What’s going on in Macedonia?

by Karl Müller

14 years ago, in 2001, when the small Balkan country of Macedonia, bordering Serbia in the north and Greece in the south, was in the headlines for months. The country was in danger of drifting into a civil war. Macedonian KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) fighters, supported by the Kosovar organisation of the same name and also by US intelligence agencies and the US military, shattered Macedonia through terrorist attacks and aggression against the country’s police and military. KLA fighters and a major part of Western politicians and media then spoke of a legitimate fight against the discrimination of the ethnic Albanian population in the country, other voices placed KLA violence, similar to the situation in Kosovo, in a larger geopolitical context. In August 2001, the parties agreed on a deal that entitled the ethnic Albanian population to social and political privileges. Today, one of the former leading KLA fighters, Ali Ahmeti, is part of the country’s government.
During the past 14 years, it has been quiet around the country. Since 2005 Macedonia is candidate for the EU. It is even said the country wants to join NATO. However, the government of the country is not supporting the sanctions against Russia by the US government and the EU. Instead, it has agreed to build a transit route in Macedonia for Russia’s planned pipeline through Turkey (Turkish Stream). The pipeline route through Turkey had been negotiated between Russia and Turkey early in 2015. It is to be built instead of South Stream, whose originally planned route through Bulgaria, for the purpose of transporting Russian natural gas to South Eastern Europe and as far as Austria without hindrance, has been hampered by the EU. Macedonia is very important as a transit country for the pipeline.1
Since two weeks Macedonia has returned into the headlines. The reason was a local police raid in the town of Kumanovo. There are former KLA fighters who were said to have planned attacks. Most likely, they are also involved in drug trafficking. The city is considered as a stopover for drug shipments coming from Afghanistan. It is situated very close to the border with Serbia, but also close to the border with Kosovo, which is the main trading centre for drug shipments to Europe. During the raid in Kumanovo there was an hour-long firefight in which 22 people died, including 8 policemen.
Western media commented on the events in different ways. Some spoke of too hard an attack by the Macedonian security forces, which had been ethnically motivated and directed against the ethnic Albanian population. Others claim the prime minister of the country stage-managed the firefights in Kumanovo in order to divert attention from his own problems and the dissatisfaction of the population. Moreover, Richard Howitt of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament thinks that the citizens of Macedonia have suffered a trauma after the fighting in Kumanovo.
Interestingly, however, even former KLA fighter and current government member Ali Ahmeti admitted in an interview with the Austrian newspaper “Die Presse” (19.5.2015): “I cannot deny that we know some of the people who were involved. Some of them were former members of the KLA.” But only to attack Russia right afterwards saying: “My concern is also why Moscow has made an issue of it. Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov said the Euro-Atlantic enlargement in the Balkans was a provocation for Russia. And a few days ago Lavrov asserted during a visit to Serbia, the incidents in Macedonia had been provoked by NATO, the EU and Washington. I firmly reject that.”
In fact, the Russian Foreign Minister already expressed several times that the re-try of a “colored revolution” was behind the events in Macedonia (see text on page 3). A few days after the fighting in Kumanovo, there were demonstrations against the Prime Minister in the country’s capital and the demand for his resignation and new elections. In Western media, for example the internationally broadcast Deutsche Welle, these protests are praised to the skies as an expression of democratic rebellion. The Prime Minister is accused of illegal wiretapping and corruption. Criticism of the government leaders and demands for fundamental policy changes are also the tenor of the opinions voiced by the EU and the US. Louder than in recent years, a forthcoming EU membership of the country is requested by EU politicians. Particularly politicians from the European Parliament are flaunting: The integration process in the EU, so the MP of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, Edward Kukan, was one of the important instruments that could help to overcome the crisis. The European Commission called on the Macedonian government to come back onto the “right track”, i.e. towards EU membership and EU policy.
Critical voices from Russia and from Serbia – where the operations in Macedonia are observed with the utmost concern, also by the government – are, however, dismissed as “conspiracy theory” – for example by the “Deutsche Presseagentur” (dpa, German Press Agency) on 19 May, or by the newspaper “Die Welt” on 20 May – and are even turned into their opposite. It is said that Russia wants to snatch Macedonia from the Western Alliance and split up the Western alliance. This is spread, for instance, by the SPD politician and former parliamentary secretary in the German Ministry of Defence Walter Kolbow. Kolbow was parliamentary secretary under the German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping of the SPD, who in 1999 was one of the German spokesmen for the illegal war against Yugoslavia, which violated international law. Even the US government is very interested in the small country in the Balkans. The German channel n-tv.de reported on 20 May: “The crisis in the country increasingly worries the US government. The US government was closely observing the events in Macedonia, said the spokesman of the US State Department Jeff Rathke. The authorities would have to examine the accusations against the government, which resulted ‘from recent revelations’.”
On the other hand, the report on the Swiss website “Schweizer Magazin” is interesting, as well. In an article about the demonstrations against the Macedonian government on 20 May it reads: “Last weekend, several thousand demonstrators were hauled out to the place from all corners of the country, many of whom were even paid 500 denars for displaying their demonstration enthusiasm. Instructed by George Soros the media were asked to present the number of demonstrators as ‘100,000’ by using skillful camera angles.” In addition, the government opponents are said to have employed gangs of thugs.
Anyway, there are good reasons to get a more accurate picture, which goes beyond the reports of the Western mainstream media. This is the purpose of the following compilation to form a first impression.     •

1    An extensive analysis on the significance of the Balkans for European energy supply is provided by Jens Berger in his article “Europa und der kalte Pipelinekrieg”, www.nachdenkseiten.de, 20.5.2015