs receiving the lion's share of territory, and despite UN intervention and the signing of a peace treaty in 1996, thousands were killed and countless more had been left homeless.
Kosovo was next. Their call for independence was followed by yet another case of genocide. Ruthless persecution of ethnic Albanians by Yugoslav Serbs was only halted when Nato troops began to bomb strategic sites in Yugoslavia.
Set against this backdrop of intolerance, the latest outbreak of violence in Macedonia can come as no surprise. The insurgents, citing their second-class status as the reason for civil unrest, are demanding ethnic Albanian self-determination, if not outright independence, but Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is unmoved. …