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Why the west would not grant independence to Kosovo
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

It was not Kosovo but Macedonia, its tiny neighbour to the south, which started making the headlines towards the middle of March this year to remind the world that the century-old Balkan crisis was not over, yet. The Macedonian flash-point came into focus because of the serious clashes triggered by armed Albanian renegades of Macedonia demanding greater rights for the fractious country's largest ethnic minority. The Macedonian government's reaction was knee-jerk. It sought to swat a fly with a gun and threw all it had in the clashes, including battle tanks, against the Albanian guerrillas ensconced in the dense mountains around Tetovo, Macedonia's second-largest city. That rang alarm bells all around Europe. Nato was quickly alerted , as did the EU. Javier Solana, EU's foreign policy tsar, rushed to Skopje, as also Lord Robertson, the Nato Secretary general, to console and confab with the Macedonian leadership. Serious voices of concern were raised on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean dismaying that this brush fir could easily spark a wider conflagration. Brussels, EU's and Nato's capital , became a hub for intense diplomatic efforts to contain the situation from spilling over the narrow borders of Macedonia. All and sundry dreaded a wider Balkan war.

The demand of the Albanian minority for more rights in Macedonia is not an issue confined to the tiny mountainous republic carved out of the former Yugoslavia. Macedonia is small but straddles a sensitive geographical region of an even more sensitive and fragile Balkans whose history dominated both the dawn and the twilight of the 20th century. Macedonia is wedged in the Balkan mountains at the nexus of their north-south and east-west corridors. As such, even though denigrated by its larger neighbours as a `mere geographical expression`, it has always been coveted by its voracious neighbours whose appetite for more land still drivels on it. Greece, for instance, put the infant land-locked state under embargo, immediately after its birth, because it loathed the christening of the new Republic as Macedonia, and eventually forced it to adopt the ludicrous title of ‘The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.’ Bulgaria, another protagonist in the geographical fray, covets Macedonia because its majority Slav population speaks a dialect akin to the Bulgar language.

The nub of the problem in Macedonia, however, is its intriguing ethnic mosaic. 58% of the Macedonians are Slavs whose faith is Orthodox Christian. But 800,000 Macedonians are of Albanian origin , and mostly Muslim. That is where the rub comes in. The Albanians, in terms of anthropology, are the original inhabitants of Macedonia and trace their roots to Germanic tribes who uprooted the Roman Empire from the Balkans. These Albanian Muslims make up nearly 40% of the population and have been restive for years because they are not getting a fair share of opportunities and rights in a Macedonia which hopes to become a part of EU sooner than later.

The ethnic divide in Macedonia has been accentuated since early 1999 when Kosovo became a flash-point in the Balkans and forced Nato to intervene militarily to save the hapless Kosovars from extinction at the hands of marauding Serbs instigated by Milosevic's ethnic cleansing. But even then Nato's angst was not on account of the Kosovars' persecution. What the Atlantic alliance was afraid of was a wider war breaking out in the Balkans, with Turkey intervening in defence of the Muslim Kosovars, and Greece and Bulgaria weighing in on the side of the Slavic Serbs. Nato thought it prudent to jump into the fray to keep these potential combatants from each other's throats. However, Nato and the EU made it repeatedly clear that their intervention did not have Kosovo's secession from Serbia and the rump Yugoslvia as a logical outcome. In fact, every European leader categorically rejected any notion of independence or sovereignty for Kosovo's Albanian people, and insisted, ad nauseam, that Kosovo must remain a part of Serbia in the wider Yugoslav Federation no matter how fictitious or apocryphal this linkage may have been rendered by the Serbs' blatant ethnic cleansing , first in Bosnia and later in Kosovo.

The same spectre has returned to haunt the Europeans in the wake of the latest flare-up between Macedonian Slavs and Macedonians of Albanian roots. This time the fear is that the conflict may suck in both the Kosovar Albanians , who have been manifesting their unhappiness with the limping order imposed on them since Nato's victory over Serbia by constantly agitating against it and the peace-keeping K-FOR implanted between them and the vanquished Serbs, but also Albania where the mainstream Albanians feel naturally concerned over the obvious injustice being meted out to their brothers in Kosovo and Macedonia.

The ethnic divide, between the Slavs and the Albanians, rattling the West Europeans is not a product of the post-Yugoslavian period; it goes back centuries to the halcyon days of the Ottoman rule over the Balkans. Serbs, in particular, have never ceased hating the Muslims, of both Turkish and local pedigrees, whom they regarded as conquerors of their land and oppressors of their people. That the Serb anti-Muslim syndrome has no historic basis to carry any weight or meaning is of no consequence to the Europeans. They have never bothered to look critically and objectively into those 4- centuries when the Ottoman Turks were rulers over the Balkans. All unbiased accounts of the period testify to those centuries being without racial or religious persecution of any kind, unlike the Orthodox Christian rule in most other parts of Europe where Jews and Protestants were regularly and massively tormented and persecuted. There is a common, uneducated perception , exacerbated by biased and highly vicious historical accounts, that the Ottoman centuries in Europe were a dark age. This mental fixation is an echo of the mentality ingrained in Europe since the Crusades. You will not find many European historians highlighting the incontrovertible fact that it were the European fanatics and zealots, egged on by the church, who invaded the Muslim lands and ignited the Crusades. By the same token, there is practically zero acknowledgement of the extreme tolerance shown to religious minorities under the Ottomans throughout Europe.

So, the Europeans resolved, quite early on when the quilt-work of Tito's Yugoslavia started fraying at its seams, that they will not allow the legacy of Ottoman Turkey-always unjustly seen as Europe's sick and odd-man out---to be reborn in any other guise. It was this cold-blooded rationale that allowed a free hand to the Serb and Croat butchers to indulge in a mayhem of Bosnian Muslims with no eye-brows raised in Europe. The west stepped into the blood-letting and stanched it only when the likes of Milosevic have had their fill. The story was repeated to a varying degree in Kosovo as well. A man like John Major, then British prime Minister, otherwise always so prim and proper, went on record opposing the prospect of another Muslim state ( Bosnia) planted in the heart of Europe. The Americans, while keeping their lips sealed on the sensitive ethnicity of the Bosnian Muslims, pulled Dayton out of their hat to make sure that the Muslims of Bosnia will not have mastery over their own land; they were deliberately wedged in between the Serbs and the Croats although both of these ethnocentric groups were responsible for massive human rights abuses against them. The same prescription was doctored for Kosovo; it was kept tethered to the yoke of Serbia, which itself is mired in the fiction of Yugoslavia. Then K-FOR was devised and quickly assembled to keep the Kosovars on a tight leash in their own homeland.

Contrast this with the excessive zeal and despatch of the western world in having fostered the birth of an independent East Timor where there was neither a genocide of the Christians, nor any kind of ethnic cleansing. But the west rushed into the local dispute between Indonesia and the Christian rebels, heavily aided and abetted with arms and money by the church in the west, and twisted Indonesia's arm with obscene pugnacity to wrest undue concessions for their Christian proteges. East Timor is a unique example of a new kind of western imperialism scheming to implant its own pockets of influence in all regions of importance and sensitivity to the west.

Now that the Albanians of Macedonia are clamouring for the recognition of their legitimate rights, Nato and EU are scrambling to the aid of Slav dominance over that strategic heart of the Balkan. Their fear is that if this brush-fire is not quickly put out it may soon engulf Kosovo and, eventually, Albania too because of the sheer momentum and sensitivity of the Albanian people's rights at stake. In their knee-jerk reaction to the Albanian uprising, K-FOR has suffered no qualms in letting the Serb troops enter the buffer zone between Macedonia and Kosovo. To Nato's acute embarrassment, the Serb troops are being led by two generals accused of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. But such embarrassments will not deter Nato and EU from even letting the Serb forces play an increasingly active and assertive role in stamping out the Albanian revolt on the Kosovo-Macedonian border. Such a born-again opportunity would naturally whet the appetite of the Serb generals, still licking their wounds of the 1999 debacle at the hands of Nato, from unleashing their full fury against the Albanians, whether in Macedonia, Kosovo or even Albania itself. They will be smugly confident that the Europeans, in their inveterate opposition to the birth of any new Muslim state in their midst, would conveniently look the other way and lend them ample opportunity to take out their wrath, once again, on the hapless Muslims of the Balkans.

How deep the fault line of the cultural and ethnic divide runs between the Albanians and the Slavs of Macedonia dawned on this scribe during the Kosovo operation in early 1999. I was covering Macedonia from my base in Ankara, Turkey, where my Macedonian colleague, otherwise a very cool and calm customer with a refined taste in poetry and literature was livid with rage every time the subject of Nato's military operation against the Serbs came up. He found it morally outrageous that Nato and civilized Europe should be helping the `savage and barbaric Albanians( Kosovars) against the Serbs.` To him it was morally reprehensible. Europe may be having the same pangs of conscience now. Little wonder that they are rushing in to bail out the `civilized Serbs` against the vandals threatening the ramparts of fortress Europe.

The author was Pakistan's ambassador to Turkey and Macedonia until last August. He is now retired and lives in Canada. q

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