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One More Time

It’s not clear to me why rank criminality necessarily translates into rank expansionism or Greater Nationalism. I thought criminals enjoyed a patchwork mania of multiple passports, crazy quilt borders, and multijurisdictional chaos. Furthermore I can’t imagine how Macedonia, a state desperate to be institutionally mainstreamed into Europe, would tolerate Albanian guerrillism, nor how, frankly, NATO would. ~James Poulos

Criminality doesn’t translate into rank expansionism–rank Albanian expansionism is already there, side by side with Albanian lawlessness.  Here is The Economist, c. 2003, describing the irredentism of a criminal gang:

ONCE again, talk of a Greater Albania—an idea, if it came to fruition, that would cause chaos in the Balkans [bold mine-DL]—is in the air. This time it is the guerrillas of the Albanian National Army (better known by its Albanian-language initials, AKSh) who are trying to spread the word. They want to unite their cousins in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia and Montenegro, Greece, Macedonia and Albania proper.   

Anyone who would like a contemporary example of how separatist nationalism and widespread criminality can go hand in hand need only look at the Djukanovic regime in Montenegro. 

Macedonia is desperate to be “mainstreamed” into Europe, despite the humiliations such “mainstreaming” imposes.  This is why it has put up with European interference on behalf of the Albanian guerrillas who have already started rebellions there in the very recent past.  The Economist reminds us:

In 2001 Macedonia went to the brink of civil war when a guerrilla army sprang out of the ranks of the ethnic Albanians who make up 25% of the population. 

And, from a few years back, here is a description of the political situation:

In contrast, militant ethnic Albanians in neighbouring Macedonia love the idea of boosting municipal power. Indeed, a big increase in municipal authority was the price that Albanian nationalist fighters, closely tied to their cousins in Kosovo [bold mine-DL], extracted for laying down their arms in 2001. Devolution was the centrepiece of a settlement, brokered by the European Union, which stemmed an incipient war.

The standard Western media narrative (poor, suffering Albanian Muslims being oppressed by nasty Orthodox Slavs) has been applied to Macedonia for years (by The Economist as much as by any operation), and attempts by the Macedonian government to restore order to the western parts of their country have been greeted with a stream of anti-Skopje propaganda and outside agitation on behalf of Albanian guerrillas.  NATO has a strange history of “tolerating” Albanian guerrillas.  The pogroms that took place in Kosovo under their noses a few years back are reminder enough of that.  As we all know, NATO has an even stranger history of providing them with air support.  If James means that it makes no sense that the EU and NATO should encourage these sorts of things, I am entirely in agreement.  If he means that they do not, in fact, encourage these things, I’m afraid I cannot really concur.

James is right that Hungary will probably not start agitating to acquire the Vojvodina at the present time, but there is certainly no guarantee that the Hungarians in the Vojvodina will not start agitating for ever-greater autonomy or some other arrangement that will remove them from Belgrade’s control in the event of Kosovo’s independence.  Everyone else has left the old Yugoslavian party–why not the Hungarians?  Meanwhile, Hungarian liberal nationalists, such as Orban Viktor, have already tried to find clever ways to achieve a kind of Hungarian national unity inside the EU structure without recourse to territorial annexation and all of the grief that entails by passing the controversial Status Law that would extend protections to ethnic Hungarians from neighbouring states.  Slovakia and Romania have been furious about this legislation, as well they might, since both states systematically discriminate against their Hungarian minorities (which might be why the Hungarian minorities in those countries could be interested in a different arrangement!).  The point is that there are serious ethnic minority grievances in Slovakia and Romania, and Hungarian nationalists interested in appealing to those minorities.  Ethnic nationalism is very much alive in central and eastern Europe, and there is nothing that will guarantee that it will not lead to attempts in the future to revise the existing borders.  It is something that anyone who wants to begin redrawing the map is well-advised to consider very carefully.  The modern history of European map revisions has not exactly been a happy one, and there is no reason to think that repeating Wilsonian errors in the 21st century will have significantly different outcomes.

Obviously, Serbia is against Kosovo independence.  Bulgaria has expressed strong concerns about the dangers of destabilisation, specifically saying that a unilateral declaration of independence would have such a destabilising effect “on northern Kosovo, but also in southern Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and all of southeastern Europe.”  If many of the governments in the region take such a view, even those that have basically accepted Washington’s line on Kosovo (as Bulgaria has), does this not suggest that destabilisation of the region is a serious danger, whether or not Kosovo’s independence is declared unilaterally or arranged through the U.N.? 

In the end, I think James and I will end up being more or less on the same page as far as practical policy recommendations, because he correctly recognises the importance of a good relationship with Russia and he seems willing to acknowlegde how potentially damaging support for Kosovo independence would be to such a relationship.  In the end, Kosovo independence cannot be worth damaging that relationship, especially when the consequences of that independence for the rest of the Balkans may be very grim.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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